Authors: John Lyman
“Not true,” Acerbi replied. “What’s happening in the world is most certainly
nature taking its course. Just look at these numbers.” A graph flashed up on the screen. “In our entire history ... since mankind first appeared in the world, we had to wait until the year 1804 for the planet’s population to reach one billion people, but then things began to change rapidly. In 1927, only a little over a hundred years later, we reached the two billion mark, and we kept growing.” Acerbi pointed to the graph. “Look at the years 1959, 1974, and 1987 ... all years where an additional billion people were added. Now look at the space between 1999 and 2011. In just twelve years another billion people were tacked on to the total. Today the planet has seven billion people. The exponential, mathematical result of an industrialized society trying to supply a world population that is growing to unprecedented levels will be unsustainable in the future. Do any of you know that it takes 2000 gallons of water to manufacture one pair of jeans? Insanity! Progress as we know it is sowing the seeds of our destruction. Our world is like that pond. It’s a metaphor for what is now occurring around the globe, and soon we will all run out of the resources necessary to sustain life. Our finite planet will reach a point from which there will be no return.”
“That’s hogwash!” An oil man from Texas stood in the middle of the room and faced the stage, his jowly face beet red. “With modern technology, we can grow enough food and produce enough oil to last a thousand years, and by then we’ll have figured out new technology to deal with the growing population. People want growth ... we need it. Growth is good for business. More people mean more cars and a greater demand for our oil. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
Acerbi’s eyes narrowed at the man.
It was obvious he would have to be dealt with
. “We don’t have a thousand years ... we may not even have another hundred. And, if you add the growing populations of India and China into the equation, it won’t be long until the world is unable to supply the amounts of food and oil their growing economies will demand. The skies over the earth’s largest cities are already becoming choked with air pollution ... pollution that will only spread with time due to the increasing number of gas powered vehicles on the road.”
Acerbi continued to fix the audience with an icy stare, for he had long suspected that some of them had drifted away from the core objectives of a secret society born of vengeance.
Seven-hundred years was a long time to wait.
Several members of the group shifted uneasily in their seats, especially those who had made vast fortunes from industries that profited from the manufacture and sale of products that left a trail of environmental destruction across the globe.
An executive from one of Acerbi’s own companies leaned forward in her seat. “We now own most of the farmland in America, Rene. We export wheat all over the globe, and we still have tons left over. And as far as the so-called air pollution problem is concerned, I’ve heard that the earth will always clean itself, just as it’s done for millions of years.”
Acerbi’s eyes zeroed in on the speaker.
Another name to add to the list of those who would have to go if she balked when it came time to do what was required of her.
“We could debate this all day, but for the past several years I have spent considerable time working with several world-renowned scientists, and they all agree with what I’ve just said. Within a hundred years, the world’s population will grow to unsustainable limits. The economies of China and India are growing, and soon they will be just as dependent on the luxuries of life as we are, with the resultant demand for more resources. It’s a predetermined mathematical fact. This planet will soon have nothing left to give us, and there’s nothing to stop it unless we take drastic action. The scientists who have been working with me on this problem come from some of the finest universities around the world. Many of them are household names. They’ve run the numbers over and over again, and the results are invariably the same.”
“My God, Rene!” a man in the front row shouted. “Are you absolutely sure?”
“There’s no doubt about it. Mathematics leaves little room for error ... it’s a pure science with no bias or emotion. The language of science doesn’t lie. It reveals only the hard, cold truth. This nightmare is real, people, and it’s coming.”
“What do you propose we do about it, Rene?” The question was posed by a female voice cloaked in shadow in the back of the room.
Acerbi moved from behind the podium and walked to the edge of the stage. “That, my friends, is what I have called you here to discuss. Together with our partners around the world, we have accumulated untold wealth and power over the years, but as you can see, only a select few of you have been invited to this gathering. I have brought us together so that we can form the core of a new and even more exclusive group ... a group that will continue to meet in secret when decisions need to be made. The decisions we will make together will sometimes be difficult. In fact, they may even seem ruthless to many of you, but nothing less than the very fate of our world is at stake.” Acerbi paused to gauge the effect his words were having on his audience.
“Our time is now at hand. People have become like sheep ... sheep who have fallen under the spell of increasingly glitzy advertising campaigns aimed at thrusting incompetent men into offices of immense power at election time. We can no longer endure the kind of stewardship provided by these self-serving con men who are elected by an uninformed populace, nor can we tolerate any misguided movements from the proletariat masses who would seek to overthrow the governments we already control behind the scenes. One only has to look at the failed revolutions of the past to see what can happen when an uneducated underclass comes to power. This is a time like no other in history. The future is within our grasp. Together we will bring order to the world ...
a new world order
. From this point forward, the subject of our discussions must remain a tightly guarded secret, for if the world ever hears what I am about to say, none of us will be safe ... no matter how many security people we employ.”
Rome - The Vatican
A driving spring rain pelted the slick cobblestones covering Saint Peter’s Square, making it difficult to see the outline of the red BMW sports car as it materialized from the curtain-like downpour and raced through the gate leading into the
Courtyard before sliding to a stop at the entrance to the Apostolic Palace. Peering through the car’s rain-streaked windows, water ran off the pointed end of the Swiss Guard’s steel helmet as he snapped to attention and saluted the blurred image of the driver inside.
The impending arrival of the car had been cleared moments earlier by the head of the
, the Vatican’s secret service sworn to protect the pope, but in all actuality any scrutiny given to the vehicle was more or less a formality, for the little red car was just as familiar to the Vatican’s security force as the pope’s armored limo.
Dressed in a dark blue suit, a member of the elite palace guard ran through the downpour to extend an umbrella over the visitor’s head as he climbed from the low car and made his way into the building. Once inside, the new arrival stopped to brush the rain from his long black cassock before heading straight for a hidden elevator that would whisk him to the papal apartments three stories above. The visitor needed no directions to the pope’s living quarters, for he had made this trip many times before.
Stepping from the elevator, the man’s footsteps echoed over the patterned-marble floors as he approached a pair of tall wooden doors guarded by two very large Swiss Guards holding long pikes and wearing the famous yellow and blue uniforms designed during the Renaissance by none other than Michelangelo himself. The guards remained statue-like, staring straight ahead, seemingly oblivious to the man’s presence as he waited patiently for the doors to be opened from the inside by an old Jesuit priest by the name of Enzo Corelli, the official Papal Secretary.
Finally, the huge doors to the papal apartments began to swing open, revealing an opulent reception area. Antique Baroque furniture dominated the décor, while a large, crystal chandelier cast an ethereal glow over the priceless art spaced around the red and gold papered walls. Ushering him forward, the priest led the man into a side corridor and seated him outside the entrance to the pope’s private chapel.
“Is there anything I can get for you, Bishop?”
Bishop Anthony Morelli gazed up at the aging face and smiled. “No ... thank you, Enzo. I think I’ll just sit here until His Holiness is finished with his prayers.”
Eyeing the bishop’s ruddy complexion and slight paunch, the pope’s secretary smiled.
“Holding out for some of Pope Michael’s private stock of French wine, eh, Anthony?”
“You know me too well, old friend. His Holiness always lets me sample one of his special wines when I visit, although I hear he’s developed a taste for the California reds since his last trip to America.”
The old priest’s eyes widened. “I just finished e-mailing a new order to a Napa winery this morning. I’m beginning to think what people say about you is true, Anthony.”
“And what would that be, Enzo?”
“That somehow, you really do know everything that goes on within the Vatican.”
The two men smiled at one another before the elder man turned and walked slowly back down the corridor, shaking his head as he disappeared into his private office.
Bishop Anthony Morelli had known the old Jesuit for over thirty years—ever since that memorable day when Morelli first arrived at the Vatican from America as a very young and newly-ordained priest with a PhD in archaeology. After an exhaust spewing green and black-painted taxi had dropped him off, he had stood in the courtyard next to his small suitcase and stared up at the imposing structure of the Apostolic Palace, afraid to go forward but not daring to retreat.
Peering from a fourth-floor window of the poorly-lit offices of the Vatican’s Department of Archaeology, Father Enzo Corelli had spotted the lost-looking priest standing alone in the courtyard below and had rushed down the stairs to welcome him.
Morelli had never forgotten the old man’s kindness for coming down to greet him that day, or the fact that during his first few months at his new job, Father Corelli had taken the young priest under his wing in an effort to educate him in the subtle game of avoiding the politics that existed within the Curia—the Vatican’s equivalent of a governmental civil service. The Roman Curia controlled the bishops, the bishops controlled the clergy, and the clergy controlled the laity. In short, the Curia oversaw all aspects of Vatican life, including all of its governmental offices.
Over time, Morelli’s superiors began to take note of the young priest’s talent for discovering long-forgotten libraries that lay hidden in plain sight. In tiny villages that dotted the ancient landscape around the Mediterranean, Morelli had uncovered dusty repositories of ancient wisdom that held previously unnoticed clues to the past—clues that would lead him to dig in weed-covered patches of ground where he would discover the remains of civilizations hidden from view for thousands of years. In less than two years from the day of his arrival in Rome, it was apparent to all that Morelli was rapidly becoming one of the most forward-thinking archaeologists in the world.
Morelli’s star continued to rise at the Vatican along with that of an old classmate by the name of Marcus Lundahl. The two priests had been friends since their days together in Jesuit seminary in America. Born in Norway, Lundahl, a quiet man with a superior intellect, was destined to become a Prince of the Church, but his appointment with destiny was yet to come. After becoming an authority on Canon Law and serving briefly as the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Lundahl had gone on to achieve the greatest title of them all, a title that would change his very name forever, for Cardinal Marcus Lundahl had become
—the first Norwegian pope in Catholic Church history.
Known in Italian as the
, the papal apartments were made up of ten large rooms and included a beautiful rooftop garden. The front section of the papal suite held the reception area, the secretary’s office, and a complete medical facility. Running through the center of the apartments, a long marble corridor led to the supreme pontiff’s private chapel located next to a vast library that contained over 20,000 books. From there, a passage through the thick inner walls led to a formal dining room, the kitchen, the pope’s private study, and finally, the papal bedroom.
Those few who had entered the papal bedroom were always surprised by its spartan appearance. In fact, in the early days of the palace, the small room had actually been the sleeping quarters of a servant—a very fitting analogy to the fact that one of the pope’s many titles was
Servant of the Servants of God
. A simple wooden cross hung over the bed, and instead of the beautifully inlaid marble floors found throughout the rest of the palace, the wooden floor in the pope’s bed chamber dated back to the palace’s original construction in the 1500’s. The worn flooring was polished daily to a high sheen by a group of nuns who watched over the papal apartments with a fierce dedication that resembled a mother lion guarding her young. It is said that, if an intruder ever made it past the Swiss Guards, he would never live to tell of his encounter with the nuns who watched over the pope.
Elected for life as the supreme ruler of the Catholic Church and known to millions the world over as the Vicar of Christ on Earth, the pope is also a world leader who wields extraordinary power over the political, ideological, and economic policies of millions of people all over the globe. And, as a monarch whose rule is absolute, he does so without the constraint of any legislative or judicial control to hinder his decisions.
Because of the pope’s immense worldwide power, along with the fact that the Vatican is a country unto itself, there must be a second in command waiting to step forward in case the pope suddenly dies or is incapacitated. In the Vatican, this distinction falls upon the Secretary of State. This position is always occupied by a cardinal who, by necessity, also happens to be one of the pope’s closest associates.