There was no other mention in the index, and Will got up from the microfilm reader baffled. There must be some more information somewhere else; but where could he go next? And if he took too long searching for it, he’d be traced . . . .
He handed back the rolls of microfilm and asked the librarian, “Do you know the address of the Institute of Archaeology, please?”
“I could find out . . . . What school are you from?”
“St. Peter’s,” said Will.
“That’s not in Oxford, is it?”
“No, it’s in Hampshire. My class is doing a sort of residential field trip. Kind of environmental study research skills.”
“Oh, I see. What was it you wanted? . . . Archaeology? . . . Here we are.”
Will copied down the address and phone number, and since it was safe to admit he didn’t know Oxford, asked where to find it. It wasn’t far away. He thanked the librarian and set off.
Inside the building Lyra found a wide desk at the foot of the stairs, with a porter behind it.
“Where are you going?” he said.
This was like home again. She felt Pan, in her pocket, enjoying it.
“I got a message for someone on the second floor,” she said.
“Dr. Lister,” she said.
“Dr. Lister’s on the third floor. If you’ve got something for him, you can leave it here and I’ll let him know.”
“Yeah, but this is something he needs right now. He just sent for it. It’s not a thing actually, it’s something I need to tell him.”
He looked at her carefully, but he was no match for the bland and vacuous docility Lyra could command when she wanted to; and finally he nodded and went back to his newspaper.
The alethiometer didn’t tell Lyra people’s names, of course. She had read the name Dr. Lister off a pigeonhole on the wall behind him, because if you pretend you know someone, they’re more likely to let you in. In some ways Lyra knew Will’s world better than he did.
On the second floor she found a long corridor, where one door was open to an empty lecture hall and another to a smaller room where two Scholars stood discussing something at a blackboard. These rooms, the walls of this corridor, were all flat and bare and plain in a way Lyra thought belonged to poverty, not to the scholarship and splendor of Oxford; and yet the brick walls were smoothly painted, and the doors were of heavy wood and the banisters were of polished steel, so they were costly. It was just another way in which this world was strange.
She soon found the door the alethiometer had told her about. The sign on it said DARK MATTER RESEARCH UNIT, and under it someone had scribbled R.I.P. Another hand had added in pencil DIRECTOR: LAZARUS.
Lyra made nothing of that. She knocked, and a woman’s voice said, “Come in.”
It was a small room, crowded with tottering piles of papers and books, and the whiteboards on the walls were covered in figures and equations. Tacked to the back of the door was a design that looked Chinese. Through an open doorway Lyra could see another room, where some kind of complicated anbaric machinery stood in silence.
For her part, Lyra was a little surprised to find that the Scholar she sought was female, but the alethiometer hadn’t said a man, and this was a strange world, after all. The woman was sitting at an engine that displayed figures and shapes on a small glass screen, in front of which all the letters of the alphabet had been laid out on grimy little blocks in an ivory tray. The Scholar tapped one, and the screen became blank.
“Who are you?” she said.
Lyra shut the door behind her. Mindful of what the alethiometer had told her, she tried hard not to do what she normally would have done, and she told the truth.
“Lyra Silvertongue,” she answered. “What’s your name?”
The woman blinked. She was in her late thirties, Lyra supposed, perhaps a little older than Mrs. Coulter, with short black hair and red cheeks. She wore a white coat open over a green shirt and those blue canvas trousers so many people wore in this world.
At Lyra’s question the woman ran a hand through her hair and said, “Well, you’re the second unexpected thing that’s happened today. I’m Dr. Mary Malone. What do you want?”
“I want you to tell me about Dust,” said Lyra, having looked around to make sure they were alone. “I know you know about it. I can prove it. You got to tell me.”
“Dust? What are you talking about?”
“You might not call it that. It’s elementary particles. In my world the Scholars call it Rusakov Particles, but normally they call it Dust. They don’t show up easily, but they come out of space and fix on people. Not children so much, though. Mostly on grownups. And something I only found out today—I was in that museum down the road and there was some old skulls with holes in their heads, like the Tartars make, and there was a lot more Dust around them than around this other one that hadn’t got that sort of hole in. When’s the Bronze Age?”
The woman was looking at her wide-eyed.
“The Bronze Age? Goodness, I don’t know; about five thousand years ago,” she said.
“Ah, well, they got it wrong then, when they wrote that label. That skull with the two holes in it is thirty-three thousand years old.”
She stopped then, because Dr. Malone looked as if she was about to faint. The high color left her cheeks completely; she put one hand to her breast while the other clutched the arm of her chair, and her jaw dropped.
Lyra stood, stubborn and puzzled, waiting for her to recover.
“Who are you?” the woman said at last.
“No, where d’you come from? What are you? How do you know things like this?”
Wearily Lyra sighed; she had forgotten how roundabout Scholars could be. It was difficult to tell them the truth when a lie would have been so much easier for them to understand.
“I come from another world,” she began. “And in that world there’s an Oxford like this, only different, and that’s where I come from. And—”
“Wait, wait, wait. You come from where?”
“From somewhere else,” said Lyra, more carefully. “Not here.”
“Oh, somewhere else,” the woman said. “I see. Well, I think I see.”
“And I got to find out about Dust,” Lyra explained. “Because the Church people in my world, right, they’re frightened of Dust because they think it’s original sin. So it’s very important. And my father . . . No,” she said passionately, and stamped her foot. “That’s not what I meant to say. I’m doing it all wrong.”
Dr. Malone looked at Lyra’s desperate frown and clenched fists, at the bruises on her cheek and her leg, and said, “Dear me, child, calm down.”
She broke off and rubbed her eyes, which were red with tiredness.
“Why am I listening to you?” she went on. “I must be crazy. The fact is, this is the only place in the world where you’d get the answer you want, and they’re about to close us down. What you’re talking about, your Dust, sounds like something we’ve been investigating for a while now, and what you say about the skulls in the museum gave me a turn, because . . . oh, no, this is just too much. I’m too tired. I want to listen to you, believe me, but not now, please. Did I say they were going to close us down? I’ve got a week to put together a proposal to the funding committee, but we haven’t got a hope in hell . . . ”
She yawned widely.
“What was the first unexpected thing that happened today?” Lyra said.
“Oh. Yes. Someone I’d been relying on to back our funding application withdrew his support. I don’t suppose it was that unexpected, anyway.”
She yawned again.
“I’m going to make some coffee,” she said. “If I don’t, I’ll fall asleep. You’ll have some too?”
She filled an electric kettle, and while she spooned instant coffee into two mugs Lyra stared at the Chinese pattern on the back of the door.
“What’s that?” she said.
“It’s Chinese. The symbols of the I Ching. D’you know what that is? Do they have that in your world?”
Lyra looked at her narrow-eyed, in case she was being sarcastic. She said: “There are some things the same and some that are different, that’s all. I don’t know everything about my world. Maybe they got this Ching thing there too.”