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Then, with his last few seconds of air, Robert Langdon shared the secret of how to decipher the Masonic Pyramid.
As he finished speaking, the liquid rose around his lips. Instinctively, Langdon drew a final breath and clamped his mouth shut. A moment later, the fluid covered him entirely, reaching the top of his tomb and spreading out across the Plexiglas.
He did it, Mal’akh realized. Langdon figured out how to solve the pyramid.
The answer was so simple. So obvious.
Beneath the window, the submerged face of Robert Langdon stared up at him with desperate and beseeching eyes.
Mal’akh shook his head at him and slowly mouthed the words: “Thank you, Professor. Enjoy the afterlife.”
As a serious swimmer, Robert Langdon had often wondered what it would feel like to drown. He now knew he was going to learn firsthand. Although he could hold his breath longer than most people, he could already feel his body reacting to the absence of air. Carbon dioxide was accumulating in his blood, bringing with it the instinctual urge to inhale. Do not breathe! The reflex to inhale was increasing in intensity with each passing moment. Langdon knew very soon he would reach what was called the breath-hold breakpoint — that critical moment at which a person could no longer voluntarily hold his breath.
Open the lid! Langdon’s instinct was to pound and struggle, but he knew better than to waste valuable oxygen. All he could do was stare up through the blur of water above him and hope. The world outside was now only a hazy patch of light above the Plexiglas window. His core muscles had begun burning, and he knew hypoxia was setting in.
Suddenly a beautiful and ghostly face appeared, gazing down at him. It was Katherine, her soft features looking almost ethereal through the veil of liquid. Their eyes met through the Plexiglas window, and for an instant, Langdon thought he was saved. Katherine! Then he heard her muted cries of horror and realized she was being held there by their captor. The tattooed monster was forcing her to bear witness to what was about to happen.
Katherine, I’m sorry…
In this strange, dark place, trapped underwater, Langdon strained to comprehend that these would be his final moments of life. Soon he would cease to exist… everything he was… or had ever been… or would ever be… was ending. When his brain died, all of the memories held in his gray matter, along with all of the knowledge he had acquired, would simply evaporate in a flood of chemical reactions.
In this moment, Robert Langdon realized his true insignificance in the universe. It was as lonely and humbling a feeling as he had ever experienced. Almost thankfully, he could feel the breath-hold breakpoint arriving.
The moment was upon him.
Langdon’s lungs forced out their spent contents, collapsing in eager preparation to inhale. Still he held out an instant longer. His final second. Then, like a man no longer able to hold his hand to a burning stove, he gave himself over to fate.
Reflex overruled reason.
His lips parted.
His lungs expanded.
And the liquid came pouring in.
The pain that filled his chest was greater than Langdon had ever imagined. The liquid burned as it poured into his lungs. Instantly, the pain shot upward into his skull, and he felt like his head was being crushed in a vise. There was great thundering in his ears, and through it all, Katherine Solomon was screaming.
There was a blinding flash of light.
And then blackness.
Robert Langdon was gone.
Katherine Solomon had stopped screaming. The drowning she had just witnessed had left her catatonic, virtually paralyzed with shock and despair.
Beneath the Plexiglas window, Langdon’s dead eyes stared past her into empty space. His frozen expression was one of pain and regret. The last tiny air bubbles trickled out of his lifeless mouth, and then, as if consenting to give up his ghost, the Harvard professor slowly began sinking to the bottom of the tank… where he disappeared into the shadows.
He’s gone. Katherine felt numb.
The tattooed man reached down, and with pitiless finality, he slid the small viewing window closed, sealing Langdon’s corpse inside.
Then he smiled at her. “Shall we?”
Before Katherine could respond, he hoisted her grief-stricken body onto his shoulder, turned out the light, and carried her out of the room. With a few powerful strides, he transported her to the end of the hall, into a large space that seemed to be bathed in a reddish-purple light. The room smelled like incense. He carried her to a square table in the center of the room and dropped her hard on her back, knocking the wind out of her. The surface felt rough and cold. Is this stone?
Katherine had hardly gotten her bearings before the man had removed the wire from her wrists and ankles. Instinctively, she attempted to fight him off, but her cramped arms and legs barely responded. He now began strapping her to the table with heavy leather bands, cinching one strap across her knees and then buckling a second across her hips, pinning her arms at her sides. Then he placed a final strap across her sternum, just above her breasts.
It had all taken only moments, and Katherine was again immobilized. Her wrists and ankles throbbed now as the circulation returned to her limbs.
“Open your mouth,” the man whispered, licking his own tattooed lips.
Katherine clenched her teeth in revulsion.
The man again reached out with his index finger and ran it slowly around her lips, making her skin crawl. She clenched her teeth tighter. The tattooed man chuckled and, using his other hand, found a pressure point on her neck and squeezed. Katherine’s jaw instantly dropped open. She could feel his finger entering her mouth and running along her tongue. She gagged and tried to bite it, but the finger was already gone. Still grinning, he raised his moist fingertip before her eyes. Then he closed his eyes and, once again, rubbed her saliva into the bare circle of flesh on his head.
The man sighed and slowly opened his eyes. Then, with an eerie calm, he turned and left the room.
In the sudden silence, Katherine could feel her heart pounding. Directly over her, an unusual series of lights seemed to be modulating from purple red to a deep crimson, illuminating the room’s low ceiling. When she saw the ceiling, all she could do was stare. Every inch was covered with drawings. The mind-boggling collage above her appeared to depict the celestial sky. Stars, planets, and constellations mingled with astrological symbols, charts, and formulas. There were arrows predicting elliptical orbits, geometric symbols indicating angles of ascension, and zodiacal creatures peering down at her. It looked like a mad scientist had gotten loose in the Sistine Chapel.
Turning her head, Katherine looked away, but the wall to her left was no better. A series of candles on medieval floor stands shed a flickering glow on a wall that was completely hidden beneath pages of text, photos, and drawings. Some of the pages looked like papyrus or vellum torn from ancient books; others were obviously from newer texts; mixed in were photographs, drawings, maps, and schematics; all of them appeared to have been glued to the wall with meticulous care. A spiderweb of strings had been thumbtacked across them, interconnecting them in limitless chaotic possibilities.
Katherine again looked away, turning her head in the other direction.
Unfortunately, this provided the most terrifying view of all.
Adjacent to the stone slab on which she was strapped, there stood a small side counter that instantly reminded her of an instrument table from a hospital operating room. On the counter was arranged a series of objects — among them a syringe, a vial of dark liquid… and a large knife with a bone handle and a blade hewn of iron burnished to an unusually high shine.
My God… what is he planning to do to me?
When CIA systems security specialist Rick Parrish finally loped into Nola Kaye’s office, he was carrying a single sheet of paper.
“What took you so long?!” Nola demanded. I told you to come down immediately!
“Sorry,” he said, pushing up his bottle-bottom glasses on his long nose. “I was trying to gather more information for you, but —”
“Just show me what you’ve got.”
Parrish handed her the printout. “It’s a redaction, but you get the gist.”
Nola scanned the page in amazement.
“I’m still trying to figure out how a hacker got access,” Parrish said, “but it looks like a delegator spider hijacked one of our search —”
“Forget that!” Nola blurted, glancing up from the page. “What the hell is the CIA doing with a classified file about pyramids, ancient portals, and engraved symbolons?”
“That’s what took me so long. I was trying to see what document was being targeted, so I traced the file path.” Parrish paused, clearing his throat. “This document turns out to be on a partition personally assigned to… the CIA director himself.”
Nola wheeled, staring in disbelief. Sato’s boss has a file about the Masonic Pyramid? She knew that the current director, along with many other top CIA executives, was a high-ranking Mason, but Nola could not imagine any of them keeping Masonic secrets on a CIA computer.
Then again, considering what she had witnessed in the last twenty-four hours, anything was possible.
Agent Simkins was lying on his stomach, ensconced in the bushes of Franklin Square. His eyes were trained on the columned entry of the Almas Temple. Nothing. No lights had come on inside, and no one had approached the door. He turned his head and checked on Bellamy. The man was pacing alone in the middle of the park, looking cold. Really cold. Simkins could see him shaking and shivering.
His phone vibrated. It was Sato.
“How overdue is our target?” she demanded.
Simkins checked his chronograph. “Target said twenty minutes. It’s been almost forty. Something’s wrong.”
“He’s not coming,” Sato said. “It’s over.”
Simkins knew she was right. “Any word from Hartmann?”
“No, he never checked in from Kalorama Heights. I can’t reach him.”
Simkins stiffened. If this was true, then something was definitely wrong.
“I just called field support,” Sato said, “and they can’t find him either.”
Holy shit. “Do they have a GPS location on the Escalade?”
“Yeah. A residential address in Kalorama Heights,” Sato said. “Gather your men. We’re pulling out.”
Sato clicked off her phone and gazed out at the majestic skyline of her nation’s capital. An icy wind whipped through her light jacket, and she wrapped her arms around herself to stay warm. Director Inoue Sato was not a woman who often felt cold… or fear. At the moment, however, she was feeling both.
Mal’akh wore only his silk loincloth as he dashed up the ramp, through the steel door, and out through the painting into his living room. I need to prepare quickly. He glanced over at the dead CIA agent in the foyer. This home is no longer safe.
Carrying the stone pyramid in one hand, Mal’akh strode directly to his first-floor study and sat down at his laptop computer. As he logged in, he pictured Langdon downstairs and wondered how many days or even weeks would pass before the submerged corpse was discovered in the secret basement. It made no difference. Mal’akh would be long gone by then.
Langdon has served his role… brilliantly.
Not only had Langdon reunited the pieces of the Masonic Pyramid, he had figured out how to solve the arcane grid of symbols on the base. At first glance, the symbols seemed indecipherable… and yet the answer was simple… staring them in the face.
Mal’akh’s laptop sprang to life, the screen displaying the same e-mail he had received earlier — a photograph of a glowing capstone, partially blocked by Warren Bellamy’s finger.
within The Order
████ Franklin Square
Eight… Franklin Square, Katherine had told Mal’akh. She had also admitted that CIA agents were staking out Franklin Square, hoping to capture Mal’akh and also figure out what order was being referenced by the capstone. The Masons? The Shriners? The Rosicrucians?
None of these, Mal’akh now knew. Langdon saw the truth.
Ten minutes earlier, with liquid rising around his face, the Harvard professor had figured out the key to solving the pyramid. “The Order Eight Franklin Square!” he had shouted, terror in his eyes. “The secret hides within The Order Eight Franklin Square!”
At first, Mal’akh failed to understand his meaning.
“It’s not an address!” Langdon yelled, his mouth pressed to the Plexiglas window. “The Order Eight Franklin Square! It’s a magic square!” Then he said something about Albrecht Dürer… and how the pyramid’s first code was a clue to breaking this final one.
Mal’akh was familiar with magic squares — kameas, as the early mystics called them. The ancient text De Occulta Philosophia described in detail the mystical power of magic squares and the methods for designing powerful sigils based on magical grids of numbers. Now Langdon was telling him that a magic square held the key to deciphering the base of the pyramid?
“You need an eight-by-eight magic square!” the professor had been yelling, his lips the only part of his body above the liquid. “Magic squares are categorized in orders! A three-by-three square is an ‘order three’! A four-by-four square is an ‘order four’! You need an ‘order eight’!”
The liquid had been about to engulf Langdon entirely, and the professor drew one last desperate breath and shouted out something about a famous Mason… an American forefather… a scientist, mystic, mathematician, inventor… as well as the creator of the mystical kamea that bore his name to this day.
In a flash, Mal’akh knew Langdon was right.
Now, breathless with anticipation, Mal’akh sat upstairs at his laptop. He ran a quick Web search, received dozens of hits, chose one, and began reading.
THE ORDER EIGHT FRANKLIN SQUARE
One of history’s best-known magic squares is the order-eight square published in 1769 by American scientist Benjamin Franklin, and which became famous for its inclusion of never-before-seen “bent diagonal summations.” Franklin’s obsession with this mystical art form most likely stemmed from his personal associations with the prominent alchemists and mystics of his day, as well as his own belief in astrology, which were the underpinnings for the predictions made in his Poor Richard’s Almanack.
Mal’akh studied Franklin’s famous creation — a unique arrangement of the numbers 1 through 64 — in which every row, column, and diagonal added up to the same magical constant. The secret hides within The Order Eight Franklin Square.
Mal’akh smiled. Trembling with excitement, he grabbed the stone pyramid and flipped it over, examining the base.
These sixty-four symbols needed to be reorganized and arranged in a different order, their sequence defined by the numbers in Franklin’s magic square. Although Mal’akh could not imagine how this chaotic grid of symbols would suddenly make sense in a different order, he had faith in the ancient promise.
Ordo ab chao.
Heart racing, he took out a sheet of paper and quickly drew an empty eight-by-eight grid. Then he began inserting the symbols, one by one, in their newly defined positions. Almost immediately, to his astonishment, the grid began making sense.
Order from chaos!
He completed the entire decryption and stared in disbelief at the solution before him. A stark image had taken shape. The jumbled grid had been transformed… reorganized… and although Mal’akh could not grasp the meaning of the entire message, he understood enough… enough to know exactly where he was now headed.
The pyramid points the way.
The grid pointed to one of the world’s great mystical locations. Incredibly, it was the same location at which Mal’akh had always fantasized he would complete his journey.
The stone table felt cold beneath Katherine Solomon’s back.
Horrifying images of Robert’s death continued to swirl through her mind, along with thoughts of her brother. Is Peter dead, too? The strange knife on the nearby table kept bringing flashes of what might lie in store for her as well.
Is this really the end?
Oddly, her thoughts turned abruptly to her research… to Noetic Science… and to her recent breakthroughs. All of it lost… up in smoke. She would never be able to share with the world everything she had learned. Her most shocking discovery had taken place only a few months ago, and the results had the potential to redefine the way humans thought about death. Strangely, thinking now of that experiment… was bringing her an unexpected solace.
As a young girl, Katherine Solomon had often wondered if there was life after death. Does heaven exist? What happens when we die? As she grew older, her studies in science quickly erased any fanciful notions of heaven, hell, or the afterlife. The concept of “life after death,” she came to accept, was a human construct… a fairy tale designed to soften the horrifying truth that was our mortality.
Or so I believed…
A year ago, Katherine and her brother had been discussing one of philosophy’s most enduring questions — the existence of the human soul — specifically the issue of whether or not humans possessed some kind of consciousness capable of survival outside of the body.
They both sensed that such a human soul probably did exist. Most ancient philosophies concurred. Buddhist and Brahminical wisdom endorsed metempsychosis — the transmigration of the soul into a new body after death; Platonists defined the body as a “prison” from which the soul escaped; and the Stoics called the soul apospasma tou theu — “a particle of God” — and believed it was recalled by God upon death.
The existence of the human soul, Katherine noted with some frustration, was probably a concept that would never be scientifically proven. Confirming that a consciousness survived outside the human body after death was akin to exhaling a puff of smoke and hoping to find it years later.
After their discussion, Katherine had a strange notion. Her brother had mentioned the Book of Genesis and its description of the soul as Neshemah — a kind of spiritual “intelligence” that was separate from the body. It occurred to Katherine that the word intelligence suggested the presence of thought. Noetic Science clearly suggested that thoughts had mass, and so it stood to reason, then, that the human soul might therefore also have mass.