1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46
our species in broad, sweeping strokes. Pandora is out of the box, and there’s no putting her back in. Bertrand has created the keys to modify the human race … and if those keys fall into the wrong hands, then God help us. This technology should never have been created. As soon as I read Bertrand’s letter explaining how he had achieved his goals, I burned it. Then I vowed to find his virus and destroy all traces of it.”
“I don’t understand,” Langdon declared, his voice laced with anger. “If you wanted to destroy the virus, why didn’t you cooperate with Dr. Sinskey and the WHO? You should have called the CDC or someone.”
“You can’t be serious! Government agencies are the last entities on earth that should have access to this technology! Think about it, Robert. Throughout all of human history, every groundbreaking technology ever discovered by science has been weaponized—from simple fire to nuclear power—and almost always at the hands of powerful governments. Where do you think our biological weapons come from? They originate from research done at places like the WHO and CDC. Bertrand’s technology—a pandemic virus used as a genetic vector—is the most powerful weapon ever created. It paves the way for horrors we can’t yet even imagine, including targeted biological weapons. Imagine a pathogen that attacks only those people whose genetic code contains certain ethnic markers. It could enable widespread ethnic cleansing on the genetic level!”
“I see your concerns, Sienna, I do, but this technology could also be used for good, couldn’t it? Isn’t this discovery a godsend for genetic medicine? A new way to deliver global inoculations, for example?”
“Perhaps, but unfortunately, I’ve learned to expect the worst from people who hold power.”
In the distance Langdon could hear the whine of a helicopter shatter the air. He peered through the trees back in the direction of the Spice Bazaar and saw the running lights of an aircraft skimming up over the hill and streaking toward the docks.
Sienna tensed. “I need to go,” she said, standing up and glancing to the west toward Atatürk Bridge. “I think I can get across the bridge on foot, and from there reach—”
“You’re not leaving, Sienna,” he said firmly.
“Robert, I came back because I felt I owed you an explanation. Now you have it.”
“No, Sienna,” Langdon said. “You came back because you’ve been running your whole life, and you finally realized you can’t run anymore.”
Sienna seemed to shrink before him. “What choice do I have?” she asked, watching the helicopter scan the water. “They’ll put me in prison as soon as they find me.”
“You’ve done nothing wrong, Sienna. You didn’t create this virus … nor did you release it.”
“True, but I went to great lengths to prevent the World Health Organization from finding it. If I don’t end up in a Turkish prison, I’ll face some kind of international tribunal on charges of biological terrorism.”
As the thrum of the helicopter grew louder, Langdon looked toward the docks in the distance. The craft was hovering in place, rotors churning the water as its searchlight strafed the boats.
Sienna looked ready to bolt at any instant.
“Please listen,” Langdon said, softening his tone. “I know you’ve been through a lot, and I know you’re scared, but you need to think of the big picture. Bertrand created this virus. You tried to stop it.”
“But I failed.”
“Yes, and now that the virus is out, the scientific and medical communities will need to understand it fully. You’re the only person who knows anything at all about it. Maybe there’s a way to neutralize it … or do something to prepare.” Langdon’s penetrating gaze bore into her. “Sienna, the world needs to know what you know. You can’t just disappear.”
Sienna’s slim frame was shaking now, as if the floodgates of sorrow and uncertainty were about to burst wide. “Robert, I … I don’t know what to do. I don’t even know who I am anymore. Look at me.” She put a hand on her bald scalp. “I’ve turned into a monster. How can I possibly face—”
Langdon stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her. He could feel her body trembling, feel her frailty against his chest. He whispered softly in her ear.
“Sienna, I know you want to run, but I’m not going to let you. Sooner or later you need to start trusting someone.”
“I can’t …” She was sobbing. “I’m not sure I know how.”
Langdon held her tighter. “You start small. You take that first tiny step. You trust me.”
The sharp clang of metal on metal rang through the fuselage of the windowless C-130 transport, causing the provost to jump. Outside, someone was banging the butt of a pistol against the aircraft’s hatch and demanding entry.
“Everyone stay seated,” the C-130 pilot commanded, moving toward the door. “It’s the Turkish police. They just drove out to the plane.”
The provost and Ferris exchanged a quick glance.
From the flurry of panicked calls among the WHO staff on board, the provost sensed that their containment mission had failed. Zobrist carried out his plan, he thought. And my company made it possible.
Outside the hatch, authoritative-sounding voices began shouting in Turkish.
The provost jumped to his feet. “Don’t open the door!” he ordered the pilot.
The pilot stopped short, glaring at the provost. “Why the hell not?”
“The WHO is an international relief organization,” the provost replied, “and this plane is sovereign territory!”
The pilot shook his head. “Sir, this plane is parked at a Turkish airport, and until it leaves Turkish airspace, it is subject to the laws of the land.” The pilot moved to the exit and threw open the hatch.
Two uniformed men stared in. Their humorless eyes showed not the slightest hint of leniency. “Who is the captain of this aircraft?” one of them demanded in a heavy accent.
“I am,” the pilot said.
An officer handed the pilot two sheets of paper. “Arrest documents. These two passengers must come with us.”
The pilot skimmed the pages and glanced over at the provost and Ferris.
“Call Dr. Sinskey,” the provost ordered the WHO pilot. “We’re on an international emergency mission.”
One of the officers eyed the provost with an amused sneer. “Dr. Elizabeth Sinskey? Director of the World Health Organization? She is the one who ordered your arrest.”
“That can’t be,” the provost replied. “Mr. Ferris and I are here in Turkey trying to help Dr. Sinskey.”
“Then you are not doing a very good job,” the second officer replied. “Dr. Sinskey contacted us and named you both as conspirators in a bioterrorism plot on Turkish soil.” He pulled out handcuffs. “You both are coming to headquarters for questioning.”
“I demand an attorney!” the provost shouted.
Thirty seconds later, he and Ferris were shackled, muscled down the gangway, and shoved roughly into the backseat of a black sedan. The sedan raced away, skimming across the tarmac to a remote corner of the airport, where it stopped at a chicken-wire fence that had been cut and pulled apart to allow their car to pass. Once through the perimeter fence, the car bounced across a dusty wasteland of broken airport machinery and came to a halt near an old service building.
The two uniformed men got out of the sedan and scanned the area. Apparently satisfied that they had not been followed, they stripped off their police uniforms and tossed them aside. Then they helped Ferris and the provost out of the car and removed their handcuffs.
The provost rubbed his wrists, realizing that he would not do well in captivity.
“The car keys are under the mat,” one of the agents said, motioning to a white van parked nearby. “There’s a duffel in the backseat with everything you requested—travel documents, cash, prepaid phones, clothing, as well as a few other items we thought you might appreciate.”
“Thank you,” the provost said. “You guys are good.”
“Just well trained, sir.”
With that, the two Turkish men got back into the black sedan and drove off.
Sinskey was never going to let me walk away, the provost reminded himself. Having sensed as much while flying to Istanbul, the provost had e-mailed an alert to the Consortium’s local branch, indicating that he and Ferris might need an extraction.
“You think she’ll come after us?” Ferris asked.
“Sinskey?” The provost nodded. “Absolutely. Although I suspect she has other concerns at the moment.”
The two men climbed into the white van, and the provost rummaged through the contents of the duffel, getting their documentation in order. He pulled out a baseball cap and slipped it on. Wrapped inside the cap, he found a small bottle of Highland Park single malt.
These guys are good.
The provost eyed the amber liquid, telling himself he should wait until tomorrow. Then again, he pictured Zobrist’s Solublon bag and wondered what tomorrow would even look like.
I broke my cardinal rule, he thought. I gave up my client.
The provost felt strangely adrift, knowing that in the coming days the world would be blanketed with news of a catastrophe in which he had played a very significant role. This would not have happened without me.
For the first time in his life, ignorance no longer felt like the moral high ground. His fingers broke the seal on the bottle of Scotch.
Enjoy it, he told himself. One way or another, your days are numbered.
The provost took a deep pull on the bottle, relishing the warmth in his throat.
Suddenly the darkness lit up with spotlights and the blue flashing strobes of police cars, which surrounded them on all sides.
The provost looked frantically in every direction … and then sat as still as stone.
As armed Turkish police officers approached the van, rifles extended, the provost took a final sip of Highland Park and quietly raised his hands over his head.
This time, he knew, the officers were not his own.
The Swiss Consulate in Istanbul is located at One Levent Plaza in a sleek, ultramodern skyscraper. The building’s concave, blue-glass facade resembles a futuristic monolith along the skyline of the ancient metropolis.
Nearly an hour had passed since Sinskey had left the cistern to set up a temporary command post in the consulate offices. The local news stations hummed with reports of the panicked stampede at the cistern’s final performance of Liszt’s Dante Symphony. No specifics had been reported yet, but the presence of an international medical team wearing hazmat suits had sparked wild speculation.
Sinskey stared out the window at the lights of the city and felt utterly alone. Reflexively, she reached to her neck for her amulet necklace, but there was nothing to grasp. The broken talisman now lay on her desk in two fractured halves.
The WHO director had just finished coordinating an array of emergency meetings to be held in Geneva in several hours. Specialists from various agencies were already en route, and Sinskey herself planned to fly there shortly to brief them. Mercifully, someone on the night staff had delivered a piping-hot mug of authentic Turkish coffee, which Sinskey had quickly drained.
A young man on the consulate staff peered in her open door. “Ma’am? Robert Langdon is here to see you.”
“Thank you,” she replied. “You can send him in.”
Twenty minutes earlier, Langdon had contacted Sinskey by phone and explained that Sienna Brooks had eluded him, having stolen a boat and fled out to sea. Sinskey had already heard this news from the authorities, who were still searching the area, but so far had come up empty-handed.
Now, as Langdon’s tall frame materialized in the doorway, she barely recognized him. His suit was dirty, his dark hair tousled, and his eyes looked weary and sunken.
“Professor, are you okay?” Sinskey stood up.
Langdon gave her a tired smile. “I’ve had easier nights.”
“Please,” she said, motioning to a chair. “Have a seat.”
“Zobrist’s contagion,” Langdon began without preamble as he sat down. “I think it may have been released a week ago.”
Sinskey gave a patient nod. “Yes, we’ve come to the same conclusion. No symptoms have been reported yet, but we’ve isolated samples and are already gearing up for intensive testing. Unfortunately, it could take days or weeks to get a real grip on what this virus is … and what it might do.”
“It’s a vector virus,” Langdon said.
Sinskey cocked her head in surprise, startled to hear that he even knew the term. “I beg your pardon?”
“Zobrist created an airborne vector virus capable of modifying human DNA.”
Sinskey rose abruptly, knocking her chair over in the process. That’s not even possible! “What would ever make you claim such a thing?”
“Sienna,” Langdon replied quietly. “She told me. Half an hour ago.”
Sinskey leaned her hands on her desk and stared across at Langdon with sudden distrust. “She didn’t escape?”
“She certainly did,” he replied. “She was free, in a boat speeding out to sea, and she easily could have disappeared forever. But she thought better of it. She came back of her own volition. Sienna wants to help with this crisis.”
A harsh laugh escaped Sinskey’s lips. “Forgive me if I’m not inclined to trust Ms. Brooks, especially when she’s making such a far-fetched claim.”
“I believe her,” Langdon said, his tone unwavering. “And if she claims that this is a vector virus, I think you’d better take her seriously.”
Sinskey felt suddenly exhausted, her mind struggling to analyze Langdon’s words. She moved to the window and stared out. A DNA-altering viral vector? As improbable and horrifying as the prospect sounded, she had to admit there was an eerie logic to it. After all, Zobrist was a genetic engineer and knew firsthand that the smallest mutation in a single gene could have catastrophic effects on the body—cancers, organ failure, and blood disorders. Even a disease as abhorrent as cystic fibrosis—which drowns its victim in mucus—was caused by nothing more than a minuscule hiccup in a regulator gene on chromosome seven.
Specialists had now started treating these genetic conditions with rudimentary vector viruses that were injected directly into the patient. These noncontagious viruses were programmed to travel through the patient’s body and install replacement DNA that fixed the damaged sections. This new science, however, like all sciences, had a dark side. The effects of a vector virus could be either favorable or destructive … depending on the engineer’s intentions. If a virus were maliciously programmed to insert damaged DNA into healthy cells, the results would be devastating. Moreover, if that destructive virus were somehow engineered to be highly contagious and airborne …
The prospect made Sinskey shudder. What genetic horror has Zobrist dreamed up? How does he plan to thin the human herd?
Sinskey knew that finding the answer could take weeks. The human genetic code contained a seemingly infinite labyrinth of chemical permutations. The prospect of searching its entirety in hopes of finding Zobrist’s one specific alteration would be like looking for a needle in a haystack … without even knowing on what planet that particular haystack was located.
“Elizabeth?” Langdon’s deep voice pulled her back.
Sinskey turned from the window and looked at him.
“Did you hear me?” he asked, still seated calmly. “Sienna wanted to destroy this virus as much as you did.”
“I sincerely doubt that.”
Langdon exhaled, standing now. “I think you should listen to me. Shortly before his death, Zobrist wrote a letter to Sienna, telling her what he had done. He outlined exactly what this virus would do … how it would attack us … how it would achieve his goals.”
Sinskey froze. There’s a letter?!
“When Sienna read Zobrist’s description of what he had created, she was horrified. She wanted to stop him. She considered his virus so dangerous that she didn’t want anybody to gain access to it, including the World Health Organization. Don’t you see? Sienna has been trying to destroy the virus … not release it.”
“There’s a letter?” Sinskey demanded, her focus now singular. “With specifics?”
“That’s what Sienna told me, yes.”
“We need that letter! Having specifics could save us months in understanding what this thing is and knowing how to handle it.”
Langdon shook his head. “You don’t understand. When Sienna read Zobrist’s letter, she was terrified. She burned it immediately. She wanted to be sure nobody—”
Sinskey smacked her hand down on the desk. “She destroyed the one thing that could help us prepare for this crisis? And you want me to trust her?”
“I know it’s asking a lot, in light of her actions, but rather than castigating her, it might be helpful to remember that Sienna has a unique intellect, including a rather startling capacity for recall.” Langdon paused. “What if she can re-create enough of Zobrist’s letter to be helpful to you?”
Sinskey narrowed her gaze, nodding slightly. “Well, Professor, in that case, what do you suggest I do?”
Langdon motioned to her empty coffee cup. “I suggest you order more coffee … and listen to the one condition that Sienna has requested.”
Sinskey’s pulse quickened, and she glanced at the phone. “You know how to reach her?”
“Tell me what she requested.”
Langdon told her, and Sinskey fell silent, considering the proposal.
“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Langdon added. “And what do you have to lose?”
“If everything you’re saying is true, then you have my word.” Sinskey pushed the phone toward him. “Please make the call.”
To Sinskey’s surprise, Langdon ignored the phone. Instead, he stood up and headed out the door, stating that he would be back in a minute. Puzzled, Sinskey walked into the hall and observed him striding through the consulate’s waiting area, pushing open the glass doors, and exiting into the elevator foyer beyond. For a moment, she thought he was leaving, but then, rather than summoning the elevator, he slipped quietly into the women’s restroom.
A few moments later, he emerged with a woman who looked to be in her early thirties. Sinskey needed a long moment to accept the fact that this was truly Sienna Brooks. The pretty ponytailed woman she had seen earlier in the day had been utterly transformed. She was totally bald, as if her scalp had been shaved clean.
When the two entered her office, they silently took seats facing the desk.
“Forgive me,” Sienna said quickly. “I know we have a lot to discuss, but first, I was hoping you would permit me to say something that I really need to say.”
Sinskey noted the sadness in Sienna’s voice. “Of course.”
“Ma’am,” she began, her voice frail, “you are the director of the World Health Organization. You know better than anyone that we are a species on the edge of collapse … a population out of control. For years, Bertrand Zobrist attempted to engage with influential people like yourself to discuss the impending crisis. He visited countless organizations that he believed could effect change—Worldwatch Institute, the Club of Rome, Population Matters, the Council on Foreign Relations—but he never found anyone who dared engage in a meaningful conversation about a real solution. You all responded with plans for better contraceptive education, tax incentives for smaller families, and even talk of colonizing the moon! It’s no wonder Bertrand lost his mind.”
Sinskey stared at her, offering no reaction.
Sienna took a deep breath. “Dr. Sinskey, Bertrand came to you personally. He begged you to acknowledge that we are on the brink … begged you to engage in some kind of dialogue. But rather than listening to his ideas, you called him a madman, put him on a watch list, and drove him underground.” Sienna’s voice grew heavy with emotion. “Bertrand died all alone because people like yourself refused to open your minds enough even to admit that our catastrophic circumstances might actually require an uncomfortable solution. All Bertrand ever did was speak the truth … and for that, he was ostracized.” Sienna wiped her eyes and gazed across the desk at Sinskey. “Believe me, I know what it’s like to feel all alone … the worst kind of loneliness in the world is the isolation that comes from being misunderstood. It can make people lose their grasp on reality.”
Sienna stopped talking, and a strained silence followed.
“That’s all I wanted to say,” she whispered.
Sinskey studied her for a long while and then sat down. “Ms. Brooks,” she said, as calmly as possible, “you’re right. I may not have listened before …” She folded her hands on the desk and looked directly at Sienna. “But I’m listening now.”