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In a basement office deep inside CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, the same sixteen-character Masonic cipher glowed brightly on a high-definition computer monitor. Senior OS analyst Nola Kaye sat alone and studied the image that had been e-mailed to her ten minutes ago by her boss, Director Inoue Sato.

Is this some kind of joke? Nola knew it was not, of course; Director Sato had no sense of humor, and the events of tonight were anything but a joking matter. Nola’s high-level clearance within the CIA’s all-seeing Office of Security had opened her eyes to the shadow worlds of power. But what Nola had witnessed in the last twenty-four hours had changed her impressions forever of

the secrets that powerful men kept.

“Yes, Director,” Nola now said, cradling the phone on her shoulder as she talked to Sato. “The engraving is indeed the Masonic cipher. However, the cleartext is meaningless. It appears to be a grid of random letters.” She gazed down at her decryption.

“It must say something,” Sato insisted.

“Not unless it has a second layer of encryption that I’m not aware of.”

“Any guesses?” Sato asked.

“It’s a grid-based matrix, so I could run the usual—Vigenère, grilles, trellises, and so forth—but no promises, especially if it’s a onetime pad.”

“Do what you can. And do it fast. How about the X-ray?”

Nola swiveled her chair to a second system, which displayed a standard security X-ray of someone’s bag. Sato had requested information on what appeared to be a small pyramid inside a cube-shaped box. Normally, a two-inch-tall object would not be an issue of national security unless it was made of enriched plutonium. This one was not. It was made of something almost equally startling.

“Image-density analysis was conclusive,” Nola said. “Nineteen-point-three grams per cubic centimeter. It’s pure gold. Very, very valuable.”

“Anything else?”

“Actually, yes. The density scan picked up minor irregularities on the surface of the gold

pyramid. It turns out the gold is engraved with text.”

“Really?” Sato sounded hopeful. “What does it say?”

“I can’t tell yet. The inscription is extremely faint. I’m trying to enhance with filters, but the resolution on the X-ray is not great.”

“Okay, keep trying. Call me when you have something.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And, Nola?” Sato’s tone turned ominous. “As with everything you have learned in the last twenty-four hours, the images of the stone pyramid and gold capstone are classified at the highest levels of security. You are to consult no one. You report to me directly. I want to make sure that is clear.”

“Of course, ma’am.”

“Good. Keep me posted.” Sato hung up.

Nola rubbed her eyes and looked blearily back at her computer screens. She had not slept in over thirty-six hours, and she knew damn well she would not sleep again until this crisis had reached its conclusion.

Whatever that may be.

Back at the Capitol Visitor Center, four black-clad CIA field-op specialists stood at the entrance to the tunnel, peering hungrily down the dimly lit shaft like a pack of dogs eager for the hunt.

Sato approached, having just hung up from a call. “Gentlemen,” she said, still holding the Architect’s key, “are your mission parameters clear?”

“Affirmative,” the lead agent replied. “We have two targets. The first is an engraved stone pyramid, approximately one foot tall. The second is a smaller, cube-shaped package, approximately two inches tall. Both were last seen in Robert Langdon’s shoulder bag.”

“Correct,” Sato said. “These two items must be retrieved quickly and intact. Do you have any questions?”

“Parameters for use of force?”

Sato’s shoulder was still throbbing from where Bellamy had struck her with a bone. “As I said, it is of critical importance that these items be retrieved.”

“Understood.” The four men turned and headed into the darkness of the tunnel.

Sato lit a cigarette and watched them disappear.