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CHAPTER 19

JUST OUTSIDE THE fabric wall of the domed theater, Admiral Ávila moved into position, hidden from view by a maze of scaffolding. By staying low, he had kept his shadow hidden and was now ensconced only inches from the outer skin of the wall near the front of the auditorium.

Silently, he reached into his pocket and removed the rosary beads.

Timing will be critical.

Inching his hands along the string of beads, he found the heavy metal crucifix, amused that the guards manning the metal detectors downstairs had let this object slip past them without a second glance.

Using a razor blade hidden in the stem of the crucifix, Admiral Ávila cut a six-inch vertical slit in the fabric wall. Gently, he parted the opening and peered through into another world—a wooded field where hundreds of guests were reclining on blankets and staring up at the stars.

They cannot imagine what is coming.

Ávila was pleased to see that the two Guardia Real agents had taken up positions on the opposite side of the field, near the right front corner of the auditorium. They stood at rigid attention, nestled discreetly in the shadows of some trees. In the dim light, they would be unable to see Ávila until it was too late.

Near the guards, the only other person standing was museum director Ambra Vidal, who seemed to be shifting uncomfortably as she watched Kirsch’s presentation.

Contented with his position, Ávila closed the slit and refocused his attention on his crucifix. Like most crosses, it had two short arms that made up the transverse bar. On this cross, however, the arms were magnetically attached to the vertical stem and could be removed.

Ávila grabbed one of the cruciform’s arms and forcefully bent it. The piece came off in his hand, and a small object fell out. Ávila did the same on the other side, leaving the crucifix armless—now just a rectangle of metal on a heavy chain.

He slid the beaded chain back into his pocket for safekeeping. I’ll need this shortly. He now focused on the two small objects that had been hidden inside the arms of the cross.

Two short-range bullets.

Ávila reached behind him, fishing under his belt, pulling from the small of his back the object he had smuggled in beneath his suit jacket.

Several years had passed since an American kid named Cody Wilson had designed “The Liberator”—the first 3-D-printed polymer gun—and the technology had improved exponentially. The new ceramic and polymer firearms still did not have much power, but what they lacked in range, they more than made up for by being invisible to metal detectors.

All I need to do is get close.

If all went as planned, his current location would be perfect.

The Regent had somehow gained inside information about the precise layout and sequence of events this evening … and he had made it very clear how Ávila’s mission should be carried out. The results would be brutal, but having now witnessed Edmond Kirsch’s Godless preamble, Ávila felt confident that his sins here tonight would be forgiven.

Our enemies are waging war, the Regent had told him. We must either kill or be killed.

 

Standing against the far wall in the right front corner of the auditorium, Ambra Vidal hoped she did not look as uncomfortable as she felt.

Edmond told me this was a scientific program.

The American futurist had never been shy about his distaste for religion, but Ambra had never imagined tonight’s presentation would display such hostility.

Edmond refused to let me preview it.

There would certainly be fallout with the museum board members, but Ambra’s concerns right now were far more personal.

A couple of weeks ago, Ambra had confided in a very influential man about her involvement in tonight’s event. The man had strongly urged her not to participate. He had warned of the dangers of blindly hosting a presentation without any knowledge of its content—especially when it was produced by the well-known iconoclast Edmond Kirsch.

He practically ordered me to cancel, she remembered. But his self-righteous tone made me too incensed to listen.

Now, as Ambra stood alone beneath the star-filled sky, she wondered if that man was sitting somewhere watching this live stream, his head in his hands.

Of course he is watching, she thought. The real question is: Will he lash out?

 

Inside Almudena Cathedral, Bishop Valdespino was sitting rigidly at his desk, eyes glued to his laptop. He had no doubt that everyone in the nearby Royal Palace was also watching this program, especially Prince Julián—the next in line for the throne of Spain.

The prince must be ready to explode.

Tonight, one of Spain’s most respected museums was collaborating with a prominent American atheist to broadcast what religious pundits were already calling a “blasphemous, anti-Christian publicity stunt.” Further fanning the flames of controversy, the museum director hosting tonight’s event was one of Spain’s newest and most visible celebrities—the spectacularly beautiful Ambra Vidal—a woman who for the past two months had dominated Spanish headlines and enjoyed the overnight adoration of an entire country. Incredibly, Ms. Vidal had chosen to put everything at risk by hosting tonight’s full-scale attack on God.

Prince Julián will have no choice but to comment.

His impending role as Spain’s sovereign Catholic figurehead would be only a small part of the challenge he would face in dealing with tonight’s event. Of substantially greater concern was that just last month, Prince Julián had made a joyous declaration that launched Ambra Vidal into the national spotlight.

He had announced their engagement to be married.

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