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Home > Inferno (Robert Langdon #4)(7)

Inferno (Robert Langdon #4)(7)
Author: Dan Brown

A searing bolt of pain traveled directly to Langdon’s head. He felt his eyes rolling back, and then everything went black.

CHAPTER 5

The shrill ring of his phone drew the provost’s gaze from the calming mist of the Adriatic, and he quickly stepped back into his stateroom office.

It’s about time, he thought, eager for news.

The computer screen on his desk had flickered to life, informing him that the incoming call was from a Swedish Sectra Tiger XS personal voice-encrypting phone, which had been redirected through four untraceable routers before being connected to his ship.

He donned his headset. “This is the provost,” he answered, his words slow and meticulous. “Go ahead.”

“It’s Vayentha,” the voice replied.

The provost sensed an unusual nervousness in her tone. Field agents rarely spoke to the provost directly, and even more rarely did they remain in his employ after a debacle like the one last night. Nonetheless, the provost had required an agent on-site to help remedy the crisis, and Vayentha had been the best person for the job.

“I have an update,” Vayentha said.

The provost was silent, his cue for her to continue.

When she spoke, her tone was emotionless, clearly an attempt at professionalism. “Langdon has escaped,” she said. “He has the object.”

The provost sat down at his desk and remained silent for a very long time. “Understood,” he finally said. “I imagine he will reach out to the authorities as soon as he possibly can.”

Two decks beneath the provost, in the ship’s secure control center, senior facilitator Laurence Knowlton sat in his private cubicle and noticed that the provost’s encrypted call had ended. He hoped the news was good. The provost’s tension had been palpable for the past two days, and every operative on board sensed there was some kind of high-stakes operation going on.

The stakes are inconceivably high, and Vayentha had better get it right this time.

Knowlton was accustomed to quarterbacking carefully constructed game plans, but this particular scenario had disintegrated into chaos, and the provost had taken over personally.

We’ve moved into uncharted territory.

Although a half-dozen other missions were currently in process around the world, all of them were being serviced by the Consortium’s various field offices, freeing the provost and his staff aboard The Mendacium to focus exclusively on this one.

Their client had jumped to his death several days ago in Florence, but the Consortium still had numerous outstanding services on his docket—specific tasks the man had entrusted to this organization regardless of the circumstances—and the Consortium, as always, intended to follow through without question.

I have my orders, Knowlton thought, fully intending to comply. He exited his soundproofed glass cubicle, walking past a half-dozen other chambers—some transparent, some opaque—in which duty officers were handling other aspects of this same mission.

Knowlton crossed through the thin, processed air of the main control room, nodding to the tech crew, and entered a small walk-in vault containing a dozen strongboxes. He opened one of the boxes and retrieved its contents—in this case, a bright red memory stick. According to the task card attached, the memory stick contained a large video file, which the client had directed them to upload to key media outlets at a specific time tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow’s anonymous upload would be simple enough, but in keeping protocol for all digital files, the flowchart had flagged this file for review today—twenty-four hours prior to delivery—to ensure the Consortium had adequate time to perform any necessary decryption, compiling, or other preparation that might be required before uploading it at the precise hour.

Nothing left to chance.

Knowlton returned to his transparent cubicle and closed the heavy glass door, blocking out the outside world.

He flipped a switch on the wall, and his cubicle instantly turned opaque. For privacy, all of the glass-walled offices aboard The Mendacium were built with “suspended particle device” glass. The transparency of SPD glass was easily controlled by the application or removal of an electric current, which either aligned or randomized millions of tiny rodlike particles suspended within the panel.

Compartmentalization was a cornerstone of the Consortium’s success.

Know only your own mission. Share nothing.

Now, ensconced in his private space, Knowlton inserted the memory stick into his computer and clicked the file to begin his assessment.

Immediately his screen faded to black … and his speakers began playing the soft sound of lapping water. An image slowly appeared on-screen … amorphous and shadowy. Emerging from the darkness, a scene began to take shape … the interior of a cave … or a giant chamber of some sort. The floor of the cavern was water, like an underground lake. Strangely, the water appeared to be illuminated … as if from within.

Knowlton had never seen anything like it. The entire cavern shone with an eerie reddish hue, its pale walls awash with tendril-like reflections of rippling water. What … is this place?

As the lapping continued, the camera began to tilt downward and descend vertically, directly toward the water until the camera pierced the illuminated surface. The sounds of rippling disappeared, replaced by an eerie hush beneath the water. Submerged now, the camera kept descending, moving down through several feet of water until it stopped, focusing on the cavern’s silt-covered floor.

Bolted to the floor was a rectangular plaque of shimmering titanium.

The plaque bore an inscription.

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

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