Authors: Dan Brown
Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Thrillers, #Fiction - Espionage, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Adventure fiction, #American Mystery & Suspense Fiction, #Mystery & Thrillers, #Papacy, #Popular American Fiction, #Adventure, #Vatican City, #Crime & Thriller, #Murder, #Adventure stories; American, #Secret societies, #Antimatter, #Churches, #Papacy - Vatican City, #Brotherhoods, #Illuminati
Vittoria nodded. “Yes.
Kohler returned his gaze to the canister before him. With a look of uncertainty, he hoisted himself in his chair and placed his eye to the viewer, peering inside. He stared a long time without saying anything. When he finally sat down, his forehead was covered with sweat. The lines on his face had disappeared. His voice was a whisper. “My God . . . you really did it.”
Vittoria nodded. “My
“I . . . I don’t know what to say.”
Vittoria turned to Langdon. “Would you like a look?” She motioned to the viewing device. Uncertain what to expect, Langdon moved forward. From two feet away, the canister appeared empty. Whatever was inside was infinitesimal. Langdon placed his eye to the viewer. It took a moment for the image before him to come into focus.
Then he saw it.
The object was not on the bottom of the container as he expected, but rather it was floating in the center—suspended in midair—a shimmering globule of mercurylike liquid. Hovering as if by magic, the liquid tumbled in space. Metallic wavelets rippled across the droplet’s surface. The suspended fluid reminded Langdon of a video he had once seen of a water droplet in zero G. Although he knew the globule was microscopic, he could see every changing gorge and undulation as the ball of plasma rolled slowly in suspension.
“It’s . . . floating,” he said.
“It had better be,” Vittoria replied. “Antimatter is highly unstable. Energetically speaking, antimatter is the mirror image of matter, so the two instantly cancel each other out if they come in contact. Keeping antimatter isolated from matter is a challenge, of course, because
on earth is made of matter. The samples have to be stored without ever touching anything at all—even air.”
Langdon was amazed.
Talk about working in a vacuum.
“These antimatter traps?” Kohler interrupted, looking amazed as he ran a pallid finger around one’s base.
“They are your father’s design?”
“Actually,” she said, “they are mine.”
Kohler looked up.
Vittoria’s voice was unassuming. “My father produced the first particles of antimatter but was stymied by how to store them. I suggested these. Airtight nanocomposite shells with opposing electromagnets at each end.”
“It seems your father’s genius has rubbed off.”
“Not really. I borrowed the idea from nature. Portuguese man-o’-wars trap fish between their tentacles using nematocystic charges. Same principle here. Each canister has two electromagnets, one at each end. Their opposing magnetic fields intersect in the center of the canister and hold the antimatter there, suspended in midvacuum.”
Langdon looked again at the canister. Antimatter floating in a vacuum, not touching anything at all. Kohler was right. It was genius.
“Where’s the power source for the magnets?” Kohler asked.
Vittoria pointed. “In the pillar beneath the trap. The canisters are screwed into a docking port that continuously recharges them so the magnets never fail.”
“And if the field fails?”
“The obvious. The antimatter falls out of suspension, hits the bottom of the trap, and we see an annihilation.”
Langdon’s ears pricked up. “Annihilation?” He didn’t like the sound of it. Vittoria looked unconcerned. “Yes. If antimatter and matter make contact, both are destroyed instantly. Physicists call the process ‘annihilation.’ ”
Langdon nodded. “Oh.”
“It is nature’s simplest reaction. A particle of matter and a particle of antimatter combine to release two
particles—called photons. A photon is effectively a tiny puff of light.”
Langdon had read about photons—light particles—the purest form of energy. He decided to refrain from asking about Captain Kirk’s use of photon torpedoes against the Klingons. “So if the antimatter falls, we see a tiny puff of light?”
Vittoria shrugged. “Depends what you call tiny. Here, let me demonstrate.” She reached for the canister and started to unscrew it from its charging podium.
Without warning, Kohler let out a cry of terror and lunged forward, knocking her hands away. “Vittoria!
Are you insane!”
K ohler, incredibly, was standing for a moment, teetering on two withered legs. His face was white with fear. “Vittoria! You can’t remove that trap!”
Langdon watched, bewildered by the director’s sudden panic.
“Five hundred nanograms!” Kohler said. “If you break the magnetic field—”
“Director,” Vittoria assured, “it’s perfectly safe. Every trap has a failsafe—a back-up battery in case it is removed from its recharger. The specimen remains suspended even if I remove the canister.”
Kohler looked uncertain. Then, hesitantly, he settled back into his chair.
“The batteries activate automatically,” Vittoria said, “when the trap is moved from the recharger. They work for twenty-four hours. Like a reserve tank of gas.” She turned to Langdon, as if sensing his discomfort. “Antimatter has some astonishing characteristics, Mr. Langdon, which make it quite dangerous. A ten milligram sample—the volume of a grain of sand—is hypothesized to hold as much energy as about two hundred metric tons of conventional rocket fuel.”
Langdon’s head was spinning again.
“It is the energy source of tomorrow. A thousand times more powerful than nuclear energy. One hundred percent efficient. No byproducts. No radiation. No pollution. A few grams could power a major city for a week.”
Langdon stepped uneasily back from the podium.
“Don’t worry,” Vittoria said. “
samples are minuscule fractions of a gram—
. Relatively harmless.” She reached for the canister again and twisted it from its docking platform. Kohler twitched but did not interfere. As the trap came free, there was a sharp beep, and a small LED
display activated near the base of the trap. The red digits blinked, counting down from twenty-four hours.
24:00:00 . . .
23:59:59 . . .
23:59:58 . . .
Langdon studied the descending counter and decided it looked unsettlingly like a time bomb.
“The battery,” Vittoria explained, “will run for the full twenty-four hours before dying. It can be recharged by placing the trap back on the podium. It’s designed as a safety measure, but it’s also convenient for transport.”
“Transport?” Kohler looked thunderstruck. “You take this stuff out of the lab?”
“Of course not,” Vittoria said. “But the mobility allows us to study it.”
Vittoria led Langdon and Kohler to the far end of the room. She pulled a curtain aside to reveal a window, beyond which was a large room. The walls, floors, and ceiling were entirely plated in steel. The room reminded Langdon of the holding tank of an oil freighter he had once taken to Papua New Guinea to study
“It’s an annihilation tank,” Vittoria declared.
Kohler looked up. “You actually
“My father was fascinated with the physics of the Big Bang—large amounts of energy from minuscule kernels of matter.” Vittoria pulled open a steel drawer beneath the window. She placed the trap inside the drawer and closed it. Then she pulled a lever beside the drawer. A moment later, the trap appeared on the other side of the glass, rolling smoothly in a wide arc across the metal floor until it came to a stop near the center of the room.
Vittoria gave a tight smile. “You’re about to witness your first antimatter-matter annihilation. A few millionths of a gram. A relatively minuscule specimen.”
Langdon looked out at the antimatter trap sitting alone on the floor of the enormous tank. Kohler also turned toward the window, looking uncertain.
“Normally,” Vittoria explained, “we’d have to wait the full twenty-four hours until the batteries died, but this chamber contains magnets beneath the floor that can override the trap, pulling the antimatter out of suspension. And when the matter and antimatter touch . . .”
“Annihilation,” Kohler whispered.
“One more thing,” Vittoria said. “Antimatter releases pure energy. A one hundred percent conversion of mass to photons. So don’t look directly at the sample. Shield your eyes.”
Langdon was wary, but he now sensed Vittoria was being overly dramatic.
Don’t look directly at the
The device was more than thirty yards away, behind an ultrathick wall of tinted Plexiglas. Moreover, the speck in the canister was invisible, microscopic.
Shield my eyes?
much energy could that speck possibly
Vittoria pressed the button.
Instantly, Langdon was blinded. A brilliant point of light shone in the canister and then exploded outward in a shock wave of light that radiated in all directions, erupting against the window before him with thunderous force. He stumbled back as the detonation rocked the vault. The light burned bright for a moment, searing, and then, after an instant, it rushed back inward, absorbing in on itself, and collapsing into a tiny speck that disappeared to nothing. Langdon blinked in pain, slowly recovering his eyesight. He squinted into the smoldering chamber. The canister on the floor had entirely disappeared. Vaporized. Not a trace.
He stared in wonder. “G . . . God.”
Vittoria nodded sadly. “That’s precisely what my father said.”
K ohler was staring into the annihilation chamber with a look of utter amazement at the spectacle he had just seen. Robert Langdon was beside him, looking even more dazed.
“I want to see my father,” Vittoria demanded. “I showed you the lab. Now I want to see my father.”
Kohler turned slowly, apparently not hearing her. “Why did you wait so long, Vittoria? You and your father should have told me about this discovery immediately.”
Vittoria stared at him.
How many reasons do you want?
“Director, we can argue about this later. Right now, I want to see my father.”
“Do you know what this technology implies?”
“Sure,” Vittoria shot back. “Revenue for CERN. A lot of it. Now I want—”
“Is that why you kept it secret?” Kohler demanded, clearly baiting her. “Because you feared the board and I would vote to license it out?”
be licensed,” Vittoria fired back, feeling herself dragged into the argument. “Antimatter is important technology. But it’s also dangerous. My father and I wanted time to refine the procedures and make it safe.”
“In other words, you didn’t trust the board of directors to place prudent science before financial greed.”
Vittoria was surprised with the indifference in Kohler’s tone. “There were other issues as well,” she said.
“My father wanted time to present antimatter in the appropriate light.”
What do you think I mean?
“Matter from energy? Something from nothing? It’s practically proof that Genesis is a scientific possibility.”
“So he didn’t want the religious implications of his discovery lost in an onslaught of commercialism?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
Vittoria’s concerns, ironically, were somewhat the opposite. Commercialism was critical for the success of any new energy source. Although antimatter technology had staggering potential as an efficient and nonpolluting energy source—if unveiled prematurely, antimatter ran the risk of being vilified by the politics and PR fiascoes that had killed nuclear and solar power. Nuclear had proliferated before it was safe, and there were accidents. Solar had proliferated before it was efficient, and people lost money. Both technologies got bad reputations and withered on the vine.
“My interests,” Vittoria said, “were a bit less lofty than uniting science and religion.”
“The environment,” Kohler ventured assuredly.
“Limitless energy. No strip mining. No pollution. No radiation. Antimatter technology could save the planet.”
“Or destroy it,” Kohler quipped. “Depending on who uses it for what.” Vittoria felt a chill emanating from Kohler’s crippled form. “Who else knew about this?” he asked.
“No one,” Vittoria said. “I told you that.”
“Then why do you think your father was killed?”
Vittoria’s muscles tightened. “I have no idea. He had enemies here at CERN, you know that, but it couldn’t have had anything to do with antimatter. We swore to each other to keep it between us for another few months, until we were ready.”
“And you’re certain your father kept his vow of silence?”
Now Vittoria was getting mad. “My father has kept tougher vows than that!”
told no one?”
“Of course not!”
Kohler exhaled. He paused, as though choosing his next words carefully. “Suppose someone
find out. And suppose someone gained access to this lab. What do you imagine they would be after? Did your father have notes down here? Documentation of his processes?”
“Director, I’ve been patient. I need some answers now. You keep talking about a break-in, but you saw the retina scan. My father has been vigilant about secrecy and security.”
“Humor me,” Kohler snapped, startling her. “What would be missing?”
“I have no idea.” Vittoria angrily scanned the lab. All the antimatter specimens were accounted for. Her father’s work area looked in order. “Nobody came in here,” she declared. “Everything up here looks fine.”
Kohler looked surprised. “
Vittoria had said it instinctively. “Yes, here in the upper lab.”
“You’re using the lower lab too?”
Kohler rolled toward her, coughing again. “You’re using the Haz-Mat chamber for storage? Storage of
Hazardous material, what else!
Vittoria was losing her patience. “Antimatter.”
Kohler lifted himself on the arms of his chair. “There are
specimens? Why the hell didn’t you tell me!”
“I just did,” Vittoria fired back. “And you’ve barely given me a chance!”
“We need to check those specimens,” Kohler said. “Now.”