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CHAPTER 1

PROFESSOR ROBERT LANGDON gazed up at the forty-foot-tall dog sitting in the plaza. The animal’s fur was a living carpet of grass and fragrant flowers.

I’m trying to love you, he thought. I truly am.

Langdon pondered the creature a bit longer and then continued along a suspended walkway, descending a sprawling terrace of stairs whose uneven treads were intended to jar the arriving visitor from his usual rhythm and gait. Mission accomplished, Langdon decided, nearly stumbling twice on the irregular steps.

At the bottom of the stairs, Langdon jolted to a stop, staring at a massive object that loomed ahead.

Now I’ve seen it all.

A towering black widow spider rose before him, its slender iron legs supporting a bulbous body at least thirty feet in the air. On the spider’s underbelly hung a wire-mesh egg sac filled with glass orbs.

“Her name is Maman,” a voice said.

Langdon lowered his gaze and saw a slender man standing beneath the spider. He wore a black brocade sherwani and had an almost comical curling Salvador Dalí mustache.

“My name is Fernando,” he continued, “and I’m here to welcome you to the museum.” The man perused a collection of name tags on a table before him. “May I have your name, please?”

“Certainly. Robert Langdon.”

The man’s eyes shot back up. “Ah, I am so sorry! I did not recognize you, sir!”

I barely recognize myself, Langdon thought, advancing stiffly in his white bow tie, black tails, and white waistcoat. I look like a Whiffenpoof. Langdon’s classic tails were almost thirty years old, preserved from his days as a member of the Ivy Club at Princeton, but thanks to his faithful daily regimen of swimming laps, the outfit still fit him fairly well. In Langdon’s haste to pack, he had grabbed the wrong hanging bag from his closet, leaving his usual tuxedo behind.

“The invitation said black and white,” Langdon said. “I trust tails are appropriate?”

“Tails are a classic! You look dashing!” The man scurried over and carefully pressed a name tag to the lapel of Langdon’s jacket.

“It’s an honor to meet you, sir,” the mustached man said. “No doubt you’ve visited us before?”

Langdon gazed through the spider’s legs at the glistening building before them. “Actually, I’m embarrassed to say, I’ve never been.”

“No!” The man feigned falling over. “You’re not a fan of modern art?”

Langdon had always enjoyed the challenge of modern art—primarily the exploration of why particular works were hailed as masterpieces: Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings; Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans; Mark Rothko’s simple rectangles of color. Even so, Langdon was far more comfortable discussing the religious symbolism of Hieronymus Bosch or the brushwork of Francisco de Goya.

“I’m more of a classicist,” Langdon replied. “I do better with da Vinci than with de Kooning.”

“But da Vinci and de Kooning are so similar!”

Langdon smiled patiently. “Then I clearly have a bit to learn about de Kooning.”

“Well, you’ve come to the right place!” The man swung his arm toward the massive building. “In this museum, you will find one of the finest collections of modern art on earth! I do hope you enjoy.”

“I intend to,” Langdon replied. “I only wish I knew why I’m here.”

“You and everyone else!” The man laughed merrily, shaking his head. “Your host has been very secretive about the purpose of tonight’s event. Not even the museum staff knows what’s happening. The mystery is half the fun of it—rumors are running wild! There are several hundred guests inside—many famous faces—and nobody has any idea what’s on the agenda tonight!”

Now Langdon grinned. Very few hosts on earth would have the bravado to send out last-minute invitations that essentially read: Saturday night. Be there. Trust me. And even fewer would be able to persuade hundreds of VIPs to drop everything and fly to northern Spain to attend the event.

Langdon walked out from beneath the spider and continued along the pathway, glancing up at an enormous red banner that billowed overhead.

AN EVENING WITH

EDMOND KIRSCH

Edmond has certainly never lacked confidence, Langdon thought, amused.

Some twenty years ago, young Eddie Kirsch had been one of Langdon’s first students at Harvard University—a mop-haired computer geek whose interest in codes had led him to Langdon’s freshman seminar: Codes, Ciphers, and the Language of Symbols. The sophistication of Kirsch’s intellect had impressed Langdon deeply, and although Kirsch eventually abandoned the dusty world of semiotics for the shining promise of computers, he and Langdon had developed a student–teacher bond that had kept them in contact over the past two decades since Kirsch’s graduation.

Now the student has surpassed his teacher, Langdon thought. By several light-years.

Today, Edmond Kirsch was a world-renowned maverick—a billionaire computer scientist, futurist, inventor, and entrepreneur. The forty-year-old had fathered an astounding array of advanced technologies that represented major leaps forward in fields as diverse as robotics, brain science, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology. And his accurate predictions about future scientific breakthroughs had created a mystical aura around the man.

Langdon suspected that Edmond’s eerie knack for prognostication stemmed from his astoundingly broad knowledge of the world around him. For as long as Langdon could remember, Edmond had been an insatiable bibliophile—reading everything in sight. The man’s passion for books, and his capacity for absorbing their contents, surpassed anything Langdon had ever witnessed.

For the past few years, Kirsch had lived primarily in Spain, attributing his choice to an ongoing love affair with the country’s old-world charm, avant-garde architecture, eccentric gin bars, and perfect weather.

Once a year, when Kirsch returned to Cambridge to speak at the MIT Media Lab, Langdon would join him for a meal at one of the trendy new Boston hot spots that Langdon had never heard of. Their conversations were never about technology; all Kirsch ever wanted to discuss with Langdon was the arts.

“You’re my culture connection, Robert,” Kirsch often joked. “My own private bachelor of arts!”

The playful jab at Langdon’s marital status was particularly ironic coming from a fellow bachelor who denounced monogamy as “an affront to evolution” and had been photographed with a wide range of supermodels over the years.

Considering Kirsch’s reputation as an innovator in computer science, one could easily have imagined him being a buttoned-up techno-nerd. But he had instead fashioned himself into a modern pop icon who moved in celebrity circles, dressed in the latest styles, listened to arcane underground music, and collected a wide array of priceless Impressionist and modern art. Kirsch often e-mailed Langdon to get his advice on new pieces of art he was considering for his collection.

And then he would do the exact opposite, Langdon mused.

About a year ago, Kirsch had surprised Langdon by asking him not about art, but about God—an odd topic for a self-proclaimed atheist. Over a plate of short-rib crudo at Boston’s Tiger Mama, Kirsch had picked Langdon’s brain on the core beliefs of various world religions, in particular their different stories of the Creation.

Langdon gave him a solid overview of current beliefs, from the Genesis story shared by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all the way through the Hindu story of Brahma, the Babylonian tale of Marduk, and others.

“I’m curious,” Langdon asked as they left the restaurant. “Why is a futurist so interested in the past? Does this mean our famous atheist has finally found God?”

Edmond let out a hearty laugh. “Wishful thinking! I’m just sizing up my competition, Robert.”

Langdon smiled. Typical. “Well, science and religion are not competitors, they’re two different languages trying to tell the same story. There’s room in this world for both.”

After that meeting, Edmond had dropped out of contact for almost a year. And then, out of the blue, three days ago, Langdon had received a FedEx envelope with a plane ticket, a hotel reservation, and a handwritten note from Edmond urging him to attend tonight’s event. It read: Robert, it would mean the world to me if you of all people could attend. Your insights during our last conversation helped make this night possible.

Langdon was baffled. Nothing about that conversation seemed remotely relevant to an event that would be hosted by a futurist.

The FedEx envelope also included a black-and-white image of two people standing face-to-face. Kirsch had written a short poem to Langdon.

Robert,

When you see me face-to-face,

I’ll reveal the empty space.

—Edmond

Langdon smiled when he saw the image—a clever allusion to an episode in which Langdon had been involved several years earlier. The silhouette of a chalice, or Grail cup, revealed itself in the empty space between the two faces.

Now Langdon stood outside this museum, eager to learn what his former student was about to announce. A light breeze ruffled his jacket tails as he moved along the cement walkway on the bank of the meandering Nervión River, which had once been the lifeblood of a thriving industrial city. The air smelled vaguely of copper.

As Langdon rounded a bend in the pathway, he finally permitted himself to look at the massive, glimmering museum. The structure was impossible to take in at a glance. Instead, his gaze traced back and forth along the entire length of the bizarre, elongated forms.

This building doesn’t just break the rules, Langdon thought. It ignores them completely. A perfect spot for Edmond.

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, looked like something out of an alien hallucination—a swirling collage of warped metallic forms that appeared to have been propped up against one another in an almost random way. Stretching into the distance, the chaotic mass of shapes was draped in more than thirty thousand titanium tiles that glinted like fish scales and gave the structure a simultaneously organic and extraterrestrial feel, as if some futuristic leviathan had crawled out of the water to sun herself on the riverbank.

When the building was first unveiled in 1997, The New Yorker hailed its architect, Frank Gehry, as having designed “a fantastic dream ship of undulating form in a cloak of titanium,” while other critics around the world gushed, “The greatest building of our time!” “Mercurial brilliance!” “An astonishing architectural feat!”

Since the museum’s debut, dozens of other “deconstructivist” buildings had been erected—the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, BMW World in Munich, and even the new library at Langdon’s own alma mater. Each featured radically unconventional design and construction, and yet Langdon doubted any of them could compete with the Bilbao Guggenheim for its sheer shock value.

As Langdon approached, the tiled facade seemed to morph with each step, offering a fresh personality from every angle. The museum’s most dramatic illusion now became visible. Incredibly, from this perspective, the colossal structure appeared to be quite literally floating on water, adrift on a vast “infinity” lagoon that lapped against the museum’s outer walls.

Langdon paused a moment to marvel at the effect and then set out to cross the lagoon via the minimalist footbridge that arched over the glassy expanse of water. He was only halfway across when a loud hissing noise startled him. It was emanating from beneath his feet. He stopped short just as a swirling cloud of mist began billowing out from beneath the walkway. The thick veil of fog rose around him and then tumbled outward across the lagoon, rolling toward the museum and engulfing the base of the entire structure.

The Fog Sculpture, Langdon thought.

He had read about this work by Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya. The “sculpture” was revolutionary in that it was constructed out of the medium of visible air, a wall of fog that materialized and dissipated over time; and because the breezes and atmospheric conditions were never identical one day to the next, the sculpture was different every time it appeared.

The bridge stopped hissing, and Langdon watched the wall of fog settle silently across the lagoon, swirling and creeping as if it had a mind of its own. The effect was both ethereal and disorienting. The entire museum now appeared to be hovering over the water, resting weightlessly on a cloud—a ghost ship lost at sea.

Just as Langdon was about to set out again, the tranquil surface of the water was shattered by a series of small eruptions. Suddenly five flaming pillars of fire shot skyward out of the lagoon, thundering steadily like rocket engines that pierced the mist-laden air and threw brilliant bursts of light across the museum’s titanium tiles.

Langdon’s own architectural taste tended more to the classical stylings of museums like the Louvre or the Prado, and yet as he watched the fog and flame hover above the lagoon, he could think of no place more suitable than this ultramodern museum to host an event thrown by a man who loved art and innovation, and who glimpsed the future so clearly.

Now, walking through the mist, Langdon pressed on to the museum’s entrance—an ominous black hole in the reptilian structure. As he neared the threshold, Langdon had the uneasy sense that he was entering the mouth of a dragon.

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