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Home > Inferno (Robert Langdon #4)(12)

Inferno (Robert Langdon #4)(12)
Author: Dan Brown

The call ended.

Langdon felt a fresh wave of remorse engulfing him. From the sounds of the message, Dr. Marconi had been permitting Sienna to work at the hospital. Now Langdon’s presence had cost Marconi his life, and Sienna’s instinct to save a stranger had dire implications for her future.

Just then a door closed loudly at the far end of the apartment.

She’s back.

A moment later, the answering machine blared. “Sienna, eez Danikova! Where you?!”

Langdon winced, knowing what Sienna was about to hear. As the message played, Langdon quickly put away the playbill, neatening the desk. Then he slipped back across the hall into the bathroom, feeling uncomfortable about his glimpse into Sienna’s past.

Ten seconds later, there was a soft knock on the bathroom door.

“I’ll leave your clothes on the doorknob,” Sienna said, her voice ragged with emotion.

“Thank you so much,” Langdon replied.

“When you’re done, please come out to the kitchen,” she added. “There’s something important I need to show you before we call anyone.”

Sienna walked tiredly down the hall to the apartment’s modest bedroom. Retrieving a pair of blue jeans and a sweater from the dresser, she carried them into her bathroom.

Locking her eyes with her own reflection in the mirror, she reached up, grabbed a clutch of her thick blond ponytail, and pulled down hard, sliding the wig from her bald scalp.

A hairless thirty-two-year-old woman stared back at her from the mirror.

Sienna had endured no shortage of challenges in her life, and although she had trained herself to rely on intellect to overcome hardship, her current predicament had shaken her on a deeply emotional level.

She set the wig aside and washed her face and hands. After drying off, she changed her clothes and put the wig back on, straightening it carefully. Self-pity was an impulse Sienna seldom tolerated, but now, as the tears welled up from deep within, she knew she had no choice but to let them come.

And so she did.

She cried for the life she could not control.

She cried for the mentor who had died before her eyes.

She cried for the profound loneliness that filled her heart.

But, above all, she cried for the future … which suddenly felt so uncertain.

CHAPTER 9

Belowdecks on the luxury vessel The Mendacium, facilitator Laurence Knowlton sat in his sealed glass cubicle and stared in disbelief at his computer monitor, having just previewed the video their client had left behind.

I’m supposed to upload this to the media tomorrow morning?

In his ten years with the Consortium, Knowlton had performed all kinds of strange tasks that he knew fell somewhere between dishonest and illegal. Working within a moral gray area was commonplace at the Consortium—an organization whose lone ethical high ground was that they would do whatever it took to keep a promise to a client.

We follow through. No questions asked. No matter what.

The prospect of uploading this video, however, had left Knowlton unsettled. In the past, no matter what bizarre tasks he had performed, he always understood the rationale … grasped the motives … comprehended the desired outcome.

And yet this video was baffling.

Something about it felt different.

Much different.

Sitting back down at his computer, Knowlton restarted the video file, hoping a second viewing might shed more light. He turned up the volume and settled in for the nine-minute show.

As before, the video began with the soft lapping of water in the eerie water-filled cavern where everything was bathed in a numinous red light. Again the camera plunged down through the surface of the illuminated water to view the silt-covered floor of the cavern. And again, Knowlton read the text on the submerged plaque:

IN THIS PLACE, ON THIS DATE, THE WORLD WAS CHANGED FOREVER.

That the polished plaque was signed by the Consortium’s client was disquieting. That the date was tomorrow … left Knowlton increasingly concerned. It was what followed, however, that had truly set Knowlton on edge.

The camera now panned to the left to reveal a startling object hovering underwater just beside the plaque.

Here, tethered to the floor by a short filament, was an undulating sphere of thin plastic. Delicate and wobbling like an oversize soap bubble, the transparent shape floated like an underwater balloon … inflated not with helium, but with some kind of gelatinous, yellow-brown liquid. The amorphous bag was distended and appeared to be about a foot in diameter, and within its transparent walls, the murky cloud of liquid seemed to swirl slowly, like the eye of a silently growing storm.

Jesus, Knowlton thought, feeling clammy. The suspended bag looked even more ominous the second time around.

Slowly, the image faded to black.

A new image appeared—the cavern’s damp wall, dancing with the rippling reflections of the illuminated lagoon. On the wall, a shadow appeared … the shadow of a man … standing in the cavern.

But the man’s head was misshapen … badly.

Instead of a nose, the man had a long beak … as if he were half bird.

When he spoke, his voice was muffled … and he spoke with an eerie eloquence … a measured cadence … as if he were the narrator in some kind of classical chorus.

Knowlton sat motionless, barely breathing, as the beaked shadow spoke.

I am the Shade.

If you are watching this, then it means my soul is finally at rest.

Driven underground, I must speak to the world from deep within the earth, exiled to this gloomy cavern where the bloodred waters collect in the lagoon that reflects no stars.

But this is my paradise … the perfect womb for my fragile child.

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