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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!

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.”

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