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Apocalypsis – Brutal Awakening

About the Book

Journalist Peter Adam wakes up in Germany. The Cologne Cathedral. He has somehow survived near-fatal injuries. But his memory from the past few days has been erased. What happened? Why can’t he remember? All around him the earth is shaking and Hell literally breaks loose as people spontaneously combust. It seems the apocalypse has begun…

Meanwhile, the Vatican’s chief exorcist has been elected pope. He has taken the name Peter II and seems set to fulfill the devastating prophecy of Malachi. The last hope for salvation? An enigmatic tattoo that has appeared all over Peter Adam’s body: in it, a pattern of ancient symbols could reveal one of the greatest mysteries in human history – the origin of evil.

About the Series

Written by award-winning screenwriter and author Mario Giordano, “Apocalypsis” is gripping and explosive: what starts out as a sophisticated Vatican conspiracy soon develops into a uniquely intense and spectacular thriller.

APOCALYPSIS is a serial novel told in twelve installments per book. The entire saga is revealed throughout three complete novels; this is the complete second novel.

About the Author

Mario Giordano was born 1963 in Munich, studied psychology in Düsseldorf and writes novels for adults old and young as well as screenplays (his credits include Tatort, Schimanski, Polizeiruf 110, Das Experiment). He lives in Berlin.

CONTENTS

 

 

Episode 1    ♦  AWAKENING

Episode 2    ♦  LION MAN

Episode 3    ♦  MAPPA MUNDI

Episode 4    ♦  DZYAN

Episode 5    ♦  THE END TIME

Episode 6    ♦  BLACK MADONNA

Episode 7    ♦  OCTAGON

Episode 8    ♦  TEMPLUM

Episode 9    ♦  THE RETURN

Episode 10  ♦  AREA 23

Episode 11  ♦  THE DEEP HOLE

Episode 12  ♦  THE END OF TIME

I

2nd July, the North Atlantic

The first sensation was an extraordinary lightness of being, of floating, dreaming. A wonderful feeling. Faces drifted through his head, trailing names behind them like the ripples left by a tiny boat on a vast ocean. Nicholas, Maria, Don Luigi, Laurenz, Kelly, Ellen. A woman’s tinkling laughter. Green eyes. Blurred images bathed in a blue light. Signs, symbols written in a strange hand. A mumbling, monotonous chant in a strange, disturbingly familiar tongue. Oroni bajihie Oiada! Orocahe quare, Micama! Bial! Oiad! Zodacare od Zodameranu! Noco Mada, hoathahe Saitan! Men in monks’ robes standing in a circle around a great stone, their hoods pulled low to conceal their faces. The voice of a child, frantic and afraid: Where are my mummy and daddy? Don’t leave me on my own. A whiff of holy water and clove oil. A young man on a massage couch, cramps coursing through his body, cursing in the Naples dialect: Ti scass’ à facci hom’ e merda!

A number. 306. Water. Endless water. An ocean by night, with a blue light reflecting on the waves, up and down, up and down. A fountain. A spiral symbol, spinning. Faster and faster. A lullaby from long ago: “Little rabbit in your hole, sat and slept. Sat and slept, sat and slept.”

Somebody calling. Pay no attention. Stay as you are, so peaceful, gently rocking, up and down, forever weightless.

And then he woke up.

Violently and without warning Peter Adam reentered a world of pain, panic and terror. On opening his eyes the first and only thing he was aware of was a pleasant, warm milky light enveloping him. For a moment he was tempted to yield to this friendly benevolent light that seemed to fill the world and keep him gently afloat. Beyond it there were only sketchy shadows, far in the distance. The next thing he was aware of was the tube running down his throat. Instinctively he tried to breathe, and couldn’t. The tube was blocking his windpipe. He realized two things right away: first, that he was under water, encased in some sort of transparent cocoon. Second, that this cocoon was filled with an opaque milky water in which his body floated like an embryo in its amniotic sac. That was when the shock set in. He thrashed out in all directions with his arms and legs. He tried to grasp the material that encased him, but to no avail. Whatever it was made of was tough and leathery. Despite the fact that he was under water he tried to scream with all the force of his lungs. But the pipe running down his throat made that impossible, too. The pressure on his lungs was growing. Terrified that he was about to drown or suffocate, he clawed frantically at the transparent cocoon surrounding him. Finally, the fingers of his left hand managed to force their way through and rip a hole in it.

He pushed his head through, only to be blinded by the light. The pressure on his lungs eased immediately, but he still had the tube down his throat. Naked, his whole body coated with a cheesy slime, he collapsed on the floor. The pain of his fall contrasted violently with the pleasant feeling of weightlessness just a few minutes earlier and brought him sharply down to earth. Instinctively, he grabbed the tube and choked as he pulled it from his throat, only to realize that there were in fact two tubes, down both his windpipe and his gullet. In desperation he yanked both seemingly endless tubes from his throat, vomiting up a torrent of brightly colored liquid. Now at last, groaning in pain, he managed to heave in a lungful of air.

But the act of breathing alone was torture. His lungs were on fire. In a puddle of milky goo, Peter curled up in a ball and gasped for breath, every now and then coughing up more liquid, retching and choking until he was able to inhale once more. To his surprise, he realized he had an erection which was only gradually subsiding.

When he had stopped coughing up more liquid and his breathing had eased, he took a quick look around him. The bright light came from a bulb suspended from the ceiling above him which appeared to be the only light. He was in an oval room with bare white walls. He was lying next to a sort of metal table, which he must have fallen off. The room was no bigger than his parents’ living room but there were three low banks of gently humming electronic equipment covered in LEDs and dials, and tubes and cables ran between them and the metal table. The floor was covered with his torn cocoon and the milky liquid, which was now giving off a sour smell. Only now did Peter notice with horror that the cocoon was attached to his body with pale tentacle-like growths of the same material, like umbilical cords made from a second skin.

What the hell kind of nightmare is this? Wake up! Wake up!

Maybe he was having an attack of paranoia. He half hoped he was. Whether it was a dream or madness, it felt all too real.

Do something! Anything!

The tentacles growing from his skin looked organic but didn’t seem to have veins or nerves. Cautiously, Peter prodded one. It didn’t hurt in the slightest but it was definitely attaching him to the cocoon.

Calm. Stay calm. Take a deep breath. Now …!

Trying hard to ignore his instinctive feeling of disgust, Peter grabbed hold of one of the tentacles and pulled hard. There was a short, sharp pain and with a sound like a wet kiss the knotted growth pulled free, leaving a tender pink patch on his skin like a burn mark. He summoned up his strength and one by one ripped off all the other tentacles, watching as they instantly curled and rolled back towards the cocoon.

Peter retched hard but no more liquid came up.

Stand up. You need to stand up.

Easier said than done. His legs would hardly support him. It took all his strength to haul himself up beside the metal table and use it to steady himself as he tried to stand. But the moment he let go of the table, his legs gave way beneath him as if they were no longer his. He slumped heavily to the floor again and twisted his ankle. He reached down to it with his left hand.

Your hand!

The sight that met his eyes was one that left the horrors of the tentacles in the shade. This hand …

Peter could not remember who had brought him here or how. He had only vague memories of what had happened to him. But the one thing he remembered clearly was the pain, and the blood gushing from the stump as his left hand was sliced off by an ancient Arab scimitar. He remembered quite clearly how all of a sudden his hand was no longer part of his body but a strange foreign object far away from him on the floor of a vaulted cellar underneath the Vatican. He remembered how they had speedily dragged him off, up slippery steps into the blazing sunlight.

Now, where the bleeding stump had been, Peter was looking at a brand new hand. Not a human hand, that much was clear. It was pale and white compared with the usual color of his skin and he could see the scar tissue where it had been joined to his lower arm. He could move it, feel things, grip them, but whenever he moved his fingers his stomach turned over. It was as if he was watching a parasite taking over his body.

He compared his two hands. They were the same size and shape. The fingers were the same, including the little indent on his ring finger, and the ball of his hand on each was the same size and shape. But the left was almost transparent. There were dark lines under the skin where the bones ought to be, but there was no sign of veins or arteries, just little pink specks beneath this alien skin.

Wake up! Wake up! This can’t really be happening!

Peter took a deep breath and touched the alien right hand with his left. At first he couldn’t feel anything at all in the new hand, but then when he pressed harder he became aware of the pressure while the fingertips of his right hand clearly told him that the alien limb was warm. The thing was alive.

Whatever it was, it had to go. And now.

Peter held the thing tight under his right arm and gritted his teeth against the pain as he tried to rip this alien hand off his body.

“Stop it! The process isn’t complete yet. Give it a little time.”

Peter spun his head round. Silently, without him noticing, a door had opened in the featureless white oval wall. Standing behind him, watching him with cold eyes as if he was some sort of foreign object, was a petite Japanese gentleman in a well-cut dark suit. Behind him stood three men in white protective clothing. They wore scrub caps on their heads and surgeon’s masks over their mouths. Peter recoiled instinctively.

“You woke up a little too early,” said the little Japanese man in a matter-of-fact voice. He came closer and said, “Actually, we didn’t intend to bring you round for another week.” He turned to the three men and gave them a look of stern disapproval. “But now here you are wide awake. How are you feeling, Mr. Adam?”

Peter retreated further, warily, shuffling along the floor, keeping the man in the suit and his three accomplices firmly in view. Until he found himself with his back to the wall.

“Who are you?”

The Japanese man made a formal little bow. “My name is Satoshi Nakashima. There is no reason for you to be afraid, Mr. Adam. You are quite safe here.”

You’re Nakashima?”

“I’m sorry if I disappoint you.” There was no hint of a smile on his face, just the same cold seriousness.

“Where am I?”

“Well, let us say, a hospital of sorts. You were not exactly in the best condition when they brought you in.”

Nakashima stepped round the metal table, taking care not to step in the slimy mess on the ground, but never taking his eyes off Peter.

“I realize what a shock it must have been for you to wake up like that, but please believe me that everything has gone as well as could be imagined. You’ll get used to your new hand. It is a miracle and every bit your own hand. There were no rejection symptoms. It is your own new hand. All you have to do is take a little time to get used to one another.”

Peter said nothing. The Japanese man was a good head shorter than he was and didn’t look particularly fit. He reckoned that even in his current condition he could overpower him.

But how will you deal with the other three?

Nakashima seemed to be reading his mind. “It is perfectly understandable to consider flight in a situation like this, but it would be equally crazy. If I had wanted you dead, Mr Adam, you would not be lying here before me like a new born baby. Because that is what you are: new born. And you have me to thank for it.”

“What do you want from me?” said Peter softly.

“All in good time. We’ll bring you some clothes shortly. But first we need to carry out a few tests.”

Peter glanced at his left hand. From the depths of his memory a sudden thought forced its way into his consciousness: “Where is Maria?”

“I shall see you later,” said Nakashima, ignoring his question, and with another little bow, he left the room. The three men in the protective clothing helped Peter to his feet, led him to the metal table and politely asked him to lie down.

“Are you thirsty?”

Peter nodded. They handed him a bottle of mineral water with Japanese writing on it. Peter emptied it in one go. He immediately felt better, less shaky. Despite his misgivings, Peter allowed them to use sterile wipes to clean the rest of the cheesy slime off his body. It was only then that he noticed he didn’t have any body hair. In fact, he had no hair at all. His skull was completely bald.

“Your hair will grow back,” one of the men reassured him. They appeared to be doctors. They examined the red marks where the tentacles had been attached to his body and swabbed them with a liquid that stung a little. Then one of the doctors began fixing ECG electrodes to his chest, while the other cleaned up the remainder of the slimy mess and the leathery cocoon.

“What is that thing made of?” asked Peter.

“Skin,” said one of the doctors.

“A type of skin,” his colleague added.

“You mean its synthetic?”

“No. Biological.”

“Like my hand.”

This time there was no answer. The men continued their work in silence, removed the electrodes, and checked his pupils. When one of them went to give him an injection, Peter instinctively grabbed the man’s arm with his left hand and bent it back. It was only a brief touch but the man screamed in pain and dropped the syringe. One of the others picked it up and threw it away.

“What’s the matter?” asked Peter. “I hardly touched him.”

“You’ve broken his arm.”

II

Aeons before our time.

In the beginning was the infection. The seed of destruction, the slow poison of decay, the spores of evil, born 14 billion years ago of energy and pure matter at the birth of the universe. At the moment the universe exploded like an overripe fruit and ballooned out into the newly created dimension of space, evil was already present. Evil was present when the dust and gas began to coalesce into galaxies, when the galactic clouds collapsed and the first suns condensed, bursting into fire under the pressure of their own mass, and the first planets began to form from the clouds of dust that surrounded them. Evil was omnipresent, and it found its way to Earth.

Four billion years before any living being on Earth could even conceive of a state of grace, the young planet had already been claimed by perdition. At that stage the Earth still had no solid surface. The tiny protoplanet was continually growing as asteroids and comets, dragged into the solar system by the gravity of the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, collided with it, fusing with the Earth and with the swarm of dust that surrounded it. Close to the sun, this dust was made up almost exclusively of iron oxides, silicon, magnesium, aluminum and other metals. The lighter elements and compounds gathered towards the outer limits of the solar system: nitrogen, carbonates, water. These were the building blocks of life, carried to Earth on asteroids and comets, infecting the young planet with life. And with Evil.

If one were to compare the history of the Earth from the beginning to the present era with a day that began at midnight, the clock would by this stage have been showing 7:00 a.m. Evil arrived at 7:00 a.m. A planet the size of Mars which had formed nearby collided with the Earth. The planet itself, which scientists would later call Theia, was shattered by the impact. The Earth itself was almost destroyed. Great masses of magna, ash and dust exploded into space and formed a ring of rubble orbiting the Earth like the rings of Saturn. Only later would this rubble coalesce into what we call the Moon.

The Earth had lost a lot but not all of its water, and water-bearing asteroids and comets continued to collide with it. The Earth continued to grow. But Evil had implanted itself, nesting in the planetary crust as it gradually cooled. It had time to kill. Time to wait. To wait for Life.

Around 8:00am by the planetary clock, or some three billion years ago, the surface temperature of the Earth dropped below 100 degrees Centigrade, the cosmic bombardment eased off and the earth’s crust began to consolidate. The first traces of an atmosphere began to develop, although still without oxygen. Only after the spark of biological evolution had been kindled, as the first oceans began to form and life began its irrevocable march to conquer the planet, did the amount of oxygen begin to grow, keeping pace with the spread of living matter. But it was not until that clock showed 10.00pm, in the Cambrian period some 500 million years ago, that Life really exploded into a multiplicity of plant and animal forms that spread to cover the entire globe.

And all the time Evil was growing too, slowly, unnaturally, fatally. every couple of thousand years it would stop, reach out with its senses to see if its time had come, and from time to time it would creep out and infect Life. But every time, Life managed to find a way to protect itself. Deep beneath the crust of Gondwana, the original mother continent, Evil waited patiently for the perfect host. Humanity.

Continents broke apart and collided together, Rodinia, Laurasia, Gondwana, Pangaea. Covered with glaciers, tropical forests, steppes and deserts, mountains rose and fell back to become plains again, eventually sliding beneath the surface to rejoin the liquid mantle. Evil spread everywhere. It survived the mass extinction 490 million years ago. Then 250 million years ago, on the border between the Permian and Triassic eras, an asteroid struck Antarctica at a speed of 58,000 kilometers per second. A seismic shock reverberated through the entire planet, causing the eruption of a gigantic field of magma in Siberia, on the other side of the earth. This double catastrophe wiped out nearly 99 % per cent of life on earth. Even the Evil was all but destroyed. But it survived and continued its waiting game, patient, primitive and hidden, until new life once again crept across the planet. At that point the earth was not only a fine planet but the only one in the entire universe on which life had developed. By the time Pteranodon took to the air and Tyrannosaurus Rex was hunting its prey, the Evil had almost doubled its presence. At 11:48pm on this first long celestial day in the history of the Earth, 65 million years ago, it witnessed the fall of the dinosaurs and the following rapid evolution of mammals until eventually, at two minutes before midnight, some seven million years ago, the first human being stood upright and looked over the tall grass of the savanna. Then Evil began to stir. The time had come for it to make this world its own.

But the Evil realized it had a foe. Through the millennia, life on earth had found ways and means of defending itself against infection and extinction. Another race had evolved alongside humanity. Highly developed humanoids who recognized the danger and devoted their entire culture and existence to fighting and containing the infection in the hope that one day, in the distant future, it might be expelled, sent back to where it belonged, in the wastes of the universe.

These creatures had evolved across millions of years with an immunity to the infection and powerful weapons to combat it: love and mercy. When humanity left its Garden of Eden, in an extinct volcano in what would one day become East Africa, and began the slow campaign of settling the world, far away these creatures were making important decisions. This race, consisting of no more than a few hundred thousand, lived in isolation on a micro-continent that had separated from South America and drifted across the Pacific Ocean towards the Asian continental plate. The creatures, who called themselves the Mh’u, had a highly developed language and literature and were also extremely proficient natural scientists. In the few million years that they had existed, the Mh’u had learned how to control the forces of nature without destroying them. They waged no wars nor did they commit murder. On average each of them lived several hundred years, most of which they spent fast asleep wrapped in their home-spun cocoons. When the Mh’u died, they did so only by their own hands, when their time had come. But before that day, they had spent thousands of years wrapped in their cocoons, weaving a destiny for the new young species called humanity, seeking ways to banish Evil from earth. Only when their work was complete and the infection could be eradicated from the planet did the Mh’u decide together that it was time to go, to vanish from the face of the Earth and take the land they had inhabited with them. They left almost no trace of their existence, allowing themselves to be absorbed into the common memory of the natural world. All they left behind were a few tokens: nine amulets forged from a curious material, the material they had used to imprison the Evil, and their language, embers of which remained aglow in the tongues of the Mayans, the Hopi, the ancient Egyptians and in Sanskrit.

But before the Mh’u decided they were no longer of this earth, they took precautions, programming the amulets for all time, and then they left them to their own devices to see the great plan for Grace come to fruition.

Seeing the history of our planet in the time frame of a single day, the Mh’u went to their chosen fate at four seconds to midnight. At two seconds to midnight, humankind began to create settlements, to give birth to the world’s first great cultures, to make mythical stories, all of which told of an ancient race who lived at the dawn of time and of an Evil that lurked in the bowels of the earth waiting to corrupt and destroy mortals. The nine amulets of the Mh’u were found, guarded, worshipped and then stolen. Time after time they were lost and found again, just as the Mh’u had known they would be.

Meanwhile, locked beneath the earth’s crust, weakened and imprisoned but still not destroyed, Evil screamed in agony on the molten mantle. At the crucial moment it had tried and failed to take control of the world. But the Mh’u had not been able to prevent it from briefly infecting mankind, which still carried the traces like a malignant wound that would one day open again and be the cause of its demise. Evil sat back. It could wait for a thousand years, for ten thousand years, for all eternity, until one day the seed it had sown would bear fruit and a man would come to open the gates of Hell.

III

2nd July, 2011, The North Atlantic.

Broken his arm?!” Peter stared at the pale alien hand on the end of his own arm as if it was a wild animal stalking him, waiting for its moment to pounce.

Without another word, the two doctors helped him to his feet. After a few shaky steps he began to feel he was in control of his legs again and was able to walk unaided, even if he was hobbling like an old man.

“Don’t worry, your muscular atrophy will wear off,” the taller of the two doctors told him.

Why does everyone keep telling me not to worry?

“How long was I in that … cocoon thing for?”

Yet again he failed to elicit an answer. The shorter doctor handed him a pile of neatly folded clean clothes: underwear, light cotton trousers, a t-shirt, socks and pair of sneakers. There was also a hand towel and a bar of pink soap that smelt incongruously of roses. It struck Peter that the soap was the only thing in the room that wasn’t white.

“There’s a shower at the end of the corridor,” said the doctor. “Someone will come and collect you once you’re dressed. Nakashima San is waiting for you.”

Peter didn’t see anybody else on his way to the shower. Compared to the high-tech chamber in which he had awoken, the narrow, windowless little corridor felt a lot less sterile, even somewhat grubby. The floor was covered with old worn linoleum, with black rubber strips that resonated metallically as he walked. Somewhere in the background there was the low hiss of ventilation units and the gentle hum of electrical equipment. The walls were covered in cheap imitation wood that was coming away at the edges, and there were two framed Van Gogh reproductions and a photograph of Chicago in the sunset. Peter tapped the wall and it gave a hollow echo.

Thin dividing walls, a metal floor. What is this place?

The shower, by contrast, was ultramodern: a wet room of white plastic that was more like a luxurious artificial rain-shower. The water smelled of chlorine but Peter enjoyed the feel of warm rain on his skin and realized for the first time how hungry he was. As he stood under the shower, memories of the few weeks before his blackout came flooding back, albeit like a deck of well-shuffled cards. Peter remembered that Nakashima’s people had rescued him from Nicholas and had taken his parents to some undisclosed safe place. His parents, whom he doubted he would ever see again. He remembered the amulet, Loretta’s body in suite 306, the emaciated corpse of Edward Kelly, and the face of his twin brother Nicholas. His brother, the murderer. But above all else he remembered Maria. Her green eyes and her warm body that had seemed more real to him than his own. It all seemed very long ago, even though Peter had no idea how much time had passed since then.

Born. Reborn. The broken arm.

He tried an experiment with his left hand, squeezing the bar of soap as gently as possible so that he could hardly feel the pressure. He crushed it, the soap squeezing out between his fingers.

Dressed in his clean white clothes, Peter felt like a novice in some exotic sect about to undergo initiation. A glance in the mirror, however, reassured him that his superficial appearance was relatively unchanged: a reasonably good-looking man in his mid-thirties with a friendly north German face, but a shaved bald head and bright eyes that somehow looked tired. Then there was the bitter little twist at the corner of his mouth. That was new.

Is that you?

He looked paler than normal, but he couldn’t find any other signs of injury. Apart from the old scar on his shoulder caused by shrapnel from a grenade in Afghanistan, reminding him that he had sworn never again to kill. Not for any religious reasons but because it was wrong. Wrong, plain and simple. Against the laws of nature.

Because you will never forget it. Because you’ll never be the same again.

All things considered, he looked much the same – except for this hand, this pale transparent thing attached to his skin that could break a man’s arm. This alien limb, grafted onto his body without asking him, only increased his mistrust. He might owe his life to Nakashima but that didn’t mean he had to trust a man who obviously had plans for him. If there was one thing Peter hated, it was being used. It was time to get out of here.

Gently, he experimented with a few knee-bends, but on the second one his legs gave out on him and he broke into a sweat. He heard footsteps, put his ear to the door and could make out two men whispering. Then one of them went away.

You’re not strong enough to make a run for it. You’re going to have to rely on your new friend.

Peter waited until the footsteps had died away, and then he pulled open the door. The man in the corridor was wearing blue overalls with a little symbol on the breast pocket. Peter reckoned he was in his mid-twenties. The man gave an involuntary start as Peter emerged from the shower room, used his left hand to grab him by the throat, and thrust him against the wall: “The exit! Where is it? Quietly.”

The shocked young man burbled something incomprehensible and gesticulated towards a lift over to the left.

“You go first!” Peter loosened his grip on the man’s throat and pushed him forward. “If you make a noise or an alarm goes off, I’ll kill you.”

He hated what he was doing but right at this moment all he could rely on was tough talking and a hard-to-control cyberhand.

It was enough to impress the man in the blue overalls. He let Peter push him into the lift.

“Up or down?” Peter asked.

The man just nodded in terror. Peter squeezed his throat a little more with his left hand.

“Which?”

Shaking, the man pointed upwards.

There’s no way this guy’s a security man. What’s going on?

The lift took them up three floors. As the doors opened with a friendly ping, Peter braced himself for a welcome party of security heavies. But he was hit full in the face not by a big stick or some Taser shock, but by a gust of salty ocean wind. Amazed, Peter let the boy go and walked out onto the platform.

“Holy shit!”

Low storm clouds lashed him with rain and in seconds he was soaked to the skin. The air was full of the smell of salt, rust and spilled oil. Thirty meters below him the sea raged against the steel supports of the rig. Peter immediately recognized the structures rising above him: the cranes, control cabin, pipe storage facilities, and the drill shaft. He was standing on a small circular platform with a bright yellow capital ‘H’ on it. The platform seemed to sway over the abyss below, buffeted by the winds that whistled through the pipes, steel cables and drill shaft.

Three emotions assailed him all at once.

Shock at being so comprehensively thwarted.

Disappointment that there was nothing more he could do.

Bleak satisfaction because he had known the truth all along.

Peter looked up at the worn writing on the equipment and warning notices written in English. He walked carefully to the edge of the helicopter pad and turned in a slow circle. There was no visible horizon. The grayish blue of the sea blended into the clouded sky. There was no land as far as he could see, no sign of a ship or a light. Just clouds and water. Peter had always imagined an oil rig would be bigger.

In this raging sea with colossal waves crashing against the four metal pillars beneath his feet, this abandoned drilling rig seemed tiny and fragile. The end of the line.

“You see, we are all prisoners, Mr. Adam’s, are we not?”

Nakashima was standing next to him with an umbrella in his hand, looking out at the sea. “I love this view,” he said.

“Which ocean is it?”

“The North Atlantic. 64 degrees north between Iceland and Norway. But you won’t find this rig on any map or satellite picture. What would you say to a cup of tea?”

“What’s to stop me from throwing you into the sea, right now?” Peter replied.

Nakashima shrugged his shoulders indifferently. “Your conscience, your gratitude to me for having saved your life. Maybe just your curiosity.”

Peter turned to face him. “What do you want with me?”

“We need your help.”

“Who’s we?”

Nakashima turned away and walked back towards the lift.

“Come along. You must be hungry.”

Still shaky on his legs, Peter followed the old man back into the lift. They went down one floor and emerged into an elegant lobby decorated in traditional Japanese style with sumi ink paintings on the walls. Nakashima led him into a large reception room, its metal windows covered in rice-paper screens, and indicated a conference table laid with a selection of sushi and other dishes in expensive antique porcelain bowls. Peter needed no invitation. Nakashima sat down opposite him as he tucked in.

“I’m not surprised,” he said. “It’s been a long time since you’ve eaten.”

“How long?” mumbled Peter, still chewing.

“Six weeks. It’s the third of July today.”

Peter looked at his hand. “You can do something like that in six weeks?”

“Don’t think you’re the only one to have received a hand like that. We don’t exactly advertise our wares. Our customers insist on discretion.”

Peter refrained from asking Nakashima who his customers might be.

“What happened?”

“How much do you remember?”

He thought for a second and began haltingly, “I am a journalist. I was just there to report on the abdication of the pope, but then I had a vision, of St. Peter’s Cathedral being blown up … my American colleague Loretta Hooper was murdered, and I was a suspect … I was tortured … there was some secret cult called the ‘Bearers of the Light’ planning an attack on the Vatican. Their leader called himself Seth.” He hesitated, then added: “I have a twin brother, Nicholas. He works for Seth, as an assassin. He was going to kill me too.”

“Very good. Anything else?”

“In the Pope’s apartment, Maria and I found a relic with a strange symbol on it.”

Nakashima was smiling now.

“Ah yes, the blue amulet with the copper engraving.”

“What happened to it?”

“Sister Maria has it. Don’t worry. They were good enough to leave me a sample of the material for testing in my laboratory. It appears to be quite a unique substance, the properties of which we have not yet been fully able to understand. It would seem to be a type of metal with a crystalline structure, something which is unknown anywhere in nature. It is also extremely ancient. Yet it is impossible to say which of the civilizations of the distant past could have created it.”

“It seemed to be a storage medium of some kind.”

“Storage medium?”

Peter hesitated, but then he didn’t think Nakashima was totally unaware of what he meant. “Like a memory chip of some kind. It can trigger visions. But that’s not the only thing. Seth was absolutely determined to get hold of it. We were trying to defuse a bomb, Maria, Laurenz and I, down in the catacombs, and then …,” he dropped his chopsticks.

“Then Mr. Laurenz chopped your hand off,” Nakashima continued calmly, “because you had realized that the bomb had been there all along. By the time they fled the catacombs, you were already unconscious.”

“And when I came to, I had a new hand capable of breaking a man’s arm.”

“And that’s just the beginning,” said Nakashima, with the merest hint of a smile. “You’re going to be really rather pleased with your new hand, believe me. In time it will come to acquire the same color as your skin. We are extremely proud of it, so please take good care of it.”

Peter ignored the comment. “What happened to me after I lost consciousness?”

“St. Peter’s was blown up, as you had foreseen. The explosion was not as powerful as the ‘Bearers of the Light’ had wanted. It didn’t destroy the entire Vatican. However, St. Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel no longer exist.”

“What about the cardinals in the conclave?”

“Thanks to your friend Don Luigi, most of them were evacuated. A week later they elected a new pope amid the ruins of St. Peter’s.”

“Who is it?” asked Peter, trying not to look too interested.

It was Nakashima’s turn to hesitate a second before replying: “Your friend, Don Luigi.”

“I don’t believe it!” declared Peter, laughing aloud. “How did he manage that?”

“He was considered the savior of the Catholic Church. He released the cardinals from the Sistine Chapel and prevented total catastrophe. It was an easy decision.”

“But?” said Peter, reading the look on Nakashima’s face.

“He has begun his pontificate with a bombshell of his own. He has taken the name Peter II.”

IV

2nd July 2011, Vatican City

Pope Peter II had wasted no time. The man who had been the Vatican’s chief exorcist knew better than anyone the structure of the Curia, which was organized like the court of a mediaeval princely state. He knew that in such difficult times a pope had to take the lead. He had to make a new start, sweep away the dust, give a new sense of direction, build new bridges, even if that meant pulling down some of the old ones. Within a week of taking charge Peter II had already put his own men in the most important jobs.

In doing so he had unleashed a wave of misunderstanding and simple ill will through the Curia’s civil service and Roman public opinion in general, which reacted like a seismograph to the quakes in the Vatican. Earthquakes like naming Cardinal Raymond Bleeker, the Bishop of Chicago, as new Secretary of State, and the Ugandan Cardinal Joseph Karuhanga as Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the church’s supreme court.

Bleeker had been mixed up in one of the greatest child abuse scandals in the US, which had led to the conviction and excommunication of two priests. No wrongdoing had been proved against Bleeker himself, at least not after the chief witness, a 20-year-old theology student, had died in a car accident. And a few years earlier while he was Bishop of Kampala, Cardinal Karuhanga had labeled the Lord’s Resistance Army, the world’s most brutal rebel militia, ‘holy warriors’, even though he quickly retracted this statement by claiming it was a ‘misunderstanding’. What’s more, there was a rumor in the Curia that the cardinal had more than ten children by three different women.

But the greatest shock remained the fact that the new pope had broken a centuries-old tradition by taking the name of St. Peter, an action seen as tasteless, self-aggrandizing and lacking in respect – all mortal sins in Vatican court etiquette. It was still true that the new pope was seen as the savior of the Catholic Church, but even the loyal and conservative Italian press had expressed serious doubts about his choice of name. It was, after all, only natural that everyone should immediately think of the words of the prophet Malachi, that the reign of the Church should come to an end under a pope called Peter.

The world had problems enough: Greece, Portugal and Italy were already bankrupt, Spain would be next. The whole edifice of Europe was on the verge of collapse. The USA was broke and involved in cyber-warfare with China while every day its soldiers in Iraq attracted a fresh upsurge of hatred. Japan was still struggling to recover from the nuclear accident resulting from an earthquake, North Africa was immersed in civil wars, while Iran was working to acquire nuclear weapons that would threaten the existence of Israel. The ballooning of the Chinese economy had created a giant billion dollar liquidity bubble that was threatening the entire global economy. Africa was collapsing under the weight of corruption, civil wars, famine and disease, Pakistan and Bangladesh were being drowned by floods. Then there was the still unexplained explosion of the International Space Station two months earlier, not to mention the shocking attack on the Vatican with its internationally renowned symbol now no more than a heap of rubble at one end of the Via della Conziliazione.

Unsurprising, therefore, that the world was asking what exactly the new pope was doing with his deliberate breaches of so many taboos. Serious newspapers had gone so far as to speculate that the pope’s choice of name was some sort of sign that the world was on the brink of an abyss. Cynics and wits on late night talk shows from Rome to Los Angeles joked that despite his new job the former Chief Exorcist just couldn’t shake old habits. They had no idea how close they were to the truth.

“Your Holiness, Signor Forlania from Corriere della Sera, Signor Gianmarnio from RAI Italian television, and a Mrs. Reynolds from CNN have called again requesting interviews. And the prime minister’s office is urgently requesting an audience within the next week.”

“Turn them down,” said Peter II dismissively. “I have said there will be no interviews for the foreseeable future.”

Monsignore Cardena, the pope’s new private secretary, followed him hurriedly across the Court of St. Damascus to a waiting limousine. Just behind the court, on the top of the heap of rubble that was all that remained of St. Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel, a wooden cross roughly carved from a century-old oak in the Vatican garden stood as a memorial to those who had died in the attack, and as a resilient symbol to show that the Church was wounded but not yet dead.

“Not yet,” the pope said under his breath.

“I beg your pardon, Your Holiness?” said Cardona, who had not made out the pope’s muttered words. The Spanish prelate, who had until recently not been seen much in public, was a head taller than the pontiff and looked a bit like the late Cardinal Mendez: gaunt, somber and taciturn. He was hard on himself, and brutal on the enemies of orthodoxy. He belonged to the ‘Legionaries of Christ’, an arch-conservative brotherhood organized along military lines and sworn to the pope. The legionaries worshipped the Virgin Mary as the ‘Mother of the Church’, but were considered a cult because of their founder’s involvement in a drug and child abuse scandal. They had been required to submit to an Apostolic Visitation. But Don Luigi himself had supervised Cardona’s education as an exorcist and had quietly promoted his career within the Curia.

“I said send out feelers to Jerusalem and Mecca. I want to organize a meeting as soon as possible with Rabbi Kaplan and Sheikh al Husseini.”

“And the subject for discussion?”

Peter II stopped briefly and turned to face his private secretary: “Their deaths.”

Cardona returned his gaze without blinking and said, “Should I mention that in the subject field of the emails?”

The black Mercedes S-class took the pope and his private secretary the few hundred meters to the guard house in which Peter II had lived before his elevation, and in which he had performed several hundred exorcisms. Outside the little house at the west end of the Vatican wall stood a mining company minibus with a sign that read ‘Fratech Ingegneria Civile’ and had a double circle logo.

A red cat, one of the hordes that inhabited the Vatican, had somehow found its way into the house and settled down on Don Luigi’s shabby sofa. When the pope and his private secretary entered, the animal gave an indignant meow and scampered off in a huff. Nothing else had changed. All the same old stuff, books, files, papers stacked on the shelves and lying all over the floor. The air was fusty and smelled of dust and cigarette smoke. An open bottle of wine and used glasses were a relic of the last time Don Luigi had been there with Peter Adam, Maria and Franz Laurenz. Next to the kitchen door stood the old massage table that Don Luigi, with the help of strong-willed nuns and deacons, had used to perform his exorcisms. Now he was entering his old home for the first time as Pope Peter II, but he felt no trace of nostalgia as he opened the little wooden door that led down to the cellar.

Without turning on the light, Peter II and Monsignore Cardona descended the rotten wooden stairs that led down into the darkness, where a faint muttering could be heard. Another wooden door next to the wine rack led into a low tunnel-like passage which had served as a means of escape in the 15th century, but was no longer to be found on any architectural plan. The floor of the tunnel was covered with rat droppings and the mummified corpses of small animals that had for the most part lain there for centuries. The muttering was clearly audible now.

Peter II opened the door and entered an almost circular crypt carved out of the travertine stone of the Vatican hill. The ceiling was so low that Cardona could hardly stand upright. Two thousand years ago this was where a certain Kephas of Galilee had founded the first community based on the teachings of a young rabbi, crucified in Judea a few years earlier. Kephas was Aramaic for ‘stone’ or ‘rock’ and was the name the rabbi had given him. The stone he would build his church on. In this vaulted cellar scarcely bigger than the chancel of a little provincial church, Simon Peter had performed the first Holy Mass.

Twelve men in monks’ robes with their hoods pulled down over their eyes stood in a circle around an uneven flat-surfaced stone, mumbling a strange singsong chant in an incomprehensible language. When Peter II and Cardona entered the room they parted to let the pair enter the circle.

On the stone in the middle lay a spread-eagled naked woman, the sweat on her skin glistening in the light cast by the few flaming torches on the walls. The hair on her head was thick and black and Peter II noticed that her pubic area was unshaven, which repelled and excited him in equal measure. The woman was young, in her mid-twenties at most with a voluptuous body and large breasts that rose and fell with her heavy fearful breathing. Her hands and feet were fastened by heavy chains and a rag had been stuffed in her mouth to gag her. Her eyes opened wide when she recognized the pope. Peter II could smell her sweat, her fear of death. He walked silently up to the stone and looked down at her. Then he ripped the gag from her mouth. From deep in her throat came a strangled cry of fear that went unheard by all but the fourteen men who stood around her. At a signal from the pope, one of the men handed him a little wooden cross. Peter II held it out towards the woman, at the same time slapping her on the forehead with the flat of one hand, a gesture he always used during exorcisms.

“In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, give me the names.”

For a moment the young woman just lay there staring at the pope, gasping for air.

“The names! Tell me the names!”

She shook her head violently and made a grunting noise like a chained animal growling.

The pope took a step back and spat on the cross. Three times. Then he hurled it to the ground and stamped on it. The young woman writhed in agony.

Soba iisononu cahisa!” intoned the pope aloud. “Saitan bajile caosagi.” The men in the monks’ robes resumed their chanting in the same strange language, while the pope used the blood of a dead rat to paint a double circle symbol on the young woman’s stomach.

“Basajime! Micaume ox cynuxire faboanu. Vaunala cahisa conusata ox Oanio ol yazoda! Ohyo! Ohyo! Noco Mada, hoathahe Saitan! I want the names. Give me the names!”

Once again he slapped her on the forehead. The chained woman tried to bend, doubled with the pain, gasped something incomprehensible, then spat out a single word: “URIEL!”

The pope nodded with a satisfied smile on his face. “Yes, Uriel, I knew it was you. The Light of God. The angel of judgment. Are you listening to me Uriel? You know what I want. Give me the names. Now.”

The woman remained silent and Peter II began to paint symbols on her stomach unknown in any earthly alphabet.

“The names, Uriel! Babaje od cahisa ob hubaio tibibipe Uriel yolaci! The names! Aalalare ataraahe! Micama Saitan. Micama cahisa. Ohyo! Ohyo! Noco Mada., hoathahe Saitan!”

For over two hours the sinister ceremony continued, until the woman on the stone was covered all over in bloody signs and symbols and could take no more. Finally, on the edge of consciousness, she whispered one final thing: the names.

“Shimon Kohn  … Francesca Corelli  … Maggie Win  … Felipe Galán  … Lhakpa Gyaltsen Samudri  … Marina Bihari  … Frank Babcock  … Nafuna Matube  … Peter Adam.”

And then she said no more, but lay there motionless on the stone on which Simon Peter had performed the first Christian Holy Mass. Monsignore Cardona wrote the names down neatly in his notebook.

“Have you got them all?” asked Peter II.

“Yes, Holy Father.”

Peter II nodded, then from within his cassock he took an old mediaeval dagger with the double circle, the sign of light, engraved on the blade and drove it into the young woman’s heart.

“May the Light be with you,” said the pope as with a sigh of relief the young woman let her life drain away. The men in the monks’ robes ceased their singsong chant. Monsignore Cardano looked at his watch.

“You have a meeting with the prefect of the Congregation of the Faith in thirty minutes, Holy Father. We should be going.”

V

2nd July 2011, the North Atlantic.

Don Luigi will have a good reason for his choice of name,” said Peter, pouring himself a cup of tea. He had eaten silently while he listened to Nakashima and was feeling somewhat better for the light meal. “And for all his other decisions. Without him the catastrophe would have been complete.”

Nakashima laid his delicately manicured, almost feminine hands on the conference table and said. “Of course. Don Luigi is a quite exceptional individual. The Church, indeed the whole world, has a lot to be grateful to him for. And to you too, Mr. Adam’s. But you also bear a certain responsibility. The ‘Bearers of the Light’ are not vanquished yet.”

“It’s not my church,” said Peter. “As far as I’m concerned this battle is over. Or am I some sort of bargaining chip to make sure you are adequately recompensed for your generous help?”

Nakashima’s face was inscrutable. “A lot of people died. Including some of my most talented employees. People with families. You survived, Mr. Adam’s, and you got a new hand. You should be a bit more appreciative of your fate. As for my generous help, as you put it, there is no price to be paid. Consider yourself my guest. And for the moment, my patient.”

“I’d like to go home.”

“Home? Where might that be? Cologne? Hamburg? Rome?”

“To my parent’s house. If they are safe and well, I’d like to go back home to them.”

“Your parents are well. For the moment however, your reappearance would only cause them problems. Don’t forget there is an international warrant out for your arrest. As far as the world’s media is concerned, you were one of the key instigators of the attack on the Vatican. For the time being, believe me, you are safer here.”

“I want to speak with Franz Laurenz and Don Luigi now. There should be no problem clearing my name.”

Nakashima said nothing. Peter realized there was after all a price to be paid for his new hand.

“Whatever it is you want, you’ll have to do it without me,” he shouted. “I didn’t ask for this hand. I want my life back. Do you understand?”

Nakashima said nothing.

“I don’t care what deal you’ve done with Laurenz. It’s got nothing to do with me. Where’s Maria? I want to see her.”

“All in good time, Mr. Adam’s,” Nakashima said, getting up. “I’ll be honest with you. I find religion of any nature abhorrent. I am a businessman. I believe in the here and now and the moral value of material well-being. That is what I am prepared to fight for. I have no idea what you are prepared to fight for but – whether you like it or not – you have a central role to play in this game, and you know it. So stop whining and start learning how to use your new hand. You’re going to need it.”

And without honoring Peter with his usual bow, Nakashima turned and left the room. But Peter was not to be given time alone to reflect on his options. A young Japanese woman in a business suit, her hair up in a formal arrangement that did not match her soft features, came in. Peter guessed her to be somewhere in her early thirties but couldn’t be sure. She might have been older; he could never tell with Asians.

“I am Dr. Yoko Tanaka. How are you feeling, Mr. Adam’s?”

She shook his hand with an unexpected force.

“As well as can be expected,” said Peter, annoyed at himself for such an inappropriate cliché.

“Excellent,” said Yoko Tanaka. “Let me show you to your room, and then I’ll take you to the physiotherapy department.”

“Do you work for Mr. Nakashima.?”

“Yes.”

She stood there impatiently waiting for him to follow her.

“As a doctor?”

“No, I am the head of the research department at Nakashima Industries.”

“Then this …” Peter indicated his left hand, “is one of your little inventions?”

“That’s right. If you damage it, I’ll kill you.”

At least somebody here is honest.

She took him down one level to a floor that was a lot busier with men and women in differently colored overalls, some of whom shot a covert glance in Peter’s direction.

“We have a total personnel of 230 people, all of whom have different specialties,” Dr. Tanaka told him in a matter-of-fact voice. “Every four weeks we replace the entire staff.”

“Do you have a problem with security?”

“No, no problem.”

She opened a door and ushered Peter into a small but comfortable cabin.

“Take a rest for a bit. Someone will take you to the physiotherapy department in an hour’s time.”

The minute Doctor Tanaka left him alone, Peter began to pace restlessly up and down the little cabin. Two steps this way, turn, three steps back. He could feel himself getting more and more worked up as he realized just how helpless he was. And the angrier he got, the more he began to notice an all-too-familiar sharp pain like a needle pressing into his forehead.

No, not now. Not now.

Peter forced himself to calm down, sat down on the little bed and began concentrating on his breathing. If only to distract himself he began experimenting with his new bionic hand. With a bit of effort he managed to control the fingers separately. They felt a bit stiff and insensitive. But it was amazing they felt anything at all. He could feel pressure, and an experiment with a bulldog clip proved he could even feel pain. Dr. Tanaka and Nakashima Industries had done a remarkable job. That wasn’t to say there weren’t a few bugs, as he soon found out. After he had used the bulldog clip on his hand the pain didn’t just go away. In fact quite the opposite. It spread like a rash across the whole of his hand and even the length of his arm as far as his head. Peter was forced to hold the hand under cold water, shaking it and massaging it until the pain gradually died down. But the headache didn’t. It became a persistent pulsing ache. Peter curled up on the bed. He felt as if his skin was crawling across his body, the material of his clothing scratching against it with every move he made. Typical signs of the onset of a migraine. He wondered if he ought to call somebody, but at that very moment the animal attacked: the beast in his head that had stalked him for years. A brilliant blue light went off behind his eyes like a supernova exploding, filling his head, the cabin, his whole world. He hugged himself, trembling on the bed as the light emanated from his body. And then it was dark.

He felt as if he had slid out of his body into a world of cold and darkness; as if every cell in his being had burst simultaneously, as if he had been seized in the grip of a giant fist, robbing him of breath, crushing his lungs, his heart, every one of his internal organs. And the fist continued to squeeze, mercilessly compressing the very atoms of his existence until he became nothing more than a single particle of pain and terror, tumbling in a state of oblivion through empty infinity.

An infinity of emptiness, fear and pain.

Little rabbit in your hole. Sleep, sleep, sleep.

The next thing he noticed, as the pain vanished, dropping off him like the scab off an old wound, was the smell of incense. Lights flickered in the darkness, and took the form of candles. Light and more light began to pour through tall multicolored stained glass windows, falling on him like a gentle rain of comforting words. Voices. The distant sound of traffic. The low hum of a church organ. He looked around and realized he was standing in the nave of a grand gothic basilica bathed in light. The groups of tourists and pilgrims who poured through the church in chattering masses stared up at the gothic windows and paid no attention to him. Every now and again the tinkling laughter of children rippled through the church. The nave where he was standing was separated from the chancel by a tall barred gate, behind which stood the high altar.

How did I get here?

The bars of the gate felt cool but strong, real beyond any shadow of a doubt; there was no question of this being another of his migraine nightmares.

The minute Peter walked through the gate into the apse, he knew where he was. There were not many gothic cathedrals in the world on this scale. In any case, he knew this cathedral only too well. He had immediately recognized the triptych over the altar in the Chapel of Our Lady, with the Christ child in the center, Saint Gereon on the right, and Saint Ursula on the left with a few of the eleven thousand virgins with whom she was murdered. Gereon and Ursula were no more than C-list saints. But the stars who had established this cathedral as one of the top four holy places in the Catholic Church were behind the altar, protected by reinforced glass in a golden reliquary inlaid with mother-of-pearl and decorated with precious stones: the bones of the Three Wise Men.

Peter knew at once where he was.

Home.

VI


dZYAN-agent Chat-Protocol 07072011 14:05:24 – 14:16:43 GMT+01:00

Proxy-Server: ptp.ordislux213.th.net:89

Encoding-method: AMETH10.1.01

14:05:24 Client306

status?

14:06:32 Client377

the gate has been opened.

14:08:38 Client306

why are you only reporting this now?

14:09:02 Client377

there were complications. I had to improvise..

14:09:42 Client306

what sort of complications?

14:10:11 Client377

peter adam. he was in contact with the target. and with nicholas.

14:10:57 Client306

where is peter adam now?

14:11:23 Client377

in situ. he followed me. instructions please.

14:12:13 Client306

is he alone?

14:12:29 Client377

positive.

14:13:06 Client306

nicholas?

14:13:33 Client377

dead. instructions please re peter adam.

14:14:08 Client306

don’t kill.

14:14:41 Client377

please confirm: don’t kill?

14:15:17 Client306

don’t kill. retreat and concentrate on the others on the list.

14:15:52 Client377

and peter adam?

14:16:09 Client306

obey my orders.

14:16:43 Client377

of course. i apologize, master, with you in the light.


/End of conversation/


 

7th July, Cologne Cathedral.

For a moment Peter could hardly breathe. He realized he was no longer in his white hospital clothing but instead was dressed in a dark blue shirt and gray suit. He searched his pockets and found a wallet containing €400 in cash, a credit card in the name of Paul DeFries, a South African diplomatic passport in the same name and a mobile phone. The address book was empty but the recent calls list showed an Italian number.

What the hell is this? How on earth did I get here?

And then another thought crept into his brain through the confusion. Peter pulled the mobile out again and checked the date: July 7, 2011.

Five days? How have I somehow jumped forward five days?

He walked round to the other side of the altar, still unable to believe the apparent truth, and dialed the number from the call list.

“Peter, is that you?” It was Maria. Her voice in his ear, as if all of a sudden she was standing next to him. Maria.

He felt a wave of relief. Everything would be ok after all. He felt certain now there would be a simple explanation. Just hearing her voice filled him with joy.

“Maria! Where are you?”

The voice on the end of the line wavered slightly as if it sensed that there was something wrong. What an understatement that was!

“That’s what I want to know. Where are you? We were supposed to meet.”

“I’m in the cathedral.”

“Which cathedral, for God’s sake?” There was a touch of panic in her voice.

“Cologne cathedral. What’s going on? I …”

She didn’t let him finish the sentence.

“Cologne cathedral? Oh my God! Peter, you have to get out of there!”

“Maria, what is …?”

In the background he could hear another voice, then someone took the phone from Maria and said: “Peter, listen to me.”

Immediately he recognized the deep voice of the former pope, the voice of Maria’s father, the man who had sliced off his left hand, Franz Laurenz.

“Leave the cathedral right now.”

At that very moment he felt the first tremor, a barely noticeable vibration in the ground which he paid little attention to at first, given that Cologne cathedral was right next to the railway station. Still on the line to Laurenz, and getting dirty looks from a pilgrim because of it, he walked around to the other side of the main altar.

“First, tell me what is going on here! I wake up on an oil rig with a new hand, then the next thing I know I’m in Cologne cathedral. How the hell did I get here? What happened? How did I get off the oil rig?”

By now other visitors to the cathedral had noticed the vibrations, which were beginning to build up in rhythmic waves and swell through the entire building, as if heralding the arrival of some gigantic force thrusting its way from the bowels of the earth. Whatever it was, it was certainly not passing trains.

An earthquake?

“All I know is that four days ago you stole one of Nakashima’s helicopters and escaped from the rig in it,” Laurenz explained hastily. “A short while later you rang Maria, and agreed to meet in Rome. That was supposed to be yesterday, but then you suddenly disappeared again.”

“That still doesn’t explain how I’m missing five days,” Peter shouted into the phone, making his way towards the door of the cathedral. “That clearly has something to do with your friend Nakashima.”

“You’re on the wrong track, Peter. Nakashima san had nothing to do with your disappearance.”

The vibrations had now turned into shockwaves, clearly coming from the ground. Peter heard a woman cry out. Apparently Laurenz heard her too.

“What is happening there?”

“No idea. It feels like an earthquake.”

“Get out of there, Peter. We’ll talk later.”

“No. We’re going to get to the bottom of this now. Tell me what you know,” Peter barked out, running for the door. Other people were now doing the same. The quake was getting stronger by the second, the whole edifice was shaking. A cross fell off the wall in the Chapel of St. John, clattering onto the altar. And then, almost as suddenly as it had started, the quake subsided. The body of the church, normally filled with the mumble of human voices, organ music or a choir singing, suddenly fell silent. Deathly silent. Peter stopped next to the altar at the heart of the church, where nave and transept intersected, and pricked up his ears. He could hear nothing, save for the voice of Laurenz in one ear.

“What’s happened now?”

“It’s stopped.”

“No, Peter, it’s only …”

But Peter interrupted him. “Listen, Laurenz, I don’t give a damn what Nakashima and you want from me. I’m grateful to him for saving my life. I suppose I’m also grateful to him for giving me this new hand. But I’m fed up with being used all the time. I’m out of it.”

What the …?

A sudden movement from the wooden altar distracted him. Peter turned and stared at the altar in the center of the church, above it the priceless mosaic depicting the sun surrounded by images of the hours of the day, phases of the moon, the zodiac and the humors of man. It was a remarkable evocation of natural science to be found in the liturgical heart of one of the most important buildings of the Catholic Church.

“Peter, you don’t understand,” Laurenz was shouting now, “The apocalypse  …”

“Fuck the apocalypse! What we went through was an attack on the Vatican and the entire world order by an international group of occult-addled madmen. You can call them whatever you like but even if the ‘Bearers of the Light’ are still out there, there is nothing I can do to prevent any so-called apocalypse!”

“You’re right, Peter,” said Laurenz, “but the apocalypse has already beg …”

“Laurenz??”

The connection had dropped. All Peter could hear was a buzzing on the line. And then two other things grabbed his attention. The first was a second movement from the wooden altar which seemed to rise up, the wood bending outwards as if something was trying to break out of the altar itself. Then it burst open. The second was the woman on the other side of the altar, a young American tourist wearing the usual shorts and flip flops. At the instant the altar burst open, she erupted in flames.

Instantaneously. A wave of invisible heat engulfed her and her entire body spontaneously combusted. Peter watched in horror as she collapsed screaming on the ground, in flames. He could feel the heat of the blaze, smell her flesh cooking.

That was just the beginning. The tremors resumed, stronger than ever. Great shockwaves pulsing from below. The reinforced glass protecting the shrine of the Three Wise Men shattered with a crash. The priceless medieval cross of St. Gereon burst into flames, as did the triptych in the Chapel of Our Lady. Fragments of the great pillars toppled to earth, crushing those who had sought safety next to the walls of the nave. The wooden pedestal on which the altar had stood was hurtling down the length of the nave, where it crashed with thunderous impact into a group of Pakistani nuns. Peter saw others around him burst into flames, spontaneously combusting and running around in circles, bellowing human torches. Everywhere there were people on fire. For a second Peter was reminded of his mother dying, her hair in flames, a vision that had haunted him since childhood. But this was worse. Much worse. He was surrounded by scenes of panic, screaming agony and the stench of burning flesh. Ruins of great stone columns, decoration reduced to debris falling onto people’s heads. And still the earth shook. Peter’s legs gave way and he fell to the ground. A statue of the Holy Virgin collapsed and fell next to him, missing him by a hair’s breadth. In an instant he was back on his feet, running from the epicenter of the earthquake.

A second later the mosaic was smashed apart as if by a gigantic fist, opening up a fearful abyss, from which IT emerged. IT.

A fog without form, belching from the hole like the bad breath of a giant beast, condensing in the air into sinister shapes. Peter found himself seized by an unspeakable terror as he stared at these formless wraiths from the depths which grasped for his heart and congealed in nightmares. Evil, eyeless creatures that had no earthly existence save in humanity’s collective fear of its greatest foe. IT.

There was no word for what Peter was looking at. Shapeless raw biological material already decomposing in the instant of its birth. A stinking slime that was both dead and undead. Visions of horror and hell from mankind’s most ancient mythologies. One of these nightmare creatures came rushing towards him, a being without form, like a jellyfish, reaching out for him with its stingers, embracing him, swallowing him and spitting him out again. Peter felt a wave of heat and terror wash through him. All around him people on fire were screaming as their bodies boiled and bubbled, falling apart as their body fat melted.

Each and every one of them burning alive. Except for Peter.

Embraced by this monstrous mist and evil stench, in the midst of agony and insanity, Peter suddenly realized that one thing for certain was true. As sure as he lived and breathed, Laurenz had been right: the apocalypse had already begun.