Episode One continued
Dateline: Vatican City - November 6, 12:00 p.m.
Like a Ghost town out of the old west, one could almost hear the whistling and the prairie winds across the empty Square until the Angelus bells rang out, an innocent clarion of the tymphony of terror. Grabe's clock was ten seconds off but it didn't really matter. The deed was done as the detonator's fail-safe mechanism, now plunging deeper into the depths of the Tyrrhenian, still signaled doom. It began in the depths of the tunnel as the explosives took hold. One could not hear the distant roar over the bells but one could feel the ground shake. In another instant the blast lifted upward and out shattering everything in its path as rock, marble and steel hurled into the air accompanied by a massive ball of fire as the Nervi Hall crumbled along with St. Charles Palace and the Domus Sanctae Marthae. Huge pieces of marble and rock, steel and iron crashed against the side of St. Peter's venerated basilica, glass shattered everywhere as the Sacrestia took the brunt of the blows. The columns closest to the Nervi began to crumble and part of the roof of the great Bernini Colonnade tumbled to earth, statues of saints from better times collided with the pavement and rubble, brought to ruin by this unearthly beast who planned this dastardly abomination. Three minutes and the dust began to settle. Through the debris flames roiled up from the depths of the Nervi and the two places of accommodations above the tunnel. Glass continued to shatter in St. Peter's and the Vatican Station, which had been bombarded on the side with flying remnants of mortar. Debris had reached the other side of the Square, but the Colonnade and obelisk still held. For that matter, the mighty, majestic Basilica, had taken all the Devil could hurl at it and, despite the damage, was still standing tall. Satan had not been able to bring the old institution to its knees. Though the Master had tried. Oh, how he had tried.
The two box-cars were still hurtling over the cliff into the ravine when the explosion rocked the region. It had thrown Nicolosi and his two brakemen to the side, scuffed, but still kicking. His switchmen at the base of the hill had been safe in their natural fox-holes except for the turf and dirt flying over them by the force of the blast. It would take a few minutes to compose their nerves before resetting the tracks to allow Dominic to back down and turn around.
The last shipment from the Osprey was in mid-air when detonation occurred. The chopper swayed, almost losing its power in the draft of the explosion but was able to gain altitude out of the searing heat that rose up as the contents plunged into the sea, whose waves were already heaving in a manifold coil of tsunami-like force from the eruption of the candles sinking toward the depths. The repercussions, besides disturbing nature, capsized the fishing trawler a quarter of mile away. Operatives aboard the Osprey had already radioed the coast patrol. It would take some time, but the fishermen would be rescued.
Back in Rome, fire trucks had been at the ready at the top of Via Aurelia, surveying the whole disaster from a distance. Once the stand-by units saw that the explosions had subsided, they moved in to douse the fires and search for survivors, if any were still trapped within or under the searing coals of molten mortar.
The explosions could be felt as far away as the Pantheon where those entering the white limo had been taken aback, not suspecting Grabe's decision to take matters in her own hands. The detonation was not to have taken place until Vendhem had been firmly ensconced. Anger, obscenities, and invectives filled the air.
The Tiber had rippled with the reverberations of the blast and its temblor repercussions felt in the turret of Castel Sant'Angelo where Niki had been aware of some disturbance from the shouts of the throngs racing toward the Tiber, It had thrown him back against the stone wall and awakened the slumbering Clement XV who had been shocked out of the Demerol stage.
Dr. Guido Ghislieri had been tossed by the oscillating jolt against the side of the Leonine Wall just short of the turret room. His fall had been cushioned by the bag he carried, as Pat, accompanying him reacted instinctively, dropping and rolling until the foundations stopped shaking. Initially he thought sure it had been an earthquake: God's response to the Legion's tactics. Only when he arrived back in the Papal Quarters would he realize what it was and the destruction it had caused.
Those congregating in the courtyards beyond the Sistine had watched the flames soar into the air and had seen the debris flying. The impact had knocked them off their feet, but they were all safe and sound.
If any were to award plaudits, Colin Rembert should have been immediately nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for the thousands, nay, hundreds of thousands of lives saved this day. He, of course, would have begged off, giving credit to Cardinals Mendoza, Cardinal Zachmunn and the rest of the valiant warriors of the resistance. That's how heroes think. That's the essence of true honor. But, in the spirit of the show must go on, the Aussie media magnate had stuck to his guns, continuing to air the full evacuation - strategically leaving Penultimates throughout as cameramen left their positions in the final minutes to escape from danger. Most of the ultra-miniature, high-tech computer cams had been destroyed in the explosion either from direct hit, or the heat, melting them into oblivion. But every shot had been recorded for posterity. Such is the competitive world of journalism. Such is the reality of life as the dust began to settle. Colin Rembert stood out among the rest. The clamor for his head on the block by rival media networks would be met by a deaf public and critics and judges sympathetic to the heroic deeds of this man of action. Down under was on top.
Still down under the Basilica, Cardinal Zachmunn and Captain Schuster had been jarred to the ground. Some plaster and dirt poured through the ceiling, a few beams shifted and bowed as soil and dust sifted through, but the beams didn't break. The sturdy marmoreal floor of St. Peter's had held. Some of the statues in the great church above had been shoved off their fittings, a few hung precariously while other smaller, less anchored ones had smashed against the marble floor. Glass and plaster littered the floors as well as pieces of the cupolas above and even pieces of fresco had been ripped from the great dome, some landing very close to the magnificent Baldacchino over the main altar. There were other damaged areas in St. Peter's, mostly on the south side, but nothing major. Gregory knew innately what had happened. He gave an audible "Deo Gratias" that the subterranean passage he was in was still passable as he and Royce continued, climbing to where they were near the Papal Sacristy; the very spot where he had collapsed the night before. Today he was moving on all cylinders. Despite his age, the Archbishop of St. Louis was now running on pure adrenaline and grace.
Stephen and Corrie had lost their balance just as they had reached the third floor of the Papal Palace at the second of the blast. Corrie had bruised a shin, while Stephen had braced himself and rolled on the smooth marble floor, clutching his VAIO laptop to his chest. After all Corrine Morelli had been through, this was nothing. They would not learn of what actually happened until they reached the Papal Quarters where they would find Sister Bridie. The red-ribboned tape. tautly stretched over the Papal Door, had split, and now hung limply to the side. The symbolism was not lost on those who knew.
As the firefighters sprayed hundreds of gallons of water and foam on the hellish ruins, the fury of hell was raging in the white limo as it slowed to a halt. Traffic and pedestrians blocked its path back to the Vatican at every outlet. Hell hath no fury like the Devil thwarted. Despite the utter destruction of the modern buildings built after Vatican II, those built well before - those that represented the times of the unchangeable, immovable Rock of Peter - still stood. The Legion had botched another attempt to totally destroy. The price for such a costly blunder would be severe and fatal for those who failed the Master.
It would be left to the surviving resisters to rebuild from the ground up. This could only begin once the Church was again firmly grounded in the absolutes of the Faith. Pressed against the stone wall of the turret room, Clement XV was still groggy. The reality of what had happened had not hit home with the Holy Father yet, but it would. When it did, he would, with whatever time he had left, do all he could to undo the damage. Intuitively, he knew what had to be done and done now. It would not be easy One who served Christ and His Church could not shy away from such responsibility. It would, no doubt, take many years and several Popes and a dedicated hierarchy to implement the counter reforms, so ingrained had three generations been from the changes wrought by Vatican II and the barren fruits it had produced.
One axiom stood true this day as the dust began to clear: Rome wasn't built in a day. More importantly, despite everything the Legion of the Basilisk could muster, Rome had not been destroyed in a day, either. Not even close. She had taken the Devil's best shot, and still lived to tell about it. Providence and prayer can indeed overcome all obstacles.
Next: PART V: The Shedding FIFTEENTH CHAPTER Episode Two
"White Smoke, Black Fire!" is an original work, registered with the Writers' Guild and all rights are the exclusive rights of The DAILY CATHOLIC who owns the copyright. Because of the nature of the internet and the importance of sharing, we hereby give the reader permission to collect and disseminate by e-mail each episode as it is presented in each issue of The DAILY CATHOLIC, provided that one includes this 1986, 2001 copyright statement and source - www.DailyCatholic.org - and take nothing out of context, nor reproduce it for profit. This work, seventeen years in the making, is a work of fiction that replicates the reality of today in many ways. However names, characters, places and incidents are used fictionally and any resemblance to actual persons and events, except those recorded in history, are purely coincidental.