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ARS ELECTRONICA AWARD

For Cultural Innovation in the Digital Age

Awarded to Tim Berners Lee and CERN

For the invention of the

WORLDWIDE WEB

Well I’ll be damned, Langdon thought, reading the text. This guy wasn’t kidding. Langdon had always thought of the Web as an American invention. Then again, his knowledge was limited to the site for his own book and the occasional on‑line exploration of the Louvre or El Prado on his old Macintosh.

"The Web," Kohler said, coughing again and wiping his mouth, "began here as a network of in‑house computer sites. It enabled scientists from different departments to share daily findings with one another. Of course, the entire world is under the impression the Web is U.S. technology."

Langdon followed down the hall. "Why not set the record straight?"

Kohler shrugged, apparently disinterested. "A petty misconception over a petty technology. CERN is far greater than a global connection of computers. Our scientists produce miracles almost daily."

Langdon gave Kohler a questioning look. "Miracles?" The word "miracle" was certainly not part of the vocabulary around Harvard’s Fairchild Science Building. Miracles were left for the School of Divinity.

"You sound skeptical," Kohler said. "I thought you were a religious symbologist. Do you not believe in miracles?"

"I’m undecided on miracles," Langdon said. Particularly those that take place in science labs.

"Perhaps miracle is the wrong word. I was simply trying to speak your language."

"My language?" Langdon was suddenly uncomfortable. "Not to disappoint you, sir, but I study religious symbology–I’m an academic, not a priest."

Kohler slowed suddenly and turned, his gaze softening a bit. "Of course. How simple of me. One does not need to have cancer to analyze its symptoms."

Langdon had never heard it put quite that way.

As they moved down the hallway, Kohler gave an accepting nod. "I suspect you and I will understand each other perfectly, Mr. Langdon."

Somehow Langdon doubted it.

 

As the pair hurried on, Langdon began to sense a deep rumbling up ahead. The noise got more and more pronounced with every step, reverberating through the walls. It seemed to be coming from the end of the hallway in front of them.

"What’s that?" Langdon finally asked, having to yell. He felt like they were approaching an active volcano.

"Free Fall Tube," Kohler replied, his hollow voice cutting the air effortlessly. He offered no other explanation.

Langdon didn’t ask. He was exhausted, and Maximilian Kohler seemed disinterested in winning any hospitality awards. Langdon reminded himself why he was here. Illuminati. He assumed somewhere in this colossal facility was a body… a body branded with a symbol he had just flown 3,000 miles to see.

As they approached the end of the hall, the rumble became almost deafening, vibrating up through Langdon’s soles. They rounded the bend, and a viewing gallery appeared on the right. Four thick‑paned portals were embedded in a curved wall, like windows in a submarine. Langdon stopped and looked through one of the holes.



Professor Robert Langdon had seen some strange things in his life, but this was the strangest. He blinked a few times, wondering if he was hallucinating. He was staring into an enormous circular chamber. Inside the chamber, floating as though weightless, were people. Three of them. One waved and did a somersault in midair.

My God, he thought. I’m in the land of Oz.

The floor of the room was a mesh grid, like a giant sheet of chicken wire. Visible beneath the grid was the metallic blur of a huge propeller.

"Free fall tube," Kohler said, stopping to wait for him. "Indoor skydiving. For stress relief. It’s a vertical wind tunnel."

Langdon looked on in amazement. One of the free fallers, an obese woman, maneuvered toward the window. She was being buffeted by the air currents but grinned and flashed Langdon the thumbs‑up sign. Langdon smiled weakly and returned the gesture, wondering if she knew it was the ancient phallic symbol for masculine virility.

The heavyset woman, Langdon noticed, was the only one wearing what appeared to be a miniature parachute. The swathe of fabric billowed over her like a toy. "What’s her little chute for?" Langdon asked Kohler. "It can’t be more than a yard in diameter."

"Friction," Kohler said. "Decreases her aerodynamics so the fan can lift her." He started down the the corridor again. "One square yard of drag will slow a falling body almost twenty percent."

Langdon nodded blankly.

He never suspected that later that night, in a country hundreds of miles away, the information would save his life.

 

 

 

When Kohler and Langdon emerged from the rear of CERN’s main complex into the stark Swiss sunlight, Langdon felt as if he’d been transported home. The scene before him looked like an Ivy League campus.

A grassy slope cascaded downward onto an expansive lowlands where clusters of sugar maples dotted quadrangles bordered by brick dormitories and footpaths. Scholarly looking individuals with stacks of books hustled in and out of buildings. As if to accentuate the collegiate atmosphere, two longhaired hippies hurled a Frisbee back and forth while enjoying Mahler’s Fourth Symphony blaring from a dorm window.

"These are our residential dorms," Kohler explained as he accelerated his wheelchair down the path toward the buildings. "We have over three thousand physicists here. CERN single‑handedly employs more than half of the world’s particle physicists–the brightest minds on earth–Germans, Japanese, Italians, Dutch, you name it. Our physicists represent over five hundred universities and sixty nationalities."

Langdon was amazed. "How do they all communicate?"

"English, of course. The universal language of science."

Langdon had always heard math was the universal language of science, but he was too tired to argue. He dutifully followed Kohler down the path.

Halfway to the bottom, a young man jogged by. His T‑shirt proclaimed the message: NO GUT, NO GLORY!

Langdon looked after him, mystified. "Gut?"

"General Unified Theory." Kohler quipped. "The theory of everything."

"I see," Langdon said, not seeing at all.

"Are you familiar with particle physics, Mr. Langdon?"

Langdon shrugged. "I’m familiar with general physics–falling bodies, that sort of thing." His years of high‑diving experience had given him a profound respect for the awesome power of gravitational acceleration. "Particle physics is the study of atoms, isn’t it?"

Kohler shook his head. "Atoms look like planets compared to what we deal with. Our interests lie with an atom’s nucleus–a mere ten‑thousandth the size of the whole." He coughed again, sounding sick. "The men and women of CERN are here to find answers to the same questions man has been asking since the beginning of time. Where did we come from? What are we made of?"

"And these answers are in a physics lab?"

"You sound surprised."

"I am. The questions seem spiritual."

"Mr. Langdon, all questions were once spiritual. Since the beginning of time, spirituality and religion have been called on to fill in the gaps that science did not understand. The rising and setting of the sun was once attributed to Helios and a flaming chariot. Earthquakes and tidal waves were the wrath of Poseidon. Science has now proven those gods to be false idols. Soon all Gods will be proven to be false idols. Science has now provided answers to almost every question man can ask. There are only a few questions left, and they are the esoteric ones. Where do we come from? What are we doing here? What is the meaning of life and the universe?"

Langdon was amazed. "And these are questions CERN is trying to answer?"

"Correction. These are questions we are answering."

Langdon fell silent as the two men wound through the residential quadrangles. As they walked, a Frisbee sailed overhead and skidded to a stop directly in front of them. Kohler ignored it and kept going.

A voice called out from across the quad. "S’il vous plaît!"

Langdon looked over. An elderly white‑haired man in a College Paris sweatshirt waved to him. Langdon picked up the Frisbee and expertly threw it back. The old man caught it on one finger and bounced it a few times before whipping it over his shoulder to his partner. "Merci!" he called to Langdon.

"Congratulations," Kohler said when Langdon finally caught up. "You just played toss with a Noble prize‑winner, Georges Charpak, inventor of the multiwire proportional chamber."

Langdon nodded. My lucky day.

 

It took Langdon and Kohler three more minutes to reach their destination–a large, well‑kept dormitory sitting in a grove of aspens. Compared to the other dorms, this structure seemed luxurious. The carved stone sign in front read Building C.

Imaginative title, Langdon thought.

But despite its sterile name, Building C appealed to Langdon’s sense of architectural style–conservative and solid. It had a red brick facade, an ornate balustrade, and sat framed by sculpted symmetrical hedges. As the two men ascended the stone path toward the entry, they passed under a gateway formed by a pair of marble columns. Someone had put a sticky‑note on one of them.

 


Date: 2015-12-11; view: 752


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