Title: When Feathers Fall
Disclaimer: The book and film Angles and Demons, its characters, and its plot belong to Dan Brown, Columbia Pictures, and all those involved in the film's production.
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Author's note: This is a movie-based non-canon fic in which the mayhem that ensues throughout the plotline is not caused by Camerlengo Patrick McKenna, and he is not really the mastermind behind the attacks on the cardinals and Vatican City (though perhaps still as anti-scientific progress as the film version of his character is shown to be). Yes, I've read the book, but Camerlengo Carlo Ventresca is more definitively a malicious, scheming character – the film's Patrick McKenna leaves more room for plausible deniability. Unfortunately, in neither version is the character a cardinal (as would be more real-world accurate since the office of Camerlengo is always occupied by a cardinal), but I guess that would have thrown a wrench in Brown's overall plot… Anyhow, this fic picks up toward the end of the film and branches off from there.
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"It's cold down here, isn't it?"
"We may have less than five minutes."
"If I pull the power with less than five minutes, the residual charge won't hold suspension. We should leave it here and get clear if we can. At least down here, the danger—"
"—No!" At the scientist's words, any reservations, vestiges of hesitation were burned from his mind like a spark of flame searing the ground bare. His hands shot forward to grab glowing tube, then he was nothing but a flutter of black robes disappearing around the corner before even the Swiss Guard could scramble in pursuit. But as the rhythmic beat of shoes against the stone fell into step behind him, there was just one thought on his mind – get to the helicopter.
The nave of the Basilica – that dark, cavernous space endowed with the solemn dignity of centuries of ceremony – seemed endlessly long even as he knew each step propelled him closer to the open sky. But when he finally emerged into the chaos of St. Peter's Square, the harsh glare of TV floodlights and swaying of the teeming crowds almost forced him back into that safe anonymity of darkness. As his resolve began to falter, it was the Swiss Guard at his heels that forced him onward – and inertia carried the men forward down the stairs as quickly as the police could clear a path. And as the masses surged forward in their wake to close off the escape route behind them, there was no choice but to go rush toward that inevitable premeditated deed. Perhaps heroic, perhaps foolish, perhaps divine, perhaps insane.
The bird was perched atop the stones, its propellers slicing through the sky and drowning out the voices of adorers and dissenters alike. Reporters hunched tenaciously over their microphones and shouted updates in broken bits of languages from every continent. Then like a drop of water creating ripples across a pond, suddenly everyone began to whisper "la bomba," – the bomb.
"Roberto, this is an emergency. I'll take her up alone."
For the pilot, it was automatic. A glance into the Camerlengo's eyes, at the cylinder clutched in his hands, and before anyone could question the switch, the helicopter was hovering above the ground as its proper pilot stumbled back against the circled spectators. Dust and debris were thrown up from the stones, and above the commotion someone shouted in response to an unheard question, "Yes, he's got clearance."
From inside the cabin, as the faces below began to blur into a rippling sea of color carpeting the square from end to end, despite the deafening roar of the helicopter's blades, all he could hear was the pounding of his heart racing uncontrollably beneath the mark burned ineligibly into his chest. As if on autopilot, his hands reached for the familiar controls and forced the aircraft upward as quickly as physics would allow. Beside him, the antimatter tumbled over itself inside the glass – an enthralling cosmic dance that spelled nothing but death and destruction. The battery's third power bar winked out as the ground fell away, leaving only two red lines between safety and oblivion. He closed as eyes as time stalled, and each heartbeat felt like an eternity and an instant. Two bars faded into one, and still he climbed higher.
Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit… But where he should have felt calm and resolute, conflict gripped his heart and shrouded his words in doubt. Did Christ feel so ill at ease in those final moments upon the cross? He exhaled slowly, feeling the air escape his lungs, then held his breath until instinct forced him to inhale again. And somehow, inexplicably, except perhaps through the workings of the divine, he knew – was sure beyond doubt – that this wasn't his proper time. Whatever I may be needed for, lend me the strength to see your will be done… He could never explain how, in the battery's final moments he managed to find the parachute, fasten the harness, and jump clear of the ascending bird. All he could say for sure was that when the explosion tossed him through the swirling night head-over-heels like a leaf in a storm, St. Peter's Square was a glowing beacon beneath his feet, a welcome harbor calling him home.
The first shockwave tore through the atmosphere in a blinding flash of white and orange – flames that engulfed the stars, burned away the clouds, and scattered the helicopter into cascading bits of smoldering shrapnel. But as the energy released seem inexplicably to collapse back into itself, it was the second explosion that tossed him adrift like flotsam in the fiercest of storms. For if the first blast signified the power of destruction, the second that surged forth a mere heartbeat later spoke of the antithesis – creation. Let light shine out of darkness…
He closed his eyes against the turbulence and let the air carry him down toward an inescapable reality of questioning and doubts. Despite long-held convictions and the shreds of denial he clung to like a buoy in the sea, he wondered, in a way that had seemed impossible just hours before, whether science could simply be just another expression of God's will… But before the thought could take root in his mind, the earth rose up to swallow him, and he slammed hard against the Basilica's roof, bouncing roughly along its tiled edge before slipping limply down into the square below.
The stones beneath his back were firm, unmoving. And the pressure of air heavy with smoke and sweat forced him back into awareness. Hands, unwelcome in their intrusion, pulled at his clothes and the clasps that tethered him to the parachute's deflated remains. Hesitantly he pried his eyes open and squinted into the blurry haze of bystanders. Pools of color coalesced into expressions of relief that floated everywhere around him as the harness fell away at last. Strangers immediately supported his back and shoulders as he struggled up from the ground until suddenly the police were also at his side, bearing his weight and elbowing the crowds away.
They staggered out into the square – emerging from between the pillars into a dazzling extravagance of flashing cameras and bright-eyes admirers. Those within reach sought to touch his shoulders, back, head as he passed by, while those farther away jostled for positions and raised their cell phones high above their heads to record the scene in grainy, low-definition clips. Though few, if any, knew the identity of the man before them, all had witnessed his dramatic return, and whispered rumors quickly spread among pilgrims and journalists alike.
With each step down, adrenalin gave way to exhaustion, and the ring of pushing spectators seemed to constrict more tightly around him. He paused, wavering uncertainly on his feet, and would have stumbled without the strong arm around his waist and firm grip anchoring his arm across another's shoulders. The world swam in and out of focus before him, a fluid kaleidoscope of people-like shapes shouting words he only half-heard. Then two more steps, and suddenly there was a car blocking the path, a dark-windowed police vehicle whose open door promised the sanctuary of privacy within.
"Please, Signore." He hardly heard the solicitation, but the accompanying gesture was clear, and as the door closed behind him, the car began to inch forward through the crowds as through its wheels had sunk in tar. Camerlengo Patrick McKenna leaned heavily against the glass, eyes closed, one arm pressed against the pain in his chest.
"Father, you shouldn't sleep yet." The front seat passenger leaned into the center of the car to place a hand gently on his knee. It was a member of the Swiss Guard, a dark-suited shadow with a worried expression and heavily-accented English. And the other sighed, knowing without being told that he likely had a concussion and that there might still be danger afoot out on the street. The driver glanced back through the rear view mirror and offered a silent smile of reassurance. And as the car finally broke free of human obstacles, the noise of the square faded behind them until it dissolved into the low rumble of the car's engine.
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End note: I've sketched out a relatively short plotline, perhaps half a dozen parts. My track record for actually finishing stories has been abysmal lately, but we'll see how this goes. This seeks to finish the book's plot in a way that I think would make sense – presuming an independent Illuminati threat (i.e. not Camerlengo or Richter). Think of it as an attempt to tie up loose ends and redeem McKenna in a way different from the book or the film.