Kirsch’s voice boomed down from the heavens. Hundreds of guests were reclined on blankets, gazing up into a dazzling sky of stars. Robert Langdon lay near the center of the field, caught up in the growing anticipation.

 

“Tonight, let us be children again,” Kirsch’s voice continued. “Let us lie out beneath the stars, with our minds wide open to all possibilities.”

 

Langdon could feel the excitement rippling through the crowd.

 

“Tonight, let us be like the early explorers,” Kirsch declared, “those who left everything behind and set out across vast oceans … those who first glimpsed a land that had never before been seen … those who fell to their knees in awestruck realization that the world was far greater than their philosophies had dared imagine. Their long-held beliefs about their world disintegrated in the face of new discovery. This will be our mind-set tonight.”

 

Impressive, Langdon mused, curious if Edmond’s narration was pre-recorded or whether Kirsch himself was backstage somewhere reading from a script.

 

“My friends”—Edmond’s voice resounded above them — “we have all gathered tonight to hear news of an important discovery. I ask your indulgence in allowing me to set the stage. Tonight, as with all shifts in human philosophy, it is critical we understand the historical context into which a moment like this is born.”

 

Thunder rolled in the distance, right on cue. Langdon could feel the deep bass from the audio speakers rumbling in his gut.

 

“To help us get acclimated tonight,” Edmond continued, “we are very fortunate to have with us a celebrated scholar—a legend in the world of symbols, codes, history, religion, and art. He is also a dear friend. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Harvard University professor Robert Langdon.”

 

Langdon jolted up onto his elbows as the crowd clapped enthusiastically and the stars overhead dissolved into a wide-angle shot of a large auditorium packed with people.

 

Onstage, Langdon paced back and forth in his Harris Tweed jacket before a rapt audience. So this is the role that Edmond mentioned, he thought, settling back uneasily into the grass.

 

“Early humans,” Langdon lectured on-screen, “had a relationship of wonder with their universe, especially with those phenomena they could not rationally understand. To solve these mysteries, they created a vast pantheon of gods and goddesses to explain anything that was beyond their understanding—thunder, tides, earthquakes, volcanoes, infertility, plagues, even love.”

 

This is surreal, Langdon thought, lying on his back and staring up at himself.

 

“For the early Greeks, the ebb and flow of the ocean was attributed to the shifting moods of Poseidon.” On the ceiling, the image of Langdon dissolved, but his voice continued to narrate.

 

Images of pounding ocean surf materialized, shaking the entire room. Langdon watched in wonder as the crashing waves morphed into a desolate wind-whipped tundra of snowdrifts. From somewhere, a cold wind blew across the meadow.

 

“The seasonal change to winter,” Langdon’s voice-over continued, “was caused by the planet’s sadness at Persephone’s annual abduction into the underworld.”

 

Now the air grew warm again, and from out of the frozen landscape, a mountain rose, climbing higher and higher, its peak erupting with sparks, smoke, and lava.

 

“For the Romans,” Langdon narrated, “volcanoes were believed to be the home of Vulcan—blacksmith to the gods—who worked in a giant forge beneath the mountain, causing flames to spew out of his chimney.”

 

Langdon smelled a passing whiff of sulfur, and was amazed at how ingeniously Edmond had transformed Langdon’s lecture into a multisensory experience. The rumbling of the volcano abruptly stopped. In the silence, crickets began chirping again, and a warm grassy breeze blew across the meadow.

 

“The ancients invented countless gods,” Langdon’s voice explained, “to explain not only the mysteries of their planet, but also the mysteries of their own bodies.”

 

Overhead, the twinkling constellations of stars reappeared, now superimposed with line drawings of the various gods they represented.

 

“Infertility was caused by falling out of favor with the goddess Juno. Love was the result of being targeted by Eros. Epidemics were explained as a punishment sent by Apollo.”

 

New constellations now lit up along with images of new gods.

 

“If you’ve read my books,” Langdon’s voice continued, “you will have heard me use the term ‘God of the Gaps.’ That is to say, when the ancients experienced gaps in their understanding of the world around them, they filled those gaps with God.”

 

The sky filled now with a massive collage of paintings and statues depicting dozens of ancient deities.

“Countless gods filled countless gaps,” Langdon said. “And yet, over the centuries, scientific knowledge increased.” A collage of mathematical and technical symbols flooded the sky overhead. “As the gaps in our understanding of the natural world gradually disappeared, our pantheon of gods began to shrink.”

 

On the ceiling, the image of Poseidon came to the forefront.

 

“For example, when we learned that the tides were caused by lunar cycles, Poseidon was no longer necessary, and we banished him as a foolish myth of an unenlightened time.”

 

The image of Poseidon evaporated in a puff of smoke.

 

“As you know, the same fate befell all the gods—dying off, one by one, as they outlived their relevance to our evolving intellects.”

 

Overhead, the images of gods began twinkling out, one by one—gods of thunder, earthquakes, plagues, and on and on. As the number of images dwindled, Langdon added, “But make no mistake about it. These gods did not ‘go gentle into that good night’; it is a messy process for a culture to abandon its deities. Spiritual beliefs are etched deeply on our psyches at a young age by those we love and trust most—our parents, our teachers, our religious leaders. Therefore, any religious shifts occur over generations, and not without great angst, and often bloodshed.”

 

The sound of clattering swords and shouting now accompanied the gradual disappearance of the gods, whose images winked out one by one. Finally, the image of a single god remained—an iconic wizened face with a flowing white beard.

 

“Zeus …,” Langdon declared, his voice powerful. “The god of all gods. The most feared and revered of all the pagan deities. Zeus, more than any other god, resisted his own extinction, mounting a violent battle against the dying of his own light, precisely as had the earlier gods Zeus had replaced.”

 

On the ceiling flashed images of Stonehenge, the Sumerian cuneiform tablets, and the Great Pyramids of Egypt. Then Zeus’s bust returned.

 

“Zeus’s followers were so resistant to giving up on their god that the conquering faith of Christianity had no choice but to adopt the face of Zeus as the face of their new God.”

 

On the ceiling, the bearded bust of Zeus dissolved seamlessly into a fresco of an identical bearded face—that of the Christian God as depicted in Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

 

“Today, we no longer believe in stories like those about Zeus—a boy raised by a goat and given power by one-eyed creatures called Cyclopes. For us, with the benefit of modern thinking, these tales have all been classified as mythology—quaint fictional stories that give us an entertaining glimpse into our superstitious past.”

 

The ceiling now showed a photo of a dusty library shelf, where leather-bound tomes on ancient mythology languished in the dark beside books on nature worship, Baal, Inana, Osiris, and innumerable early theologies.

 

“Things are different now!” Langdon’s deep voice declared. “We are the Moderns.”

 

In the sky, fresh images appeared—crisp and sparkling photographs of space exploration … computer chips … a medical lab … a particle accelerator … soaring jets.

 

“We are an intellectually evolved and technologically skilled people. We do not believe in giant blacksmiths working under volcanoes or in gods that control the tides or seasons. We are nothing like our ancient ancestors.”

 

Or are we? Langdon whispered inwardly, mouthing along with the playback.

 

“Or are we?” Langdon intoned overhead. “We consider ourselves modern rational individuals, and yet our species’ most widespread religion includes a whole host of magical claims—humans inexplicably rising from the dead, miraculous virgin births, vengeful gods that send plagues and floods, mystical promises of an afterlife in cloud swept heavens or fiery hells.”

 

As Langdon spoke, the ceiling flashed well-known Christian images of the Resurrection, the Virgin Mary, Noah’s Ark, the parting of the Red Sea, heaven, and hell.

 

“So just for a moment,” Langdon said, “let us imagine the reaction of humankind’s future historians and anthropologists. With the benefit of perspective, will they look back on our religious beliefs and categorize them as the mythologies of an unenlightened time? Will they look at our gods as we look at Zeus? Will they collect our sacred scriptures and banish them to that dusty bookshelf of history?”

 

The question hung in the darkness for a long moment.

 

And then, abruptly, Edmond Kirsch’s voice broke the silence. “YES, Professor,” the futurist boomed from on high. “I believe all of that will happen. I believe future generations will ask themselves how a technologically advanced species like ours could possibly believe most of what our modern religions teach us.”

 

Kirsch’s voice grew stronger as a new series of images splashed across the ceiling—Adam and Eve, a woman shrouded in a burka, a Hindu fire walk.

 

“I believe future generations will look at our current traditions,” Kirsch declared, “and conclude that we lived during an unenlightened time. As evidence, they will point to our beliefs that we were divinely created in a magical garden, or that our omnipotent Creator demands that women cover their heads, or that we risk burning our own bodies to honor our gods.”

 

More images appeared—a fast-moving montage of photographs depicting religious ceremonies from around the world—from exorcisms and baptisms to body piercing and animal sacrifices. The slide show concluded with a deeply unsettling video of an Indian cleric dangling a tiny infant over the edge of a fifty-foot tower. Suddenly the cleric let go, and the child plummeted fifty feet, straight down into an outstretched blanket, which joyful villagers held like a fireman’s net. The Grishneshwar Temple drop, Langdon thought, recalling that it was believed by some to bring God’s favor to a child.

 

Thankfully, the disturbing video came to an end.

 

In total darkness now, Kirsch’s voice resonated overhead. “How can it be that the modern human mind is capable of precise logical analysis, and yet simultaneously permits us to accept religious beliefs that should crumble beneath even the slightest rational scrutiny?”

 

Overhead, the brilliant sky of stars returned.

 

“As it turns out,” Edmond concluded, “the answer is quite simple.”

 

The stars in the sky grew suddenly brighter and more substantial. Strands of connecting fiber appeared, running between the stars to form a seemingly infinite web of interconnected nodes. Neurons, Langdon realized just as Edmond began to speak.

 

“The human brain,” Edmond declared. “Why does it believe what it believes?”

 

Overhead, several nodes flashed, sending pulses of electricity through the fibers to other neurons.

 

“Like an organic computer,” Edmond continued, “your brain has an operating system—a series of rules that organizes and defines all of the chaotic input that flows in all day long —language, a catchy tune, a siren, the taste of chocolate. As you can imagine, the stream of incoming information is frenetically diverse and relentless, and your brain must make sense of it all. In fact, it is the very programming of your brain’s operating system that defines your perception of reality. Unfortunately, the joke’s on us, because whoever wrote the program for the human brain had a twisted sense of humor. In other words, it’s not our fault that we believe the crazy things we believe.”

 

The synapses overhead sizzled, and familiar images bubbled up from within the brain: astrological charts; Jesus walking on water; Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard; the Egyptian god Osiris; Hinduism’s four-armed elephant god, Ganesha; and a marble statue of the Virgin Mary weeping literal tears.

 

“And so as a programmer, I have to ask myself: What kind of bizarre operating system would create such illogical output? If we could look into the human mind and read its operating system, we would find something like this.”

 

Four words appeared in giant text overhead.

 

DESPISE CHAOS.

CREATE ORDER.

 

“This is our brain’s root program,” Edmond said. “And therefore, this is exactly how humans are inclined. Against chaos. And in favor of order.”

 

The room trembled suddenly with a cacophony of discordant piano notes, as if a child were banging on a keyboard. Langdon and those around him tensed involuntarily.

 

Edmond yelled over the clamor. “The sound of someone banging randomly on a piano is unbearable! And yet, if we take those same notes and arrange them in a better order …”

 

The haphazard din immediately halted, supplanted by the soothing melody of Debussy’s “Clair de lune.”

 

Langdon felt his muscles relax, and the tension in the room seemed to evaporate.

 

“Our brains rejoice,” Edmond said. “Same notes. Same instrument. But Debussy creates order. And it is this same rejoicing in the creation of order that prompts humans to assemble jigsaw puzzles or straighten paintings on a wall. Our predisposition to organization is written into our DNA, and so it should come as no surprise to us that the greatest invention the human mind has created is the computer—a machine designed specifically to help us create order out of chaos. In fact, the word in Spanish for computer is ordenador—quite literally, ‘that which creates order.’”

 

The image of a massive supercomputer appeared, with a young man sitting at its lone terminal.

 

“Just imagine you have a powerful computer with access to all of the information in the world. You are permitted to ask this computer any questions you like. Probability suggests you would eventually ask one of two fundamental questions that have captivated humans since we first became self-aware.”

 

The man typed into the terminal, and text appeared.

 

Where do we come from?

Where are we going?

 

“In other words,” Edmond said, “you would ask about our origin and our destiny. And when you ask those questions, this would be the computer’s response.”

 

The terminal flashed:

INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR ACCURATE RESPONSE.

 

“Not very helpful,” Kirsch said, “but at least it’s honest.”

 

Now an image of a human brain appeared.

 

“However, if you ask this little biological computer—Where do we come from? —something else happens.”

 

From out of the brain flowed a stream of religious images—God reaching out to infuse Adam with life, Prometheus crafting a primordial human out of mud, Brahma creating humans from different parts of his own body, an African god parting the clouds and lowering two humans to earth, a Norse god fashioning a man and a woman out of driftwood.

 

“And now you ask,” Edmond said, “Where are we going?”

 

More images flowed from the brain—pristine heavens, fiery hells, hieroglyphs of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, stone carvings of astral projections, Greek renderings of the Elysian Fields, Kabbalistic descriptions of Gilgul neshamot, diagrams of reincarnation from Buddhism and Hinduism, the Theosophical circles of the Summerland.

 

“For the human brain,” Edmond explained, “any answer is better than no answer. We feel enormous discomfort when faced with ‘insufficient data,’ and so our brains invent the data—offering us, at the very least, the illusion of order—creating myriad philosophies, mythologies, and religions to reassure us that there is indeed an order and structure to the unseen world.”

 

As the religious images continued to flow, Edmond spoke with increasing intensity.

 

“Where do we come from? Where are we going? These fundamental questions of human existence have always obsessed me, and for years I’ve dreamed of finding the answers.” Edmond paused, his tone turning somber. “Tragically, on account of religious dogma, millions of people believe they already know the answers to these big questions. And because not every religion offers the same answers, entire cultures end up warring over whose answers are correct, and which version of God’s story is the One True Story.”

 

The screen overhead erupted with images of gunfire and exploding mortar shells—a violent montage of photos depicting religious wars, followed by images of sobbing refugees, displaced families, and civilian corpses.

 

“Since the beginning of religious history, our species has been caught in a never-ending cross fire—atheists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, the faithful of all religions—and the only thing that unites us all is our deep longing for peace.”

 

The thundering images of war vanished and were replaced by the silent sky of glimmering stars.

 

“Just imagine what would happen if we miraculously learned the answers to life’s big questions … if we all suddenly glimpsed the same unmistakable proof and realized we had no choice but to open our arms and accept it … together, as a species.”

 

The image of a priest appeared on the screen, his eyes closed in prayer.

 

“Spiritual inquiry has always been the realm of religion, which encourages us to have blind faith in its teachings, even when they make little logical sense.”

 

A collage of images depicting fervent believers now appeared, all with eyes closed, singing, bowing, chanting, praying.

 

“But faith,” Edmond declared, “by its very definition, requires placing your trust in something that is unseeable and indefinable, accepting as fact something for which there exists no empirical evidence. And so, understandably, we all end up placing our faith in different things because there is no universal truth.” He paused. “However …”

 

The images on the ceiling dissolved into a single photograph, of a female student, eyes wide open and intense, staring down into a microscope.

 

“Science is the antithesis of faith,” Kirsch continued. “Science, by definition, is the attempt to find physical proof for that which is unknown or not yet defined, and to reject superstition and misperception in favor of observable facts. When science offers an answer, that answer is universal. Humans do not go to war over it; they rally around it.”

 

The screen now played historical footage from labs at NASA, CERN, and elsewhere— where scientists of various races all leaped up in shared joy and embraced as new pieces of information were unveiled.

 

“My friends,” Edmond now whispered, “I have made many predictions in my life. And I am going to make another one tonight.” He took a long slow breath. “The age of religion is drawing to a close,” he said, “and the age of science is dawning.”

 

A hush fell over the room.

 

“And tonight, mankind is about to make a quantum leap in that direction.”

 

The words sent an unexpected chill through Langdon. Whatever this mysterious discovery turned out to be, Edmond was clearly setting the stage for a major showdown between himself and the religions of the world.

 

Robert Langdon was feeling uneasy about the direction of this evening’s event. Edmond’s presentation was skating dangerously close to becoming a public denunciation of faith in general. Langdon wondered if Edmond had somehow forgotten that he was speaking not only to the group of agnostic scientists in this room, but also to the millions of people around the globe who were watching online.

 

Clearly, his presentation was devised to ignite controversy.

 

Langdon was troubled by his own appearance in the program, and although Edmond certainly meant the video as a tribute, Langdon had been an involuntary flash point for religious controversy in the past … and he preferred not to repeat the experience.

 

Kirsch, however, had mounted a premeditated audiovisual assault on religion, and Langdon was now starting to rethink his nonchalant dismissal of the voice mail Edmond had received from Bishop Valdespino.

 

Edmond’s voice again filled the room, the visuals dissolving overhead into a collage of religious symbols from around the world. “I must admit,” Edmond’s voice declared, “I have had reservations about tonight’s announcement, and particularly about how it might affect people of faith.” He paused. “And so, three days ago, I did something a bit out of character for me. In an effort to show respect to religious viewpoints, and to gauge how my discovery might be received by people of various faiths, I quietly consulted with three prominent religious leaders—scholars of Islam, Christanity, and Judaism—and I shared with them my discovery.”

 

Hushed murmurs echoed throughout the room.

 

“As I expected, all three men reacted with profound surprise, concern, and, yes, even anger, at what I revealed to them. And while their reactions were negative, I want to thank them for graciously meeting with me. I will do them the courtesy of not revealing their names, but I do want to address them directly tonight and thank them for not attempting to interfere with this presentation.”

 

He paused. “God knows, they could have.”

 

Langdon listened, amazed at how deftly Edmond was walking a thin line and covering his bases. Edmond’s decision to meet with religious leaders suggested an openmindedness, trust, and impartiality for which the futurist was not generally known. The meeting at Montserrat, Langdon now suspected, had been part research mission and part public relations maneuver.

 

A clever get-out-of-jail-free card, he thought.

 

“Historically,” Edmond continued, “religious fervor has always suppressed scientific progress, and so tonight I implore religious leaders around the world to react with restraint and understanding to what I am about to say. Please, let us not repeat the bloody violence of history. Let us not make the mistakes of our past.”

 

The images on the ceiling dissolved into a drawing of an ancient walled city—a perfectly circular metropolis located on the banks of a river that flowed through a desert.

 

Langdon recognized it at once as ancient Baghdad, its unusual circular construction fortified by three concentric walls topped by merlons and embrasures.

 

“In the eighth century,” Edmond said, “the city of Baghdad rose to prominence as the greatest center of learning on earth, welcoming all religions, philosophies, and sciences to its universities and libraries. For five hundred years, the outpouring of scientific innovation that flowed from the city was like nothing the world had ever seen, and its influence is still felt today in modern culture.”

 

Overhead, the sky of stars reappeared, this time many of the stars bearing names beside them: Vega, Betelgeuse, Rigel, Algebar, Deneb, Acrab, Kitalpha.

 

“Their names are all derived from Arabic,” Edmond said. “To this day, more than two thirds of the stars in the sky have names from that language because they were discovered by astronomers in the Arab world.”

 

The sky rapidly filled with so many stars with Arabic names that the heavens were nearly blotted out. The names dissolved again, leaving only the expanse of the heavens.

 

“And, of course, if we want to count the stars …”

 

Roman numerals began appearing one by one beside the brightest stars.

 

I, II, III, IV, V …

 

The numbers stopped abruptly and disappeared.

 

“We don’t use Roman numerals,” Edmond said. “We use Arabic numerals.”

 

The numbering now began again using the Arabic numbering system. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 …

 

“You may also recognize these Islamic inventions,” Edmond said. “And we all still use their Arabic names.”

 

The word ALGEBRA floated across the sky, surrounded by a series of multivariable equations. Next came the word ALGORITHM with a diverse array of formulas. Then AZIMUTH with a diagram depicting angles on the earth’s horizon. The flow accelerated … NADIR, ZENITH, ALCHEMY, CHEMISTRY, CIPHER, ELIXIR, ALCOHOL, ALKALINE, ZERO … As the familiar Arabic words streamed by, Langdon thought how tragic it was that so many Americans pictured Baghdad simply as one of those many dusty, war-torn Middle Eastern cities in the news, never knowing it was once the very heart of human scientific progress.

 

“By the end of the eleventh century,” Edmond said, “the greatest intellectual exploration and discovery on earth was taking place in and around Baghdad. Then, almost overnight, that changed. A brilliant scholar named Hamid al-Ghazali—now considered one of the most influential Muslims in history—wrote a series of persuasive texts questioning the logic of Plato and Aristotle and declaring mathematics to be ‘the philosophy of the devil.’ This began a confluence of events that undermined scientific thinking. The study of theology was made compulsory, and eventually the entire Islamic scientific movement collapsed.”

 

The scientific words overhead evaporated, and were replaced by images of Islamic religious texts.

 

“Revelation replaced investigation. And to this day, the Islamic scientific world is still trying to recover.” Edmond paused. “Of course, the Christian scientific world did not fare any better.”

 

Paintings of the astronomers Copernicus, Galileo, and Bruno appeared on the ceiling.

 

“The Church’s systematic murder, imprisonment, and denunciation of some of history’s most brilliant scientific minds delayed human progress by at least a century. Fortunately, today, with our better understanding of the benefits of science, the Church has tempered its attacks …” Edmond sighed. “Or has it?”

 

A globe logo with a crucifix and serpent appeared with the text:

 

Madrid Declaration on Science & Life

 

“Right here in Spain, the World Federation of the Catholic Medical Associations recently declared war on genetic engineering, proclaiming that ‘science lacks soul’ and therefore should be restrained by the Church.”

 

The globe logo now transformed into a different circle—a schematic blueprint for a massive particle accelerator.

 

“And this was Texas’s Superconducting Super Collider—slated to be the largest particle collider in the world—with the potential for exploring the very moment of Creation. This machine was, ironically, positioned in the heart of America’s Bible Belt.”

 

The image dissolved into a massive ring-shaped cement structure stretching out across the Texas desert. The facility was only half built, covered with dust and dirt, apparently abandoned midway through its construction.

 

“America’s super collider could have enormously advanced humankind’s understanding of the universe, but the project was canceled due to cost overruns and political pressure from some startling sources.”

 

A news clip showed a young televangelist waving the bestselling book The God Particle and angrily shouting, “We should be looking for God inside our hearts! Not inside of atoms! Spending billions on this absurd experiment is an embarrassment to the state of Texas and an affront to God!”

 

Edmond’s voice returned. “These conflicts I’ve described—those in which religious superstition has trumped reason—are merely skirmishes in an ongoing war.”

 

The ceiling blazed suddenly with a collage of violent images from modern society— picket lines outside genetic research labs, a priest setting himself on fire outside a Transhumanism conference, evangelicals shaking their fists and holding up the book of Genesis, a Jesus fish eating a Darwin fish, angry religious billboards condemning stemcell research, gay rights, and abortion, along with equally angry billboards in response.

 

As Langdon lay in the darkness, he could feel his heart pounding. For a moment, he thought the grass beneath him was trembling, as if a subway were approaching. Then, as the vibrations grew stronger, he realized the earth was indeed shaking. Deep, rolling vibrations shuddered up through the grass beneath his back, and the entire dome trembled with a roar.

 

The roar, Langdon now recognized, was the sound of thundering river rapids, being broadcast through subwoofers beneath the turf. He felt a cold, damp mist swirling across his face and body, as if he were lying in the middle of a raging river.

 

“Do you hear that sound?” Edmond called over the booming rapids. “That is the inexorable swelling of the River of Scientific Knowledge!”

 

The water roared even louder now, and the mist felt wet on Langdon’s cheeks.

 

“Since man first discovered fire,” Edmond shouted, “this river has been gaining power. Every discovery became a tool with which we made new discoveries, each time adding a drop to this river. Today, we ride the crest of a tsunami, a deluge that rages forward with unstoppable force!”

 

The room trembled more violently still.

 

“Where do we come from!” Edmond yelled. “Where are we going! We have always been destined to find the answers! Our methods of inquiry have been evolving exponentially for millennia!”

 

The mist and wind whipped through the room now, and the thundering of the river reached an almost deafening pitch.

 

“Consider this!” Edmond declared. “It took early humans over a million years to progress from discovering fire to inventing the wheel. Then it took only a few thousand years to invent the printing press. Then it took only a couple hundred years to build a telescope. In the centuries that followed, in ever-shortening spans, we bounded from the steam engine, to gas-powered automobiles, to the Space Shuttle! And then, it took only two decades for us to start modifying our own DNA!

 

“We now measure scientific progress in months,” Kirsch shouted, “advancing at a mindboggling pace. It will not take long before today’s fastest supercomputer will look like an abacus; today’s most advanced surgical methods will seem barbaric; and today’s energy sources will seem as quaint to us as using a candle to light a room!”

 

Edmond’s voice and the roar of pounding water continued in the thundering darkness.

 

“The early Greeks had to look back centuries to study ancient culture, but we need look back only a single generation to find those who lived without the technologies we take for granted today. The timeline of human development is compressing; the space that separates ‘ancient’ and ‘modern’ is shrinking to nothing at all. And for this reason, I give you my word that the next few years in human development will be shocking, disruptive, and wholly unimaginable!”

 

Without warning, the thundering of the river stopped.

 

The sky of stars returned. So did the warm breeze and the crickets. The guests in the room seemed to exhale in unison.

 

In the abrupt silence, Edmond’s voice returned at a whisper.

 

“My friends,” he said softly. “I know you are here because I promised you a discovery, and I thank you for indulging me in a bit of preamble. Now let us throw off the shackles of our past thinking. It is time for us to share in the thrill of discovery.”

 

With those words, a low creeping fog rolled in from all sides, and the sky overhead began to glow with a predawn light, faintly illuminating the audience below.

 

Suddenly a spotlight blazed to life and swung dramatically to the back of the hall.

 

Within moments, nearly all the guests were sitting up, craning backward through the fog in anticipation of seeing their host appear in the flesh. After a few seconds, however, the spotlight swung back to the front of the room.

 

The audience turned with it.

 

There, at the front of the room, smiling in the blaze of the spotlight, stood Edmond Kirsch. His hands were resting confidently on the sides of a podium that seconds ago had not been there. “Good evening, friends,” the great showman said amiably as the fog began to lift.

 

Within seconds, people were on their feet, giving their host a wild standing ovation.

 

Langdon joined them, unable to hold back his smile.

 

Leave it to Edmond to appear in a puff of smoke.

 

So far, tonight’s presentation, despite being antagonistic toward religious faith, had been a tour de force—bold and unflinching—like the man himself. Langdon now understood why the world’s growing population of freethinkers so idolized Edmond.

 

If nothing else, he speaks his mind in a way few others would dare. When Edmond’s face appeared on the screen overhead, Langdon noticed he looked far less pale than before, clearly having been professionally made up. Even so, Langdon could tell his friend was exhausted.

 

***

 

Langdon nodded as a dramatic soundtrack filled the room, and Edmond’s face materialized on the wall before them, five feet tall. The celebrated futurist looked thin and tired, but he was smiling broadly into the camera.

 

“Where do we come from?” he asked, the excitement in his voice rising as the music faded. “And where are we going?”

 

Ambra took Langdon’s hand and gripped it anxiously.

 

“These two questions are part of the same story,” Edmond declared. “So let’s start at the beginning—the very beginning.”

 

With a playful nod, Edmond reached into his pocket and pulled out a small glass object —a vial of murky liquid bearing the faded names Miller and Urey.

 

Langdon felt his heart race.

 

“Our journey begins long ago … four billion years before Christ … adrift in the primordial soup.”

 

Seated beside Ambra on the couch, Langdon studied Edmond’s sallow face projected on the glass display wall and felt a pang of sorrow knowing that Edmond had been suffering in silence from a deadly disease. Tonight, however, the futurist’s eyes shone with pure joy and excitement.

 

“In a moment, I’ll tell you about this little vial,” Edmond said, holding up the test tube, “but first, let’s take a swim … in the primordial soup.”

 

Edmond disappeared, and a lightning bolt flashed, illuminating a churning ocean where volcanic islands spewed lava and ash into a tempestuous atmosphere.

 

“Is this where life commenced?” Edmond’s voice asked. “A spontaneous reaction in a churning sea of chemicals? Or was it perhaps a microbe on a meteorite from space? Or was it … God? Unfortunately, we can’t go back in time to witness that moment. All we know is what happened after that moment, when life first appeared. Evolution happened. And we’re accustomed to seeing it portrayed something like this.”

 

The screen now showed the familiar timeline of human evolution—a primitive ape slouching behind a line of increasingly erect hominids, until the final one was fully erect, having shed the last of his body hair.

 

“Yes, humans evolved,” Edmond said. “This is an irrefutable scientific fact, and we’ve built a clear timeline based on the fossil record. But what if we could watch evolution in reverse?”

 

Suddenly Edmond’s face started growing hair, morphing into a primitive human. His bone structure changed, becoming increasingly apelike, and then the process accelerated to an almost blinding pace, showing glimpses of older and older species—lemurs, sloths, marsupials, platypuses, lungfish, plunging underwater and mutating through eels and fish, gelatinous creatures, plankton, amoebas, until all that was left of Edmond Kirsch was a microscopic bacterium—a single cell pulsating in a vast ocean.

 

“The earliest specks of life,” Edmond said. “This is where our backward movie runs out of film. We have no idea how the earliest life-forms materialized out of a lifeless chemical sea. We simply cannot see the first frame of this story.”

 

T=0, Langdon mused, picturing a similar reverse movie about the expanding universe in which the cosmos contracted down to a single point of light, and cosmologists hit a similar dead end.

 

“‘First Cause,’” Edmond declared. “That’s the term Darwin used to describe this elusive moment of Creation. He proved that life continuously evolved, but he could not figure out how the process all started. In other words, Darwin’s theory described the survival of the fittest, but not the arrival of the fittest.”

 

Langdon chuckled, having never heard it stated quite that way.

 

“So, how did life arrive on earth? In other words, where do we come from?” Edmond smiled. “In the next few minutes, you’ll have an answer to that question. But trust me, as stunning as that answer is, it’s only half of tonight’s story.” He looked directly into the camera and gave an ominous grin. “As it turns out, where we come from is utterly fascinating … but where we are going is utterly shocking.”

 

Ambra and Langdon exchanged a perplexed look, and although Langdon sensed this was more of Edmond’s hyperbole, the statement left him feeling increasingly uneasy.

 

“Life’s origin …,” Edmond continued. “It has remained a profound mystery since the days of the first Creation stories. For millennia, philosophers and scientists have been searching for some kind of record of this very first moment of life.”

 

Edmond now held up the familiar test tube containing the murky liquid. “In the 1950s, two such seekers—chemists Miller and Urey—ran a bold experiment that they hoped might unveil exactly how life began.”

 

Langdon leaned over and whispered to Ambra, “That test tube is right over there.” He pointed to the display pedestal in the corner.

 

She looked surprised. “Why would Edmond have it?”

 

Langdon shrugged. Judging from the strange collection of items in Edmond’s apartment, this vial was probably just a piece of scientific history that he wanted to own.

 

Edmond quickly described Miller and Urey’s efforts to re-create the primordial soup, trying to create life within a flask of nonliving chemicals.

 

The screen now flashed a faded New York Times article from March 8, 1953, titled “Looking Back Two Billion Years.”

 

“Obviously,” Edmond said, “this experiment raised some eyebrows. The implications could have been earth-shattering, especially for the religious world. If life magically appeared inside this test tube, we would know conclusively that the laws of chemistry alone are indeed enough to create life. We would no longer require a supernatural being to reach down from heaven and bestow upon us the spark of Creation. We would understand that life simply happens … as an inevitable by-product of the laws of nature. More importantly, we would have to conclude that because life spontaneously appeared here on earth, it almost certainly did the same thing elsewhere in the cosmos, meaning: man is not unique; man is not at the center of God’s universe; and man is not alone in the universe.”

 

Edmond exhaled. “However, as many of you may know, the Miller-Urey experiment failed. It produced a few amino acids, but nothing even closely resembling life. The chemists tried repeatedly, using different combinations of ingredients, different heat patterns, but nothing worked. It seemed that life—as the faithful had long believed— required divine intervention. Miller and Urey eventually abandoned their experiments.

 

The religious community breathed a sigh of relief, and the scientific community went back to the drawing board.” He paused, an amused glimmer in his eyes. “That is, until 2007 … when there was an unexpected development.”

 

Edmond now told the tale of how the forgotten Miller-Urey testing vials had been rediscovered in a closet at the University of California in San Diego after Miller’s death. Miller’s students had reanalyzed the samples using far more sensitive contemporary techniques—including liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry—and the results had been startling. Apparently, the original Miller-Urey experiment had produced many more amino acids and complex compounds than Miller had been able to measure at the time. The new analysis of the vials even identified several important nucleobases—the building

blocks of RNA, and perhaps eventually … DNA.

 

“It was an astounding science story,” Edmond concluded, “relegitimizing the notion that perhaps life does simply happen … without divine intervention. It seemed the Miller-Urey experiment had indeed been working, but just needed more time to gestate. Let’s remember one key point: life evolved over billions of years, and these test tubes had been sitting in a closet for just over fifty. If the timeline of this experiment were measured in miles, it was as if our perspective were limited to only the very first inch …”

 

He let that thought hang in the air.

 

“Needless to say,” Edmond went on, “there was a sudden resurgence in interest surrounding the idea of creating life in a lab.”

 

I remember that, Langdon thought. The Harvard biology faculty had thrown a department party they billed as BYOB: Build Your Own Bacterium.

 

“There was, of course, a strong reaction from modern religious leaders,” Edmond said, placing air quotes around the word “modern.”

 

The wall display refreshed to the homepage of a website—creation.com—which Langdon recognized as a recurring target of Edmond’s wrath and ridicule. The organization was indeed strident in its Creationist evangelizing, but it was hardly a fair example of “the modern religious world.”

 

Their mission statement read: “To proclaim the truth and authority of the Bible, and to affirm its reliability—in particular its Genesis history.”

 

“This site,” Edmond said, “is popular, influential, and it contains literally dozens of blogs about the dangers of revisiting Miller-Urey’s work. Fortunately for the folks at creation.com, they have nothing to fear. Even if this experiment succeeds in producing life, it probably won’t happen for another two billion years.”

 

Edmond again held up the test tube. “As you can imagine, I would like nothing more than to fast-forward two billion years, reexamine this test tube, and prove all the Creationists wrong. Unfortunately, accomplishing that would require a time machine.”

 

Edmond paused with a wry expression. “And so … I built one.”

 

Langdon glanced over at Ambra, who had barely moved since the presentation started. Her dark eyes were transfixed by the screen.

 

“A time machine,” Edmond said, “is not that difficult to build. Let me show you what I mean.”

 

A deserted barroom appeared, and Edmond walked into it, moving to a pool table. The balls were racked in their usual triangular pattern, waiting to be broken. Edmond took a pool cue, bent over the table, and firmly struck the cue ball. It raced toward the waiting rack of balls.

 

An instant before it collided with the rack, Edmond shouted, “Stop!” The cue ball froze in place—magically pausing a moment before impact.

 

“Right now,” Edmond said, eyeing the frozen moment on the table, “if I asked you to predict which balls would fall into which pockets, could you do it? Of course not. There are literally thousands of possible breaks. But what if you had a time machine and could fast-forward fifteen seconds into the future, observe what happens with the pool balls, and then return? Believe it or not, my friends, we now have the technology to do that.”

 

Edmond motioned to a series of tiny cameras on the edges of the table. “Using optical sensors to measure the cue ball’s velocity, rotation, direction, and spin axis as it moves, I can obtain a mathematical snapshot of the ball’s motion at any given instant. With that snapshot, I can make extremely accurate predictions about its future motion.”

 

Langdon recalled using a golf simulator once that employed similar technology to predict with depressing accuracy his tendency to slice golf shots into the woods.

 

Edmond now pulled out a large smartphone. On the screen was the image of the pool table with its virtual cue ball frozen in place. A series of mathematical equations hung over the cue ball.

 

“Knowing the cue ball’s exact mass, position, and velocity,” Edmond said, “I can compute its interactions with the other balls and predict the outcome.” He touched the screen, and the simulated cue ball sprang to life, smashing into the waiting rack of balls, scattering them, and sinking four balls in four different pockets.

 

“Four balls,” Edmond said, eyeing the phone. “Pretty good shot.” He glanced up at the audience. “Don’t believe me?”

 

He snapped his fingers over the real pool table, and the cue ball released, streaking across the table, loudly smacking into the other balls, and sending them scattering. The same four balls fell in the same four pockets.

 

“Not quite a time machine,” Edmond said with a grin, “but it does enable us to see the future. In addition, it lets me modify the laws of physics. For example, I can remove friction so that the balls will never slow down … rolling forever until every last ball eventually falls into a pocket.”

 

He typed a few keys and launched the simulation again. This time, after the break, the ricocheting balls never slowed down, bouncing wildly around the table, eventually falling into pockets at random, until there were only two balls left careening around the table.

 

“And if I get tired of waiting for these last two balls to drop,” Edmond said, “I can just fast-forward the process.” He touched the screen, and the two remaining balls accelerated in a blur, streaking around the table until they finally fell into pockets. “This way I can see the future, long before it happens. Computer simulations are really just virtual time machines.” He paused. “Of course, this is all fairly simple math in a small, closed system like a pool table. But what about a more complex system?”

 

Edmond held the Miller-Urey vial and smiled. “I’m guessing you can see where I’m going with this. Computer modeling is a kind of time machine, and it lets us see the future … perhaps even billions of years into the future.”

 

Ambra shifted on the couch, her eyes never leaving Edmond’s face.

 

“As you can imagine,” Edmond said, “I am not the first scientist to dream of modeling the earth’s primordial soup. In principle, it’s an obvious experiment—but in practice, it’s a nightmare of complexity.”

 

Turbulent primordial seas appeared again amid lightning, volcanoes, and massive waves. “Modeling the ocean’s chemistry requires simulation at the molecular level. It would be like predicting the weather so accurately that we knew the precise location of every air molecule at any given moment. Any meaningful simulation of the primordial sea would therefore require a computer to understand not only the laws of physics—motion, thermodynamics, gravity, conservation of energy, and so forth—but chemistry as well, so it could accurately re-create the bonds that would form between every atom within a boiling ocean stew.”

 

The view above the ocean now plunged beneath the waves, magnifying down into a single drop of water, where a turbulent swirl of virtual atoms and molecules were bonding and breaking apart.

 

“Sadly,” Edmond said, reappearing on-screen, “a simulation confronted by this many possible permutations requires a massive level of processing power—far beyond the capability of any computer on earth.” His eyes again twinkled with excitement. “That is … any computer except one.”

 

A pipe organ rang out, playing the famous opening trill to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor along with a stunning wide-angle photograph of Edmond’s massive two-story computer.

 

“E-Wave,” Ambra whispered, speaking for the first time in many minutes.

 

Langdon stared at the screen. Of course … it’s brilliant.

 

Accompanied by the dramatic organ soundtrack, Edmond launched into a fervent video tour of his supercomputer, finally unveiling his “quantum cube.” The pipe organ climaxed with a thunderous chord; Edmond was literally “pulling out all the stops.”

 

“The bottom line,” he concluded, “is that E-Wave is capable of re-creating the Miller-Urey experiment in virtual reality, with startling accuracy. I cannot model the entire primordial ocean, of course, so I created the same five-liter closed system that Miller and Urey used.”

 

A virtual flask of chemicals now appeared. The view of the liquid became magnified and remagnified until it reached the atomic level—showing atoms bouncing around in the heated mixture, bonding and rebonding, under the influences of temperature, electricity, and physical motion.

 

“This model incorporates everything we have learned about the primordial soup since the days of the Miller-Urey experiment—including the probable presence of hydroxyl radicals from electrified steam and carbonyl sulfides from volcanic activity, as well as the impact of ‘reducing atmosphere’ theories.”

 

The virtual liquid on-screen continued to roil, and clusters of atoms began to form.

 

“Now let’s fast-forward the process …,” Edmond said excitedly, and the video surged ahead in a blur, showing the formation of increasingly complex compounds. “After one week, we start to see the same amino acids that Miller and Urey saw.” The image blurred again, moving faster now. “And then … at about the fifty-year mark, we start to see hints of the building blocks of RNA.”

 

The liquid kept churning, faster and faster.

 

“And so I let it run!” Edmond shouted, his voice rising in intensity. The molecules on-screen continued to bond, the complexity of the structures increasing as the program fast-forwarded centuries, millennia, millions of years. As the images raced ahead with blinding speed, Edmond called out joyfully, “And guess what eventually appeared inside this flask?”

 

Langdon and Ambra leaned forward with excitement.

 

Edmond’s exuberant expression suddenly deflated. “Absolutely nothing,” he said. “No life. No spontaneous chemical reaction. No moment of Creation. Just a jumbled mix of lifeless chemicals.” He let out a heavy sigh. “I could draw only one logical conclusion.”

 

He stared dolefully into the camera. “Creating life … requires God.”

 

Langdon stared in shock. What is he saying?

 

After a moment, a faint grin crept across Edmond’s face. “Or,” he said, “perhaps I had missed one key ingredient in the recipe.”

 

Ambra Vidal sat mesmerized, imagining the millions of people around the globe who, right now, just like her, were fully engrossed in Edmond’s presentation.

 

“So, what ingredient was I missing?” Edmond asked. “Why did my primordial soup refuse to produce life? I had no idea—so I did what all successful scientists do. I asked somebody smarter than I am!”

 

A scholarly bespectacled woman appeared: Dr. Constance Gerhard, biochemist, Stanford University.

 

“How can we create life?” The scientist laughed, shaking her head. “We can’t! That’s the point. When it comes to the process of creation—crossing that threshold where inanimate chemicals form living things—all of our science goes out the window. There is no mechanism in chemistry to explain how that happens. In fact, the very notion of cells organizing themselves into life-forms seems to be in direct conflict with the law of entropy!”

 

“Entropy,” Edmond repeated, now appearing on a beautiful beach. “Entropy is just a fancy way of saying: things fall apart. In scientific language, we say ‘an organized system inevitably deteriorates.’” He snapped his fingers and an intricate sand castle appeared at his feet. “I’ve just organized millions of sand grains into a castle. Let’s see how the universe feels about that.” Seconds later, a wave came in and washed away the castle.

 

“Yup, the universe located my organized grains of sand and disorganized them, spreading them over the beach. This is entropy at work. Waves never crash onto beaches and deposit sand in the shape of a sand castle. Entropy dissolves structure. Sand castles never spontaneously appear in the universe, they only disappear.”

 

Edmond snapped his fingers again and reappeared in an elegant kitchen. “When you heat coffee,” he said, pulling a steaming cup from a microwave, “you focus heat energy into a mug. If you leave that mug on the counter for an hour, the heat dissipates into the room and spreads itself out evenly, like grains of sand on a beach. Entropy again. And the process is irreversible. No matter how long you wait, the universe will never magically reheat your coffee.” Edmond smiled. “Nor will it unscramble a broken egg or rebuild an eroded sand castle.”

 

Ambra recalled once seeing an art installation called Entropy—a line of old cement blocks, each more crumbled than the last, slowly disintegrating into a pile of rubble. Dr. Gerhard, the spectacled scientist, reappeared. “We live in an entropic universe,” she said, “a world whose physical laws randomize, not organize. So the question is this: How can lifeless chemicals magically organize themselves into complex life-forms? I’ve never been a religious person, but I have to admit, the existence of life is the only scientific mystery that has ever persuaded me to consider the idea of a Creator.”

 

Edmond materialized, shaking his head. “I find it unnerving when smart people use the word ‘Creator’ …” He gave a good-natured shrug. “They do it, I know, because science simply has no good explanation for the beginnings of life. But trust me, if you’re looking for some kind of invisible force that creates order in a chaotic universe, there are far simpler answers than God.”

 

Edmond held out a paper plate on which splinters of iron filings had been scattered. He then produced a large magnet and held it beneath the plate. Instantly, the filings leaped into an organized arc, aligning perfectly with one another. “An invisible force just organized these filings. Was it God? No … it was electromagnetism.”

 

Edmond now appeared beside a large trampoline. On its taut surface were scattered hundreds of marbles. “A random mess of marbles,” he stated, “but if I do this …” He hoisted a bowling ball onto the trampoline’s rim and rolled it onto the elastic fabric. Its weight created a deep indentation, and immediately the scattered marbles raced into the depression, forming a circle around the bowling ball.

 

“The organizing hand of God?”

 

Edmond paused. “No, again … it was just gravity.”

 

He now appeared in close-up. “As it turns out, life is not the only example of the universe creating order. Nonliving molecules organize themselves all the time into complex structures.”

 

A montage of images materialized—a tornado vortex, a snowflake, a rippled riverbed, a quartz crystal, the rings of Saturn.

 

“As you can see, sometimes the universe does organize matter—which seems to be the exact opposite of entropy.” Edmond sighed. “So which is it? Does the universe prefer order? Or chaos?”

 

Edmond reappeared, now walking down a pathway toward the famed dome of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “According to most physicists, the answer is chaos. Entropy is indeed king, and the universe is constantly disintegrating toward disorder. Kind of a depressing message.” Edmond paused and turned with a grin. “But today I’ve come to meet the bright young physicist who believes there is a twist … a twist that may hold the key to how life began.”

 

Jeremy England?

 

Langdon was startled to recognize the name of the physicist Edmond was now describing. The thirtysomething MIT professor was currently the toast of Boston academia, having caused a global stir in a new field called quantum biology.

 

Coincidentally, Jeremy England and Robert Langdon shared the same prep school alma mater—Phillips Exeter Academy—and Langdon had first learned of the young physicist in the school’s alumni magazine, in an article titled “Dissipation-Driven Adaptive Organization.” Although Langdon had only skimmed the story and barely understood it, he recalled being intrigued to learn that his fellow “Exie” was both a brilliant physicist and also deeply religious—an Orthodox Jew.

 

Langdon began to understand why Edmond had been so interested in England’s work.

 

On-screen, another man appeared, identified as NYU physicist Alexander Grosberg. “Our big hope,” Grosberg said, “is that Jeremy England has identified the underlying physical principle driving the origin and evolution of life.”

 

Langdon sat up a bit straighter upon hearing that, as did Ambra.

 

Another face appeared. “If England can demonstrate his theory to be true,” said Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Edward J. Larson, “his name would be remembered forever. He could be the next Darwin.”

 

My God. Langdon had known Jeremy England was making waves, but this sounded more like tsunamis.

 

Carl Franck, a physicist from Cornell, added, “Every thirty years or so we experience these gigantic steps forward … and this might be it.”

 

A series of headlines flashed across the screen in rapid succession:

“MEET THE SCIENTIST WHO COULD DISPROVE GOD”

“CRUSHING CREATIONISM”

“THANKS, GOD—BUT WE DON’T NEED YOUR HELP ANYMORE”

 

The list of headlines continued, joined now by snippets from major scientific journals, all of which seemed to proclaim the same message: if Jeremy England could prove his new theory, the implications would be earth-shattering—not just for science but for religion as well.

 

Langdon eyed the final headline on the wall—from the online magazine Salon, January 3, 2015.

“GOD IS ON THE ROPES: THE BRILLIANT NEW SCIENCE THAT HAS CREATIONISTS AND THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT TERRIFIED.”

 

A Young MIT Professor Is Finishing Darwin’s Task—and Threatening to Undo Everything the Wacky Right Holds Dear.

 

The screen refreshed, and Edmond reappeared, striding purposefully along the hallway of a university science facility. “So what is this gigantic step forward that has so terrified Creationists?”

 

Edmond beamed as he paused outside a door marked: ENGLAND LAB[at]MITPHYSICS.

 

“Let’s go inside—and ask the man himself.”

 

The young man who now appeared on Edmond’s display wall was physicist Jeremy England. He was tall and very thin, with an unkempt beard and a quietly bemused smile. He stood before a blackboard filled with mathematical equations.

 

“First,” England said, his tone friendly and unassuming, “let me just say that this theory is not proven, it’s just an idea.” He gave a modest shrug. “Although, I admit, if we can ever prove that it’s true, the implications are far-reaching.”

 

For the next three minutes, the physicist outlined his new idea, which—like most paradigm-altering concepts—was unexpectedly simple.

 

Jeremy England’s theory, if Langdon understood it correctly, was that the universe functioned with a singular directive. One goal.

 

To spread energy.

 

In the simplest terms, when the universe found areas of focused energy, it spread that energy out. The classic example, as Kirsch had mentioned, was the cup of hot coffee on the counter; it always cooled, dispersing its heat to the other molecules in the room in accordance with the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

 

Langdon suddenly understood why Edmond had asked him about the world’s Creation myths—all of which contained imagery of energy and light spreading out infinitely and illuminating the darkness.

 

England believed that there was a twist, however, which related to how the universe spread energy.

 

“We know the universe promotes entropy and disorder,” England said, “so we may be surprised to see so many examples of molecules organizing themselves.”

 

On the screen, several images that had appeared earlier now returned—a tornado vortex, a rippled riverbed, a snowflake.

 

“All of these,” England said, “are examples of ‘dissipative structures’—collections of molecules that have arranged themselves in structures that help a system disperse its energy more efficiently.”

 

England quickly illustrated how tornadoes were nature’s way of dispelling a concentrated area of high pressure by converting it into a rotational force that eventually exhausted itself. The same held true for rippled riverbeds, which intercepted the energy of fast-moving currents and dissipated it. Snowflakes dispersed the sun’s energy by forming multifaceted structures that reflected light chaotically outward in all directions.

 

“Simply stated,” England continued, “matter self-organizes in an effort to better disperse energy.” He smiled. “Nature—in an effort to promote disorder—creates little pockets of order. These pockets are structures that escalate the chaos of a system, and they thereby increase entropy.”

 

Langdon had never thought of it until now, but England was right; the examples were everywhere. Langdon pictured a thundercloud. When the cloud became organized by a static electric charge, the universe created a bolt of lightning. In other words, the laws of physics created mechanisms to disperse energy. The lightning bolt dissipated the cloud’s energy into the earth, spreading it out, thereby increasing the overall entropy of the system.

 

To efficiently create chaos, Langdon realized, requires some order.

 

Langdon wondered absently if nuclear bombs might be considered entropic tools— small pockets of carefully organized matter that served to create chaos. He flashed on the mathematical symbol for entropy and realized that it looked like an explosion or the Big Bang—an energetic dispersion in all directions.

“So where does this leave us?” England said. “What does entropy have to do with the origins of life?” He walked over to his chalkboard. “As it turns out, life is an exceptionally effective tool for dissipating energy.”

 

England drew an image of the sun radiating energy down onto a tree.

 

“A tree, for example, absorbs the intense energy of the sun, uses it to grow, and then emits infrared light—a much less focused form of energy. Photosynthesis is a very effective entropy machine. The concentrated energy of the sun is dissolved and weakened by the tree, resulting in an overall increase in the entropy of the universe. The same can be said for all living organisms—including humans—which consume organized matter as food, convert it to energy, and then dissipate energy back into the universe as heat. In general terms,” England concluded, “I believe life not only obeys the laws of physics, but that life began because of those laws.”

 

Langdon felt a thrill as he pondered the logic, which seemed quite straightforward: If blazing sunlight hit a patch of fertile dirt, the physical laws of the earth would create a plant to help dissipate that energy. If deep-ocean sulfur vents created areas of boiling water, life would materialize in those locations and disseminate the energy.

 

“It is my hope,” England added, “that one day we’ll find a way to prove that life indeed spontaneously emerged from lifeless matter … a result of nothing more than the laws of physics.”

 

Fascinating, Langdon mused. A clear scientific theory of how life might have self generated… without the hand of God.

 

“I am a religious person,” England said, “and yet my faith, like my science, has always been a work in progress. I consider this theory agnostic on questions of spirituality. I am simply trying to describe the way things ‘are’ in the universe; I will leave the spiritual implications to the clerics and philosophers.”

 

Wise young man, Langdon thought. If ever his theory could be proven, it would have a bombshell effect on the world.

 

“For the moment,” England said, “everyone can relax. For obvious reasons, this is an extremely difficult theory to prove. My team and I have a few ideas for modeling dissipation-driven systems in the future, but at the moment, we’re still years away.”

 

England’s image faded, and Edmond reappeared on the screen, standing beside his quantum computer. “I, however, am not years away. This type of modeling is precisely what I’ve been working on.”

 

He walked toward his workstation. “If Professor England’s theory is correct, then the entire operating system of the cosmos could be summed up by a single overriding command: spread energy!”

 

Edmond sat down at his desk and began typing furiously on his oversized keyboard. The displays before him filled with alien-looking computer code. “I took several weeks and reprogrammed the entire experiment that had previously failed. I embedded into the system a fundamental goal—a raison d’être; I told the system to dissipate energy at all costs. I urged the computer to be as creative as it could possibly be in its quest to increase entropy in the primordial soup. And I gave it permission to build whatever tools it thought it might need to accomplish that.”

 

Edmond stopped typing and spun around in his chair, facing his audience. “Then I ran the model, and something incredible happened. It turned out that I had successfully identified the ‘missing ingredient’ in my virtual primordial soup.”

 

Langdon and Ambra both stared intently at the display wall as the animated graphic of Edmond’s computer model began to play. Again, the visual plunged deep into the churning primordial soup, magnifying down to the subatomic realm, seeing the chemicals bouncing around, binding and rebinding with one another.

 

“As I fast-forwarded the process and simulated the passage of hundreds of years,” Edmond said, “I saw Miller-Urey’s amino acids taking shape.”

 

Langdon was not knowledgeable about chemistry, but he certainly recognized the onscreen image as a basic protein chain. As the process continued, he watched as increasingly complex molecules took shape, bonding into a kind of honeycombed chain of hexagons.

 

“Nucleotides!” Edmond shouted as the hexagons continued to fuse. “We’re watching the passage of thousands of years! And speeding ahead, we see the first faint hints of structure!”

 

As he spoke, one of the nucleotide chains began wrapping around itself and curling into a spiral. “See that?!” Edmond shouted. “Millions of years have passed, and the system is trying to build a structure! The system is trying to build a structure to dissipate its energy, just like England predicted!”

 

As the model progressed, Langdon was stunned to see the little spiral become a twin spiral, expanding its structure into the famous double-helix shape of the most famous chemical compound on earth.

 

“My God, Robert …,” Ambra whispered, wide-eyed. “Is that …”

 

“DNA,” Edmond announced, freezing the model midframe. “There it is. DNA—the basis for all life. The living code of biology. And why, you ask, would a system build DNA in an effort to dissipate energy? Well, because many hands make light work! A forest of trees diffuses more sunlight than a single tree. If you’re an entropy tool, the easiest way to do more work is to make copies of yourself.”

 

Edmond’s face appeared on-screen now. “As I ran this model forward, from this point on, I witnessed something absolutely magical … Darwinian evolution took off!” He paused for several seconds. “And why wouldn’t it?” he continued. “Evolution is the way the universe continually tests and refines its tools. The most efficient tools survive and replicate themselves, improving constantly, becoming more and more complex and efficient. Eventually, some tools look like trees, and some look like, well … us.”

 

Edmond now appeared floating in the darkness of space with the blue orb of earth hovering behind him. “Where do we come from?” he asked. “The truth is—we come from nowhere … and from everywhere. We come from the same laws of physics that create life across the cosmos. We are not special. We exist with or without God. We are the inevitable result of entropy. Life is not the point of the universe. Life is simply what the universe creates and reproduces in order to dissipate energy.”

 

Langdon felt strangely uncertain, wondering if he had fully processed the implications of what Edmond was saying. Admittedly, this simulation would result in a massive paradigm shift and would certainly cause upheavals across many academic disciplines. But when it came to religion, he wondered whether Edmond would change people’s views. For centuries, most of the devout had looked past vast amounts of scientific data and rational logic in defense of their faith.

 

Ambra seemed to be struggling with her own reactions, her expression somewhere between wide-eyed wonder and guarded indecision.

 

“Friends,” Edmond said, “if you’ve followed what I’ve just shown you, then you understand its profound significance. And if you’re still uncertain, stay with me, because it turns out that this discovery has led to yet another revelation, one that is even more significant.”

 

He paused.

 

“Where we come from … is not nearly as startling as where we are going.”

 

No God required, Langdon thought, replaying what Edmond had said. Life arose spontaneously from the laws of physics.

 

The notion of spontaneous generation had long been debated—theoretically—by some of science’s greatest minds, and yet tonight Edmond Kirsch had presented a starkly persuasive argument that spontaneous generation had actually happened. Nobody has ever come close to demonstrating it … or even explaining how it might have occurred.

 

On-screen, Edmond’s simulation of the primordial soup was now teeming with tiny virtual life-forms.

 

“Observing my budding model,” Edmond narrated, “I wondered what would happen if I let it run? Would it eventually explode out of its flask and produce the entire animal kingdom, including the human species? And what if I let it run beyond that? If I waited long enough, would it produce the next step in human evolution and tell us where we are going?”

 

Edmond appeared again beside E-Wave. “Sadly, not even this computer can handle a model of that magnitude, so I had to find a way to narrow the simulation. And I ended up borrowing a technique from an unlikely source … none other than Walt Disney.”

 

The screen now cut to a primitive, two-dimensional, black-and-white cartoon. Langdon

recognized it as the 1928 Disney classic Steamboat Willie.

“The art form of ‘cartooning’ has advanced rapidly over the past ninety years—from rudimentary Mickey Mouse flip-books to the richly animated films of today.”

 

Beside the old cartoon appeared a vibrant, hyper realistic scene from a recent animated feature.

 

“This leap in quality is akin to the three-thousand-year evolution from cave drawings to Michelangelo’s masterpieces. As a futurist, I am fascinated by any skill that makes rapid advances,” Edmond continued. “The technique that makes this leap possible, I learned, is called ‘tweening.’ It’s a computer animation shortcut in which an artist asks a computer to generate the intermediate frames between two key images, morphing the first image smoothly into the second image, essentially filling in the gaps. Rather than having to draw every single frame by hand—which can be likened here to modeling every tiny step in the evolutionary process—artists nowadays can draw a few of the key frames … and then ask the computer to take its best guess at the intermediary steps and fill in the rest of the evolution.

 

“That’s tweening,” Edmond declared. “It’s an obvious application of computing power, but when I heard about it, I had a revelation and I realized it was the key to unlocking our future.”

 

Ambra turned to Langdon with a questioning look. “Where is this going?”

 

Before Langdon could consider it, a new image had appeared on-screen.

 

“Human evolution,” Edmond said. “This image is a ‘flip movie’ of sorts. Thanks to science, we have constructed several key frames—chimpanzees, Australopithecus, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Neanderthal man—and yet the transitions between these species remain murky.”

 

Precisely as Langdon had anticipated, Edmond outlined an idea to use computer “tweening” to fill in the gaps in human evolution. He described how various international genome projects—human, Paleo-Eskimo, Neanderthal, chimpanzee—had used bone fragments to map the complete genetic structure of nearly a dozen intermediary steps between chimpanzee and Homo sapiens.

 

“I knew if I used these existing primitive genomes as key frames,” Edmond said, “I could program E-Wave to build an evolutionary model that linked all of them together—a kind of evolutionary connect-the-dots. And so I began with a simple trait—brain size—a very accurate general indicator of intellectual evolution.”

 

A graphic materialized on-screen.

“In addition to mapping general structural parameters like brain size, E-Wave mapped thousands of subtler genetic markers that influence cognitive abilities—markers like spatial recognition, range of vocabulary, long-term memory, and processing speed.”

 

The display now flashed a rapid succession of similar graphs, all showing the same exponential increase.

 

“Then E-Wave assembled an unprecedented simulation of intellectual evolution over time.” Edmond’s face reappeared. “‘So what?’ you ask. ‘Why do we care about identifying the process by which humans became intellectually dominant?’ We care because if we can establish a pattern, a computer can tell us where that pattern will lead in the future.” He smiled. “If I say two, four, six, eight … you reply ten. I have essentially asked E-Wave to predict what ‘ten’ will look like. Once E-Wave has simulated intellectual evolution, I can ask the obvious question: What comes next? What will human intellect look like five hundred years from now? In other words: Where are we going?”

 

Langdon found himself spellbound by the prospect, and while he didn’t know enough about genetics or computer modeling to assess the accuracy of Edmond’s predictions, the concept was ingenious.

 

“The evolution of a species,” Edmond said, “is always linked to that organism’s environment, and so I asked E-Wave to overlay a second model—an environmental simulation of today’s world—easy to do when all of our news about culture, politics, science, weather, and technology is broadcast online. I asked the computer to pay special attention to those factors that would most affect the future development of the human brain—emergent drugs, new health technologies, pollution, cultural factors, and so on.”

 

Edmond paused. “And then,” he declared, “I ran the program.”

 

The futurist’s entire face now filled the screen. He stared directly into the camera.

 

“When I ran the model … something very unexpected happened.” He glanced away, almost perceptibly, and then back to the camera. “Something deeply upsetting.”

 

Langdon heard Ambra draw a startled breath.

 

“So I ran it again,” Edmond said, frowning. “Unfortunately, the same thing happened.”

 

Langdon sensed true fear in Edmond’s eyes.

 

“So I reworked the parameters,” he said. “I retooled the program, altering every variable, and I ran it again and again. But I kept getting the same result.”

 

Langdon wondered if maybe Edmond had discovered that human intellect, after aeons of progress, was now on the decline. There were certainly alarming indicators to suggest this might be true.

 

“I was distressed by the data,” Edmond said, “and couldn’t make sense of it. So I asked the computer for an analysis. E-Wave conveyed its evaluation in the clearest way it knew how. It drew me a picture.”

 

The screen refreshed to show a graphic timeline of animal evolution beginning some one hundred million years ago. It was a complex and colorful tapestry of horizontal bubbles that expanded and contracted over time, depicting how species appeared and disappeared. The left side of the graph was dominated by the dinosaurs—already at the height of their development at that point in history—who were represented by the thickest of all the bubbles, which grew thicker through time before abruptly collapsing some sixty five million years ago with the mass dinosaur extinction.

 

“This is a timeline of dominant life-forms on earth,” Edmond said, “presented in terms of species population, food-chain position, interspecific supremacy, and overall influence on the planet. Essentially, it is a visual representation of who’s running the show on earth at any given time.”

 

Langdon’s eye traced along the diagram as different bubbles expanded and contracted, indicating how various large populations of species had appeared, proliferated, and disappeared from existence.

 

“The dawn of Homo sapiens,” Edmond said, “occurs at 200,000 BC, but we were not influential enough to appear in this graph until about sixty-five thousand years ago, when we invented the bow and arrow and became more efficient predators.”

 

Langdon scanned ahead to the 65,000 BC mark, where a thin blue bubble appeared, marking Homo sapiens. The bubble expanded very slowly, almost imperceptibly, until around 1000 BC, when it quickly got thicker, and then seemed to expand exponentially. By the time his eye reached the far right of the diagram, the blue bubble had swollen to occupy nearly the entire width of the screen. Modern-day humans, Langdon thought. By far, the most dominant and influential species on earth.

 

“Not surprisingly,” Edmond said, “in the year 2000, when this graph ends, humans are depicted as the prevailing species on the planet. Nothing even comes close to us.” He paused. “However, you can see traces of a new bubble appearing … here.”

 

The graphic zoomed in to show a tiny black shape starting to form above the swollen blue bubble of humanity.

 

“A new species has already entered the picture,” Edmond said. Langdon saw the black blob, but it looked insignificant in comparison to the blue bubble—a tiny remora on the back of a blue whale.

 

“I realize,” Edmond said, “that this newcomer looks trivial, but if we move forward in time from 2000 to the present day, you will see that our newcomer is here already, and it has been quietly growing.”

 

The diagram expanded until it reached the current date, and Langdon felt his chest tighten. The black bubble had expanded enormously over the past two decades. Now it claimed more than a quarter of the screen, jostling with Homo sapiens for influence and dominance.

 

“What is that?!” Ambra exclaimed in a worried half whisper. Langdon answered, “I have no idea … some kind of dormant virus?” His mind ran through a list of aggressive viruses that had savaged various regions of the world, but Langdon could not imagine a species growing this fast on earth without being noticed. A bacterium from space?

 

“This new species is insidious,” Edmond said. “It propagates exponentially. It expands its territory continuously. And most importantly, it evolves … much faster than humans do.” Edmond stared into the camera again, his expression deadly serious. “Unfortunately, if I let this simulation roll ahead to show us the future, even just a few decades from now, this is what it reveals.”

 

The diagram expanded again, now displaying the timeline up until 2050.

 

Langdon jumped to his feet, staring in disbelief.

 

“My God,” Ambra whispered, covering her mouth in horror.

 

The diagram clearly showed the menacing black bubble expanding at a staggering rate, and then, by the year 2050, entirely swallowing up the light blue bubble of humanity.

 

“I’m sorry to have to show you this,” Edmond said, “but in every model I ran, the same thing happened. The human species evolved to our current point in history, and then, very abruptly, a new species materialized, and erased us from the earth.”

 

Langdon stood before the horrific graphic, trying to remind himself that it was just a computer model. Images like this, he knew, had the power to affect humans on a visceral level that raw data could not, and Edmond’s diagram had an air of finality to it—as if human extinction were already a fait accompli.

 

“My friends,” Edmond said, his tone somber enough to be warning of an imminent asteroid collision. “Our species is on the brink of extinction. I have spent my life making predictions, and in this case, I’ve analyzed the data at every level. I can tell you with a very high degree of certainty that the human race as we know it will not be here fifty years from now.”

 

Langdon’s initial shock now gave way to disbelief—and anger—at his friend. What are you doing, Edmond?! This is irresponsible! You built a computer model—a thousand things could be wrong with your data. People respect and believe you … you’re going to create mass hysteria.

 

“And one more thing,” Edmond said, his mood darkening even further. “If you look carefully at the simulation, you will see that this new species does not entirely erase us. More accurately … it absorbs us.”

 

The species absorbs us?

 

In stunned silence, Langdon tried to imagine what Edmond meant by these words; the phrase conjured terrifying images of the Alien science-fiction movies, in which humans were used as living incubators for a dominant species.

 

On his feet now, Langdon glanced back at Ambra, who was huddled on the couch, clutching her knees, her keen eyes analyzing the illustration on the screen. Langdon strained to imagine any other interpretation of the data; the conclusion seemed inevitable.

 

According to Edmond’s simulation, the human race would be swallowed up by a new species over the course of the next few decades. And even more frightening, this new species was already living on earth, quietly growing.

 

“Obviously,” Edmond said, “I could not go public with this information until I could identify this new species. So I delved into the data. After countless simulations, I was able to pinpoint the mysterious newcomer.”

 

The screen refreshed with a simple diagram that Langdon recognized from grade school —the taxonomic hierarchy of living things—segmented into the “Six Kingdoms of Life”—Animalia, Plantae, Protista, Eubacteria, Archaebacteria, Fungi.

 

“Once I identified this flourishing new organism,” Edmond continued, “I realized that it had far too many diverse forms to be called a species. Taxonomically speaking, it was too broad to be called an order. Nor even a phylum.” Edmond stared into the camera. “I realized that our planet was now being inhabited by something far bigger. What could only be labeled an entirely new kingdom.”

 

In a flash, Langdon realized what Edmond was describing.

 

The Seventh Kingdom.

 

Awestruck, Langdon watched as Edmond delivered the news to the world, describing an emergent kingdom that Langdon had recently heard about in a TED Talk by digital-culture writer Kevin Kelly. Prophesied by some of the earliest science-fiction writers, this new kingdom of life came with a twist.

It was a kingdom of nonliving species.

 

These lifeless species evolved almost exactly as if they were living—becoming gradually more complex, adapting to and propagating in new environments, testing new variations, some surviving, others going extinct. A perfect mirror of Darwinian adaptive change, these new organisms had developed at a blinding rate and now made up an entirely new kingdom—the Seventh Kingdom—which took its place beside Animalia and the others.

 

It was called: Technium.

 

Edmond now launched into a dazzling description of the planet’s newest kingdom— which included all of technology. He described how new machines thrived or died by the rules of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest”—constantly adapting to their environments, developing new features for survival, and, if successful, replicating as fast as they could in order to monopolize the available resources.

 

“The fax machine has gone the way of the dodo bird,” Edmond explained. “And the iPhone will survive only if it keeps outperforming its competition. Typewriters and steam engines died in changing environments, but the Encyclopaedia Britannica evolved, its cumbersome thirty-two-volume set sprouting digital feet and, like the lungfish, expanding into uncharted territory, where it now thrives.”

 

Langdon flashed on his childhood Kodak camera—once the T. rex of personal photography—obliterated overnight by the meteoric arrival of digital imaging.

 

“Half a billion years ago,” Edmond continued, “our planet experienced a sudden eruption of life—the Cambrian Explosion—in which most of the planet’s species came into existence virtually overnight. Today, we are witnessing the Cambrian Explosion of the Technium. New species of technology are being born daily, evolving at a blinding rate, and each new technology becomes a tool to create other new technologies. The invention of the computer has helped us build astonishing new tools, from smartphones to spaceships to robotic surgeons. We are witnessing a burst of innovation that is happening faster than our minds can comprehend. And we are the creators of this new kingdom—the

Technium.”

 

The screen now returned to the disturbing image of the expanding black bubble that was consuming the blue one. Technology kills off humanity? Langdon found the idea terrifying, and yet his gut told him it was highly improbable. To him, the notion of a dystopian Terminator-like future where machines hunted people to extinction seemed counter-Darwinian. Humans control technology; humans have survival instincts; humans will never permit technology to overrun us.

 

Even as this sequence of logical thoughts passed through his mind, Langdon knew he was being naive. Having interacted with Edmond’s AI creation Winston, Langdon had been given a rare glimpse at the state of the art in artificial intelligence. And while Winston clearly served Edmond’s wishes, Langdon wondered how long it would be until machines like Winston started making decisions that satisfied their own wishes.

 

“Obviously, many people before me have predicted the kingdom of technology,”

 

Edmond said, “but I have succeeded in modeling it … and being able to show what it will do to us.” He motioned to the darker bubble, which, by the year 2050, spanned the entire screen and indicated a total dominance of the planet. “I must admit, at first glance, this simulation paints a pretty grim picture …”

 

Edmond paused, and a familiar twinkle returned to his eye.

 

“But we really must look a bit closer,” he said.

 

The display now zoomed in on the dark bubble, magnifying it until Langdon could see that the massive sphere was no longer jet black, but a deep purple.

 

“As you can see, the black bubble of technology, as it consumes the human bubble, assumes a different hue—a shade of purple—as if the two colors have blended together evenly.”

 

Langdon wondered if this was good news or bad news.

 

“What you are seeing here is a rare evolutionary process known as obligate endosymbiosis,” Edmond said. “Normally, evolution is a bifurcating process—a species splits into two new species—but sometimes, in rare instances, if two species cannot survive without each other, the process occurs in reverse … and instead of one species bifurcating, two species fuse into one.”

 

The fusion reminded Langdon of syncretism—the process by which two different religions blended to form an entirely new faith.

 

“If you don’t believe that humans and technology will fuse,” Edmond said, “take a look around you.”

 

The screen displayed a rapid-fire slide show—images of people clutching cell phones, wearing virtual-reality goggles, adjusting Bluetooth devices in their ears; runners with music players strapped to their arms; a family dinner table with a “smart speaker” centerpiece; a child in a crib playing with a computer tablet.

 

“These are just the primitive beginnings of this symbiosis,” Edmond said. “We are now starting to embed computer chips directly into our brains, inject our blood with tiny cholesterol-eating nanobots that live in us forever, build synthetic limbs that are controlled by our minds, use genetic editing tools like CRISPR to modify our genome, and, quite literally, engineer an enhanced version of ourselves.”

 

Edmond’s expression seemed almost joyful now, radiating passion and excitement.

 

“Human beings are evolving into something different,” he declared. “We are becoming a hybrid species—a fusion of biology and technology. The same tools that today live outside our bodies—smartphones, hearing aids, reading glasses, most pharmaceuticals—in fifty years will be incorporated into our bodies to such an extent that we will no longer be able to consider ourselves Homo sapiens.”

 

A familiar image reappeared behind Edmond—the single-file progression from chimpanzee to modern man.

 

“In the blink of an eye,” Edmond said, “we will become the next page in the flip-book of evolution. And when we do, we will look back on today’s Homo sapiens the same way we now look back at Neanderthal man. New technologies like cybernetics, synthetic intelligence, cryonics, molecular engineering, and virtual reality will forever change what it means to be human. And I realize there are those of you who believe you, as Homo sapiens, are God’s chosen species. I can understand that this news may feel like the end of the world to you. But I beg you, please believe me … the future is actually much brighter

than you imagine.”

 

With a sudden outpouring of hope and optimism, the great futurist launched into a dazzling description of tomorrow, a vision of a future unlike any Langdon had ever dared imagine.

 

Edmond persuasively described a future where technology had become so inexpensive and ubiquitous that it erased the gap between the haves and the have-nots. A future where environmental technologies provided billions of people with drinking water, nutritious food, and access to clean energy. A future where diseases like Edmond’s cancer were eradicated, thanks to genomic medicine. A future where the awesome power of the Internet was finally harnessed for education, even in the most remote corners of the world.

 

A future where assembly-line robotics would free workers from mind-numbing jobs so they could pursue more rewarding fields that would open up in areas not yet imagined. And, above all, a future in which breakthrough technologies began creating such an abundance of humankind’s critical resources that warring over them would no longer be necessary.

 

As he listened to Edmond’s vision for tomorrow, Langdon felt an emotion he had not experienced in years. It was a sensation that he knew millions of other viewers were feeling at this very instant as well—an unexpected upwelling of optimism about the future.

 

“I have but one regret about this coming age of miracles.” Edmond’s voice cracked with sudden emotion. “I regret that I will not be here to witness it. Unbeknownst even to my close friends, I have been quite ill for some time now … it seems I will not live forever, as I had planned.” He managed a poignant smile. “By the time you see this, it is likely I will have only weeks to live … maybe only days. Please know, my friends, that addressing you tonight has been the greatest honor and pleasure of my life. I thank you for listening.”

 

Ambra was standing now, close to Langdon’s side, both of them watching with admiration and sadness as their friend addressed the world.

 

“We are now perched on a strange cusp of history,” Edmond continued, “a time when the world feels like it’s been turned upside down, and nothing is quite as we imagined. But uncertainty is always a precursor to sweeping change; transformation is always preceded by upheaval and fear. I urge you to place your faith in the human capacity for creativity and love, because these two forces, when combined, possess the power to illuminate any darkness.”

 

Langdon glanced at Ambra and noticed the tears streaming down her face. He gently reached over and put an arm around her, watching as his dying friend spoke his final words to the world.

 

“As we move into an undefined tomorrow,” Edmond said, “we will transform ourselves into something greater than we can yet imagine, with powers beyond our wildest dreams. And as we do, may we never forget the wisdom of Churchill, who warned us: ‘The price of greatness … is responsibility.’”

 

The words resonated for Langdon, who often feared the human race would not be responsible enough to wield the intoxicating tools it was now inventing.

 

“Although I am an atheist,” Edmond said, “before I leave you, I ask your indulgence in allowing me to read you a prayer I recently wrote.”

 

Edmond wrote a prayer?

 

“I call it ‘Prayer for the Future.’” Edmond closed his eyes and spoke slowly, with startling assurance. “May our philosophies keep pace with our technologies. May our compassion keep pace with our powers. And may love, not fear, be the engine of change.”

 

With that, Edmond Kirsch opened his eyes. “Good-bye, my friends, and thank you,” he said. “And dare I say … Godspeed.”

 

Edmond looked into the camera for a moment, and then his face disappeared into a churning sea of white noise. Langdon stared into the static-filled display and felt an overwhelming surge of pride in his friend.

 

Standing beside Ambra, Langdon pictured the millions of people all over the world who had just witnessed Edmond’s stirring tour de force. Strangely, he found himself wondering if perhaps Edmond’s final night on earth had unfolded in the best of all possible ways.