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seeing firsthand Langdon’s bewilderment, the man was burdened by an overwhelming sense of responsibility for the current crisis.

I accepted the wrong client. Bertrand Zobrist.

I trusted the wrong person. Sienna Brooks.

Now the provost was flying toward the eye of the storm—the epicenter of what might well be a deadly plague that had the potential to wreak havoc across the entire world. If he emerged alive from all this, he suspected that his Consortium would never survive the fallout. There would be endless inquiries and accusations.

Is this how it all ends for me?

CHAPTER 83

I need air, Robert Langdon thought. A vista … anything.

The windowless fuselage felt as if it were closing in around him.

Of course, the strange tale of what had actually happened to him today was not helping at all. His brain throbbed with unanswered questions … most of them about Sienna.

Strangely, he missed her.

She was acting, he reminded himself. Using me.

Without a word, Langdon left the provost and walked toward the front of the plane. The cockpit door was open, and the natural light streaming through it pulled him like a beacon. Standing in the doorway, undetected by the pilots, Langdon let the sunlight warm his face. The wide-open space before him felt like manna from heaven. The clear blue sky looked so peaceful … so permanent.

Nothing is permanent, he reminded himself, still struggling to accept the potential catastrophe they were facing.

“Professor?” a quiet voice said behind him, and he turned.

Langdon took a startled step backward. Standing before him was Dr. Ferris. The last time Langdon had seen the man, he was writhing on the floor of St. Mark’s Basilica, unable to breathe. Now here he was in the aircraft leaning against the bulkhead, wearing a baseball cap, his face, covered in calamine lotion, a pasty pink. His chest and torso were heavily bandaged, and his breathing was shallow. If Ferris had the plague, nobody seemed too concerned that he was going to spread it.

“You’re … alive?” Langdon said, staring at the man.

Ferris gave a tired nod. “More or less.” The man’s demeanor had changed dramatically, seeming far more relaxed.

“But I thought—” Langdon stopped. “Actually … I’m not sure what to think anymore.”

Ferris gave him an empathetic smile. “You’ve heard a lot of lies today. I thought I’d take a moment to apologize. As you may have guessed, I don’t work for the WHO, and I didn’t go to recruit you in Cambridge.”

Langdon nodded, too tired to be surprised by anything at this point. “You work for the provost.”

“I do. He sent me in to offer emergency field support to you and Sienna … and help you escape the SRS team.”

“Then I guess you did your job perfectly,” Langdon said, recalling how Ferris had shown up at the baptistry, convinced Langdon he was a WHO employee, and then facilitated his and Sienna’s transportation out of Florence and away from Sinskey’s team. “Obviously you’re not a doctor.”

The man shook his head. “No, but I played that part today. My job was to help Sienna keep the illusion going so you could figure out where the projector was pointing. The provost was intent on finding Zobrist’s creation so he could protect it from Sinskey.”

“You had no idea it was a plague?” Langdon said, still curious about Ferris’s strange rash and internal bleeding.

“Of course not! When you mentioned the plague, I figured it was just a story Sienna had told you to keep you motivated. So I played along. I got us all onto the train to Venice … and then, everything changed.”

“How so?”

“The provost saw Zobrist’s bizarre video.”

That could do it. “He realized Zobrist was a madman.”

“Exactly. The provost suddenly comprehended what the Consortium had been involved in, and he was horrified. He immediately demanded to speak to the person who knew Zobrist best—FS-2080—to see if she knew what Zobrist had done.”

“FS-2080?”

“Sorry, Sienna Brooks. That was the code name she chose for this operation. It’s apparently a Transhumanist thing. And the provost had no way to reach Sienna except through me.”

“The phone call on the train,” Langdon said. “Your ‘ailing mother.’ ”

“Well, I obviously couldn’t take the provost’s call in front of you, so I stepped out. He told me about the video, and I was terrified. He was hoping Sienna had been duped as well, but when I told him you and Sienna had been talking about plagues and seemed to have no intention of breaking off the mission, he knew Sienna and Zobrist were in this together. Sienna instantly became an adversary. He told me to keep him abreast of our position in Venice … and that he was sending in a team to detain her. Agent Brüder’s team almost had her at St. Mark’s Basilica … but she managed to escape.”

Langdon stared blankly at the floor, still able to see Sienna’s pretty brown eyes gazing down at him before she fled.

I’m so sorry, Robert. For everything.

“She’s tough,” the man said. “You probably didn’t see her attack me at the basilica.”

“Attack you?”

“Yes, when the soldiers entered, I was about to shout out and reveal Sienna’s location, but she must have sensed it coming. She drove the heel of her hand straight into the center of my chest.”

“What?!”

“I didn’t know what hit me. Some kind of martial-arts move, I guess. Because I was already badly bruised there, the pain was excruciating. It took me five minutes to get my wind back. Sienna dragged you out onto the balcony before any witnesses could reveal what had happened.”

Stunned, Langdon thought back to the elderly Italian woman who had shouted at Sienna—“L’hai colpito al petto!”—and made a forceful motion of her fist on her own chest.

I can’t! Sienna had replied. CPR will kill him! Look at his chest!

As Langdon replayed the scene in his mind, he realized just how quickly Sienna Brooks thought on her feet. Sienna had cleverly mistranslated the old woman’s Italian. L’hai colpito al petto was not a suggestion that Sienna apply chest compressions … it was an angry accusation: You punched him in the chest!

With all the chaos of the moment, Langdon had not even noticed.

Ferris gave him a pained smile. “As you may have heard, Sienna Brooks is pretty sharp.”

Langdon nodded. I’ve heard.

“Sinskey’s men brought me back to The Mendacium and bandaged me up. The provost asked me to come along for intel support because I’m the only person other than you who spent time with Sienna today.”

Langdon nodded, distracted by the man’s rash. “Your face?” Langdon asked. “And the bruise on your chest? It’s not …”

“The plague?” Ferris laughed and shook his head. “I’m not sure if you’ve been told yet, but I actually played the part of two doctors today.”

“I’m sorry?”

“When I showed up at the baptistry, you said I looked vaguely familiar.”

“You did. Vaguely. Your eyes, I think. You told me that’s because you were the one who recruited me in Cambridge …” Langdon paused. “Which I know now is untrue, so …”

“I looked familiar because we had already met. But not in Cambridge.” The man’s eyes probed Langdon’s for any hint of recognition. “I was actually the first person you saw when you woke up this morning in the hospital.”

Langdon pictured the grim little hospital room. He had been groggy and his eyesight was compromised, so he was pretty certain that the first person he saw when he awoke was a pale, older doctor with bushy eyebrows and a shaggy graying beard who spoke only Italian.

“No,” Langdon said. “Dr. Marconi was the first person I saw when—”

“Scusi, professore,” the man interrupted with a flawless Italian accent. “Ma non si ricorda di me?” He hunched over like an older man, smoothing back imaginary bushy eyebrows and stroking a nonexistent graying beard. “Sono il dottor Marconi.”

Langdon’s mouth fell open. “Dr. Marconi was … you?”

“That’s why my eyes looked familiar. I had never worn a fake beard and eyebrows, and unfortunately had no idea until it was too late that I was severely allergic to the bonding cement—a latex spirit gum—which left my skin raw and burning. I’m sure you were horrified when you saw me … considering you were on alert for a possible plague.”

Langdon could only stare, recalling now how Dr. Marconi had scratched at his beard before Vayentha’s attack left him lying on the hospital floor, bleeding from the chest.

“To make matters worse,” the man said, motioning to the bandages around his chest, “my squib shifted while the operation was already under way. I couldn’t get it back into position in time, and when it detonated, it was at an angle. Broke a rib and left me badly bruised. I’ve been having trouble breathing all day.”

And here I thought you had the plague.

The man inhaled deeply and winced. “In fact, I think it’s time for me to sit down again.” As he departed, he motioned behind Langdon. “It looks like you have company anyway.”

Langdon turned to see Dr. Sinskey striding up the cabin, her long silver hair streaming behind her. “Professor, there you are!”

The director of the WHO looked exhausted, and yet strangely, Langdon detected a fresh glint of hope in her eyes. She’s found something.

“I’m sorry to have left you,” Sinskey said, arriving beside Langdon. “We’ve been coordinating and doing some research.” She motioned to the open cockpit door. “I see you’re getting some sunlight?”

Langdon shrugged. “Your plane needs windows.”

She gave him a compassionate smile. “On the topic of light, I hope the provost was able to shed some for you on recent events?”

“Yes, although nothing I’m pleased about.”

“Nor I,” she concurred, glancing around to make sure they were alone. “Trust me,” she whispered, “there will be serious ramifications for him and for his organization. I will see to it. At the moment, however, we all need to remain focused on locating that container before it dissolves and the contagion is released.”

Or before Sienna gets there and helps it dissolve.

“I need to talk to you about the building that houses Dandolo’s tomb.”

Langdon had been picturing the spectacular structure ever since he realized it was their destination. The mouseion of holy wisdom.

“I just learned something exciting,” Sinskey said. “We’ve been on the phone with a local historian,” she said. “He has no idea why we’re inquiring about Dandolo’s tomb, of course, but I asked him if he had any idea what was beneath the tomb, and guess what he said.” She smiled. “Water.”

Langdon was surprised. “Really?”

“Yes, it sounds like the building’s lower levels are flooded. Over the centuries the water table beneath the building has risen, submerging at least two lower levels. He said there are definitely all kinds of air pockets and partially submerged spaces down there.”

My God. Langdon pictured Zobrist’s video and the strangely lit underground cavern on whose mossy walls he had seen the faint vertical shadows of pillars. “It’s a submerged room.”

“Exactly.”

“But then … how did Zobrist get down there?”

Sinskey’s eyes twinkled. “That’s the amazing part. You won’t believe what we just discovered.”

At that moment, less than a mile off the coast of Venice, on the slender island known as the Lido, a sleek Cessna Citation Mustang lifted off the tarmac of Nicelli Airport and streaked into the darkening twilight sky.

The jet’s owner, prominent costume designer Giorgio Venci, was not on board, but he had ordered his pilots to take their attractive young passenger wherever she needed to go.

CHAPTER 84

Night had fallen on the ancient Byzantine capital.

All along the banks of the Sea of Marmara, floodlights flickered to life, illuminating a skyline of glistening mosques and slender minarets. This was the hour of the akşam, and loudspeakers across the city reverberated with the haunting intonations of the adhān, the call to prayer.

La-ilaha-illa-Allah.

There is no god but the God.

While the faithful scurried to mosques, the rest of the city carried on without a glance; raucous university students drank beer, businessmen closed deals, merchants hawked spices and rugs, and tourists watched it all in wonder.

This was a world divided, a city of opposing forces—religious, secular; ancient, modern; Eastern, Western. Straddling the geographic boundary between Europe and Asia, this timeless city was quite literally the bridge from the Old World … to a world that was even older.

Istanbul.

While no longer the capital of Turkey, it had served over the centuries as the epicenter of three distinct empires—the Byzantine, the Roman, and the Ottoman. For this reason, Istanbul was arguably one of the most historically diverse locations on earth. From Topkapi Palace to the Blue Mosque to the Castle of the Seven Towers, the city is teeming with folkloric tales of battle, glory, and defeat.

Tonight, high in the night sky above its bustling masses, a C-130 transport plane was descending through a gathering storm front, on final approach to Atatürk Airport. Inside the cockpit, buckled into the jump seat behind the pilots, Robert Langdon peered out through the windshield, relieved that he had been offered a seat with a view.

He was feeling somewhat refreshed after having had something to eat and then dozing at the rear of the plane for nearly an hour of much-needed rest.

Now, off to his right, Langdon could see the lights of Istanbul, a glistening, horn-shaped peninsula jutting into the blackness of the Sea of Marmara. This was the European side, separated from its Asian sister by a sinuous ribbon of darkness.

The Bosporus waterway.

At a glance, the Bosporus appeared as a wide gash that severed Istanbul in two. In fact, Langdon knew the channel was the lifeblood of Istanbul’s commerce. In addition to providing the city with two coastlines rather than one, the Bosporus enabled ship passage from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, allowing Istanbul to serve as a way station between two worlds.

As the plane descended through a layer of mist, Langdon’s eyes intently scanned the distant city, trying to catch a glimpse of the massive building they had come to search.

The site of Enrico Dandolo’s tomb.

As it turned out, Enrico Dandolo—the treacherous doge of Venice—had not been buried in Venice; rather, his remains had been interred in the heart of the stronghold he had conquered in 1202 … the sprawling city beneath them. Fittingly, Dandolo had been laid to rest in the most spectacular shrine his captured city had to offer—a building that to this day remained the crown jewel of the region.

Hagia Sophia.

Originally built in A.D. 360, Hagia Sophia had served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral until 1204, when Enrico Dandolo and the Fourth Crusade conquered the city and turned it into a Catholic church. Later, in the fifteenth century, following the conquest of Constantinople by Fatih Sultan Mehmed, it had become a mosque, remaining an Islamic house of worship until 1935, when the building was secularized and became a museum.

A gilded mouseion of holy wisdom, Langdon thought.

Not only was Hagia Sophia adorned with more gold tile than St. Mark’s, its name—Hagia Sophia—literally meant “Holy Wisdom.”

Langdon pictured the colossal building and tried to fathom the fact that somewhere beneath it, a darkened lagoon contained a tethered, undulating sac, hovering underwater, slowly dissolving and preparing to release its contents.

Langdon prayed they were not too late.

“The building’s lower levels are flooded,” Sinskey had announced earlier in the flight, excitedly motioning for Langdon to follow her back to her work area. “You won’t believe what we just discovered. Have you ever heard of a documentary film director named Göksel Gülensoy?”

Langdon shook his head.

“While I was researching Hagia Sophia,” Sinskey explained, “I discovered that a film had been made about it. A documentary made by Gülensoy a few years back.”

“Dozens of films have been made about Hagia Sophia.”

“Yes,” she said, arriving at her work area, “but none like this.” She spun her laptop so he could see it. “Read this.”

Langdon sat down and eyed the article—a composite of various news sources including the Hürriyet Daily News—discussing Gülensoy’s newest film: In the Depths of Hagia Sophia.

As Langdon began to read, he immediately realized why Sinskey was excited. The first two words alone made Langdon glance up at her in surprise. Scuba diving?

“I know,” she said. “Just read.”

Langdon turned his eyes back to the article.

SCUBA DIVING BENEATH HAGIA SOPHIA: Documentary filmmaker Göksel Gülensoy and his exploratory scuba team have located remote flooded basins lying hundreds of feet beneath Istanbul’s heavily touristed religious structure.

In the process, they discovered numerous architectural wonders, including the 800-year-old submerged graves of martyred children, as well as submerged tunnels connecting Hagia Sophia to Topkapi Palace, Tekfur Palace, and the rumored subterranean extensions of the Anemas Dungeons.

“I believe what is beneath Hagia Sophia is much more exciting than what is above the surface,” Gülensoy explained, describing how he had been inspired to make the film after seeing an old photograph of researchers examining the foundations of Hagia Sophia by boat, paddling through a large, partially submerged hall.

“You’ve obviously found the right building!” Sinskey exclaimed. “And it sounds like there are huge pockets of navigable space beneath that building, many of them accessible without scuba gear … which may explain what we’re seeing in Zobrist’s video.”

Agent Brüder stood behind them, studying the laptop screen. “It also sounds like the waterways beneath the building spider outward to all kinds of other areas. If that Solublon bag dissolves before we arrive, there will be no way to stop the contents from spreading.”

“The contents …” Langdon ventured. “Do you have any idea what it is? I mean exactly? I know we’re dealing with a pathogen, but—”

“We’ve been analyzing the footage,” Brüder said, “which suggests that it’s indeed biological rather than chemical … that is to say, something living. Considering the small amount in the bag, we assume it’s highly contagious and has the ability to replicate. Whether it’s a waterborne contagion like a bacterium, or whether it has the potential to go airborne like a virus once it’s released, we’re not sure, but either is possible.”

Sinskey said, “We’re now gathering data on water-table temperatures in the area, trying to assess what kinds of contagious substances might thrive in those subterranean areas, but Zobrist was exceptionally talented and easily could have engineered something with unique capabilities. And I have to suspect that there was a reason Zobrist chose this location.”

Brüder gave a resigned nod and quickly relayed his assessment of the unusual dispersal mechanism—the submerged Solublon bag—the simple brilliance of which was just starting to dawn on them all. By suspending the bag underground and underwater, Zobrist had created an exceptionally stable incubation environment: one with consistent water temperature, no solar radiation, a kinetic buffer, and total privacy. By choosing a bag of the correct durability, Zobrist could leave the contagion unattended to mature for a specific duration before it self-released on schedule.

Even if Zobrist never returned to the site.

The sudden jolt of the plane touching down jarred Langdon back to his jump seat in the cockpit. The pilots braked hard and then taxied to a remote hangar, where they brought the massive plane to a stop.

Langdon half expected to be greeted by an army of WHO employees in hazmat suits. Strangely, the only party awaiting their arrival was the driver of a large white van that bore the emblem of a bright red, equal-armed cross.

The Red Cross is here? Langdon looked again, realizing it was the other entity that used the red cross. The Swiss embassy.

He unbuckled and located Sinskey as everyone prepared to deplane. “Where is

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