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“The director’s forums are hosted on his private partition, and yet in order to provide access to employees of all clearance levels, they’re located outside the director’s classified firewall.”
“What are you getting at?” she demanded as they rounded a corner near the Agency cafeteria.
“In a word…” Parrish pointed into the darkness. “That.”
Nola glanced up. Across the plaza in front of them was a massive metal sculpture glimmering in the moonlight.
In an agency that boasted over five hundred pieces of original art, this sculpture — titled Kryptos — was by far the most famous. Greek for “hidden,” Kryptos was the work of American artist James Sanborn and had become something of a legend here at the CIA.
The work consisted of a massive S-shaped panel of copper, set on its edge like a curling metal wall. Engraved into the expansive surface of the wall were nearly two thousand letters… organized into a baffling code. As if this were not enigmatic enough, positioned carefully in the area around the encrypted S-wall were numerous other sculptural elements — granite slabs at odd angles, a compass rose, a magnetic lodestone, and even a message in Morse code that referenced “lucid memory” and “shadow forces.” Most fans believed that these pieces were clues that would reveal how to decipher the sculpture.
Kryptos was art… but it was also an enigma.
Attempting to decipher its encoded secret had become an obsession for cryptologists both inside and outside the CIA. Finally, a few years back, a portion of the code had been broken, and it became national news. Although much of Kryptos’s code remained unsolved to this day, the sections that had been deciphered were so bizarre that they made the sculpture only more mysterious. It referenced secret underground locations, portals that led into ancient tombs, longitudes and latitudes…
Nola could still recall bits and pieces of the deciphered sections: The information was gathered and transmitted underground to an unknown location… It was totally invisible… how’s that possible… they used the earth’s magnetic field…
Nola had never paid much attention to the sculpture or cared if it was ever fully deciphered. At the moment, however, she wanted answers. “Why are you showing me Kryptos?”
Parrish gave her a conspiratorial smile and dramatically extracted a folded sheet of paper from his pocket. “Voilà, the mysterious redacted document you were so concerned about. I accessed the complete text.”
Nola jumped. “You snooped the director’s classified partition?”
“No. That’s what I was getting at earlier. Have a look.” He handed her the file.
Nola seized the page and unfolded it. When she saw the standard Agency headers at the top of the page, she cocked her head in surprise.
This document was not classified. Not even close.
EMPLOYEE DISCUSSION BOARD: KRYPTOS
COMPRESSED STORAGE: THREAD #2456282.5
Nola found herself looking at a series of postings that had been compressed into a single page for more efficient storage.
“Your keyword document,” Rick said, “is some cipher-punks rambling about Kryptos.”
Nola scanned down the document until she spotted a sentence containing a familiar set of keywords.
Jim, the sculpture says it was transmitted to a secret location UNDERGROUND where the info was hidden.
“This text is from the director’s online Kryptos forum,” Rick explained. “The forum’s been going for years. There are literally thousands of postings. I’m not surprised one of them happened to contain all the keywords.”
Nola kept scanning down until she spotted another posting containing keywords.
Even though Mark said the code’s lat/long headings point somewhere in WASHINGTON, D.C., the coordinates he used were off by one degree—Kryptos basically points back to itself.
Parrish walked over to the statue and ran his palm across the cryptic sea of letters. “A lot of this code has yet to be deciphered, and there are plenty of people who think the message might actually relate to ancient Masonic secrets.”
Nola now recalled murmurs of a Masonic/Kryptos link, but she tended to ignore the lunatic fringe. Then again, looking around at the various pieces of the sculpture arranged around the plaza, she realized that it was a code in pieces — a symbolon — just like the Masonic Pyramid.
For a moment, Nola could almost see Kryptos as a modern Masonic Pyramid — a code in many pieces, made of different materials, each playing a role. “Do you think there’s any way Kryptos and the Masonic Pyramid might be hiding the same secret?”
“Who knows?” Parrish shot Kryptos a frustrated look. “I doubt we’ll ever know the whole message. That is, unless someone can convince the director to unlock his safe and sneak a peek at the solution.”
Nola nodded. It was all coming back to her now. When Kryptos was installed, it arrived with a sealed envelope containing a complete decryption of the sculpture’s codes. The sealed solution was entrusted to then — CIA director William Webster, who locked it in his office safe. The document was allegedly still there, having been transferred from director to director over the years.
Strangely, Nola’s thoughts of William Webster sparked her memory, bringing back yet another portion of Kryptos’s deciphered text:
IT’S BURIED OUT THERE SOMEWHERE. WHO KNOWS THE EXACT LOCATION? ONLY WW.
Although nobody knew exactly what was buried out there, most people believed the WW was a reference to William Webster. Nola had heard whispers once that it referred in fact to a man named William Whiston — a Royal Society theologian — although she had never bothered to give it much thought.
Rick was talking again. “I’ve got to admit, I’m not really into artists, but I think this guy Sanborn’s a serious genius. I was just looking online at his Cyrillic Projector project? It shines giant Russian letters from a KGB document on mind control. Freaky.”
Nola was no longer listening. She was examining the paper, where she had found the third key phrase in another posting.
Right, that whole section is verbatim from some famous archaeologist’s diary, telling about the moment he dug down and uncovered an ANCIENT PORTAL that led to the tomb of Tutankhamen.
The archaeologist who was quoted on Kryptos, Nola knew, was in fact famed Egyptologist Howard Carter. The next posting referenced him by name.
I just skimmed the rest of Carter’s field notes online, and it sounds like he found a clay tablet warning the PYRAMID holds dangerous consequences for anyone who disturbs the peace of the pharaoh. A curse! Should we be worried?:)
Nola scowled. “Rick, for God’s sake, this idiot’s pyramid reference isn’t even right. Tutankhamen wasn’t buried in a pyramid. He was buried in the Valley of the Kings. Don’t cryptologists watch the Discovery Channel?”
Parrish shrugged. “Techies.”
Nola now saw the final key phrase.
Guys, you know I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but Jim and Dave had better decipher this ENGRAVED SYMBOLON to unveil its final secret before the world ends in 2012… Ciao.
“Anyhow,” Parrish said, “I figured you’d want to know about the Kryptos forum before you accused the CIA director of harboring classified documentation about an ancient Masonic legend. Somehow, I doubt a man as powerful as the CIA director has time for that sort of thing.”
Nola pictured the Masonic video and its images of all the influential men participating in an ancient rite. If Rick had any idea…
In the end, she knew, whatever Kryptos ultimately revealed, the message definitely had mystical undertones. She gazed up at the gleaming piece of art — a three-dimensional code standing silently at the heart of one of the nation’s premier intelligence agencies — and she wondered if it would ever give up its final secret.
As she and Rick headed back inside, Nola had to smile.
It’s buried out there somewhere.
This is crazy.
Blindfolded, Robert Langdon could see nothing as the Escalade sped southward along the deserted streets. On the seat beside him, Peter Solomon remained silent.
Where is he taking me?
Langdon’s curiosity was a mix of intrigue and apprehension, his imagination in overdrive as it tried desperately to put the pieces together. Peter had not wavered from his claim. The Lost Word? Buried at the bottom of a staircase that’s covered by a massive, engraved stone? It all seemed impossible.
The stone’s alleged engraving was still lodged in Langdon’s memory… and yet the seven symbols, as far as he could tell, made no sense together at all.
The Stonemason’s Square: the symbol of honesty and being “true.”
The letters Au: the scientific abbreviation for the element gold.
The Sigma: the Greek letter S, the mathematical symbol for the sum of all parts.
The Pyramid: the Egyptian symbol of man reaching heavenward.
The Delta: the Greek letter D, the mathematical symbol for change.
Mercury: as depicted by its most ancient alchemical symbol.
The Ouroboros: the symbol of wholeness and at-one-ment.
Solomon still insisted these seven symbols were a “message.” But if this was true, then it was a message Langdon had no idea how to read.
The Escalade slowed suddenly and turned sharply right, onto a different surface, as if into a driveway or access road. Langdon perked up, listening intently for clues as to their whereabouts. They’d been driving for less than ten minutes, and although Langdon had tried to follow in his mind, he had lost his bearings quickly. For all he knew, they were now pulling back into the House of the Temple.
The Escalade came to a stop, and Langdon heard the window roll down.
“Agent Simkins, CIA,” their driver announced. “I believe you’re expecting us.”
“Yes, sir,” a sharp military voice replied. “Director Sato phoned ahead. One moment while I move the security barricade.”
Langdon listened with rising confusion, now sensing they were entering a military base. As the car began moving again, along an unusually smooth stretch of pavement, he turned his head blindly toward Solomon. “Where are we, Peter?” he demanded.
“Do not remove your blindfold.” Peter’s voice was stern.
The vehicle continued a short distance and again slowed to a stop. Simkins killed the engine. More voices. Military. Someone asked for Simkins’s identification. The agent got out and spoke to the men in hushed tones.
Langdon’s door was suddenly being opened, and powerful hands assisted him out of the car. The air felt cold. It was windy.
Solomon was beside him. “Robert, just let Agent Simkins lead you inside.”
Langdon heard metal keys in a lock… and then the creak of a heavy iron door swinging open. It sounded like an ancient bulkhead. Where the hell are they taking me?!
Simkins’s hands guided Langdon in the direction of the metal door. They stepped over a threshold. “Straight ahead, Professor.”
It was suddenly quiet. Dead. Deserted. The air inside smelled sterile and processed.
Simkins and Solomon flanked Langdon now, guiding him blindly down a reverberating corridor. The floor felt like stone beneath his loafers.
Behind them, the metal door slammed loudly, and Langdon jumped. The locks turned. He was sweating now beneath his blindfold. He wanted only to tear it off.
They stopped walking now.
Simkins let go of Langdon’s arm, and there was a series of electronic beeps followed by an unexpected rumble in front of them, which Langdon imagined had to be a security door sliding open automatically.
“Mr. Solomon, you and Mr. Langdon continue on alone. I’ll wait for you here,” Simkins said. “Take my flashlight.”
“Thank you,” Solomon said. “We won’t be long.”
Flashlight?! Langdon’s heart was pounding wildly now.
Peter took Langdon’s arm in his own and inched forward. “Walk with me, Robert.”
They moved slowly together across another threshold, and the security door rumbled shut behind them.
Peter stopped short. “Is something wrong?”
Langdon was suddenly feeling queasy and off balance. “I think I just need to take off this blindfold.”
“Not yet, we’re almost there.”
“Almost where?” Langdon felt a growing heaviness in the pit of his stomach.
“I told you — I’m taking you to see the staircase that descends to the Lost Word.”
“Peter, this isn’t funny!”
“It’s not meant to be. It’s meant to open your mind, Robert. It’s meant to remind you that there are mysteries in this world that even you have yet to lay eyes upon. And before I take one more step with you, I want you to do something for me. I want you to believe… just for an instant… believe in the legend. Believe that you are about to peer down a winding staircase that plunges hundreds of feet to one of humankind’s greatest lost treasures.”
Langdon felt dizzy. As much as he wanted to believe his dear friend, he could not. “Is it much farther?” His velvet hoodwink was drenched in sweat.
“No. Only a few more steps, actually. Through one last door. I’ll open it now.”
Solomon let go of him for a moment, and as he did so, Langdon swayed, feeling light-headed. Unsteady, he reached out for stability, and Peter was quickly back at his side. The sound of a heavy automatic door rumbled in front of them. Peter took Langdon’s arm and they moved forward again.
They inched across another threshold, and the door slid closed behind them.
Langdon immediately sensed that this place, whatever it was, had nothing to do with the world on the other side of the security doors. The air was dank and chilly, like a tomb. The acoustics felt dull and cramped. He felt an irrational bout of claustrophobia settling in.
“A few more steps.” Solomon guided him blindly around a corner and positioned him precisely. Finally, he said, “Take off your blindfold.”
Langdon seized the velvet hoodwink and tore it from his face. He looked all around to find out where he was, but he was still blind. He rubbed his eyes. Nothing. “Peter, it’s pitch-black!”
“Yes, I know. Reach in front of you. There’s a railing. Grasp it.”
Langdon groped in the darkness and found an iron railing.
“Now watch.” He could hear Peter fumbling with something, and suddenly a blazing flashlight beam pierced the darkness. It was pointed at the floor, and before Langdon could take in his surroundings, Solomon directed the flashlight out over the railing and pointed the beam straight down.
Langdon was suddenly staring into a bottomless shaft… an endless winding staircase that plunged deep into the earth. My God! His knees nearly buckled, and he gripped the railing for support. The staircase was a traditional square spiral, and he could see at least thirty landings descending into the earth before the flashlight faded to nothing. I can’t even see the bottom!
“Peter…” he stammered. “What is this place!”
“I’ll take you to the bottom of the staircase in a moment, but before I do, you need to see something else.”
Too overwhelmed to protest, Langdon let Peter guide him away from the stairwell and across the strange little chamber. Peter kept the flashlight trained on the worn stone floor beneath their feet, and Langdon could get no real sense of the space around them… except that it was small.
A tiny stone chamber.
They arrived quickly at the room’s opposite wall, in which was embedded a rectangle of glass. Langdon thought it might be a window into a room beyond, and yet from where he stood, he saw only darkness on the other side.
“Go ahead,” Peter said. “Have a look.”
“What’s in there?” Langdon flashed for an instant on the Chamber of Reflection beneath the Capitol Building, and how he had believed, for a moment, that it might contain a portal to some giant underground cavern.
“Just look, Robert.” Solomon inched him forward. “And brace yourself, because the sight will shock you.”
Having no idea what to expect, Langdon moved toward the glass. As he neared the portal, Peter turned out the flashlight, plunging the tiny chamber into total darkness.
As his eyes adjusted, Langdon groped in front of him, his hands finding the wall, finding the glass, his face moving closer to the transparent portal.
Still only darkness beyond.
He leaned closer… pressing his face to the glass.
Then he saw it.
The wave of shock and disorientation that tore through Langdon’s body reached down inside and spun his internal compass upside down. He nearly fell backward as his mind strained to accept the utterly unanticipated sight that was before him. In his wildest dreams, Robert Langdon would never have guessed what lay on the other side of this glass.
The vision was a glorious sight.
There in the darkness, a brilliant white light shone like a gleaming jewel.
Langdon now understood it all — the barricade on the access road… the guards at the main entrance… the heavy metal door outside… the automatic doors that rumbled open and closed… the heaviness in his stomach… the lightness in his head… and now this tiny stone chamber.
“Robert,” Peter whispered behind him, “sometimes a change of perspective is all it takes to see the light.”
Speechless, Langdon stared out through the window. His gaze traveled into the darkness of the night, traversing more than a mile of empty space, dropping lower… lower… through the darkness… until it came to rest atop the brilliantly illuminated, stark white dome of the U.S. Capitol Building.
Langdon had never seen the Capitol from this perspective — hovering 555 feet in the air atop America’s great Egyptian obelisk. Tonight, for the first time in his life, he had ridden the elevator up to the tiny viewing chamber… at the pinnacle of the Washington Monument.
Robert Langdon stood mesmerized at the glass portal, absorbing the power of the landscape below him. Having ascended unknowingly hundreds of feet into the air, he was now admiring one of the most spectacular vistas he had ever seen.
The shining dome of the U.S. Capitol rose like a mountain at the east end of the National Mall. On either side of the building, two parallel lines of light stretched toward him… the illuminated facades of the Smithsonian museums… beacons of art, history, science, culture.
Langdon now realized to his astonishment that much of what Peter had declared to be true… was in fact true. There is indeed a winding staircase… descending hundreds of feet beneath a massive stone. The huge capstone of this obelisk sat directly over his head, and Langdon now recalled a forgotten bit of trivia that seemed to have eerie relevance: the capstone of the Washington Monument weighed precisely thirty-three hundred pounds.
Again, the number 33.
More startling, however, was the knowledge that this capstone’s ultimate peak, the zenith of this obelisk, was crowned by a tiny, polished tip of aluminum