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Ambra pressed on, ducking down and walking beneath the ladder. With an admittedly irrational twinge of trepidation, Langdon followed suit.
When they reached the other side, Winston guided them around a corner to a large security door that had two cameras and a biometric scan.
A handmade sign hung above the door: ROOM 13.
Langdon eyed the infamously unlucky number. Edmond spurning the gods once again.
“This is the entrance to his lab,” Winston said. “Other than the hired technicians who helped Edmond build it, very few have been permitted access.”
With that, the security door buzzed loudly, and Ambra wasted no time grabbing the handle and heaving it open. She took one step over the threshold, stopped short, and raised her hand to her mouth with a startled gasp. When Langdon looked past her into the church’s sanctuary, he understood her reaction.
The chapel’s voluminous hall was dominated by the largest glass box Langdon had ever seen. The transparent enclosure spanned the entire floor and reached all the way up to the chapel’s two-story ceiling.
The box seemed to be divided into two floors.
On the first floor, Langdon could see hundreds of refrigerator-sized metal cabinets aligned in rows like church pews facing an altar. The cabinets had no doors, and their innards were on full display. Mind-bogglingly intricate matrices of bright red wires dangled from dense grids of contact points, arching down toward the floor, where they were laced together into thick, ropelike harnesses that ran between the machines, creating what looked like a web of veins.
Ordered chaos, Langdon thought.
“On the first floor,” Winston said, “you see the famous MareNostrum supercomputer–forty-eight thousand eight hundred and ninety-six Intel cores communicating over an InfiniBand FDR10 network–one of the fastest machines in the world. MareNostrum was here when Edmond moved in, and rather than removing it, he wanted to incorporate it, so he simply expanded … upward.”
Langdon could now see that all of MareNostrum’s wire harnesses merged at the center of the room, forming a single trunk that climbed vertically like a massive vine into the first floor’s ceiling.
As Langdon’s gaze rose to the second story of the huge glass rectangle, he saw a totally different picture. Here, in the center of the floor, on a raised platform, stood a massive metallic blue-gray cube–ten feet square–with no wires, no blinking lights, and nothing about it to suggest it could possibly be the cutting-edge computer that Winston was currently describing with barely decipherable terminology.
“… qubits replace binary digits … superpositions of states … quantum algorithms … entanglement and tunneling …”
Langdon now knew why he and Edmond talked art rather than computing.
“… resulting in quadrillions of floating-point calculations per second,” Winston concluded. “Making the fusion of these two very different machines the most powerful supercomputer in the world.”
“My God,” Ambra whispered.
“Actually,” Winston corrected, “Edmond’s God.”
ConspiracyNet.com BREAKING NEWS
KIRSCH DISCOVERY TO AIR WITHIN MINUTES!
Yes, it’s really happening!
A press release from Edmond Kirsch’s camp has just confirmed that his widely anticipated scientific discovery–withheld in the wake of the futurist’s assassination–will be streamed live to the world at the top of the hour (3 a.m. local time in Barcelona).
Viewer participation is reportedly skyrocketing, and global online engagement statistics are unprecedented.
In related news, Robert Langdon and Ambra Vidal were allegedly just spotted entering the grounds of Chapel Torre Girona–home to the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, where Edmond Kirsch is believed to have been working for the past several years. Whether this is the site from which the presentation will be live-streamed, ConspiracyNet cannot yet confirm.
Stay tuned for Kirsch’s presentation, available here as a live stream on ConspiracyNet.com!
AS PRINCE JULIAN passed through the iron doorway into the mountain, he had the uneasy feeling that he might never escape.
The Valley of the Fallen. What am I doing here?
The space beyond the threshold was cold and dark, barely illuminated by two electric torches. The air smelled of damp stone.
A uniformed man stood before them holding a loop of keys that jangled in his trembling hands. Julian was not surprised that this officer of the Patrimonio Nacional seemed anxious; a half-dozen Guardia Real agents were lined up right behind him in the darkness. My father is here. No doubt this poor officer had been summoned in the middle of the night to unlock Franco’s sacred mountain for the king.
One of the Guardia agents quickly stepped forward. “Prince Julian, Bishop Valdespino. We’ve been expecting you. This way, please.”
The Guardia agent led Julian and Valdespino to a massive wrought iron gate on which was carved an ominous Francoist symbol–a fierce double-headed eagle that echoed Nazi iconography.
“His Majesty is at the end of the tunnel,” the agent said, motioning them through the gate, which had been unlocked and stood partially ajar.
Julian and the bishop exchanged uncertain glances and walked through the gate, which was flanked by a pair of menacing metal sculptures–two angels of death, clutching swords shaped like crosses.
More Francoist religio-military imagery, Julian thought as he and the bishop began their long walk into the mountain.
The tunnel that stretched out before them was as elegantly appointed as the ballroom of Madrid’s Royal Palace. With finely polished black marble floors and a soaring coffered ceiling, the sumptuous passageway was lit by a seemingly endless series of wall sconces shaped like torches.
Tonight, however, the source of light in the passageway was far more dramatic. Dozens upon dozens of fire basins–dazzling bowls of fire arranged like runway lights–burned orange all the way down the tunnel. Traditionally, these fires were lit only for major events, but the late-night arrival of the king apparently ranked high enough to set them all aglow.
With reflections of firelight dancing on the burnished floor, the massive hallway took on an almost supernatural ambience. Julian could feel the ghostly presence of those sad souls who had carved this tunnel by hand, their pickaxes and shovels poised, toiling for years inside this cold mountain, hungry, frozen, many dying, all for the glorification of Franco, whose tomb lay deep within this mountain.
Look carefully, son, his father had told him. One day you’ll tear this down.
As king, Julian knew he would probably not have the power to destroy this magnificent structure, and yet he had to admit he felt surprise that the people of Spain had permitted it to stand, especially considering the country’s eagerness to move past her dark past and into the new world. Then again, there were still those who longed for the old ways, and every year, on the anniversary of Franco’s death, hundreds of aging Francoists still flocked to this place to pay their respects.
“Don Julian,” the bishop said quietly, out of earshot of the others, as they walked deeper into the passageway. “Do you know why your father summoned us here?”
Julian shook his head. “I was hoping you would know.”
Valdespino let out an unusually heavy sigh. “I don’t have any idea.”
If the bishop doesn’t know my father’s motives, Julian thought, then nobody knows them.
“I just hope he’s all right,” the bishop said with surprising tenderness. “Some of his decisions lately …”
“You mean like convening a meeting inside a mountain when he should be in a hospital bed?”
Valdespino softly smiled. “For example, yes.”
Julian wondered why the king’s Guardia detail had not intervened and refused to bring the dying monarch out of the hospital to this foreboding location. Then again, Guardia agents were trained to obey without question, especially when the request came from their commander in chief.
“I have not prayed here in years,” Valdespino said, gazing down the firelit hallway.
The tunnel through which they were moving, Julian knew, was not solely the access corridor into the mountain; it was also the nave of an officially sanctioned Catholic church. Up ahead, the prince could begin to see the rows of pews.
La basilica secreta, Julian had called it as a child.
Hollowed out of the granite mountain, the gilded sanctuary at the end of this tunnel was a cavernous space, an astonishing subterranean basilica with a massive cupola. Rumored to have more total square footage than St. Peter’s in Rome, the underground mausoleum boasted six separate chapels surrounding its high altar, which was meticulously positioned directly beneath the cross atop the mountain.
As they neared the main sanctuary, Julian scanned the enormous space, looking for his father. The basilica, however, appeared totally deserted.
“Where is he?” the bishop demanded, sounding worried.
Julian now shared the bishop’s concern, fearing the Guardia had left the king alone in this desolate place. The prince quickly moved ahead, peering down one arm of the transept and then the other. No sign of anyone. He jogged deeper, circling around the side of the altar and into the apse.
It was here, in the deepest recesses of the mountain, that Julian finally spotted his father and came to an abrupt halt.
The king of Spain was completely alone, covered with heavy blankets, and slumped in a wheelchair.
INSIDE THE MAIN sanctuary of the deserted chapel, Langdon and Ambra followed Winston’s voice around the perimeter of the two-story supercomputer. Through the heavy glass, they heard a deep vibrating thrum emanating from the colossal machine inside. Langdon had the eerie sense that he was peering into a cage at an incarcerated beast.
The noise, according to Winston, was generated not by the electronics but by the vast array of centrifugal fans, heat sinks, and liquid coolant pumps required to keep the machine from overheating.
“It’s deafening in there,” Winston said. “And freezing. Fortunately, Edmond’s lab is on the second floor.”
A freestanding spiral staircase rose ahead, affixed to the outer wall of the glass enclosure. On Winston’s command, Langdon and Ambra climbed the stairs and found themselves standing on a metal platform before a glass revolving door.
To Langdon’s amusement, this futuristic entrance to Edmond’s lab had been decorated as if it were a suburban home–complete with a welcome mat, a fake potted plant, and a little bench under which sat a pair of house slippers, which Langdon realized wistfully must have been Edmond’s.
Above the door hung a framed message.
Success is the ability to go
from one failure to another
with no loss of enthusiasm.
“More Churchill,” Langdon said, pointing it out to Ambra.
“Edmond’s favorite quote,” Winston chimed. “He said it pinpoints the single greatest strength of computers.”
“Computers?” Ambra asked.
“Yes, computers are infinitely persistent. I can fail billions of times with no trace of frustration. I embark upon my billionth attempt at solving a problem with the same energy as my first. Humans cannot do that.”
“True,” Langdon admitted. “I usually give up after my millionth attempt.”
Ambra smiled and moved toward the door.
“The floor inside is glass,” Winston said as the revolving door began turning automatically. “So please remove your shoes.”
Within seconds, Ambra had kicked off her shoes and stepped barefoot through the rotating portal. As Langdon followed suit, he noticed that Edmond’s welcome mat bore an unusual message:
THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE 127.0.0.1
“Winston, this mat? I don’t under–”
“Local host,” Winston replied.
Langdon read the mat again. “I see,” he said, not seeing at all, and continued through the revolving door.
When Langdon stepped out onto the glass floor, he felt a moment of weak-kneed uncertainty. Standing on a transparent surface in his socks was unnerving enough, but to find himself hovering directly over the MareNostrum computer downstairs felt doubly disconcerting. From up here, viewing the phalanx of stately racks below reminded Langdon of peering down into China’s famous Xi’an archeological pit at the army of terra-cotta soldiers.
Langdon took a deep breath and raised his eyes to the bizarre space before him.
Edmond’s lab was a transparent rectangle dominated by the metallic blue-gray cube he had seen earlier, its glossy surface reflecting everything around it. To the right of the cube, at one end of the room, was an ultra-sleek office space with a semicircular desk, three giant LCD screens, and assorted keyboards recessed into the granite work surface.
“Mission control,” Ambra whispered.
Langdon nodded and glanced toward the opposite end of the chamber, where armchairs, a couch, and an exercise bike were arranged on an Oriental carpet.
A supercomputing man cave, Langdon mused, suspecting that Edmond had all but moved into this glass box while working on his project. What did he discover up here? Langdon’s initial hesitation had passed, and he now felt the growing pull of intellectual curiosity–the yearning to learn what mysteries had been unveiled up here, what secrets had been unearthed by the collaboration of a genius mind and a powerful machine.
Ambra had already padded across the floor to the massive cube and was gazing up in bewilderment at its polished blue-gray surface. Langdon joined her, both of them reflected in its shiny exterior.
This is a computer? Langdon wondered. Unlike the machine downstairs, this one was dead silent–inert and lifeless–a metallic monolith. The machine’s bluish hue reminded Langdon of a 1990s supercomputer called “Deep Blue,” which had stunned the world by defeating world chess champion Garry Kasparov. Since then, the advances in computing technology were almost impossible to comprehend.
“Would you like to look inside?” Winston chimed from a set of speakers overhead.
Ambra shot a startled glance upward. “Look inside the cube?”
“Why not?” Winston replied. “Edmond would have been proud to show you its inner workings.”
“Not necessary,” Ambra said, turning her eyes toward Edmond’s office. “I’d rather focus on entering the password. How do we do that?”
“It will take only a matter of seconds, and we still have more than eleven minutes before we can launch. Have a look inside.”
Before them, a panel on the side of the cube facing Edmond’s office began to slide open, revealing a thick pane of glass. Langdon and Ambra circled around and pressed their faces to the transparent portal.
Langdon expected to see yet another densely packed cluster of wires and blinking lights. But he saw nothing of the sort. To his bewilderment, the inside of the cube was dark and empty–like a small vacant room. The only contents appeared to be wisps of white mist that swirled in the air as if the room were a walk-in freezer. The thick Plexiglas panel radiated a surprising coldness.
“There’s nothing here,” Ambra declared.
Langdon saw nothing either but could feel a low repetitive pulsation emanating from within the cube.
“That slow thumping beat,” Winston said, “is the pulse tube dilution refrigeration system. It sounds like a human heart.”
Yes, it does, Langdon thought, unnerved by the comparison.
Slowly, red lights within began to illuminate the interior of the cube. At first, Langdon saw only white fog and bare floor space–an empty square chamber. Then, as the glow increased, something glinted in the air above the floor, and he realized there was an intricate metal cylinder hanging down from the ceiling like a stalactite.
“And this,” Winston said, “is what the cube must keep cold.”
The cylindrical device suspended from the ceiling was about five feet long, composed of seven horizontal rings that decreased in diameter as they descended, creating a narrowing column of tiered disks attached by slender vertical rods. The space between the burnished metal disks was occupied by a sparse mesh of delicate wires. An icy mist swirled around the entire device.
“E-Wave,” Winston announced. “A quantum leap–if you’ll pardon the pun–beyond NASA/Google’s D-Wave.”
Winston quickly explained that D-Wave–the world’s first rudimentary “quantum computer”–had unlocked a brave new world of computational power that scientists were still struggling to comprehend. Quantum computing, rather than using a binary method of storing information, made use of the quantum states of subatomic particles, resulting in an exponential leap in speed, power, and flexibility.
“Edmond’s quantum computer,” Winston said, “is structurally not that different from D-Wave. One difference is the metallic cube surrounding the computer. The cube is coated with osmium–a rare, ultradense chemical element that provides enhanced magnetic, thermal, and quantum shielding, and also, I suspect, plays into Edmond’s sense of drama.”
Langdon smiled, having had a similar thought himself.
“Over the past few years, while Google’s Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab used machines like D-Wave to enhance machine learning, Edmond secretly leapfrogged over everybody with this machine. And he did so using a single bold idea …” Winston paused. “Bicameralism.”
Langdon frowned. The two houses of Parliament?
“The two-lobed brain,” Winston continued. “Left and right hemispheres.”
The bicameral mind, Langdon now realized. One of the things that made human beings so creative was that the two halves of their brains functioned so differently. The left brain was analytical and verbal, while the right brain was intuitive and “preferred” pictures to words.
“The trick,” Winston said, “was that Edmond decided to build a synthetic brain that mimicked the human brain–that is, segmented into left and right hemispheres. Although, in this case, it’s more of an upstairs-downstairs arrangement.”
Langdon stepped back and peered through the floor at the churning machine downstairs and then back to the silent “stalactite” inside the cube. Two distinct machines fused into one–a bicameral mind.
“When forced to work as a single unit,” Winston said, “these two machines adopt differing approaches to problem solving–thereby experiencing the same kinds of conflict and compromise that occur between the lobes of the human brain, greatly accelerating AI learning, creativity, and, in a sense … humanity. In my case, Edmond gave me the tools to teach myself about humanity by observing the world around me and modeling human traits–humor, cooperation, value judgments, and even a sense of ethics.”