INFERNO 06 - Welcome to My Woven Words

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INFERNO 06


THE CONSULATE KNOWS I’m here?
For Langdon, the news brought an instantaneous flood of relief. Mr. Collins—who had introduced himself as the consul general’s chief administrator—spoke with a firm, professional cadence,
and yet there was urgency in his voice. “Mr. Langdon, you and I need to speak immediately. And obviously not on the phone.”
Nothing was obvious to Langdon at this point, but he wasn’t about to interrupt.
“I’ll have someone pick you up right away,” Collins said. “What is your location?”
Sienna shifted nervously, listening to the interchange on speakerphone. Langdon gave her a reassuring nod, fully intending to follow her plan exactly.
“I’m in a small hotel called Pensione la Fiorentina,” Langdon said, glancing across the street at the drab hotel that Sienna had pointed out moments ago. He gave Collins the street address.
“Got it,” the man replied. “Don’t move. Stay in your room. Someone will be there right away. Room number?”
Langdon made one up. “Thirtynine.”
“Okay. Twenty minutes.” Collins lowered his voice. “And, Mr. Langdon, it sounds like you may be injured and confused, but I need to know … are you still in possession?”
In possession. Langdon sensed the question, while cryptic, could have only one meaning. His eyes moved to the biotube on the kitchen table.
“Yes, sir. I’m still in possession.”
Collins exhaled audibly. “When we didn’t hear from you, we assumed … well, frankly, we assumed the worst.
I’m relieved. Stay where you are.
Don’t      move.     Twenty       minutes.
Someone will knock on your door.” Collins hung up.
Langdon could feel his shoulders relaxing for the first time since he’d
woken up in the hospital. The consulate knows what’s going on, and soon I’ll have answers. Langdon closed his eyes and let out a slow breath, feeling almost human now.
His headache had all but passed.
“Well, that was all very MI6,”
Sienna said in a half-joking tone.
“Are you a spy?”
At the moment Langdon had no idea what he was. The notion that he could lose two days of memory and find himself in an unrecognizable situation felt incomprehensible, and yet here he was … twenty minutes away from a rendezvous with a U.S. Consulate official in a run-down hotel.
What’s happening here?
He glanced over at Sienna, realizing they were about to part ways and yet feeling as if they had unfinished business. He pictured the bearded doctor at the hospital, dying on the floor before her eyes.
“Sienna,” he whispered, “your friend
… Dr. Marconi … I feel terrible.” She nodded blankly.
“And I’m sorry to have dragged you into this. I know your situation at the hospital is unusual, and if there’s an investigation …” He trailed off.
“It’s okay,” she said. “I’m no stranger to moving around.”
Langdon sensed in Sienna’s distant eyes that everything had changed for her this morning. Langdon’s own life was in chaos at the moment, and yet he felt his heart going out to this woman.
She saved my life … and I’ve ruined hers.
They sat in silence for a full minute, the air between them growing heavy, as if they both wanted to speak, and yet had
nothing to say. They were strangers, after all, on a brief and bizarre journey that had just reached a fork in the road, each of them now needing to find separate paths. “Sienna,” Langdon finally said, “when I sort this out with the
consulate, if there’s anything I can do to help you … please.”
“Thanks,” she whispered, and turned her eyes sadly toward the window.
As the minutes ticked past, Sienna Brooks gazed absently out the kitchen window and wondered where the day would lead her. Wherever it was, she had no doubt that by day’s end, her world would look a lot different.
She knew it was probably just the adrenaline, but she found herself strangely attracted to the American professor. In addition to his being handsome, he seemed to possess a sincerely good heart. In some distant, alternate life, Robert Langdon might even be someone she could be with.
He would never want me, she thought. I’m damaged.
As she choked back the emotion, something outside the window caught her eye. She bolted upright, pressing her face to the glass and staring down into the street. “Robert, look!”
Langdon peered down into the street at the sleek black BMW motorcycle that had just rumbled to a stop in front of Pensione la Fiorentina. The driver was lean and strong, wearing a black leather suit and helmet. As the driver gracefully swung off the bike and removed a polished black helmet, Sienna could hear Langdon stop breathing.
The woman’s spiked hair was unmistakable.
She produced a familiar handgun, checked the silencer, and slid it back inside her jacket pocket. Then, moving with lethal grace, she slipped inside the hotel.
“Robert,” Sienna whispered, her voice taut with fear. “The U.S. government just sent someone to kill you.”

ROBERT LANGDON FELT a swell of panic as he stood at the apartment window, eyes riveted on the hotel across the street. The spike-haired woman had just entered, but Langdon could not fathom how she had gotten the address.
Adrenaline coursed through his system, disjointing his thought process once again. “My own government sent someone to kill me?”
Sienna looked equally astounded. “Robert, that means the original attempt on your life at the hospital also was sanctioned by your
government.” She got up and doublechecked the lock on the apartment door. “If the U.S. Consulate has permission to kill you …” She didn’t finish the thought, but she didn’t have to. The implications were terrifying.
What the hell do they think I did? Why is my own government hunting me?!
Once again, Langdon heard the two words he had apparently been mumbling when he staggered into the hospital.
Very sorry … very sorry.
“You’re not safe here,” Sienna said. “We’re not safe here.” She motioned across the street. “That woman saw us flee the hospital together, and I’m betting your government and the police are already trying to track me down. My apartment is a sublet in someone else’s name, but they’ll find me eventually.” She turned her attention to the biotube on the table.
“You need to open that, right now.”
Langdon eyed the titanium device, seeing only the biohazard symbol.
“Whatever’s inside that tube,” Sienna said, “probably has an ID code, an agency sticker, a phone number, something. You need information. I need information! Your government killed my friend!”
The pain in Sienna’s voice shook Langdon from his thoughts, and he nodded, knowing she was correct. “Yes, I’m … very sorry.” Langdon cringed, hearing those words again. He turned to the canister on the table, wondering what answers might be hidden inside. “It could be
incredibly dangerous to open this.”
Sienna thought for a moment. “Whatever’s inside will be exceptionally well contained, probably in a shatterproof Plexiglas test tube. This biotube is just an outer shell to provide additional security during transport.”
Langdon looked out the window at the black motorcycle parked in front of the hotel. The woman had not yet come out, but she would soon figure out that Langdon was not there. He wondered what her next move would be … and how long it would take before she was pounding on the apartment door.
Langdon made up his mind. He lifted the titanium tube and reluctantly placed his thumb on the biometric pad. After a moment the canister pinged and then clicked loudly.
Before the tube could lock itself again, Langdon twisted the two halves against each other in opposite directions. After a quarter turn, the canister pinged a second time, and Langdon knew he was committed.
Langdon’s hands felt sweaty as he continued unscrewing the tube. The two halves turned smoothly on perfectly machined threads. He kept twisting, feeling as if he were about to open a precious Russian nesting doll, except that he had no idea what might fall out.
After five turns, the two halves released. With a deep breath, Langdon gently pulled them apart. The gap between the halves widened, and a foam-rubber interior slid out. Langdon laid it on the table. The protective padding vaguely resembled an elongated Nerf football.
Here goes nothing.
Langdon gently folded back the top of the protective foam, finally revealing the object nestled inside.
Sienna stared down at the contents and cocked her head, looking puzzled. “Definitely not what I expected.”
Langdon had anticipated some kind of futuristic-looking vial, but the content of the biotube was anything but modern. The ornately carved object appeared to be made of ivory and was approximately the size of a roll of Life Savers.
“It looks old,” Sienna whispered.
“Some kind of …”
“Cylinder seal,” Langdon told her, finally permitting himself to exhale.
Invented by the Sumerians in 3500 B.C., cylinder seals were the precursors to the intaglio form of printmaking. Carved with decorative images, a seal contained a hollow shaft, through which an axle pin was inserted so the carved drum could be rolled like a modern paint roller across wet clay or terra-cotta to “imprint” a recurring band of symbols, images, or text.
This particular seal, Langdon guessed, was undoubtedly quite rare and valuable, and yet he still couldn’t imagine why it would be locked in a titanium canister like some kind of bioweapon.
As Langdon delicately turned the seal in his fingers, he realized that this one bore an especially gruesome carving—a three-headed, horned Satan who was in the process of eating three different men at once, one man in each of his three mouths.
Pleasant.
Langdon’s eyes moved to seven letters carved beneath the devil. The ornate calligraphy was written in mirror image, as was all text on imprinting rollers, but Langdon had no trouble reading the letters
—SALIGIA.
Sienna squinted at the text,
reading it aloud. “Saligia?”
Langdon nodded, feeling a chill to hear the word spoken aloud. “It’s a Latin mnemonic invented by the
Vatican in the Middle Ages to remind Christians of the Seven Deadly Sins. Saligia is an acronym for: superbia, avaritia, luxuria, invidia, gula, ira, and acedia.”
Sienna frowned. “Pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth.”
Langdon was impressed. “You
know Latin.”
“I grew up Catholic. I know sin.”
Langdon managed a smile as he returned his gaze to the seal, wondering again why it had been locked in a biotube as if it were dangerous.
“I thought it was ivory,” Sienna said. “But it’s bone.” She slid the artifact into the sunlight and pointed to the lines on it. “Ivory forms in a diamond-shaped cross-hatching with translucent striations; bones form with these parallel striations and darkened pitting.”
Langdon gently picked up the seal and examined the carvings more closely. The original Sumerian seals had been carved with rudimentary figures and cuneiform. This seal, however, was much more elaborately carved. Medieval, Langdon guessed. Furthermore, the embellishments suggested an unsettling connection with his hallucinations.
Sienna eyed him with concern. “What is it?”
“Recurring theme,” Langdon said grimly, and motioned to one of the carvings on the seal. “See this threeheaded, man-eating Satan? It’s a common image from the Middle Ages —an icon associated with the Black Death. The three gnashing mouths are symbolic of how efficiently the plague ate through the population.”
Sienna glanced uneasily at the biohazard symbol on the tube.
Allusions to the plague seemed to be occurring with more frequency this morning than Langdon cared to admit, and so it was with reluctance that he acknowledged a further
connection. “Saligia is representative of the collective sins of mankind … which, according to medieval
religious indoctrination—”
“Was the reason God punished the world with the Black Death,” Sienna said, completing his thought.
     “Yes.”          Langdon           paused,
momentarily losing his train of thought. He had just noticed something about the cylinder that struck him as odd. Normally, a person could peer through a cylinder seal’s hollow center, as if through a section of empty pipe, but in this case, the shaft was blocked. There’s something inserted inside this bone. The end caught the light and shimmered.
     “There’s       something        inside,”
Langdon said. “And it looks like it’s made of glass.” He flipped the cylinder upside down to check the other end, and as he did so, a tiny object rattled inside, tumbling from one end of the bone to the other, like a ball bearing in a tube.
Langdon froze, and he heard Sienna let out a soft gasp beside him.
What the hell was that?!
“Did you hear that sound?” Sienna whispered.
Langdon nodded and carefully peered into the end of the canister. “The opening appears to be blocked by … something made of metal.” The
cap of a test tube, maybe?
Sienna backed away. “Does it look
… broken?”
“I don’t think so.” He carefully tipped the bone again to reexamine the glass end, and the rattling sound recurred. An instant later, the glass in the cylinder did something wholly unexpected.
It began to glow.
     Sienna’s     eyes     opened      wide.
“Robert, stop! Don’t move!”

LANGDON STOOD ABSOLUTELY still, his hand in midair, holding the bone cylinder steady. Without a doubt, the glass at the end of the tube was emitting light … glowing as if the contents had suddenly awoken.
Quickly, the light inside faded back to black.
Sienna moved closer, breathing quickly. She tilted her head and studied the visible section of glass inside the bone.
“Tip it again,” she whispered.
“Very slowly.”
Langdon gently turned the bone upside down. Again, a small object rattled the length of the bone and stopped.
“Once more,” she said. “Gently.”
Langdon repeated the process, and again the tube rattled. This time, the interior glass shimmered faintly, glowing again for an instant before it faded away.
“It’s got to be a test tube,” Sienna declared, “with an agitator ball.”
Langdon was familiar with the agitator balls used in spray-paint cans—submerged pellets that helped stir the paint when the can was shaken.
“It probably contains some kind of phosphorescent chemical compound,” Sienna said, “or a bioluminescent
organism that glows when it’s
stimulated.”
Langdon was having other ideas. While he had seen chemical glow sticks and even bioluminescent plankton that glowed when a boat churned up its habitat, he was nearly certain the cylinder in his hand contained neither of these things. He gently tipped the tube several more times, until it glowed, and then held the luminescent end over his palm. As expected, a faint reddish light appeared, projected onto his skin.
Nice to know a 208 IQ can be wrong sometimes.
“Watch this,” Langdon said, and began shaking the tube violently. The object inside rattled back and forth, faster and faster.
Sienna jumped back. “What are you doing!?”
Still shaking the tube, Langdon walked over to the light switch and flipped it off, plunging the kitchen into relative darkness. “It’s not a test tube inside,” he said, still shaking as hard as he could. “It’s a Faraday pointer.”
Langdon had once been given a similar device by one of his students —a laser pointer for lecturers who disliked wasting endless AAA batteries and didn’t mind the effort of shaking their pointer for a few seconds in order to transform their own kinetic energy into electricity on demand. When the device was agitated, a metal ball inside sailed back and forth across a series of paddles and powered a tiny
generator. Apparently someone had decided to slide this particular pointer into a hollow, carved bone— an ancient skin to sheathe a modern electronic toy.
The tip of the pointer in his hand was now glowing intensely, and
Langdon gave Sienna an uneasy grin. “Showtime.”
He aimed the bone-sheathed pointer at a bare space on the kitchen wall. When the wall lit up, Sienna drew a startled breath. It was Langdon, however, who physically recoiled in surprise.
The light that appeared on the wall was not a little red laser dot. It was a vivid, high-definition photograph that emanated from the tube as if from an old-fashioned slide projector.
My God! Langdon’s hand trembled slightly as he absorbed the macabre scene projected on the wall before him. No wonder I’ve been seeing
images of death.
At his side, Sienna covered her mouth and took a tentative step forward, clearly entranced by what she was seeing.
The scene projected out of the carved bone was a grim oil painting of human suffering—thousands of souls undergoing wretched tortures in various levels of hell. The underworld was portrayed as a cutaway cross section of the earth into which plunged a cavernous funnel-shaped pit of unfathomable depth. This pit of hell was divided into descending terraces of increasing misery, each level populated by tormented sinners of every kind.
Langdon recognized the image at once.
The masterpiece before him—La Mappa dell’Inferno—had been painted by one of the true giants of the Italian Renaissance, Sandro Botticelli. An elaborate blueprint of the underworld, The Map of Hell was one of the most frightening visions of the afterlife ever created. Dark, grim, and terrifying, the painting stopped people in their tracks even today. Unlike his vibrant and colorful
Primavera or Birth of Venus, Botticelli had crafted his Map of Hell with a depressing palate of reds, sepias, and browns.
Langdon’s crashing headache had suddenly returned, and yet for the first time since waking up in a strange hospital, he felt a piece of the puzzle tumble into place. His grim hallucinations obviously had been stirred by seeing this famous painting.
I must have been studying
Botticelli’s Map of Hell, he thought, although he had no recollection of why.
While the image itself was disturbing, it was the painting’s provenance that was now causing Langdon an increasing disquiet. Langdon was well aware that the inspiration for this foreboding masterpiece had originated not in the mind of Botticelli himself … but rather in the mind of someone who had lived two hundred years before him.
One great work of art inspired by another.
Botticelli’s Map of Hell was in fact a tribute to a fourteenth-century work of literature that had become one of history’s most celebrated writings … a notoriously macabre vision of hell that resonated to this day. Dante’s Inferno.
Across the street, Vayentha quietly climbed a service staircase and concealed herself on the rooftop terrace of the sleepy little Pensione la Fiorentina. Langdon had provided a nonexistent room number and a fake meeting place to his consulate contact—a “mirrored meet,” as it was called in her business—a common tradecraft technique that would enable him to assess the situation before revealing his own location. Invariably, the fake or “mirrored” location was selected because it lay in perfect view of his actual location.
Vayentha found a concealed vantage point on the rooftop from which she had a bird’s-eye view of the entire area. Slowly, she let her eyes climb the apartment building across the street.
Your move, Mr. Langdon.
At that moment, on board The Mendacium, the provost stepped out onto the mahogany deck and inhaled deeply, savoring the salty air of the Adriatic. This vessel had been his home for years, and yet now, the series of events transpiring in Florence threatened to destroy everything he had built.
His field agent Vayentha had put everything at risk, and while she would face an inquiry when this mission was over, right now the provost still needed her.
She damned well better regain control of this mess.
Brisk footsteps approached behind him, and the provost turned to see one of his female analysts arriving at a jog.
“Sir?” the analyst said, breathless. “We have new information.” Her voice cut the morning air with a rare intensity. “It appears Robert Langdon just accessed his Harvard e-mail account from an unmasked IP
address.” She paused, locking eyes with the provost. “Langdon’s precise location is now traceable.”
The provost was stunned that anyone could be so foolish. This
changes everything. He steepled his hands and stared out at the coastline, considering the implications. “Do we know the status of the SRS team?”
“Yes, sir. Less than two miles away from Langdon’s position.”
The        provost      needed      only a moment to make the decision.

By Dan Brown

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