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CHAPTER 88

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 As he rolled toward them, he was surprised to see that the first few machines were quite old and outdated.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.

WELCOME, EDMOND.

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 Família.

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.

INCORRECT PASSWORD.

TRY AGAIN.

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 Julián 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, Julián rushed to his side. “Father?”

As Julián 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.

Julián 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.”

Julián 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?” Julián 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 Julián 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 Julián 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 Julián his entire life.”

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