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 plaоt!”
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.
This column is Ionic
Physicist graffiti? Langdon mused, eyeing the column and chuckling to himself. “I’m relieved to see that even brilliant physicists make mistakes.”
Kohler looked over. “What do you mean?”
“Whoever wrote that note made a mistake. That column isn’t Ionic. Ionic columns are uniform in width. That one’s tapered. It’s Doric—the Greek counterpart. A common mistake.”
Kohler did not smile. “The author meant it as a joke, Mr. Langdon. Ionic means containing ions—electrically charged particles. Most objects contain them.”
Langdon looked back at the column and groaned.
Langdon was still feeling stupid when he stepped from the elevator on the top floor of Building C. He followed Kohler down a well‑appointed corridor. The decor was unexpected—traditional colonial French—a cherry divan, porcelain floor vase, and scrolled woodwork.
“We like to keep our tenured scientists comfortable,” Kohler explained.
Evidently, Langdon thought. “So the man in the fax lived up here? One of your upper‑level employees?”
“Quite,” Kohler said. “He missed a meeting with me this morning and did not answer his page. I came up here to locate him and found him dead in his living room.”
Langdon felt a sudden chill realizing that he was about to see a dead body. His stomach had never been particularly stalwart. It was a weakness he’d discovered as an art student when the teacher informed the class that Leonardo da Vinci had gained his expertise in the human form by exhuming corpses and dissecting their musculature.
Kohler led the way to the far end of the hallway. There was a single door. “The Penthouse, as you would say,” Kohler announced, dabbing a bead of perspiration from his forehead.
Langdon eyed the lone oak door before them. The name plate read:
“Leonardo Vetra,” Kohler said, “would have been fifty‑eight next week. He was one of the most brilliant scientists of our time. His death is a profound loss for science.”
For an instant Langdon thought he sensed emotion in Kohler’s hardened face. But as quickly as it had come, it was gone. Kohler reached in his pocket and began sifting through a large key ring.
An odd thought suddenly occurred to Langdon. The building seemed deserted. “Where is everyone?” he asked. The lack of activity was hardly what he expected considering they were about to enter a murder scene.
“The residents are in their labs,” Kohler replied, finding the key.
“I mean the police,” Langdon clarified. “Have they left already?”
Kohler paused, his key halfway into the lock. “Police?”
Langdon’s eyes met the director’s. “Police. You sent me a fax of a homicide. You must have called the police.”
“I most certainly have not.”
Kohler’s gray eyes sharpened. “The situation is complex, Mr. Langdon.”
Langdon felt a wave of apprehension. “But . . . certainly someone else knows about this!”
“Yes. Leonardo’s adopted daughter. She is also a physicist here at CERN. She and her father share a lab. They are partners. Ms. Vetra has been away this week doing field research. I have notified her of her father’s death, and she is returning as we speak.”
“But a man has been murd—”
“A formal investigation,” Kohler said, his voice firm, “will take place. However, it will most certainly involve a search of Vetra’s lab, a space he and his daughter hold most private. Therefore, it will wait until Ms. Vetra has arrived. I feel I owe her at least that modicum of discretion.”
Kohler turned the key.
As the door swung open, a blast of icy air hissed into the hall and hit Langdon in the face. He fell back in bewilderment. He was gazing across the threshold of an alien world. The flat before him was immersed in a thick, white fog. The mist swirled in smoky vortexes around the furniture and shrouded the room in opaque haze.
“What the . . . ?” Langdon stammered.
“Freon cooling system,” Kohler replied. “I chilled the flat to preserve the body.”
Langdon buttoned his tweed jacket against the cold. I’m in Oz, he thought. And I forgot my magic slippers.