The noon sun glinted off the sleek roof of Italy's high-velocity Frecciargento train as it raced northward, cutting a graceful arc across the Tuscan countryside. Despite traveling away from Florence at 174 miles per hour, the "silver arrow" train made almost no noise, its soft repetitive clicking and gently swaying motion having an almost soothing effect on those who rode it.
For Robert Langdon, the last hour had been a blur.
Now, aboard the high-speed train, Langdon, Sienna, and Dr. Ferris were seated in one of the Frecciargento's private salottini-a small, executive-class berth with four leather seats and a foldout table. Ferris had rented the entire cabin using his credit card, along with an assortment of sandwiches and mineral water, which Langdon and Sienna had ravenously consumed after cleaning up in the restroom next to their private berth.
As the three of them settled in for the two-hour train ride to Venice, Dr. Ferris immediately turned his gaze to the Dante death mask, which sat on the table between them in its Ziploc bag. "We need to figure out precisely where in Venice this mask is leading us."
"And quickly," Sienna added, urgency in her voice. "It's probably our only hope of preventing Zobrist's plague."
"Hold on," Langdon said, placing a defensive hand atop the mask. "You promised that once we were safely aboard this train you would give me some answers about the last few days. So far, all I know is that the WHO recruited me in Cambridge to help decipher Zobrist's version of La Mappa. Other than that, you've told me nothing."
Dr. Ferris shifted uncomfortably and began scratching again at the rash on his face and neck. "I can see you're frustrated," he said. "I'm sure it's unsettling not to remember what happened, but medically speaking ..." He glanced over at Sienna for confirmation and then continued. "I strongly recommend you not expend energy trying to recall specifics you can't remember. With amnesia victims, it's best just to let the forgotten past remain forgotten."
"Let it be?!" Langdon felt his anger rising. "The hell with that! I need some answers! Your organization brought me to Italy, where I was shot and lost several days of my life! I want to know how it happened!"
"Robert," Sienna intervened, speaking softly in a clear attempt to calm him down. "Dr. Ferris is right. It definitely would not be healthy for you to be overwhelmed by a deluge of information all at once. Think about the tiny snippets you do remember-the silver-haired woman, 'seek and find,' the writhing bodies from La Mappa-those images flooded into your mind in a series of jumbled, uncontrollable flashbacks that left you nearly incapacitated. If Dr. Ferris starts recounting the past few days, he will almost certainly dislodge other memories, and your hallucinations could start all over again. Retrograde amnesia is a serious condition. Triggering misplaced memories can be extremely disruptive to the psyche."
The thought had not occurred to Langdon.
"You must feel quite disoriented," Ferris added, "but at the moment we need your psyche intact so we can move forward. It's imperative that we figure out what this mask is trying to tell us."
The doctors, Langdon noted silently, seemed to agree
Langdon sat quietly, trying to overcome his feelings of uncertainty. It was a strange sensation to meet a total stranger and realize you had actually known him for several days. Then again, Langdon thought, there is something vaguely familiar about his eyes.
"Professor," Ferris said sympathetically, "I can see that you're not sure you trust me, and this is understandable considering all you've been through. One of the common side effects of amnesia is mild paranoia and distrust."
That makes sense, Langdon thought, considering I can't even trust my own mind.
"Speaking of paranoia," Sienna joked, clearly trying to lighten the mood, "Robert saw your rash and thought you'd been stricken with the Black Plague."
Ferris's puffy eyes widened, and he laughed out loud. "This rash? Believe me, Professor, if I had the plague, I would not be treating it with an over-the-counter antihistamine." He pulled a small tube of medicine from his pocket and tossed it to Langdon. Sure enough, it was a half-empty tube of anti-itch cream for allergic reactions.
"Sorry about that," Langdon said, feeling foolish. "Long day."
"No worries," Ferris said.
Langdon turned toward the window, watching the muted hues of the Italian countryside blur together in a peaceful collage. The vineyards and farms were becoming scarcer now as the flatlands gave way to the foothills of the Apennines. Soon the train would navigate the sinuous mountain pass and then descend again, powering eastward toward the Adriatic Sea.
I'm headed for Venice, he thought. To look for a plague.
This strange day had left Langdon feeling as if he were moving through a landscape composed of nothing but vague shapes with no particular details. Like a dream. Ironically, nightmares usually woke people up ... but Langdon felt as if he had awoken into one.
"Lira for your thoughts," Sienna whispered beside him.
Langdon glanced up, smiling wearily. "I keep thinking I'll wake up at home and discover this was all a bad dream."
Sienna cocked her head, looking demure. "You wouldn't miss me if you woke up and found out I wasn't real?"
Langdon had to grin. "Yes, actually, I would miss you a little."
She patted his knee. "Stop daydreaming, Professor, and get to work."
Langdon reluctantly turned his eyes to the crinkled face of Dante Alighieri, which stared blankly up from the table before him. Gently, Langdon picked up the plaster mask and turned it over in his hands, gazing down into the concave interior at the first line of spiral text:
O you possessed of sturdy intellect ...
Langdon doubted he qualified at the moment.
Nonetheless, he set to work.
Two hundred miles ahead of the speeding train, The Mendacium remained anchored in the Adriatic. Belowdecks, facilitator Laurence Knowlton heard the soft rap of knuckles on his glass cubicle and touched a button beneath his desk, turning the opaque wall into a transparent one. Outside, a small, tanned form materialized.
He looked grim.
Without a word, he entered, locked the cubicle door, and threw the switch that turned the glass room opaque again. He smelled of alcohol.
"The video that Zobrist left us," the provost said.
"I want to see it. Now."