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The dark religions are departed & sweet science reigns.

Langdon drew Ambra’s attention to the sign.

It read:

BARCELONA SUPERCOMPUTING CENTER

CENTRO NACIONAL DE SUPERCOMPUTACION

Ambra turned to him with a look of disbelief. “Barcelona has a supercomputing center inside a Catholic church?”

“It does.” Langdon smiled. “Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.”

CHAPTER 81

THE TALLEST CROSS in the world is in Spain.

Erected on a mountaintop eight miles north of the monastery of El Escorial, the massive cement cross soars a bewildering five hundred feet in the air above a barren valley, where it can be seen from more than a hundred miles away.

The rocky gorge beneath the cross–aptly named the Valley of the Fallen–is the final resting place of more than forty thousand souls, victims of both sides of the bloody Spanish Civil War.

What are we doing here? Julian wondered as he followed the Guardia out onto the viewing esplanade at the base of the mountain beneath the cross. This is where my father wants to meet?

Walking beside him, Valdespino looked equally confused. “This makes no sense,” he whispered. “Your father always despised this place.”

Millions despise this place, Julian thought.

Conceived in 1940 by Franco himself, the Valley of the Fallen had been billed as “a national act of atonement”–an attempt to reconcile victors and vanquished. Despite its “noble aspiration,” the monument sparked controversy to this day because it was built by a workforce that included convicts and political prisoners who had opposed Franco–many of whom died from exposure and starvation during construction.

In the past, some parliamentary members had even gone so far as to compare this place to a Nazi concentration camp. Julian suspected his father secretly felt the same way, even if he could never say so openly. For most Spaniards, the site was regarded as a monument to Franco, built by Franco–a colossal shrine to honor himself. The fact that Franco was now entombed in it only added fuel to the critics’ fire.

Julian recalled the one time he had been here–another childhood outing with his father to learn about his country. The king had shown him around and quietly whispered, Look carefully, son. One day you’ll tear this down.

Now, as Julian followed the Guardia up the stairs toward the austere facade carved into the mountainside, he began to realize where they were going. A sculpted bronze door loomed before them–a portal into the face of the mountain itself–and Julian recalled stepping through that door as a boy, utterly transfixed by what lay beyond.

After all, the true miracle of this mountaintop was not the towering cross above it; the true miracle was the secret space inside it.

Hollowed out within the granite peak was a man-made cavern of unfathomable proportions. The hand-excavated cavern tunneled back nearly nine hundred feet into the mountain, where it opened up into a gaping chamber, meticulously and elegantly finished, with glimmering tile floors and a soaring frescoed cupola that spanned nearly a hundred and fifty feet from side to side. I’m inside a mountain, young Julian had thought. I must be dreaming!

Now, years later, Prince Julian had returned.

Here at the behest of my dying father.

As the group neared the iron portal, Julian gazed up at the austere bronze pieta above the door. Beside him, Bishop Valdespino crossed himself, although Julian sensed the gesture was more out of trepidation than faith.

CHAPTER 82

ConspiracyNet.com BREAKING NEWS

BUT … WHO IS THE REGENT?

Evidence has now surfaced proving that assassin Luis Avila was taking his kill orders directly from an individual he called the Regent.

The identity of the Regent remains a mystery, although this person’s title may provide some clues. According to dictionary.com, a “regent” is someone appointed to oversee an organization while its leader is incapacitated or absent.

From our User Survey “Who Is the Regent?”–our top three answers currently are:

1. Bishop Antonio Valdespino taking over for the ailing Spanish king 2. A Palmarian pope who believes he is the legitimate pontiff 3. A Spanish military officer claiming to be acting on behalf of his country’s incapacitated commander in chief, the king

More news as we have it!

#WHOISTHEREGENT

CHAPTER 83

LANGDON AND AMBRA scanned the facade of the large chapel and found the entrance to the Barcelona Supercomputing Center at the southern tip of the church’s nave. Here, an ultramodern Plexiglas vestibule had been affixed to the outside of the rustic facade, giving the church the hybrid appearance of a building caught between centuries.

In an outer courtyard near the entrance stood a twelve-foot-tall bust of a primitive warrior’s head. Langdon couldn’t imagine what this artifact was doing on the grounds of a Catholic church, but he was fairly certain, knowing Edmond, that Kirsch’s workplace would be a land of contradictions.

Ambra hurried to the main entrance and pressed the call button at the door. As Langdon joined her, a security camera overhead rotated toward them, scanning back and forth for several long moments.

Then the door buzzed open.

Langdon and Ambra quickly pushed through the entrance into a large foyer that was fashioned from the church’s original narthex. It was an enclosed stone chamber, dimly lit and empty. Langdon had expected someone would appear to greet them–perhaps one of Edmond’s employees–but the lobby was deserted.

“Is there no one here?” Ambra whispered.

They became aware of the soft, pious strains of medieval church music–a polyphonic choral work for male voices that sounded vaguely familiar. Langdon couldn’t place it, but the eerie presence of religious music in a high-tech facility seemed to him a product of Edmond’s playful sense of humor.

Glowing in front of them on the wall of the lobby, a massive plasma screen provided the room’s sole light. The screen was projecting what could only be described as some kind of primitive computer game–clusters of black dots moving around on a white surface, like groups of bugs wandering aimlessly.

Not totally aimlessly, Langdon realized, now recognizing the patterns.

This famous computer-generated progression–known as Life–had been invented in the 1970s by a British mathematician, John Conway. The black dots–known as cells–moved, interacted, and reproduced based on a preordained series of “rules” entered by the programmer. Invariably, over time, guided only by these “initial rules of engagement,” the dots began organizing themselves into clusters, sequences, and recurring patterns–patterns that evolved, became more complex, and began to look startlingly similar to patterns seen in nature.

“Conway’s Game of Life,” Ambra said. “I saw a digital installation years ago based on it–a mixed-media piece titled Cellular Automaton.”

Langdon was impressed, having heard of Life himself only because its inventor, Conway, had taught at Princeton.

The choral harmonies caught Langdon’s ear again. I feel like I’ve heard this piece. Perhaps a Renaissance Mass?

“Robert,” Ambra said, pointing. “Look.”

On the display screen, the bustling groups of dots had reversed direction and were accelerating, as if the program were now playing backward. The sequence rewound faster and faster, backward in time. The number of dots began diminishing … the cells no longer splitting and multiplying but recombining … their structures becoming simpler and simpler until finally there were only a handful of them, which continued merging … first eight, then four, then two, then …

One.

A single cell blinked in the middle of the screen.

Langdon felt a chill. The origin of life.

The dot blinked out, leaving only a void–an empty white screen.

The Game of Life was gone, and faint text began to materialize, growing more pronounced until they could read it.

If we admit a First Cause,

the mind still craves to know

whence it came and how it arose.

“That’s Darwin,” Langdon whispered, recognizing the legendary botanist’s eloquent phrasing of the same question Edmond Kirsch had been asking.

“Where do we come from?” Ambra said excitedly, reading the text.

“Exactly.”

Ambra smiled at him. “Shall we go find out?”

She motioned beside the display screen to a columned opening that appeared to connect to the main church.

As they stepped across the lobby, the display refreshed again, now showing a collage of words that appeared randomly on the screen. The number of words grew steadily and chaotically, with new words evolving, morphing, and combining into an intricate array of phrases.

… growth … fresh buds … beautiful ramifications …

As the image expanded, Langdon and Ambra saw the words evolve into the shape of a growing tree.

What in the world?

They stared intently at the graphic, and the sound of the a cappella voices grew louder around them. Langdon realized that they were not singing in Latin as he had imagined, but in English.

“My God, the words on the screen,” Ambra said. “I think they match the music.”

“You’re right,” Langdon agreed, seeing fresh text appear on-screen as it was being sung simultaneously.

… by slowly acting causes … not by miraculous acts …

Langdon listened and watched, feeling strangely disconcerted by the combination of words and music; the music was clearly religious, yet the text was anything but.

… organic beings … strongest live … weakest die …

Langdon stopped short.

I know this piece!

Edmond had taken Langdon to a performance of it several years ago. Titled Missa Charles Darwin, it was a Christian-style mass in which the composer had eschewed the traditional sacred Latin text and substituted excerpts from Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species to create a haunting juxtaposition of devout voices singing about the brutality of natural selection.

“Bizarre,” Langdon commented. “Edmond and I heard this piece together a while back–he loved it. Such a coincidence to hear it again.”

“No coincidence,” boomed a familiar voice from the speakers overhead. “Edmond taught me to welcome guests into my home by putting on some music they would appreciate and showing them something of interest to discuss.”

Langdon and Ambra stared up at the speakers in disbelief. The cheerful voice that welcomed them was distinctly British.

“I’m so glad you’ve found your way here,” said the very familiar synthetic voice. “I had no way to contact you.”

“Winston!” Langdon exclaimed, amazed to feel such relief from reconnecting with a machine. He and Ambra quickly recounted what had happened.

“It’s good to hear your voices,” Winston said. “So tell me, have we found what we were looking for?”

CHAPTER 84

“WILLIAM BLAKE,” LANGDON said. “‘The dark religions are departed and sweet science reigns.'”

Winston paused only an instant. “The final line of his epic poem The Four Zoas. I must admit it’s a perfect choice.” He paused. “However, the requisite forty-seven-letter count–”

“The ampersand,” Langdon said, quickly explaining Kirsch’s ligature trick using et.

“That is quintessential Edmond,” the synthetic voice replied with an awkward chuckle.

“So, Winston?” Ambra urged. “Now that you know Edmond’s password, can you trigger the remainder of his presentation?”

“Of course I can,” Winston replied unequivocally. “All I need is for you to enter the password manually. Edmond placed firewalls around this project, so I don’t have direct access to it, but I can take you back to his lab and show you where to enter the information. We can launch the program in less than ten minutes.”

Langdon and Ambra turned to each other, the abruptness of Winston’s confirmation catching them off guard. With everything they had endured tonight, this ultimate moment of triumph seemed to have arrived without any fanfare.

“Robert,” Ambra whispered, placing a hand on his shoulder. “You did this. Thank you.”

“Team effort,” he replied with a smile.

“Might I suggest,” Winston said, “that we move immediately back to Edmond’s lab? You’re quite visible here in the lobby, and I’ve detected some news reports that you are in this vicinity.”

Langdon was not surprised; a military helicopter touching down in a metropolitan park was bound to draw attention.

“Tell us where to go,” Ambra said.

“Between the columns,” Winston replied. “Follow my voice.”

In the lobby, the choral music stopped abruptly, the plasma screen went dark, and from the main entrance, a series of loud thuds echoed as automatically controlled dead bolts engaged.

Edmond probably turned this facility into a fortress, Langdon realized, stealing a quick glance through the thick lobby windows, relieved to see that the wooded area around the chapel was deserted. At least for the moment.

As he turned back toward Ambra, he saw a light flicker on at the end of the lobby, illuminating a doorway between two columns. He and Ambra walked over, entered, and found themselves in a long corridor. More lights flickered at the far end of the hallway, guiding their way.

As Langdon and Ambra set off down the hall, Winston told them, “I believe that to achieve maximum exposure we need to disseminate a global press release right now saying that the late Edmond Kirsch’s presentation is about to go live. If we give the media an extra window to publicize the event, it will increase Edmond’s viewership dramatically.”

“Interesting idea,” Ambra said, striding faster. “But how long do you think we should wait? I don’t want to take any chances.”

“Seventeen minutes,” Winston replied. “That would place the broadcast at the top of the hour–three a.m. here, and prime time across America.”

“Perfect,” she replied.

“Very well,” Winston chimed. “The media release will go out right now, and the presentation launch will be in seventeen minutes.”

Langdon strained to keep up with Winston’s rapid-fire planning.

Ambra led the way down the hall. “And how many staff members are here tonight?”

“None,” Winston replied. “Edmond was fanatical about security. There is virtually no staff here. I run all the computer networks, along with lighting, cooling, and security. Edmond joked that in this era of ‘smart’ houses, he was the first to have a smart church.”

Langdon was only half listening, his thoughts consumed by sudden concerns over the actions they were about to take. “Winston, do you really think now is the moment to release Edmond’s presentation?”

Ambra stopped short and stared at him. “Robert, of course it is! That’s why we’re here! The whole world is watching! We also don’t know if anyone else will come and try to stop us–we need to do this now, before it’s too late!”

“I concur,” Winston said. “From a strictly statistical standpoint, this story is approaching its saturation point. Measured in terabytes of media data, the Edmond Kirsch discovery is now one of the biggest news stories of the decade–not surprising, considering how the online community has grown exponentially in the past ten years.”

“Robert?” Ambra pressed, her eyes probing his. “What’s your concern?”

Langdon hesitated, trying to pinpoint the source of his sudden uncertainty. “I guess I’m just worried for Edmond’s sake that all of the conspiracy stories tonight–murders, kidnapping, royal intrigue–will somehow overshadow his science.”

“That’s a valid point, Professor,” Winston interjected. “Although I believe it overlooks one important fact: those conspiracy stories are a significant reason why so many viewers all over the world are now tuned in. There were 3.8 million during Edmond’s online broadcast earlier this evening; but now, after all the dramatic events of the last several hours, I estimate that some two hundred million people are following this story through online news reports, social media, television, and radio.”

The number seemed staggering to Langdon, although he recalled that more than two hundred million people had watched the FIFA World Cup final, and five hundred million had watched the first lunar landing a half century ago when nobody had Internet, and televisions were far less widespread globally.

“You may not see this in academia, Professor,” Winston said, “but the rest of the world has become a reality TV show. Ironically, the people who tried to silence Edmond tonight have accomplished the opposite; Edmond now has the largest audience for any scientific announcement in history. It reminds me of the Vatican denouncing your book Christianity and the Sacred Feminine, which, in the aftermath, promptly became a bestseller.”

Almost a bestseller, Langdon thought, but Winston’s point was taken.

“Maximizing viewership was always one of Edmond’s primary goals tonight,” Winston said.

“He’s right,” Ambra said, looking at Langdon. “When Edmond and I brainstormed the live Guggenheim event, he was obsessed with increasing audience engagement and capturing as many eyeballs as possible.”

“As I said,” Winston stressed, “we are reaching our point of media saturation, and there is no better time than the present to unveil his discovery.”

“Understood,” Langdon said. “Just tell us what to do.”

Continuing down the hallway, they arrived at an unexpected obstacle–a ladder awkwardly propped across the corridor as if for a painting job–making it impossible to advance without moving the ladder or passing beneath it.

“This ladder,” Langdon offered. “Shall I take it down?”

“No,” Winston said. “Edmond deliberately put it there a long time ago.”

“Why?” Ambra asked.

“As you may know, Edmond despised superstition in all forms. He made a point of walking under a ladder every day on his way into work–a way of thumbing his nose at the gods. Moreover, if any guest or technician refused to walk under this ladder, Edmond kicked them out of the building.”

Always so reasonable. Langdon smiled, recalling how Edmond had once berated him in public for “knocking on wood” for luck. Robert, unless you’re a closet Druid who still raps on trees to wake them up, please leave that ignorant superstition in the past where it belongs!

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