Pub: July 1, 2014
When the shy mathematician Jeremy Grady is murdered, it’s up to his estranged brother Jack to find out why. His search leads him on a far-flung journey—from China to Peru; Egypt to Brazil—as he unravels the mystery that links the Seven Wonders of the World, and discovers that Jeremy may have hit upon something that has been concealed for centuries. With the help of geneticist Andrea Costa, they discover a conspiracy to hide a roadmap to the Garden of Eden—and the truth behind a mythological ancient culture. First in a trilogy.
Five days into a fierce New England heat wave, the scattered trees lining Mass Ave bowed and weeping, desolate sidewalks glistening, tar black asphalt leaking wisps of steam into the thick, humid air.
While fifty feet below, in a reverse-pressure, vacuum-sealed Level Four computer lab—two stairwells and one elevator ride beneath the famed, eight-hundred-and-twenty -five foot long Infinite Corridor that bisected the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a long stone’s throw across the Charles River from the Back Bay section of the city of Boston—Jeremy Grady’s world had just turned upside down.
Jeremy staggered back from the flat screen monitor on the glass desk in front of him, nearly upending his ergonomic leather chair. The rubber of his sneakers shrieked against the antiseptic vinyl floor panels, but he didn’t take his eyes off the screen, didn’t even blink as the brightly colored pixels continued to dagger out across the dark, cave-like lab.
This has to be a mistake.
His fingers trembling, Jeremy yanked off his thick, plastic-rimmed glasses, hoping the blur of his poor vision would somehow change the image in front of him to something that made sense. But no amount of myopia could defang the electronic packets of light emanating from the screen. He considered running the program again— but he had already run it twice, and he knew that the results would be the same.
A bug? A problem with the code?
Jeremy put his glasses back on, and then exhaled, letting the sound of his own breath compete with the constant hiss of the lab’s high powered ventilation system. Jeremy had written the code himself, had already combed through it a dozen times over the past two days. There was no bug. No mistake. The image on the screen, as impossible as it seemed, was as true and certain as math itself. After all, that’s all the program really was, a complicated mathematical equation. Numbers turned into pixels. And numbers didn’t lie. Numbers were safe and certain and sure.
At 28, Jeremy had built his entire life around numbers. Not by choice—it was simply the way he was wired. The various psychiatrists his mother had consulted over the years had always tried to couch it in the gentlest terms: A special child, with a special sort of mind. Anxious, socially awkward and closed off, preternaturally obsessed with mathematical patterns, so wrapped up in his own internal compulsions that even the most normal, easy things in life often seemed like utter torture. A trip to the grocery store, a visit to a crowded park, an invite to a birthday party— from an early age, these were things that could leave Jeremy curled up in a corner of his bedroom, trembling and in tears.
There wasn’t any one particular moment in Jeremy’s past that he could point to, when he’d realized that his faulty wiring was as much a boon as it was a disability. He’d hardly noticed, when his middle school math teachers had stopped assigning him homework, because he was so far ahead of the class, they didn’t have anything left to teach him. He hadn’t felt left out, when his twin brother Jack—his polar opposite, a thrill-seeking extrovert, a star in every sport he played—had headed off to the senior prom, because Jeremy was too busy putting the finishing touches on a handheld computer, which he’d built in their basement from scratch.
But somewhere along the way, things had changed. Now that he was seven years into a PhD in applied math/computer science at MIT, his proclivities seemed little more than a nuisance. Besides, he wasn’t the only doctoral candidate at the prestigious math-science Mecca who chose to eat his meals in his dorm room; meticulously stacking his silverware when he was done-—which he would then sterilize with the help of an autoclave he’d borrowed from a nearby biology lab.
Nor, he assumed, was he the only programming guru to lock himself into his computer lab for two days, crafting algorithms and running subroutines, because of something he’d stumbled into that didn’t seem quite right.
Though to be accurate, the Level 4 security lab wasn’t actually Jeremy’s; even though he’d effectively moved in over the past forty-eight hours, dining over the stainless steel sinks beneath the white-board that took up most of the rear cinderblock wall, sleeping on the makeshift cot below the corrugated aluminum shelves that held the banks of processors, sat links, and router redundancies—he didn’t actually have the proper clearance to be using such expensive and sensitive equipment. Especially on a project that had nothing to do with his PhD. But it had become evident that he didn’t have access to enough processing power at his own workstation, in a shared cubicle space halfway across campus. On top of that, Jeremy had needed the satellite data; and everyone at MIT knew where you went when you needed satellite data.
The warren of underground labs tucked beneath the Infinite Corridor were one of the University’s worst kept secrets—especially since some of the money the US Defense Department had set aside to fund the high tech bunkers was earmarked to hire lab techs and engineers, usually undergrads who responded to nondescript ads in The Tech, MIT’s school newspaper. It was one of those undergrads—who also had the misfortune of being assigned by one of Jeremy’s former Professors to moonlight as Jeremy’s assistant— who had loaned Jeremy his security ID to get past the guard manning the elevators that led down from the Corridor. One geek with glasses looked much like the next; not that anyone treated this place like Area 51. The security guard stationed by the elevators worked for the campus police, not the Pentagon. MIT’s relationship with the defense department went all the way back to before WWII, when radar had been developed in “secret” campus labs much like this one. At MIT, working on the next generation of missile defense systems was like playing in the marching band; an extra-curricular to fatten up your resume.
The last thing Jeremy was afraid of, staring at the image on the giant screen, was getting caught in the lab without the proper clearance. It was the nature of a university full of introverts that nobody knew what anyone else was doing.
To be fair, bathed in the glare of the impossible image on the screen, Jeremy was no longer sure he could even explain it to himself. Dr. Berman, the psychiatrist he’d most relied on through high school and college, might have insisted that Jeremy was having another one of his “episodes”—plunging deeper and deeper down the rabbit’s hole of his mind, chasing patterns that only he could see. Even a perfectly normal human brain was built around a passion for patterns; it was part of the evolutionary process, a biological survival mechanism that had driven humanity to the top of the food chain. Unfortunately, in Jeremy’s case, the slightest hint of a numerical association could trigger a devastating inward journey—like the time he’d had to be forcibly removed from Boston’s Museum Of Fine Arts, because of a Picasso with a few too many unusual brush strokes.
And maybe in the beginning, Dr. Berman’s diagnosis would have been correct. A normal person would not have turned what was essentially a stupid argument between brothers into a time consuming diversion, employing enough computing power to launch a medium sized war. A disagreement so petty and bizarre, it wouldn’t even make sense beyond the confines of the twins’ dysfunctional relationship. Why his brother Jack even felt it necessary to return to Boston once a year, to mark the anniversary of their mother’s death, was unfathomable to Jeremy. The two of them had so little in common, without an argument, they’d have nothing to say to each other at all.
This one had been as pointless as ever. Jack had barely stepped off the plane, when he’d started going on about his latest excursion, some sort of field research study at an archaeological dig site in Turkey. An anthropology fellow at Princeton, who spent more time getting his passport stamped in airports Jeremy had never heard of than in any classroom, Jack was always prattling on about his latest adventures. This time, he was particularly excited because the dig site was at one of the Ancient Seven Wonders Of The World: The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Jeremy hadn’t even realized there were two sets of Seven Wonders—Ancient and Modern—and when he’d casually mentioned that the Ancient Wonders couldn’t have been all that impressive, since he doubted anyone could name three, let alone all seven, that was all Jack had needed to set him off on a lecture about the relative merits of the two lists, that had lasted until his flight back to Turkey.
Of course, that should have been the end of it. But the minute Jeremy had returned to campus, his mind had started to spin. Subconsciously, he’d already begun trying to devise some sort of metric to compare modern and ancient architectural accomplishments. And just to get some sort of idea as to what he was even trying to compare, he’d pulled up maps of the various Wonders on his laptop. He wasn’t sure what had made him start toying with the latitudes and longitudes, or what he’d been looking for when he’d started superimposing the various maps on top of one another, charting out geographical centers, functioning out elevations and topography- but certainly nothing could have prepared him for what he had found.
Mathematical, precise, and impossible.
At first, he’d refused to believe what he was seeing. The human mind searched for patterns, begged for patterns, often invented patterns when they couldn’t be found in nature. He’d forced himself to approach it logically, treat what he was seeing as a mathematical anomaly he needed to disprove. When he’d realized his own facilities weren’t enough, he’d gained access to everything he needed— holing up in the underground lab. All he’d brought with him were a change of clothes and his laptop, which was sitting next to the lab’s supercomputer. Attached to his laptop was a small thumb-drive, hanging from a fairly unique keychain. He’d fashioned the keychain out of a souvenir his brother had given him years earlier. Maybe Jack had been going for something sentimental with the gift; Jeremy’s Egyptology was rusty, so he wasn’t sure what sort of message a gold plated Scarab was supposed to send. Hollowed out with a lathe from the mechanical engineering department, however, it made the perfect place to store a thumb drive.
There was no doubt, now, that Jeremy had uncovered something worth putting on that drive. Because based on the image on the screen, not only had he confirmed that the pattern he’d suspected wasn’t a figment of his special mind—he’d now used satellite data to correct for the curvature of the Earth and immensely powerful data processors to rule out any other possibilities.
At its core, it was the same simple mind experiment he’d performed two days ago— superimposing maps of the Modern Seven Wonders Of The World against maps of the Ancient Wonders Of The World. First, he’d created a map of the Ancients: The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, The Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse at Alexandria, The Pyramids, and The Hanging Gardens Of Babylon. He’d had to look most of them up, and was surprised to learn that all were now little more than ruins, except for the Pyramids. One—The Hanging Gardens Of Babylon, was even less than that; nobody was even certain where it might have once stood, or even if it was more than just a myth. After precisely mapping them, he’d connected the geographic center of each Wonder, correcting for topography and the curvature of the Earth. Then he’d created a similar map of the new Wonders of the World: Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, the Taj Mahal, Chichen Itza, Machu Picchu, the Coliseum, Petra, and the Great Wall of China—together, which spanned a much larger distance, encompassing the entire globe rather than just an area surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. After functioning out the differences in scale, he’d overlaid the Modern Wonders over the Ancient Wonders, parsed the data into a visual image- and nearly knocked himself right out of his chair.
Most of the two images appeared to be enantiomers of each other—three-dimensional mirror images, matching up in the way someone’s left and right hand might match up. But they weren’t just near mirror images—they were perfect enantiomers. Six of the Ancient Seven Wonders matched six of the Modern Wonders, creating a swooping pattern that if anything, resembled two interlocking snakes—a double helix, in mathematical terms- with one tail ending at the Great Wall Of China, the other at the ancient Statue of Zeus at Olympia.
Jeremy knew that what he was seeing was impossible. According to Jack’s lecture, the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World had been chosen by ancient Greek historians. But the new Seven Wonders of the World had been chosen by a popular vote. The only way for the new Seven Wonders of the World to have ended up in a pattern geographically linked to the ancient seven would have been if that vote had been manipulated; for some reason, someone had wanted those specific monuments chosen—monuments that had been built on the exact mirror image geographic locations as the Wonders from the ancient world.
Jeremy noticed, as his mind continued to whir forward, that his right hand was in the air, his finger tracing the pattern on the screen in the empty space in front of him. Objectively, the double helix was such a beautiful shape; the fact that it was also the easily recognizable form of DNA— the chemical building block of all life—added even more weight to its palpable splendor. As he traced the shape again, moving across the brightly colored pinpoints that marked the geographic center of each Wonder, Modern and Ancient, he found himself focusing on what wasn’t there: the two Wonders that didn’t match up. On the Ancient map, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; which made sense, since the Gardens might very well have been myth. But the missing Modern Wonder—Christ The Redeemer, the magnificent art deco statue in Rio, and the most recently built of all the Wonders—why didn’t it fit the pattern?
Jeremy approached the desk again, this time turning to his laptop. Hitting keys with both hands, he quickly pulled up his satellite data on Christ the Redeemer, looking again through the topographical imagery, running through the equations that he’d used to calculate the Wonder’s geographic center. As the numbers blinked across his laptop’s screen, he paused, his fingers hanging above his keyboard.
He wasn’t surprised he had missed it before; it was so small, barely a rounding error in the scheme of things. But certainly, given the image on the bigger computer screen, it now seemed very intriguing.
There was something off about that Wonder of the World—an anomaly in its topography. Something that wouldn’t have been visible at all, without the sophisticated satellite equipment. The sort of thing that his brother, Jack, would want to check out in person; another adventure he could dive headlong into, halfway around the world. Jeremy would have to be content to study it via the safety of electronic packets of information, from a basement laboratory five thousand miles away.
He quickly transferred the information onto the thumb-drive attached to the laptop. Then his eyes returned to the larger screen— to the vivid pair of snakes cavorting in the perfect shape of the double helix. And what would Jack make of this, he wondered? He grinned, thinking about his brother digging through the dirt in Turkey, probably looking for a couple of scuffed coins or rotting bones—while Jeremy, locked up in a basement lab, had just made the discovery of a lifetime. Hell, maybe the discovery of a thousand lifetimes.
He yanked the thumb-drive out of the laptop— the gold-plated Scarab keychain attached to the drive clinking with the motion- and snapped it into a USB port on the side of the enormous flat-screen. Three swipes of a mouse against the glass desk, and the packets of data were on their way from the security lab’s computer system onto the drive. As Jeremy waited for the transfer, he turned back to the glowing double helix, swooping up and down through the filtered air. He was so enrapt by the brightly colored pixels, he didn’t notice the figure closing in behind him— until the shadow flickered across the screen.
Jeremy turned just in time to see a flash of motion— and then something jagged and long was knifing through the air in front of him. There was a sickening sound, like a butcher’s blade going through a block of raw meat, and Jeremy looked down. His eyes went wide.
Something long and almost impossibly white was sticking out of the center of his chest.
Jeremy crashed back against the glass desk, sending his laptop clattering to the floor. The figure in front of him was moving forward now, closing the distance between them. Jeremy felt himself sliding to the floor. As his knees touched the vinyl panels, he realized there was something in the palm of his hand. The thumb-drive, hanging from the Scarab key ring. He must have yanked it from the flat screen on his way down. He had no idea if the transfer was complete, but it hardly seemed to matter, because now the pain was starting to work through the shock, searing, gut-wrenching waves, emanating from the thing embedded in his chest. And then he realized that the pain wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was that he could no longer breathe.
As his body crumpled forward, he used his last burst of strength to shove the thumb-drive deep into the hollow Scarab, hiding it inside the keychain. A second later, his cheek touched vinyl, his eyes rolled up, and all that remained was the afterglow on his dying retinas of a pair of glowing snakes, intertwining in a sea of black.