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Then again, the OS was rumored to have eyes everywhere. For all Anderson knew, they had a direct feed of U.S. Capitol security cameras. This incident did not match OS directives in any way, although the timing of the call seemed too coincidental to Anderson to be about anything other than this severed hand.

“Chief?” The guard was holding the phone out to him like a hot potato. “You need to take this call right now. It’s…” He paused and silently mouthed two syllables. “SA-TO.”

Anderson squinted hard at the man. You’ve got to be kidding. He felt his palms begin to sweat. Sato is handling this personally?

The overlord of the Office of Security — Director Inoue Sato — was a legend in the intelligence community. Born inside the fences of a Japanese internment camp in Manzanar, California, in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, Sato was a toughened survivor who had never forgotten the horrors of war, or the perils of insufficient military intelligence. Now, having risen to one of the most secretive and potent posts in U.S. intelligence work, Sato had proven an uncompromising patriot as well as a terrifying enemy to any who stood in opposition. Seldom seen but universally feared, the OS director cruised the deep waters of the CIA like a leviathan who surfaced only to devour its prey.

Anderson had met Sato face-to-face only once, and the memory of looking into those cold black eyes was enough to make him count his blessings that he would be having this conversation by telephone.

Anderson took the phone and brought it to his lips. “Director Sato,” he said in as friendly a voice as possible. “This is Chief Anderson. How may I —”

“There is a man in your building to whom I need to speak immediately.” The OS director’s voice was unmistakable — like gravel grating on a chalkboard. Throat cancer surgery had left Sato with a profoundly unnerving intonation and a repulsive neck scar to match. “I want you to find him for me immediately.”

That’s all? You want me to page someone? Anderson felt suddenly hopeful that maybe the timing of this call was pure coincidence. “Who are you looking for?”

“His name is Robert Langdon. I believe he is inside your building right now.”

Langdon? The name sounded vaguely familiar, but Anderson couldn’t quite place it. He was now wondering if Sato knew about the hand. “I’m in the Rotunda at the moment,” Anderson said, “but we’ve got some tourists here… hold on.” He lowered his phone and called out to the group, “Folks, is there anyone here by the name of Langdon?”

After a short silence, a deep voice replied from the crowd of tourists. “Yes. I’m Robert Langdon.”

Sato knows all. Anderson craned his neck, trying to see who had spoken up.

The same man who had been trying to get to him earlier stepped away from the others. He looked distraught… but familiar somehow.

Anderson raised the phone to his lips. “Yes, Mr. Langdon is here.”

“Put him on,” Sato said coarsely.

Anderson exhaled. Better him than me. “Hold on.” He waved Langdon over. As Langdon approached, Anderson suddenly realized why the name sounded familiar. I just read an article about this guy. What the hell is he doing here?

Despite Langdon’s six-foot frame and athletic build, Anderson saw none of the cold, hardened edge he expected from a man famous for surviving an explosion at the Vatican and a manhunt in Paris. This guy eluded the French police… in loafers? He looked more like someone Anderson would expect to find hearthside in some Ivy League library reading Dostoyevsky.

“Mr. Langdon?” Anderson said, walking halfway to meet him. “I’m Chief Anderson. I handle security here. You have a phone call.”

“For me?” Langdon’s blue eyes looked anxious and uncertain.

Anderson held out the phone. “It’s the CIA’s Office of Security.”

“I’ve never heard of it.”

Anderson smiled ominously. “Well, sir, it’s heard of you.”

Langdon put the phone to his ear. “Yes?”

“Robert Langdon?” Director Sato’s harsh voice blared in the tiny speaker, loud enough that Anderson could hear.

“Yes?” Langdon replied.

Anderson stepped closer to hear what Sato was saying.

“This is Director Inoue Sato, Mr. Langdon. I am handling a crisis at the moment, and I believe you have information that can help me.”

Langdon looked hopeful. “Is this about Peter Solomon? Do you know where he is?!”

Peter Solomon? Anderson felt entirely out of the loop.

“Professor,” Sato replied. “I am asking the questions at the moment.”

“Peter Solomon is in very serious trouble,” Langdon exclaimed. “Some madman just —”

“Excuse me,” Sato said, cutting him off.

Anderson cringed. Bad move. Interrupting a top CIA official’s line of questioning was a mistake only a civilian would make. I thought Langdon was supposed to be smart.

“Listen carefully,” Sato said. “As we speak, this nation is facing a crisis. I have been advised that you have information that can help me avert it. Now, I am going to ask you again. What information do you possess?”

Langdon looked lost. “Director, I have no idea what you’re talking about. All I’m concerned with is finding Peter and —”

“No idea?” Sato challenged.

Anderson saw Langdon bristle. The professor now took a more aggressive tone. “No, sir. No damned idea at all.” Anderson winced. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Robert Langdon had just made a very costly mistake in dealing with Director Sato.

Incredibly, Anderson now realized it was too late. To his astonishment, Director Sato had just appeared on the far side of the Rotunda, and was approaching fast behind Langdon. Sato is in the building! Anderson held his breath and braced for impact. Langdon has no idea.

The director’s dark form drew closer, phone held to ear, black eyes locked like two lasers on Langdon’s back.

Langdon clutched the police chief’s phone and felt a rising frustration as the OS director pressed him. “I’m sorry, sir,” Langdon said tersely, “but I can’t read your mind. What do you want from me?”

“What do I want from you?” The OS director’s grating voice crackled through Langdon’s phone, scraping and hollow, like that of a dying man with strep throat.

As the man spoke, Langdon felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned and his eyes were drawn down… directly into the face of a tiny Japanese woman. She had a fierce expression, a mottled complexion, thinning hair, tobacco-stained teeth, and an unsettling white scar that sliced horizontally across her neck. The woman’s gnarled hand held a cell phone to her ear, and when her lips moved, Langdon heard the familiar raspy voice through his cell phone.

“What do I want from you, Professor?” She calmly closed her phone and glared at him. “For starters, you can stop calling me ‘sir.’ ”

Langdon stared, mortified. “Ma’am, I… apologize. Our connection was poor and —”

“Our connection was fine, Professor,” she said. “And I have an extremely low tolerance for bullshit.”

CHAPTER 17

Director Inoue Sato was a fearsome specimen — a bristly tempest of a woman who stood a mere four feet ten inches. She was bone thin, with jagged features and a dermatological condition known as vitiligo, which gave her complexion the mottled look of coarse granite blotched with lichen. Her rumpled blue pantsuit hung on her emaciated frame like a loose sack, the open-necked blouse doing nothing to hide the scar across her neck. It had been noted by her coworkers that Sato’s only acquiescence to physical vanity appeared to be that of plucking her substantial mustache.

For over a decade, Inoue Sato had overseen the CIA’s Office of Security. She possessed an off-the-chart IQ and chillingly accurate instincts, a combination which girded her with a self-confidence that made her terrifying to anyone who could not perform the impossible. Not even a terminal diagnosis of aggressive throat cancer had knocked her from her perch. The battle had cost her one month of work, half her voice box, and a third of her body weight, but she returned to the office as if nothing had happened. Inoue Sato appeared to be indestructible.

Robert Langdon suspected he was probably not the first to mistake Sato for a man on the phone, but the director was still glaring at him with simmering black eyes.

“Again, my apologies, ma’am,” Langdon said. “I’m still trying to get my bearings here — the person who claims to have Peter Solomon tricked me into coming to D.C. this evening.” He pulled the fax from his jacket. “This is what he sent me earlier. I wrote down the tail number of the plane he sent, so maybe if you call the FAA and track the —”

Sato’s tiny hand shot out and snatched the sheet of paper. She stuck it in her pocket without even opening it. “Professor, I am running this investigation, and until you start telling me what I want to know, I suggest you not speak unless spoken to.”

Sato now spun to the police chief.

“Chief Anderson,” she said, stepping entirely too close and staring up at him through tiny black eyes, “would you care to tell me what the hell is going on here? The guard at the east gate told me you found a human hand on the floor. Is that true?”

Anderson stepped to the side and revealed the object in the center of the floor. “Yes, ma’am, only a few minutes ago.”

She glanced at the hand as if it were nothing more than a misplaced piece of clothing. “And yet you didn’t mention it to me when I called?”

“I… I thought you knew.”

“Do not lie to me.”

Anderson wilted under her gaze, but his voice remained confident. “Ma’am, this situation is under control.”

“I really doubt that,” Sato said, with equal confidence.

“A forensics team is on the way. Whoever did this may have left fingerprints.”

Sato looked skeptical. “I think someone clever enough to walk through your security checkpoint with a human hand is probably clever enough not to leave fingerprints.”

“That may be true, but I have a responsibility to investigate.”

“Actually, I am relieving you of your responsibility as of this moment. I’m taking over.”

Anderson stiffened. “This is not exactly OS domain, is it?”

“Absolutely. This is an issue of national security.”

Peter’s hand? Langdon wondered, watching their exchange in a daze. National security? Langdon was sensing that his own urgent goal of finding Peter was not Sato’s. The OS director seemed to be on another page entirely.

Anderson looked puzzled as well. “National security? With all due respect, ma’am —”

“The last I checked,” she interrupted, “I outrank you. I suggest you do exactly as I say, and that you do it without question.”

Anderson nodded and swallowed hard. “But shouldn’t we at least print the fingers to confirm the hand belongs to Peter Solomon?”

“I’ll confirm it,” Langdon said, feeling a sickening certainty. “I recognize his ring… and his hand.” He paused. “The tattoos are new, though. Someone did that to him recently.”

“I’m sorry?” Sato looked unnerved for the first time since arriving. “The hand is tattooed?”

Langdon nodded. “The thumb has a crown. And the index finger a star.”

Sato pulled out a pair of glasses and walked toward the hand, circling like a shark.

“Also,” Langdon said, “although you can’t see the other three fingers, I’m certain they will have tattoos on the fingertips as well.”

Sato looked intrigued by the comment and motioned to Anderson. “Chief, can you look at the other fingertips for us, please?”

Anderson crouched down beside the hand, being careful not to touch it. He put his cheek near the floor and looked up under the clenched fingertips. “He’s right, ma’am. All of the fingertips have tattoos, although I can’t quite see what the other —”

“A sun, a lantern, and a key,” Langdon said flatly.

Sato turned fully to Langdon now, her small eyes appraising him. “And how exactly would you know that?”

Langdon stared back. “The image of a human hand, marked in this way on the fingertips, is a very old icon. It’s known as ‘the Hand of the Mysteries.’ ”

Anderson stood up abruptly. “This thing has a name?”

Langdon nodded. “It’s one of the most secretive icons of the ancient world.”

Sato cocked her head. “Then might I ask what the hell it’s doing in the middle of the U.S. Capitol?”

Langdon wished he would wake up from this nightmare. “Traditionally, ma’am, it was used as an invitation.”

“An invitation… to what?” she demanded.

Langdon looked down at the symbols on his friend’s severed hand. “For centuries, the Hand of the Mysteries served as a mystical summons. Basically, it’s an invitation to receive secret knowledge — protected wisdom known only to an elite few.”

Sato folded her thin arms and stared up at him with jet-black eyes. “Well, Professor, for someone who claims to have no clue why he’s here… you’re doing quite well so far.”

CHAPTER 18

Katherine Solomon donned her white lab coat and began her usual arrival routine — her “rounds” as her brother called them.

Like a nervous parent checking on a sleeping baby, Katherine poked her head into the mechanical room. The hydrogen fuel cell was running smoothly, its backup tanks all safely nestled in their racks.

Katherine continued down the hall to the data-storage room. As always, the two redundant holographic backup units hummed safely within their temperature-controlled vault. All of my research, she thought, gazing in through the three-inch-thick shatterproof glass. Holographic data-storage devices, unlike their refrigerator-size ancestors, looked more like sleek stereo components, each perched atop a columnar pedestal.

Both of her lab’s holographic drives were synchronized and identical — serving as redundant backups to safeguard identical copies of her work. Most backup protocols advocated a secondary backup system off-site in case of earthquake, fire, or theft, but Katherine and her brother agreed that secrecy was paramount; once this data left the building to an off-site server, they could no longer be certain it would stay private.

Content that everything was running smoothly here, she headed back down the hallway. As she rounded the corner, however, she spotted something unexpected across the lab. What in the world? A muted glow was glinting off all the equipment. She hurried in to have a look, surprised to see light emanating from behind the Plexiglas wall of the control room.

He’s here. Katherine flew across the lab, arriving at the control-room door and heaving it open. “Peter!” she said, running in. The plump woman seated at the control room’s terminal jumped up. “Oh my God! Katherine! You scared me!”

Trish Dunne — the only other person on earth allowed back here — was Katherine’s metasystems analyst and seldom worked weekends. The twenty-six-year-old redhead was a genius data modeler and had signed a nondisclosure document worthy of the KGB. Tonight, she was apparently analyzing data on the control room’s plasma wall — a huge flat-screen display that looked like something out of NASA mission control.

“Sorry,” Trish said. “I didn’t know you were here yet. I was trying to finish up before you and your brother arrived.”

“Have you spoken to him? He’s late and he’s not answering his phone.”

Trish shook her head. “I bet he’s still trying to figure out how to use that new iPhone you gave him.”

Katherine appreciated Trish’s good humor, and Trish’s presence here had just given her an idea. “Actually, I’m glad you’re in tonight. You might be able to help me with something, if you don’t mind?”

“Whatever it is, I’m sure it beats football.”

Katherine took a deep breath, calming her mind. “I’m not sure how to explain this, but earlier today, I heard an unusual story…”

Trish Dunne didn’t know what story Katherine Solomon had heard, but clearly it had her on edge. Her boss’s usually calm gray eyes looked anxious, and she had tucked her hair behind her ears three times since entering the room — a nervous “tell,” as Trish called it. Brilliant scientist. Lousy poker player.

“To me,” Katherine said, “this story sounds like fiction… an old legend. And yet…” She paused, tucking a wisp of hair behind her ears once again.

“And yet?”

Katherine sighed. “And yet I was told today by a trusted source that the legend is true.”

“Okay…” Where is she going with this?

“I’m going to talk to my brother about it, but it occurs to me that maybe you can help me shed some light on it before I do. I’d love to know if this legend has ever been corroborated anywhere else in history.”

“In all of history?”

Katherine nodded. “Anywhere in the world, in any language, at any point in history.”

Strange request, Trish thought, but certainly feasible. Ten years ago, the task would have been impossible. Today, however, with the Internet, the World Wide Web, and the ongoing digitization of the great libraries and museums in the world, Katherine’s goal could be achieved by using a relatively simple search engine equipped with an army of translation modules and some well-chosen keywords.

“No problem,” Trish said. Many of the lab’s research books contained passages in ancient languages, and so Trish was often asked to write specialized Optical Character Recognition translation modules to generate English text from obscure languages. She had to be the only metasystems specialist on earth who had built OCR translation modules in Old Frisian, Maek, and Akkadian.

The modules would help, but the trick to building an effective search spider was all in choosing the right key words. Unique but not overly restrictive.

Katherine looked to be a step ahead of Trish and was already jotting down possible keywords on a slip of paper. Katherine had written down several when she paused, thought a moment, and then wrote several more. “Okay,” she finally said, handing Trish the slip of paper.

Trish perused the list of search strings, and her eyes grew wide. What kind of crazy legend is Katherine investigating? “You want me to search for all of these key phrases?” One of the words Trish didn’t even recognize. Is that even English? “Do you really think we’ll find all of these in one place? Verbatim?”

“I’d like to try.”

Trish would have said impossible, but the I-word was banned here. Katherine considered it a dangerous mind-set in a field that often transformed preconceived falsehoods into confirmed truths. Trish Dunne seriously doubted this key-phrase search would fall into that category.

“How long for results?” Katherine asked.

“A few minutes to write the spider and launch it. After that, maybe fifteen for the spider to exhaust itself.”

“So fast?” Katherine looked encouraged.

Trish nodded. Traditional search engines often required a full day to crawl across the entire online universe, find new documents, digest their content, and add it to their searchable database. But this was not the kind of search spider Trish would write.

“I’ll write a program called a delegator,” Trish explained. “It’s not entirely kosher, but it’s fast. Essentially, it’s a program that orders other people’s search engines to do our work. Most databases have a search function built in — libraries, museums, universities, governments. So I write a spider that finds their search engines, inputs your keywords, and asks them to search. This way, we harness the power of thousands of engines, working in unison.”

Katherine looked impressed. “Parallel processing.”

A kind of metasystem. “I’ll call you if I get anything.”

“I appreciate it, Trish.” Katherine patted her on the back and headed for the door. “I’ll be in the library.”

Trish settled in to write the program. Coding a search spider was a menial task far below her skill level, but Trish Dunne didn’t care. She would do anything for Katherine Solomon. Sometimes Trish still couldn’t believe the good fortune that had brought her here.

You’ve come a long way, baby.

Just over a year ago, Trish had quit her job as a metasystems analyst in one of the high-tech industry’s many cubicle farms. In her off-hours, she did some freelance programming and started an industry blog — “Future Applications in Computational Metasystem Analysis” — although she doubted anyone read it. Then one evening her phone rang.

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