Read Origin Online

Authors: Dan Brown

Origin (8 page)

Did this thing just call me a chauvinist?

Langdon recalled a popular recording that had circulated online several years ago:
Time
magazine’s bureau chief Michael Scherer had been phoned by a telemarketing robot that was so eerily human that Scherer had posted a recording of the call online for everyone to hear.

That was years ago
, Langdon realized.

Langdon knew that Kirsch had been dabbling in artificial intelligence for years, appearing on magazine covers from time to time to hail various breakthroughs. Apparently, his offspring “Winston” represented Kirsch’s current state of the art.

“I realize this is all happening quickly,” the voice continued, “but Mr. Kirsch requested that I show you this spiral at which you are now standing. He asked that you please enter the spiral and continue all the way to the center.”

Langdon peered down the narrow curving passage and felt his muscles tighten.
Is this Edmond’s idea of a college prank?
“Can you just tell me what’s in there? I’m not a big fan of cramped spaces.”

“Interesting, I didn’t know that about you.”

“Claustrophobia is not something I include in my online bio.” Langdon caught himself, still unable to fathom that he was speaking to a machine.

“You needn’t be afraid. The space in the center of the spiral is quite large, and Mr. Kirsch requested specifically that you see the
center
. Before you enter, however, Edmond asked that you remove your headset and place it on the floor out here.”

Langdon looked at the looming structure and hesitated. “You’re not coming with me?”

“Apparently not.”

“You know, this is all very strange, and I’m not exactly—”

“Professor, considering Edmond brought you all the way to this event, it seems a small request that you walk a short distance into this piece of art. Children do it every day and survive.”

Langdon had never been reprimanded by a computer, if that was in fact what this was, but the cutting comment had the desired effect. He removed his headset and carefully placed it on the floor, turning now to face the opening in the spiral. The high walls formed a narrow canyon that curved out of sight, disappearing into darkness.

“Here goes nothing,” he said to nobody at all.

Langdon took a deep breath and strode into the opening.

The path curled on and on, farther than he imagined, winding deeper, and Langdon soon had no idea how many rotations he had made. With each clockwise revolution, the passage grew tighter, and Langdon’s broad shoulders were now nearly brushing the walls.
Breathe, Robert.
The slanting metal sheets felt as if they might collapse inward at any moment and crush him beneath tons of steel.

Why am I doing this?

A moment before Langdon was about to turn around and head back, the passageway abruptly ended, depositing him in a large open space. As promised, the chamber was larger than he expected. Langdon stepped quickly out of the tunnel into the open, exhaling as he surveyed the bare floor and high metal walls, wondering again if this was some kind of elaborate sophomoric hoax.

A door clicked somewhere outside, and brisk footsteps echoed beyond the high walls. Someone had entered the gallery, coming through the nearby door that Langdon had seen. The footsteps approached the spiral and then began circling around Langdon, growing louder with every turn. Someone was entering the coil.

Langdon backed up and faced the opening as the footsteps kept circling, drawing closer. The staccato clicking grew louder until, suddenly,
a man appeared out of the tunnel. He was short and slender with pale skin, piercing eyes, and an unruly mop of black hair.

Langdon stared stone-faced at the man for a long moment, and then, finally, permitted a broad grin to spread across his face. “The great Edmond Kirsch always makes an entrance.”

“Only one chance to make a first impression,” Kirsch replied affably. “I’ve missed you, Robert. Thanks for coming.”

The two men shared a heartfelt embrace. As Langdon patted his old friend on the back, he sensed that Kirsch had grown thinner.

“You’ve lost weight,” Langdon said.

“I went vegan,” Kirsch replied. “Easier than the elliptical.”

Langdon laughed. “Well, it’s great to see you. And, as usual, you’ve made me feel overdressed.”

“Who, me?” Kirsch glanced down at his black skinny jeans, pressed white V-neck tee, and side-zip bomber jacket. “This is couture.”

“White flip-flops are couture?”

“Flip-flops?! These are Ferragamo Guineas
.

“And I’m guessing they cost more than my entire ensemble.”

Edmond walked over and examined the label of Langdon’s classic jacket. “Actually,” he said, smiling warmly, “those are pretty nice tails. It’s close.”

“I’ve got to tell you, Edmond, your synthetic friend Winston … very unsettling.”

Kirsch beamed. “Incredible, right? You can’t believe what I’ve accomplished in artificial intelligence this year—quantum leaps. I’ve developed a few new proprietary technologies that are enabling machines to problem-solve and self-regulate in entirely new ways. Winston is a work in progress, but he improves daily.”

Langdon noticed that deep creases had appeared around Edmond’s boyish eyes over the past year. The man looked weary. “Edmond, would you care to tell me why you brought me here?”

“To Bilbao? Or into a Richard Serra spiral?”

“Let’s start with the spiral,” Langdon said. “You
know
I’m claustrophobic.”

“Precisely. Tonight is all about pushing people outside their comfort zones,” he said with a smirk.

“Always your specialty.”

“Moreover,” Kirsch added, “I needed to speak to you, and I didn’t want to be seen before the show.”

“Because rock stars never mingle with guests before a concert?”

“Correct!” Kirsch replied jokingly. “Rock stars appear magically onstage in a puff of smoke.”

Overhead, the lights suddenly faded off and on. Kirsch pulled back his sleeve and checked his watch. Then he glanced to Langdon, his expression turning suddenly serious.

“Robert, we don’t have much time. Tonight is a tremendous occasion for me. In fact, it will be an important occasion for all of humankind.”

Langdon felt a flush of anticipation.

“Recently, I made a scientific discovery,” Edmond said. “It’s a breakthrough that will have far-reaching implications. Almost nobody on earth knows about it, and tonight—very shortly—I will be addressing the world live and announcing what I’ve found.”

“I’m not sure what to say,” Langdon replied. “This all sounds amazing.”

Edmond lowered his voice, and his tone grew uncharacteristically tense. “Before I go public with this information, Robert, I need your advice.” He paused. “I fear my life may depend on it.”

CHAPTER
9

SILENCE HAD FALLEN
between the two men inside the spiral.

I need your advice … I fear my life may depend on it.

Edmond’s words hung heavily in the air and Langdon saw disquiet in his friend’s eyes. “Edmond? What’s going on? Are you okay?”

The overhead lights faded off and on again, but Edmond ignored them.

“It has been a remarkable year for me,” he began, his voice a whisper. “I’ve been working alone on a major project, one that led to a ground-breaking discovery.”

“That sounds wonderful.”

Kirsch nodded. “It is indeed, and words can’t describe how excited I am to share it with the world tonight. It will usher in a major paradigm shift. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that my discovery will have repercussions on the scale of the Copernican revolution.”

For a moment, Langdon thought his host was joking, but Edmond’s expression remained dead serious.

Copernicus?
Humility had never been one of Edmond’s strong suits, but this claim sounded borderline preposterous. Nicolaus Copernicus was the father of the heliocentric model—the belief that the planets revolve around the sun—which ignited a scientific revolution in the 1500s that entirely obliterated the Church’s long-held teaching that mankind occupied the center of God’s universe. His discovery was condemned by the Church for three centuries, but the damage had been done, and the world had never been the same.

“I can see you’re skeptical,” Edmond said. “Would it be better if I said Darwin?”

Langdon smiled. “Same issue.”

“Okay, then let me ask you this: What are the two fundamental questions that have been asked by the human race throughout our entire history?”

Langdon considered it. “Well, the questions would have to be: ‘How did it all begin? Where do we come from?’”

“Precisely. And the second question is simply the ancillary to that. Not ‘where do we come from’ … but …”

“‘Where are we going?’”

“Yes! These two mysteries lie at the heart of the human experience. Where do we come from? Where are we going? Human
creation
and human
destiny
. They are the universal mysteries.” Edmond’s gaze sharpened and he peered at Langdon expectantly. “Robert, the discovery I’ve made … it very clearly answers both of these questions.”

Langdon grappled with Edmond’s words and their heady ramifications. “I’m … not sure what to say.”

“No need to say anything. I’m hoping you and I can find time to discuss it in depth following tonight’s presentation, but at the moment, I need to talk to you about the darker side of all this—the potential
fallout
from the discovery.”

“You think there will be repercussions?”

“Without a doubt. By answering these questions, I have placed myself in direct conflict with centuries of established spiritual teachings. Issues of human creation and human destiny are traditionally the domain of religion. I’m an interloper, and the religions of the world are not going to like what I’m about to announce.”

“Interesting,” Langdon replied. “And is this why you spent two hours grilling me about religion over lunch in Boston last year?”

“It is. You may remember my personal guarantee to you—that in our lifetime, the myths of religion would be all but demolished by scientific breakthroughs.”

Langdon nodded.
Hard to forget.
The boldness of Kirsch’s declaration had emblazoned itself word for word in Langdon’s eidetic memory. “I do. And I countered that religion had survived advances in science for millennia, and that it served an important purpose in society, and while religion might evolve, it would never die.”

“Exactly. I also told you that I had found the purpose of my life—to employ the truth of science to eradicate the myth of religion.”

“Yes, strong words.”

“And you challenged me on them, Robert. You argued that whenever I came across a ‘scientific truth’ that conflicted with or undermined the tenets of religion, I should discuss it with a religious
scholar
in hopes I might realize that science and religion are often attempting to tell the same story in two different languages.”

“I do remember. Scientists and spiritualists often use different vocabularies
to describe the exact same mysteries of the universe. The conflicts are frequently over semantics, not substance.”

“Well, I followed your advice,” Kirsch said. “And I consulted with spiritual leaders about my latest discovery.”

“Oh?”

“Are you familiar with the Parliament of the World’s Religions?”

“Of course.” Langdon was a great admirer of the group’s efforts to promote interfaith discourse.

“By chance,” Kirsch said, “the parliament held their meeting outside Barcelona this year, about an hour from my home, at the Abbey of Mont-serrat.”

Spectacular spot
, Langdon thought, having visited the mountaintop sanctuary many years ago.

“When I heard it was taking place during the same week I had planned to make this major scientific announcement, I don’t know, I …”

“Wondered if it might be a sign from God?”

Kirsch laughed. “Something like that. So I called them.”

Langdon was impressed. “You addressed the
entire
parliament?”

“No! Too dangerous. I didn’t want this information leaking out before I could announce it myself, so I scheduled a meeting with only three of them—one representative each from Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The four of us met in private in the library.”

“I’m amazed they let you
in
the library,” Langdon said with surprise. “I hear that’s hallowed ground.”

“I told them I needed a secure meeting place, no phones, no cameras, no intruders. They took me to that library. Before I told them anything, I asked them to agree to a vow of silence. They complied. To date, they are the only people on earth who know anything about my discovery.”

“Fascinating. And how did they react when you told them?”

Kirsch looked sheepish. “I may not have handled it perfectly. You know me, Robert, when my passions flare, diplomacy is not my métier.”

“Yes, I’ve read that you could use some sensitivity training,” Langdon said with a laugh.
Just like Steve Jobs and so many genius visionaries.

“So in keeping with my outspoken nature, I began our talk by simply telling them the truth—that I had always considered religion a form of mass delusion, and that as a scientist, I found it difficult to accept the fact that billions of intelligent people rely on their respective faiths to comfort and guide them. When they asked why I was consulting with people for whom I apparently had little respect, I told them I was there
to gauge their reactions to my discovery so I could get some sense of how it would be received by the world’s faithful once I made it public.”

“Always the diplomat,” Langdon said, wincing. “You
do
know that sometimes honesty is not the best policy?”

Kirsch waved his hand dismissively. “My thoughts on religion are widely publicized. I thought they would appreciate the transparency. Nonetheless, after that, I presented my work to them, explaining in detail what I had discovered and how it changed everything. I even took out my phone and showed them some video that I admit is quite startling. They were speechless.”

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