Lee Scoresby disembarked at the port in the mouth of the Yenisei River, and found the place in chaos, with fishermen trying to sell their meager catches of unknown kinds of fish to the canning factories; with shipowners angry about the harbor charges the authorities had raised to cope with the floods; and with hunters and fur trappers drifting into town unable to work because of the rapidly thawing forest and the disordered behavior of the animals.
It was going to be hard to make his way into the interior along the road, that was certain; for in normal times the road was simply a cleared track of frozen earth, and now that even the permafrost was melting, the surface was a swamp of churned mud.
So Lee put his balloon and equipment into storage and with his dwindling gold hired a boat with a gas engine. He bought several tanks of fuel and some stores, and set off up the swollen river.
He made slow progress at first. Not only was the current swift, but the waters were laden with all kinds of debris: tree trunks, brushwood, drowned animals, and once the bloated corpse of a man. He had to pilot carefully and keep the little engine beating hard to make any headway.
He was heading for the village of Grumman's tribe. For guidance he had only his memory of having flown over the country some years before, but that memory was good, and he had little difficulty in finding the right course among the swift-running streams, even though some of the banks had vanished under the milky-brown floodwaters. The temperature had disturbed the insects, and a cloud of midges made every outline hazy. Lee smeared his face and hands with jimsonweed ointment and smoked a succession of pungent cigars, which kept the worst at bay.
As for Hester, she sat taciturn in the bow, her long ears flat against her skinny back and her eyes narrowed. He was used to her silence, and she to his. They spoke when they needed to.
On the morning of the third day, Lee steered the little craft up a creek that joined the main stream, flowing down from a line of low hills that should have been deep under snow but now were patched and streaked with brown. Soon the stream was flowing between low pines and spruce, and after a few miles they came to a large round rock, the height of a house, where Lee drew in to the bank and tied up.
"There was a landing stage here," he said to Hester. "Remember the old seal hunter in Nova Zembla who told us about it? It must be six feet under now."
"I hope they had sense enough to build the village high, then," she said, hopping ashore.
No more than half an hour later he laid his pack down beside the wooden house of the village headman and turned to salute the little crowd that had gathered. He used the gesture universal in the north to signify friendship, and laid his rifle down at his feet.
An old Siberian Tartar, his eyes almost lost in the wrinkles around them, laid his bow down beside it. His wolverine daemon twitched her nose at Hester, who flicked an ear in response, and then the headman spoke.
Lee replied, and they moved through half a dozen languages before finding one in which they could talk.
"My respects to you and your tribe," Lee said. "I have some smokeweed, which is not worthy, but I would be honored to present it to you."
The headman nodded in appreciation, and one of his wives received the bundle Lee removed from his pack.
"I am seeking a man called Grumman," Lee said. "I heard tell he was a kinsman of yours by adoption. He may have acquired another name, but the man is European."
"Ah," said the headman, "we have been waiting for you."
The rest of the villagers, gathered in the thin steaming sunlight on the muddy ground in the middle of the houses, couldn't understand the words, but they saw the headman's pleasure. Pleasure, and relief, Lee felt Hester think.
The headman nodded several times.
"We have been expecting you," he said again. "You have come to take Dr. Grumman to the other world."
Lee's eyebrows rose, but he merely said, "As you say, sir. Is he here?"
"Follow me," said the headman.
The other villagers fell aside respectfully. Understanding Hester's distaste for the filthy mud she had to lope through, Lee scooped her up in his arms and shouldered his pack, following the headman along a forest path to a hut ten long bowshots from the village, in a clearing in the larches.
The headman stopped outside the wood-framed, skin-covered hut. The place was decorated with boar tusks and the antlers of elk and reindeer, but they weren't merely hunting trophies, for they had been hung with dried flowers and carefully plaited sprays of pine, as if for some ritualistic purpose.
"You must speak to him with respect," the headman said quietly. "He is a shaman. And his heart is sick."
Suddenly Lee felt a shiver go down his back, and Hester stiffened in his arms, for they saw that they had been watched all the time. From among the dried flowers and the pine sprays a bright yellow eye looked out. It was a daemon, and as Lee watched, she turned her head and delicately took a spray of pine in her powerful beak and drew it across the space like a curtain.
The headman called out in his own tongue, addressing the man by the name the old seal hunter had told him: Jopari. A moment later the door opened.
Standing in the doorway, gaunt, blazing-eyed, was a man dressed in skins and furs. His black hair was streaked with gray, his jaw jutted strongly, and his osprey daemon sat glaring on his fist.
The headman bowed three times and withdrew, leaving Lee alone with the shaman-academic he'd come to find.
"Dr. Grumman," he said. "My name's Lee Scoresby. I'm from the country of Texas, and I'm an aeronaut by profession. If you'd let me sit and talk a spell, I'll tell you what brings me here. I am right, ain't I? You are Dr. Stanislaus Grumman, of the Berlin Academy?"
"Yes," said the shaman. "And you're from Texas, you say. The winds have blown you a long way from your homeland, Mr. Scoresby."
"Well, there are strange winds blowing through the world now, sir."
"Indeed. The sun is warm, I think. You'll find a bench inside my hut. If you help me bring it out, we can sit in this agreeable light and talk out here. I have some coffee, if you would care to share it."
"Most kind, sir," said Lee, and carried out the wooden bench himself while Grumman went to the stove and poured the scalding drink into two tin cups. His accent was not German, to Lee's ears, but English, of England. The Director of the Observatory had been right.
When they were seated, Hester narrow-eyed and impassive beside Lee and the great osprey daemon glaring into the full sun, Lee began. He started with his meeting at Trollesund with John Faa, lord of the gyptians, and told how they recruited Lorek Byrnison the bear and journeyed to Bolvangar, and rescued Lyra and the other children; and then he spoke of what he'd learned both from Lyra and from Serafina Pekkala in the balloon as they flew toward Svalbard.
"You see, Dr. Grumman, it seemed to me, from the way the little girl described it, that Lord Asriel just brandished this severed head packed in ice at the scholars there and frightened them so much with it they didn't look closely. That's what made me suspect you might still be alive. And clearly, sir, you have a kind of specialist knowledge of this business. I've been hearing about you all along the Arctic seaboard, about how you had your skull pierced, about how your subject of study seems to vary between digging on the ocean bed and gazing at the northern lights, about how you suddenly appeared, like as it might be out of nowhere, about ten, twelve years ago, and that's all mighty interesting. But something's drawn me here, Dr. Grumman, beyond simple curiosity. I'm concerned about the child. I think she's important, and so do the witches. If there's anything you know about her and about what's going on, I'd like you to tell me. As I said, something's given me the conviction that you can, which is why I'm here."
"But unless I'm mistaken, sir, I heard the village headman say that I had come to take you to another world. Did I get it wrong, or is that truly what he said? And one more question for you, sir: What was that name he called you by? Was that some kind of tribal name, some magician's title?"
Grumman smiled briefly, and said, "The name he used is my own true name, John Parry. Yes, you have come to take me to the other world. And as for what brought you here, I think you'll find it was this."
And he opened his hand. In the palm lay something that Lee could see but not understand. He saw a ring of silver and turquoise, a Navajo design; he saw it clearly and he recognized it as his own mother's. He knew its weight and the smoothness of the stone and the way the silversmith had folded the metal over more closely at the corner where the stone was chipped, and he knew how the chipped corner had worn smooth, because he had run his fingers over it many, many times, years and years ago in his boyhood in the sagelands of his native country.
He found himself standing. Hester was trembling, standing upright, ears pricked. The osprey had moved without Lee's noticing between him and Grumman, defending her man, but Lee wasn't going to attack. He felt undone; he felt like a child again, and his voice was tight and shaky as he said, "Where did you get that?"
"Take it," said Grumman, or Parry. "Its work is done. It summoned you. Now I don't need it."
"But how—" said Lee, lifting the beloved thing from Grumman's palm. "I don't understand how you can have—did you—how did you get this? I ain't seen this thing for forty years."
"I am a shaman. I can do many things you don't understand. Sit down, Mr. Scoresby. Be calm. I'll tell you what you need to know."
Lee sat again, holding the ring, running his fingers over it again and again. "Well," he said, "I'm shaken, sir. I think I need to hear what you can tell me."
"Very well," said Grumman, "I'll begin. My name, as I told you, is Parry, and I was not born in this world. Lord Asriel is not the first by any means to travel between the worlds, though he's the first to open the way so spectacularly. In my own world I was a soldier and then an explorer. Twelve years ago I was accompanying an expedition to a place in my world that corresponds with your Beringland. My companions had other intentions, but I was looking for something I'd heard about from old legends: a rent in the fabric of the world, a hole that had appeared between our universe and another. Well, some of my companions got lost. In searching for them, I and two others walked through this hole, this doorway, without even seeing it, and left our world altogether. At first we didn't realize what had happened. We walked on till we found a town, and then there was no mistaking it: we were in a different world."
"Well, try as we might, we could not find that first doorway again. We'd come through it in a blizzard. You are an old Arctic hand—you know what that means. So we had no choice but to stay in that new world. And we soon discovered what a dangerous place it was. It seemed that there was a strange kind of ghoul or apparition haunting it, something deadly and implacable. My two companions died soon afterward, victims of the Specters, as the things are called."
"The result was that I found their world an abominable place, and I couldn't wait to leave it. The way back to my own world was barred forever. But there were other doorways into other worlds, and a little searching found the way into this."
"So here I came. And I discovered a marvel as soon as I did, Mr. Scoresby, for worlds differ greatly, and in this world I saw my daemon for the first time. Yes, I hadn't known of Sayan Kotor here till I entered yours. People here cannot conceive of worlds where daemons are a silent voice in the mind and no more. Can you imagine my astonishment, in turn, at learning that part of my own nature was female, and bird-formed, and beautiful?"
"So with Sayan Kotor beside me, I wandered through the northern lands, and I learned a good deal from the peoples of the Arctic, like my good friends in the village down there. What they told me of this world filled some gaps in the knowledge I'd acquired in mine, and I began to see the answer to many mysteries."
"I made my way to Berlin under the name of Grumman. I told no one about my origins; it was my secret. I presented a thesis to the Academy, and defended it in debate, which is their method. I was better informed than the Academicians, and I had no difficulty in gaining membership."
"So with my new credentials I could begin to work in this world, where I found myself, for the most part, greatly contented. I missed some things about my own world, to be sure. Are you a married man, Mr. Scoresby? No? Well, I was; and I loved my wife dearly, as I loved my son, my only child, a little boy not yet one year old when I wandered out of my world. I missed them terribly. But I might search for a thousand years and never find the way back. We were sundered forever."
"However, my work absorbed me. I sought other forms of knowledge; I was initiated into the skull cult; I became a shaman. And I have made some useful discoveries. I have found a way of making an ointment from bloodmoss, for example, that preserves all the virtues of the fresh plant."
"I know a great deal about this world now, Mr. Scoresby. I know, for example, about Dust. I see from your expression that you have heard the term. It is frightening your theologians to death, but they are the ones who frighten me. I know what Lord Asriel is doing, and I know why, and that's why I summoned you here. I am going to help him, you see, because the task he's undertaken is the greatest in human history. The greatest in thirty-five thousand years of human history, Mr. Scoresby."
"I can't do very much myself. My heart is diseased beyond the powers of anyone in this world to cure it. I have one great effort left in me, perhaps. But I know something Lord Asriel doesn't, something he needs to know if his effort is to succeed."
"You see, I was intrigued by that haunted world where the Specters fed on human consciousness. I wanted to know what they were, how they had come into being. And as a shaman, I can discover things in the spirit where I cannot go in the body, and I spent much time in trance, exploring that world. I found that the philosophers there, centuries ago, had created a tool for their own undoing: an instrument they called the subtle knife. It had many powers—more than they'd guessed when they made it, far more than they know even now—and somehow, in using it, they had let the Specters into their world."
"Well, I know about the subtle knife and what it can do. And I know where it is, and I know how to recognize the one who must use it, and I know what he must do in Lord Asriel's cause. I hope he's equal to the task. So I have summoned you here, and you are to fly me northward, into the world Asriel has opened, where I expect to find the bearer of the subtle knife."
"That is a dangerous world, mind. Those Specters are worse than anything in your world or mine. We shall have to be careful and courageous. I shall not return, and if you want to see your country again, you'll need all your courage, all your craft, all your luck."
"That's your task, Mr. Scoresby. That is why you sought me out."
And the shaman fell silent. His face was pallid, with a faint sheen of sweat.
"This is the craziest damn idea I ever heard in my life," said Lee. He stood up in his agitation and walked a pace or two this way, a pace or two that, while Hester watched unblinking from the bench. Grumman's eyes were half-closed; his daemon sat on his knee, watching Lee warily.
"Do you want money?" Grumman said after a few moments. "I can get you some gold. That's not hard to do."
"Damn, I didn't come here for gold," said Lee hotly. "I came here . . . I came here to see if you were alive, like I thought you were. Well, my curiosity's kinda satisfied on that point."
"I'm glad to hear it."
"And there's another angle to this thing, too," Lee added, and told Grumman of the witch council at Lake Enara, and the resolution the witches had sworn to. "You see," he finished, "that little girl Lyra . . . well, she's the reason I set out to help the witches in the first place. You say you brought me here with that Navajo ring. Maybe that's so and maybe it ain't. What I know is, I came here because I thought I'd be helping Lyra. I ain't never seen a child like that. If I had a daughter of my own, I hope she'd be half as strong and brave and good. Now, I'd heard that you knew of some object, I didn't know what it might be, that confers a protection on anyone who holds it. And from what you say, I think it must be this subtle knife."
"So this is my price for taking you into the other world, Dr. Grumman: not gold, but that subtle knife. And I don't want it for myself; I want it for Lyra. You have to swear you'll get her under the protection of that object, and then I'll take you wherever you want to go."
The shaman listened closely, and said, "Very well, Mr. Scoresby; I swear. Do you trust my oath?"
"What will you swear by?"
"Name anything you like."
Lee thought and then said, "Swear by whatever it was made you turn down the love of the witch. I guess that's the most important thing you know."
Grumman's eyes widened, and he said, "You guess well, Mr. Scoresby. I'll gladly swear by that. I give you my word that I'll make certain the child Lyra Belacqua is under the protection of the subtle knife. But I warn you: the bearer of that knife has his own task to do, and it may be that his doing it will put her into even greater danger."
Lee nodded soberly. "Maybe so," he said, "but whatever little chance of safety there is, I want her to have it."
"You have my word. And now I must go into the new world, and you must take me."
"And the wind? You ain't been too sick to observe the weather, I guess?"
"Leave the wind to me."
Lee nodded. He sat on the bench again and ran his fingers over and over the turquoise ring while Grumman gathered the few goods he needed into a deerskin bag, and then the two of them went back down the forest track to the village.
The headman spoke at some length. More and more of the villagers came out to touch Grumman's hand, to mutter a few words, and to receive what looked like a blessing in return. Lee, meanwhile, was looking at the weather. The sky was clear to the south, and a fresh-scented breeze was just lifting the twigs and stirring the pine tops. To the north the fog still hung over the heavy river, but it was the first time for days that there seemed to be a promise of clearing it.
At the rock where the landing stage had been he lifted Grumman's pack into the boat, and filled the little engine, which fired at once. He cast off, and with the shaman in the bow, the boat sped down with the current, darting under the trees and skimming out into the main river so fast that Lee was afraid for Hester, crouching just inside the gunwale. But she was a seasoned traveler, he should have known that; why was he so damn jumpy?
They reached the port at the river's mouth to find every hotel, every lodging house, every private room commandeered by soldiers. Not just any soldiers, either: these were troops of the Imperial Guard of Muscovy, the most ferociously trained and lavishly equipped army in the world, and one sworn to uphold the power of the Magisterium.
Lee had intended to rest a night before setting off, because Grumman looked in need of it, but there was no chance of finding a room.
"What's going on?" he said to the boatman when he returned the hired boat.
"We don't know. The regiment arrived yesterday and commandeered every billet, every scrap of food, and every ship in the town. They'd have had this boat, too, if you hadn't taken it."
"D'you know where they're going?"
"North," said the boatman. "There's a war going to be fought, by all accounts, the greatest war ever known."
"North, into that new world?"
"That's right. And there's more troops coming; this is just the advance guard. There won't be a loaf of bread or a gallon of spirit left in a week's time. You did me a favor taking this boat—the price has already doubled. . . ."
There was no sense in resting up now, even if they could find a place. Full of anxiety about his balloon, Lee went at once to the warehouse where he'd left it, with Grumman beside him. The man was keeping pace. He looked sick, but he was tough.
The warehouse keeper, busy counting out some spare engine parts to a requisitioning sergeant of the Guard, looked up briefly from his clipboard.
"Balloon—too bad—requisitioned yesterday," he said. "You can see how it is. I've got no choice."
Hester flicked her ears, and Lee understood what she meant.
"Have you delivered the balloon yet?" he said.
"They're going to collect it this afternoon."
"No, they're not," said Lee, "because I have an authority that trumps the Guard."
And he showed the warehouseman the ring he'd taken from the finger of the dead Skraeling on Nova Zembla. The sergeant, beside him at the counter, stopped what he was doing and saluted at the sight of the Church's token, but for all his discipline he couldn't prevent a flicker of puzzlement passing over his face.
"So we'll have the balloon right now," said Lee, "and you can set some men to fill it. And I mean at once. And that includes food, and water, and ballast."
The warehouseman looked at the sergeant, who shrugged, and then hurried away to see to the balloon. Lee and Grumman withdrew to the wharf, where the gas tanks were, to supervise the filling and talk quietly.
"Where did you get that ring?" said Grumman.
"Off a dead man's finger. Kinda risky using it, but I couldn't see another way of getting my balloon back. You reckon that sergeant suspected anything?"
"Of course he did. But he's a disciplined man. He won't question the Church. If he reports it at all, we'll be away by the time they can do anything about it. Well, I promised you a wind, Mr. Scoresby; I hope you like it."
The sky was blue overhead now, and the sunlight was bright. To the north the fog banks still hung like a mountain range over the sea, but the breeze was pushing them back and back, and Lee was impatient for the air again.
As the balloon filled and began to swell up beyond the edge of the warehouse roof, Lee checked the basket and stowed all his equipment with particular care; for in the other world, who knew what turbulence they'd meet? His instruments, too, he fixed to the framework with close attention, even the compass, whose needle was swinging around the dial quite uselessly. Finally he lashed a score of sandbags around the basket for ballast.
When the gasbag was full and leaning northward in the buffeting breeze, and the whole apparatus straining against the stout ropes anchoring it down, Lee paid the warehouseman with the last of his gold and helped Grumman into the basket. Then he turned to the men at the ropes to give the order to let go.
But before they could do so, there was an interruption. From the alley at the side of the warehouse came the noise of pounding boots, moving at the double, and a shout of command: "Halt!"
The men at the ropes paused, some looking that way, some looking to Lee, and he called sharply, "Let go! Cast off!"
Two of the men obeyed, and the balloon lurched up, but the other two had their attention on the soldiers, who were moving quickly around the corner of the building. Those two men still held their ropes fast around the bollards, and the balloon lurched sickeningly sideways. Lee grabbed at the suspension ring; Grumman was holding it too, and his daemon had her claws tight around it.
Lee shouted, "Let go, you damn fools! She's going up!"
The buoyancy of the gasbag was too great, and the men, haul as they might, couldn't hold it back. One let go, and his rope lashed itself loose from the bollard; but the other man, feeling the rope lift, instinctively clung on instead of letting go. Lee had seen this happen once before, and dreaded it. The poor man's daemon, a heavyset husky, howled with fear and pain from the ground as the balloon surged up toward the sky, and five endless seconds later it was over; the man's strength failed; he fell, half-dead, and crashed into the water.
But the soldiers had their rifles up already. A volley of bullets whistled past the basket, one striking a spark from the suspension ring and making Lee's hands sting with the impact, but none of them did any damage. By the time they fired their second shot, the balloon was almost out of range, hurtling up into the blue and speeding out over the sea. Lee felt his heart lift with it. He'd said once to Serafina Pekkala that he didn't care for flying, that it was only a job; but he hadn't meant it. Soaring upward, with a fair wind behind and a new world in front—what could be better in this life?
He let go of the suspension ring and saw that Hester was crouching in her usual corner, eyes half-closed. From far below and a long way back came another futile volley of rifle fire. The town was receding fast, and the broad sweep of the river's mouth was glittering in the sunlight below them.
"Well, Dr. Grumman," he said, "I don't know about you, but I feel better in the air. I wish that poor man had let go of the rope, though. It's so damned easy to do, and if you don't let go at once there's no hope for you."
"Thank you, Mr. Scoresby," said the shaman. "You managed that very well. Now we settle down and fly. I would be grateful for those furs; the air is still cold."
In the great white villa in the park Will slept uneasily, plagued with dreams that were filled with anxiety and with sweetness in equal measure, so that he struggled to wake up and yet longed for sleep again. When his eyes were fully open, he felt so drowsy that he could scarcely move, and then he sat up to find his bandage loose and his bed crimson.
He struggled out of bed and made his way through the heavy, dust-filled sunlight and silence of the great house down to the kitchen. He and Lyra had slept in servants' rooms under the attic, not feeling welcomed by the stately four-poster beds in the grand rooms farther down, and it was a long unsteady walk.
"Will—" she said at once, her voice full of concern, and she turned from the stove to help him to a chair.
He felt dizzy. He supposed he'd lost a lot of blood; well, there was no need to suppose, with the evidence all over him. And the wounds were still bleeding.
"I was just making some coffee," she said. "Do you want that first, or shall I do another bandage? I can do whichever you want. And there's eggs in the cold cabinet, but I can't find any baked beans."
"This isn't a baked beans kind of house. Bandage first. Is there any hot water in the tap? I want to wash. I hate being covered in this . . ."
She ran some hot water, and he stripped to his underpants.
He was too faint and dizzy to feel embarrassed, but Lyra became embarrassed for him and went out. He washed as best he could and then dried himself on the tea towels that hung on a line by the stove.
When she came back, she'd found some clothes for him, just a shirt and canvas trousers and a belt. He put them on, and she tore a fresh tea towel into strips and bandaged him tightly again. She was badly worried about his hand; not only were the wounds bleeding freely still, but the rest of the hand was swollen and red. But he said nothing about it, and neither did she.
Then she made the coffee and toasted some stale bread, and they took it into the grand room at the front of the house, overlooking the city. When he'd eaten and drunk, he felt a little better.
"You better ask the alethiometer what to do next," he said. "Have you asked it anything yet?"
"No," she said. "I'm only going to do what you ask, from now on. I thought of doing it last night, but I never did. And I won't, either, unless you ask me to."
"Well, you better do it now," he said. "There's as much danger here as there is in my world, now. There's Angelica's brother for a start. And if—"
He stopped, because she began to say something, but she stopped as soon as he did. Then she collected herself and went on. "Will, there was something that happened yesterday that I didn't tell you. I should've, but there was just so many other things going on. I'm sorry . . ."
And she told him everything she'd seen through the window of the tower while Giacomo Paradisi was dressing Will's wound: Tullio being beset by the Specters, Angelica seeing her at the window and her look of hatred, and Paolo's threat.
"And d'you remember," she went on, "when she first spoke to us? Her little brother said something about what they were all doing. He said, 'He's gonna get—' and she wouldn't let him finish; she smacked him, remember? I bet he was going to say Tullio was after the knife, and that's why all the kids came here. 'Cause if they had the knife, they could do anything, they could even grow up without being afraid of Specters."
"What did it look like, when he was attacked?" Will said. To her surprise he was sitting forward, his eyes demanding and urgent.
"He . . ." She tried to remember exactly. "He started counting the stones in the wall. He sort of felt all over them. . . . But he couldn't keep it up. In the end he sort of lost interest and stopped. Then he was just still," she finished, and seeing Will's expression she said, "Why?"
"Because . . . I think maybe they come from my world after all, the Specters. If they make people behave like that, I wouldn't be surprised at all if they came from my world. And when the Guild men opened their first window, if it was into my world, the Specters could have gone through then."
"But you don't have Specters in your world! You never heard of them, did you?"
"Maybe they're not called Specters. Maybe we call them something else."
Lyra wasn't sure what he meant, but she didn't want to press him. His cheeks were red and his eyes were hot.
"Anyway," she went on, turning away, "the important thing is that Angelica saw me in the window. And now that she knows we've got the knife, she'll tell all of 'em. She'll think it's our fault that her brother was attacked by Specters. I'm sorry, Will. I should've told you earlier. But there was just so many other things."
"Well," he said, "I don't suppose it would have made any difference. He was torturing the old man, and once he knew how to use the knife he'd have killed both of us if he could. We had to fight him."
"I just feel bad about it, Will. I mean, he was their brother. And I bet if we were them, we'd have wanted the knife too."
"Yes," he said, "but we can't go back and change what happened. We had to get the knife to get the alethiometer back, and if we could have got it without fighting, we would."
"Yeah, we would," she said.
Like Lorek Byrnison, Will was a fighter truly enough, so she was prepared to agree with him when he said it would be better not to fight; she knew it wasn't cowardice that spoke, but strategy. He was calmer now, and his cheeks were pale again. He was looking into the middle distance and thinking.
Then he said, "It's probably more important now to think about Sir Charles and what he'll do, or Mrs. Coulter. Maybe if she's got this special bodyguard they were talking about, these soldiers who'd had their daemons cut away, maybe Sir Charles is right and they'll be able to ignore the Specters. You know what I think? I think what they eat, the Specters, is people's daemons."
"But children have daemons too. And they don't attack children. It can't be that."
"Then it must be the difference between children's daemons and grownups'," Will said. "There is a difference, isn't there? You told me once that grownups' daemons don't change shape. It must be something to do with that. And if these soldiers of hers haven't got daemons at all, maybe the Specters won't attack them either, like Sir Charles said. . . ."
"Yeah!" she said. "Could be. And she wouldn't be afraid of Specters anyway. She en't afraid of anything. And she's so clever, Will, honest, and she's so ruthless and cruel, she could boss them, I bet she could. She could command them like she does people and they'd have to obey her, I bet. Lord Boreal is strong and clever, but she'll have him doing what she wants in no time. Oh, Will, I'm getting scared again, thinking what she might do . . . I'm going to ask the alethiometer, like you said. Thank goodness we got that back, anyway."
She unfolded the velvet bundle and ran her hands lovingly over the heavy gold.
"I'm going to ask about your father," she said, "and how we can find him. See, I put the hands to point at—"
"No. Ask about my mother first. I want to know if she's all right."
Lyra nodded, and turned the hands before laying the alethiometer in her lap and tucking her hair behind her ears to look down and concentrate. Will watched the light needle swing purposefully around the dial, darting and stopping and darting on as swiftly as a swallow feeding, and he watched Lyra's eyes, so blue and fierce and full of clear understanding.
Then she blinked and looked up.
"She's safe still," she said. "This friend that's looking after her, she's ever so kind. No one knows where your mother is, and the friend won't give her away."
Will hadn't realized how worried he'd been. At this good news he felt himself relax, and as a little tension left his body, he felt the pain of his wound more sharply.
"Thank you," he said. "All right, now ask about my father—"
But before she could even begin, they heard a shout from outside.
They looked out at once. At the lower edge of the park in front of the first houses of the city there was a belt of trees, and something was stirring there. Pantalaimon became a lynx at once and padded to the open door, gazing fiercely down.
"It's the children," he said.
Both Will and Lyra stood up. The children were coming out of the trees, one by one, maybe forty or fifty of them. Many of them were carrying sticks. At their head was the boy in the striped T-shirt, and it wasn't a stick that he was carrying: it was a pistol.
"There's Angelica," Lyra whispered, pointing.
Angelica was beside the leading boy, tugging at his arm, urging him on. Just behind them her little brother, Paolo, was shrieking with excitement, and the other children, too, were yelling and waving their fists in the air. Two of them were lugging heavy rifles. Will had seen children in this mood before, but never so many of them, and the ones in his town didn't carry guns.
They were shouting, and Will managed to make out Angelica's voice high over them all: "You killed my brother and you stole the knife! You murderers! You made the Specters get him! You killed him, and we'll kill you! You ain' gonna get away! We gonna kill you same as you killed him!"
"Will, you could cut a window!" Lyra said urgently, clutching his good arm. "We could get away, easy—"
"Yeah, and where would we be? In Oxford, a few yards from Sir Charles's house, in broad daylight. Probably in the main street in front of a bus. I can't just cut through anywhere and expect to be safe—I've got to look first and see where we are, and that'd take too long. There's a forest or woods or something behind this house. If we can get up there in the trees, we'll be safer."
Lyra looked out the window, furious. "They must've seen us last night," she said. "I bet they was too cowardly to attack us on their own, so they rounded up all them others. . . . I should have killed her yesterday! She's as bad as her brother. I'd like to—"
"Stop talking and come on," said Will.
He checked that the knife was strapped to his belt, and Lyra put on her little rucksack with the alethiometer and the letters from Will's father. They ran through the echoing hall, along the corridor and into the kitchen, through the scullery, and into a cobbled court beyond it. A gate in the wall led out into a kitchen garden, where beds of vegetables and herbs lay baking under the morning sun.
The edge of the woods was a few hundred yards away, up a slope of grass that was horribly exposed. On a knoll to the left, closer than the trees, stood a little building, a circular temple-like structure with columns all the way around and an upper story open like a balcony from which to view the city.
"Let's run," said Will, though he felt less like running than like lying down and closing his eyes.
With Pantalaimon flying above to keep watch, they set off across the grass. But it was tussocky and ankle-high, and Will couldn't run more than a few steps before he felt too dizzy to carry on. He slowed to a walk.
Lyra looked back. The children hadn't seen them yet; they were still at the front of the house. Maybe they'd take a while to look through all the rooms. . . .
But Pantalaimon chirruped in alarm. There was a boy standing at an open window on the second floor of the villa, pointing at them. They heard a shout.
"Come on, Will," Lyra said.
She tugged at his good arm, helping him, lifting him. He tried to respond, but he didn't have the strength. He could only walk.
"All right," he said, "we can't get to the trees. Too far away. So we'll go to that temple place. If we shut the door, maybe we can hold them out for long enough to cut through after all."
Pantalaimon darted ahead, and Lyra gasped and called to him breathlessly, making him pause. Will could almost see the bond between them, the daemon tugging and the girl responding. He stumbled through the thick grass with Lyra running ahead to see, and then back to help, and then ahead again, until they reached the stone pavement around the temple.
The door under the little portico was unlocked, and they ran inside to find themselves in a bare circular room with several statues of goddesses in niches around the wall. In the very center a spiral staircase of wrought iron led up through an opening to the floor above. There was no key to lock the door, so they clambered up the staircase and onto the floorboards of an upper level that was really a viewing place, where people could come to take the air and look out over the city; for there were no windows or walls, simply a series of open arches all the way around supporting the roof. In each archway a windowsill at waist height was broad enough to lean on, and below them the tiled roof ran down in a gentle slope all around to the gutter.
As they looked out, they could see the forest behind, tantalizingly close; and the villa below them, and beyond that the open park, and then the red-brown roofs of the city, with the tower rising to the left. There were carrion crows wheeling in the air above the gray battlements, and Will felt a jolt of sickness as he realized what had drawn them there.
But there was no time to take in the view; first they had to deal with the children, who were racing up toward the temple, screaming with rage and excitement. The leading boy slowed down and held up his pistol and fired two or three wild shots toward the temple. Then they came on again, yelling: "Thieves!"
"We gonna kill you!"
"You got our knife!"
"You don' come from here!"
"You gonna die!"
Will took no notice. He had the knife out already, and swiftly cut a small window to see where they were—only to recoil at once. Lyra looked too, and fell back in disappointment. They were fifty feet or so in the air, high above a main road busy with traffic.
"Of course," Will said bitterly, "we came up a slope. . . . Well, we're stuck. We'll have to hold them off, that's all."
Another few seconds and the first children were crowding in through the door. The sound of their yelling echoed in the temple and reinforced their wildness; and then came a gunshot, enormously loud, and another, and the screaming took another tone, and then the stairs began to shake as the first ones climbed up.
Lyra was crouching paralyzed against the wall, but Will still had the knife in his hand. He scrambled over to the opening in the floor and reached down and sliced through the iron of the top step as if it were paper. With nothing to hold it up, the staircase began to bend under the weight of the children crowding on it, and then it swung down and fell with a huge crash. More screams, more confusion; and again the gun went off, but this time by accident, it seemed. Someone had been hit, and the scream was of pain this time, and Will looked down to see a tangle of writhing bodies covered in plaster and dust and blood.
They weren't individual children: they were a single mass, like a tide. They surged below him and leaped up in fury, snatching, threatening, screaming, spitting, but they couldn't reach.
Then someone called, and they looked to the door, and those who could move surged toward it, leaving several pinned beneath the iron stairs or dazed and struggling to get up from the rubble-strewn floor.
Will soon realized why they'd run out. There was a scrabbling sound from the roof outside the arches, and he ran to the windowsill to see the first pair of hands grasping the edge of the pantiles and pulling up. Someone was pushing from behind, and then came another head and another pair of hands, as they clambered over the shoulders and backs of those below and swarmed up onto the roof like ants.
But the pantiled ridges were hard to walk on, and the first ones scrambled up on hands and knees, their wild eyes never leaving Will's face. Lyra had joined him, and Pantalaimon was snarling as a leopard, paws on the sill, making the first children hesitate. But still they came on, more and more of them.
Someone was shouting "Kill! Kill! Kill!" and then others joined in, louder and louder, and those on the roof began to stamp and thump the tiles in rhythm, but they didn't quite dare come closer, faced by the snarling daemon. Then a tile broke, and the boy standing on it slipped and fell, but the one beside him picked up the broken piece and hurled it at Lyra.
She ducked, and it shattered on the column beside her, showering her with broken pieces. Will had noticed the rail around the edge of the opening in the floor, and cut two sword-length pieces of it, and he handed one to Lyra now; and she swung it around as hard as she could and into the side of the first boy's head. He fell at once, but then came another, and it was Angelica, red-haired, white-faced, crazy-eyed. She scrambled up onto the sill, but Lyra jabbed the length of rail at her fiercely, and she fell back again.
Will was doing the same. The knife was in its sheath at his waist, and he struck and swung and jabbed with the iron rail, and while several children fell back, others kept replacing them, and more and more were clambering up onto the roof from below.
Then the boy in the striped T-shirt appeared, but he'd lost the pistol, or perhaps it was empty. However, his eyes and Will's locked together, and each of them knew what was going to happen: they were going to fight, and it was going to be brutal and deadly.
"Come on," said Will, passionate for the battle. "Come on, then . . ."
Another second, and they would have fought.
But then the strangest thing appeared: a great white snow goose swooping low, his wings spread wide, calling and calling so loudly that even the children on the roof heard through their savagery and turned to see.
"Kaisa!" cried Lyra joyfully, for it was Serafina Pekkala's daemon.
The snow goose called again, a piercing whoop that filled the sky, and then wheeled and turned an inch away from the boy in the striped T-shirt. The boy fell back in fear and slid down and over the edge, and then others began to cry in alarm too, because there was something else in the sky. As Lyra saw the little black shapes sweeping out of the blue, she cheered and shouted with glee.
"Serafina Pekkala! Here! Help us! Here we are! In the temple—"
And with a hiss and rush of air, a dozen arrows, and then another dozen swiftly after, and then another dozen—loosed so quickly that they were all in the air at once—shot at the temple roof above the gallery and landed with a thunder of hammer blows. Astonished and bewildered, the children on the roof felt all the aggression leave them in a moment, and horrible fear rushed in to take its place. What were these black-garbed women rushing at them in the air? How could it happen? Were they ghasts? Were they a new kind of Specter?
And whimpering and crying, they jumped off the roof, some of them falling clumsily and dragging themselves away limping and others rolling down the slope and dashing for safety, but a mob no longer—just a lot of frightened, shame-faced children. A minute after the snow goose had appeared, the last of the children left the temple, and the only sound was the rush of air in the branches of the circling witches above.
Will looked up in wonder, too amazed to speak, but Lyra was leaping and calling with delight, "Serafina Pekkala! How did you find us? Thank you, thank you! They was going to kill us! Come down and land."
But Serafina and the others shook their heads and flew up again, to circle high above. The snow goose daemon wheeled and flew down toward the roof, beating his great wings inward to help him slow down, and landed with a clatter on the pantiles below the sill.
"Greetings, Lyra," he said. "Serafina Pekkala can't come to the ground, nor can the others. The place is full of Specters—a hundred or more surrounding the building, and more drifting up over the grass. Can't you see them?"
"No! We can't see 'em at all!"
"Already we've lost one witch. We can't risk any more. Can you get down from this building?"
"If we jump off the roof like they done. But how did you find us? And where—"
"Enough now. There's more trouble coming, and bigger. Get down as best you can and then make for the trees."
They climbed over the sill and moved sideways down through the broken tiles to the gutter. It wasn't high, and below it was grass, with a gentle slope away from the building. First Lyra jumped and then Will followed, rolling over and trying to protect his hand, which was bleeding freely again and hurting badly. His sling had come loose and trailed behind him, and as he tried to roll it up, the snow goose landed on the grass at his side.
"Lyra, who is this?" Kaisa said.
"It's Will. He's coming with us—"
"Why are the Specters avoiding you?" The goose daemon was speaking directly to Will.
By this time Will was hardly surprised by anything, and he said, "I don't know. We can't see them. No, wait!" And he stood up, struck by a thought. "Where are they now?" he said. "Where's the nearest one?"
"Ten paces away, down the slope," said the daemon. "They don't want to come any closer, that's obvious."
Will took out the knife and looked in that direction, and he heard the daemon hiss with surprise.
But Will couldn't do what he intended, because at the same moment a witch landed her branch on the grass beside him. He was taken aback not so much by her flying as by her astounding gracefulness, the fierce, cold, lovely clarity of her gaze, and by the pale bare limbs, so youthful, and yet so far from being young.
"Your name is Will?" she said.
"Why are the Specters afraid of you?"
"Because of the knife. Where's the nearest one? Tell me! I want to kill it!"
But Lyra came running before the witch could answer.
"Serafina Pekkala!" she cried, and she threw her arms around the witch and hugged her so tightly that the witch laughed out loud, and kissed the top of her head. "Oh, Serafina, where did you come from like that? We were—those kids—they were kids, and they were going to kill us—did you see them? We thought we were going to die and—oh, I'm so glad you came! I thought I'd never see you again!"
Serafina Pekkala looked over Lyra's head to where the Specters were obviously clustering a little way off, and then looked at Will.
"Now listen," she said. "There's a cave in these woods not far away. Head up the slope and then along the ridge to the left. The Specters won't follow—they don't see us while we're in the air, and they're afraid of you. We'll meet you there. It's a half-hour's walk."
And she leaped into the air again. Will shaded his eyes to watch her and the other ragged, elegant figures wheel in the air and dart up over the trees.
"Oh, Will, we'll be safe now! It'll be all right now that Serafina Pekkala's here!" said Lyra. "I never thought I'd see her again. She came just at the right time, didn't she? Just like before, at Bolvangar. . . ."
Chattering happily, as if she'd already forgotten the fight, she led the way up the slope toward the forest. Will followed in silence. His hand was throbbing badly, and with each throb a little more blood was leaving him. He held it up across his chest and tried not to think about it.
It took not half an hour but an hour and three quarters, because Will had to stop and rest several times. When they reached the cave, they found a fire, a rabbit roasting, and Serafina Pekkala stirring something in a small iron pot.
"Let me see your wound," was the first thing she said to Will, and he dumbly held out his hand.
Pantalaimon, cat-formed, watched curiously, but Will looked away. He didn't like the sight of his mutilated fingers.
The witches spoke softly to each other, and then Serafina Pekkala said, "What weapon made this wound?"
Will reached for the knife and handed it to her silently. Her companions looked at it with wonder and suspicion, for they had never seen such a blade before, with such an edge on it.
"This will need more than herbs to heal. It will need a spell," said Serafina Pekkala. "Very well, we'll prepare one. It will be ready when the moon rises. In the meantime, you shall sleep."
She gave him a little horn cup containing a hot potion whose bitterness was moderated by honey, and presently he lay back and fell deeply asleep. The witch covered him with leaves and turned to Lyra, who was still gnawing the rabbit.
"Now, Lyra," she said. "Tell me who this boy is, and what you know about this world, and about this knife of his."
So Lyra took a deep breath and began.
"Tell me again," said Dr. Oliver Payne, in the little laboratory overlooking the park. "Either I didn't hear you, or you're talking nonsense. A child from another world?"
"That's what she said. All right, it's nonsense, but listen to it, Oliver, will you?" said Dr. Mary Malone. "She knew about Shadows. She calls them—it—she calls it Dust, but it's the same thing. It's our shadow particles. And I'm telling you, when she was wearing the electrodes linking her to the Cave, there was the most extraordinary display on the screen: pictures, symbols. . . . She had an instrument too, a sort of compass thing made of gold, with different symbols all around the rim. And she said she could read that in the same way, and she knew about the state of mind, too—she knew it intimately."
It was midmorning. Lyra's Scholar, Dr. Malone, was red-eyed from lack of sleep, and her colleague, who'd just returned from Geneva, was impatient to hear more, and skeptical, and preoccupied.
"And the point was, Oliver, she was communicating with them. They are conscious. And they can respond. And you remember your skulls? Well, she told me about some skulls in the Pitt-Rivers Museum. She'd found out with her compass thing that they were much older than the museum said, and there were Shadows—"
"Wait a minute. Give me some sort of structure here. What are you saying? You saying she's confirmed what we know already, or that she's telling us something new?"
"Both. I don't know. But suppose something happened thirty, forty thousand years ago. There were shadow particles around before then, obviously—they've been around since the Big Bang—but there was no physical way of amplifying their effects at our level, the anthropic level. The level of human beings. And then something happened, I can't imagine what, but it involved evolution. Hence your skulls—remember? No Shadows before that time, lots afterward? And the skulls the child found in the museum, that she tested with her compass thing. She told me the same thing. What I'm saying is that around that time, the human brain became the ideal vehicle for this amplification process. Suddenly we became conscious."
Dr. Payne tilted his plastic mug and drank the last of his coffee.
"Why should it happen particularly at that time?" he said. "Why suddenly thirty-five thousand years ago?"
"Oh, who can say? We're not paleontologists. I don't know, Oliver, I'm just speculating. Don't you think it's at least possible?"
"And this policeman. Tell me about him."
Dr. Malone rubbed her eyes. "His name is Walters," she said. "He said he was from the Special Branch. I thought that was politics or something?"
"Terrorism, subversion, intelligence . . . all that. Go on. What did he want? Why did he come here?"
"Because of the girl. He said he was looking for a boy of about the same age—he didn't tell me why—and this boy had been seen in the company of the girl who came here. But he had something else in mind as well, Oliver. He knew about the research. He even asked—"
The telephone rang. She broke off, shrugging, and Dr. Payne answered it. He spoke briefly, put it down, and said, "We've got a visitor."
"Not a name I know. Sir Somebody Something. Listen, Mary, I'm off, you realize that, don't you?"
"They offered you the job."
"Yes. I've got to take it. You must see that."
"Well, that's the end of this, then."
He spread his hands helplessly, and said, "To be frank . . . I can't see any point in the sort of stuff you've just been talking about. Children from another world and fossil Shadows. . . . It's all too crazy. I just can't get involved. I've got a career, Mary."
"What about the skulls you tested? What about the Shadows around the ivory figurine?"
He shook his head and turned his back. Before he could answer, there came a tap at the door, and he opened it almost with relief.
Sir Charles said, "Good day to you. Dr. Payne? Dr. Malone? My name is Charles Latrom. It's very good of you to see me without any notice."
"Come in," said Dr. Malone, weary but puzzled. "Did Oliver say Sir Charles? What can we do for you?"
"It may be what I can do for you," he said. "I understand you're waiting for the results of your funding application."
"How do you know that?" said Dr. Payne.
"I used to be a civil servant. As a matter of fact, I was concerned with directing scientific policy. I still have a number of contacts in the field, and I heard . . . May I sit down?"
"Oh, please," said Dr. Malone. She pulled out a chair, and he sat down as if he were in charge of a meeting.
"Thank you. I heard through a friend—I'd better not mention his name; the Official Secrets Act covers all sorts of silly things—I heard that your application was being considered, and what I heard about it intrigued me so much that I must confess I asked to see some of your work. I know I had no business to, except that I still act as a sort of unofficial adviser, so I used that as an excuse. And really, what I saw was quite fascinating."
"Does that mean you think we'll be successful?" said Dr. Malone, leaning forward, eager to believe him.
"Unfortunately, no. I must be blunt. They're not minded to renew your grant."
Dr. Malone's shoulders slumped. Dr. Payne was watching the old man with cautious curiosity.
"Why have you come here now, then?" he said.
"Well, you see, they haven't officially made the decision yet. It doesn't look promising, and I'm being frank with you; they see no prospect of funding work of this sort in the future. However, it might be that if you had someone to argue the case for you, they would see it differently."
"An advocate? You mean yourself? I didn't think it worked like that," said Dr. Malone, sitting up. "I thought they went on peer review and so on."
"It does in principle, of course," said Sir Charles. "But it also helps to know how these committees work in practice. And to know who's on them. Well, here I am. I'm intensely interested in your work; I think it might be very valuable, and it certainly ought to continue. Would you let me make informal representations on your behalf?"
Dr. Malone felt like a drowning sailor being thrown a life belt. "Why . . . well, yes! Good grief, of course! And thank you. . . . I mean, do you really think it'll make a difference? I don't mean to suggest that . . . I don't know what I mean. Yes, of course!"
"What would we have to do?" said Dr. Payne.
Dr. Malone looked at him in surprise. Hadn't Oliver just said he was going to work in Geneva? But he seemed to be understanding Sir Charles better than she was, for a flicker of complicity was passing between them, and Oliver came to sit down, too.
"I'm glad you take my point," said the old man. "You're quite right. There is a direction I'd be especially glad to see you taking. And provided we could agree, I might even be able to find you some extra money from another source altogether."
"Wait, wait," said Dr. Malone. "Wait a minute. The course of this research is a matter for us. I'm perfectly willing to discuss the results, but not the direction. Surely you see—"
Sir Charles spread his hands in a gesture of regret and got to his feet. Oliver Payne stood too, anxious.
"No, please, Sir Charles," he said. "I'm sure Dr. Malone will hear you out. Mary, there's no harm in listening, for goodness' sake. And it might make all the difference."
"I thought you were going to Geneva?" she said.
"Geneva?" said Sir Charles. "Excellent place. Lot of scope there. Lot of money, too. Don't let me hold you back."
"No, no, it's not settled yet," said Dr. Payne hastily. "There's a lot to discuss—it's all still very fluid. Sir Charles, please sit down. Can I get you some coffee?"
"That would be very kind," said Sir Charles, and sat again, with the air of a satisfied cat.
Dr. Malone looked at him clearly for the first time. She saw a man in his late sixties, prosperous, confident, beautifully dressed, used to the very best of everything, used to moving among powerful people and whispering in important ears. Oliver was right: he did want something. And they wouldn't get his support unless they satisfied him.
She folded her arms.
Dr. Payne handed him a mug, saying, "Sorry it's rather primitive. . . ."
"Not at all. Shall I go on with what I was saying?"
"Do, please," said Dr. Payne.
"Well, I understand that you've made some fascinating discoveries in the field of consciousness. Yes, I know, you haven't published anything yet, and it's a long way—seemingly—from the apparent subject of your research. Nevertheless, word gets around. And I'm especially interested in that. I would be very pleased if, for example, you were to concentrate your research on the manipulation of consciousness. Second, the many-worlds hypothesis—Everett, you remember, 1957 or thereabouts—I believe you're on the track of something that could take that theory a good deal further. And that line of research might even attract defense funding, which as you may know is still plentiful, even today, and certainly isn't subject to these wearisome application processes."
"Don't expect me to reveal my sources," he went on, holding up his hand as Dr. Malone sat forward and tried to speak. "I mentioned the Official Secrets Act; a tedious piece of legislation, but we mustn't be naughty about it. I confidently expect some advances in the many-worlds area. I think you are the people to do it. And third, there is a particular matter connected with an individual. A child."
He paused there, and sipped the coffee. Dr. Malone couldn't speak. She'd gone pale, though she couldn't know that, but she did know that she felt faint.
"For various reasons," Sir Charles went on, "I am in contact with the intelligence services. They are interested in a child, a girl, who has an unusual piece of equipment—an antique scientific instrument, certainly stolen, which should be in safer hands than hers. There is also a boy of roughly the same age—twelve or so—who is wanted in connection with a murder. It's a moot point whether a child of that age is capable of murder, of course, but he has certainly killed someone. And he has been seen with the girl."
"Now, Dr. Malone, it may be that you have come across one or the other of these children. And it may be that you are quite properly inclined to tell the police about what you know. But you would be doing a greater service if you were to let me know privately. I can make sure the proper authorities deal with it efficiently and quickly and with no stupid tabloid publicity. I know that Inspector Walters came to see you yesterday, and I know that the girl turned up. You see, I do know what I'm talking about. I would know, for instance, if you saw her again, and if you didn't tell me, I would know that too. You'd be very wise to think hard about that, and to clarify your recollections of what she said and did when she was here. This is a matter of national security. You understand me."
"Well, there I'll stop. Here's my card so you can get in touch. I shouldn't leave it too long; the funding committee meets tomorrow, as you know. But you can reach me at this number at any time."
He gave a card to Oliver Payne, and seeing Dr. Malone with her arms still folded, laid one on the bench for her. Dr. Payne held the door for him. Sir Charles set his Panama hat on his head, patted it gently, beamed at both of them, and left.
When he'd shut the door again, Dr. Payne said, "Mary, are you mad? Where's the sense in behaving like that?"
"I beg your pardon? You're not taken in by that old creep, are you?"
"You can't turn down offers like that! Do you want this project to survive or not?"
"It wasn't an offer," she said hotly. "It was an ultimatum. Do as he says, or close down. And, Oliver, for God's sake, all those not-so-subtle threats and hints about national security and so on—can't you see where that would lead?"
"Well, I think I can see it more clearly than you can. If you said no, they wouldn't close this place down. They'd take it over. If they're as interested as he says, they'll want it to carry on. But only on their terms."
"But their terms would be . . . I mean, defense, for God's sake. They want to find new ways of killing people. And you heard what he said about consciousness: he wants to manipulate it. I'm not going to get mixed up in that, Oliver, never."
"They'll do it anyway, and you'll be out of a job. If you stay, you might be able to influence it in a better direction. And you'd still have your hands on the work! You'd still be involved!"
"But what does it matter to you, anyway?" she said. "I thought Geneva was all settled?"
He ran his hands through his hair and said, "Well, not settled. Nothing's signed. And it would be a different angle altogether, and I'd be sorry to leave here now that I think we're really on to something."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm not saying—"
"You're hinting. What are you getting at?"
"Well . . ." He walked around the laboratory, spreading his hands, shrugging, shaking his head. "Well, if you don't get in touch with him, I will," he said finally.
She was silent. Then she said, "Oh, I see."
"Mary, I've got to think of—"
"Of course you have."
"It's not that—"
"You don't understand—"
"Yes, I do. It's very simple. You promise to do as he says, you get the funding, I leave, you take over as Director. It's not hard to understand. You'd have a bigger budget. Lots of nice new machines. Half a dozen more Ph.D.s under you. Good idea. You do it, Oliver. You go ahead. But that's it for me. I'm off. It stinks."
"You haven't . . ."
But her expression silenced him. She took off her white coat and hung it on the door, gathered a few papers into a bag, and left without a word. As soon as she'd gone, he took Sir Charles's card and picked up the phone.
Several hours later, just before midnight in fact, Dr. Malone parked her car outside the science building and let herself in at the side entrance. But just as she turned to climb the stairs, a man came out of another corridor, startling her so much she nearly dropped her briefcase. He was wearing a uniform.
"Where are you going?" he said.
He stood in the way, bulky, his eyes hardly visible under the low brim of his cap.
"I'm going to my laboratory. I work here. Who are you?" she said, a little angry, a little frightened.
"Security. Have you got some ID?"
"What security? I left this building at three o'clock this afternoon and there was only a porter on duty, as usual. I should be asking you for identification. Who appointed you? And why?"
"Here's my ID," said the man, showing her a card, too quickly for her to read it. "Where's yours?"
She noticed he had a mobile phone in a holster at his hip. Or was it a gun? No, surely, she was being paranoid. And he hadn't answered her questions. But if she persisted, she'd make him suspicious, and the important thing now was to get into the lab. Soothe him like a dog, she thought. She fumbled through her bag and found her wallet.
"Will this do?" she said, showing him the card she used to operate the barrier in the car park.
He looked at it briefly.
"What are you doing here at this time of night?" he said.
"I've got an experiment running. I have to check the computer periodically."
He seemed to be searching for a reason to forbid her, or perhaps he was just exercising his power. Finally he nodded and stood aside. She went past, smiling at him, but his face remained blank.
When she reached the laboratory, she was still trembling. There had never been any more "security" in this building than a lock on the door and an elderly porter, and she knew why the change had come about. But it meant that she had very little time; she'd have to get it right at once, because once they realized what she was doing, she wouldn't be able to come back again.
She locked the door behind her and lowered the blinds. She switched on the detector and then took a floppy disk from her pocket and slipped it into the computer that controlled the Cave. Within a minute she had begun to manipulate the numbers on the screen, going half by logic, half by guesswork, and half by the program she'd worked on all evening at home; and the complexity of her task was about as baffling as getting three halves to make one whole.
Finally she brushed the hair out of her eyes and put the electrodes on her head, and then flexed her fingers and began to type. She felt intensely self-conscious.
Hello. I'm not sure
what I'm doing. Maybe
this is crazy.
The words arranged themselves on the left of the screen, which was the first surprise. She wasn't using a word-processing program of any kind—in fact, she was bypassing much of the operating system—and whatever formatting was imposing itself on the words, it wasn't hers. She felt the hairs begin to stir on the back of her neck, and she became aware of the whole building around her: the corridors dark, the machines idling, various experiments running automatically, computers monitoring tests and recording the results, the air-conditioning sampling and adjusting the humidity and the temperature, all the ducts and pipework and cabling that were the arteries and the nerves of the building awake and alert . . . almost conscious in fact.
She tried again.
I'm trying to do
with words what I've
done before with a
state of mind, but
Before she had even finished the sentence, the cursor raced across to the right of the screen and printed:
ASK A QUESTION.
It was almost instantaneous.
She felt as if she had stepped on a space that wasn't there. Her whole being lurched with shock. It took several moments for her to calm down enough to try again. When she did, the answers lashed themselves across the right of the screen almost before she had finished.
Are you Shadows? YES.
Are you the same as Lyra's Dust? YES.
And is that dark matter? YES.
Dark matter is conscious? EVIDENTLY.
What I said to Oliver this morning, my idea about human evolution, is it
CORRECT. BUT YOU NEED TO ASK MORE QUESTIONS.
She stopped, took a deep breath, pushed her chair back, flexed her fingers. She could feel her heart racing. Every single thing about what was happening was impossible. All her education, all her habits of mind, all her sense of herself as a scientist were shrieking at her silently: This is wrong! It isn't happening! You're dreaming! And yet there they were on the screen: her questions, and answers from some other mind.
She gathered herself and typed again, and again the answers zipped into being with no discernible pause.
The mind that is
questions isn't human,
NO. BUT HUMANS HAVE
ALWAYS KNOWN US.
Us? There's more than
one of you?
But, what are you?
Mary Malone's head rang. She'd been brought up as a Catholic. More than that—as Lyra had discovered, she had once been a nun. None of her faith was left to her now, but she knew about angels. St. Augustine had said, "Angel is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is spirit; if you seek the name of their office, it is angel; from what they are, spirit, from what they do, angel."
Dizzy, trembling, she typed again:
And Shadow matter is what we have called spirit?
FROM WHAT WE ARE,
SPIRIT; FROM WHAT WE DO,
MATTER. MATTER AND
SPIRIT ARE ONE.
She shivered. They'd been listening to her thoughts.
And did you intervene in human evolution?
Vengeance for—oh! Rebel angels! After the war in Heaven—Satan and the Garden of Eden—but it isn't true, is it? Is that what you
FIND THE GIRL AND THE
BOY. WASTE NO MORE TIME.
YOU MUST PLAY THE SERPENT.
She took her hands from the keyboard and rubbed her eyes. The words were still there when she looked again.