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pressed a button, and somewhere high above them, a series of tired gears clunked and whirred into motion.
The creaky carriage shimmied and vibrated as it began its ascent. Because the walls were nothing but metal screens, Langdon found himself watching the inside of the elevator shaft slide rhythmically past them. Even in his semiconscious state, Langdon’s lifelong fear of cramped spaces was alive and well.
He leaned on the wall, trying to catch his breath. His forearm ached, and when he looked down, he saw that the sleeve of his Harris Tweed had been tied awkwardly around his arm like a bandage. The remainder of the jacket was dragging behind him on the ground, frayed and filthy.
He closed his eyes against his pounding headache, but the blackness engulfed him again.
A familiar vision materialized—the statuesque, veiled woman with the amulet and silver hair in ringlets. As before, she was on the banks of a bloodred river and surrounded by writhing bodies. She spoke to Langdon, her voice pleading. Seek and ye shall find!
Langdon was overcome with the feeling that he had to save her … save them all. The half-buried, upside-down legs were falling limp … one by one.
Who are you!? he called out in silence. What do you want?!
Her luxuriant silver hair began fluttering in a hot wind. Our time grows short, she whispered, touching her amulet necklace. Then, without warning, she erupted in a blinding pillar of fire, which billowed across the river, engulfing them both.
Langdon shouted, his eyes flying open.
Dr. Brooks eyed him with concern. “What is it?”
“I keep hallucinating!” Langdon exclaimed. “The same scene.”
“The silver-haired woman? And all the dead bodies?”
Langdon nodded, perspiration beading on his brow.
“You’ll be okay,” she assured him, despite sounding shaky herself. “Recurring visions are common with amnesia. The brain function that sorts and catalogs your memories has been temporarily shaken up, and so it throws everything into one picture.”
“Not a very nice picture,” he managed.
“I know, but until you heal, your memories will be muddled and uncataloged—past, present, and imagination all mixed together. The same thing happens in dreams.”
The elevator lurched to a stop, and Dr. Brooks yanked open the folding door. They were walking again, this time down a dark, narrow corridor. They passed a window, outside of which the murky silhouettes of Florence rooftops had begun emerging in the predawn light. At the far end of the hall, she crouched down and retrieved a key from beneath a thirsty-looking houseplant and unlocked a door.
The apartment was tiny, the air inside hinting at an ongoing battle between a vanilla-scented candle and old carpeting. The furniture and artwork were meager at best—as if she had furnished it at a yard sale. Dr. Brooks adjusted a thermostat, and the radiators banged to life.
She stood a moment and closed her eyes, exhaling heavily, as if to collect herself. Then she turned and helped Langdon into a modest kitchenette whose Formica table had two flimsy chairs.
Langdon made a move toward a chair in hopes of sitting down, but Dr. Brooks grabbed his arm with one hand and opened a cabinet with her other. The cabinet was nearly bare … crackers, a few bags of pasta, a can of Coke, and a bottle of NoDoz.
She took out the bottle and dumped six caplets into Langdon’s palm. “Caffeine,” she said. “For when I work night shifts like tonight.”
Langdon put the pills in his mouth and glanced around for some water.
“Chew them,” she said. “They’ll hit your system faster and help counteract the sedative.”
Langdon began chewing and instantly cringed. The pills were bitter, clearly meant to be swallowed whole. Dr. Brooks opened the refrigerator and handed Langdon a half-empty bottle of San Pellegrino. He gratefully took a long drink.
The ponytailed doctor now took his right arm and removed the makeshift bandage that she’d fashioned out of his jacket, which she laid on the kitchen table. Then she carefully examined his wound. As she held his bare arm, Langdon could feel her slender hands trembling.
“You’ll live,” she announced.
Langdon hoped she was going to be okay. He could barely fathom what they’d both just endured. “Dr. Brooks,” he said, “we need to call somebody. The consulate … the police. Somebody.”
She nodded in agreement. “Also, you can stop calling me Dr. Brooks—my name is Sienna.”
Langdon nodded. “Thanks. I’m Robert.” It seemed the bond they’d just forged fleeing for their lives warranted a first-name basis. “You said you’re British?”
“By birth, yes.”
“I don’t hear an accent.”
“Good,” she replied. “I worked hard to lose it.”
Langdon was about to inquire why, but Sienna motioned for him to follow. She led him down a narrow corridor to a small, gloomy bathroom. In the mirror above the sink, Langdon glimpsed his reflection for the first time since seeing it in the window of his hospital room.
Not good. Langdon’s thick dark hair was matted, and his eyes looked bloodshot and weary. A shroud of stubble obscured his jaw.
Sienna turned on the faucet and guided Langdon’s injured forearm under the ice-cold water. It stung sharply, but he held it there, wincing.
Sienna retrieved a fresh washcloth and squirted it with antibacterial soap. “You may want to look away.”
“It’s fine. I’m not bothered by—”
Sienna began scrubbing violently, and white-hot pain shot up Langdon’s arm. He clenched his jaw to prevent himself from shouting out in protest.
“You don’t want an infection,” she said, scrubbing harder now. “Besides, if you’re going to call the authorities, you’ll want to be more alert than you are now. Nothing activates adrenaline production like pain.”
Langdon held on for what felt like a full ten seconds of scrubbing before he forcefully yanked his arm away. Enough! Admittedly, he felt stronger and more awake; the pain in his arm had now entirely overshadowed his headache.
“Good,” she said, turning off the water and patting his arm dry with a clean towel. Sienna then applied a small bandage to his forearm, but as she did so, Langdon found himself distracted by something he had just noticed—something deeply upsetting to him.
For nearly four decades, Langdon had worn an antique collector’s edition Mickey Mouse timepiece, a gift from his parents. Mickey’s smiling face and wildly waving arms had always served as his daily reminder to smile more often and take life a little less seriously.
“My … watch,” Langdon stammered. “It’s gone!” Without it, he felt suddenly incomplete. “Was I wearing it when I arrived at the hospital?”
Sienna shot him an incredulous look, clearly mystified that he could be worried about such a trivial thing. “I don’t remember any watch. Just clean yourself up. I’ll be back in a few minutes and we’ll figure out how to get you some help.” She turned to go, but paused in the doorway, locking eyes with him in the mirror. “And while I’m gone, I suggest you think very hard about why someone would want to kill you. I imagine it’s the first question the authorities will ask.”
“Wait, where are you going?”
“You can’t talk to the police half naked. I’m going to find you some clothes. My neighbor is about your size. He’s away, and I’m feeding his cat. He owes me.”
With that, Sienna was gone.
Robert Langdon turned back to the tiny mirror over the sink and barely recognized the person staring back at him. Someone wants me dead. In his mind, he again heard the recording of his own delirious mumblings.
Very sorry. Very sorry.
He probed his memory for some recollection … anything at all. He saw only emptiness. All Langdon knew was that he was in Florence, having suffered a bullet wound to the head.
As Langdon stared into his own weary eyes, he half wondered if he might at any moment wake up in his reading chair at home, clutching an empty martini glass and a copy of Dead Souls, only to remind himself that Bombay Sapphire and Gogol should never be mixed.
Langdon shed his bloody hospital gown and wrapped a towel around his waist. After splashing water on his face, he gingerly touched the stitches on the back of his head. The skin was sore, but when he smoothed his matted hair down over the spot, the injury all but disappeared. The caffeine pills were kicking in, and he finally felt the fog beginning to lift.
Think, Robert. Try to remember.
The windowless bathroom was suddenly feeling claustrophobic, and Langdon stepped into the hall, moving instinctively toward a shaft of natural light that spilled through a partially open door across the corridor. The room was a makeshift study of sorts, with a cheap desk, a worn swivel chair, assorted books on the floor, and, thankfully … a window.
Langdon moved toward daylight.
In the distance, the rising Tuscan sun was just beginning to kiss the highest spires of the waking city—the campanile, the Badia, the Bargello. Langdon pressed his forehead to the cool glass. The March air was crisp and cold, amplifying the full spectrum of sunlight that now peeked up over the hillsides.
Painter’s light, they called it.
At the heart of the skyline, a mountainous dome of red tiles rose up, its zenith adorned with a gilt copper ball that glinted like a beacon. Il Duomo. Brunelleschi had made architectural history by engineering the basilica’s massive dome, and now, more than five hundred years later, the 375-foot-tall structure still stood its ground, an immovable giant on Piazza del Duomo.
Why would I be in Florence?
For Langdon, a lifelong aficionado of Italian art, Florence had become one of his favorite destinations in all of Europe. This was the city on whose streets Michelangelo played as a child, and in whose studios the Italian Renaissance had ignited. This was Florence, whose galleries lured millions of travelers to admire Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Leonardo’s Annunciation, and the city’s pride and joy—Il Davide.
Langdon had been mesmerized by Michelangelo’s David when he first saw it as a teenager … entering the Accademia delle Belle Arti … moving slowly through the somber phalanx of Michelangelo’s crude Prigioni … and then feeling his gaze dragged upward, inexorably, to the seventeen-foot-tall masterpiece. The David’s sheer enormity and defined musculature startled most first-time visitors, and yet for Langdon, it had been the genius of David’s pose that he found most captivating. Michelangelo had employed the classical tradition of contrapposto to create the illusion that David was leaning to his right, his left leg bearing almost no weight, when, in fact, his left leg was supporting tons of marble.
The David had sparked in Langdon his first true appreciation for the power of great sculpture. Now Langdon wondered if he had visited the masterpiece during the last several days, but the only memory he could conjure was that of awakening in the hospital and watching an innocent doctor murdered before his eyes. Very sorry. Very sorry.
The guilt he felt was almost nauseating. What have I done?
As he stood at the window, his peripheral vision caught a glimpse of a laptop computer sitting on the desk beside him. Whatever had happened to Langdon last night, he suddenly realized, might be in the news.
If I can access the Internet, I might find answers.
Langdon turned toward the doorway and called out: “Sienna?!”
Silence. She was still at the neighbor’s apartment looking for clothes.
Having no doubt Sienna would understand the intrusion, Langdon opened the laptop and powered it up.
Sienna’s home screen flickered to life—a standard Windows “blue cloud” background. Langdon immediately went to the Google Italia search page and typed in Robert Langdon.
If my students could see me now, he thought as he began the search. Langdon continually admonished his students for Googling themselves—a bizarre new pastime that reflected the obsession with personal celebrity that now seemed to possess American youth.
A page of search results materialized—hundreds of hits pertaining to Langdon, his books, and his lectures. Not what I’m looking for.
Langdon restricted the search by selecting the news button.
A fresh page appeared: News results for “Robert Langdon.”
Book signings: Robert Langdon to appear …
Graduation address by Robert Langdon …
Robert Langdon publishes Symbol primer for …
The list was several pages long, and yet Langdon saw nothing recent—certainly nothing that would explain his current predicament. What happened last night? Langdon pushed on, accessing the Web site for The Florentine, an English-language newspaper published in Florence. He scanned the headlines, breaking-news sections, and police blog, seeing articles on an apartment fire, a government embezzling scandal, and assorted incidents of petty crime.
Anything at all?!
He paused at a breaking-news blurb about a city official who, last night, had died of a heart attack in the plaza outside the cathedral. The official’s name had yet to be released, but no foul play was suspected.
Finally, not knowing what else to do, Langdon logged on to his Harvard e-mail account and checked his messages, wondering if he might find answers there. All he found was the usual stream of mail from colleagues, students, and friends, much of it referencing appointments for the coming week.
It’s as if nobody knows I’m gone.
With rising uncertainty, Langdon shut down the computer and closed the lid. He was about to leave when something caught his eye. On the corner of Sienna’s desk, atop a stack of old medical journals and papers, sat a Polaroid photograph. The snapshot was of Sienna Brooks and her bearded doctor colleague, laughing together in a hospital hallway.
Dr. Marconi, Langdon thought, racked with guilt as he picked up the photo and studied it.
As Langdon replaced the photo on the stack of books, he noticed with surprise the yellow booklet on top—a tattered playbill from the London Globe Theatre. According to the cover, it was for a production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream … staged nearly twenty-five years ago.
Scrawled across the top of the playbill was a handwritten message in Magic Marker: Sweetheart, never forget you’re a miracle.
Langdon picked up the playbill, and a stack of press clippings fell out onto the desk. He quickly tried to replace them, but as he opened the booklet to the weathered page where the clippings had been, he stopped short.
He was staring at a cast photo of the child actor portraying Shakespeare’s mischievous sprite Puck. The photo showed a young girl who could not have been more than five, her blond hair in a familiar ponytail.
The text below her photo read: A star is born.
The bio was a gushing account of a child theater prodigy—Sienna Brooks—with an off-the-chart IQ, who had, in a single night, memorized every character’s lines and, during initial rehearsals, often cued her fellow cast members. Among this five-year-old’s hobbies were violin, chess, biology, and chemistry. The child of a wealthy couple in the London suburb of Blackheath, the girl was already a celebrity in scientific circles; at the age of four, she had beat a chess grand master at his own game and was reading in three languages.
My God, Langdon thought. Sienna. That explains a few things.
Langdon recalled one of Harvard’s most famous graduates had been a child prodigy named Saul Kripke, who at the age of six had taught himself Hebrew and read all of the works of Descartes by the age of twelve. More recently, Langdon recalled reading about a young phenom named Moshe Kai Cavalin, who, at age eleven, had earned a college degree with a 4.0 grade-point average and won a national title in martial arts, and, at fourteen, published a book titled We Can Do.
Langdon picked up another press clipping, a newspaper article with a photo of Sienna at age seven: CHILD GENIUS DISPLAYS 208 IQ.
Langdon had been unaware that IQs even went that high. According to the article, Sienna Brooks was a virtuoso violinist, could master a new language in a month, and was teaching herself anatomy and physiology.
He looked at another clipping from a medical journal: THE FUTURE OF THOUGHT: NOT ALL MINDS ARE CREATED EQUAL.
This article had a photo of Sienna, now maybe ten years old, still a towhead, standing beside a large piece of medical apparatus. The article contained an interview with a doctor, who explained that PET scans of Sienna’s cerebellum revealed that it was physically different from other cerebella, in her case a larger, more streamlined organ capable of manipulating visual-spatial content in ways that most human beings could not begin to fathom. The doctor equated Sienna’s physiological advantage to an unusually accelerated cellular growth in her brain, much like a cancer, except that it accelerated growth of beneficial brain tissue rather than dangerous cancer cells.
Langdon found a clipping from a small-town newspaper.
THE CURSE OF BRILLIANCE.
There was no photo this time, but the story told of a young genius, Sienna Brooks, who had tried to attend regular schools but was teased by other students because she didn’t fit in. It talked about the isolation felt by gifted young people whose social skills could not keep up with their intellects and who were often ostracized.
Sienna, according to this article, had run away from home at the age of eight, and had been smart enough to live on her own undiscovered for ten days. She had been found in an upscale London hotel, where she had pretended to be the daughter of a guest, stolen a key, and was ordering room service on someone else’s account. Apparently she had spent the week reading all 1,600 pages of Gray’s Anatomy. When authorities asked why she was reading medical texts, she told them she wanted to figure out what was wrong with her brain.
Langdon’s heart went out to the little girl. He couldn’t imagine how lonely it must be for a child to be so profoundly different. He refolded the articles, pausing for one last look at the photo of the five-year-old Sienna in the role of Puck. Langdon had to admit, considering the surreal quality of his encounter with Sienna this morning, that her role as the mischievous, dream-inducing sprite seemed strangely apt. Langdon only wished that he, like the characters in the play, could now simply wake up and pretend that his most recent experiences were all a dream.
Langdon carefully replaced all the clippings on the proper page and closed the playbill, feeling an unexpected melancholy as he again saw the note on the cover: Sweetheart, never forget you’re a miracle.
His eyes moved down to the familiar symbol adorning the cover of the playbill. It was the same early Greek pictogram that adorned most playbills around the world—a 2,500-year-old symbol that had become synonymous with dramatic theater.
Langdon looked at the iconic faces of Comedy and Tragedy gazing up at him, and suddenly he heard a strange humming in his ears—as if a wire were slowly being pulled taut inside his mind. A stab of pain erupted inside his skull. Visions of a mask floated before his eyes. Langdon gasped and raised his hands, sitting down in the desk chair and closing his eyes tightly, clutching at his scalp.
In his darkness, the bizarre visions returned with a fury … stark and vivid.
The silver-haired woman with the amulet was calling to him again from across a bloodred river. Her shouts of desperation pierced the putrid air, clearly audible over the sounds of the tortured and dying, who thrashed in agony as far as the eye could see. Langdon again saw the upside-down legs adorned with the letter R, the half-buried body pedaling its legs in wild desperation in the air.
Seek and find! the woman called to Langdon. Time is running out!
Langdon again felt the overwhelming need to help her … to help everyone. Frantic, he shouted back to her across the bloodred river. Who are you?!
Once again, the woman reached up and lifted her veil to reveal the same striking visage that Langdon had seen earlier.
I am life, she said.
Without warning, a colossal image materialized in the sky above her—a fearsome mask with a long, beaklike nose and two fiery green eyes, which stared blankly out at Langdon.
And … I am death, the voice boomed.
Langdon’s eyes shot open, and he drew a startled breath. He was still seated at Sienna’s desk, head in his hands, heart pounding wildly.
What the hell is happening to me?
The images of the silver-haired woman and the beaked mask lingered in his mind. I am life. I am death. He tried to shake the vision, but it felt seared permanently into his mind. On the desk before him, the playbill’s two masks stared up at him.
Your memories will be muddled and uncataloged, Sienna had told him. Past,