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Every time Langdon lectured on the symbology of America, his students were confounded to learn that the true intentions of our nation’s forefathers had absolutely nothing to do with what so many politicians now claimed.

America’s intended destiny has been lost to history.

The forefathers who founded this capital city first named her “Rome.” They had named her river the Tiber and erected a classical capital of pantheons and temples, all adorned with images of history’s great gods and goddesses — Apollo, Minerva, Venus, Helios, Vulcan, Jupiter. In her center, as in many of the great classical cities, the founders had erected an enduring tribute to the ancients — the Egyptian obelisk. This obelisk, larger even than Cairo’s or Alexandria’s, rose 555 feet into the sky, more than thirty stories, proclaiming thanks and honor to the demigod forefather for whom this capital city took its newer name.

Washington.

Now, centuries later, despite America’s separation of church and state, this state-sponsored Rotunda glistened with ancient religious symbolism. There were over a dozen different gods in the Rotunda — more than the original Pantheon in Rome. Of course, the Roman Pantheon had been converted to Christianity in 609… but this pantheon was never converted; vestiges of its true history still remained in plain view.

“As you may know,” Langdon said, “this Rotunda was designed as a tribute to one of Rome’s most venerated mystical shrines. The Temple of Vesta.”

“As in the vestal virgins?” Sato looked doubtful that Rome’s virginal guardians of the flame had anything to do with the U.S. Capitol Building.

“The Temple of Vesta in Rome,” Langdon said, “was circular, with a gaping hole in the floor, through which the sacred fire of enlightenment could be tended by a sisterhood of virgins whose job it was to ensure the flame never went out.”

Sato shrugged. “This Rotunda is a circle, but I see no gaping hole in this floor.”

“No, not anymore, but for years the center of this room had a large opening precisely where Peter’s hand is now.” Langdon motioned to the floor. “In fact, you can still see the marks in the floor from the railing that kept people from falling in.”

“What?” Sato demanded, scrutinizing the floor. “I’ve never heard that.”

“Looks like he’s right.” Anderson pointed out the circle of iron nubs where the posts had once been. “I’ve seen these before, but I never had any idea why they were there.”

You’re not alone, Langdon thought, imagining the thousands of people every day, including famous lawmakers, who strode across the center of the Rotunda having no idea there was once a day when they would have plunged down into the Capitol Crypt — the level beneath the Rotunda floor.

“The hole in the floor,” Langdon told them, “was eventually covered, but for a good while, those who visited the Rotunda could see straight down to the fire that burned below.”

Sato turned. “Fire? In the U.S. Capitol?”

“More of a large torch, actually — an eternal flame that burned in the crypt directly beneath us. It was supposed to be visible through the hole in the floor, making this room a modern Temple of Vesta. This building even had its own vestal virgin — a federal employee called the Keeper of the Crypt — who successfully kept the flame burning for fifty years, until politics, religion, and smoke damage snuffed out the idea.”

Both Anderson and Sato looked surprised.

Nowadays, the only reminder that a flame once burned here was the four-pointed star compass embedded in the crypt floor one story below them — a symbol of America’s eternal flame, which once shed illumination toward the four corners of the New World.

“So, Professor,” Sato said, “your contention is that the man who left Peter’s hand here knew all this?”

“Clearly. And much, much more. There are symbols all over this room that reflect a belief in the Ancient Mysteries.”

“Secret wisdom,” Sato said with more than a hint of sarcasm in her voice. “Knowledge that lets men acquire godlike powers?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“That hardly fits with the Christian underpinnings of this country.”

“So it would seem, but it’s true. This transformation of man into God is called apotheosis. Whether or not you’re aware of it, this theme — transforming man into god — is the core element in this Rotunda’s symbolism.”

“Apotheosis?” Anderson spun with a startled look of recognition.

“Yes.” Anderson works here. He knows. “The word apotheosis literally means ‘divine transformation’ — that of man becoming God. It’s from the ancient Greek: apo — ‘to become,’ theos — ‘god.’ ”

Anderson looked amazed. “Apotheosis means ‘to become God’? I had no idea.”

“What am I missing?” Sato demanded.

“Ma’am,” Langdon said, “the largest painting in this building is called The Apotheosis of Washington. And it clearly depicts George Washington being transformed into a god.”

Sato looked doubtful. “I’ve never seen anything of the sort.”

“Actually, I’m sure you have.” Langdon raised his index finger, pointing straight up. “It’s directly over your head.”

CHAPTER 21

The Apotheosis of Washington — a 4,664-square-foot fresco that covers the canopy of the Capitol Rotunda — was completed in 1865 by Constantino Brumidi.

Known as “The Michelangelo of the Capitol,” Brumidi had laid claim to the Capitol Rotunda in the same way Michelangelo had laid claim to the Sistine Chapel, by painting a fresco on the room’s most lofty canvas — the ceiling. Like Michelangelo, Brumidi had done some of his finest work inside the Vatican. Brumidi, however, immigrated to America in 1852, abandoning God’s largest shrine in favor of a new shrine, the U.S. Capitol, which now glistened with examples of his mastery — from the trompe l’oeil of the Brumidi Corridors to the frieze ceiling of the Vice President’s Room. And yet it was the enormous image hovering above the Capitol Rotunda that most historians considered to be Brumidi’s masterwork.

Robert Langdon gazed up at the massive fresco that covered the ceiling. He usually enjoyed his students’ startled reactions to this fresco’s bizarre imagery, but at the moment he simply felt trapped in a nightmare he had yet to understand.

Director Sato was standing next to him with her hands on her hips, frowning up at the distant ceiling. Langdon sensed she was having the same reaction many had when they first stopped to examine the painting at the core of their nation.

Utter confusion.

You’re not alone, Langdon thought. For most people, The Apotheosis of Washington got stranger and stranger the longer they looked at it. “That’s George Washington on the central panel,” Langdon said, pointing 180 feet upward into the middle of the dome. “As you can see, he’s dressed in white robes, attended by thirteen maidens, and ascending on a cloud above mortal man. This is the moment of his apotheosis… his transformation into a god.”

Sato and Anderson said nothing.

“Nearby,” Langdon continued, “you can see a strange, anachronistic series of figures: ancient gods presenting our forefathers with advanced knowledge. There’s Minerva giving technological inspiration to our nation’s great inventors — Ben Franklin, Robert Fulton, Samuel Morse.” Langdon pointed them out one by one. “And over there is Vulcan helping us build a steam engine. Beside them is Neptune demonstrating how to lay the transatlantic cable. Beside that is Ceres, goddess of grain and root of our word cereal; she’s sitting on the McCormick reaper, the farming breakthrough that enabled this country to become a world leader in food production. The painting quite overtly portrays our forefathers receiving great wisdom from the gods.” He lowered his head, looking at Sato now. “Knowledge is power, and the right knowledge lets man perform miraculous, almost godlike tasks.”

Sato dropped her gaze back down to Langdon and rubbed her neck. “Laying a phone cable is a far cry from being a god.”

“Perhaps to a modern man,” Langdon replied. “But if George Washington knew that we had become a race that possessed the power to speak to one another across oceans, fly at the speed of sound, and set foot on our moon, he would assume that we had become gods, capable of miraculous tasks.” He paused. “In the words of futurist Arthur C. Clarke, ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ ”

Sato pursed her lips, apparently deep in thought. She glanced down at the hand, and then followed the direction of the outstretched index finger up into the dome. “Professor, you were told, ‘Peter will point the way.’ Is that correct?”

“Yes, ma’am, but —”

“Chief,” Sato said, turning away from Langdon, “can you get us a closer look at the painting?”

Anderson nodded. “There’s a catwalk around the interior of the dome.” Langdon looked way, way up to the tiny railing visible just beneath the painting and felt his body go rigid. “There’s no need to go up there.” He had experienced that seldom-visited catwalk once before, as the guest of a U.S. senator and his wife, and he had almost fainted from the dizzying height and perilous walkway.

“No need?” Sato demanded. “Professor, we have a man who believes this room contains a portal that has the potential to make him a god; we have a ceiling fresco that symbolizes the transformation of a man into a god; and we have a hand pointing straight at that painting. It seems everything is urging us upward.”

“Actually,” Anderson interjected, glancing up, “not many people know this, but there is one hexagonal coffer in the dome that actually swings open like a portal, and you can peer down through it and —”

“Wait a second,” Langdon said, “you’re missing the point. The portal this man is looking for is a figurative portal — a gateway that doesn’t exist. When he said, ‘Peter will point the way,’ he was talking in metaphorical terms. This pointing-hand gesture — with its index finger and thumb extended upward — is a well-known symbol of the Ancient Mysteries, and it appears all over the world in ancient art. This same gesture appears in three of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous encoded masterpieces — The Last Supper, Adoration of the Magi, and Saint John the Baptist. It’s a symbol of man’s mystical connection to God.” As above, so below. The madman’s bizarre choice of words was starting to feel more relevant now.

“I’ve never seen it before,” Sato said.

Then watch ESPN, Langdon thought, always amused to see professional athletes point skyward in gratitude to God after a touchdown or home run. He wondered how many knew they were continuing a pre-Christian mystical tradition of acknowledging the mystical power above, which, for one brief moment, had transformed them into a god capable of miraculous feats.

“If it’s of any help,” Langdon said, “Peter’s hand is not the first such hand to make an appearance in this Rotunda.”

Sato eyed him like he was insane. “I beg your pardon?”

Langdon motioned to her BlackBerry. “Google ‘George Washington Zeus.’ ”

Sato looked uncertain but started typing. Anderson inched toward her, looking over her shoulder intently.

Langdon said, “This Rotunda was once dominated by a massive sculpture of a bare-chested George Washington… depicted as a god. He sat in the same exact pose as Zeus in the Pantheon, bare chest exposed, left hand holding a sword, right hand raised with thumb and finger extended.”

Sato had apparently found an online image, because Anderson was staring at her BlackBerry in shock. “Hold on, that’s George Washington?”

“Yes,” Langdon said. “Depicted as Zeus.”

“Look at his hand,” Anderson said, still peering over Sato’s shoulder. “His right hand is in the same exact position as Mr. Solomon’s.”

As I said, Langdon thought, Peter’s hand is not the first to make an appearance in this room. When Horatio Greenough’s statue of a naked George Washington was first unveiled in the Rotunda, many joked that Washington must be reaching skyward in a desperate attempt to find some clothes. As American religious ideals changed, however, the joking criticism turned to controversy, and the statue was removed, banished to a shed in the east garden. Currently, it made its home at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, where those who saw it had no reason to suspect that it was one of the last vestigial links to a time when the father of the country had watched over the U.S. Capitol as a god… like Zeus watching over the Pantheon.

Sato began dialing a number on her BlackBerry, apparently seeing this as an opportune moment to check in with her staff. “What have you got?” She listened patiently. “I see…” She glanced directly at Langdon, then at Peter’s hand. “You’re certain?” She listened a moment longer. “Okay, thanks.” She hung up and turned back toward Langdon. “My support staff did some research and confirms the existence of your so-called Hand of the Mysteries, corroborating everything you said: five fingertip markings — the star, the sun, the key, the crown, and the lantern — as well as the fact that this hand served as an ancient invitation to learn secret wisdom.”

“I’m glad,” Langdon said.

“Don’t be,” she replied curtly. “It appears we’re now at a dead end until you share whatever it is you’re still not telling me.”

“Ma’am?”

Sato stepped toward him. “We’ve come full circle, Professor. You’ve told me nothing I could not have learned from my own staff. And so I will ask you once more. Why were you brought here tonight? What makes you so special? What is it that you alone know?”

“We’ve been through this,” Langdon fired back. “I don’t know why this guy thinks I know anything at all!”

Langdon was half tempted to demand how the hell Sato knew that he was in the Capitol tonight, but they’d been through that, too. Sato isn’t talking. “If I knew the next step,” he told her, “I’d tell you. But I don’t. Traditionally, the Hand of the Mysteries is extended by a teacher to a student. And then, shortly afterward, the hand is followed up with a set of instructions… directions to a temple, the name of the master who will teach you — something! But all this guy left for us is five tattoos! Hardly —” Langdon stopped short.

Sato eyed him. “What is it?”

Langdon’s eyes shot back to the hand. Five tattoos. He now realized that what he was saying might not be entirely true.

“Professor?” Sato pressed.

Langdon inched toward the gruesome object. Peter will point the way.

“Earlier, it crossed my mind that maybe this guy had left an object clenched in Peter’s palm — a map, or a letter, or a set of directions.”

“He didn’t,” Anderson said. “As you can see, those three fingers are not clenched tightly.”

“You’re right,” Langdon said. “But it occurs to me…” He crouched down now, trying to see up under the fingers to the hidden part of Peter’s palm. “Maybe it’s not written on paper.”

“Tattooed?” Anderson said.

Langdon nodded.

“Do you see anything on the palm?” Sato asked.

Langdon crouched lower, trying to peer up under the loosely clenched fingers. “The angle is impossible. I can’t —”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Sato said, moving toward him. “Just open the damned thing!”

Anderson stepped in front of her. “Ma’am! We should really wait for forensics before we touch —”

“I want some answers,” Sato said, pushing past him. She crouched down, edging Langdon away from the hand.

Langdon stood up and watched in disbelief as Sato pulled a pen from her pocket, sliding it carefully under the three clenched fingers. Then, one by one, she pried each finger upward until the hand stood fully open, with its palm visible.

She glanced up at Langdon, and a thin smile spread across her face. “Right again, Professor.”

CHAPTER 22

Pacing the library, Katherine Solomon pulled back the sleeve of her lab coat and checked her watch. She was not a woman accustomed to waiting, but at the moment, she felt as if her whole world were on hold. She was waiting for Trish’s search-spider results, she was waiting for word from her brother, and also, she was waiting for a callback from the man who was responsible for this entire troubling situation.

I wish he hadn’t told me, she thought. Normally, Katherine was extremely careful about making new acquaintances, and although she had met this man for the first time only this afternoon, he had earned her trust in a matter of minutes. Completely.

His call had come this afternoon while Katherine was at home enjoying her usual Sunday-afternoon pleasure of catching up on the week’s scientific journals.

“Ms. Solomon?” an unusually airy voice had said. “My name is Dr. Christopher Abaddon. I was hoping I might speak to you for a moment about your brother?”

“I’m sorry, who is this?” she had demanded. And how did you get my private cell-phone number?

“Dr. Christopher Abaddon.”

Katherine did not recognize the name.

The man cleared his throat, as if the situation had just become awkward. “I apologize, Ms. Solomon. I was under the impression your brother had told you about me. I’m his doctor. Your cell number was listed as his emergency contact.”

Katherine’s heart skipped. Emergency contact? “Is something wrong?”

“No… I don’t think so,” the man said. “Your brother missed an appointment this morning, and I can’t reach him on any of his numbers. He never misses appointments without calling, and I’m just a little worried. I hesitated to phone you, but —”

“No, no, not at all, I appreciate the concern.” Katherine was still trying to place the doctor’s name. “I haven’t spoken to my brother since yesterday morning, but he probably just forgot to turn on his cell.” Katherine had recently given him a new iPhone, and he still hadn’t taken the time to figure out how to use it.

“You say you’re his doctor?” she asked. Does Peter have an illness he’s keeping from me?

There was a weighty pause on the line. “I’m terribly sorry, but I’ve obviously just made a rather serious professional error by calling you. Your brother told me you were aware of his visits to me, but now I see that’s not the case.”

My brother lied to his doctor? Katherine’s concern was now growing steadily. “Is he sick?”

“I’m sorry, Ms. Solomon, doctor-patient confidentiality precludes me from discussing your brother’s condition, and I’ve already said too much by admitting he is my patient. I’m going to hang up now, but if you hear from him today, please ask him to call me so I know he’s okay.”

“Wait!” Katherine said. “Please tell me what’s wrong with Peter!”

Dr. Abaddon exhaled, sounding displeased with his mistake. “Ms. Solomon, I can hear you’re upset, and I don’t blame you. I’m sure your brother is fine. He was in my office just yesterday.”

“Yesterday? And he’s scheduled again today? This sounds urgent.”

The man heaved a sigh. “I suggest we give him a little more time before we —”

“I’m coming by your office right now,” Katherine said, heading for the door. “Where are you located?”

Silence.

“Dr. Christopher Abaddon?” Katherine said. “I can look up your address myself, or you can simply give it to me. Either way, I’m coming over.”

The doctor paused. “If I meet with you, Ms. Solomon, would you please do me the courtesy of saying nothing to your brother until I’ve had a chance to explain my misstep?”

“That’s fine.”

“Thank you. My office is in Kalorama Heights.” He gave her an address.

Twenty minutes later, Katherine Solomon was navigating the stately streets of Kalorama Heights. She had phoned all of her brother’s numbers with no reply. She did not feel overly concerned about her brother’s whereabouts, and yet, the news that he was secretly seeing a doctor… was troubling.

When Katherine finally located the address, she stared up at the building in confusion. This is a doctor’s office?

The opulent mansion before her had a wrought-iron security fence, electronic cameras, and lush grounds. As she slowed to double-check the address, one of the security cameras rotated toward her, and the gate swung open. Tentatively, Katherine drove up the driveway and parked next to a six-car garage and a stretch limo.

What kind of doctor is this guy?

As she got out of her car, the front door of the mansion opened, and an elegant figure drifted out onto the landing. He was handsome, exceptionally tall, and younger than she had imagined. Even so, he projected the sophistication and polish of an older man. He was impeccably dressed in a dark suit and tie, and his thick blond hair was immaculately coiffed.

“Ms. Solomon, I’m Dr. Christopher Abaddon,” he said, his voice a breathy whisper. When they shook hands, his skin felt smooth and well tended.

“Katherine Solomon,” she said, trying not to stare at his skin, which was unusually smooth and bronzed. Is he wearing makeup?

Katherine felt a growing disquiet as she stepped into the home’s beautifully

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