At CERN, secretary Sylvie Baudeloque was hungry, wishing she could go home. To her dismay, Kohler had apparently survived his trip to the infirmary; he had phoned and demanded - not asked, demanded - that Sylvie stay late this evening. No explanation.
Over the years, Sylvie had programmed herself to ignore Kohler's bizarre mood swings and eccentricities - his silent treatments, his unnerving propensity to secretly film meetings with his wheelchair's porta-video. She secretly hoped one day he would shoot himself during his weekly visit to CERN's recreational pistol range, but apparently he was a pretty good shot.
Now, sitting alone at her desk, Sylvie heard her stomach growling. Kohler had not yet returned, nor had he given her any additional work for the evening. To hell with sitting here bored and starving, she decided. She left Kohler a note and headed for the staff dining commons to grab a quick bite.
She never made it.
As she passed CERN's recreational "suites de loisir" - a long hallway of lounges with televisions - she noticed the rooms were overflowing with employees who had apparently abandoned dinner to watch the news. Something big was going on. Sylvie entered the first suite. It was packed with byte-heads - wild young computer programmers. When she saw the headlines on the TV, she gasped.
Terror at the Vatican
Sylvie listened to the report, unable to believe her ears. Some ancient brotherhood killing cardinals? What did that prove? Their hatred? Their dominance? Their ignorance?
And yet, incredibly, the mood in this suite seemed anything but somber.
Two young techies ran by waving T-shirts that bore a picture of Bill Gates and the message:
And the Geek shall inherit the Earth!
"Illuminati!" one shouted. "I told you these guys were real!"
"Incredible! I thought it was just a game!"
"They killed the Pope, man! The Pope!"
"Jeez! I wonder how many points you get for that?"
They ran off laughing.
Sylvie stood in stunned amazement. As a Catholic working among scientists, she occasionally endured the antireligious whisperings, but the party these kids seemed to be having was all-out euphoria over the church's loss. How could they be so callous? Why the hatred?
For Sylvie, the church had always been an innocuous entity... a place of fellowship and introspection... sometimes just a place to sing out loud without people staring at her. The church recorded the benchmarks of her life - funerals, weddings, baptisms, holidays - and it asked for nothing in return. Even the monetary dues were voluntary. Her children emerged from Sunday School every week uplifted, filled with ideas about helping others and being kinder. What could possibly be wrong with that?
It never ceased to amaze her that so many of CERN's so-called "brilliant minds" failed to comprehend the importance of the church. Did they really believe quarks and mesons inspired the average human being? Or that equations could replace someone's need for faith in the divine?
Dazed, Sylvie moved down the hallway past the other lounges. All the TV rooms were packed. She began wondering now about the call Kohler had gotten from the Vatican earlier. Coincidence? Perhaps. The Vatican called CERN from time to time as a "courtesy" before issuing scathing statements condemning CERN's research - most recently for CERN's breakthroughs in nanotechnology, a field the church denounced because of its implications for genetic engineering. CERN never cared. Invariably, within minutes after a Vatican salvo, Kohler's phone would ring off the hook with tech-investment companies wanting to license the new discovery. "No such thing as bad press," Kohler would always say.
Sylvie wondered if she should page Kohler, wherever the hell he was, and tell him to turn on the news. Did he care? Had he heard? Of course, he'd heard. He was probably videotaping the entire report with his freaky little camcorder, smiling for the first time in a year.
As Sylvie continued down the hall, she finally found a lounge where the mood was subdued... almost melancholy. Here the scientists watching the report were some of CERN's oldest and most respected. They did not even look up as Sylvie slipped in and took a seat.
On the other side of CERN, in Leonardo Vetra's frigid apartment, Maximilian Kohler had finished reading the leather-bound journal he'd taken from Vetra's bedside table. Now he was watching the television reports. After a few minutes, he replaced Vetra's journal, turned off the television, and left the apartment.
Far away, in Vatican City, Cardinal Mortati carried another tray of ballots to the Sistine Chapel chimney. He burned them, and the smoke was black.
Two ballotings. No Pope.