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“Luis, listen to me,” Marco whispered. “I realize I tricked you a bit into coming here, but it was with good intentions … I wanted you to meet this man. His ideas have changed my life dramatically. After I lost my leg, I was in the place where you are now. I wanted to die. I was sinking into darkness, and this man’s words gave me a purpose. Just come and hear him preach.”
Avila hesitated. “I’m happy for you, Marco. But I think I’ll be fine on my own.”
“Fine?” The young man laughed. “A week ago, you put a gun to your head and pulled the trigger! You are not fine, my friend.”
He’s right, Avila knew, and one week from now, when my therapy is done, I will be back home, alone and adrift again.
“What are you afraid of?” Marco pressed. “You’re a naval officer. A grown man who commanded a ship! Are you afraid the pope is going to brainwash you in ten minutes and take you hostage?”
I’m not sure what I’m afraid of, Avila thought, staring down at his injured leg, feeling strangely small and impotent. For most of his life, he had been the one in charge, the one giving orders. He was uncertain about the prospect of taking orders from someone else.
“Never mind,” Marco finally said, refastening his seat belt. “I’m sorry. I can see you’re uncomfortable. I didn’t mean to pressure you.” He reached down to start the car.
Avila felt like a fool. Marco was practically a child, one-third Avila’s age, missing a leg, trying to help out a fellow invalid, and Avila had thanked him by being ungrateful, skeptical, and condescending.
“No,” Avila said. “Forgive me, Marco. I’d be honored to listen to the man preach.”
THE WINDSHIELD ON Edmond’s Tesla Model X was expansive, morphing seamlessly into the car’s roof somewhere behind Langdon’s head, giving him the disorienting sense he was floating inside a glass bubble.
Guiding the car along the wooded highway north of Barcelona, Langdon was surprised to find himself driving well in excess of the roadway’s generous 120 kph speed limit. The vehicle’s silent electric engine and linear acceleration seemed to make every speed feel nearly identical.
In the seat beside him, Ambra was busy browsing the Internet on the car’s massive dashboard computer display, relaying to Langdon the news that was now breaking worldwide. An ever-deepening web of intrigue was emerging, including rumors that Bishop Valdespino had been wiring funds to the antipope of the Palmarian Church–who allegedly had military ties with conservative Carlists and appeared to be responsible not only for Edmond’s death, but also for the deaths of Syed al-Fadl and Rabbi Yehuda Koves.
As Ambra read aloud, it became clear that media outlets everywhere were now asking the same question: What could Edmond Kirsch possibly have discovered that was so threatening that a prominent bishop and a conservative Catholic sect would murder him in an effort to silence his announcement?
“The viewership numbers are incredible,” Ambra said, glancing up from the screen. “Public interest in this story is unprecedented … it seems like the entire world is transfixed.”
In that instant, Langdon realized that perhaps there was a macabre silver lining to Edmond’s horrific murder. With all the media attention, Kirsch’s global audience had grown far larger than he could ever have imagined. Right now, even in death, Edmond held the world’s ear.
The realization made Langdon even more committed to achieving his goal–to find Edmond’s forty-seven-letter password and launch his presentation to the world.
“There’s no statement yet from Julian,” Ambra said, sounding puzzled. “Not a single word from the Royal Palace. It makes no sense. I’ve had personal experience with their PR coordinator, Monica Martin, and she’s all about transparency and sharing information before the press can twist it. I’m sure she’s urging Julian to make a statement.”
Langdon suspected she was right. Considering the media was accusing the palace’s primary religious adviser of conspiracy–possibly even murder–it seemed logical that Julian should make a statement of some sort, even if only to say that the palace was investigating the accusations.
“Especially,” Langdon added, “if you consider that the country’s future queen consort was standing right beside Edmond when he was shot. It could have been you, Ambra. The prince should at least say he’s relieved that you’re safe.”
“I’m not sure he is,” she said matter-of-factly, turning off the browser and leaning back in her seat.
Langdon glanced over. “Well, for whatever it’s worth, I’m glad you’re safe. I’m not sure I could have handled tonight all alone.”
“Alone?” an accented voice demanded through the car’s speakers. “How quickly we forget!”
Langdon laughed at Winston’s indignant outburst. “Winston, did Edmond really program you to be defensive and insecure?”
“No,” Winston said. “He programmed me to observe, learn, and mimic human behavior. My tone was more an attempt at humor–which Edmond encouraged me to develop. Humor cannot be programmed … it must be learned.”
“Well, you’re learning well.”
“Am I?” Winston entreated. “Perhaps you could say that again?”
Langdon laughed out loud. “As I said, you’re learning well.”
Ambra had now returned the dashboard display to its default page–a navigation program consisting of a satellite photo on which a tiny “avatar” of their car was visible. Langdon could see that they had wound through the Collserola Mountains and were now merging onto Highway B-20 toward Barcelona. To the south of their location, on the satellite photo, Langdon spotted something unusual that drew his attention–a large forested area in the middle of the urban sprawl. The green expanse was elongated and amorphous, like a giant amoeba.
“Is that Parc Guell?” he asked.
Ambra glanced at the screen and nodded. “Good eye.”
“Edmond stopped there frequently,” Winston added, “on his way home from the airport.”
Langdon was not surprised. Parc Guell was one of the best-known masterpieces of Antoni Gaudi–the same architect and artist whose work Edmond displayed on his phone case. Gaudi was a lot like Edmond, Langdon thought. A groundbreaking visionary for whom the normal rules did not apply.
A devout student of nature, Antoni Gaudi had taken his architectural inspiration from organic forms, using “God’s natural world” to help him design fluid biomorphic structures that often appeared to have grown out of the ground themselves. There are no straight lines in nature, Gaudi was once quoted as saying, and indeed, there were very few straight lines in his work either.
Often described as the progenitor of “living architecture” and “biological design,” Gaudi invented never-before-seen techniques of carpentry, ironwork, glasswork, and ceramics in order to “sheathe” his buildings in dazzling, colorful skins.
Even now, nearly a century after Gaudi’s death, tourists from around the world traveled to Barcelona to get a glimpse of his inimitable modernist style. His works included parks, public buildings, private mansions, and, of course, his magnum opus–Sagrada Familia–the massive Catholic basilica whose skyscraping “sea sponge spires” dominated Barcelona’s skyline, and which critics hailed as being “unlike anything in the entire history of art.”
Langdon had always marveled at Gaudi’s audacious vision for Sagrada Familia–a basilica so colossal that it remained under construction today, nearly 140 years after its groundbreaking.
Tonight, as Langdon eyed the car’s satellite image of Gaudi’s famous Parc Guell, he recalled his first visit to the park as a college student–a stroll through a fantasyland of twisting treelike columns supporting elevated walkways, nebulous misshapen benches, grottoes with fountains resembling dragons and fish, and an undulating white wall so distinctively fluid that it looked like the whipping flagellum of a giant single-celled creature.
“Edmond loved everything Gaudi,” Winston continued, “in particular his concept of nature as organic art.”
Langdon’s mind touched again on Edmond’s discovery. Nature. Organics. The Creation. He flashed on Gaudi’s famous Barcelona Panots–hexagonal paving tiles commissioned for the sidewalks of the city. Each tile bore an identical swirling design of seemingly meaningless squiggles, and yet when they were all arranged and rotated as intended, a startling pattern emerged–an underwater seascape that gave the impression of plankton, microbes, and undersea flora–La Sopa Primordial, as the locals often called the design.
Gaudi’s primordial soup, Langdon thought, again startled by how perfectly the city of Barcelona dovetailed with Edmond’s curiosity about the beginnings of life. The prevailing scientific theory was that life had begun in the earth’s primordial soup–those early oceans where volcanoes spewed rich chemicals, which swirled around one another, constantly bombarded by lightning bolts from endless storms … until suddenly, like some kind of microscopic golem, the first single-celled creature sprang to life.
“Ambra,” Langdon said, “you’re a museum curator–you must have discussed art frequently with Edmond. Did he ever tell you specifically what it was about Gaudi that spoke to him?”
“Only what Winston mentioned,” she replied. “His architecture feels as if it were created by nature herself. Gaudi’s grottoes seem carved by the wind and rain, his supporting pillars seem to have grown out of the earth, and his tile work resembles primitive sea life.” She shrugged. “Whatever the reason, Edmond admired Gaudi enough to move to Spain.”
Langdon glanced over at her, surprised. He knew Edmond owned houses in several countries around the world, but in recent years, he’d chosen to settle in Spain. “You’re saying Edmond moved here because of the art of Gaudi?”
“I believe he did,” Ambra said. “I once asked him, ‘Why Spain?’ and he told me he had the rare opportunity to rent a unique property here–a property unlike anything else in the world. I assume he meant his apartment,” she said.
“Where’s his apartment?”
“Robert, Edmond lived in Casa Mila.”
Langdon did a double take. “The Casa Mila?”
“The one and only,” she replied with a nod. “Last year, he rented the entire top floor as his penthouse apartment.”
Langdon needed a moment to process the news. Casa Mila was one of Gaudi’s most famous buildings–a dazzlingly original “house” whose tiered facade and undulating stone balconies resembled an excavated mountain, sparking its now popular nickname “La Pedrera”–meaning “the stone quarry.”
“Isn’t the top floor a Gaudi museum?” Langdon asked, recalling one of his visits to the building in the past.
“Yes,” Winston offered. “But Edmond made a donation to UNESCO, which protects the house as a World Heritage Site, and they agreed to temporarily close it down and let him live there for two years. After all, there’s no shortage of Gaudi art in Barcelona.”
Edmond lived inside a Gaudi exhibit at Casa Mila? Langdon puzzled. And he moved in for only two years?
Winston chimed in. “Edmond even helped Casa Mila create a new educational video about its architecture. It’s worth seeing.”
“The video is actually quite impressive,” Ambra agreed, leaning forward and touching the browser screen. A keyboard appeared, and she typed: Lapedrera.com. “You should watch this.”
“I’m kind of driving,” Langdon replied.
Ambra reached over to the steering column and gave two quick pulls on a small lever. Langdon could feel the steering wheel suddenly stiffen in his hands and immediately noticed that the car appeared to be guiding itself, remaining perfectly centered in its lane.
“Autopilot,” she said.
The effect was quite unsettling, and Langdon could not help but leave his hands hovering over the wheel and his foot over the brake.
“Relax.” Ambra reached over and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. “It’s far safer than a human driver.”
Reluctantly, Langdon lowered his hands to his lap.
“There you go.” She smiled. “Now you can watch this Casa Mila video.”
The video began with a dramatic low shot of pounding surf, as if taken from a helicopter flying only a few feet above the open ocean. Rising in the distance was an island–a stone mountain with sheer cliffs that climbed hundreds of feet above the crashing waves.
Text materialized over the mountain.
La Pedrera wasn’t created by Gaudi.
For the next thirty seconds, Langdon watched as the surf began carving the mountain into the distinctive organic-looking exterior of Casa Mila. Next the ocean rushed inside, creating hollows and cavernous rooms, in which waterfalls carved staircases and vines grew, twisting into iron banisters as mosses grew beneath them, carpeting the floors.
Finally, the camera pulled back out to sea and revealed the famous image of Casa Mila–“the quarry”–carved into a massive mountain.
a masterpiece of nature
Langdon had to admit, Edmond had a knack for drama. Seeing this computer-generated video made him eager to revisit the famous building.
Returning his eyes to the road, Langdon reached down and disengaged the autopilot, taking back control. “Let’s just hope Edmond’s apartment contains what we’re looking for. We need to find that password.”
COMMANDER DIEGO GARZA led his four armed Guardia agents directly across the center of Plaza de la Armeria, keeping his eyes straight ahead and ignoring the clamoring media outside the fence, all of whom were aiming television cameras at him through the bars and shouting for a comment.
At least they’ll see that someone is taking action.
When he and his team arrived at the cathedral, the main entrance was locked–not surprising at this hour–and Garza began pounding on the door with the handle of his sidearm.
He kept pounding.
Finally, the locks turned and the door swung open. Garza found himself face-to-face with a cleaning woman, who looked understandably alarmed by the small army outside the door.
“Where is Bishop Valdespino?” Garza demanded.
“I … I don’t know,” the woman replied.
“I know the bishop is here,” Garza declared. “And he is with Prince Julian. You haven’t seen them?”
She shook her head. “I just arrived. I clean on Saturday nights after–”
Garza pushed past her, directing his men to spread out through the darkened cathedral.
“Lock the door,” Garza told the cleaning woman. “And stay out of the way.”
With that, he cocked his weapon and headed directly for Valdespino’s office.
Across the plaza, in the palace’s basement control room, Monica Martin was standing at the watercooler and taking a pull on a long-overdue cigarette. Thanks to the liberal “politically correct” movement sweeping Spain, smoking in palace offices had been banned, but with the deluge of alleged crimes being pinned on the palace tonight, Martin figured a bit of secondhand smoke was a tolerable infraction.
All five news stations on the bank of muted televisions lined up before her continued their live coverage of the assassination of Edmond Kirsch, flagrantly replaying the footage of his brutal murder over and over. Of course, each retransmission was preceded by the usual warning.
CAUTION: The following clip contains graphic images that may not be appropriate for all viewers.
Shameless, she thought, knowing these warnings were not sensitive network precautions but rather clever teasers to ensure that nobody changed the channel.
Martin took another pull on her cigarette, scanning the various networks, most of which were milking the growing conspiracy theories with “Breaking News” headlines and ticker-tape crawls.
Futurist killed by Church?
Scientific discovery lost forever?
Assassin hired by royal family?
You’re supposed to report the news, she grumbled. Not spread vicious rumors in the form of questions.
Martin had always believed in the importance of responsible journalism as a cornerstone of freedom and democracy, and so she was routinely disappointed by journalists who incited controversy by broadcasting ideas that were patently absurd–all the while avoiding legal repercussions by simply turning every ludicrous statement into a leading question.
Even respected science channels were doing it, asking their viewers: “Is It Possible That This Temple in Peru Was Built by Ancient Aliens?”
No! Martin wanted to shout at the television. It’s not freaking possible! Stop asking moronic questions!
On one of the television screens, she could see that CNN seemed to be doing its best to be respectful.
Remembering Edmond Kirsch
Prophet. Visionary. Creator.
Martin picked up the remote and turned up the volume.
“… a man who loved art, technology, and innovation,” said the news anchor sadly. “A man whose almost mystical ability to predict the future made him a household name. According to his colleagues, every single prediction made by Edmond Kirsch in the field of computer science has become a reality.”
“That’s right, David,” interjected his female cohost. “I just wish we could say the same for his personal predictions.”
They now played archival footage of a robust, tanned Edmond Kirsch giving a press conference on the sidewalk outside 30 Rockefeller Center in New York City. “Today I am thirty years old,” Edmond said, “and my life expectancy is only sixty-eight. However, with future advances in medicine, longevity technology, and telomere regeneration, I predict I will live to see my hundred-and-tenth birthday. In fact, I am so confident of this fact that I just reserved the Rainbow Room for my hundred-and-tenth-birthday party.” Kirsch smiled and gazed up to the top of the building. “I just now paid my entire bill–eighty years in advance–including provisions for inflation.”
The female anchor returned, sighing somberly. “As the old adage goes: ‘Men plan, and God laughs.'”
“So true,” the male host chimed. “And on top of the intrigue surrounding Kirsch’s death, there is also an explosion of speculation over the nature of his discovery.” He stared earnestly at the camera. “Where do we come from? Where are we going? Two fascinating questions.”
“And to answer these questions,” the female host added excitedly, “we are joined by two very accomplished women–an Episcopal minister from Vermont and an evolutionary biologist from UCLA. We’ll be back after the break with their thoughts.”
Martin already knew their thoughts–polar opposites, or they would not be on your show. No doubt the minister would say something like: “We come from God and we’re going to God,” and the biologist would respond, “We evolved from apes and we’re going extinct.”