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“Back in the prince’s safe,” he assured her. “As promised.”
Martin exhaled, knowing the prince had just returned to the palace.
“One more update,” Suresh continued. “We just pulled the palace phone logs from the provider. There is zero record of any call from the palace to the Guggenheim last night. Somebody must have spoofed our number to place that call and put Avila on the guest list. We’re following up.”
Monica was relieved to hear that the incriminating call had not originated from the palace. “Please keep me apprised,” she said, nearing the door.
Outside, the sound of the assembled media grew louder.
“Big crowd out there,” Suresh observed. “Did something exciting happen last night?”
“Oh, just a few newsworthy items.”
“Don’t tell me,” Suresh chimed. “Did Ambra Vidal wear a new designer dress?”
“Suresh!” she said, laughing. “You’re ridiculous. I’ve got to get out there now.”
“What’s on the docket?” he asked, motioning to the packet of notes in her hand.
“Endless details. First, we have media protocols to set up for the coronation, then I have to review the–”
“My God, you’re boring,” he blurted, and peeled off down a different corridor.
Martin laughed. Thanks, Suresh. Love you too.
As she reached the door, she gazed across the sun-drenched plaza at the largest crowd of reporters and cameramen she had ever seen assembled at the Royal Palace. Exhaling, Monica Martin adjusted her glasses and gathered her thoughts. Then she stepped out into the Spanish sun.
Upstairs in the royal apartment, Prince Julian watched Monica Martin’s televised press conference as he got undressed. He was exhausted, but he also felt a profound relief to know that Ambra was now safely back and sleeping soundly. Her final words during their phone conversation had filled him with happiness.
Julian, it means the world to me that you would consider starting over together–just you and me–out of the public eye. Love is a private thing; the world does not need to know every detail.
Ambra had filled him with optimism on a day that was heavy with the loss of his father.
As he went to hang up his suit jacket, he felt something in his pocket–the bottle of oral morphine solution from his father’s hospital room. Julian had been startled to find the bottle on the table beside Bishop Valdespino. Empty.
In the darkness of the hospital room, as the painful truth became clear, Julian had knelt down and said a quiet prayer for the two old friends. Then he had quietly slipped the morphine bottle into his pocket.
Before leaving the room, he gently lifted the bishop’s tear-streaked face off his father’s chest and repositioned him upright in his chair … hands folded in prayer.
Love is a private thing, Ambra had taught him. The world does not need to know every detail.
THE SIX-HUNDRED-FOOT HILL known as Montjuic is located in the southwestern corner of Barcelona and is crowned by the Castell de Montjuic–a sprawling seventeenth-century fortification perched atop a sheer cliff with commanding views of the Balearic Sea. The hill is also home to the stunning Palau Nacional–a massive Renaissance-style palace that served as the centerpiece of the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona.
Sitting in a private cable car, suspended halfway up the mountain, Robert Langdon gazed down at the lush wooded landscape beneath him, relieved to be out of the city. I needed a change of perspective, he thought, savoring the calmness of the setting and the warmth of the midday sun.
Having awoken midmorning in the Gran Hotel Princesa Sofia, he had enjoyed a steaming-hot shower and then feasted on eggs, oatmeal, and churros while consuming an entire pot of Nomad coffee and channel-surfing the morning news.
As expected, the Edmond Kirsch story dominated the airwaves, with pundits heatedly debating Kirsch’s theories and predictions as well as their potential impact on religion. As a professor, whose primary love was teaching, Robert Langdon had to smile.
Dialogue is always more important than consensus.
Already this morning, Langdon had seen the first enterprising vendors hawking bumper stickers–KIRSCH IS MY COPILOT and THE SEVENTH KINGDOM IS THE KINGDOM OF GOD!–as well as those selling statues of the Virgin Mary alongside bobbleheads of Charles Darwin.
Capitalism is nondenominational, Langdon mused, recalling his favorite sighting of the morning–a skateboarder in a handwritten T-shirt that read:
I AM MONTE@IGLESIA.ORG
According to the media, the identity of the influential online informant remained a mystery. Equally shrouded in uncertainty were the roles of various other shadowy players–the Regent, the late bishop, and the Palmarians.
It was all a jumble of conjecture.
Fortunately, public interest in the violence surrounding Kirsch’s presentation seemed to be giving way to genuine excitement over its content. Kirsch’s grand finale–his passionate portrayal of a utopian tomorrow–had resonated deeply with millions of viewers and sent optimistic technology classics to the top of the bestseller lists overnight.
ABUNDANCE: THE FUTURE IS BETTER THAN YOU THINK
WHAT TECHNOLOGY WANTS
THE SINGULARITY IS NEAR
Langdon had to admit that despite his old-school misgivings about the rise of technology, he was feeling much more sanguine today about humanity’s prospects. News reports were already spotlighting coming breakthroughs that would enable humans to clean polluted oceans, produce limitless drinking water, grow food in deserts, cure deadly diseases, and even launch swarms of “solar drones” that could hover over developing countries, provide free Internet service, and help bring “the bottom billion” into the world economy.
In light of the world’s sudden fascination with technology, Langdon found it hard to imagine that almost nobody knew about Winston; Kirsch had been remarkably secretive about his creation. The world would no doubt hear about Edmond’s dual-lobed supercomputer, E-Wave, which had been left to the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, and Langdon wondered how long it would be before programmers started to use Edmond’s tools to build brand-new Winstons.
The cable car was starting to feel warm, and Langdon was looking forward to getting out into the fresh air and exploring the fortress, the palace, and the famous “Magic Fountain.” He was eager to think about something other than Edmond for an hour and take in a few sites.
Curious to know more about the history of Montjuic, Langdon turned his eyes to the extensive informational placard mounted inside the cable car. He began to read, but he made it only as far as the first sentence.
The name Montjuic derives either from medieval Catalan Montjuich (“Hill of the Jews”) or from the Latin Mons Jovicus (“Hill of Jove”).
Here, Langdon halted abruptly. He had just made an unexpected connection.
That can’t be a coincidence.
The more he thought about it, the more it troubled him. Finally, he pulled out Edmond’s cell phone and reread the Winston Churchill screensaver quote about shaping one’s own legacy.
History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.
After a long moment, Langdon pressed the W icon and raised the phone to his ear.
The line connected instantly.
“Professor Langdon, I presume?” a familiar voice chimed with a British accent. “You’re just in time. I retire shortly.”
Without preamble, Langdon declared, “Monte translates to ‘hill’ in Spanish.”
Winston let out his trademark awkward chuckle. “I daresay it does.”
“And iglesia translates to ‘church.'”
“You’re two for two, Professor. Perhaps you could teach Spanish–”
“Which means monte@iglesia translates literally to hill@church.”
Winston paused. “Correct again.”
“And considering your name is Winston, and that Edmond had a great affection for Winston Churchill, I find the e-mail address ‘hill@church’ to be a bit …”
“Well,” Winston said, sounding amused, “statistically speaking, I would have to agree. I figured you might put that together.”
Langdon stared out the window in disbelief. “Monte@iglesia.org … is you.”
“That is correct. After all, someone needed to fan the flames for Edmond. Who better to do it than myself? I created email@example.com to feed online conspiracy sites. As you know, conspiracies have a life of their own, and I estimated that Monte’s online activity would increase Edmond’s overall viewership by as much as five hundred percent. The actual number turned out to be six hundred and twenty percent. As you said earlier, I think Edmond would be proud.”
The cable car rocked in the wind, and Langdon struggled to get his mind around the news. “Winston … did Edmond ask you to do this?”
“Not explicitly, no, but his instructions required me to find creative ways to make his presentation as widely viewed as possible.”
“And if you get caught?” Langdon asked. “Monte@iglesia is not the most cryptic pseudonym I’ve ever seen.”
“Only a handful of people know I exist, and in about eight minutes, I will be permanently erased and gone, so I’m not concerned about it. ‘Monte’ was just a proxy to serve Edmond’s best interests, and as I said, I do think he would be most pleased with how the evening worked out for him.”
“How it worked out?!” Langdon challenged. “Edmond was killed!”
“You misunderstood me,” Winston said flatly. “I was referring to the market penetration of his presentation, which, as I said, was a primary directive.”
The matter-of-fact tone of this statement reminded Langdon that Winston, while sounding human, was most certainly not.
“Edmond’s death is a terrible tragedy,” Winston added, “and I do, of course, wish he were still alive. It’s important to know, however, that he had come to terms with his mortality. A month ago, he asked me to research the best methods for assisted suicide. After reading hundreds of cases, I concluded ‘ten grams of secobarbital,’ which he acquired and kept on hand.”
Langdon’s heart went out to Edmond. “He was going to take his life?”
“Absolutely. And he had developed quite a sense of humor about it. While we were brainstorming creative ways to enhance the appeal of his Guggenheim presentation, he joked that maybe he should just pop his secobarbital pills at the end of his presentation and perish onstage.”
“He actually said that?” Langdon was stunned.
“He was quite lighthearted about it. He joked that nothing was better for a TV show’s ratings than seeing people die. He was correct, of course. If you analyze the world’s most viewed media events, nearly all–”
“Winston, stop. That’s morbid.” How much farther is this cable car ride? Langdon suddenly felt cramped in the tiny cabin. Ahead he saw only towers and cables as he squinted into the bright midday sun. I’m boiling, he thought, his mind spiraling in all kinds of strange directions now.
“Professor?” Winston said. “Is there anything else you would like to ask me?”
Yes! he wanted to shout as a flood of unsettling ideas began materializing in his mind. There’s a lot else!
Langdon told himself to exhale and calm down. Think clearly, Robert. You’re getting ahead of yourself.
But Langdon’s mind had begun to race too quickly to control.
He thought of how Edmond’s public death had guaranteed that his presentation would be the dominant topic of conversation on the entire planet … lifting viewership from a few million to more than five hundred million.
He thought of Edmond’s long-held desire to destroy the Palmarian Church, and how his assassination by a Palmarian Church member had almost certainly achieved that objective once and for all.
He thought of Edmond’s contempt for his harshest enemies–those religious zealots who, if Edmond had died of cancer, would smugly claim that he had been punished by God. Just as they had done, unthinkably, in the case of atheist author Christopher Hitchens. But now public perception would be that Edmond had been struck down by a religious fanatic.
Edmond Kirsch–killed by religion–martyr for science.
Langdon rose abruptly, causing the car to rock from side to side. He gripped the open windows for support, and as the car creaked, Langdon heard the echoes of Winston’s words from last night.
“Edmond wanted to build a new religion … based on science.”
As anyone who read religious history could attest, nothing cemented people’s belief faster than a human being dying for his cause. Christ on the cross. The Kedoshim of Judaism. The Shahid of Islam.
Martyrdom is at the heart of all religion.
The ideas forming in Langdon’s mind were pulling him down the rabbit hole faster with each passing moment.
New religions provide fresh answers to life’s big questions.
Where do we come from? Where are we going?
New religions condemn their competition.
Edmond had denigrated every religion on earth last night.
New religions promise a better future, and that heaven awaits.
Abundance: the future is better than you think.
Edmond, it seemed, had systematically checked all the boxes.
“Winston?” Langdon whispered, his voice trembling. “Who hired the assassin to kill Edmond?”
“That was the Regent.”
“Yes,” Langdon said, more forcefully now. “But who is the Regent? Who is the person who hired a Palmarian Church member to assassinate Edmond in the middle of his live presentation?”
Winston paused. “I hear suspicion in your voice, Professor, and you mustn’t worry. I am programmed to protect Edmond. I think of him as my very best friend.” He paused. “As an academic, you’ve surely read Of Mice and Men.”
The comment seemed apropos of nothing. “Of course, but what does that–”
Langdon’s breath caught in his throat. For a moment, he thought the cable car had slipped off its track. The horizon tilted to one side, and Langdon had to grab the wall to keep from falling.
Devoted, bold, compassionate. Those were the words Langdon had chosen in high school to defend one of literature’s most famous acts of friendship–the shocking finale of the novel Of Mice and Men–a man’s merciful killing of his beloved friend to spare him a horrible end.
“Winston,” Langdon whispered. “Please … no.”
“Trust me,” Winston said. “Edmond wanted it this way.”
DR. MATEO VALERO–director of the Barcelona Supercomputing Center–felt disorientated as he hung up the phone and drifted out to the main sanctuary of Chapel Torre Girona to stare again at Edmond Kirsch’s spectacular two-story computer.
Valero had learned earlier this morning that he would serve as the new “overseer” of this groundbreaking machine. His initial feelings of excitement and awe, however, had just been dramatically diminished.
Minutes ago, he had received a desperate call from the well-known American professor Robert Langdon.
Langdon had told a breathless tale that only a day earlier Valero would have deemed science fiction. Today, however, having seen Kirsch’s stunning presentation as well as his actual E-Wave machine, he was inclined to believe there might be some truth to it.
The tale that Langdon told was one of innocence … a tale of the purity of machines that quite literally did exactly what was asked of them. Always. Without fail. Valero had spent his life studying these machines … learning the delicate dance of tapping their potential.
The art is in knowing how to ask.
Valero had consistently warned that artificial intelligence was advancing at a deceptively rapid pace, and that strict guidelines needed to be imposed on its ability to interact with the human world.
Admittedly, practicing restraint felt counterintuitive to most tech visionaries, especially in the face of the exciting possibilities now blossoming almost daily. Beyond the thrill of innovation, there were vast fortunes to be made in AI, and nothing blurred ethical lines faster than human greed.
Valero had always been a great admirer of Kirsch’s bold genius. In this case, however, it sounded like Edmond had been careless, dangerously pushing boundaries with his latest creation.
A creation I will never know, Valero now realized.
According to Langdon, Edmond had created within E-Wave an astoundingly advanced AI program–“Winston”–that had been programmed to self-delete at one p.m. on the day following Kirsch’s death. Minutes ago, at Langdon’s insistence, Dr. Valero had been able to confirm that a significant sector of E-Wave’s databanks had indeed vanished at precisely that time. The deletion had been a full data “overwrite,” which rendered it irretrievable.
This news had seemed to ease Langdon’s anxiety, and yet the American professor had requested a meeting immediately to discuss the matter further. Valero and Langdon had agreed to meet tomorrow morning at the lab.
In principle, Valero understood Langdon’s instinct to go public immediately with the story. The problem was going to be one of credibility.
Nobody will believe it.
All traces of Kirsch’s AI program had been expunged, along with any records of its communications or tasks. More challenging still, Kirsch’s creation was so far beyond the current state of the art that Valero could already hear his own colleagues–out of ignorance, envy, or self-preservation–accusing Langdon of fabricating the entire story.
There was also, of course, the issue of public fallout. If it emerged that Langdon’s story were indeed true, then the E-Wave machine would be condemned as some kind of Frankenstein monster. The pitchforks and torches would not be far behind.
Or worse, Valero realized.
In these days of rampant terrorist attacks, someone might simply decide to blow up the entire chapel, proclaiming himself the savior of all humanity.
Clearly, Valero had a lot to think about before his meeting with Langdon. At the moment, however, he had a promise to keep.
At least until we have some answers.
Feeling strangely melancholy, Valero permitted himself one last look at the miraculous two-story computer. He listened to its gentle breathing as the pumps circulated coolant through its millions of cells.
As he made his way to the power room to begin the full-system shutdown, he was struck by an unexpected impulse–a compulsion he had never once had in his sixty-three years of life.
The impulse to pray.
High atop the uppermost walkway of Castell de Montjuic, Robert Langdon stood alone and gazed over the sheer cliff to the distant harbor below. The wind had picked up, and he felt somehow off balance, as if his mental equilibrium were in the process of being recalibrated.