VATICAN PROTOCOL

Prologue

The Black Forest, near Freiburg Germany, 1936

Gerhard Wagner stepped from his warm living room onto a freezing
front porch. He filled his lungs with frosty air and watched as the
darkness became white from his exhale. The only intrusion into the night
came from three lanterns flickering through two large windows and from
an impressive three-quarter moon over the tops of the imposing pines.
He lived in the same small log home located deep in the Black Forest
for sixty years. His grandfather built it by hand, and Gerhard took
ownership when his grandfather passed away. He never married, and his
family consisted of three large Bouvier des Flandres.

The weather-beaten porch provided a front row seat to the sparkling
diamonds set in the ebony sky and the long dark shadows from the
surrounding forest. He took another deep breath and appreciated the
sweet scent of pines in the light breeze. He debated how long he’d remain
in the brisk air when the dogs became agitated. This was not unusual given
the abundance of wildlife found in the woods, and it was typically the
scent of wolves that aggravated the dogs. Gerhard watched as their pacing
increased


Glancing skyward, he saw it. Streaking across the sky was a silent
fireball. He’d never seen an airplane, and the lack of formal education
meant the possibility of a meteor never occurred to him. The flaming
object came closer and lost altitude as time stood still. He didn’t move
until the object disappeared below the silhouettes of primeval evergreens.
Seconds later there was an explosion, and for a moment daylight replaced
the night. Soon a distasteful odor filled the air, a combination of burning
rubber and sulfur. It was the same sort of rotten egg smell produced by
paper mills, but with a burning scent thrown in for good measure.
He went into his house and slipped into a worn woolen plaid coat,
grabbed a leather hat complete with ear-flaps, put a pistol in his belt, and
picked up his shotgun along with additional shells.

Gerhard entered the primitive barn, lifted a battered leather saddle,
and placed it on the muscular back of the Schwarzalder Kaltblut, better
known as the Black Forest Cold Blood. The workhorse breed was Gerhard’s
pride and joy, and he rode it everywhere. Its stunning dark chestnut
coat was offset by a flaxen mane and tail. Gerhard finished tightening the
saddle and mounted his steed.

The combination of a clear night with an assist from the moonlight
provided a shimmering semblance of visibility, but he brought along
a kerosene lantern for additional light. He guided his mount slowly into
the woods with the Bouviers following close. Gerhard knew the forest
topography like most people knew the inside of their homes. He could
navigate blindfolded through the many game trails and his own pathways
sculpted over the last fifty years. He was comfortable in the woods, but his
awareness was heightened at night. Having the Bouviers along reduced his
anxiety given their famous sense of protection.

Once he entered the forest, its blackness increased, but the lantern
provided enough light to maneuver on the path. It took about ten minutes
to find his way to the site of the explosion. As he got closer, the odor
became stronger, and an eerie glow shown through a myriad of branches
and evergreens. The horse slowed to a walk and resisted as he closed in on
the clearing and the dogs stopped short and moved abnormally. Gerhard
dismounted and tied the reins to a branch so his transportation wouldn’t
decide to bolt.

He came to the edge of the impact area and was astonished by its
appearance. The thick forest had been flattened to an oval shape, where
trees and undergrowth seemed to have vaporized. He gingerly tiptoed into
the midst of smoldering fires, carefully avoiding anything burning. The
ground was devoid of organic material as something burned in the middle
of the newly created clearing. Gerhard, wary with each step, slowly sauntered
to the remnants of the craft. It was in the shape of a German Helmet,
was silver in color, and even though the fires had been burning for
some time, the exterior of the craft looked smooth with none of the soot
residue one would expect.

A hatch appeared to be open at the top of the craft, and as Gerhard
walked around he was stunned to see three small bodies in shiny metal
suits. His heart pounded as he went from spooked to afraid. The size of
the bodies were those of small children, but the uneducated man from the
Black Forest knew these were not children.


Gerhard was a product of an environment where werewolves and
vampires were regarded as real, and stories like Hansel and Gretel and
Little Red Riding Hood were believed throughout these woods. He noticed
the metal was thin, and curiosity got the best of him as he removed his
glove and picked up a piece of something shiny. It was light weight and
cool to the touch, despite its proximity to the fire. He didn’t want to go
near the bodies, but he felt somehow compelled to stay.