"Dante's Inferno created a world of pain and suffering beyond all previous human imagination, and his writing quite literally defined our modern visions of hell." Langdon paused. "And believe me, the Catholic Church has much to thank Dante for. His Inferno terrified the faithful for centuries, and no doubt tripled church attendance among the fearful."
"Consider this. It took the earth's population thousands of years-from the early dawn of man all the way to the early 1800s-to reach one billion people. Then, astoundingly, it took only about a hundred years to double the population to two billion in the 1920s. After that, it took a mere fifty years for the population to double again to four billion in the 1970s. As you can imagine, we're well on track to reach eight billion very soon. Just today, the human race added another quarter-million people to planet Earth. A quarter million. And this happens every day-rain or shine. Currently, every year, we're adding the equivalent of the entire country of Germany."
... and it always brought an eerie sense of inevitability.
"Any environmental biologist or statistician will tell you that humankind's best chance of long-term survival occurs with a global population of around four billion."
"Four billion?" Elizabeth fired back. "We're at seven billion now, so it's a little late for that."
The tall man's green eyes flashed fire. "Is it?"
"Cerca trova doesn't ring any bells for you?"
Langdon smiled inwardly. Finally, something Sienna doesn't know.
A cool March breeze blew steadily up the river, ruffling Vayentha's short spiked hair, reminding her that Langdon knew what she looked like. She paused at the stall of one of the bridge's many vendors and bought an AMO FIRENZE baseball cap, pulling it low over her face.
He entered the combination on the padlock and unlocked the grate, pulling it to one side. After stepping through, he followed protocol and relocked the grate behind him.
"... Madness is an ostrich who sticks her head in the sand while a pack of hyenas closes in around her."
"Here is the pack of hyenas currently circling humankind... and they are closing in fast."
The list included, among others:
Demand for clean water, global surface temperatures, ozone depletion, consumption of ocean resources, species extinction, CO2 concentration, deforestation, and global sea levels.
All of these negative indicators had been on the rise over the last century. Now, however, they were all accelerating at tertifying rates.
At many times in her life, Elizabeth Sinskey had been haunted by her inability to conceive a child. Yet, when she saw this graph, she almost felt relieved she had not brought a child into the world.
This is the future I would be giving my child?
"You know damned well this graph depicts the simplest of relationships - a function based on a single variable! every single line on this graph climbs in direct proportion to one value - the value that everyone is afraid to discuss. Global population!"
Even though Langdon and Sienna were only halfway across the Arno River, he had no doubt they had long since passed the point of no return.
Mankind, if unchecked, functions like a plague, a cancer... our numbers intensifying wiht each successive generation until the earthly comforts that once nourished our virtue and brotherhood have dwindled to nothing... unveiling the monsters within us... fighting to death to feed our young.
No trip to the piazza was complete without sipping an espresso at Caffe Rivoire, followed by a visit to the Medici lions in the Loggia dei Lanzi - the piazza's open-air sculpture gallery.
"You're quite an actress," he wispered.
"I've had to be," she said relexively, her voice strangely distant.
Once again, Langdon sesed there was more heartache in this young woman's past than he knew, and he felt a deepening sense of remorse for having entangled her in his dangerous predicament. He reminded himself that there was nothing to be done now, except to see it through.
Keep swimming through the tunnel... and pray for light.
The custodian glanced up, looking startled. "Signori?!" He held out this arms for Langdon and Sienna to stop.
Langdon gave the man a pained smile - more of a wince - and motioned apologetically toward the symbols near the door. "Toilette," he declared, his voice pinched. It was not a question.
The custodian hesitated a moment, looking ready to deny their request, and then finally, watching Langdon shift uncomfortably before him, he gave a sympathetic nod and waved them through.
When they reached the door, Langdon gave Sienna a quick wink. "Compassion is a universal language."
Bewildered, Sienna watched Langdon hurry across the room to a small glass door, which he tried to open. It was locked. He put his face to the glass, cupping his hands around his eyes and peering inside.
The darkest place in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis. - Dante Alighieri -
Langdon stared at ther in shock. The hair on his neck bristled as, once again, the image of the plague mask flashed through his mind.
For Bertrand Zobrist to desrcibe the Black Death as the best thing ever to happen to Europe was certainly appalling, and yet Langdon knew that many historians had chronicled the long-term socioeconomic benefits of the mass extinction that had occured in Europe in the 1300s. Prior to the plague, overpopulation, famine, and economic hardship had defined the Dark Ages. The sudden arrival of the Black Death, while horrific, had effectively "thinned the human herd," creating an abundance of food and opportunity, which, according to many historians, had been a primary catalyst for bringing about the Renaissance.
Down in the Piazza della Signoria, the crowds had parted to make way for a long line of police cars that were arriving without sirens, led by two black vans, whichh now skidded to a stop outside the palace doors.
... but now she realized the chances of this were close to zero.
The air inside the void smelled musty and ancient, as if centuries of plaster dust had now become so fine and light that it refused to settle and instead hung suspended in the atmosphere.
...he raised his flashlight, letting the beam pierce the darkness.
... he was surprised by how much the truss architecture resembled that of an old New England barn - traditional king post -and-strut assembly with "Jupiter's arrow point" connections.
She turned groggily to the soldier accompanying her. He was gripping her forearm and holding up a syringe. “Just be still.”
The sharp stab of a needle pierced her flesh. The soldier completed the injection. “Now go back to sleep.”
“Robert, speaking from a purely scientific standpoint—all logic, no heart—I can tell you without a doubt that without some kind of drastic change, the end of our species is coming. And it’s coming fast. It won’t be fire, brimstone, apocalypse, or nuclear war … it will be total collapse due to the number of people on the planet. The mathematics is indisputable.”
“I’ve studied a fair amount of biology,” she said, “and it’s quite normal for a species to go extinct simply as a result of overpopulating its environment. Picture a colony of surface algae living in a tiny pond in the forest, enjoying the pond’s perfect balance of nutrients. Unchecked, they reproduce so wildly that they quickly cover the pond’s entire surface, blotting out the sun and thereby preventing the growth of the nutrients in the pond. Having sapped everything possible from their environment, the algae quickly die and disappear without a trace.” She gave a heavy sigh. “A similar fate could easily await mankind. Far sooner and faster than any of us imagine.”
Langdon felt deeply unsettled. “But … that seems impossible.”
“I’ve read that in the U.S. some sixty percent of health care costs go to support patients during the last six months of their lives.”
“True, and while our brains say, ‘This is insane,’ our hearts say, ‘Keep Grandma alive as long as we can.’ ”
Langdon nodded. “It’s the conflict between Apollo and Dionysus—a famous dilemma in mythology. It’s the age-old battle between mind and heart, which seldom want the same thing.”
The mythological reference, Langdon had heard, was now being used in AA meetings to describe the alcoholic who stares at a glass of alcohol, his brain knowing it will harm him, but his heart craving the comfort it will provide. The message apparently was: Don’t feel alone— even the gods were conflicted.
Known as the Church of Dante, the sanctuary of Chiesa di Santa Margherita dei Cerchi is more of a chapel than a church. The tiny, one- room house of worship is a popular destination for devotees of Dante who revere it as the sacred ground on which transpired two pivotal moments in the great poet’s life.
According to lore, it was here at this church, at the age of nine, that Dante first laid eyes on Beatrice Portinari—the woman with whom he fell in love at first sight, and for whom his heart ached his entire life.
The frightening mosaic overhead depicted a horned devil that was in the process of consuming a human being headfirst.
“Uneven aging,” he said. “The back of the mask has been shielded by the display case so has never suffered the aging effects of sunlight.” Langdon made a mental note to double the SPF of his sunscreen.
She barely wrung it out before placing the soggy cloth in the center of the mask and swishing it around as if she were cleaning a soup bowl.
“Dr. Sinskey, I presume?” Langdon firmly shook her hand.
“Professor, it’s an honor to meet you.”
“The honor’s mine. Thanks for all you do.”
...with no preamble...
Dante’s allegorical work was so replete with veiled commentary on religion, politics, and philosophy that Langdon often suggested to his students that the Italian poet be studied much as one might study the Bible—reading between the lines in an effort to understand the deeper meaning.
“Il Ponte dei Sospiri,” Sienna replied. “A famous Venetian bridge.”
Langdon peered down the cramped waterway and saw the beautifully carved, enclosed tunnel that arched between the two buildings. The Bridge of Sighs, he thought, recalling one of his favorite boyhood movies, A Little Romance, which was based on the legend that if two young lovers kissed beneath this bridge at sunset while the bells of St. Mark’s were ringing, they would love each other forever. The deeply romantic notion had stayed with Langdon his entire life. Of course, it hadn’t hurt that the film also starred an adorable fourteen-year-old newcomer named Diane Lane, on whom Langdon had immediately developed a boyhood crush … a crush that, admittedly, he had never quite shaken.
Years later, Langdon had been horrified to learn that the Bridge of Sighs drew its name not from sighs of passion … but instead from sighs of misery. As it turned out, the enclosed walkway served as the connector between the Doge’s Palace and the doge’s prison, where the incarcerated languished and died, their groans of anguish echoing out of the grated windows along the narrow canal.
Langdon had visited the prison once, and was surprised to learn that the most terrifying cells were not those at water level, which often flooded, but those next door on the top floor of the palace proper—called piombi after their lead-tiled roofs— which made them torturously hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. The great lover Casanova had once been a prisoner in the piombi; charged by the Inquisition with adultery and spying, he had survived fifteen months of incarceration only to escape by beguiling his keeper.
Sienna could easily have kept up with Langdon, but Ferris was lagging behind, and Sienna had decided to split the difference in order to keep both men in sight. Now, however, as the distance between them grew more pronounced, she looked back impatiently. Ferris pointed to his chest, indicating he was winded, and motioned for her to go on ahead.
Sienna complied, moving quickly after Langdon and losing sight of Ferris. Yet as she wove her way through the crowd, a nagging feeling held her back—the strange suspicion that Ferris was lagging behind intentionally … as if he were trying to put distance between them.
“Professor, are you familiar with the family of chemicals known as benzodiazepines?” Langdon shook his head.
“They are a breed of pharmaceutical that are used for, among other things, the treatment of post-traumatic stress. As you may know, when someone endures a horrific event like a car accident or a sexual assault, the long-term memories can be permanently debilitating. Through the use of benzodiazepines, neuroscientists are now able to treat post-traumatic stress, as it were, before it happens.”
Langdon listened in silence, unable to imagine where this conversation might be going.
“When new memories are formed,” the provost continued, “those events are stored in your short-term memory for about forty-eight hours before they migrate to your long- term memory. Using new blends of benzodiazepines, one can easily refresh the short-term memory … essentially deleting its content before those recent memories migrate, so to speak, into long-term memories. A victim of assault, for example, if administered a benzodiazepine within a few hours after the attack, can have those memories expunged forever, and the trauma never becomes part of her psyche. The only downside is that she loses all recollection of several days of her life.”
Did she run out of gas?
He cupped his hands and listened, now able to hear the faint thrum of her engines idling.
Only one form of contagion travels faster than a virus, Sinskey thought. And that’s fear.
Unfortunately, in a containment crisis, Plan B was always the same: widen the radius. Fighting communicable disease was often like fighting a forest fire: sometimes you had to drop back and surrender a battle in hopes of winning the war.
The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis. For Langdon, the meaning of these words had never felt so clear: In dangerous times, there is no sin greater than inaction. Langdon knew that he himself, like millions, was guilty of this. When it came to the circumstances of the world, denial had become a global pandemic.