Dan Brown Parody: The Veni Vidi Vici Code
The Veni Vidi Vici Code: A Dan Brown Parody
by Chris Hugh
Robert Langdon covered his head with his pillow as the phone rang. No, he said into the silence of his Victorian-style home which was full of antiques that showed what a well-travelled and educated person of diverse interests he was. He looked at his Mickey Mouse watch which he wore because he was lighthearted and quirky. Three in the morning. I do not want to talk to any mysterious-yet-world-famous callers about anything nefarious, the handsome forty-something professor mumbled. He closed his blue eyes against the cacophony of the phone and reflected upon the similarity of the words cacophony and telephone, both being derived from phon, the Greek word for sound. He was relieved when the ringing stopped because he wanted to go to sleep. He reflected that the words English words sleep and sheep were exactly analogous to the German words Schlaff and Schaff. Langdon smiled with satisfaction because he had nearly bored himself to Schlaff.
His smile turned to a frown as he heard his fax machine start. He pulled another pillow over his head. The pillowcases that covered the pillows with which the Harvard symbologist covered his head were made of the finest Egyptian cotton, and were as white as an albino Opus Dei monk. Ironically, Egyptian cotton, or Gossypium barbadense, was actually indigenous to the Americas, not Egypt. It was Muhammad Ali Pasha who introduced the long-stapled cotton variety to Egypt in the nineteenth century. Also ironically, Opus Dei does not have monks.
Langdon could hear his fax machine dropping page after page on his highly-polished oak floor. I do not want to look at any faxes of gruesome bodies or gimmicky palindromic art. A palindrome is a word, phrase, number or image which is the same whether seen forwards or backwards, for example, eye, deed or go hang a salami I'm a lasagna hog. Langdon was relieved when the fax machine stopped. Perhaps they've given up.
Langdon was disappointed when a rock with a note wrapped around it crashed through his bedroom window. He briefly checked that it wasn't a Molotov cocktail (named after Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov), and went back to sleep. He did not read the note.
Later that morning, as Langdon swam in the Harvard pool in the early morning, he pointedly ignored the semaphore flagman on the gymnasium roof. Although he often liked to do the backstroke to exercise, he switched to freestyle so he could avoid seeing the extensive skywriting in the Massachusetts sky. His earplugs helped him avoid hearing the African drum language that echoed through the campus. He paid no attention to the distant smoke signals.
In his first class, Langdon stood in front of his students and relaxed at last. He began his lecture on the alchemical transmutation of fertilizer into literature. No message can come to me here, he thought. Then he looked up to see a gyrating young woman with a boom box enter the lecture hall. Langdon quickly strode toward the woman to stop the disturbance and she hastened her stripper-gram striptease. By the time he got to her, she was shaking her nearly-naked behind upon which a mysterious message had been applied with a disposable marker called a Sharpie. Langdon was so chagrined he almost forgot to note that George W. Bush was famously enamored with Sharpie markers. The two-term former President had even gone so far as to order custom Sharpies with his signature and "The White House" emblazoned on them and often refused to use other writing instruments. The stripper gave the mysterious message (which was probably not penned by the 43rd President of the United States and 46th governor of Texas) one last jiggle and ran out of the room laughing.
"Oh, well," Langdon said, covering his head with his sport coat, and speaking through the Harris tweed. "I didn't really see that message, so I guess I can't do anything."
Two hundred underclassmen immediately offered up their cell phones with which they had photographed the messenger. Three of them had portable printers, and a moment later, Langdon had a fist full of printouts. He didn't look at them, but several students delightedly described the message aloud. There were four characters no one could make out, but the other characters were clearly from the twenty-six letter Latin-based Modern English alphabet:
opIʍ SI Hʍ
Langdon sighed and gave up resisting as an exotically-beautiful young scientist came into the room and beckoned him. He would heed the call to duty and solve the mystery. He straightened his tweed jacket and followed her outside.
The Space Shuttle was waiting for them.
"I hope you won't feel cramped in the Space Shuttle," the woman said. "It doesn't have many windows, it being the Space Shuttle and all."
He gulped, not wanting to mention that he had a slight case of claustrophobia brought on by his mysterious childhood trauma of having been locked in a small box that had dropped down a well in an abandoned mine. "No, I'll be fine," he said. "Allow me to introduce myself, I'm Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon."
"I'm Desdemona da Veni Vedi Vici," the statuesque Italian replied. The two shook hands and walked toward the Space Shuttle. "My father is-"
"A scientist who's also a Catholic priest?" Langdon guessed. Desdemona shook her head. "The curator of the Louvre and a direct descendant of Jesus Christ?" He stared at her. "Oh my goodness--the Pope?"
"If you'd allow me to finish," she said as they boarded the Space Shuttle. "My father is safe at home but he sent us the book that contains the mystery we must solve."
Langdon settled himself next to Desdemona and prepared for takeoff. Little did they know that a stowaway had crept aboard.
* * *
Langdon and Desdemona examined the book as the Space Shuttle waited to take off. It was a right-to-left book, with the binding on the right hand side. Backward, Langdon might have thought had he not been so open-minded and educated. He knew that Arabic, Hebrew and many other languages were written right to left. Even traditional Japanese books are often bound on the right even though the language is written left to right.
"Why is it so important that we solve this mystery?" Langdon asked.
Desdemona's exotic brow was troubled as she confided, "It's part of a conspiracy affecting children all around the globe. Nearly all the children we have questioned claim to be able to solve the mystery, but our best cryptographers cannot figure it out, not even when they apply the Fibonacci sequence to it."
Langdon gaped at her. "Even the Fibonacci sequence can't solve it?" The Fibonacci sequence is a series of whole numbers that begins with the two numbers 0 1 and wherein each following term is the sum of the two preceding terms. That is, 0 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34...
He shook the sleepiness out of his eyes as Desdemona said, "We think this is a cult of worldwide significance!"
Langdon coughed modestly. "Ah, a world-shattering mystery with implications that'll reverberate through the ages, did you say?" He polished his nails on his lapel. "I guess I have a bit of experience with such things." He pulled out his reading glasses and examined the book again in a scholarly manner while fantasizing about finishing up this adventure with a hinted-at-but-not-fully-described romp with Desdemona. He looked at her speculatively. Is she a yogi master? he wondered. Or is she some other kind of contortionist?
* * *
"Ah, here's something," Langdon said at length. "The first words of the book title, opIʍ, seem like they might be a reference to opium, lachryma papaveris, an opiate alkaloid derived from the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum. It is frequently processed to create the heron, an aquatic wading bird of the Ardeidae family, for the illegal drug trade."
"Heroin, not herons, you idiot," a rough masculine voice said.
Langdon's eyes widened and he turned to Desdemona. "Uh, yeah, heroin. That's what I meant."
Desdemona stared at him, equally baffled. "I didn't say anything." Slowly they turned around and found themselves facing a small, wizened woman seated in the row behind them. It was Dr. Langweilig, Langdon's department chair at Harvard.
"So there you are, Langdon," she rasped. "Are you aware that the burlesque act in your first period class contravened the UN resolution 283,938 prohibiting sexual harassment?"
"But, but, Dr. Langweilig," Langdon stuttered. "I did not invite that woman into the classroom. I stopped her as soon as I could. I can't be held responsible for her actions."
The doctor folded her arms over her withered chest and narrowed her icy eyes. "Don't give me that, Langdon. I will not listen to reason. I am here to thwart and dog your every move in an unreasonably suspicious and rude manner," she said forthrightly. "Although in the end it is likely that my suspicions will prove unfounded and I'll pitch in on your side and probably sacrifice my life for the goal which you have steadfastly pursued and that I have innocently, but arrogantly, worked against," she added. Then she gulped, startled.
"You mean, you will die a prolonged gruesome death to save millions of children around the world from the evils of opium?" Langdon asked. "I always did admire you."
Dr. Langweilig's already-grey face blanched further. "Actually," she said, fruitlessly patting her suit pockets for a packet of cigarettes, "I forgot I have a meeting just now. Good luck on the opium thing and never mind about the stripper." She stood up. "I just remembered that NPR did a Fresh Air segment on the memoirs of a dominatrix. If NPR can promote Whip Smart with public funds, it's probably okay for you to have a stripper in class. Darn, it's hard to keep up with what is and isn't 'differently respectful' these days. Uh, next time, just interview her." She stepped to the door of the Space Shuttle and jerked on it. The door wouldn't budge.
Since the Space Shuttle was still on the runway with its engines off, Langdon courteously attempted to help the doctor open the door so she could leave. "Langdon, you pansy, fall back to standoff position," she said tersely, pushing him aside. She pulled a .40 semiautomatic sidearm from her shoulder holster and wasted no time in expertly disabling the safety mechanism, bringing the weapon to bear, shooting the lock and collapsing after being hit by a ricochet. The door, of course, stayed closed. The Space Shuttle Commander rushed over, gave her first aid, opened the door by operating the mechanism, and disappeared with the woman, presumably to get her much-needed medical and police attention.
* * *
"Back to the opium," Desdemona said.
"Yes," Langdon replied and began an impromptu seminar. "The Greek god Hypnos and Thanatos, the gods of sleep and death, respectively, were often depicted carrying opium poppies. Thomas Sydenham, the father of English medicine, once said that 'among the remedies which it has pleased Almighty God to give to man to relieve his sufferings, none is so universal and so efficacious as opium.'" He took a deep breath. "In fact, in the movie The Wizard of Oz, the Wicked Witch puts poppies in Dorothy's path to lure her to sleep," he concluded, possibly inaccurately.
Langdon touched Desdemona's arm. She jerked as her eyes flew open. "Huh! Dorothy! Yeah! Sleep!" she shouted.
Langdon next regaled Desdemona with information about opium production around the world, historical opium use in the China and much other opium-related trivia. Meanwhile Desdemona drifted back into a blissful sleep, almost as if under the influence of laudanum, also known as opium tincture or thebaic tincture. She dreamed of visiting Afghanistan, the world's largest producer of illicit opium, or Burma, the second largest, or India, the world's largest legal producer of opium.
"I think it would be most fruitful to begin by talking to children in the country that is the largest consumer of opium," Desdemona mumbled when she woke up.
Just then the Space Shuttle commander returned and told them they would be unable to leave the United States until the damage to the door was fixed. Thus Desdemona got her wish. She and Langdon went forth and interviewed children.
Unfortunately, the mystery only deepened.
* * *
Two days later, they were on their way to Mexico, having found no information in America. Langdon had reexamined the mysterious book's title, opIʍ SI Hʍ, and after much research had translated the second words as the Spanish for "yes."
"Do you have any new insights on the new symbol we kept seeing when we asked children if they were using opium?" Desdemona asked, looking out a Space Shuttle portal. The blue and green planet Earth arched below her.
Langdon shook his head, his brow furrowed in thought. "I just can't make it out," he said. "There are various ancient symbols involving the hand. For example, the thumb thrust upward, in addition to being the symbol for 'I want a lift' is also some sort of phallic symbol." He paused and paged through various symbology books he had retrieved from his home. "The hand with the index finger, or digitus secondus, extended is used to direct a viewer's attention, that is, to 'point' in the vernacular, although it's also the Masonic symbol of mysteries and is often chopped off and planted in public places as a mysterious invitation to be inducted into secret knowledge." He took a breath and continued. "However, the extended digitus medius, or middle finger, that has been directed at us so often, especially by the teenagers we questioned, just doesn't seem to be in my books."
Desdemona shrugged, then turned away in thought, resting her elbow on her knee and her chin on her hand.
"You remind me of Auguste Rodin's famous sculpture, The Thinker (Le Penseur), currently on display at the Musée Rodin in Paris," Langdon commented. "Of course, to be truly authentic one should remember that Rodin, wanting to create a heroic figure in the tradition of Michelangelo, made the statue a nude," he continued with a hopeful smile. Desdemona raised her eyebrow and he stopped talking.
* * *
A week later, after visiting the Spanish-speaking countries of Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Equatorial Guinea, Cuba, Venezuela, Argentina and much of the United States, the mystery had deepened.
"What do you make of the song some of the kids hummed after we spoke to them? Desdemona asked.
"Shave and a haircut, two bits is actually the world's shortest complete song," Langdon replied. "It has a one-note introduction, a two-note musical question, a two-note musical answer and a two-note conclusion. It seems, however, completely unrelated to the mystery we're investigating."
"Have you made any progress analyzing the Spanish rather than the English lyrics?" Desdemona asked.
"The children we've questioned have mainly tapped or hummed the song, but I have succeeded in finding a Spanish libretto in this book," Langdon replied. He further explained that a libretto is the "text of a musical work," and chuckled because libretto is derived from Italian word libro which means book and Langdon found the libretto in a book.
Desdemona smiled the smile of a woman who suffers fools gladly and nodded to invite further elaboration.
"Well, in Spanish the lyrics are ch*nga tu madre, c*bron," Langdon replied. "It seems to invite me to commit an act of incest, then implies that I was conceived outside the bonds of matrimony."
"It doesn't seem connected." Desdemona replied thoughtfully. She picked up the baffling book and examined it again. "I'm not sure how to approach this mystery. All I know is, it's a world-wide phenomenon." Her intelligent face was set with determination. "We will interview children world wide!"
* * *
Weeks later the mystery had only deepened, this time with extraterrestrial overtones. Hundreds of interviews with children around the globe had revealed nothing, so Desdemona and Langdon went back and carefully examined the illustration on the mysterious book.
"Are you sure there is no Earth creature such as this?" Desdemona asked.
"There can't be," Langdon said. "No animal can ambulate in that manner, unless it's a sea creature,"
"Well, we know that's not the case. It's never shown in an aquatic environment," Desdemona replied.
Desdemona and Langdon stared at the illustration. It depicted a creature with a head located at the bottom of its body. Two eyes, fringed at the bottom with arcs of hair, were at the bottom of its face. A deformed nose with two upturned nostrils was in the middle. A mouth gaped near the top. A torso on a short stalk rose above the head. Two appendages were attached to the torso near the bottom of the creature and waving atop the torso were two sturdier appendages.
Desdemona and Langdon shook their head perplexedly, but, ever hopeful, they continued their quest, trying to find clues to the mysterious book. Unfortunately, they could never figure it out. If only they had turned the book upside down.
opIʍ SI Hʍ
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