“L’ANOMALIA” by Massimiliano Pieraccini
Note: The first appearance of each main character was marked by writing their names in bold. Catt’s name is highlighted clearly to show the sections of the book where he was mentioned.
Introduction (pp. 9-13)
(Map of Erice)
A boy called Aleksey participates in a swimming competition. Later, he walks around his beautiful hometown. It is a communist town populated by scientists and engineers.
Chapter 1 (pp. 15-19)
November. Professor Massimo Redi is flying to Palermo. He is going to Erice for a seminar on Planetary Emergencies, where the best scientists from all over the world are gathered every year by professor Zichichi to discuss the latest major global issues. Zichichi invited him to prepare a talk on quantum computing and its future application in Artificial Intelligence. Massimo reflects on the scope and merits of Zichichi’s foundation (called Ettore Majorana) and on the flattering invite he received. After landing in Palermo, Massimo meets his taxi driver and, unexpectedly, is approached by a young man in a grey t-shirt, jeans and sandals (namely Fabio Moebius, as we will learn later).
Chapter 2 (pp. 20-30)
The boy is Fabio. A former student enrolled in Massimo’s course, he has been very critical towards his teacher since their first class.
Flashback #1: Massimo first meets Fabio during his university course. Halfway through the professor’s lecture, Fabio leaves the room commenting aloud “That’s bullshit”. Surprisingly, Fabio attends the following classes and keeps attacking Massimo with brilliant observations, trying to prove him wrong. At the end of the semester, Fabio visits Massimo during office hours, invites the professor to take part into a student-led project and expresses his appreciation for Massimo’s course. (END OF FLASHBACK)
Flashback #2 (arguably a couple of years later): 28/09/2008, in Switzerland a tree falls and breaks the wires that take electricity from the French nuclear plants to Italy. Massimo remembers that strange, electricity-free weekend as well as the following day, when Fabio comes and asks him to become his dissertation supervisor. Massimo accepts and proposes a challenging topic (quantum cryptography) sponsored by the military, which Fabio is visibly very interested in. In the following months, Massimo and Fabio work on it together, showing an opposite approach towards research. After Christmas, Massimo starts noticing Fabio’s frequent absence. Despite this, they write an article which is subsequently published on «Nature», and in April Fabio graduates. He receives a postdoctoral grant from the same university and keeps working with Massimo. Soon Fabio disappears again and when Massimo finds his address and visits him 3 months later, Fabio appears visibly sick. A girl friend of his is there to assist him, as usual, during his crises, which she imputes to a bipolar disorder. Massimo feels sorry for Fabio and leaves the flat. In the following months, Massimo and Fabio keep working together very intensely, until Fabio feels the need for a change and goes to work at Stanford University. (END OF FLASHBACK)
Chapter 3 (pp. 31-36)
At the airport, Fabio greets Massimo and asks for a lift to Erice. Upon their arrival at the Majorana centre, Massimo successfully pretends that Fabio is his assistant to let him in, and they are assigned two rooms.
Chapter 4 (pp. 37-45; PARTIALLY TRANSLATED)
Massimo and Fabio go to the welcome party in the cloister. They meet a number of scientists, including Antonio Zichichi and Alexander Kaposka. Interviewed by a journalist, Zichichi points out the benefits of nuclear power and draws a line between the civil and military use of nuclear energy. Massimo has a chat with Kaposka and learns that he is currently working on Catt’s anomaly. In the conversation that follows, Massimo criticises Catt and his theories (defining them “idiozie”= “idiocies” at page 41), while Kaposka defends him. As Fabio does not know about Catt’s anomaly, Massimo and Kaposka explain it to him. When Alexander leaves them, Fabio asks more and Massimo states that, despite being interesting, Catt’s anomaly is not a real problem, but rather a mental experiment. Suddenly, in the crowded cloister a woman appears: it is Giulia Perego, a scientist whom Massimo used to love. He loses control and starts drinking, but then, scared of falling back into alcoholism, manages to stop and leaves the cloister.
Chapter 5 (pp. 46-50)
Flashback: Massimo first notices his student Giulia during her exam. In the following months, she keeps approaching him; they have frequent chats and sometimes go for lunch together. One day they have sex in her flat, and on the following day she goes to find him in his office to return his t-shirt. (END OF FLASHBACK)
Chapter 6 (pp. 51-61)
Out of the cloister, Massimo meets Colonel Craig, a soldier interested in the military application of science who often attends scientific workshops and conventions. They talk about Massimo’s recent work and walk back to the Majorana centre. Massimo goes to the common room where a group of scientists gathered for a chat and some wine. After spending a couple of hours there, Massimo goes to the breakfast room to get some food and soon Fabio joins him. After eating, they head to Massimo’s room so that Fabio can pick up his bag, but on their way there, in the room next to Massimo’s, they find the lifeless body of Alexander Kaposka.
Chapter 7 (pp. 62-67)
While Massimo tries to resuscitate Kaposka, Fabio rummages through the papers on Kaposka’s desk. The doctor arrives and certifies Kaposka’s death. Massimo and Fabio are taken to the police station. After a private conversation between Zichichi and the marshal, they are questioned by the latter and subsequently released.
Chapter 8 (pp. 68-72)
Back to the Majorana centre, Massimo and Fabio are summoned by Zichichi, who asks them to keep that night’s events confidential. He also reveals that the Pope will take part in the seminar for the following two days, to discuss the deep implications of Science with the world-renowned scientists who gathered in Erice. Silence over the recent events will help avoid unpleasant publicity upon his arrival. Massimo finds out that his role will be to explain quantum physics to the Pope in accessible terms.
Chapter 9 (pp. 73-80)
Once dismissed by Zichichi, Massimo and Fabio walk back to Massimo’s room. Fabio shares with Massimo the findings of his research at Stanford on the semantic structure of data networks. He explains that a piece of information exchanged within a data network and the semantic structure of the same network (which he calls “anomaly”) are connected. Thanks to his findings, Fabio realises that the data he is given to work on at Stanford are real information networks connected to important recent events and encrypted by the NSA. He also reveals that by analysing the past networks he learnt about the upcoming seminar in Erice and promptly joined Massimo to find out more about the event. The presence of the Pope confirms the importance of the seminar, which further validates Fabio’s theory. Moreover, the young man shows Massimo some pictures that he took of the papers next to Kaposka’s body, where number 8.11 recurs. Unable to find an explanation, the two men part and Massimo spends some time trying to sleep, but eventually gets up and goes to the breakfast room to get some milk. He goes back to his room some time later and falls asleep. He has some unpleasant scratches on his back.
Chapter 10 (pp. 81-88)
Flashback #1: Massimo and Giulia are travelling on Massimo’s motorbike. They stop briefly to visit a Renaissance temple. While they talk about physics, Massimo reflects on the extraordinary intelligence of Giulia. (END OF FLASHBACK)
Flashback #2: It is the day of Giulia’s graduation. Massimo was appointed in the commission. After her talk, he goes back to his office for a phone call. Giulia follows him and they have sex. Half an hour later, at the end of the graduation ceremony, Giulia leaves the faculty hand in hand with her boyfriend. (END OF FLASHBACK)
Chapter 11 (pp. 89-92)
On the following day, during breakfast, Fabio tells Massimo that the mysterious number 8.11 found on Kaposka’s papers might be a reference to specific sections of the Bible. They check the correspondence and find a number of verses that seem to link back to the recent events at the seminar, as well as to the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl and Pripyat. The 8.11 reference seems less of a coincidence when they realise that Kaposka was from Pripyat.
Chapter 12 (pp. 93-103)
After breakfast, Massimo and Fabio attend the first talk of the day. At one point Zichichi announces the Pope, who makes his appearance in front of the scientists and gives a speech.
Chapter 13 (pp. 104-110)
At the end of the meeting with the Pope, Massimo and Fabio go out and meet the Russian scientist Prokopenko, the supervisor of the team that monitors reactor 4 of Chernobyl nuclear station. Massimo and Fabio join him and Olga Zamyatin for lunch and learn more on Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Prokopenko tells them that although Kaposka was from Pripyat too, he was studying in Poland at the time of the explosion. They first met 6 years after the disaster, when Kaposka was sent to Chernobyl by his university to research on radioactivity levels in the power station.
Chapter 14 (pp. 111-124)
Flashback: Kaposka is on a train to Chernobyl nuclear station. Upon his arrival, he meets Prokopenko, who guides him into the station and introduces him to the team in charge of monitoring reactor 4. Kaposka works with them for 3 months. One day the team and Kaposka enter reactor 4 for some measurements. They collect samples that Kaposka subsequently analyses, finding out that their radioactivity level is not alarming. (END OF FLASHBACK)
Chapter 15 (pp. 125-133)
Prokopenko tells Massimo and Fabio that after his visit at Chernobyl, Kaposka issued a report criticising his team’s work and the lack of safety measures at the nuclear station. Prokopenko had never seen Kaposka again, until the previous day. Massimo says he met him on the previous day too, when they talked about Catt’s anomaly (“Poltergeist and more idiocies”, Fabio explains). The scientists then go back to the Majorana foundation for the afternoon meeting with the Pope. As the conference room is too crowded, Massimo and Fabio leave it soon and start discussing about Godel’s incompleteness theorem with a scientist called Köves. Massimo gets bored, leaves the discussion and bumps into Olga. Their short chat is interrupted by Fabio.
Chapter 16 (pp. 134-139)
Fabio shows Massimo that his smartphone is registering an unusual amount of emergency radio communications. With a special software, he discovers the location of the security guards exchanging such information and notices they are gathering at the Wagner Institute, in a different area of the foundation. Massimo and Fabio rush there and melt in with the group of guards and the foundation staff. They find out that the Pope’s room is flooded and that Giulia’s lifeless and naked body is tied to the Pope’s bed.
Chapter 17 (pp. 140-144)
Pretending to be police agents, Massimo and Fabio question a member of the staff, who accepts to lead them to Giulia’s room. There they find proof that she has not spent the previous night in her room. They also notice mud stains on her clothes. Using the NSA software in Fabio’s phone, the two men manage to leave the Wagner Institute unnoticed.
Chapter 18 (pp. 145-150)
To find out more about Giulia’s murder, Fabio and Massimo decide to check all the hotels in Erice. They also notice that more and more police forces appear in Erice and preside all the gates to the town.
Chapter 19 (pp. 151-156)
Flashback: Massimo visits a friend called Pietro to introduce him to Giulia. They have dinner together and afterwards Pietro warns Massimo against Giulia’s extraordinary intelligence. Later that night, Massimo finds out that Giulia has not broken up with her boyfriend yet. They fight and Giulia leaves, without Massimo running after her. (END OF FLASHBACK)
Chapter 20 (pp. 157-161)
Massimo and Fabio go together to check a hotel called Torri Pepoli. The receptionist maintains Giulia has not checked in at the hotel. On their way out, they meet scientist Wheeler and have a chat with him about riddles in physics. Massimo quotes Khun and says that sometimes it takes a revolutionary to solve such riddles by changing rules, as did great scientists such as Copernicus, Maxwell, Einstein. Fabio adds Catt’s name to the list (“electronic engineer who challenged classic electromagnetism”). Massimo says he might be right, but also points out that there is a very fine boundary between revolutionary scientist and crank.
Chapter 21 (pp. 162-165)
Professor Zichichi announces the death of Giulia and Kaposka to the other scientists and informs that the convention is suspended but nobody can leave Erice yet. Olga Zamyatin, shocked at Kaposka’s death, reaches Massimo to get some comfort.
Chapter 22 (pp. 166-179)
Flashback: Kaposka is being hosted by Olga and her mother in Ukraine. He wants to go back to his hometown Pripyat and asks Olga to help him bypass checkpoints and take him there. He cannot go back there alone: after writing his report on the poor safety conditions at the power station, he has received anonymous threats. On the following day, Olga escorts him to desolate Pripyat, where Kaposka is overwhelmed with memories and emotions. (END OF FLASHBACK)
Chapter 23 (pp. 180-186)
Olga tells Massimo that she suspects both Kaposka and Giulia to have been poisoned by pro-nuclear Russian political forces lead by Putin. She also admits that some years earlier she had a short affair with Kaposka, who stayed in Ukraine for a while after visiting Pripyat. Fabio rushes in, interrupting their conversation, and Olga leaves.
Fabio tells Massimo he managed to hack the CCTV system of the reception at Torri Pepoli and shows him pictures of Giulia and a man standing in the hotel’s hall at 7.30am that same day.
Chapter 24 (pp. 187-194)
Fabio and Massimo decide to go back to Torri Pepoli that night at 3am to extract more information from the hotel’s computer. While looking for a bottle of water, Massimo finds Fabio in the common room. He is having one of his attacks and asks Massimo to leave him alone. Back to his room, Massimo finds out that he has a new roommate, a scientist evacuated from San Francesco after Giulia’s murder.
Chapter 25 (pp. 195-206)
Flashback: Giulia goes to live with Massimo, claiming she has broken up with her boyfriend. She is hired by a multinational as a biochemical researcher. She keeps living with Massimo but never unpacks. One day she even invites him at her family’s house in the countryside. (END OF FLASHBACK)
Chapter 26 (pp. 207-218)
Later that night, Massimo wakes up to the alarm clock he set and reaches Fabio, who is feeling better. They manage to leave the monastery unnoticed thanks to a secret underground passage that Massimo discovered years before. They sneak in Torri Pepoli and extract some data. A guard finds them but they manage to escape and run back to the monastery through the same secret passage.
Chapter 27 (pp. 219-224)
On the following day, the Pope’s room is inspected by special police forces. Fabio does some research on Kaposka and finds out that despite being a nuclear expert, he had recently focussed on microbiology. Fabio and Massimo argue he might have collaborated with the military as an expert of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Fabio and Massimo then go out for a walk and meet Colonel Craig, with whom Massimo has a brief philosophical conversation.
Chapter 28 (pp. 225-229)
During they walk, Massimo and Fabio learn from an old man that Torri Pepoli has only become a hotel recently and that its renovation was carried out in a mysterious way, using only English-speaking workers. The two scientists then go to a restaurant, where they meet their colleague Köves. Köves starts a long monologue about wine, vineyards and parasites, and finally hints at biological wars in restricted areas.
Chapter 29 (pp. 230-248)
Flashback: A jeep crosses the desert and arrives in Moynaq, Uzbekistan. Alexander checks in at a hotel and learns from the receptionist that a sandstorm is about to start. He waits in the hotel for several days, trapped there by the sandstorm. After a week, an amphibious vehicle picks him up and heads towards Vozroždenie Island, a former secret Soviet military base in the middle of the nearby desert where bacterial weapons are tested. Alexander meets the frustrated commander and finds out that the military base, which remained deserted for a long time, is now mainly used by Soviet soldiers as an opium traffic base. Alexander was sent there by shady pharmaceutical factory Biopreparat to watch the biochemical weapons buried around the island (which the soldiers know very little about) and ensure they remain untouched. One day an American Air Force plane lands on the island, alarming the soldiers.
Chapter 30 (pp. 249-251)
Flashback (CONTINUATION): The American soldiers sequester all the biochemical weapons as part of a special mission, the Nunn-Lugar programme. Later on, Alexander is recruited to work in the same programme as a nuclear and biochemical weapons expert. (END OF FLASHBACK)
Chapter 31 (pp. 252-258)
Massimo, Fabio and Köves go back to the Majorana foundation. All the other scientists sit around waiting for permission to leave Erice. Köves starts a debate on the immobility of scientific research in recent years. After the discussion, Massimo and Fabio meet Olga, who is shocked to hear that Kaposka was working on biochemical weapons. Fabio feels that one of his attacks is about to start, so he goes back to his room and concentrates on the decryption of the data he collected at Torri Pepoli, in an attempt to calm down. In the meanwhile, Massimo is back in his room too and reflects on the events of the past two days.
Chapter 32 (pp. 259-263)
Fabio finds some new information and rushes to Massimo’s room to tell him, but soon runs back because the battery of his computer is low. Before Fabio returns, Massimo is summoned to Zichichi’s office. The police are there and show him the video recorded by the camera in the breakfast room on the first night after Massimo’s arrival. It shows Massimo having sex with Giulia Perego. The professor is subsequently arrested as prime suspect of Giulia’s murder. The police escort Massimo out and head to the police station, but some secret agents stop them and kidnap Massimo.
Chapter 33 (pp. 264-274)
Massimo wakes up in a confused state of mind. Someone asks him questions about Giulia’s murder, but he loses consciousness again.
Flashback: Massimo and Giulia are travelling around America. They visit the Death Valley and Las Vegas. On the outskirts of Las Vegas, they stop at a laboratory. Giulia spends more than an hour in there, while Massimo waits outside. She then tells him about the biotechnological research that is being conducted in that laboratory, which is quite similar to what she does in Italy. They keep travelling and reach Mexico City. They are supposed to fly from there back to Italy on the 11th September 2001, but all flights are cancelled and the airports paralysed because of terrorist attacks. A few days later, when they try to book a new flight ticket, a government official approaches Giulia and asks her to follow him for reasons of national interest. Massimo cannot but let her stay and flies back home alone. For the following month, Massimo never hears from Giulia. Meanwhile, alarming news circulate about biological attacks attempted against US politicians. After some time the general panic diminishes and Giulia, who had been working in a US lab with her father, goes back to Italy too. (END OF FLASHBACK)
Chapter 34 (pp. 275-281)
Massimo tells the Secret Services everything he knows about Giulia and the recent events in Erice. A secret agent called Mario asks him about the death of Giulia’s father in 2002 and draws intricate connections between the sudden deaths of a number of microbiologists between 2001 and 2002.
Chapter 35 (pp. 282-288)
Massimo is in the interrogation room alone. He feel some itchiness on his back and cannot fall asleep.
Flashback: Massimo and Giulia are hiking in the mountains. She tells him that she betrayed him with more than one man and he hits her. Later they have a painful conversation about her betrayals; Massimo drinks so much that he loses consciousness and eventually wakes up in his own vomit. In the following weeks, Giulia phones Massimo every night, until he asks her not to call him anymore. Massimo, however, never stops thinking about her. (END OF FLASHBACK)
Chapter 36 (pp. 287-289)
In the morning, the agent asks a few more questions about Giulia and informs Massimo that she had a relationship with Kaposka. He then releases Massimo.
Chapter 37 (pp. 290-294)
Massimo walks around Erice but gets lost because of the fog. He almost falls down a ravine, but Fabio promptly saves him. Fabio shows Massimo the content of the deciphered files: a Blackberry personal computer stored an electronic version of the Bible, where a sentence of chapter 17 of the Apocalypse has been underlined. The symbols it contains hint clearly at the details of Giulia’s death. Moreover, the segment was underlined before the murder was committed, showing that the Blackberry possibly belongs to the murderer.
Chapter 38 (pp. 295-299)
Massimo and Fabio go to Torri Pepoli to find out more. They sneak in and hide. Fabio’s computer intercepts and follows the signal of the Blackberry. As they find out, it belongs to Colonel Craig, who is standing in the hotel gardens. Suddenly an American helicopter lands, loads some boxes and leaves again. Massimo and Fabio enter the hotel and fall asleep in a suite. On the following day, they leave Erice.
Chapter 39 (pp. 300-304)
Travelling by bus and then by train, they reach Rome. Fabio says goodbye and goes to the airport, while Massimo takes a train back home. He expects the police to arrest him anytime, but it does not happen. Massimo’s anxiety lasts for weeks but no one comes to arrest him. After a few days, the media stop talking about Erice. Eventually, Massimo resumes his normal life as a university professor and researcher.
Chapter 40 (pp. 305-307)
Fabio is having one of his panic attacks. He takes some medicines and lies on his bed. Margherita comes in after buying groceries and lies down with him. When Fabio phoned her in the middle of his attack a few days earlier, she flew to California to help him.
Chapter 41 (pp. 308-312)
A man enters the university room while Massimo is explaining what entangled systems are. The man is Mario, the agent from the Secret Services who kidnapped Massimo months earlier in Erice. After the class, Mario approaches Massimo and congratulates him on his brilliant class. They start a conversation.
Chapter 42 (pp. 313-324)
Mario asks Massimo his opinion about an article describing the 2001 anthrax terrorist attacks as a plot by the US government. Mario explains his view: he does not believe that the Kamikaze attacks are a plot, but hypothesises that the subsequent anthrax attacks were organised by the US military precisely to urge American politicians to approve military intervention in Iraq, so that the US could gain control over its oil reservoir. Mario mentions Ettore Majorana’s story (the well-known Italian scientist who suddenly and mysteriously disappeared many years earlier) and suggests that something similar might have happened in Erice: Kaposka might have just faked his death, asking professor Zichichi to cover for him. This thesis is backed by the fact that nobody knows where Kaposka’s body is.
Chapter 43 (pp. 325-326)
The agent has gathered information on Colonel Craig’s past: Craig comes from South Carolina and is the son of a Christian religious chief and a housewife. He graduates at the Military Academy during a time of strong religious intolerance spread by by a Christian group called “born-again”. He does a PhD at Princeton, gets married and proclaims himself a born-again. With time, his religious views become more and more extremist. His career gets a step forward with the Bush administration, where he works at a security plan involving massive use of surveillance technologies. As his religious views further radicalise, he interprets the 9/11 attacks as the start of the new millennium portrayed in the Apocalypse. The born-again interpretation of the Apocalypse endorsed by Craig identifies the Catholic Church with “the great prostitute” and the European Union with the “new Roman Empire” leading to Satan’s reign.
Chapter 44 (pp. 327-333)
Massimo comments on Craig’s ability to reconcile the rationality of his scientific background with the irrationality of his radical religious views. To confirm Mario’s suspects on Craig, he tells him about the highlighted file of the Apocalypse that he and Fabio found in Craig’s Blackberry at Torri Pepoli. Mario hypothesises that Craig’s mission in Erice was to kill Giulia and Kaposka, but because of his religious beliefs, he went beyond orders and set Giulia’s murder in a way that would embarrass the Catholic Church, namely the “great prostitute” in the view of the born-again. After crossing the line, Craig arguably dismantled the NSA base in Erice and flew back the US. The investigation on Giulia’s murder was subsequently dropped because of the involvement of the NSA in it. Mario then mentions the story of Ettore Majorana again, telling Massimo how Ettore gave a mysterious folder to a girl before disappearing. Mario suggests that, similarly, Kaposka might have entrusted Giulia with some confidential information in the form of a microchip. Giulia might have subsequently passed on the microchip to someone else, possibly Massimo. Massimo realises that Giulia actually had the knowledge and ability to record extensive information in microchips and hide them in minuscule bio-containers called nanotubes. Mario re-examines with Massimo the video recorded by the security camera in the breakfast room in Erice, and they notice that at one point Giulia scratches Massimo’s back in what seems a calculated gesture.
Flashback: Giulia and Massimo are climbing a mountain. Giulia encourages Massimo to proceed until they manage to reach the top together. She is beautiful. (END OF FLASHBACK)
Massimo arrives home and takes a shower. Olga comes in shortly afterwards, when Massimo is checking his back in the mirror. She confirms that he has a sort of black spot on his back. Massimo caresses Olga’s tummy and kisses her. She is pregnant.