“Who did tell you?”
“Did he tell you about your mother?”
“Then there's not much left for me to tell. I don't think I want to be interrogated and condemned by an insolent child. I want to hear what you've seen and done on the way here.”
“I brought you the bloody alethiometer, didn't I?” Lyra burst out. She was very near to tears. “I looked after it all the way from Jordan, I hid it and I treasured it, all through what's happened to us, and I learned about using it, and I carried it all this bloody way when I could've just given up and been safe, and you en't even said thank you, nor showed any sign that you're glad to see me. I don't know why I ever done it. But I did, and I kept on going, even in lofur Raknison's stinking palace with all them bears around me I kept on going, all on me own, and I tricked him into fighting with lorek so's I could come on here for your sake….And when you did see me, you like to fainted, as if I was some horrible thing you never wanted to see again. You en't human, Lord Asriel. You en't my father. My father wouldn't treat me like that. Fathers are supposed to love their daughters, en't they? You don't love me, and I don't love you, and that's a fact. I love Farder Coram, and I love lorek Byrnison; I love an armored bear more'n I love my father. And I bet lorek Byrnison loves me more'n you do.”
“You told me yourself he's only following John Faa's orders.
If you're going to be sentimental, I shan't waste time talking to you.”
“Take your bloody alethiometer, then, and I'm going back with lorek.”
“Back to the palace. He can fight with Mrs. Coulter and the Oblation Board, when they turn up. If he loses, then I'll die too, I don't care. If he wins, we'll send for Lee Scoresby and I'll sail away in his balloon and—”
“Who's Lee Scoresby?”
“An aeronaut. He brought us here and then we crashed. Here you are, here's the alethiometer. It's all in good order.”
He made no move to take it, and she laid it on the brass fender around the hearth.
“And I suppose I ought to tell you that Mrs. Coulter's on her way to Svalbard, and as soon as she hears what's happened to lofur Raknison, she'll be on her way here. In a zeppelin, with a whole lot of soldiers, and they're going to kill us all, by order of the Magisterium.”
“They'll never reach us,” he said calmly.
He was so quiet and relaxed that some of her ferocity dwindled.
“You don't know,” she said uncertainly.
“Yes I do.”
“Have you got another alethiometer, then?”
“I don't need an alethiometer for that. Now I want to hear about your journey here, Lyra. Start from the beginning. Tell me everything.”
So she did. She began with her hiding in the Retiring Room, and went on to the Gobblers' taking Roger, and her time with Mrs. Coulter, and everything else that had happened.
It was a long tale, and when she finished it she said, “So there's one thing I want to know, and I reckon I've got the right to know it, like I had the right to know who I really was. And if you didn't tell me that, you've got to tell me this, in recompense. So: what's Dust? And why's everyone so afraid of it?”
He looked at her as if trying to guess whether she would understand what he was about to say. He had never looked at her seriously before, she thought; until now he had always been like an adult indulging a child in a pretty trick. But he seemed to think she was ready.
“Dust is what makes the alethiometer work,” he said. “Ah…I thought it might! But what else? How did they find out about it?”
“In one way, the Church has always been aware of it. They've been preaching about Dust for centuries, only they didn't call it by that name.
“But some years ago a Muscovite called Boris Mikhailovitch Rusakov discovered a new kind of elementary particle. You've heard of electrons, photons, neutrinos, and the rest? They're called elementary particles because you can't break them down any further: there's nothing inside them but themselves. Well, this new kind of particle was elementary all right, but it was very hard to measure because it didn't react in any of the usual ways. The hardest thing for Rusakov to understand was why the new particle seemed to cluster where human beings were, as if it were attracted to us. And especially to adults. Children too, but not nearly so much until their daemons have taken a fixed form. During the years of puberty they begin to attract Dust more strongly, and it settles on them as it settles on adults.
“Now all discoveries of this sort, because they have a bearing on the doctrines of the Church, have to be announced through the Magisterium in Geneva. And this discovery of Rusakov's was so unlikely and strange that the inspector from the Consistorial Court of Discipline suspected Rusakov of diabolic possession. He performed an exorcism in the laboratory, he interrogated Rusakov under the rules of the Inquisition, but finally they had to accept the fact that Rusakov wasn't lying or deceiving them: Dust really existed.
“That left them with the problem of deciding what it was. And given the Church's nature, there was only one thing they could have chosen. The Magisterium decided that Dust was the physical evidence for original sin. Do you know what original sin is?”
She twisted her lips. It was like being back at Jordan, being quizzed on something she'd been half-taught. “Sort of,” she said.
“No, you don't. Go to the shelf beside the desk and bring me the Bible.”
Lyra did so, and handed the big black book to her father.
“You do remember the story of Adam and Eve?”
'“Course,” she said. “She wasn't supposed to eat the fruit and the serpent tempted her, and she did.”
“And what happened then?”
“Umm…They were thrown out. God threw them out of the garden.”
“God had told them not to eat the fruit, because they would die. Remember, they were naked in the garden, they were like children, their daemons took on any form they desired. But this is what happened.”
He turned to Chapter Three of Genesis, and read:
“And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
“But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
“And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
“For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and your daemons shall assume their true forms, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to reveal the true form of one's daemon, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
“And the eyes of them both were opened, and they saw the true form of their daemons, and spoke with them.
“But when the man and the woman knew their own daemons, they knew that a great change had come upon them, for until that moment it had seemed that they were at one with all the creatures of the earth and the air, and there was no difference between them:
“And they saw the difference, and they knew good and evil; and they were ashamed, and they sewed fig leaves together to cover their nakedness….”
He closed the book.
“And that was how sin came into the world,” he said, “sin and shame and death. It came the moment their daemons became fixed.”
“But…” Lyra struggled to find the words she wanted: “but it en't true, is it? Not true like chemistry or engineering, not that kind of true? There wasn't really an Adam and Eve? The Cassington Scholar told me it was just a kind of fairy tale.”
“The Cassington Scholarship is traditionally given to a freethinker; it's his function to challenge the faith of the Scholars. Naturally he'd say that. But think of Adam and Eve like an imaginary number, like the square root of minus one: you can never see any concrete proof that it exists, but if you include it in your equations, you can calculate all manner of things that couldn't be imagined without it.
“Anyway, it's what the Church has taught for thousands of years. And when Rusakov discovered Dust, at last there was a physical proof that something happened when innocence changed into experience.
“Incidentally, the Bible gave us the name Dust as well. At first they were called Rusakov Particles, but soon someone pointed out a curious verse toward the end of the Third Chapter of Genesis, where God's cursing Adam for eating the fruit.”