INFERNO 28 - Welcome to My Woven Words

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INFERNO 28


THE EIGHTH WONDER of the World, some had called this space, and standing in it now, Langdon was not about to argue with that assessment.
As the group stepped across the threshold into the colossal sanctuary, Langdon was reminded that Hagia Sophia required only an instant to impress upon its visitors the sheer magnitude of its proportions.
So vast was this room that it seemed to dwarf even the great cathedrals of Europe. The staggering force of its enormity was, Langdon knew, partly an illusion, a dramatic side effect of its Byzantine floor plan, with a centralized naos that concentrated all of its interior space in a single square room rather than extending it along the four arms of a cruciform, as was the style adopted in later cathedrals.
This building is seven hundred years older than Notre-Dame, Langdon thought.
After taking a moment to absorb the breadth of the room’s dimensions, Langdon let his eyes climb skyward, more than a hundred and fifty feet overhead, to the sprawling, golden dome that crowned the room. From its central point, forty ribs radiated outward like rays of the sun, extending to a circular arcade of forty arched windows. During daylight hours, the light that streamed through these windows reflected—and re-reflected—off glass shards embedded in the golden tile work, creating the “mystical light” for which Hagia Sophia was most famous.
Langdon had seen the gilded ambience of this room captured
accurately in painting only once. John Singer Sargent. Not surprisingly, in creating his famous painting of Hagia Sophia, the American artist had limited his palette only to multiple shades of a single color.
Gold.
The glistening golden cupola was often called “the dome of heaven itself” and was supported by four tremendous arches, which in turn were sustained by a series of semidomes and tympana. These supports were then carried by yet another descending tier of smaller semidomes and arcades, creating the effect of a cascade of architectural forms working their way from heaven toward earth.
Moving from heaven to earth, albeit by a more direct route, long cables descended straight down from the dome and supported a sea of gleaming chandeliers, which seemed to hang so low to the floor that tall visitors risked colliding with them. In reality, this was another illusion created by the sheer magnitude of the space, for the fixtures hung more than twelve feet off the floor.
As with all great shrines, Hagia Sophia’s prodigious size served two purposes. First, it was proof to God of the great lengths to which Man would go to pay tribute to Him. And second, it served as a kind of shock treatment for worshippers—a physical space so imposing that those who entered felt dwarfed, their egos erased, their physical being and cosmic importance shrinking to the size of a mere speck in the face of God … an atom in the hands of the Creator.
Until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him. Martin Luther had spoken those words in the sixteenth century, but the concept had been part of the mind-set of builders since the earliest examples of religious architecture.
Langdon glanced over at Brüder and Sinskey, who had been staring upward and who now lowered their eyes to earth.
“Jesus,” Brüder said.
“Yes!” Mirsat said excitedly. “And
Allah and Muhammad, too!”
Langdon chuckled as their guide directed Brüder’s gaze to the main altar, where a towering mosaic of Jesus was flanked by two massive disks bearing the Arabic names of Muhammad and Allah in ornate calligraphy.
“This museum,” Mirsat explained, “in an effort to remind visitors of the diverse uses of this sacred space, displays in tandem both the Christian iconography, from the days when Hagia Sophia was a basilica, and the Islamic iconography, from its days as a mosque.” He gave a proud smile. “Despite the friction between the religions in the real world, we think their symbols work quite nicely
together.     I     know     you      agree,
Professor.”
Langdon gave a heartfelt nod, recalling that all of the Christian iconography had been covered in whitewash when the building became a mosque. The restoration of the Christian symbols next to the Muslim symbols had created a mesmerizing effect, particularly because the styles and sensibilities of the two iconographies are polar opposites.
While Christian tradition favored literal images of its gods and saints, Islam focused on calligraphy and geometric patterns to represent the beauty of God’s universe. Islamic tradition held that only God could create life, and therefore man has no place creating images of life—not gods, not people, not even animals.
Langdon recalled once trying to explain this concept to his students: “A Muslim Michelangelo, for example, would never have painted God’s face on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; he would have inscribed the name of God. Depicting God’s face would be considered blasphemy.”
Langdon had gone on to explain the reason for this.
“Both Christianity and Islam are logocentric,” he told his students, “meaning they are focused on the Word. In Christian tradition, the Word became flesh in the book of John: ‘And the Word was made flesh, and
He dwelt among us.’ Therefore, it was acceptable to depict the Word as having a human form. In Islamic tradition, however, the Word did not become flesh, and therefore the Word needs to remain in the form of a word … in most cases, calligraphic renderings of the names of the holy figures of Islam.”
One of Langdon’s students had summed up the complex history with an amusingly accurate marginal note: “Christians like faces; Muslims like words.”
“Here before us,” Mirsat went on, motioning across the spectacular room, “you see a unique blending of Christianity with Islam.”
He quickly pointed out the fusion
of symbols in the massive apse, most notably the Virgin and Child gazing down upon a mihrab—the semicircular niche in a mosque that indicates the direction of Mecca. Nearby, a staircase rose up to an orator’s pulpit, which resembled the kind from which Christian sermons are delivered, but in fact was a
minbar, the holy platform from which an imam leads Friday services. Similarly, the daislike structure nearby resembled a Christian choir stall but in reality was a müezzin
mahfili, a raised platform where a muezzin kneels and chants in response to the imam’s prayers.
“Mosques   and   cathedrals are startlingly     similar,”     Mirsat
proclaimed. “The traditions of East and West are not as divergent as you might think!”
“Mirsat?” Brüder pressed, sounding impatient. “We’d really like to see
Dandolo’s tomb, if we may?”
Mirsat looked mildly annoyed, as if the man’s haste were somehow a display of disrespect to the building.
“Yes,” Langdon said. “I’m sorry to rush, but we’re on a very tight schedule.”
“Very well, then,” Mirsat said, pointing to a high balcony to their right. “Let’s head upstairs and see the tomb.”
“Up?” Langdon replied, startled. “Isn’t Enrico Dandolo buried down in the crypt?” Langdon recalled the tomb itself, but not the precise place in the building where it was located. He had been picturing the dark underground areas of the building.
Mirsat seemed confounded by the query. “No, Professor, the tomb of Enrico Dandolo is most certainly upstairs.”
What the devil is going on here?
Mirsat wondered.
When Langdon had asked to see Dandolo’s tomb, Mirsat had sensed that the request was a kind of decoy.
Nobody wants to see Dandolo’s
tomb. Mirsat had assumed what Langdon really wanted to see was the enigmatic treasure directly beside Dandolo’s tomb—the Deesis Mosaic—an ancient Pantocrator Christ that was arguably one of the most mysterious pieces of art in the building.
Langdon is researching the mosaic, and trying to be discreet about it, Mirsat had guessed, imagining that the professor was probably writing a secret piece on the Deesis.
     Now,     however,     Mirsat       was
confused. Certainly Langdon knew the Deesis Mosaic was on the second floor, so why was he acting so surprised?
Unless he is indeed looking for Dandolo’s tomb?
Puzzled, Mirsat guided them toward the staircase, passing one of Hagia Sophia’s two famous urns—a 330-gallon behemoth carved out of a single piece of marble during the Hellenistic period.
Climbing in silence now with his entourage, Mirsat found himself feeling unsettled. Langdon’s colleagues did not seem like academics at all. One of them looked like a soldier of some sort, muscular and rigid, dressed all in black. And the woman with the silver hair, Mirsat sensed … he had seen her before. Maybe on television?
He was starting to suspect that the purpose of this visit was not what it appeared to be. Why are they really
here?
“One more flight,” Mirsat announced cheerily as they reached the landing. “Upstairs we shall find the tomb of Enrico Dandolo, and of course”—he paused, eyeing Langdon
—“the famed Deesis Mosaic.” Not even a flinch.
Langdon, it appeared, was not, in fact, here for the Deesis Mosaic at all. He and his guests seemed inexplicably fixated on Dandolo’s tomb.

AS MIRSAT LED the way up the stairs, Langdon could tell that Brüder and Sinskey were worried. Admittedly, ascending to the second floor seemed to make no sense. Langdon kept picturing Zobrist’s subterranean video … and the documentary film about the submerged areas beneath Hagia Sophia.
We need to go down!
Even so, if this was the location of Dandolo’s tomb, they had no choice but to follow Zobrist’s directions.
Kneel within the gilded mouseion of holy wisdom, and place thine ear to the ground, listening for the sounds of trickling water.
When they finally reached the second level, Mirsat led them to the right along the balcony’s edge, which offered breathtaking views of the sanctuary below. Langdon faced front, remaining focused.
Mirsat was talking fervently about t h e Deesis Mosaic again, but Langdon tuned him out.
He could now see his target.
Dandolo’s tomb.
The tomb appeared exactly as Langdon remembered it—a rectangular piece of white marble, inlaid in the polished stone floor and cordoned off by stanchions and chains.
Langdon rushed over and examined the carved inscription.
HENRICUS DANDOLO
As the others arrived behind him, Langdon sprang into action, stepping over the protective chain and placing his feet directly in front of the tombstone.
Mirsat protested loudly, but Langdon continued, dropping quickly to his knees as if preparing to pray at the feet of the treacherous doge.
Next, in a move that elicited shouts of horror from Mirsat, Langdon placed his palms flat on the tomb and prostrated himself. As he lowered his face to the ground, Langdon realized that he looked like he was bowing to Mecca. The maneuver apparently stunned Mirsat, who fell mute, and a sudden hush seemed to pervade the entire building.
Taking a deep breath, Langdon turned his head to the right and gently pressed his left ear to the tomb. The stone felt cold on his flesh.
The sound he heard echoing up through the stone was as clear as day.
My God.
The finale of Dante’s Inferno seemed to be echoing up from below.
Slowly, Langdon turned his head, gazing up at Brüder and Sinskey.
“I hear it,” he whispered. “The sounds of trickling water.”
Brüder vaulted the chain and crouched down beside Langdon to listen. After a moment he was nodding intently.
Now that they could hear the water flowing downward, one question remained. Where is it
flowing?
Langdon’s mind was suddenly flooded with images of a halfsubmerged cavern, bathed in an eerie red light … somewhere beneath them.
Follow deep into the sunken palace
for here, in the darkness, the
chthonic monster waits,
submerged in the bloodred waters … of the lagoon that reflects no stars.
When Langdon stood and stepped back over the stanchions, Mirsat was glaring up at him with a look of alarm and betrayal on his face. Langdon stood almost a foot taller than the Turkish guide.
“Mirsat,” Langdon began. “I’m sorry. As you can see, this is a very unusual situation. I don’t have time to explain, but I have a very important question to ask you about this building.”
Mirsat managed a weak nod.
“Okay.”
“Here at Dandolo’s tomb, we can hear a rivulet of water flowing somewhere under the stone. We
need to know where this water flows.”
Mirsat shook his head. “I don’t understand. Water can be heard beneath the floors everywhere in
Hagia Sophia.” Everyone stiffened.
“Yes,” Mirsat told them, “especially when it rains. Hagia Sophia has approximately one hundred thousand square feet of rooftops that need to drain, and it often takes days. And usually it rains again before the drainage is complete. The sounds of trickling water are quite common here. Perhaps you are aware that Hagia Sofia sits on vast caverns of water. There was a documentary
even, which—”
“Yes, yes,” Langdon said, “but do you know if the water that is audible here at Dandolo’s tomb flows somewhere specific?”
“Of course,” Mirsat said. “It flows to the same place that all the water shedding from Hagia Sophia flows.

To the city cistern.”
“No,” Brüder declared, stepping back over the stanchion. “We’re not looking for a cistern. We’re looking for a large, underground space,
perhaps with columns?”
“Yes,” Mirsat said. “The city’s ancient cistern is precisely that—a large underground space with
columns. Quite impressive actually. It was built in the sixth century to house the city’s water supply. Nowadays it contains only about four feet of water, but—”
“Where is it!” Brüder demanded, his voice echoing across the empty hall.
“The … cistern?” Mirsat asked, looking frightened. “It’s a block away, just east of this building.” He pointed outside. “It’s   called        Yerebatan
Sarayi.”
Sarayi? Langdon wondered. As in
Topkapi Sarayi? Signage for the Topkapi Palace had been ubiquitous
as they were driving in. “But … doesn’t sarayi mean ‘palace’?”
Mirsat nodded. “Yes. The name of our ancient cistern is Yerebatan Sarayi. It means—the sunken palace.”

THE RAIN WAS falling in sheets as Dr.
Elizabeth Sinskey burst out of Hagia Sophia with Langdon, Brüder, and their bewildered guide, Mirsat.
Follow deep into the sunken palace, Sinskey thought.
The site of the city’s cistern— Yerebatan Sarayi—was apparently back toward the Blue Mosque and a bit to the north.
Mirsat led the way.
Sinskey had seen no other option but to tell Mirsat who they were and that they were racing to thwart a possible health crisis within the sunken palace.
“This way!” Mirsat called, leading them across the darkened park. The mountain of Hagia Sophia was behind them now, and the fairy-tale spires of the Blue Mosque glistened ahead.
Hurrying beside Sinskey, Agent Brüder was shouting into his phone, updating the SRS team and ordering them to rendezvous at the cistern’s entrance. “It sounds like Zobrist is targeting the city’s water supply,” Brüder said, breathless. “I’m going to need schematics of all conduits in and out of the cistern. We’ll run full isolation and containment protocols.
We’ll need physical and chemical barriers along with vacuum—”
“Wait,” Mirsat called over to him. “You misunderstood me. The cistern is not the city water supply. Not anymore!”
Brüder lowered his phone, glaring at their guide. “What?”
“In ancient times, the cistern held the water supply,” Mirsat clarified.
“But no longer. We modernized.”
Brüder came to a stop under a sheltering tree, and everyone halted with him.
“Mirsat,” Sinskey said, “you’re sure that nobody drinks the water out of the cistern?”
“Heavens no,” Mirsat said. “The water pretty much just sits there … eventually filtering down into the earth.”
Sinskey, Langdon, and Brüder all exchanged uncertain looks. Sinskey didn’t know whether to feel relieved or alarmed. If nobody comes in
regular contact with the water, why would Zobrist choose to contaminate it?
“When we modernized our water supply decades ago,” Mirsat explained, “the cistern fell out of use and became just a big pond in an underground room.” He shrugged. “These days it’s nothing more than a tourist attraction.”
Sinskey spun toward Mirsat. A tourist attraction? “Hold on … people can go down there? Into the cistern?”
“Of course,” he said. “Many thousands visit every day. The cavern is quite striking. There are boardwalks over the water … and even a small café. There’s limited ventilation, so the air is quite stuffy and humid, but it’s still very popular.”
Sinskey’s eyes locked on Brüder, and she could tell that she and the trained SRS agent were picturing the same thing—a dark, humid cavern filled with stagnant water in which a pathogen was incubating. Completing the nightmare was the presence of boardwalks over which tourists moved all day long, just above the water’s surface.
“He created a bioaerosol,” Brüder declared.
Sinskey nodded, slumping.
“Meaning?” Langdon demanded.
“Meaning,” Brüder replied, “that it can go airborne.”
Langdon fell silent, and Sinskey could see that he was now grasping the potential magnitude of this crisis.
An airborne pathogen had been on Sinskey’s mind as a possible scenario for some time, and yet when she believed that the cistern was the city’s water supply, she had hoped maybe this meant that Zobrist had chosen a water-bound bioform.
Water-dwelling bacteria were robust and weather-resistant, but they were also slow to propagate.
Airborne pathogens spread fast.
Very fast.
“If it’s airborne,” Brüder said, “it’s probably viral.”
A virus, Sinskey agreed. The fastest-spreading pathogen Zobrist could choose.
Releasing an airborne virus underwater was admittedly unusual, and yet there were many life-forms that incubated in liquid and then hatched into the air—mosquitoes, mold spores, the bacterium that caused Legionnaires’ disease, mycotoxins, red tide, even human beings. Sinskey grimly pictured the virus permeating the cistern’s lagoon
… and then the infected microdroplets rising into the damp air.
Mirsat was now staring across a traffic-jammed street with a look of apprehension on his face. Sinskey followed his gaze to a squat, redand-white brick building whose single door was open, revealing what looked to be a stairwell. A scattering of well-dressed people seemed to be waiting outside under umbrellas while a doorman controlled the flow of guests who were descending the stairs.
Some kind of underground dance club?
Sinskey saw the gold lettering on the building and felt a sudden tightness in her chest. Unless this club was called the Cistern and had been built in A.D. 523, she realized why Mirsat was looking so concerned.
“The sunken palace,” Mirsat stammered. “It seems … there is a concert tonight.”
      Sinskey     was     incredulous.      “A
concert in a cistern?!”
“It’s a large indoor space,” he replied. “It is often used as a cultural center.”
Brüder had apparently heard enough. He dashed toward the building, sidestepping his way through snarled traffic on Alemdar Avenue. Sinskey and the others broke into a run as well, close on the agent’s heels.
When they arrived at the cistern entrance, the doorway was blocked by a handful of concertgoers who were waiting to be let in—a trio of women in burkas, a pair of tourists holding hands, a man in a tuxedo. They were all clustered together in the doorway, trying to keep out of the rain.
Sinskey could hear the melodic strains of a classical music composition lilting up from below. Berlioz, she guessed from the idiosyncratic orchestration, but whatever it was, it felt out of place here in the streets of Istanbul.
As they drew closer to the doorway, she felt a warm wind rushing up the stairs, billowing from deep inside the earth and escaping from the enclosed cavern. The wind brought to the surface not only the sound of violins, but the unmistakable scents of humidity and masses of people.
It also brought to Sinskey a deep sense of foreboding.
As a group of tourists emerged from the stairs, chatting happily as they exited the building, the doorman allowed the next group to descend.
Brüder immediately moved to enter, but the doorman stopped him with a pleasant wave. “One moment, sir. The cistern is at capacity. It should be less than a minute until another visitor exits. Thank you.”
Brüder looked ready to force his way in, but Sinskey placed a hand on his shoulder and pulled him off to one side.
“Wait,” she commanded. “Your team is on the way and you can’t search this place alone.” She motioned to the plaque on the wall beside the door. “The cistern is enormous.”
The informational plaque described a cathedral-size subterranean room— nearly two football fields in length— with a ceiling spanning more than a hundred thousand square feet and supported by a forest of 336 marble columns.
“Look at this,” Langdon said, standing a few yards away. “You’re not going to believe it.”
Sinskey turned. Langdon motioned to a concert poster on the wall. Oh,
dear God.
The WHO director had been correct in identifying the style of the music as Romantic, but the piece that was being performed had not been composed by Berlioz. It was by a different Romantic composer—Franz
Liszt.
Tonight, deep within the earth, the Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra was performing one of Franz Liszt’s most famous works—the Dante Symphony—an entire composition inspired by Dante’s descent into and return from hell.
“It’s being performed here for a week,” Langdon said, scrutinizing the poster’s fine print. “A free concert.
Underwritten      by     an     anonymous donor.”
Sinskey suspected that she could guess the identity of the anonymous donor. Bertrand Zobrist’s flair for the
dramatic, it seemed, was also a ruthless practical strategy. This week of free concerts would lure thousands more tourists than usual down into the cistern and place them in a congested area … where they would breathe the contaminated air, then travel back to their homes both here and abroad.
“Sir?” the doorman called to Brüder. “We have room for a couple more.”
Brüder turned to Sinskey. “Call the local authorities. Whatever we find down there, we’ll need support. When my team arrives, have them radio me for an update. I’ll go down and see if I can get a sense of where Zobrist might have tethered this thing.”
“Without a respirator?” Sinskey asked. “You don’t know for a fact the Solublon bag is intact.”
Brüder frowned, holding his hand up in the warm wind that was blowing out of the doorway. “I hate to say this, but if this contagion is out, I’m guessing everyone in this city is probably infected.”
Sinskey had been thinking the same thing but hadn’t wanted to say it in front of Langdon and Mirsat.
“Besides,” Brüder added, “I’ve seen what happens to crowds when my team marches in wearing hazmat suits. We’d have full-scale panic and a stampede.”
Sinskey decided to defer to Brüder; he was, after all, the specialist and had been in situations like this before.
“Our only realistic option,” Brüder told her, “is to assume it’s still safe
down there, and make a play to
contain this.”
“Okay,” Sinskey said. “Do it.”
     “There’s        another         problem,”
Langdon interjected. “What about Sienna?”
“What about her?” Brüder demanded. “Whatever her intentions may be here in Istanbul, she’s very good with languages and possibly
speaks some Turkish.”
“So?”
      “Sienna       knows      the       poem
references the ‘sunken palace,’ ” Langdon said. “And in Turkish, ‘sunken palace’ literally points …” He motioned to the “Yerebatan Sarayi” sign over the doorway. “… here.”
“That’s true,” Sinskey agreed wearily. “She may have figured this
out and bypassed Hagia Sophia
altogether.”
Brüder glanced at the lone doorway and cursed under his breath. “Okay, if she’s down there and plans to break the Solublon bag before we can contain it, at least she hasn’t been there long. It’s a huge area, and she probably has no idea where to look. And with all those people around, she probably can’t just dive into the water unnoticed.”
“Sir?” the doorman called again to Brüder. “Would you like to enter now?”
Brüder could see another group of concertgoers approaching from across the street, and nodded to the doorman that he was indeed coming.
“I’m coming with you,” Langdon said, following.
Brüder turned and faced him. “No chance.”
Langdon’s tone was unyielding. “Agent Brüder, one of the reasons we’re in this situation is that Sienna Brooks has been playing me all day. And as you said, we may all be infected already. I’m helping you whether you like it or not.”
Brüder stared at him a moment and then relented.
As Langdon passed through the doorway and began descending the steep staircase behind Brüder, he could feel the warm wind rushing past them from the bowels of the cistern. The humid breeze carried on it the strains of Liszt’s Dante Symphony as well as a familiar, yet ineffable scent … that of a massive crush of people congregated together in an enclosed space.
Langdon suddenly felt a ghostly pall envelop him, as if the long fingers of an unseen hand were reaching out of the earth and raking his flesh.
The music.
The symphony chorus—a hundred voices strong—was now singing a well-known passage, articulating every syllable of Dante’s gloomy text.
“Lasciate ogne speranza,” they were now chanting, “voi ch’entrate.”
These six words—the most famous line in all of Dante’s Inferno—welled up from the bottom of the stairs like the ominous stench of death.
Accompanied by a swell of trumpets and horns, the choir
intoned the warning again. “Lasciate
ogne speranza voi ch’entrate!”
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!


By Dan Brown

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