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Incredible, Langdon thought. “So this double computer is essentially … you?”
Winston laughed. “Well, this machine is no more me than your physical brain is you. Observing your own brain in a bowl, you would not say, ‘That object is me.’ We are the sum of the interactions taking place within the mechanism.”
“Winston,” Ambra interjected, moving now toward Edmond’s work space. “How much time until launch?”
“Five minutes and forty-three seconds,” Winston replied. “Shall we prepare?”
“Yes, please,” she said.
The viewing window’s shielding slid slowly back into place, and Langdon turned to join Ambra in Edmond’s lab.
“Winston,” she said. “Considering all your work here with Edmond, I’m surprised that you have no sense at all what his discovery was.”
“Again, Ms. Vidal, my information is compartmentalized, and I have the same data you have,” he replied. “I can only make an educated guess.”
“And what would that be?” Ambra asked, looking around Edmond’s office.
“Well, Edmond claimed that his discovery would ‘change everything.’ In my experience, the most transformative discoveries in history have all resulted in revised models of the universe–breakthroughs like Pythagoras’s rejection of the flat-earth model, Copernican heliocentricism, Darwin’s theory of evolution, and Einstein’s discovery of relativity–all of which drastically altered humankind’s view of their world and updated our current model of the universe.”
Langdon glanced up at the speaker overhead. “So you’re guessing Edmond discovered something that suggests a new model of the universe?”
“It’s a logical deduction,” Winston replied, talking faster now. “MareNostrum happens to be one of the finest ‘modeling’ computers on earth, specializing in complex simulations, its most famous being ‘Alya Red’–a fully functioning, virtual human heart that is accurate down to the cellular level. Of course, with the recent addition of a quantum component, this facility can model systems millions of times more complicated than human organs.”
Langdon grasped the concept but still couldn’t imagine what Edmond might have modeled to answer the questions Where do we come from? Where are we going?
“Winston?” Ambra called from Edmond’s desk. “How do we turn all this on?”
“I can help you,” Winston replied.
The three huge LCD screens on the desk flickered to life just as Langdon arrived beside Ambra. As the images on the screen materialized, both of them stepped back in alarm.
“Winston … is that image live?” Ambra asked.
“Yes, live feed from our exterior security cameras. I thought you should know. They arrived several seconds ago.”
The display screens showed a fish-eye view of the chapel’s main entrance, where a small army of police had assembled, pressing the call button, trying the door, talking on radios.
“Don’t worry,” Winston assured them, “they will never get in. And we’re less than four minutes until launch.”
“We should launch right now,” Ambra urged.
Winston replied evenly. “I believe Edmond would prefer that we wait and launch at the top of the hour, as promised. He was a man of his word. Moreover, I am monitoring our global viewer engagement, and our audience is still growing. In the next four minutes, at the current rate, our audience will increase by 12.7 percent, and, I predict, approach maximum penetration.” Winston paused, sounding almost pleasantly surprised. “I must say, despite all that has transpired this evening, it appears Edmond’s release will be optimally timed. I think he would be deeply grateful to both of you.”
UNDER FOUR MINUTES, Langdon thought, lowering himself into Edmond’s mesh desk chair and turning his eyes to the three huge LCD panels that dominated this end of the room. On-screen, the live security feeds still played, showing police gathering around the chapel.
“You’re sure they can’t get in?” Ambra urged, shifting anxiously behind Langdon.
“Trust me,” Winston replied. “Edmond took security very seriously.”
“And if they cut power to the building?” Langdon ventured.
“Isolated power supply,” Winston replied flatly. “Redundant buried trunks. Nobody can interfere at this point. I assure you.”
Langdon let it go. Winston has been correct on all fronts tonight … And he’s had our backs the whole way.
Settling in at the center of the horseshoe-shaped desk, Langdon turned his attention to the unusual keyboard before him. It had at least twice the normal number of keys–traditional alphanumerics augmented by an array of symbols that even he didn’t recognize. The keyboard was split down the middle, each half ergonomically angled away from the other.
“Some guidance here?” Langdon asked, staring at the bewildering array of keys.
“Wrong keyboard,” Winston replied. “That’s E-Wave’s main access point. As I mentioned, Edmond kept this presentation hidden from everyone, including me. The presentation must be triggered from a different machine. Slide to your right. All the way to the end.”
Langdon glanced to his right, where a half-dozen freestanding computers were aligned along the length of the desk. As he rolled toward them, he was surprised to see that the first few machines were quite old and outdated. Strangely, the farther he rolled, the older the machines seemed to get.
This can’t be right, he thought, passing a clunky-looking, beige IBM DOS system that had to be decades old. “Winston, what are these machines?”
“Edmond’s childhood computers,” Winston said. “He kept them as a reminder of his roots. Sometimes, on difficult days here, he would power them up and run old programs–a way to reconnect with the wonder he felt as a boy when he discovered programming.”
“I love that idea,” Langdon said.
“Just like your Mickey Mouse watch,” Winston said.
Startled, Langdon glanced down, pulling back the sleeve of his suit jacket to reveal the antique timepiece he had worn since he had received it as a boy. That Winston knew about his watch was surprising, although Langdon recalled telling Edmond recently about wearing it as a reminder to stay young at heart.
“Robert,” Ambra said, “your fashion sense aside, could we please enter the password? Even your mouse is waving–trying to get your attention.”
Sure enough, Mickey’s gloved hand was high over his head, his index finger pointing almost straight up. Three minutes till the hour.
Langdon quickly slid along the desk, and Ambra joined him at the last computer in the series–an ungainly, mushroom-colored box with a floppy-disk slot, a 1,200-baud telephone modem, and a bulbous twelve-inch convex monitor sitting on top.
“Tandy TRS-80,” Winston said. “Edmond’s first machine. He bought it used and taught himself BASIC when he was about eight years old.”
Langdon was happy to see that this computer, despite being a dinosaur, was already turned on and waiting. Its screen–a flickering black-and-white display–glowed with a promising message, spelled out in a jagged bitmapped font.
PLEASE ENTER PASSWORD:
After the word “password,” a black cursor blinked expectantly.
“That’s it?” Langdon asked, feeling somehow like it was all too simple. “I just enter it here?”
“Exactly,” Winston replied. “Once you enter the password, this PC will send an authenticated ‘unlock’ message to the sealed partition in the main computer that contains Edmond’s presentation. I will then have access and be able to manage the feed, align it with the top of the hour, and push the data to all the main distribution channels for global relay.”
Langdon more or less followed the explanation, and yet as he stared down at the clunky computer and telephone modem, he felt perplexed. “I don’t understand, Winston, after all of Edmond’s planning tonight, why would he ever trust his entire presentation to a phone call to a prehistoric modem?”
“I would say that’s just Edmond being Edmond,” Winston replied. “As you know, he was passionate about drama, symbolism, and history, and I suspect it brought him enormous joy to power up his very first computer and use it to launch his life’s greatest work.”
Fair point, Langdon reflected, realizing that was exactly how Edmond would have seen it.
“Moreover,” Winston added, “I suspect Edmond probably had contingencies in place, but either way, there’s logic to using an ancient computer to ‘throw a switch.’ Simple tasks require simple tools. And security-wise, using a slow processor ensures that a brute-force hacking of the system would take forever.”
“Robert?” Ambra urged behind him, giving his shoulder an encouraging squeeze.
“Yes, sorry, all set.” Langdon pulled the Tandy keyboard closer to him, its tightly coiled cable stretching out like an old rotary phone cord. He laid his fingers on the plastic keys and pictured the line of handwritten text that he and Ambra had discovered in the crypt at Sagrada Familia.
The dark religions are departed & sweet science reigns.
The grand finale of William Blake’s epic poem The Four Zoas seemed the perfect choice to unlock Edmond’s final scientific revelation–a discovery he claimed would change everything.
Langdon took a deep breath and carefully typed in the line of poetry, with no spaces, and replaced the ampersand with the ligature et.
When he finished, he looked up at the screen.
PLEASE ENTER PASSWORD:
Langdon counted the dots–forty-seven.
Perfect. Here goes nothing.
Langdon made eye contact with Ambra and she gave him a nod. He reached out and hit the return key.
Instantly, the computer emitted a dull buzz.
Langdon’s heart thundered.
“Ambra–I typed it perfectly! I’m sure of it!” He spun in his chair and looked up at her, fully expecting to see her face filled with fear.
Instead, Ambra Vidal stared down at him with an amused smile. She shook her head and laughed.
“Professor,” she whispered, pointing to his keyboard. “Your caps lock is on.”
At that moment, deep inside a mountain, Prince Julian stood transfixed, staring across the subterranean basilica, trying to make sense of the baffling scene before him. His father, the king of Spain, sat motionless in a wheelchair, parked in the most remote and private section of this basilica.
With a surge of dread, Julian rushed to his side. “Father?”
As Julian arrived, the king slowly opened his eyes, apparently emerging from a nap. The ailing monarch managed a relaxed smile. “Thank you for coming, son,” he whispered, his voice frail.
Julian crouched down in front of the wheelchair, relieved that his father was alive but also alarmed at how dramatically the man had deteriorated in just a few days. “Father? Are you okay?”
The king shrugged. “As well as can be expected,” he replied with surprisingly good humor. “How are you? Your day has been … eventful.”
Julian had no idea how to reply. “What are you doing here?”
“Well, I was tired of the hospital and wanted some air.”
“Fine, but … here?” Julian knew his father had always abhorred this shrine’s symbolic link to persecution and intolerance.
“Your Majesty!” called Valdespino, hurrying around the altar and joining them, breathless. “What in the world!”
The king smiled at his lifelong friend. “Antonio, welcome.”
Antonio? Prince Julian had never heard his father address Bishop Valdespino by his first name. In public, it was always “Your Excellency.”
The king’s uncharacteristic lack of formality seemed to rattle the bishop. “Thank … you,” he stammered. “Are you okay?”
“Simply wonderful,” the king replied, smiling broadly. “I am in the presence of the two people I trust most in the world.”
Valdespino shot an uneasy glance at Julian and then turned back to the king. “Your Majesty, I’ve delivered your son to you as you requested. Shall I leave you two to talk in private?”
“No, Antonio,” the king said. “This will be a confession. And I need my priest at my side.”
Valdespino shook his head. “I don’t think your son expects you to explain your actions and behavior tonight. I’m sure he–”
“Tonight?” The king laughed. “No, Antonio, I am confessing the secret I’ve kept from Julian his entire life.”
ConspiracyNet.com BREAKING NEWS
CHURCH UNDER ATTACK!
No, not by Edmond Kirsch–by the Spanish police!
Chapel Torre Girona in Barcelona is currently under assault by local authorities. Inside, Robert Langdon and Ambra Vidal are believed to be responsible for the successful launch of Edmond Kirsch’s greatly anticipated announcement, which is now only minutes away.
The countdown has begun!
AMBRA VIDAL FELT a flood of exhilaration as the antique computer pinged happily after Langdon’s second attempt to enter the line of poetry.
Thank God, she thought as Langdon stood up from the desk and turned to her. Ambra immediately put her arms around him and squeezed him in a heartfelt embrace. Edmond would be so grateful.
“Two minutes and thirty-three seconds,” Winston chimed.
Ambra let go of Langdon, both of them turning to the LCD screens overhead. The center screen displayed a countdown clock she had last seen in the Guggenheim.
Live program begins in 2 minutes 33 seconds
Current remote attendees: 227,257,914
More than two hundred million people? Ambra was stunned. Apparently while she and Langdon were fleeing across Barcelona, the entire world had taken notice. Edmond’s audience has become astronomical.
Beside the countdown screen, the live security feeds continued to play, and Ambra noticed a sudden shift in the police activity outside. One by one, the officers who had been pounding on doors and talking on radios stopped what they were doing, pulled out their smartphones, and stared down into them. The patio outside the church gradually became a sea of pale, eager faces illuminated by the glow of their handheld displays.
Edmond has stopped the world in its tracks, Ambra thought, feeling an eerie sense of responsibility that people around the globe were preparing to view a presentation that would be streaming out of this very room. I wonder if Julian is watching, she thought, then quickly pushed him from her mind.
“The program is now cued,” Winston said. “I believe you’ll both be more comfortable watching in Edmond’s sitting area at the other end of this lab.”
“Thank you, Winston,” Langdon said, ushering Ambra barefoot across the smooth glass floor, past the blue-gray metallic cube, and into Edmond’s sitting area.
Here, an Oriental carpet had been spread out on the glass floor, along with a collection of elegant furniture and an exercise bike.
As Ambra stepped off the glass onto the soft carpet, she felt her body begin to relax. She climbed onto the couch and pulled her feet up beneath her, looking around for Edmond’s television. “Where do we watch?”
Langdon apparently didn’t hear, having walked to the corner of the room to look at something, but Ambra got her answer an instant later when the entire rear wall of the chamber began glowing from within. A familiar image appeared, projected out from inside the glass.
Live program begins in 1 minute 39 seconds
Current remote attendees: 227,501,173
The entire wall is a display?
Ambra stared at the eight-foot-tall image as the lights in the church slowly dimmed. Winston, it seemed, was making them at home for Edmond’s big show.
Ten feet away, in the corner of the room, Langdon stood transfixed–not by the massive television wall, but by a small object he had just spotted; it was displayed on an elegant pedestal as if it were part of a museum exhibition.
Before him, a single test tube was ensconced in a metal display case with a glass front. The test tube was corked and labeled, and contained a murky brownish liquid. For a moment, Langdon wondered if maybe it were some kind of medicine Edmond had been taking. Then he read the name on the label.
That’s impossible, he told himself. Why would this be here?!
There were very few “famous” test tubes in the world, but Langdon knew this one certainly qualified. I can’t believe Edmond owns one of these! He had probably purchased this scientific artifact under the radar for an enormous price. Just like he did with the Gauguin painting in Casa Mila.
Langdon crouched down and peered at the seventy-year-old glass vial. Its masking-tape label was faded and worn, but the two names on the tube were still legible: MILLER-UREY.
The hair on the back of Langdon’s neck stood up as he read the names again.
My God … Where do we come from?
Chemists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey had conducted a legendary scientific experiment in the 1950s attempting to answer that very question. Their bold experiment had failed, but their efforts had been lauded worldwide and been known ever since as the Miller-Urey experiment.
Langdon recalled being mesmerized in high school biology class to learn how these two scientists had attempted to re-create the conditions at the dawn of earth’s creation–a hot planet covered by a churning, lifeless ocean of boiling chemicals.
The primordial soup.
After duplicating the chemicals that existed in the early oceans and atmosphere–water, methane, ammonia, and hydrogen–Miller and Urey heated the concoction to simulate the boiling seas. Then they shocked it with electric charges to mimic lightning. And finally, they let the mixture cool, just as the planet’s oceans had cooled.
Their goal was simple and audacious–to spark life from a lifeless primal sea. To simulate “Creation,” Langdon thought, using only science.
Miller and Urey studied the mixture in hopes that primitive microorganisms might form in the chemical-rich concoction–an unprecedented process known as abiogenesis. Sadly, their attempts to create “life” from lifeless matter did not succeed. Rather than life, they were left with nothing but a collection of inert glass vials that now languished in a dark closet at the University of California in San Diego.
To this day, Creationists still cited the Miller-Urey Experiment’s failure as scientific proof that life could not have appeared on earth without help from the hand of God.