The Pope's health is failing and the Cardinal Secretary of State, the ruthless Lorenzo Petroni, has the Keys to St Peter within his grasp. Three things threaten to destroy him: Cardinal Giovanni Donelli has started an investigation into the Vatican Bank; journalist Tom Schweiker is looking into Petroni's past; and, even more dangerously, the brilliant Dr Allegra Bassetti, one of the world's foremost authorities on archaeological DNA, is piecing together fragments of the Omega Scroll in war-torn Jerusalem. At the CIA's headquarters in Langley, Virginia, Mike McKinnon is investigating a number of missing nuclear suitcase bombs and suspects they are connected to the warning in the Omega Scroll. In the Judaean Desert a few more grains of sand trickle from the wall of a cave. The countdown for civilisation has begun.