Nothing is True. Everything is Connected.
Sylum Advent 2020: December 26th

Sylum Advent 2020: December 26th


Summary: Robert Langdon finds himself embroiled in the history and mythos of Washington.
Sylum Timeline: 2017 AD
Author’s Note: You’re getting the rough versions of Parts 1 & 2 during Advent … the completed story will be posted in 2021.

Fact

In 1999, a document was locked securely in the archival safety vault of the CIA.

It is still there.

In cryptic language, it references an ancient portal in an unknown underground location.

The rituals, sciences, artworks, and monuments mentioned in this novel are all genuine.

Every organization referenced here currently exists exactly where it is placed.

Vampires too, are very real.

And they are never to be taken for granted.

Prologue

House of the Temple, Washington D.C.: 8.33pm

The secret was in knowing how to die.

Since time began, it had always been so.

For the Initiate who gazed down into the human skull he cradled in his palms, there was nothing to fear, despite the hollowed bowl of blood red wine it held, bearing a startling resemblance to the Food of the Vampires.

‘Drink it!’ he told himself, ‘You have this once chance!’

As was the traditionally prescribed way, he had begun his journey dressed in the garb of a medieval heretic being led to execution – his loose fitting shirt gaping open at the chest, his left pant leg rolled up to the knee, and his right sleeved folded to the elbow. A heavy noose of rope known as a ‘cable tow’ to The Brethren, hung around his neck.

But that had been long ago.

Now, like those same Brethren all bearing witness, he was dressed as a Master.

Encircling him – adorned in their full regalia of soft lambskin aprons, sashes, and white gloves, around their necks hung the ceremonial Jewels of Office, caught in the muted lighting like spectral eyes – these men held powerful stations in the world outside, but such ranks as those bore no meaning within the Temple walls. For here, all were considered equal, sworn to share their own mystical bond in a holy sanctuary far from the ancient world.

‘I am just blocks away from the White House,’ he thought, knowing full well that power did not always fit on the shoulders of those who craved it.

Located at 1733 Sixteenth Street NW in Washington D.C., was a stunning replica of the Temple of King Mausalus – the original mausoleum, or place to be taken after death.

Two sphinxes weighing 17 tons each, guarded the Great Bronze Door outside.

The rooms within – at least those not open to the public – were a literal labyrinth of various chambers for ritual gatherings, halls for reading, and specially sealed vaults. There was even a hollow wall hiding the earthly remains of two human beings, while at the very center where the Initiate knelt with a skull in his hands, was a perfect cavernous square, where the ceiling soared 100 feet overhead on monolithic columns of green granite. A tiered gallery of dark walnut wood seating finished with hand-crafted pigskin upholstery, framed the room, while a thirty-three foot tall throne dominated the western wall, with a fully concealed pipe organ hidden on the east side.

Ancient symbols seemed to cover every surface in Egyptian, Hebraic, Chemical, Alchemical, Astronomical, and Mathematical Mysteries.

At that moment, however, the room was lit by precisely arrayed candles casting a glow that was only enhanced by a shaft of silver moonlight lancing down from the oculus over the enormous central altar that had itself been carved from a solid block of black marble.

The secret was in knowing how to die…

“It is time,” a voice murmured.

The Initiate’s gaze rose over the white-robed figure who stood before him – The Supreme Worshipful Master.

In his late 50’s, the man was a beloved American Icon, distinguished, robust, massively wealthy. His hair was growing more silver, yet his famous face still reflected a lifetime’s worth of power and intellect.

“Take the Oath,” The Worshipful Master urged, his voice as soft as falling snow, “and complete your journey.”

It had begun, like all such journeys, at the very beginning – the First Degree – when in a similar ritual on a similar night, the same man had blindfolded him with a velvet hood and pressed a ceremonial dagger to his bared chest, demanding ‘Do you declare on your most solemn honor, uninfluenced by mercenary or any other unworthy motive, that you freely and voluntarily offer yourself as a candidate for the mysteries and privileges of this brotherhood?’.

‘I do,’ the Initiate had lied.

But the lies were easy enough.

‘Then let this be a lasting sting to your consciousness,’ the Mater had warned him, ‘and an instant death should you ever betray the secrets to be imparted to you.’

There was strange sense of foreboding, and it amplified the dire warnings he had been given along the way since then:

throat cut from ear to ear…

…tongue torn out by its roots…

…bowels removed and burned…

…scattered to the four winds of heaven…

…heart plucked out and given to the beasts of the field…

“Brother,” The Master said firmly, placing his left hand upon the Initiate’s shoulder, “take the final oath.”

The chamber had fallen deathly silent.

Returning his attention to the skull he still held, he realized the wine looked almost black.

The witnesses were watching him, waiting for him to join their number.

Energized at knowing this moment was the spark that would grant him what he most needed, he drew a breath and spoke aloud the same words that countless other men had uttered all across the world. “May this wine I now drink become a deadly poison to me should I ever knowingly or willfully betray my oath.”

His voice echoed in the hollows of that vast space.

Then all was quiet.

Steadying his hands, the Initiate raised the skull to his lips, closed his eyes, and drank the wine in long, deep swallows, leaving not a single drop within the chalice.

A pleasant warmth suffused his body.

He exhaled, and with an inward smile, gazed up once more at the unsuspecting Master who had so foolishly admitted him into the Brotherhood of Freemasons’ most sacred ranks.

Chapter 1

Sunday, 29th January, 2017

Robert Langdon jolted upright in his all too comfortable leather seat, startled out of the daydream that had for once not been focused on the near drowning of his early childhood.

That he’d actually been thinking about Leigh Teabing was another matter altogether, but still every bit as terrible as those infinitely long hours trapped in the darkness of an old, dank well, desperately treading water because his every breath depended on levels of endurance he never knew he could possess.

But Leo had saved him.

Leo was his life’s completion.

His everything.

Of course, he hadn’t known that as a terrified and exhausted child.

But there was no denying it as a Vampire.

The pull.

The need.

The longing.

Until Teabing cast a shadow too long to ignore, and too dark to avoid.

He’d questioned himself then.

Too much.

He’d doubted.

Feared.

But his love for Leonardo had never failed.

So to hell with Teabing.

The man was a fraud.

“Professor Langdon?” The intercom crackled over his head. “We are on final approach.”

Robert was sitting all alone in the enormous cabin of a Falcon 2000EX Corporate Jet, as it jostled through turbulence and bounced him around. Gathering the lecture notes he’d been trying to review, he simply thrust them into his satchel. He’d only been halfway through ‘Masonic Symbology’ when his mind had drifted into dangerous territory, no doubt prompted by his last phone call to Rome, touching base and keeping Leo apprized of his whereabouts. Sometimes, he felt like a dog on one of those extendable leashes, never too far from his loved ones but free enough to be himself provided he keep checking to make sure the damn thing hadn’t broken.

It also helped that whenever he was lecturing at Harvard, he was watched over by the remarkably competent Jane Rizoli and her Mate Joey Grant. They were Talikut Hunters, and they didn’t ask too many awkward questions about why they were needed from time to time.

Still, there was nothing wrong with him helping out an old friend he’d known for the last 30 years, despite his Mate’s obvious reservations at him taking an unscheduled, last minute trip to D.C. that night.

Peter Solomon was of the utmost trustworthiness, from an influential dynasty of massively wealthy philanthropists. Robert only ever found humility and warmth in the man’s soft gray eyes, and a solid dependability in his words.

Leo had pointed out firmly, how before ‘That Night’, the same could have been said about certain leading members of Lealta Clan, the Commandant of the Swiss Guard, and the Head of Vatican Public Relations.

Robert could only concede on that point, but he chose to go to D.C. anyway because letting people down was not in his nature.

Outside the plane, sun had set, yet he could still make out the slender silhouette of the largest obelisk in the world, as it rose on the horizon to a stunning 554 feet, 7 11/32 inches. He only ever remembered such a figure because it was so odd. Still, it stood at the heart of the United States, surrounded by a meticulously laid out geometry of streets and monuments, radiating outward in a vision of mystical awe.

Robert loved Washington D.C., and as the jet touched down he felt a certain sense of growing excitement over what lay ahead.

The plane taxied steadily to a private terminal somewhere in the vast expanse of Dulles International, and came to a stop.

Langdon scooped up his bag, made sure to thank the pilots, and stepped from the luxurious transportation he’d been traveling in, onto the foldout stairs.

It was coldly bracing.

A blanket of fog crept over the runways, giving the impression of somehow finding himself on marshland rather than misty tarmac.

“Hello! Professor Langdon?” A very British accent greeted him cheerily, and Robert looked up to spy a middle-aged woman hurrying toward him, waving a clipboard as she approached. Her curly black hair peaked from under a stylish wooly cap. “Welcome to Washington, sir!”

“Thank you!” Robert smiled at her happy enthusiasm.

“My name is Pamela. I’m from Passenger Services. If you’ll come with me, your car is waiting.”

Without further ado, he followed her to the Signature Terminal, which stood imperiously, surrounded by gleaming private planes of every make and size.

“I hate to embarrass you, Professor,” Pamela said somewhat sheepishly, “but my book group has read your work on the Sacred Feminine and the Church. What an utterly delicious scandal that one caused! You do enjoy putting the fox in the henhouse, don’t you!”

Robert sighed quietly, grateful she hadn’t wanted to talk about the Vatican, or the Pope. “Scandal wasn’t exactly my intention.” He had to stop himself from saying ‘our intention’, as trying to explain what he wrote with his Mate in a collaborative effort would’ve taken far too long.

“I’m sorry, Professor. Listen to me rattling on. I know you probably get tired of being recognized.”

He glanced down at himself in Harris Tweed, khakis, and loafers. It was pretty standard attire for just about everything in his life from trying to clean Leo’s workshop, to classroom lessons, book jacket covers, and lecture circuit appearances.

Pamela laughed at his expression. “Those turtlenecks you wear are so dated. You’d look much sharper in a tie!”

“I’m not a Board Member at a Fortune 500,” he muttered, “but thank you for the advice. I’ll consider that in future.”

Mercifully, a professional looking man in a dark suit, stepped from the driver’s seat of a Lincoln Town Car that had been parked near the Terminal, and he cut off whatever else it was that Pamela might have to say.

“Professor Langdon? Good even. I’m Charles with Beltway Limousine.” He smartly opened the rear passenger door. “Welcome to Washington.”

Making sure to tip the British lady who loved ties and scandals, Robert climbed into the car, listened to the driver explain the temperature controls and where to find the bottled water, basket of warm muffins, USB ports, refreshing facial spritzer et. al, and wondered why pampering on a simple drive from the airport always felt like one indulgence too many.

Moments later, he was being sped away on a private access road.

As they reached Windsock Drive, the chauffeur consulted his passenger manifest and placed a quick call without ever having to lift his hands from the steering wheel.

“This is Beltway Limousine,” the driver said with brisk efficiency. “I was asked to confirm once my passenger had landed.” He paused, listening. “Of course, sir. Yes, your guest is on the way, and I will deliver him to the Capitol Building by 7pm. You are very welcome, sir.”

He hung up.

Robert smiled to himself, knowing men like Peter Solomon would leave no stone unturned.

His destination lay an hour away, and there was an incredible evening ahead.

The thought of arriving under a veil of secrecy was nothing if not titillating.

He was engrossed in further reviewing his note cards for the lecture he was about to present, when the hum of the car’s tires changed pitch, and he glanced out the window only to realize they were on Memorial Bridge already.

The waters of the Potomac bore a heavy mist over the surface.

The most aptly named ‘Foggy Bottom’ had certainly been a peculiar site on which to construct the nation’s capitol, especially when there had been so many other places available in the New World. But the Forefathers had opted for a soggy riverside marsh on which to lay the cornerstone of their utopian ideal, and Langdon figure that to be a perfect statement on the swamp-like nature of political endeavor.

Across the Tidal Basin, the rounded silhouette of the Jefferson Memorial cast a graceful swathe of light. While directly before them, the Lincoln Memorial’s rigid lines thrust upward austerely.

It was like trying to compare the Pantheon in Rome with the Parthenon in Athens.

But farther away, the great spire of stone he had admired from the air, lanced skyward. It’s architectural inspiration was even older than the Romans or the Greeks.

The monolithic Washington Monument was America’s Egyptian Obelisk.

In the fog, it looked weirdly ungrounded, swaying like the mast of a huge sailing ship.

Just that morning at 4.45am, Robert had plunged elegantly into the Harvard pool, starting his day with 50 laps while he could have the entire facility to himself. Then by 6am, he’d gotten back to the small, highly discreet apartment he kept near the campus, and warmed up some blood for breakfast. It was just as the choice between bagels and bran flakes crossed his mind, that he noticed a blinking red light on his phone’s voicemail display.

The only person who could possibly want to reach him at so ungodly an hour on a Sunday, was his Mate.

Their Bond, however, wasn’t exactly buzzing with a sense of impending crisis or imminent doom.

Curious, he pressed the play button and listened to the message.

‘Good morning, Professor Langdon. I’m so terribly sorry for this early call.’

The voice was masculine with a note of hesitancy and a hint of Southern American.

‘My name is Anthony Jelbart. I’m Peter Solomon’s executive assistant. Mr. Solomon told me you are apt to be an early riser… He has been trying to reach you this morning on short notice, but if you were swimming, I’m assume your cell was switched off. As soon as you receive this message, would be so kind as to call Peter directly? You probably have his new private line already, but if not, it’s 555-329-5746. Thank you so much.’

Langdon felt a pang of instant concern for his old friend, a man who would certainly not be calling anyone at daybreak on a Sunday unless something was very wrong.

They’d met at Princeton University over a series of lectures each of them had given on history, archetypal research, and semiotics. It was a shared perspective that led to a last communication, that led to mutual admiration and association.

Solomon was a quiet man with a powerful heritage, given that his family name appeared in philanthropic circles, and on university buildings all over the United States. Like the Rothschilds in Europe, the Solomons bore an air of mystique about them akin to American royalty.

Peter had inherited the family mantle at a fairly young age after his father’s death from cancer, and now at 58 he had already held a variety of important positions in life, currently service as Head of the Smithsonian Institution.

As Robert sat down behind his desk in the small study he’d managed to fill with assorted stages of research for a new book and reams of data he would need to fulfill it, he flicked on his computer and was surprised to find he’d received an email from Peter too, asking him to call at once.

The now familiar voice of Anthony Jelbart answered when Langdon dialed.

“Office of Peter Solomon. May I help you?”

“Hello, this is Robert Langdon. You left me a message earlier.”

“Yes! Of course!” The young man sounded relieved. “Thank you for getting back so quickly. Mr. Solomon is eager to speak to you. Let me tell him you’re on the line. May I put you on hold?”

“No problem.”

As he waited with the gentle strains of a classical guitar humming through the ether, Robert contemplated whether something might have happened to Peter’s younger sister Katherine. She was the man’s only living family after all. He’d not seen her personally in some time, but had found her name being frequently mentioned in connection with a scientific discipline called ‘Noetics’.

Solomon’s assistant returned to the phone. “My apologies, Professor. Mr. Solomon is trying to step off a conference call. Things are a little chaotic here this morning.”

“That’s not a problem. I can easily call back.”

“Actually, he asked me to fill you in on his reason for contacting you, if you don’t mind?”

“Of course not.”

Anthony inhaled deeply. “as you are undoubtedly aware, Professor, every year here in Washington, the Board of the Smithsonian hosts a private gala to thank our most generous supporters. Many of the country’s cultural elite attend.”

Robert wondered whether being Mated to one of the greatest artists in the history of the world would qualify him as ‘culturally elite’, because it damn well should…

“This year, as is customary,” Peter’s assistant continued, “our dinner will be preceded by a keynote address. We’ve been fortunate enough to secure the National Statuary Hall for that speech.”

“The best room in D.C.!” Langdon enthused, recalling a political lecture he had attended there many years before. It was hard to forget the dramatic semi-circular hall with 500 chairs arranged in perfect arcs to fill it under the watchful gaze of 38 life-size statues. Once upon a time, it had served as the meeting place for the House of Representatives.

“The problem is,” Anthony continued doggedly, “our speaker has fallen ill and has just informed us that she will be unable to give the address.” He paused awkwardly. “This means we are desperate for a replacement speaker, naturally. And Mr. Solomon is rather hoping you would consider filling in.”

“Me?” Robert did a double-take. He had been imagining all kinds of situations for which he could offer his friend moral or physical support, but he hadn’t expected to be required for a speech. “I’m sure Peter could find a far better substitute.”

You are Mr. Solomon’s first choice, Professor, and you are being far too modest. The Smithsonian Institution’s quests would be most thrilled to hear from you. In fact, Mr. Solomon thought you might be able to give the same lecture you presented at Yale a couple of years ago? That way you wouldn’t have to worry about preparing anything off the uff. He said your talk involved symbolism in the architecture of our nation’s, and it sounds absolutely perfect for such a venue, wouldn’t you say?”

Having been trying to recall what exactly he’d presented at Yale, Robert wasn’t so sure. “‘The Masonic History of the US Capitol’ isn’t exactly a barn burner.”

“Mr. Solomon, as you know, is a prominent Mason, and so to are a great many of his professional friends who will also be in attendance. The subject matter would cause much interesting conversation.”

Knowing it would be relatively simple to excavate his notes, given that he kept a thorough record of every talk he’d ever given, Langdon nodded to himself. “Well, I can certainly consider the offer. What date is the event?”

Anthony cleared his throat, sounding decidedly uncomfortable. “Well, actually, sire, it’s tonight.”

“Tonight!?” Robert laughed out loud.

“Ah…yes, that’s why it has been to hectic here this morning. You see, the Smithsonian is in a deeply embarrassing predicament…” The assistant spoke more hurriedly, “Mr. Solomon is ready to send a private jet to Boston for your exclusive use. The flight is only about an hour, and you would likely be back home around midnight. Are you at all familiar with Boston’s Logan Airport?”

“I am,” Langdon admitted reluctantly.

“Wonderful! Would you be willing to meet the plane there at say…five o’clock?”

“You haven’t exactly left me much choice, have you?”

“All anyone wanted is to make Mr. Solomon happy, sir.”

Robert chuckled, knowing Peter could easily have that effect on people. “Alright, tell him I can do it.”

“Outstanding!” Anthony exclaimed, sounding deeply relieved. He went on to supply the jet’s tail number and various other details for the journey, being the very epitome of efficiency.

When Langdon hung up, he had the distinct impression that nobody ever said ‘no’ to his friend.

Not even his old friend!

Returning to breakfast, he knew he’d better call Leonardo.

Chapter 2

The US Capitol Building stands in all its vast, commanding splendor, at the eastern end of the National Mall, on a raised plateau known as Jenkins Hill, 88 feet above the level of the Potomac.

City designer Pierre L’Enfant once described it as ‘a pedestal waiting for a monument’.

With a footprint measuring more than 750 in length and 350 feet wide, it houses over 16 acres of floor space, and nearly 600 rooms, as well as miles of corridors, and approximately 850 doors.

Designed in 19th Century neo-classical terms to echo the grandeur of Ancient Rome – whose own ideals served as inspiration for America’s Founding Fathers in the establishment of their new republic, its laws and culture – it is crowned by a magnificent white dome that overlooks the city, and has become a widely recognized icon.

The security checkpoint for tourists who wish to enter the building, is located in the Visitor’s Center that was constructed entirely underground so as not to blemish or detract from the appearance of the Capitol and it’s grounds. Beneath 2 huge glass skylights, each measuring 30 by 70 feet, one glance upward is more than enough to view the entire Capitol Dome in a single breathtaking pause, but the man with the bald head, who had been lingering in the lobby to conclude a phone call before he came in, was intent only on the Security Guard who studied him from next to the metal detectors.

“Good evening, sir.” The newly hired Alfonso Nunez had already flagged the man as military, not from the sling on his right arm, but from the slight limp, the tattered army-navy surplus coat, and the shaved hair. Those who had once served in the US Armed Forces, where some of the most common visitors to the Capitol too, which made him not exactly a threat, more a comrade needing affirmation of his role in life.

“Hello,” the visitor said quietly, “not a busy night, huh?”

“Be even deader in here next Sunday for the Super Bowl.”

“My money’s on the Patriots.”

“Mine too. If you want to come in, you need to put any metal objects you’re carrying into the dish, please.”

As the visitor duly fumbled to empty the pockets of his coat with the one working hand available to him, Nunez kept watching. Human compassion made for an instinctual allowance where the injured and handicapped were concerned, but Nunez had been well trained to override it. And so he waited while the usual assortment of loose change, keys, and electronic devices were deposited in the nondescript gray colored plastic tray he’d indicated.

“Sprain?” he asked, eyeballing the man’s injured arm, which appeared to have been heavily wrapped in thick bandages.

“Slipped on the ice a week ago. Hurts like hell, even now.”

“Sorry to hear that. Walk through now, please.”

The visitor limped under the arching metal detector, and the machine buzzed loudly in protest. “I’m sorry, I should’ve realized…I still have my ring under these stupid bandages. My finger was too swollen to get it off and I couldn’t bear to have the doctor cut it, so he wrapped right over it.”

“Okay,” Nunez responded, frowning slightly. “I’ll use the wand.”

He ran the long slim device over the visitor’s hand and arm, taking his time with the sling, being careful despite the man’s hissing in pain. He knew his supervisor was probably monitoring his job performance on the closed circuit in the building’s security center, and he seriously needed to keep his employment. It was always better to be cautious anyway.

The visitor winced again.

“Sorry, man,” Nunez muttered, but sure enough the only metal he detected was a large lump on the subject’s injured ring finger. “You’re fine. You can go on in.”

The man started scooping up his belongings from the tray. “Thanks. Guess it’s good to be extra careful.”

“Ain’t that the truth.” As he stored the wand back under his desk, Nunez noticed the guy had a tattoo on each of the two fingers protruding from his bandage – a star on the tip of the index finger, and a crown on the tip of the thumb. “Those tats hurt right on the pads like that?” he asked.

“Less than you might think,” the visitor chuckled.

“Lucky! Mine hurt a lot. I got a mermaid on my back when I was in Boot Camp.”

“A mermaid?” the man chuckled a touch deeper.

“Yeah, the mistakes we make in our youth.”

“Oh, I hear ya. I made a big mistake in my youth too. Now I wake up with her every morning!”

They both laughed as they parted company.

Chapter 3

Just outside Washington D.C. at 4210 Silver Hill Road, Suitland, Maryland, there stands the Smithsonian Museum Support Center – MSC. A vast storage and conservation facility, it houses upward of 54 million collections items in what amounts to 40% of the Smithsonian’s collection not on museum display.

Covering more than 600,000 square feet, it is composed of 5 ‘PODS’, specifically for storage, offices, laboratories, a library, greenhouses, and a biodepository for cryofrozen DNA from plant, animal, and insect life around the world.

Each POD is the size of a football field, and arranged in a ‘one just behind the other’ zigzag patter that makes it highly unusual and very easily distinguished.

Not being open to the public in general – although tours are occasionally made available – the facility and surrounding campus is designated specifically to provide optimum conditions for the study and preservation of the Smithsonian Collections for future generations. To that end, it incorporates the very latest in museum technologies, from physical containment to modern pest managements control in a special CO2 ‘anoxic’ treatment chamber that prevents infestations on woods, fabrics, and biodegradable items.

A state of the art meteorite storage ‘clean’ room even stores the Antarctic Collection in cases flooded with nitrogen gas to ensure these ‘space specimens’ are kept free from Earth contaminants.

Among its most unusual finds are a 44 foot totem pole, the jawbone of a blue whale, sound and paper recordings from endangered and obsolete languages, and a pepper-mill grinding stone that weight 3,646 pounds, as well are diplomatic gifts sent to American Presidents from Martin van Buren onward.

The PODs are separated from the rest of the complex by a 20 foot wide central corridor known to both staff and researchers as ‘The Street’.

It was as her footsteps tapped smartly down the aforementioned Street, that Dr. Katherine Solomon’s cell phone rang.

Overheard, the circulatory system of special ductworks that throbbed a kind of heartbeat for the complex, pulsed thousands of cubic feet of clean air through it’s piping.

It was normally a comfort.

Until suddenly it wasn’t.

At 50 years old, she remained stubbornly unmarried, though her brother urged her to find a Soul Mate. She had, however, despite having the same elegant built and gray eyes as Peter, retained her youthful spirit by simply choosing not to worry about getting older.

She checked the caller ID on her phone, and took a deep breath, fiddling with the stray wisps of black hair that had escaped from her otherwise tightly pinned up bun.

Six miles away, the bald headed visitor to the US Capitol Building, was moving through the corridors with a cell of his own pressed to his ear.

He was patient.

But he would not be ignored.

“Yes?” Katherine finally answered cautiously.

“We need to meet again.”

“Is everything alright?”

“I have new information.”

“Tell me.”

“That which your brother believes to be hidden in D.C….”

“Yes?”

“It can be found.”

“You’re saying…it’s real?” She sounded truly stunned.

He smiled. “Sometimes a legend that endures for centuries…endures for a reason.”

She took a long, slow breath. “Does Peter know?”

“Does it matter?”

She wasn’t entirely sure. “He’s not answering his phone.”

“We need to meet again.”

She knew only that Peter had been keeping secrets from her, and they had never done so before as brother and sister.

Well, save for the strane lab she currently worked in. Peter had gifted it to her as a surprise…

POD 6.

Three times the size of the others, and not yet ready for the planned MSC expansion that would come in the next few years, it had instead been designed with a thermally insulated cinderblock room as the only structure within it’s vast expanse.

A space within a space.

Or, as Peter had put it, ‘A cold dark aircraft hangar, not yet wired for electricity, with nothing but a shoebox in the middle.”.

That shoebox was her laboratory.

Powered by hydrogen fuel cells, it was essentially a sealed, energy neutral environment not connected to anything but the floor on which it sat.

There was no external radiation of any kind inside POD 6.

Nothing could interfere with her experiments – no white noise, not even the light of the sun – which meant stepping from the door into more than 150 yards of total darkness without a flashlight.

‘A leap of faith’, her brother had called it, believing she could never fail to find her way.

It had been a secret designed to unlock many others.

That had been 3 years ago, but as she stepped to the heavy steel door through which even her cell could not go and remain active, she wondered what ‘finding her way’ truly meant.

“I agree,” she answered the man still waiting for her reply. “Tell me when.”

Inserting her card into the door lock, she turned off her phone.

The security keypad lit up, and she typed in her PIN.

The door hissed open with a familiar hollow moaning sound that was met with a blast of cold air just as it had been the very first time her brother had taken her to the POD.

Katherine instantly felt her pulse rate climb.

She had the strangest commute on Earth to reach ‘The Cube’ – as she had come to christen her lab – and bracing herself for the journey in a darkness so thick it was impossible to see her own hand in front of her face, she still wondered where the hell Peter had disappeared to.

Chapter 4

“This is as close as you can get?” Robert Langdon felt a wave of anxiety hit him as his driver parked on First Street, a quarter of a mile from the Capitol Building.

“My apologies, sir. Homeland Security. No vehicles near landmark sites any more. Nothing I can do I’m afraid.”

Langdon checked his Mickey Mouse watch, startled to find it was already 6.50pm.

A construction zone had slowed them down, and he was left with only 10 minutes until he’d be called on stage for his speech.

“Looks like the weather’s turning, sir,” the chauffeur said briskly, hopping out of his seat and opening the rear door of the car. “You’ll want to hurry.”

Robert reached for his wallet in order to offer a tip, but the man waved him off. “Your host for tonight has already added a very generous tip to the charge so you wouldn’t have to.”

“Typical Peter,” Langdon replied. “Okay then, thanks for the ride.”

The first few raindrops began falling just as he reached the concourse that descended into the Visitor Center. He had been anticipating seeing it, given that it was relatively new in relation to the rest of the Capitol, but he hadn’t anticipated it being quite so long a walk.

As the skies seriously threatened to open, he broke into a jog, his loafers proving to be less than helpful as they offered virtually no traction on the slick paving.

Pushing through the revolving door, he took a moment to compose himself and brush off the rain.

The space in which he stood, was a lot more impressive than he’d expected, especially the glass skylights and all that pearlescent glow they allowed for in a construct that managed to seem spacious for not actually being above ground.

He could easily have stayed longer to admire the architecture, but with 5 minutes to showtime he simply put his head down and dashed over to the security checkpoint, where a young Hispanic guard chatted easily with him as the usual pocket emptying and watching removing rigmarole was required.

“Mickey Mouse?” the guy asked, sounding mildly amused.

It wasn’t the first time his wrist wear had drawn attention.

It wouldn’t be the last either.

“Vintage. I wear it to remind myself I should slow down and take life less seriously,” he replied, deadpan.

“I don’t think it’s working,” came the equally deadpan riposte.

Langdon put his satchel through the x-ray machine. “Which way from here to the Statuary Hall?”

The guard gestured to the escalators. “You’ll see the signs pretty fast.”

“Thanks!” Grabbing his bag, Robert hurried on.

Riding the escalator upward, he tried to gather his thoughts, yet his mind turned instead to all those weird and oddly inexplicable ghost stories and spooky events that surrounded so old and so important a building. He put it down to the rain and the darkness, and the surreal power of the place itself.

One of his favorites was the ‘demon cat’ that appeared to terrify the unwary in the Crypt, just before national tragedies and major elections. Then there was the bloodstain on the Gallery Stairs, over which an inordinate number of guests would always trip without fail. The stain was apparently permanent – the blood of Congressman William Preston Taulbee – left as a reminder of the shooting from which he took 11 days to die in 1887. The legend of General John Alexander Logan’s long-dead fully stuffed horse being found in a basement room by renovation workers was also a strange one, but legends tended to linger over what was at least a kernel of truth.

The man who had designed the City of Washington – Pierre L’Enfant – was allegedly still wandering the hall in search of his long overdue financial payment for services rendered, and there were many sighting of a worker who had died falling form the Capitol Dome during its construction, still floating under the cupola, carrying a tray of tools.

Langdon stepped off the escalator and checked the time again.

He had three minutes.

Following the signs for his destination, he began rehearsing his opening remarks in his head.

It was no secret at D.C. had a rich Masonic history, and even the architect of the very building he was racing through – William Thornton – had been a Mason.

So too the man who succeeded him.

And many signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Conspiracy nuts claimed the Masonic Forefathers had concealed powerful secrets across the city, that were hidden on the cornerstones of the Capitol, the White House, and the Supreme Court.

City planners had tried to decipher some meaning behind the layout of its streets, though few ever grasped that L’Enfant’s grand design wasn’t actually completed, as he hid his full intentions and there was never enough money to satisfy the whole vision. In later years, the over all scheme had naturally gotten lost, and made for an experience that was easily as disorienting to visitors as it was to residents.

That he would often open his lecture series on ‘Occult Symbols’ with an image of George Washington dressed in full Masonic regalia before an odd-looking giant wooden tripod that supported a rope and pulley system from which hung a massive block of stone, then go on to explain how it was significant in relation to astrological conditions and Masonic belief in the power of Fate, for that date, that time, that very moment to have been chosen for laying the cornerstone of the Capitol Building.

That was generally enough to keep any audience sitting still and paying rapt attention.

A clock began tolling through the corridors.

It was time.

And he was late.

Passing through the House Connecting Corridor at a run, Langdon headed straight for the door he could see in front of him.

He wasn’t exactly known for having a tendency toward dramatic entrances, so he slowed to a nonchalant stroll, took a couple of deep breaths, buttoned his jacket, and lifted his chin slightly, managing to stride into the National Statuary Hall just as the last chime sounded.

He raised his eyes and smile warmly at his audience, but an instant later his expression changed entirely.

Something was very wrong.

He froze.

The room was just as he remembered it – graceful arched walls of sandstone and Italian plaster set with columns of variegated breccia marble quarried from beside the Potomac River. Between each column stood 38 statues of great Americans ‘illustrious for their historic renown’.

Above them, a gorgeous chandelier hung from the lanterned dom overheard, picking out the golden details of the coffered ceiling as well as the simple black and white marble tiled floor.

It was breath taking.

Except for one small problem.

It was empty.

No rows of chairs.

No audience.

No Peter Solomon.

Still in the doorway, Langdon turned to glance down the South Corridor toward the Rotunda, thinking perhaps the venue had been altered, but all he could see where a few milling tourists.

The clock chimes had long faded.

He was officially late.

Hurrying back into the hallway, hoping to find a Docent, he found his Sire instead, leaning casually against the far wall, and expression of profound disappointment on his face.

Robert blinked rapidly, trying to process what was happening. “Is this some kind of sick joke?” he demanded.

“This is your Mate calling me with a strange tale about you suddenly being too close to Toronto,” Nicolaus replied slowly, as one might do when trying to educate a particularly foolish youngster.

Langdon was neither amused no impressed at either Leo’s overprotective streak, or Nico’s sudden appearance where he was least expected. Mention of Toronto, however, did not go unnoticed.

He pulled out his cell phone and dialed Peter’s number, glaring at the Head of Sylum Clan while waiting for the call to connect.

“Peter Solomon’s office, this is Anthony. May I help you?”

“Anthony!” Langdon said with relief. “I’m glad you’re still there. This is Robert Langdon. There seems to be some confusion about the lecture I was asked to give. I’m standing in the Statuary Hall but there’s no one here.”

Nicolaus stepped forward, took the phone from his Childe without a struggle, and put it on speaker mode before gesturing for him to keep talking as though nothing had happened.

“Has the lecture been moved? Is it in a different room?”

“I don’t believe so, sir. Let me check.”

In Nico’s coat pocket, his own phone had already bluejacked Langdon’s, and The Machine was busy tracing where in the world the mysterious Anthony might be.

“Did you confirm with Mr. Solomon directly, Professor?”

“No! I confirmed with you, Anthony. This morning!”

“Yes, I recall.” There was a brief silence on the line. “That was a bit careless of you, don’t you think?”

Langdon’s confusion turned to hyperawareness. “I beg your pardon?”

“You received a call and and email asking you to reach out to a certain number, which you did. You spoke to a total stranger who said he was Peter Solomon’s assistant. Then you quite willingly boarded a private plane to Washington D.C. and climbed into a waiting car. Is that right?”

A chill rolled down Robert’s spine. “Who the hell is this? And where is Peter?”

“I’m afraid Peter Solomon has no idea you are in Washington today.” The man’s Southern accent disappeared, and his voice morphed into a deeper, more mellifluous growl that Nicolaus felt sure he should recognize but could not yet place. “You are here, Mr. Langdon, because I want you here.”

“What is going on? Who are you?”

“Do not be alarmed, Professor. You have simply been summoned.”

The voice was calm, almost silky, and as Nico felt the phone in his pocket start buzzing urgently, he wondered where the night be going.

Some place hysterical.

With bombs.

And lunatics.

And where exactly was Galileo at that point?”

He gestured for Robert to keep talking.

“Summoned? This is outrageous! Try kidnapped,” Langdon fumed.

“Oh, hardly.” The man’s voice was then quite ridiculously serene. “If I wanted you hurt, I would’ve had several ways to achieve that aim already. Most likely your ride in the car would have sufficed. I could well have had you vanish, never to be seen again.” He let the words hang for a moment. “My intentions are purely noble, I assure you. I would simply like to extend an invitation. I had to get your attention first.”

“No, thank you. You crossed a very serious line tonight, and manipulated me. That hardly makes for a trustworthy relationship.” Langdon was quite an expert on the nature of trust given everything Teabing had done. “I’m handing up…”

“Very unwise,” said the man.

Robert and Nicolaus glanced at each other, neither knowing how far they could push the situation.

“Your window of opportunity is very small if you want to save Peter Solomon’s sou.”

Langdon’s back stiffened. “What did you say?”

“I know you heard me.”

“What do you know about Peter?” Robert demanded, sensing something dark in the way this man had mentioned the word ‘soul’.

“At this point, I know his deepest secrets. Mr. Solomon is my guest, and I can be a most persuasive host.”

“You don’t have Peter.”

“I answered his private cell phone. That should give you pause.”

“Not when you already told me his number had changed, and I wasn’t aware of it.”

Nicolaus grinned at his Childe in recognition that Robert was finally catching on to how he’d been set up.

“I’m glad you are awake now, Professor,” the man on the phone chuckled.

“I’m calling the police.”

“No need. The authorities will be with you shortly.”

“If you have Peter, then put him on so I can talk to him.”

Nicolaus retrieved his cell phone from his coat, and quickly scanned what The Machine needed him to know – which included the statistics on Peter Solomon surviving the night. He had to wonder whether a phone call to Terry and Dino might be in order.

“Impossible I’m afraid. Your friend is currently trapped in a rather unfortunate place.”

“What!” Langdon nearly shrieked.

“He’s in the Araf.”

Sylum’s Clan Leader knew that word, and was itching to inject himself into the conversation, though he knew better than reveal his presence.

“Where?” Robert demanded.

“The Araf? Hamistagan? That place to which your beloved Dante devoted the canticle immediately following his Inferno?”

“You’re saying… Wait! You’re saying Peter is in purgatory?” The Professor could hardly believe he’d just said that out loud. It made his head hurt when he realized how intently he was frowning.

“A crude word when used in Christian terms, but yes, Mr. Solomon is in the in-between.”

“He’s dead?”

“Not exactly, no.”

“Not exactly?!” Langdon knew he was yelling, as his words echoed down the hallway, distracting a small family of tourists who turned to stare at him. He glanced away, and lowered his voice. “Death is usually an all-or-nothing situation.”

“You surprise me, Professor. I expected you to have a better understanding of the mysteries of life and death, given that you yourself are dead yet still alive.”

Langdon bit his lower lip, and his eyes met his Sire’s. They knew they were dealing with someone who understood that Vampires were real, and that fact alone changed the playing field.

“Are you one of us?” It was cheesy, but it was all Robert could think of to ask.

“If you desire to know whether Peter has been Turned, there is a world in between that does not required your perverse Vampire Gene – a world in which Peter Solomon currently hovers. He can either return to what you describe as humanity, or move on to the next world, depending on your actions.”

Langdon was struggling to process everything, but the concentration on Nico’s face convinced him it was worth continuing with what felt increasingly like a madman’s charade. “What do you want from me?” he asked simply.

“You have been given access to something quite simple, and tonight I expect you to share it with me.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“No? You pretend not to understand those ancient secrets entrusted to you?”

Though his Sire’s eyes narrowed, Langdon himself felt his stomach drop. After ‘That Night’, he and Leonardo had fictionalized the truth in a new novel, ‘Demons and Angels’ that followed on from ‘The Da Vinci Codex’. It had come to generate more than its fair share of adverse publicity, and conspiracy fanatics already emboldened by his experiences were apt to believe them in the strangest ways.

“Look, whoever you are, if this is about Grail Lore, or the Vatican, I can assure you I know nothing more than…”

“Oh, please,” the voice on the phone scoffed, “do not insult my intelligence with mankind’s petty squabbles over whose God has the most toys, or whose version of history is correct. The semantics of faith are ultimately answerable through real death, not the kind you insufferably took. Do you understand me, Professor?”

“Then what the hell is this about?”

The man paused for several seconds, and Nicolaus watched on his own phone as The Machine attempted – amidst its trillions of other unseen yet worldwide computations – to trace the man on Robert’s cell through a series of satellites and fake locations across Europe and India. Someone was very serious about their anonymity…

“As you may know there exists within this city, and ancient portal.”

“Excuse me?” Langdon cocked his head and blinked, while Nico pursed his lips at such a strange suggestion, his mind flying instantly to the Stargate, which was very much not in Washington D.C..

“Tonight, Professor, you will unlock this portal for me. You should be honored that this task is yours. You have been chosen. This is the invitation of a lifetime. I suggest you take it.”

“I’m sorry, but you have chosen poorly. I don’t know anything about any kind of portal – ancient or otherwise!”

I didn’t choose you for this, Professor, Peter Solomon did.”

“What?” Robert whispered.

“Mr. Solomon has told me how to find the portal, and he confessed to me that you were the only man on Earth who could unlock it.”

“Then he’s lying, or he’s delusional.”

“I think not. He was in a fragile state when he made that confession, and I am therefore inclined to believe him. Now, before you consider trying fruitlessly to threaten me for any perceived ‘harm’ I may have done to your beloved Peter, let me tell you we are far too late for that.”

He sounded amused, and it caused Robert greater distress to hear it, making him realize that his Mate would most certainly be sensing the same.

“I have already taken what I need from Peter,” the man continued relentlessly, “but for his sake I suggest you provide what I need from you. Time is quite literally of the essence for both of you. I suggest you find the portal and unlock it. Peter will point the way.”

“I…I thought you said he was in purgatory?”

“As above, so below,” came the reply.

Langdon’s spine stiffened with a sudden deep chill at such words. They formed an Ancient Hermetic saying that proclaimed a belief in the link between Heaven and Heart, the spiritual and corporal, the microcosm and macrocosm, and how one single thing could either affect or reflect the other.

The line went dead.

The Machine had pinpointed the caller.

He was inside the Capitol.

Nicolaus was about to turn and run in the direction his phone was showing him, when the screaming started.

Chapter 5

Still in absolute darkness, Katherine Solomon reached for the outer door to her lab, heaved it open, and hurried into the small entry. Though it had taken barely 90 seconds to cross the void from the light beyond POD 6 to her haven of research and experimentation, her heart was still pumping wildly and she was a little out of breath. It was something she’d simply never gotten used to, and it was an enormous relief to escape the thick, all-encompassing darkness and find herself in so clean and well-lit a space.

The ‘Cube’ was basically a huge windowless box in which every inch of the interior walling, including the floor and ceiling, had been covered with a stiffened mesh of titanium coated lead fiber. It was a bit like having a giant cage inserted into a cement enclosure.

Frosted Plexiglass divided the space into various rooms – a control area, mechanics, library, bathroom, offices, technology zone, and utilities.

Katherine strode swiftly thought the main lab, its bright sterility reflecting the many advanced pieces of equipment necessary for measuring the seemingly immeasurable.

Noetic Science might use some of the most cutting edge gear, but the discoveries they produced were far more mystical then even the convoluted names such items had been christened with – electroencephalographs, femtosecond combs, magneto-optical traps, and quantum indeterminate electronic noise generators.

There was a single intention behind all of it – to discover the untapped potential of the human mind.

Her brother had become her inspiration, mentoring her studies in ways that her actual teachers had never been able to accomplish in a formal educational setting.

He had encouraged her to read ancient texts, mystics, esotericists, occultists, and spiritists. She’d believed she was studying the future of science, but he’d shown her that the wisdom of the ancients could be unlocked with modern methodologies, no matter the lost languages they were written in.

The desire to understand human consciousness, to discover the mental and spiritual capabilities of both individuals and groups of people, was nothing new, but it was ready to be determined afresh, and in measurable, quantifiable, provable ways.

‘Mind over matter’ wasn’t just a quaint saying.

It had been proven in 2001 during the most immediate hours after the September 11th atrocities, that as a frightened and confused world came together in focusing on a shared sense of grief, a large number of random even generators (essentially machines that flipped coins) came noticeably and significantly less random. Somehow the coalescing of millions of minds had brought a certain order out of chaos, exactly mirroring the ancient spiritual belief in a ‘cosmic consiousness’.

The mind, the power of thought, could intentionally interact with the physical world.

Could it not then be said to exist as a substance outside the confines of the body itself?

How far could the power of human intention affect the world?

Could it be reproduced?

Observed?

How exactly could science monitor and assess human consciousness?

Experiments with mass meditation and prayer groups needed quantifiable data.

How far could mankind be the master of it’s own universe?

She had begun seeing strange results on focused thoughts influencing ice crystal growth, and the movement of molecules, but this was barely scratching the surface.

Could ‘intention’ be taught, or developed as a skill?

Practiced?

Were some people born with it, or were they naturally better at it than others?

She had come to believe that history demonstrated quite clearly, the existence of those with mastery over their own ‘intention’ and its power to change the physical world.

It was the missing link between the modern needs of science, and the mysticism of the ancients.

Or, as her brother often said, ‘The key to our scientific future, is hidden in our past’.

He had given her access to some of the oldest and strangest objects in the Smithsonian Collection, believing that through her work, their purpose and usage might finally be rediscovered to the ultimate betterment of mankind.

He was her encouragement to be daring and imaginative in her endeavors, pushing the limits of established ideas, to help the human race re-evaluate its knowledge, and relearn what it had lost over the centuries.

They were meant to meet every Sunday evening, and had done so without fail for the last 3 years, until suddenly, on that particular Sunday, he’d not only failed to show up, he’d stopped answering his phone.

She found no messages waiting for her either.

That which your brother believes to be hidden in D.C. can be found. Sometimes a legend that endures for centuries, endures for a reason…

“No!” she said aloud. “It can’t possibly be real.”

Legends were sometimes meant to be just that.

Legends.

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