Title: When Feathers Fall

Author: Mir

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Author's note: This chapter sees a shift firmly away from the canon movie script into a plot of my own design – which is perhaps a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it grants more freedom for creativity (not having to fit everything into already authored scenes) but one the other requires more brainpower to create. I puzzled over this chapter for days, but in the end, it almost seemed to write itself… I might do a few tweaks and re-upload in a few days.

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Chapter 4

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She spotted him first, a pale face hovering above a dark smudge of an overcoat half-hidden in the doorway. At the car's approach, he hastily turned back in toward the wall and tugged at the coat's broad collar as if to hide his face. Only after a fleeting glance over his shoulder revealed the identity of the vehicle's occupants did he slide sideways into the soft light cast by the sconces overhead. He nodded in greeting as Langdon brought the car to stop.

"He looks horrible." Vittoria Vetra tugged at her seatbelt and leaned forward to get a better viewing angle around Langdon's head. "Do you think he needs help?" But as she began to reach for door handle, McKenna finally pushed himself away from the wall, and with one arm pressed protectively against his midsection, limped across to the car, pulled open the door, and sank heavily into the back seat, closing his eyes with a pained sigh.

"Father –" she began, her eyes taking in his appearance as Langdon likewise studied him through the rearview mirror. But he held up a hand before she could get farther.

"Please, if you will, let's move to a safer location first." He paused for a moment, either in thought or to catch his breath. "Up ahead, take the first left…" The car began to roll forward again. "…then continue right around the next curve, that's it…"

"But you should see a doctor." Vittoria interrupted as the muted glow of streetlamps flickered by the tinted windows.

"Yes, perhaps," was the offhand dismissal. "In due time." As the dark outlines of trees loomed ahead, he gave the order to turn left again, and they found themselves in the mostly-deserted parking lot below a multi-storied squarish building, an administrative-type structure by the look of it. It was only when they glanced upward did they notice the large satellite dishes and medium-wave radio transmitter pointing skyward. Vatican Radio.

"They'll have a skeleton staff on duty tonight," he continued, pointing to an empty patch of pavement sheltered beneath the trees. "We'll enter through the back…" A row of lights from second floor windows shone bright against the night sky, but the rest of the building appeared dark and empty.

Langdon pulled into the indicated spot but let the engine idle as he turned to confront McKenna face-to-face. "Richter had a video feed installed in the Papal office…" He paused, watching for any kind of reaction on the other's face cut continued when none seemed forthcoming. "…we watched the footage from tonight."

But if he'd been expecting shock or embarrassment, or even anger, all he received from the Camerlengo was a slight nod of understanding. "It was truly a secret – No one knew of its existence save for His Holiness, the Commandante, and myself." He spoke without moving, his head resting back against the headrest and his eyes half-closed. "Please, we can talk about this later, but for now we need to keep moving, to get inside." He sighed as his two companions seemed to dismiss his sense of urgency with flat expressions and unwavering stares. "There was an attempt on my life… after the explosion in St. Peter's Square. I was at the Domus Sanctae Marthae…" He leaned forward, one arm across his knees as if steeling himself to stand.

"We'll talk inside then." It was Vittoria who replied, taking the decision into her own hands as she stared down Langdon's protests and walked around to the car's back door to offer McKenna a hand. He accepted gratefully, swinging his feet down onto the ground but pausing as though unsure of whether he'd be able to stand. She placed a supporting hand at his back as he gripped the doorframe and willed stiff muscles to cooperate. "But we will talk."

They made their way across the lot to an unassuming side door that swung open at McKenna's touch. He pocketed the key and groped in the dark along the side of the wall until his hand fumbled across the light switch, and the hall filled with light just as any office corridor might. "Come, this way," he urged as the professor's eyes began to wander across the old charts and photographs hung down the length of the hall. And so, with Vetra helping to support his weight, he led them down to a certain office where he half-sat, half-fell into the chair behind the broad wooden desk and immediately began rifling through its drawers in search of…

"Who was it? Was it the Illuminati? How many people are involv—" She stood beside him looking down, and would have continued to press for answers except for a pleading look as McKenna held the two way radio he'd been searching for up to his mouth and placed a finger silently across his lips as he depressed the transmit button.

"QG, QG…"
"Si, Il quartier generale. Chi parla?"
"Sono Patrizio. Posso parlare con Ten. Chartrand…"

"What's he saying?" Robert mouthed the words at Vittoria, who was standing beside the Camerlengo. She listened for a moment later, then replied:

"It's the Swiss Guards… He's asking for Lieutenant Chartrand… Now he's explaining that he was attacked after the explosion… by a man he thought at first was a doctor. He says he's reached the lighthouse and will shortly illuminate the sky." She paused to catch her breath as McKenna waited for a response from the other end of the line. "Chartrand cautions it might be prudent to wait until morning…"

"But the morning newscast is in a few hours." McKenna, agitated, dropped back into his native English. "Once the staff arrives, we'll lose access. And the people need to hear a message of hope and unity. They need to know that we'll stand strong against the evil forces at work…" His voice trailed off as his finger slipped from the button, and static cracked from the speaker on the other end of radio.

"They know, Father. They saw you tonight, and they understood. Just stay where you are, and we'll come and get you," said the speaker in Italian. "Let there be another vote before noon…"

There was a pause as the transmission ended with a beep, but McKenna stared silently at the device in his hand, unsure of how to reply. With a fleeting glance at first Vittoria, then Langdon, he eventually brought the radio up one more time to his mouth, his thumb gradually depressing the button as though still undecided on how to proceed. "Then send someone if you must, but give us fifteen minutes… You must, for the sake of the lives already lost tonight."

There was a crackle on the radio, a murmur of reluctant agreement, then the Camerlengo turned to both of his companions, and with a look they recognized, said with quiet determination, "We haven't much time."

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It turned out his plan was simple, so simple it might actually work. They would access the building's transmission equipment and send out a message aimed on the one hand to reassure the crowds and on the other, to hopefully lure any Illuminati still in the area into a trap. Even if they weren't listening at the moment of the broadcast, any form of communication from the official Vatican station while the cardinals were still in conclave, was bound to be picked up and rebroadcast by the news channels all gathered in St. Peter's Square. The only question remaining was the actual content of the message.

"Any good symbol is direct, obvious though without seeming so." Naturally, they'd turned to the resident symbologist for assistance. "Take, for example, the wheel – In everyday life you see them everywhere. Cars, bicycles, trains… It's a cornerstone of civilization, an emblem of modern life. And yet in how many cultures does it also have symbolic meaning? The Buddhist wheel of life, the native American medicine wheel, the Hindu mandala… Its meaning changes depending on your viewpoint, on where you stand, and what you're looking for." Langdon, once again in his element, stood in radio station's small auxiliary control room, one hand resting against the switch panel, the other casually at his hip as he launched into what could easily have been the opening of a freshman college lecture.

"Professor, I'm afraid that now is not the time—" McKenna interjected, from where he was seated against the wall.

He held up a hand to stave off the other's interruption, continuing with hardly a break in his verbal stride. "So we tell them that we've uncovered something amazing, something sacred, an artifact of sorts perhaps. That it was somehow revealed in the aftermath of the shockwave. It doesn't matter what it is as long as it's tied to the events of tonight – a sign, if you will, of God's benevolence in sparing everyone gathered in the square…"

"But that's outright lying, it's—" It was Vittoria who voiced the objection.

"—it's PR management, bending the truth, feeding the media…" Langdon countered. "We'll say where it's being kept, ensure that it's a location that seems easily accessible, then wait for the Illuminati to show up. If they're truly still out there, they won't be able to resist attempting to destroy it."

"That's playing with people's minds, with their religion, with our…" Dr. Vetra continued adamantly, on her feet now and approaching Langdon with quick paces across the room's cramped space. They stared intently at each other, caught in a struggle between pragmatism and belief.

"We're running out of time…" McKenna murmured, more to himself than to the others. Forgotten for a moment as he slouched tiredly with his head against the wall, he leveraged himself from the chair and with a few limping steps, managed to reach the main control board. His two companions turned as he steadied himself with both hands against the slanting surface, his eyes closed for several breaths as he gathered his thoughts.

"Patrick…" Vittoria's gaze softened as she reached out to steady him, but he waved her assistance off as he began to reach across the switchboard and activate switches.

"The equipment's already been prepped for the schedule morning newscast. All we need to do is patch ourselves in…"

"…But you can't simply pretend that—" She protested, appalled almost that the Camerlengo, of all people, had apparently agreed to Langdon's plan.

"—I'll say that the restricted Vatican archives sustained minor damage tonight," he continued as though she hadn't spoken, then with a pause, gave Langdon a knowing look. "And a number of volumes, including some of Galileo's original documents, have been temporarily moved to the library of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences for safekeeping." But as he keyed the final switches to power up the equipment, the two-way radio, now sitting back on the chair across the room, crackled, and all three sets of eyes abruptly turned in its direction.

"Lighthouse, we're here." The voice said in static-filled Italian.

For a moment they just stared at it as if unsure of what to do, but as Vittoria, who was closest, reached over to retrieve the handset and began to pass it to McKenna, he shook his head and murmured, "Take it into the hall and tell them we'll only be a minute, please." Confident that she'd comply, he turned to Robert Langdon. "And professor, if you will, look out the windows on this hall and around the corner to see on which side of the building they've parked the car. It will be black like the one you took…"

And oddly enough, they found themselves doing just that – setting out to complete the tasks assigned them. There was something in his voice, despite everything that had already happened that night, a calm rationality to his instructions. It was only as Vittoria closed the door behind her did she even realize that they'd left him with the radio controls alone.

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"…Tonight, as you well know, we came under attack from an old enemy, an enemy that sought to destroy us at our very core. But even the destructive power of science gone astray proved insufficient to break our faith, our resolve, our unity when faced with annihilation. Since its early days, the Church has tried to slow the relentless march of science, sometimes with misguided means, but even then, with benevolent intent. Yet today, the ghosts of the past came back to haunt us – The Illunimati seeking revenge for past transgressions. They call us backward, ignorant. But who is more ignorant? The man who cannot define lightning, or the man who does not respect its awesome power? Science and religion are not enemies, but there are things that science is simply too young to understand." He paused for a moment to catch his breath.

"Together we must stand strong against those who would seek to do us harm. Fortunately, their efforts tonight have failed. For we are still standing shoulder to shoulder, are we not? Some structures, the Vatican archives for example, have received minor damage, but the irreplaceable documents of Galileo, Mozart, Leopardi, and others have been temporarily moved to the library of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences for safekeeping."

"Today, we need to lift the veil of secrecy we've hidden behind in the past and together seek God's guidance on the challenges before us…"

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The stood outside the solid wooden door and listened as he laid the trap with words aimed to both incite and reassure. Meanings change depending on your viewpoint, on where you stand, and what you're looking for. But as the Camerlengo's voice trailed off apparently mid-sentence and remained silent for several long seconds, Lagdon reached for the door handle, and with a nod of agreement from Vittoria, swung the door open into the hall.

He'd slumped forward against the control console, his head resting among the lights still flickering with activity, and Langdon quickly cut power to the system, thus ending the transmission. "The car's at the back," he said as he maneuvered to get his shoulder beneath McKenna's arm. "Let's get him outside." And as the priest mumbled something incoherently between them, the three slowly made their way down the hall and out the back door to where a dew-covered black sedan sat glistening in the glow of pre-dawn light.

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End note: If it wasn't clear from the start, the views expressed by the characters in this story are not my own. This is fiction written for entertainment value, not commentary on theology. Also, I tried to use some of the verbiage from Patrick McKenna's speech in the movie's conclave scene into his radio address. It's a hard balancing act… I'd like to portray him as not so much anti-science (as he was clearly in the script) but as pro-Church.


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