The breeze felt cold outside CIA headquarters in Langley. Nola Kaye was shivering as she followed sys-sec Rick Parrish across the agency's moonlit central courtyard.
Where is Rick taking me?
The crisis of the Masonic video had been averted, thank God, but Nola still felt uneasy. The redacted file on the CIA director's partition remained a mystery, and it was nagging at her. She and Sato would debrief in the morning, and Nola wanted all the facts. Finally, she had called Rick Parrish and demanded his help.
Now, as she followed Rick to some unknown location outside, Nola could not push the bizarre phrases from her memory:
Secret location underground where the . . . somewhere in Washington, D.C., the coordinates . . . uncovered an ancient portal that led . . . warning the pyramid holds dangerous . . . decipher this engraved symbolon to unveil . . .
"You and I agree," Parrish said as they walked, "that the hacker who spidered those keywords was definitely searching for information about the Masonic Pyramid."
Obviously, Nola thought.
"It turns out, though, the hacker stumbled onto a facet of the Masonic mystery I don't think he expected."
"What do you mean?"
"Nola, you know how the CIA director sponsors an internal discussion forum for Agency employees to share their ideas about all kinds of things?"
"Of course." The forums provided Agency personnel a safe place to chat online about various topics and gave the director a kind of virtual gateway to his staff.
"The director's forums are hosted on his private partition, and yet in order to provide access to employees of all clearance levels, they're located outside the director's classified firewall."
"What are you getting at?" she demanded as they rounded a corner near the Agency cafeteria.
"In a word . . ." Parrish pointed into the darkness. "That."
Nola glanced up. Across the plaza in front of them was a massive metal sculpture glimmering in the moonlight.
In an agency that boasted over five hundred pieces of original art, this sculpture--titled Kryptos--was by far the most famous. Greek for "hidden," Kryptos was the work of American artist James Sanborn and had become something of a legend here at the CIA.
The work consisted of a massive S-shaped panel of copper, set on its edge like a curling metal wall. Engraved into the expansive surface of the wall were nearly two thousand letters . . . organized into a baffling code. As if this were not enigmatic enough, positioned carefully in the area around the encrypted S-wall were numerous other sculptural elements--granite slabs at odd angles, a compass rose, a magnetic lodestone, and even a message in Morse code that referenced "lucid memory" and "shadow forces." Most fans believed that these pieces were clues that would reveal how to decipher the sculpture.
Kryptos was art . . . but it was also an enigma.
Attempting to decipher its encoded secret had become an obsession for cryptologists both inside and outside the CIA. Finally, a few years back, a portion of the code had been broken, and it became national news. Although much of Kryptos's code remained unsolved to this day, the sections that had been deciphered were so bizarre that they made the sculpture only more mysterious. It referenced secret underground locations, portals that led into ancient tombs, longitudes and latitudes . . .
Nola could still recall bits and pieces of the deciphered sections: The information was gathered and transmitted underground to an unknown location . . . It was totally invisible . . . hows that possible . . . they used the earths magnetic field . . .
Nola had never paid much attention to the sculpture or cared if it was ever fully deciphered. At the moment, however, she wanted answers. "Why are you showing me Kryptos?"
Parrish gave her a conspiratorial smile and dramatically extracted a folded sheet of paper from his pocket. "Voila, the mysterious redacted document you were so concerned about. I accessed the complete text."
Nola jumped. "You snooped the director's classified partition?"
"No. That's what I was getting at earlier. Have a look." He handed her the file.
Nola seized the page and unfolded it. When she saw the standard Agency headers at the top of the page, she cocked her head in surprise.
This document was not classified. Not even close.
EMPLOYEE DISCUSSION BOARD: KRYPTOS COMPRESSED STORAGE: THREAD #2456282.5
Nola found herself looking at a series of postings that had been compressed into a single page for more efficient storage.
"Your keyword document," Rick said, "is some cipher-punks rambling about Kryptos."
Nola scanned down the document until she spotted a sentence containing a familiar set of keywords.
Jim, the sculpture says it was transmitted to a secret location UNDERGROUND where the info was hidden.
"This text is from the director's online Kryptos forum," Rick explained. "The forum's been going for years. There are literally thousands of postings. I'm not surprised one of them happened to contain all the keywords."
Nola kept scanning down until she spotted another posting containing keywords.
Even though Mark said the code's lat/long headings point somewhere in WASHINGTON, D.C., the coordinates he used were off by one degree--Kryptos basically points back to itself.
Parrish walked over to the statue and ran his palm across the cryptic sea of letters. "A lot of this code has yet to be deciphered, and there are plenty of people who think the message might actually relate to ancient Masonic secrets."
Nola now recalled murmurs of a Masonic/Kryptos link, but she tended to ignore the lunatic fringe. Then again, looking around at the various pieces of the sculpture arranged around the plaza, she realized that it was a code in pieces--a symbolon--just like the Masonic Pyramid.
For a moment, Nola could almost see Kryptos as a modern Masonic Pyramid--a code in many pieces, made of different materials, each playing a role. "Do you think there's any way Kryptos and the Masonic Pyramid might be hiding the same secret?"
"Who knows?" Parrish shot Kryptos a frustrated look. "I doubt we'll ever know the whole message. That is, unless someone can convince the director to unlock his safe and sneak a peek at the solution."
Nola nodded. It was all coming back to her now. When Kryptos was installed, it arrived with a sealed envelope containing a complete decryption of the sculpture's codes. The sealed solution was entrusted to then - CIA director William Webster, who locked it in his office safe. The document was allegedly still there, having been transferred from director to director over the years. Strangely, Nola's thoughts of William Webster sparked her memory, bringing back yet another portion of Kryptos's deciphered text:
IT'S BURIED OUT THERE SOMEWHERE.
WHO KNOWS THE EXACT LOCATION?
Although nobody knew exactly what was buried out there, most people believed the WW was a reference to William Webster. Nola had heard whispers once that it referred in fact to a man named William Whiston--a Royal Society theologian--although she had never bothered to give it much thought.
Rick was talking again. "I've got to admit, I'm not really into artists, but I think this guy Sanborn's a serious genius. I was just looking online at his Cyrillic Projector project? It shines giant Russian letters from a KGB document on mind control. Freaky."
Nola was no longer listening. She was examining the paper, where she had found the third key phrase in another posting.
Right, that whole section is verbatim from some famous archaeologist's diary, telling about the moment he dug down and uncovered an ANCIENT PORTAL that led to the tomb of Tutankhamen.
The archaeologist who was quoted on Kryptos, Nola knew, was in fact famed Egyptologist Howard Carter. The next posting referenced him by name.
I just skimmed the rest of Carter's field notes online, and it sounds like he found a clay tablet warning the PYRAMID holds dangerous consequences for anyone who disturbs the peace of the pharaoh. A curse! Should we be worried? :)
Nola scowled. "Rick, for God's sake, this idiot's pyramid reference isn't even right. Tutankhamen wasn't buried in a pyramid. He was buried in the Valley of the Kings. Don't cryptologists watch the Discovery Channel?"
Parrish shrugged. "Techies."
Nola now saw the final key phrase.
Guys, you know I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but Jim and Dave had better decipher this ENGRAVED SYMBOLON to unveil its final secret before the world ends in 2012 . . . Ciao.
"Anyhow," Parrish said, "I figured you'd want to know about the Kryptos forum before you accused the CIA director of harboring classified documentation about an ancient Masonic legend. Somehow, I doubt a man as powerful as the CIA director has time for that sort of thing."
Nola pictured the Masonic video and its images of all the influential men participating in an ancient rite. If Rick had any idea . . .
In the end, she knew, whatever Kryptos ultimately revealed, the message definitely had mystical undertones. She gazed up at the gleaming piece of art--a three-dimensional code standing silently at the heart of one of the nation's premier intelligence agencies--and she wondered if it would ever give up its final secret.
As she and Rick headed back inside, Nola had to smile.
It's buried out there somewhere.
This is crazy.
Blindfolded, Robert Langdon could see nothing as the Escalade sped southward along the deserted streets. On the seat beside him, Peter Solomon remained silent.
Where is he taking me?
Langdon's curiosity was a mix of intrigue and apprehension, his imagination in overdrive as it tried desperately to put the pieces together. Peter had not wavered from his claim. The Lost Word? Buried at the bottom of a staircase that's covered by a massive, engraved stone? It all seemed impossible.