Read Origin Online

Authors: Dan Brown

Origin (3 page)

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.

CHAPTER
2

NAVY ADMIRAL LUIS
Ávila was seated on a bar stool inside a deserted pub in an unfamiliar town. He was drained from his journey, having just flown into this city after a job that had taken him many thousands of miles in twelve hours. He took a sip of his second tonic water and stared at the colorful array of bottles behind the bar.

Any man can stay sober in a desert
, he mused,
but only the loyal can sit in an oasis and refuse to part his lips.

Ávila had not parted his lips for the devil in almost a year. As he eyed his reflection in the mirrored bar, he permitted himself a rare moment of contentment with the image looking back at him.

Ávila was one of those fortunate Mediterranean men for whom aging seemed to be more an asset than a liability. Over the years, his stiff black stubble had softened to a distinguished salt-and-pepper beard, his fiery dark eyes had relaxed to a serene confidence, and his taut olive skin was now sun-drenched and creased, giving him the aura of a man permanently squinting out to sea.

Even at sixty-three years old, his body was lean and toned, an impressive physique further enhanced by his tailored uniform. At the moment, Ávila was clothed in his full-dress navy whites—a regal-looking livery consisting of a double-breasted white jacket, broad black shoulder boards, an imposing array of service medals, a starched white standing-collar shirt, and silk-trimmed white slacks.

The Spanish Armada may not be the most potent navy on earth anymore, but we still know how to dress an officer.

The admiral had not donned this uniform in years—but this was a special night, and earlier, as he walked the streets of this unknown town, he had enjoyed the favorable looks of women as well as the wide berth afforded him by men.

Everyone respects those who live by a code.


¿Otra tónica?
” the pretty barmaid asked. She was in her thirties, was full-figured, and had a playful smile.

Ávila shook his head. “
No, gracias.

This pub was entirely empty, and Ávila could feel the barmaid’s eyes admiring him. It felt good to be seen again.
I have returned from the abyss.

The horrific event that all but destroyed Ávila’s life five years ago would forever lurk in the recesses of his mind—a single deafening instant in which the earth had opened up and swallowed him whole.

Cathedral of Seville.

Easter morning.

The Andalusian sun was streaming through stained glass, splashing kaleidoscopes of color in radiant bursts across the cathedral’s stone interior. The pipe organ thundered in joyous celebration as thousands of worshippers celebrated the miracle of resurrection.

Ávila knelt at the Communion rail, his heart swelling with gratitude. After a lifetime of service to the sea, he had been blessed with the greatest of God’s gifts—a family. Smiling broadly, Ávila turned and glanced back over his shoulder at his young wife, María, who was still seated in the pews, far too pregnant to make the long walk up the aisle. Beside her, their three-year-old son, Pepe, waved excitedly at his father. Ávila winked at the boy, and María smiled warmly at her husband.

Thank you, God
, Ávila thought as he turned back to the railing to accept the chalice.

An instant later, a deafening explosion ripped through the pristine cathedral.

In a flash of light, his entire world erupted in fire.

The blast wave drove Ávila violently forward into the Communion rail, his body crushed by the scalding surge of debris and human body parts. When Ávila regained consciousness, he was unable to breathe in the thick smoke, and for a moment he had no idea where he was or what had happened.

Then, above the ringing in his ears, he heard the anguished screams. Ávila clambered to his feet, realizing with horror where he was. He told himself this was all a terrible dream. He staggered back through the smoke-filled cathedral, clambering past moaning and mutilated victims, stumbling in desperation to the approximate area where his wife and son had been smiling only moments ago.

There was nothing there.

No pews. No people.

Only bloody debris on the charred stone floor.

The grisly memory was mercifully shattered by the chime of the
jangling bar door. Ávila seized his
tónica
and took a quick sip, shaking off the darkness as he had been forced to do so many times before.

The bar door swung wide, and Ávila turned to see two burly men stumble in. They were singing an off-key Irish fight song and wearing green
fútbol
jerseys that strained to cover their bellies. Apparently, this afternoon’s match had gone the way of Ireland’s visiting team.

I’ll take that as my cue
, Ávila thought, standing up. He asked for his bill, but the barmaid winked and waved him off. Ávila thanked her and turned to go.

“Bloody hell!” one of the newcomers shouted, staring at Ávila’s stately uniform. “It’s the king of Spain!”

Both men erupted with laughter, lurching toward him.

Ávila attempted to step around them and leave, but the larger man roughly grabbed his arm and pulled him back to a bar stool. “Hold on, Your Highness! We came all the way to Spain; we’re gonna have a pint with the king!”

Ávila eyed the man’s grubby hand on his freshly pressed sleeve. “Let go,” he said quietly. “I need to leave.”

“No … you
need
to stay for a beer,
amigo
.” The man tightened his grip as his friend started poking with a dirty finger at the medals on Ávila’s chest. “Looks like you’re quite a hero, Pops.” The man tugged on one of Ávila’s most prized emblems. “A medieval mace? So, you’re a knight in shining armor?!” He guffawed.

Tolerance
, Ávila reminded himself. He had met countless men like these—simpleminded, unhappy souls, who had never stood for anything, men who blindly abused the liberties and freedoms that others had fought to give them.

“Actually,” Ávila replied gently, “the mace is the symbol of the Spanish navy’s Unidad de Operaciones Especiales.”

“Special ops?” The man feigned a fearful shudder. “That’s very impressive. And what about
that
symbol?” He pointed to Ávila’s right hand.

Ávila glanced down at his palm. In the center of the soft flesh was inscribed a black tattoo—a symbol that dated back to the fourteenth century.

This marking serves as my protection
, Ávila thought, eyeing the emblem.
Although I will not need it.

“Never mind,” the hooligan said, finally letting go of Ávila’s arm and turning his attention to the barmaid. “You’re a cute one,” he said. “Are you a hundred percent Spanish?”

“I am,” she answered graciously.

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