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The Ultimate Enemy...

Their existence is dismissed as rumor: their supposed powers and influence as paranoid delusions. But the Illuminati are real, and for five thousand years, they have conspired in secret, working their will ont he affairs of mankind.

The Ultimate Artifact...

The last remnant of an ancient civilization, the key to absolute power, hidden ages ago to prevent its misuse. The Illuminati will stop at nothing to possess its awful power.

The Ultimate Adventure...

From the jungles of Cambodia to the frozen wastelands of Siberia, one woman will risk her own life, time and time again, to thwart the Illuminati's evil desires.

Her name is Lara Croft.

Her Occupation: Tomb Raider

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743424295
Publisher: Pocket Books
Publication date: 05/22/2001
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 4.19(w) x 6.72(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Manfred Powell rode into Venice like a king.

The procession felt natural to him, like putting on a favorite old suit he'd forgotten in the corner of his closet. Comfortable.

Pimms, on the other hand, looked anything but. He kept shivering, and trying to hide it, kept trying to zip up the front of his orange windbreaker higher, to insulate himself from the sea spray and the gusting wind.

Powell leaned into his ear and whispered, "I'm getting angry with you, Pimms."

The man went pale.


"I said, I'm getting angry." At that moment, the commandante, who was steering the motorboat, turned around and smiled at Powell. Powell smiled back, and surreptitiously nudged Pimms, who smiled as well. "This is a great honor we have been given, to ride with these gentlemen, and you look like you'd rather be anyplace else."

There were five of them in the boat: Powell, Pimms, and three members of the Venezia Brigati, Venice's canal-based firefighters. All were dressed identically, in orange foul-weather gear and black firefighters' helmets with wide yellow stripes around them.

"Sorry, sir." Pimms's longish sandy-brown hair peeked out from underneath his helmet. "It's just that I hadn't expected it to be this cold."

Powell drew in a breath. "Pimms."

"Yes, sir?"

"You're whining. You know how I detest whining."

"Sorry, sir."

"So look like you're enjoying yourself -- please."

"Yes, sir." Pimms clasped his hands behind his back and made his mouth into a grimacing sort of shape that -- Powell supposed -- was intended as a smile. Then Pimms cleared his throat.

"What a privilege to be here, and now, with you gentlemen, and in this boat," Pimms declared, much too loudly.

The three men, who had been talking amongst themselves, suddenly stopped. The commandante turned left, and then right, and then back toward Pimms.

"Grazi, signore," he said. The other two nodded. Pimms, in turn, nodded at Powell, and gave him the thumbs-up.

Powell sighed. Good help was so hard to find these days.

It had been overcast this morning, and chilly, but now, as they came up the Grand Canal, past San Marco on their right, and then on under the Ponte de-Accademicia, the sun broke through the clouds, light struck the water, and the great parade of marble buildings on either side of the canal shone spectacularly. This was the Venice he had fallen in love with on his first trip to the city thirty years ago, when he was just a young, impressionable lawyer. Now Powell had become, in fact, by virtue of his legitimate business interests, a very important man in the city of Venice. Hence the invitation on the fireboat's inaugural ride.

The commandante docked the boat, as Powell had instructed, at a small quay in the shadow of the Palazzo Grassi. Powell climbed off, shaking hands and smiling with the men, Pimms a step behind.

The two of them walked at a brisk pace, squeezing their way among tourists and tourist trappers, hurrying down the Calle di Mandela, and turned into an alleyway that was so small people often passed by it unknowingly. They emerged into a surprisingly large courtyard.

Before them stood a massive stone building that during the late sixteenth century had served as headquarters for the Council of Three, the secret society that had then ruled the republic. For the last few hundred years, it had served a similar purpose, for a similar organization.

The building's exterior gave no clue to what lay within, though, save for a single stone gargoyle perched high above its entrance. A sharp-eyed observer might note that this gargoyle differed from the usual Renaissance statuary found throughout Venice. It seemed out of place somehow: Venice presented a face of wealth and opulence to the world, a face that asked observers to enjoy its beauty.

This gargoyle presented a face that said, simply, "Go away."

That same sharp-eyed observer might also note that the stone gargoyle held something in its hands: a triangle, with an eye in the middle of it. The eye in the pyramid.

The symbol of the Illuminati.

Powell, Pimms walking a step behind him, passed underneath the gargoyle, into the building, and out of sight.

If the exterior of the building did little to call attention to itself, the Grand Hall was just the opposite.

It was the size of a football field, with vaulted ceilings five stories high, immaculate ivory columns spaced the length of the room, elaborate, gilt-edged scrollwork, a huge, floor-to-ceiling mural on one end, and two massive iron doors at the other.

Along the length of the room, long oak conference tables provided enough seating for the Order's ninety-nine voting members. Underneath the huge mural, seven chairs sat on a raised dais. Seven chairs, for the seven members of the High Council. Six of the chairs were occupied, only the center chair, directly to Powell's left, was empty.

Across the empty center chair, Powell saw Gareth fidgeting, and looking at his watch. Mrs. King crossed her legs. Ravenna folded his arms and sighed.

Powell allowed himself a small smile. Gathered in this room were some of the most powerful men and women in the world, business and political leaders, people used to giving commands, being waited on hand and foot at all hours of the day. Now they were the ones doing the waiting.

A chime sounded, and a door at the back of the room opened.

A tall, distinguished-looking gentleman walked through.

He appeared to be in his early sixties -- but no one knew exactly how old he was. He spoke eight languages (that Powell knew of) without the trace of an accent. No one knew where he'd been born. No one could recall a time when he had not sat on the Order's High Council. Twenty-seven years ago, on the death of Madame Simon, he had been named their leader by universal acclamation. No balloting was necessary.

A good thing, because the man had no name.

Within the Order, he was known simply as the distinguished gentleman.

He sat down, between Powell and Gareth, and cleared his throat.

"Brothers and Sisters, it seems we are running out of time. This is not acceptable."

He stressed the last two words, and then allowed the room to be silent a moment.

At the floor tables, Powell sensed as much as saw the younger members shifting, growing nervous. The distinguished-looking gentleman often absented himself from the Order's monthly meetings, allowing Gareth to run those proceedings. Gareth, who had all the presence of a mole rat, and hemmed and hawed, rarely speaking in absolutes. The presence of their leader, here and now, brought home the importance of this meeting to the Order.

"Mr. Powell." The distinguished-looking gentleman turned to him. "The explanation for this, please?"

Powell held the older man's gaze a moment, without flinching. He was no neophyte, no toady. He was his own man. Their leader had recognized that by putting him in charge of the most important project in the Order's history.

A folder appeared before Powell, a folder held by Pimms, who was bending over, offering, he saw, the latest results from Miss Holcomb's team. Powell waved him off.

"I have no 'explanation,' and certainly no excuses, except to once again -- respectfully -- " his eyes caught Gareth's on that last word, "remind the Council that our calculations involve an almost inconceivable number of iterative operations. We are working from clues based on ancient cosmological models, older than Ptolemy, pre-dating Aristotle, before Plato, models of the universe derived from hypotheses never recorded in the pages of history. Correlation between these models and the actual universe as we know it has proved somewhat of a code-breaking challenge. But I am happy to announce that we are almost ready. And I am supremely confident that we will have our answer in time for the relevant planetary alignment."

"In one week," the man said.

"Yes. In one week."

"That's good news then, Mr. Powell. Because remember, we have only one opportunity to find what we are looking for. And if we fail, we must wait another five thousand years."

Powell smiled. "Well, I don't know about you but that's more time than I am prepared to commit to this enterprise."

The room fell silent.

Behind the distinguished-looking gentleman, Powell saw Gareth, looking shocked, and Mrs. King, looking worried. Of course, Powell remembered a previous incident involving the distinguished-looking gentleman and another member of the Order who attempted a joke. A protégé of Mrs. King's, who ended up with a dagger in the throat for her efforts.

The Illuminati in general, and their leader in particular, frowned on humor.

Powell tended to be the exception. Generally.

Now he and the distinguished-looking gentleman locked eyes. Finally the older man smiled.

"So we will be ready."

Powell nodded. "Trust me."

The meeting continued. Powell summarized the results of their research in English, and then he had Miss Holcomb stand and go over the methodology used to achieve those results in greater detail. Powell was intimately familiar with the work -- he'd supervised virtually all of it -- so as she spoke, he allowed his mind to wander.

He had, in fact, lied to the leader of the Order.

They were no closer to finding the object of their search today than they had been six months, or six years, ago. The clues they were working from, the pages from the traitor's diary, the sketches the man had made, were hopelessly fragmented, and often contradictory. This morning, he'd awoken with the nagging sensation that they were running down blind alley after blind alley in their work, that something -- to quote the bard -- was rotten in Denmark.

Perhaps it would be worth another search through the Order's own records. Or maybe another expedition to Al Iskandariya, in search of the Tenth Diary, the one that recorded the High Priest's own words. Legend said it recorded not just the location of the piece they sought but documented the building of the device that was to be used to find the object.

Perhaps. He did want to continue his rise through the Illuminati organization, and certainly the successful completion of this task would let him take that next step closer to the top. At the same time...

Powell crossed his legs, and felt the dagger blade pressing against his ankle, where he'd hidden it -- there were other ways to ascend to a position of leadership.

When the meeting ended, he rose and exited the Hall as quickly as possible, not wanting to be bogged down with questions from the other members of the Council. He took the staircase up, and out onto the colonnade overlooking the Great Hall. Pimms trotted along, a step behind him.

Powell pulled out his dagger and played with it idly.

"We're not ready now, are we?" Pimms asked.

Powell turned and gave him an icy glare. "No."

"Oh my God. My God. We need a miracle."


"Yes, sir?"

"If you're so convinced it's a miracle we need, you need to stop whining, and start praying."

"Yes, sir."

"And in the meantime..." Powell shook his head in disgust, studying the man a moment. He looked utterly, totally defeated.

What he needed was a dash of cold water in the face. Failing that...

Powell threw his knife into the wall, and smiled at Pimms.

"Fetch," he said.

"Miss Holcomb." Powell made his voice sharper than it had been. "We have one week."

"Yes, sir."

"And now you are suggesting we abandon this -- "

"Not abandon. Refocus."

"Do you have a specific new approach in mind?"

"There are references to a device that was intended to be used as a guide to finding the Triangle. That particular search may be more productive -- "

Powell put up a hand. "I am as familiar with those references as anyone, Miss Holcomb. But tell me, where would you suggest beginning such a search?"

She was silent for a moment. "That is not my field of expertise," she said finally.

He nodded. "The device is a fairy tale, Miss Holcomb. Continue with your work, please."

She nodded and left the room.

Powell stood and walked to the window, which overlooked one of the lesser canals. The setting sun reflected off the water, a thousand different shades of orange and yellow and red, casting a fiery light on the marbled exteriors of the buildings that lined the canal.

A device. Ridiculous. Impossible.

He heard the doors swing open again, and turned to see Pimms reenter the Hall.

"They were impressed?"

"Yes. Yes, they were, I believe. Of course, once they started asking questions, how we were able to secure so many valuable pieces, it was difficult to get them to stop, and I knew you needed me back at work right away, so -- "


"Yes, sir."

"A simple 'yes' will do."

"Yes. Of course." Pimms nodded. "Yes, sir. Then, yes."



"Yes, Pimms?"

"They asked again, would we be ready? And I repeated just what you said -- that we would be ready next week."

"We will be."

"But we're not ready now, are we?"

Powell sighed. "No."

"And in the meantime..." Powell returned to the table, and closed up his laptop, "...see if you can book a table for three this evening at eight at La Caravella." The restaurant was Danielle's favorite; he felt she deserved a little something special for having the Beluga flown in for him.

Pimms looked surprised. "Dinner, sir? Tonight? With a week left?"

"Dinner, Pimms. Eight o'clock sharp. La Caravella. A private booth, if possible."

Powell picked up his laptop and left the room.

Copyright © 2001 by Paramount Pictures

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