1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48

Bena reached up and placed a hand on Langdon’s shoulder. “Professor,” he said with a chuckle, “Edmond Kirsch is not the first atheist in history to proclaim that ‘God is dead,’ nor will he be the last. Whatever it is that Mr. Kirsch has discovered, it will no doubt be debated on all sides. Since the beginning of time, the human intellect has always evolved, and it is not my role to impede that development. From my perspective, however, there has never been an intellectual advancement that has not included God.”

With that, Father Bena gave them both a reassuring smile and headed down the stairs.

Outside, waiting in the cockpit of the parked EC145 helicopter, the pilot watched with rising concern as the crowd outside Sagrada Familia’s security fence continued to grow. He had not heard from the two Guardia agents inside and was about to radio in when a small man in black robes emerged from the basilica and approached the chopper.

The man introduced himself as Father Bena and relayed a shocking message from inside: both Guardia agents had been killed, and the future queen and Robert Langdon required evacuation at once. As if this weren’t startling enough, the priest then told the pilot where precisely he was to collect his passengers.

Impossible, the pilot had thought.

And yet now, as he soared over the spires of Sagrada Familia, he realized that the priest had been correct. The church’s largest spire–a monolithic central tower–had not yet been built. Its foundation platform was a flat circular expanse, nestled deep among a cluster of spires, like a clearing in a forest of redwoods.

The pilot positioned himself high above the platform, and carefully lowered the chopper down among the spires. As he touched down, he saw two figures emerge from a stairwell–Ambra Vidal assisting an injured Robert Langdon.

The pilot jumped out and helped them both inside.

As he strapped them in, the future queen of Spain gave him a weary nod.

“Thank you very much,” she whispered. “Mr. Langdon will tell you where to go.”

CHAPTER 78

ConspiracyNet.com

BREAKING NEWS

PALMARIAN CHURCH

KILLED EDMOND KIRSCH’S MOTHER?!

Our informant monte@iglesia.org has come through with yet another blockbuster revelation! According to exclusive documents verified by ConspiracyNet, Edmond Kirsch has attempted for years to sue the Palmarian Church for “brainwashing, psychological conditioning, and physical cruelty” allegedly resulting in the death of Paloma Kirsch–Edmond’s biological mother–more than three decades ago.

Paloma Kirsch is alleged to have been an active member of the Palmarian Church who attempted to break free, was shamed and psychologically abused by her superiors, and hanged herself in a nunnery bedroom.

CHAPTER 79

“THE KING HIMSELF,” Commander Garza muttered again, his voice resonating across the palace armory. “I still can’t fathom that my arrest order came from the king himself. After all my years of service.”

Monica Martin placed a silencing finger to her lips and glanced through the suits of armor at the entryway to make sure the guards were not listening. “I told you, Bishop Valdespino has the king’s ear, and has convinced His Majesty that tonight’s accusations against him are your doing, and that you’re somehow framing him.”

I’ve become the king’s sacrificial lamb, Garza realized, always having suspected that if the king were forced to choose between his Guardia Real commander or Valdespino, he would choose Valdespino; the two men had been lifelong friends, and spiritual connections always trumped professional ones.

Even so, Garza could not help but feel that something about Monica’s explanation wasn’t entirely logical. “The kidnapping story,” he said. “You’re telling me that it was ordered by the king?”

“Yes, His Majesty called me directly. He ordered me to announce that Ambra Vidal had been abducted. He had concocted the kidnapping story in an effort to save the reputation of the future queen–to soften the appearance that she had literally run off with another man.” Martin gave Garza an annoyed look. “Why are you questioning me about this? Especially now that you know the king phoned Agent Fonseca with the same kidnapping story?”

“I can’t believe the king would ever risk falsely accusing a prominent American of kidnapping,” Garza argued. “He’d have to be–”

“Insane?” she interrupted.

Garza stared in silence.

“Commander,” Martin pressed, “remember that His Majesty is failing. Maybe this was just a case of bad judgment?”

“Or a moment of brilliance,” Garza offered. “Reckless or not, the future queen is now safe and accounted for, in the hands of the Guardia.”

“Exactly.” Martin eyed him carefully. “So what’s bothering you?”

“Valdespino,” Garza said. “I admit I don’t like him, but my gut says he can’t possibly be behind Kirsch’s murder, or any of the rest of it.”

“Why not?” Her tone was acerbic. “Because he’s a priest? I’m pretty sure our Inquisition taught us a few things about the Church’s willingness to justify drastic measures. In my opinion, Valdespino is self-righteous, ruthless, opportunistic, and overly secretive. Am I missing something?”

“You are,” Garza fired back, startled to find himself defending the bishop. “Valdespino is everything you say he is, but he is also a person for whom tradition and dignity are everything. The king–who trusts almost no one–has steadfastly trusted the bishop for decades now. I find it very hard to believe that the king’s confidant could ever commit the kind of treachery we’re talking about.”

Martin sighed and pulled out her cell phone. “Commander, I hate to undermine your faith in the bishop, but I need you to see this. Suresh showed it to me.” She pressed a few buttons and handed Garza her phone.

The screen displayed a long text message.

“This is a screenshot of a text message Bishop Valdespino received tonight,” she whispered. “Read it. I guarantee it will change your mind.”

CHAPTER 80

DESPITE THE PAIN coursing through his body, Robert Langdon felt strangely buoyant, almost euphoric, as the helicopter thundered off the roof of Sagrada Familia.

I’m alive.

He could feel the adrenaline build up in his bloodstream, as if all of the events of the past hour were now hitting him all at once. Breathing as slowly as possible, Langdon turned his attention outward, to the world beyond the helicopter windows.

All around him, massive church spires reached skyward, but as the helicopter rose, the church dropped away, dissolving into an illuminated grid of streets. Langdon gazed down at the sprawl of city blocks, which were not the usual squares and rectangles but rather much softer octagons.

L’Eixample, Langdon thought. The Widening.

Visionary city architect Ildefons Cerda had widened all the intersections in this district by shaving the corners off the square blocks to create mini plazas, with better visibility, increased airflow, and abundant space for outdoor cafes.

“?Adonde vamos?” the pilot shouted over his shoulder.

Langdon pointed two blocks to the south, where one of the city’s widest, brightest, and most aptly named avenues cut diagonally across Barcelona.

“Avinguda Diagonal,” Langdon shouted. “Al oeste.” To the west.

Impossible to miss on any map of Barcelona, Avinguda Diagonal crossed the entire width of the city, from the ultramodern beachside skyscraper Diagonal ZeroZero to the ancient rose gardens of Parc de Cervantes–a ten-acre tribute to Spain’s most celebrated novelist, the author of Don Quixote.

The pilot nodded his confirmation and banked to the west, following the slanting avenue westward toward the mountains. “Address?” the pilot called back. “Coordinates?”

I don’t know the address, Langdon realized. “Fly to the futbol stadium.”

“?Futbol?” He seemed surprised. “FC Barcelona?”

Langdon nodded, having no doubt the pilot knew exactly how to find the home of the famed Barcelona futbol club, which was located a few miles farther up Avinguda Diagonal.

The pilot opened the throttle, now tracing the path of the avenue at full speed.

“Robert?” Ambra asked quietly. “Are you okay?” She studied him as if perhaps his head injury had impaired his judgment. “You said you know where to find Winston.”

“I do,” he replied. “That’s where I’m taking us.”

“A futbol stadium? You think Edmond built a supercomputer at a stadium?”

Langdon shook his head. “No, the stadium is just an easy landmark for the pilot to locate. I’m interested in the building directly beside the stadium–the Gran Hotel Princesa Sofia.”

Ambra’s expression of confusion only deepened. “Robert, I’m not sure you’re making sense. There’s no way Edmond built Winston inside a luxury hotel. I think we should take you to the clinic after all.”

“I’m fine, Ambra. Trust me.”

“Then where are we going?”

“Where are we going?” Langdon stroked his chin playfully. “I believe that’s one of the important questions Edmond promised to answer tonight.”

Ambra’s expression settled somewhere between amused and exasperated.

“Sorry,” Langdon said. “Let me explain. Two years ago, I had lunch with Edmond at the private club on the eighteenth floor of the Gran Hotel Princesa Sofia.”

“And Edmond brought a supercomputer to lunch?” Ambra suggested with a laugh.

Langdon smiled. “Not quite. Edmond arrived for lunch on foot, telling me he ate at the club almost every day because the hotel was so convenient–only a couple of blocks from his computer lab. He also confided in me that he was working on an advanced synthetic intelligence project and was incredibly excited about its potential.”

Ambra looked suddenly heartened. “That must have been Winston!”

“My thoughts exactly.”

“And so Edmond took you to his lab!”

“No.”

“Did he tell you where it was?”

“Unfortunately, he kept that a secret.”

The concern rushed back into Ambra’s eyes.

“However,” Langdon said, “Winston secretly told us exactly where it is.”

Now Ambra looked confused. “No, he didn’t.”

“I assure you, he did,” Langdon said, smiling. “He actually told the whole world.”

Before Ambra could demand an explanation, the pilot announced, “!Ahi esta el estadio!” He pointed into the distance at Barcelona’s massive stadium.

That was fast, Langdon thought, glancing outside and tracing a line from the stadium to the nearby Gran Hotel Princesa Sofia–a skyscraper overlooking a broad plaza on Avinguda Diagonal. Langdon told the pilot to bypass the stadium and instead take them up high over the hotel.

Within seconds, the helicopter had climbed several hundred feet and was hovering above the hotel where Langdon and Edmond had gone to lunch two years ago. He told me his computer lab was only two blocks from here.

From their bird’s-eye vantage point, Langdon scanned the area around the hotel. The streets in this neighborhood were not as rectilinear as they were around Sagrada Familia, and the city blocks formed all kinds of uneven and oblong shapes.

It has to be here.

With rising uncertainty, Langdon searched the blocks in all directions, trying to spot the unique shape that he could picture in his memory. Where is it?

It was not until he turned his gaze to the north, across the traffic circle at the Placa de Pius XII, that Langdon felt a twinge of hope. “Over there!” he called to the pilot. “Please fly over that wooded area!”

The pilot tipped the nose of the chopper and moved diagonally one block to the northwest, now hovering over the forested expanse where Langdon had pointed. The woods were actually part of a massive walled estate.

“Robert,” Ambra shouted, sounding frustrated now. “What are you doing? This is the Royal Palace of Pedralbes! There is no way Edmond built Winston inside–”

“Not here! Over there!” Langdon pointed beyond the palace to the block directly behind it.

Ambra leaned forward, looking down intently at the source of Langdon’s excitement. The block behind the palace was formed by four well-lit streets, intersecting to create a square that was orientated north-south like a diamond. The diamond’s only flaw was that its lower-right border was awkwardly bent–skewed by an uneven jog in the line–leaving a crooked perimeter.

“Do you recognize that jagged line?” Langdon asked, pointing to the diamond’s skewed axis–a well-lit street perfectly delineated against the darkness of the wooded palace grounds. “Do you see the street with the little jog in it?”

All at once Ambra’s exasperation seemed to disappear, and she cocked her head to peer down more intently. “Actually, that line is familiar. Why do I know it?”

“Look at the entire block,” Langdon urged. “A diamond shape with one strange border in the lower right.” He waited, sensing Ambra would recognize it soon. “Look at the two small parks on this block.” He pointed to a round park in the middle and a semicircular park on the right.

“I feel like I know this place,” Ambra said, “but I can’t quite …”

“Think about art,” Langdon said. “Think about your collection at the Guggenheim. Think about–”

“Winston!” she shouted, and turned to him in disbelief. “The layout of this block–it’s the exact shape of Winston’s self-portrait in the Guggenheim!”

Langdon smiled at her. “Yes, it is.”

Ambra wheeled back to the window and stared down at the diamond-shaped block. Langdon peered down too, picturing Winston’s self-portrait–the bizarrely shaped canvas that had puzzled him ever since Winston had pointed it out to him earlier tonight–an awkward tribute to the work of Miro.

Edmond asked me to create a self-portrait, Winston had said, and this is what I came up with.

Langdon had already decided that the eyeball featured near the center of the piece–a staple of Miro’s work–almost certainly indicated the precise spot where Winston existed, the place on the planet from which Winston viewed the world.

Ambra turned back from the window, looking both joyful and stunned. “Winston’s self-portrait is not a Miro. It’s a map!”

“Exactly,” Langdon said. “Considering Winston has no body and no physical self-image, his self-portrait understandably would be more related to his location than to his physical form.”

“The eyeball,” Ambra said. “It’s a carbon copy of a Miro. But there’s only one eye, so maybe that’s what marks Winston’s location?”

“I was thinking the same thing.” Langdon turned to the pilot now and asked if he could set the helicopter down just for a moment on one of the two little parks on Winston’s block. The pilot began to descend.

“My God,” Ambra blurted, “I think I know why Winston chose to mimic Miro’s style!”

“Oh?”

“The palace we just flew over is the Palace of Pedralbes.”

“?Pedralbes?” Langdon asked. “Isn’t that the name of–”

“Yes! One of Miro’s most famous sketches. Winston probably researched this area and found a local tie to Miro!”

Langdon had to admit, Winston’s creativity was astonishing, and he felt strangely exhilarated by the prospect of reconnecting with Edmond’s synthetic intelligence. As the helicopter dropped lower, Langdon saw the dark silhouette of a large building located on the exact spot where Winston had drawn his eye.

“Look–” Ambra pointed. “That must be it.”

Langdon strained to get a better view of the building, which was obscured by large trees. Even from the air, it looked formidable.

“I don’t see lights,” Ambra said. “Do you think we can get in?”

“Somebody’s got to be here,” Langdon said. “Edmond must have staff on hand, especially tonight. When they realize we have Edmond’s password–I suspect they will scramble to help us trigger the presentation.”

Fifteen seconds later, the helicopter touched down in a large semicircular park on the eastern border of Winston’s block. Langdon and Ambra jumped out, and the chopper lifted off instantly, speeding toward the stadium, where it would await further instructions.

As the two of them hurried across the darkened park toward the center of the block, they crossed a small internal street, Passeig dels Til*lers, and moved into a heavily wooded area. Up ahead, shrouded by trees, they could see the silhouette of a large and bulky building.

“No lights,” Ambra whispered.

“And a fence,” Langdon said, frowning as they arrived at a ten-foot-high, wrought iron security fence that circled the entire complex. He peered through the bars, unable to see much of the building in the forested compound. He felt puzzled to see no lights at all.

“There,” Ambra said, pointing twenty yards down the fence line. “I think it’s a gate.”

They hurried along the fence and found an imposing entry turnstile, which was securely locked. There was an electronic call box, and before Langdon had a chance to consider their options, Ambra had pressed the call button.

The line rang twice and connected.

Silence.

“Hello?” Ambra said. “Hello?”

No voice came through the speaker–just the ominous buzz of an open line.

“I don’t know if you can hear me,” she said, “but this is Ambra Vidal and Robert Langdon. We are trusted friends of Edmond Kirsch. We were with him tonight when he was killed. We have information that will be extremely helpful to Edmond, to Winston, and, I believe, to all of you.”

There was a staccato click.

Langdon immediately put his hand on the turnstile, which turned freely.

He exhaled. “I told you someone was home.”

The two of them hurriedly pushed through the security turnstile and moved through the trees toward the darkened building. As they got closer, the outline of the roof began to take shape against the sky. An unexpected silhouette materialized–a fifteen-foot symbol mounted to the peak of the roof.

Ambra and Langdon stopped short.

This can’t be right, Langdon thought, staring up at the unmistakable symbol above them. Edmond’s computer lab has a giant crucifix on the roof?

Langdon took several more steps and emerged from the trees. As he did, the building’s entire facade came into view, and it was a surprising sight–an ancient Gothic church with a large rose window, two stone steeples, and an elegant doorway adorned with bas-reliefs of Catholic saints and the Virgin Mary.

Ambra looked horrified. “Robert, I think we just broke our way onto the grounds of a Catholic church. We’re in the wrong place.”

Langdon spotted a sign in front of the church and began to laugh. “No, I think we’re in the exact right place.”

This facility had been in the news a few years ago, but Langdon had never realized it was in Barcelona. A high-tech lab built inside a decommissioned Catholic church. Langdon had to admit it seemed the ultimate sanctuary for an irreverent atheist to build a godless computer. As he gazed up at the now defunct church, he felt a chill to realize the prescience with which Edmond had chosen his password.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48