Septem MONTES

Rome, Italy
February 2013

Aldo Lombardi nervously paced the large antechamber outside the pope’s private quarters within the Apostolic Palace.

What on earth is going on? Am I really about to meet the pope?

Just six hours earlier, he was skiing with his parents at Speikboden on the Austrian-Italian border. Coming off a particularly challenging downhill run, he had plopped in the snow to unhook his skis when two stone-faced men in black suits approached and brusquely ordered him to come with them.

Definitely suspicious. Aldo decided. Best to ignore them. No one in their right mind would happily follow complete strangers, especially ones so impractically dressed for a day on the slopes. He scooped up his skis and turned to head back to the hotel when they blocked his path. After shoving their Pontifical Swiss Guard identification cards in his face, he quickly realized he had no choice but to comply.

Twenty minutes later, the men ushered Aldo and his hastily packed suitcase to their car. He didn’t even have the chance to change out of his snow pants, let alone tell his parents he was leaving, and just like that, their surprise of a graduation trip to the Zillertal Alps ended as abruptly as it had begun. Also tried repeatedly to text his parents during the four hour drive to Valerio Catullo Airport in Verona, but his cell reception sucked anywhere outside Rome. For the duration of the drive, he sat crammed in the backseat of guards’ rented Fiat, feeling the most uncomfortable he’d been in his entire life.

Where are they taking me?

His anxiety increased as the guards’ maintained their stubborn silence, despite his demanding an explanation in both English and Italian. The hour flight from Verona to Rome was no better than the car ride. Realizing their destination was the Apostolic Palace brought only a brief moment of solace as Aldo’s anxiety intensified for a whole different reason.

Did I do something wrong?

He chewed on the end of his index finger and gazed once again at the elegant interior of the antechamber. No one was escorted by the Pontifical Swiss Guard to the pope’s private quarters without good reason. But only one thing came to Aldo’s mind.

He continued to pace, the movement the only thing keeping his knees from trembling. Please, Lord, don’t let me throw up. Aldo’s stomach churned again violently.

Aldo barely managed to receive his Ph.D. in theological history from the Pontifical Gregorian University the previous week; his thesis and the last two years of research were nearly refused by the graduation board. He couldn’t fault them though. He’d known from the beginning that his topic was controversial, to say the least, but something in him refused to give up on it. And that stubbornness had nearly cost him his degree. Aldo sighed. His parents had surprised him with the ski trip to Speikboden without knowing how precariously close their son had come to not graduating.

He pulled out his iPhone to try texting them again when the door to the pope’s chambers opened. Taking a deep breath, Aldo turned to see an older gentleman in the formal red robes of a cardinal, and his heart dropped into the roiling acid of his stomach.

“Buonasera, Signore,” Cardinal Sebastiano Bastianelli, incumbent of the Holy See said with a slight bow. The cardinal was highly admired in the Catholic world and was something of a hero to Aldo. But under these circumstances, Aldo remained cautious.

Aldo swallowed hard, trying to collect himself. Bowing, he said, “Uh, Your Eminence…um, am I…”

“Not to worry,” the cardinal chuckled, “I’m not here to pass judgment.” He then gestured Aldo into the pope’s chambers. Aldo forced his legs to move, and as he entered the large room, his trembling stopped and his nervousness subsided. Famous works of art adorned the walls, and the ceiling was covered with frescoes he thought he’d only ever see in textbooks. His footsteps echoed as he crossed the marble floor, his eyes glued overhead. During his time in university, Aldo visited the four Raphael rooms in the Vatican Museum multiple times, but these rivaled their splendor.

“Beautiful, aren’t they?” Cardinal Bastianelli commented, as if reading his mind.

“Yes.” Aldo longed to study them in detail, but reluctantly dragged his gaze away and looked around. Several seating areas, with plush armchairs surrounding low tables, were spaced about the room and numerous bookshelves lined the walls. He suspected they held some of the rarest books in the world and itched to peruse them.

Finally, his eyes came to rest on Pope Benedict XVI. The elderly man stood patiently beside a massive desk, a vaguely amused expression on his face.

“Signore Lombardi,” he said, in thickly accented English. “I have heard so much about you. I enjoyed reading your thesis on the division of Christianity. You have some very insightful theories.”

Aldo froze as panic engulfed him. What? The pope read my thesis?

If his thesis had nearly resulted in his dismissal from the university, he could only imagine how upsetting it had been for the pope. Ashamed, Aldo immediately lowered his gaze. He felt so strongly about his research that he continued to pursue it, ignoring the advice of his professors. But he never meant to offend anyone.

Despite Cardinal Bastianelli’s reassurance, Aldo could think of no other reason for his summons to the Apostolic Palace than his impending excommunication. He commanded his legs forward again and knelt before Pope Benedict.

“Your Holiness.”

From the corner of his eye, Aldo noticed that Cardinal Bastianelli remained by the door as though quietly judging him. The pope extended his right hand. Aldo clasped it gently then bent his head to kiss the large gold ring on the pope’s finger. The Ring of the Fisherman signified the pope as Saint Peter’s successor and had served as a signet for sealing papal documents until the mid-1800s. Another set of artifacts he would love to study under different circumstances.

“Please, won’t you join me for an espresso?” the pope asked, gesturing him to a chair.

What? Slowly rising to his feet, Aldo could only nod. He sat down in the plush armchair, his hands folded in his lap as he waited for a server to pour the dark brew into small white mugs. Then, just as silently as he’d appeared, the servant excused himself.

“I imagine you’re wondering why you’ve been called here,” Benedict said.

“Uh, yes, Your Holiness,” Aldo replied, “The, uh, guards you sent were a bit vague on the details.”

The pope chuckled deeply. “Yes, I suppose they were, mostly because they themselves were not informed. I simply said I wanted to see you and they brought you to me.”

Aldo picked up one of the mugs of espresso and took a sip then smiled but said nothing. As the silence dragged on, he fought the urge to fidget, the tension in the room a thousand times greater than during his graduation board interview.

“Well, I can hazard a guess,” Aldo offered. When the pope nodded, he continued. “It has to do with my thesis.” He chanced a look at the cardinal who remained by the door.

The pope nodded again. “Yes, Signore Lombardi. Your thesis more than interested me. It concerned me.”

Aldo’s blood went cold as he imagined a future exiled from his faith, the primary motivation behind his chosen career. Maybe it would it have been better to ignore his theories like his professors advised. He had already lost more than one friendship over his asinine ideas, and now it would cost him inclusion in the Catholic Church and his career, as well.

His thesis explored the seven main branches of Christianity, citing their commonalities over the often-debated differences. His conclusion bordered on heresy—that all of Christianity is essentially one religion with seven arms, and one major exception.

“Your paper was nearly rejected, was it not?” Pope Benedict asked.

Aldo swallowed. “Uh, yes, but somehow, at the last moment, the board decided to accept it, and I was able to graduate.”

The corners of the pope’s mouth lifted slightly. “Do you know why it was accepted?”

Because of the Grace of God? Aldo shook his head. “I had assumed that while the board may not have agreed with my theories, they saw the merits of my research.” Aldo surmised the board recognized the value of time spent conducting scores of interviews and reading the written works of other Christian religions.

The pope chuckled softly. “No, it wasn’t the board.”

His mind spun. “Who then?”

“One man championed you,” the pope said solemnly, his gaze piercing through Aldo.

No way. “You, Your Holiness?”

“Yes.”

So, I really did graduate by the Grace of God. Yet, it didn’t make sense. “Why?” he asked. “Uh, I mean, I’m grateful, but…”

“I didn’t want to penalize you for getting too close to the truth,” the pope said, shifting in his chair. “You single-handedly uncovered one of the deepest secrets kept by the Church for centuries.” The pope frowned. “As such, your paper will never be published. Your research must never be made known to the public.”

Aldo knew from the moment the graduation board first rejected his thesis that it would never be published. But hearing it confirmed by the pope himself still discouraged him. Not having one’s research published was a virtual a death sentence in his line of work. Not to mention all those years of legwork, reading, writing and revising—all for naught.

What am I supposed to do now?

“Not to fear. All is not lost,” the pope said with a small grin.

How? If his research couldn’t be acknowledged, it was as if he made it all up. He would be labeled a fraud, perhaps the biggest fraud since Charles Ponzi. Aldo stiffened in his chair. Wait. Didn’t he just say I’d uncovered a secret?

“So, it’s all true then?” he asked tentatively.

“Yes, Septem Montes is in full swing.”

“Septem Montes?”

The pope nodded. “The Seven Hills. The true name for the connection you hinted at in your thesis. The seven distinct sects of Christianity were created intentionally, beginning with Martin Luther, just as you surmised.”

Aldo slumped in his chair. No way. “I-I had pieces, but… There’s more, isn’t there?”

“Yes.” The pope’s expression turned thoughtful. “I’m curious. You never mentioned who created the concept of the seven sects.”

“No. I wasn’t sure who instigated it.”

“But you must have had an inkling.”

Aldo hesitated. “Yes.”

“And?” the pope prodded. “What is your hypothesis?”

Aldo studied the intricate pattern of the rug beneath his feet. “I don’t have enough facts to give an accurate conclusion.” He could feel the pope’s intense gaze, and beads of sweat formed on his brow. He knew without being told that he was quickly reaching the point of knowing too much. And not knowing what came after crossing that line truly terrified him.

“I didn’t ask for facts. I’m curious about your theory,” the pope said, leaning toward him.

Aldo tried to clear his throat, but the lump only grew bigger. “Well, um, Luther was obviously not the originator of the initial separation,” Aldo said carefully. “It-it just never made sense, I mean, considering his background and his complete faith in the Catholic Church, even during the reformation. It seemed like, from Luther’s time ‘til now, the course of Christianity was directed through the careful guidance of someone in power.”

One of Benedict’s eyebrows arched. Aldo couldn’t blame him for being shocked. Even to his own ears it sounded like complete lunacy, not to mention treacherous.

“And who would that be?” the pope pressed.

Aldo looked up. The pope not only deserved his complete honesty, but also wouldn’t accept anything less. And beating around the bush would only make matters worse. “It, uh…” Aldo coughed then tried again. “It seems to me that the originator would’ve been someone quite elevated in the Church, someone who had the will and desire to create offshoots of the Church.” Though, to what aim, he still wasn’t sure.

The pope nodded. “And? Who?”

Aldo took a deep breath. He’s really going to make me say it, isn’t he? “It had to have been a directive from your office.” Even as the words left his mouth he couldn’t believe he’d said them aloud. Accusing a pope of orchestrating such a plan, even if that pope had lived over four centuries ago, was treason. He stared at the rug at his feet, clenching his hands to keep them from trembling. There was no way he’d be allowed to remain a Catholic now.

The pope leaned back and graced Aldo with a gentle smile. “You look like a man awaiting the guillotine.”

“Well,” Aldo glanced at Cardinal Bastianelli, “excommunication is death to me.”

The pope’s eyebrows rose. “I am not known to excommunicate a parishioner for a simple honest answer.” Then his face relaxed. “No, I have called you here for a different purpose entirely. I want to offer you a position.”

“A job?” Aldo choked in disbelief.

“You have a bright mind and I need your help.”

The pope needs my help? Aldo took a deep breath, trying to calm his chaotic thoughts. The day was becoming more and more surreal. He half-expected to wake up at any moment in the hospital from a skiing accident. “What sort of position?”

“We’ll go over the particulars at a later date. For the time being, we need to get you up to speed with what has been happening.” The pope’s expression grew serious. “Our Church is in peril.”

Aldo leaned forward. “What sort of peril?”

Benedict tilted his head. “You have an idea. You’ve been writing essays about it for the past nine months.”

Aldo scanned his memory. He’d written numerous essays, mostly as a way of cataloging information he had uncovered during his thesis research but couldn’t use in the final paper. But what had he uncovered that could threaten the Church?

“The Dark Internet?” Aldo asked after a moment. The pope nodded. “So, I was right,” Aldo said, sitting back. His peers at the university had called his theories crazy. While he now knew he would never get the academic accreditation he’d hoped for, he still felt validated knowing he’d been right all along.

“What is the Dark Internet?” the cardinal asked, stepping away from the door to join them.

Aldo looked to the pope, who gestured for Aldo to elaborate. Turning to face the cardinal as the older man took the seat beside him, Aldo said, “The Dark Internet is a large underground network, buried on servers unreachable from the Internet the rest of the world uses. It’s vast, uncensored, and untraceable unless you know how to access it.”

Cardinal Bastianelli nodded, yet his brow remained creased with confusion. “How does the Dark Internet relate to the World Wide Web?”

Didn’t I just explain that? “Uh, well, if you think of the World Wide Web as an iceberg, the part above water would be the known or public internet, while the underwater portion is the Deep Web and Dark Internet. The Deep Web has never been indexed and can’t be reached by standard search engines. Navigating it is nearly impossible unless you know what you’re looking for. Below that lies the Dark Internet, comprised of computers and servers linked by an unhackable network. It’s an entirely hidden internet.”

“But what does this have to do with the Church?” the cardinal asked.

“When researching my thesis, I discovered that Church information has been stored on servers connected to the Dark Internet. Perhaps even portions of the Vatican Secret Archives,” Aldo said. “Whether it’s accidental or intentional, I can’t say, but—”

“Preposterous!” the cardinal cried out. “Why have I never heard of this?”

Pope Benedict held up his hand. “Listen, my old friend. You are not privy to all the secrets of this office.” Then he nodded for Aldo to continue.

“It, uh,” Aldo’s voice cracked, “kind of makes sense if you think about it. The vast library of the Archives won’t last forever. Some of the most holy and precious documents are held in the underground, climate-controlled vault, but it might be safer to record and store the papers electronically.”

“Yes, we can’t risk the information being lost to future generations,” the pope said, folding his hands on his desk. “And so, putting the two riddles together, what do you surmise, Signore Lombardi?”

Aldo thought for a moment, trying to find the connection between his thesis and his essays on the Dark Internet. “Septem Montes. It’s been uploaded onto the Dark Internet,” he breathed.

“Yes,” the pope said, concern evident on his face. “All the historical documentation of what would be viewed as the biggest conspiracy on Earth has been circulating through the Dark Internet.”

Aldo shot forward on his seat. “But why would―”

“If it’s uncovered,” the cardinal said, “the stability of the Christian world would be shaken to its core.” It would be chaos. Christians everywhere would lose faith in their leaders, but most of all, they would blame the Catholic Church. But why had the Church created Septem Montes anyway?

“The riots that would break out could bring about the apocalypse,” the pope nodded. “You see why we’ve asked you here, Signore Lombardi. We need your help.”

Why me? I’m just a historian, not a systems analyst. Yet, he had to admit this could all be his fault. If someone had found merit in his research, had read his thesis then… “You think someone uploaded Septem Montes onto the Dark Internet intentionally?” Aldo asked, though he already knew the answer. He just had no idea who would do so or why.

The pope nodded slightly. “That is my fear. There have been rumblings from the Seventh. I think they may already know something.”

“The Seventh?” Aldo asked.

“The seventh sect created from Septem Montes.” Benedict steepled his fingers, his elbows resting on the arms of his chair. “Six of the seven distinct religions created kept to the plan, staying within the original design. However, one, the Seventh, strayed and is now like a rebellious teenager, seeking to gain independence at any cost.”

“More like a demon,” the cardinal muttered.

“Who are they? Which religion?” Aldo’s mind raced, trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. But he was missing something, some major clue.

Pope Benedict and Cardinal Bastianelli glanced at each other. Then the cardinal said, “Let’s take this one step at a time.”

So, they don’t completely trust me. Considering the magnitude of what were discussing, Aldo couldn’t really blame them. “But how exactly can I help? Don’t you need someone familiar with the Dark Internet?” The task of tracking down all traces of Septem Montes on an untraceable network was one way outside his field of expertise.

“We’ll have to discuss that another day,” the pope said, “but for now, I must ask you to surrender all of your research.”

The stern look on the pope’s face made it clear there was more to the request than simply confiscating his life’s work. It was a gag order. Aldo nodded slowly. “Of course.”

“Good,” Pope Benedict said, standing up. As if on cue, the same server who had brought the now cold espresso emerged from a door at the side of the room and placed Aldo’s laptop bag on the pope’s desk. “I’ll have David bring you a new computer to use this evening. We have a lot of work ahead of us. You should rest.” The pope then turned to the younger man dressed in white robes. “David, please show Signore Lombardi to his room.”

What just happened? Aldo sat, trying to wrap his head around everything. When Cardinal Bastianelli rested a hand on his shoulder, Aldo glanced up in surprise. The cardinal smiled. “You thought you’d get a break from your studies, didn’t you?”

“Yes, I do apologize for cutting your vacation short,” the pope said. “But not to worry, Signore Lombardi. I am sure you will soon realize the invaluable nature of your position here. You will have access to documents viewed by an elite few from your generation. Only a handful of cardinals are ever permitted to see the Vatican Secret Archives.”

Perusing the Secret Archives was any theological historian’s greatest fantasy. But the prospect of fantasy becoming reality left Aldo feeling overwhelmed. “I’m honored,” he replied softly.

Pope Benedict smiled. “I’ll see you at breakfast tomorrow at eight o’clock in the southeast courtyard. Sleep well, Signore Lombardi.”

Sebastiano turned to follow the two younger men, but the pope laid a hand on his arm, stopping him. The cardinal nodded almost imperceptibly and returned to his seat, waiting for the door to close. Seated once again behind his desk, the pope said, “Sebastiano, you disagree with me, don’t you?”

“It isn’t my place to agree or disagree, Your Holiness.”

The pope chuckled. “But you do nonetheless.”

The cardinal remained silent, but raised his left eyebrow slightly, the most defiance he was willing to show.

“Are you familiar with Sun-Tzu?” the pope asked.

“Of course,” Sebastiano said. “It has always been required reading at the university.”

“I’m just keeping Signore Lombardi close, that’s all.”

Sebastiano’s eyes flashed. “Really?” he whispered. “You fooled me.”

“The next few weeks will determine whether our young historian is indeed friend or foe,” the pope said. “Either way, he’s mired himself in this so deeply, we can’t afford to leave him unmonitored.”

David led Aldo through the maze of corridors to a small yet elegantly appointed room. Aldo never imagined he would set foot within the Apostolic Palace, let alone be invited to spend the night. The walls breathed history, like a faint perfume, intoxicating him. He longed to explore, but the residual effects of anxiety and lack of sleep were taking their toll.

When David politely excused himself, Aldo tossed his suitcase onto the twin-sized bed and popped it open. As he sluggishly fished for his toiletry bag, he realized he was still wearing his ski coat and pants. Great. He’d met the pope looking like a dark blue marshmallow. Not that his first meeting with the pope could have gone any worse. With a sigh, he stripped off his coat and pants and shoved them into his suitcase. Thankfully tomorrow was a new day. One with fewer surprises, he hoped.

Needing a task to distract his mind, Aldo hung up his garment bag and inspected the charcoal-colored suit within for wrinkles. As he looked for an iron, he noticed a narrow door opening to a quaint balcony. From it, he could see Saint Peter’s Square sprawled out before him. The square lit up the darkness as a few stragglers milled about despite the winter cold. Lights illuminated the statues of Christ and His apostles atop the Basilica and reflected off

its dome, making it glow invitingly.

Aldo sat down in a small wrought iron chair situated in the corner of the balcony and gazed at the view. Finally able to reflect on all the events of the day, he mused at how quickly his life had been turned upside down. Just that morning, he had awakened disheartened at the prospect of never finding a job in his field after barely managing to graduate. Now, the pope himself was offering him a job. Despite the seemingly miraculous turn of events, Aldo remained uneasy.

Feeling a vibration in his pocket, he pulled out his cell phone. Seventeen unread messages from his parents greeted him, and he groaned. How in the world was he going to explain this? He certainly couldn’t tell them the truth, especially after the pope’s gag order. He scrolled through the messages.

“Where are you?”

“Did something happen? Please call us.”

“The rescuers are combing the slopes for you right now. Please be okay.”

Guilt crushed him. At twenty-six, he sometimes forgot that he was still a child in his parents’ eyes. And no parent should have to experience such worry. Confirming he had enough cell reception, he dialed his mother’s cell number. He heard only crackling. “Mom? Can you hear me?”

“Where… you… thought… avalanche…”

“Mom, you’re breaking up. If you can hear me, I’m okay. I had to return to Rome unexpectedly.” He heard a ping as a small rock landed near his feet. Puzzled, he bent down and scooped it up.

“Do… your father…”

“Mom, I can’t really go into detail right now, but I just wanted to let you know I’m safe. I’m sorry it took me so long to call.”

“…home…”

The crackling went silent and he looked at his screen to check the connection. “Mom?” Nothing. He sighed. Well, at least she knew he wasn’t trapped under feet of snow somewhere, but she wouldn’t let this go anytime soon. No doubt she would hold this over his head like a noose for at least the next decade. He sent her a text message for good measure then tossed his cell on the bed and looked at the stone still in his left hand. Where did it come from? He was on the second floor, and there were no rooms above him. Rolling it around in his palm, he was about to toss it off the balcony when he realized it wasn’t just a stone. A bit of paper had been wrapped around it.

Seriously? How hard is it to find a trashcan?

But why would someone bother to weigh down a piece of litter with a rock only to throw it up here? Smoothing it out, he noticed a short message written on the slip of paper, but between the surrounding darkness and his poor eyesight, he couldn’t make it out. Rummaging through his suitcase, he found his reading glasses and slipped them on. He could barely make out the penciled letters—Cipro station NOW!

From his years of living in Rome while attending university, he knew the Cipro metro station was some twenty minutes away by foot.

Can’t be for me. No one even knows I’m here. Well, except Mom.

He dropped the slip of paper into the wastebasket and headed for the small attached bathroom. Eager to wash away the hours of sweat from skiing, planes, and Fiats, he turned on the shower. As he waited for the water to heat, he grabbed his toiletry bag. He shaved quickly, before the steam could fog up the mirror, and then stepped in and allowed the hot water to beat against his back. As much as he wanted to take his time and enjoy the warmth, his eyes were starting to droop. Wrapping the large cream-colored towel around his waist, he opened the door and stepped back into the room.

“Good evening, Mr. Lombardi.”

Startled by the voice, Aldo whipped around. Standing off to the left side of his room was a man dressed in a black suit.

“Who are you?” he gasped.

Arms folded across his chest and his face devoid of any emotion, the man said nothing.

“Why are you in my room?” Aldo asked, looking him up and down.

“Didn’t you get my note?” said a familiar feminine voice behind him.

Can’t be. “Allison?” Aldo turned around, his gaze meeting the beautiful blue eyes that never failed to mesmerize him. Her honey-colored hair fell around her shoulders, not a strand out of place. “What—How…” Taking a deep breath, he tried again. “What are you doing here?” He had read that sleep deprivation could cause hallucinations in some people. Yet, even after the day he’d had, he couldn’t be that tired.

She laughed, the sound reminding him of wind chimes on a summer’s day. “Surprised?”

Warmth flooded his cheeks as he nodded. He’d had a crush on Allison for the past six years, ever since he’d met her at a little coffee house near the university his sophomore year. In addition to her beauty, she had a quick mind, and he always enjoyed their conversations. He never could muster the nerve to ask her out though, afraid things would turn awkward and ruin their friendship. So, he settled for daydreams and sidelong glances.

“What’re you doing here?” he asked again. His eyes swept the room. “How did you even get in? And how did you know I was here?” I didn’t know myself until a few hours ago.

“You mean, what’s a little Mormon girl from Utah doing in the middle of Vatican City?” She tilted her head to the right and smiled.

Damn, she’s lovely. He grinned at her. “Something like that.”

“You were onto something, you know,” she said, waltzing past him.

“What do you mean?”

“Your research.” She slid his suitcase aside and sat down on the edge of his bed.

“So I’ve been told,” Aldo murmured. Of all the friends he’d made at university, Allison had been the only one to support his theories.

“Not just Septem Montes.”

“How did you…” He fell silent, remembering his gag order.

Allison eyed him for a moment, making him feel more exposed than his bath towel. Then she reached out and invitingly patted the pile of clothes on the bed beside her.

What is she after? Aldo glanced at the man still standing in the corner of the room. He knew Allison well enough to know she wasn’t the kind of girl to frequent the bedrooms of single men, which explained the escort. Yet, breaking into the Apostolic Palace just to discuss his research was equally ridiculous.

“Your watch, Aldo,” Allison said, suppressing a giggle. She picked the timepiece up off the top of the stack.

“My watch?” What about it? The simple silver wristwatch wasn’t very valuable, but he treasured the gift from his parents.

“Surveillance,” she said. “We’ve been monitoring your conversations.”

Aldo stared at her for a long moment, finally deciding she had to be pulling his leg. “Sure you have.” After the day he’d had, being involved in spy games didn’t seem so far-fetched. But with Allison? The riskiest thing he’d ever seen her do was take a sip of his coffee. Yet, he couldn’t ignore the fact she was here, trespassing inside the Apostolic Palace. “And when exactly would you have gotten the chance to modify my watch?”

Again, Allison giggled. “Made you wonder, though, didn’t I?” She stood and walked back toward the open balcony door. “There are many secrets within these walls, and now that you’re on the inside, we need you to be our eyes and ears.” She turned back and tilted her head again, knowing just how well that look worked on him.

Like a charm. Aldo sighed. “Okay, for argument’s sake, let’s say I believe you,” Aldo said, rubbing his temple. “I’m not a spy. I’m just a scholar, a historian.”

“So?” Allison laced her hands behind her back. “And only you were able to connect more dots than anyone else has. You’re close to the Bride’s Day Secret.”

Aldo sighed again. “But I have no proof.” Up until an hour earlier, his theory that all of Christianity would one day be united again under the veil of the Catholic Church, like a bride and groom on their wedding day, had been just that – a theory. Now, with the pope’s confirmation of his research, he knew he’d been on the right track, but he still needed the proof to support it. Yet, the pope’s confiscating his research made getting said proof a moot point.

“You’ll get it, sooner than you realize. You’re in the right place.”

Relenting, Aldo dropped onto the bed. “What am I looking for?”

Allison pointed at herself. “You’re asking me?” Right. She wanted his help but wasn’t going to give him any hints.

Since Aldo had left the pope’s private chambers, something had been tickling the back of his mind. Starting with Luther, he could pinpoint how each of the six sects had originated. What about the seventh? Pope Benedict had called the Seventh a rebellious teenager. In religion, rebelling would be in terms of doctrine. Whose doctrine had strayed most from the path? He straightened.

“The Seventh-day Adventists are the seventh sect,” he muttered. They were the ones threatening to reveal Catholic secrets.

Allison nodded. “I agree. I suggest you start at the beginning with William Miller. The Vatican Archives should have what you need. But it might take some digging.”

Aldo looked at her, wondering what her stake was in all of this. She had already graduated with full honors from Brigham Young University, and he assumed she’d be returning home now that her study abroad program had ended. “I never said I’d help. Even if I wanted to, you know I’ll be watched every second.” Allison’s expression turned serious. “By more than one set of eyes.”

Aldo already felt in over his head, and the weight of her words dragged him down further. He glanced again at the man in the corner. Allison’s presence here left little doubt that the LDS Church was involved. Beyond just being aware of Septem Montes he wasn’t sure how, but that meant at least two of the seven sects were on the move.

“No guarantees,” he said hesitantly.

“Don’t worry. We got your back. Just scribble a note on a piece of paper and toss it out the window if you need me.” She winked then followed her escort onto the balcony. Slipping smoothly over the railing, they disappeared into the darkness below.

“Ever heard of a cell phone?” Aldo muttered with a sigh. He closed and locked the balcony door, pulled on his pajamas and dropped onto the bed, praying that things would start making sense in the morning.

Below: In the novel, Samuel Summers reveals that a secret society within the leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church enlisted house-to-house book distributors to travel throughout Germany to elicit support to bring Adolf Hitler to power.

This same secret society, with their hidden hand, created and managed the Rat Lines that helped many Nazis escape to South America after World War II.

This same secret society delivered Adolf Hitler to South America (below) and prepared a way to make this action the best kept secret in history.

This same secret society built the large-scale infrastructure that Martin Ludwig Bormann (17 June 1900 – 2 May 1945) used to invest funds in secret international bank accounts and establish and grow several major international corporations.

This same secret society supported Josef Mengele (16 March 1911 – 7 February 1979), also known as the Angel of Death, and concealed his role in overseeing the recovery of Adolf Hitler’s health.

This same secret society financed Dr. Mengele’s plans for using SDA medical centers to study the use of what in Jewish and Islamic literature is called the Luz Bone or the Resurrection Bone as insurance if Hitler were to become ill, have an accident, or die of old age.

This same secret society led several countries in their development of biological and chemical warfare arsenals. This secret society within the SDA thus provided the necessary means to fulfill the prophecy of its church’s prophetess, Ellen G. White, that the whole would suspect them and come to hate them (the Seventh-day Adventist Church).

Volume one leaves the reader wondering what role Samuel Summers has or is to play in the race to resurrect a person’s body, mind, and spirit (all types of memories).