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getting heavier with every passing moment.

Mal’akh pressed the cell phone to his ear, enjoying the sound of Langdon’s anxious breathing on the other end. “Right now, I have business to attend to, Professor, and so do you. Call me as soon as you have deciphered the map. We will go together to the hiding place and make our trade. Peter’s life… for all the wisdom of the ages.”

“I will do nothing,” Langdon declared. “Especially not without proof Peter is alive.”

“I suggest you not test me. You are a very small cog in a vast machine. If you disobey me, or attempt to find me, Peter will die. This I swear.”

“For all I know, Peter is already dead.”

“He is very much alive, Professor, but he desperately needs your help.”

“What are you really looking for?” Langdon shouted into the phone.

Mal’akh paused before answering. “Many people have pursued the Ancient Mysteries and debated their power. Tonight, I will prove the mysteries are real.”

Langdon was silent.

“I suggest you get to work on the map immediately,” Mal’akh said. “I need this information today.”

“Today?! It’s already after nine o’clock!”

“Exactly. Tempus fugit.”

CHAPTER 44

New York editor Jonas Faukman was just turning off the lights in his Manhattan office when his phone rang. He had no intention of picking up at this hour — that is, until he glimpsed the caller-ID display. This ought to be good, he thought, reaching for the receiver.

“Do we still publish you?” Faukman asked, half serious.

“Jonas!” Robert Langdon’s voice sounded anxious. “Thank God you’re there. I need your help.”

Faukman’s spirits lifted. “You’ve got pages for me to edit, Robert?” Finally?

“No, I need information. Last year, I connected you with a scientist named Katherine Solomon, the sister of Peter Solomon?”

Faukman frowned. No pages.

“She was looking for a publisher for a book on Noetic Science? Do you remember her?”

Faukman rolled his eyes. “Sure. I remember. And thanks a million for that introduction. Not only did she refuse to let me read the results of her research, she didn’t want to publish anything until some magical date in the future.”

“Jonas, listen to me, I don’t have time. I need Katherine’s phone number. Right now. Do you have it?”

“I’ve got to warn you… you’re acting a little desperate. She’s great looking, but you’re not going to impress her by —”

“This is no joke, Jonas, I need her number now.”

“All right… hold on.” Faukman and Langdon had been close friends for enough years that Faukman knew when Langdon was serious. Jonas typed the name Katherine Solomon into a search window and began scanning the company’s e-mail server.

“I’m looking now,” Faukman said. “And for what it’s worth, when you call her, you may not want to call from the Harvard Pool. It sounds like you’re in an asylum.”

“I’m not at the pool. I’m in a tunnel under the U.S. Capitol.”

Faukman sensed from Langdon’s voice that he was not joking. What is it with this guy? “Robert, why can’t you just stay home and write?” His computer pinged. “Okay, hold on… I got it.” He moused through the old e-mail thread. “It looks like all I have is her cell.”

“I’ll take it.”

Faukman gave him the number.

“Thanks, Jonas,” Langdon said, sounding grateful. “I owe you one.”

“You owe me a manuscript, Robert. Do you have any idea how long —”

The line went dead.

Faukman stared at the receiver and shook his head. Book publishing would be so much easier without the authors.

CHAPTER 45

Katherine Solomon did a double take when she saw the name on her caller ID. She had imagined the incoming call was from Trish, checking in to explain why she and Christopher Abaddon were taking so long. But the caller was not Trish.

Far from it.

Katherine felt a blushing smile cross her lips. Could tonight get any stranger? She flipped open her phone.

“Don’t tell me,” she said playfully. “Bookish bachelor seeking single Noetic Scientist?”

“Katherine!” The deep voice belonged to Robert Langdon. “Thank God you’re okay.”

“Of course I’m okay,” she replied, puzzled. “Other than the fact that you never called me after that party at Peter’s house last summer.”

“Something has happened tonight. Please listen.” His normally smooth voice sounded ragged. “I’m so sorry to have to tell you this… but Peter is in serious trouble.”

Katherine’s smile disappeared. “What are you talking about?”

“Peter…” Langdon hesitated as if searching for words. “I don’t know how to say it, but he’s been… taken. I’m not sure how or by whom, but —”

“Taken?” Katherine demanded. “Robert, you’re scaring me. Taken… where?”

“Taken captive.” Langdon’s voice cracked as if he were overwhelmed. “It must have happened earlier today or maybe yesterday.”

“This isn’t funny,” she said angrily. “My brother is fine. I just spoke to him fifteen minutes ago!”

“You did?!” Langdon sounded stunned.

“Yes! He just texted me to say he was coming to the lab.”

“He texted you…” Langdon thought out loud. “But you didn’t actually hear his voice?”

“No, but —”

“Listen to me. The text you received was not from your brother. Someone has Peter’s phone. He’s dangerous. Whoever it is tricked me into coming to Washington tonight.”

“Tricked you? You’re not making any sense!”

“I know, I’m so sorry.” Langdon seemed uncharacteristically disorientated. “Katherine, I think you could be in danger.”

Katherine Solomon was sure that Langdon would never joke about something like this, and yet he sounded like he had lost his mind. “I’m fine,” she said. “I’m locked inside a secure building!”

“Read me the message you got from Peter’s phone. Please.”

Bewildered, Katherine pulled up the text message and read it to Langdon, feeling a chill as she came to the final part referencing Dr. Abaddon. “‘If available, have Dr. Abaddon join us inside. I trust him fully…’ ”

“Oh God…” Langdon’s voice was laced with fear. “Did you invite this man inside?”

“Yes! My assistant just went out to the lobby to get him. I expect them back any —”

“Katherine, get out!” Langdon yelled. “Now!”

At the other side of the SMSC, inside the security room, a phone began ringing, drowning out the Redskins game. The guard reluctantly pulled out his earbuds one more time.

“Lobby,” he answered. “This is Kyle.”

“Kyle, it’s Katherine Solomon!” Her voice sounded anxious, out of breath.

“Ma’am, your brother has not yet —”

“Where’s Trish?!” she demanded. “Can you see her on the monitors?”

The guard rolled his chair over to look at the screens. “She hasn’t gotten back to the Cube yet?”

“No!” Katherine shouted, sounding alarmed.

The guard now realized that Katherine Solomon was out of breath, as if she were running. What’s going on back there?

The guard quickly worked the video joystick, skimming through frames of digital video at rapid speed. “Okay, hold on, scrolling through playback… I’ve got Trish with your guest leaving the lobby… they move down the Street… fast-forwarding… okay, they’re going into Wet Pod… Trish uses her key card to unlock the door… both of them step into Wet Pod… fast-forwarding… okay, here they are coming out of Wet Pod just a minute ago… heading down…” He cocked his head, slowing the playback. “Wait a minute. That’s odd.”

“What?”

“The gentleman came out of Wet Pod alone.”

“Trish stayed inside?”

“Yes, it looks that way. I’m watching your guest now… he’s in the hall on his own.”

“Where is Trish?” Katherine asked more frantically.

“I don’t see her on the video feed,” he replied, an edge of anxiety creeping into his voice. He looked back at the screen and noticed that the man’s jacket sleeves appeared to be wet… all the way up to his elbows. What in the world did he do in Wet Pod? The guard watched as the man began to move purposefully down the main hallway toward Pod 5, clutching in his hand what looked like… a key card.

The guard felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. “Ms. Solomon, we’ve got a serious problem.”

Tonight was a night of firsts for Katherine Solomon.

In two years, she had never used her cell phone inside the void. Nor had she ever crossed the void at a dead run. At the moment, however, Katherine had a cell phone pressed to her ear while she was dashing blindly along the endless length of carpet. Each time she felt a foot stray from the carpet, she corrected back to center, racing on through the sheer darkness.

“Where is he now?” Katherine asked the guard, breathless.

“Checking now,” the guard replied. “Fast-forwarding… okay, here he is walking down the hall… moving toward Pod Five…”

Katherine ran harder, hoping to reach the exit before she got trapped back here. “How long until he gets to the Pod Five entrance?”

The guard paused. “Ma’am, you don’t understand. I’m still fast-forwarding. This is recorded playback. This already happened.” He paused. “Hold on, let me check the entry event monitor.” He paused and then said, “Ma’am, Ms. Dunne’s key card shows a Pod Five entry event about a minute ago.”

Katherine slammed on the brakes, sliding to a halt in the middle of the abyss. “He already unlocked Pod Five?” she whispered into the phone.

The guard was typing frantically. “Yes, it looks like he entered… ninety seconds ago.”

Katherine’s body went rigid. She stopped breathing. The darkness felt suddenly alive all around her.

He’s in here with me.

In an instant, Katherine realized that the only light in the entire space was coming from her cell phone, illuminating the side of her face. “Send help,” she whispered to the guard. “And get to Wet Pod to help Trish.” Then she quietly closed her phone, extinguishing the light.

Absolute darkness settled around her.

She stood stock-still and breathed as quietly as possible. After a few seconds, the pungent scent of ethanol wafted out of the darkness in front of her. The smell got stronger. She could sense a presence, only a few feet in front of her on the carpet. In the silence, the pounding of Katherine’s heart seemed loud enough to give her away. Silently, she stepped out of her shoes and inched to her left, sidestepping off the carpet. The cement felt cold under her feet. She took one more step to clear the carpet.

One of her toes cracked.

It sounded like a gunshot in the stillness.

Only a few yards away, a rustle of clothing suddenly came at her out of the darkness. Katherine bolted an instant too late and a powerful arm snagged her, groping in the darkness, hands violently attempting to gain purchase. She spun away as a viselike grip caught her lab coat, yanking her backward, reeling her in.

Katherine threw her arms backward, slithering out of her lab coat and slipping free. Suddenly, with no idea anymore which way was out, Katherine Solomon found herself dashing, dead blind, across an endless black abyss.

CHAPTER 46

Despite containing what many have called “the most beautiful room in the world,” the Library of Congress is known less for its breathtaking splendor than for its vast collections. With over five hundred miles of shelves — enough to stretch from Washington, D.C., to Boston — it easily claims the title of largest library on earth. And yet still it expands, at a rate of over ten thousand items per day.

As an early repository for Thomas Jefferson’s personal collection of books on science and philosophy, the library stood as a symbol of America’s commitment to the dissemination of knowledge. One of the first buildings in Washington to have electric lights, it literally shone like a beacon in the darkness of the New World.

As its name implies, the Library of Congress was established to serve Congress, whose venerated members worked across the street in the Capitol Building. This age-old bond between library and Capitol had been fortified recently by the construction of a physical connection — a long tunnel beneath Independence Avenue that linked the two buildings.

Tonight, inside this dimly lit tunnel, Robert Langdon followed Warren Bellamy through a construction zone, trying to quell his own deepening concern for Katherine. This lunatic is at her lab?! Langdon didn’t even want to imagine why. When he had called to warn her, Langdon had told Katherine exactly where to meet him before they hung up. How much longer is this damned tunnel? His head ached now, a roiling torrent of interconnected thoughts: Katherine, Peter, the Masons, Bellamy, pyramids, ancient prophecy… and a map.

Langdon shook it all off and pressed on. Bellamy promised me answers.

When the two men finally reached the end of the passage, Bellamy guided Langdon through a set of double doors that were still under construction. Finding no way to lock the unfinished doors behind them, Bellamy improvised, grabbing an aluminum ladder from the construction supplies and leaning it precariously against the outside of the door. Then he balanced a metal bucket on top. If anyone opened the door, the bucket would crash loudly to the floor.

That’s our alarm system? Langdon eyed the perched bucket, hoping Bellamy had a more comprehensive plan for their safety tonight. Everything had happened so fast, and Langdon was only now starting to process the repercussions of his fleeing with Bellamy. I’m a fugitive from the CIA.

Bellamy led the way around a corner, where the two men began ascending a wide staircase that was cordoned off with orange pylons. Langdon’s daybag weighed him down as he climbed. “The stone pyramid,” he said, “I still don’t understand —”

“Not here,” Bellamy interrupted. “We’ll examine it in the light. I know a safe place.”

Langdon doubted such a place existed for anyone who had just physically assaulted the director of the CIA’s Office of Security.

As the two men reached the top of the stairs, they entered a wide hallway of Italian marble, stucco, and gold leaf. The hall was lined with eight pairs of statues — all depicting the goddess Minerva. Bellamy pressed on, leading Langdon eastward, through a vaulted archway, into a far grander space.

Even in the dim, after-hours lighting, the library’s great hall shone with the classical grandeur of an opulent European palace. Seventy-five feet overhead, stained-glass skylights glistened between paneled beams adorned with rare “aluminum leaf” — a metal that was considered to be more precious than gold at one time. Beneath that, a stately course of paired pillars lined the second-floor balcony, accessible by two magnificent curling staircases whose newel posts supported giant bronze female figures raising torches of enlightenment.

In a bizarre attempt to reflect this theme of modern enlightenment and yet stay within the decorative register of Renaissance architecture, the stairway banisters had been carved with cupidlike putti portrayed as modern scientists. An angelic electrician holding a telephone? A cherubic entomologist with a specimen box? Langdon wondered what Bernini would have thought.

“We’ll talk over here,” Bellamy said, leading Langdon past the bulletproof display cases that contained the library’s two most valuable books — the Giant Bible of Mainz, handwritten in the 1450s, and America’s copy of the Gutenberg Bible, one of only three perfect vellum copies in the world. Fittingly, the vaulted ceiling overhead bore John White Alexander’s six-panel painting titled The Evolution of the Book.

Bellamy strode directly to a pair of elegant double doors at the center rear of the east-corridor wall. Langdon knew what room lay beyond those doors, but it seemed a strange choice for a conversation. Notwithstanding the irony of talking in a space filled with “Silence Please” signs, this room hardly seemed like a “safe place.” Located dead center of the library’s cruciform-shaped floor plan, this chamber served as the heart of the building. Hiding in here was like breaking into a cathedral and hiding on the altar.

Nonetheless, Bellamy unlocked the doors, stepped into the darkness beyond, and groped for the lights. When he flipped the switch, one of America’s great architectural masterpieces seemed to materialize out of thin air.

The famous reading room was a feast for the senses. A voluminous octagon rose 160 feet at its center, its eight sides finished in chocolate-brown Tennessee marble, cream-colored Siena marble, and apple-red Algerian marble. Because it was lit from eight angles, no shadows fell anywhere, creating the effect that the room itself was glowing.

“Some say it’s the most striking room in Washington,” Bellamy said, ushering Langdon inside.

Maybe in the whole world, Langdon thought as he stepped across the threshold. As always, his gaze first ascended straight up to the towering central collar, where rays of arabesque coffers curled down the dome to an upper balcony. Encircling the room, sixteen bronze “portrait” statues peered down from the balustrade. Beneath them, a stunning arcade of archways formed a lower balcony. Down at floor level, three concentric circles of burnished wood desks radiated out from the massive octagonal circulation desk.

Langdon returned his focus to Bellamy, who was now propping the room’s double doors wide open. “I thought we were hiding,” Langdon said, confused.

“If anyone enters the building,” Bellamy said, “I want to hear them coming.”

“But won’t they find us instantly in here?”

“No matter where we hide, they’ll find us. But if anyone corners us in this building, you’ll be very glad I chose this room.”

Langdon had no idea why, but Bellamy apparently wasn’t looking to discuss it. He was already on the move toward the center of the room, where he selected one of the available reading desks, pulled up two chairs, and flipped on the reading light. Then he motioned to Langdon’s bag.

“Okay, Professor, let’s have a closer look.”

Not wanting to risk scratching its polished surface with a rough piece of granite, Langdon hoisted his entire bag onto the desk and unzipped it, folding the sides all the way down to reveal the pyramid inside. Warren Bellamy adjusted the reading lamp and studied the pyramid carefully. He ran his fingers over the unusual engraving.

“I assume you recognize this language?” Bellamy asked.

“Of course,” Langdon replied, eyeing the sixteen symbols.

Known as the Freemason’s Cipher, this encoded language had been used for private communication among early Masonic brothers. The encryption method had been abandoned long ago for one simple reason — it was much too easy to break. Most of the students in Langdon’s senior symbology seminar could break this code in about five minutes. Langdon, with a pencil and paper, could do it in under sixty seconds.

The notorious breakability of this centuries-old encryption scheme now presented a couple of paradoxes. First, the claim that Langdon was the only person on earth who could break it was absurd. Second, for Sato to suggest that a Masonic cipher was an issue of national security was like her suggesting our nuclear launch codes were encrypted with a Cracker Jack decoder ring. Langdon was still struggling to believe any of it. This pyramid is a map? Pointing to the lost wisdom of the ages?

“Robert,” Bellamy said, his tone grave. “Did Director Sato tell you why she is so interested in this?”

Langdon shook his head. “Not specifically. She just kept saying it was an

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