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OKAY, I’M IMPRESSED, Langdon thought.

With a few strong words, Ambra had just forced the crew of the EC145 helicopter to make a wide-banking turn and redirect toward the Basílica of the Sagrada Família.

As the aircraft leveled out and began skimming back across the city, Ambra turned to Agent Díaz and demanded the use of his cell phone, which the Guardia agent reluctantly handed over. Ambra promptly launched his browser and began scanning news headlines.

“Damn,” she whispered, shaking her head with frustration. “I tried to tell the media you did not kidnap me. Nobody could hear me.”

“Maybe they need more time to post?” Langdon offered. This happened less than ten minutes ago.

“They’ve had enough time,” she replied. “I’m seeing video clips of our helicopter speeding away from Casa Milà.”

Already? Langdon sometimes felt that the world had begun to spin too quickly on its axis. He could still recall when “breaking news” was printed on paper and delivered to his doorstep the following morning.

“By the way,” Ambra said with a trace of humor, “it appears you and I are one of the world’s top-trending news stories.”

“I knew I shouldn’t have kidnapped you,” he replied wryly.

“Not funny. At least we’re not the number one story.” She handed him the phone. “Have a look at this.”

Langdon eyed the screen and saw the Yahoo! homepage with its top ten “Trending Now” stories. He looked to the top at the most popular story:

1 “Where Do We Come From?” / Edmond Kirsch

Clearly, Edmond’s presentation had inspired people around the globe to research and discuss the topic. Edmond would be so pleased, Langdon thought, but when he clicked the link and saw the first ten headlines, he realized he was wrong. The top ten theories for “where do we come from” were all stories about Creationism and extraterrestrials.

Edmond would be horrified.

One of Langdon’s former student’s most infamous rants had occurred at a public forum called Science Spirituality, where Edmond had become so exasperated by audience questions that he finally threw up his hands and stalked off the stage, shouting: “How is it that intelligent human beings cannot discuss their origins without invoking the name of God and fucking aliens!”

Langdon kept scanning down the phone screen until he found a seemingly innocuous CNN Live link titled “What Did Kirsch Discover?”

He launched the link and held the phone so Ambra could see it as well. As the video began to play he turned up the volume, and he and Ambra leaned together so they could hear the video over the roar of the helicopter’s rotors.

A CNN anchor appeared. Langdon had seen her broadcasts many times over the years. “We are joined now by NASA astrobiologist Dr. Griffin Bennett,” she said, “who has some ideas regarding Edmond Kirsch’s mysterious breaking discovery. Welcome, Dr. Bennett.”

The guest—a bearded man in wire-rimmed glasses—gave a somber nod. “Thank you. First off, let me say that I knew Edmond personally. I have enormous respect for his intelligence, his creativity, and his commitment to progress and innovation. His assassination has been a terrible blow to the scientific community, and I hope this cowardly murder will serve to fortify the intellectual community to stand united against the dangers of zealotry, superstitious thinking, and those who resort to violence, not facts, to further their beliefs. I sincerely hope the rumors are true that there are people working hard tonight to find a way to bring Edmond’s discovery to the public.”

Langdon shot Ambra a glance. “I think he means us.”

She nodded.

“There are many people who are hoping for that as well, Dr. Bennett,” the anchor said. “And can you shed any light on what you think the content of Edmond Kirsch’s discovery might be?”

“As a space scientist,” Dr. Bennett continued, “I feel I should preface my words tonight with a blanket statement … one that I believe Edmond Kirsch would appreciate.” The man turned and looked directly into the camera. “When it comes to the notion of extraterrestrial life,” he began, “there exists a blinding array of bad science, conspiracy theory, and outright fantasy. For the record, let me say this: Crop circles are a hoax. Alien autopsy videos are trick photography. No cow has ever been mutilated by an alien. The Roswell saucer was a government weather balloon called Project Mogul. The Great Pyramids were built by Egyptians without alien technology. And most importantly, every extraterrestrial abduction story ever reported is a flat-out lie.”

“How can you be sure, Doctor?” the anchor asked.

“Simple logic,” the scientist said, looking annoyed as he turned back to the anchor. “Any life-form advanced enough to travel light-years through interstellar space would have nothing to learn by probing the rectums of farmers in Kansas. Nor would these life-forms need to morph into reptiles and infiltrate governments in order to take over earth. Any life-form with the technology to travel to earth would require no subterfuge or subtlety to dominate us instantaneously.”

“Well, that’s alarming!” the anchor commented with an awkward laugh. “And how does this relate to your thoughts on Mr. Kirsch’s discovery?”

The man sighed heavily. “It is my strong opinion that Edmond Kirsch was going to announce that he had found definitive proof that life on earth originated in space.”

Langdon was immediately skeptical, knowing how Kirsch felt about the topic of extraterrestrial life on earth.

“Fascinating, what makes you say that?” the anchor pressed.

“Life from space is the only rational answer. We already have incontrovertible proof that matter can be exchanged between planets. We have fragments of Mars and Venus along with hundreds of samples from unidentified sources, which would support the idea that life arrived via space rocks in the form of microbes, and eventually evolved into life on earth.”

The host nodded intently. “But hasn’t this theory—microbes arriving from space—been around for decades, with no proof? How do you think a tech genius like Edmond Kirsch could prove a theory like this, which seems more in the realm of astrobiology than computer science.”

“Well, there’s solid logic to it,” Dr. Bennett replied. “Top astronomers have warned for decades that humankind’s only hope for long-term survival will be to leave this planet. The earth is already halfway through its life cycle, and eventually the sun will expand into a red giant and consume us. That is, if we survive the more imminent threats of a giant asteroid collision or a massive gamma-ray burst. For these reasons, we are already designing outposts on Mars so we can eventually move into deep space in search of a new host planet. Needless to say, this is a massive undertaking, and if we could find a simpler way to ensure our survival, we would implement it immediately.”

Dr. Bennett paused. “And perhaps there is a simpler way. What if we could somehow package the human genome in tiny capsules and send millions of them into space in hopes one might take root, seeding human life on a distant planet? This technology does not yet exist, but we are discussing it as a viable option for human survival. And if we are considering ‘seeding life,’ then it follows that a more advanced life-form might have considered it as well.”

Langdon now suspected where Dr. Bennett was going with his theory.

“With this in mind,” he continued, “I believe Edmond Kirsch may have discovered some kind of alien signature—be it physical, chemical, digital, I don’t know—proving that life on earth was seeded from space. I should mention that Edmond and I had quite a debate about this several years ago. He never liked the space-microbe theory because he believed, as many do, that genetic material could never survive the deadly radiation and temperatures that would be encountered in the long journey to earth. Personally, I believe that it would be perfectly feasible to seal these ‘seeds of life’ in radiation-proof, protective pods and shoot them into space with the intent of populating the cosmos in a kind of technology-assisted panspermia.”

“Okay,” the host said, looking unsettled, “but if someone discovered proof that humans came from a seedpod sent from space, then that means we’re not alone in the universe.” She paused. “But also, far more incredibly …”

“Yes?” Dr. Bennett smiled for the first time.

“It means whoever sent the pods would have to be … like us … human!”

“Yes, my first conclusion as well.” The scientist paused. “Then Edmond set me straight. He pointed out the fallacy in that thinking.”

This caught the host off guard. “So Edmond’s belief was that whoever sent these ‘seeds’ was not human? How could that be, if the seeds were, so to speak, ‘recipes’ for human propagation?”

“Humans are half-baked,” the scientist replied, “to use Edmond’s exact words.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Edmond said that if this seedpod theory were true, then the recipe that was sent to earth is probably only half-baked at the moment—not yet finished—meaning humans are not the ‘final product’ but instead just a transitional species evolving toward something else … something alien.”

The CNN anchor looked bewildered.

“Any advanced life-form, Edmond argued, would not send a recipe for humans any more than they would send a recipe for chimpanzees.” The scientist chuckled. “In fact, Edmond accused me of being a closet Christian—joking that only a religious mind could believe that mankind is the center of the universe. Or that aliens would airmail fully formed ‘Adam and Eve’ DNA into the cosmos.”

“Well, Doctor,” the host said, clearly uncomfortable with the direction the interview was taking. “It’s certainly been enlightening speaking with you. Thank you for your time.”

The segment ended, and Ambra immediately turned to Langdon. “Robert, if Edmond discovered proof that humans are a half-evolved alien species, then it raises an even bigger issue—what exactly are we evolving into?”

“Yes,” Langdon said. “And I believe Edmond phrased that issue in a slightly different way—as a question: Where are we going?

Ambra looked startled to have come full circle. “Edmond’s second question from tonight’s presentation.”

“Precisely. Where do we come from? Where are we going? Apparently, the NASA scientist we’ve just watched thinks Edmond looked to the heavens and found answers to both questions.”

“What do you think, Robert? Is this what Edmond discovered?”

Langdon could feel his brow furrow with doubt as he weighed the possibilities. The scientist’s theory, while exciting, seemed far too general and otherworldly for the acute thinking of Edmond Kirsch. Edmond liked things simple, clean, and technical. He was a computer scientist. More importantly, Langdon could not imagine how Edmond would prove such a theory. Unearth an ancient seedpod? Detect an alien transmission? Both discoveries would have been instantaneous breakthroughs, but Edmond’s discovery had taken time.

Edmond said he had been working on it for months.

“Obviously, I don’t know,” Langdon told Ambra, “but my gut tells me Edmond’s discovery has nothing to do with extraterrestrial life. I really believe he discovered something else entirely.”

Ambra looked surprised, and then intrigued. “I guess there’s only one way to find out.” She motioned out the window.

In front of them shone the glimmering spires of Sagrada Família.

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