Dr. Malone was fully awake now. Lyra picked up the alethiometer and folded its velvet cloth over it, like a mother protecting her child, before putting it back in her rucksack.
“So anyway,” she said, “you could make this screen so it could talk to you in words, if you wanted. Then you could talk to the Shadows like I talk to the alethiometer. But what I want to know is, why do the people in my world hate it? Dust, I mean, Shadows. Dark matter. They want to destroy it. They think it’s evil. But I think what they do is evil. I seen them do it. So what is it, Shadows? Is it good or evil, or what?”
Dr. Malone rubbed her face and turned her cheeks red again.
“Everything about this is embarrassing,” she said. “D’you know how embarrassing it is to mention good and evil in a scientific laboratory? Have you any idea? One of the reasons I became a scientist was not to have to think about that kind of thing.”
“You got to think about it,” said Lyra severely. “You can’t investigate Shadows, Dust, whatever it is, without thinking about that kind of thing, good and evil and such. And it said you got to, remember. You can’t refuse. When are they going to close this place down?”
“The funding committee decides at the end of the week . . . . Why?”
“ ’Cause you got tonight, then,” said Lyra. “You could fix this engine thing to put words on the screen instead of pictures like I made. You could do that easy. Then you could show ’em, and they’d have to give you the money to carry on. And you could find out all about Dust, or Shadows, and tell me. You see,” she went on a little haughtily, like a duchess describing an unsatisfactory housemaid, “the alethiometer won’t exactly tell me what I need to know. But you could find out for me. Else I could probably do that Ching thing, with the sticks. But pictures are easier to work. I think so, anyway. I’m going to take this off now,” she added, and pulled at the electrodes on her head.
Dr. Malone gave her a tissue to wipe off the gel, and folded up the wires.
“So you’re going?” she said. “Well, you’ve given me a strange hour, that’s no mistake.”
“Are you going to make it do words?” Lyra said, gathering up her rucksack.
“It’s about as much use as completing the funding application, I daresay,” said Dr. Malone. “No, listen. I want you to come back tomorrow. Can you do that? About the same time? I want you to show someone else.”
Lyra narrowed her eyes. Was this a trap?
“Well, all right,” she said. “But remember, there’s things I need to know.”
“Yes. Of course. You will come?”
“Yes,” said Lyra. “If I say I will, I will. I could help you, I expect.”
And she left. The porter at the desk looked up briefly and then went back to his paper.
“The Nuniatak dig,” said the archaeologist, swinging his chair around. “You’re the second person in a month to ask me about that.”
“Who was the other one?” said Will, on his guard at once.
“I think he was a journalist. I’m not sure.”
“Why did he want to know about it?” he said.
“In connection with one of the men who disappeared on that trip. It was the height of the cold war when the expedition vanished. Star Wars. You’re probably too young to remember that. The Americans and the Russians were building enormous radar installations all across the Arctic . . . . Anyway, what can I do for you?”
“Well,” said Will, trying to keep calm, “I was just trying to find out about that expedition, really. For a school project about prehistoric people. And I read about this expedition that disappeared, and I got curious.”
“Well, you’re not the only one, as you see. There was a big to-do about it at the time. I looked it all up for the journalist. It was a preliminary survey, not a proper dig. You can’t do a dig till you know whether it’s worth spending time on it, so this group went out to look at a number of sites and make a report. Half a dozen blokes altogether. Sometimes on an expedition like this you combine forces with people from another discipline—you know, geologists or whatever—to split the cost. They look at their stuff and we look at ours. In this case there was a physicist on the team. I think he was looking at high-level atmospheric particles. The aurora, you know, the northern lights. He had balloons with radio transmitters, apparently.
“And there was another man with them. An ex-Marine, a sort of professional explorer. They were going up into some fairly wild territory, and polar bears are always a danger in the Arctic. Archaeologists can deal with some things, but we’re not trained to shoot, and someone who can do that and navigate and make camp and do all the sort of survival stuff is very useful.
“But then they all vanished. They kept in radio contact with a local survey station, but one day the signal didn’t come, and nothing more was heard. There’d been a blizzard, but that was nothing unusual. The search expedition found their last camp more or less intact, though the bears had eaten their stores. But there was no sign of the people whatsoever.
“And that’s all I can tell you, I’m afraid.”
“Yes,” said Will. “Thank you. Umm . . . that journalist,” he went on, stopping at the door. “You said he was interested in one of the men. Which one was it?”
“The explorer type. A man called Parry.”
“What did he look like? The journalist, I mean?”
“What d’you want to know that for?”
“Because . . . ” Will couldn’t think of a plausible reason. He shouldn’t have asked. “No reason. I just wondered.”
“As far as I can remember, he was a big blond man. Very pale hair.”
“Right, thanks,” Will said, and turned to go.
The man watched him leave the room, saying nothing, frowning a little. Will saw him reach for the phone, and left the building quickly.
He found he was shaking. The journalist, so called, was one of the men who’d come to his house: a tall man with such fair hair that he seemed to have no eyebrows or eyelashes. He wasn’t the one Will had knocked down the stairs: he was the one who’d appeared at the door of the living room as Will ran down and jumped over the body.
But he wasn’t a journalist.
There was a large museum nearby. Will went in, holding his clipboard as if he were working, and sat down in a gallery hung with paintings. He was trembling hard and feeling sick, because pressing at him was the knowledge that he’d killed someone, that he was a murderer. He’d kept it at bay till now, but it was closing in. He’d taken away the man’s life.
He sat still for half an hour, and it was one of the worst half-hours he’d ever spent. People came and went, looking at the paintings, talking in quiet voices, ignoring him; a gallery attendant stood in the doorway for a few minutes, hands behind his back, and then slowly moved away; and Will wrestled with the horror of what he’d done, and didn’t move a muscle.
Gradually he grew calmer. He’d been defending his mother. They were frightening her; given the state she was in, they were persecuting her. He had a right to defend his home. His father would have wanted him to do that. He did it because it was the good thing to do. He did it to stop them from stealing the green leather case. He did it so he could find his father; and didn’t he have a right to do that? All his childish games came back to him, with himself and his father rescuing each other from avalanches or fighting pirates. Well, now it was real. I’ll find you, he said in his mind. Just help me and I’ll find you, and we’ll look after Mum, and everything’ll be all right . . . .
And after all, he had somewhere to hide now, somewhere so safe no one would ever find him. And the papers from the case (which he still hadn’t had time to read) were safe too, under the mattress in Cittàgazze.
Finally he noticed people moving more purposefully, and all in the same direction. They were leaving, because the attendant was telling them that the museum would close in ten minutes. Will gathered himself and left. He found his way to the High Street, where the lawyer’s office was, and wondered about going to see him, despite what he’d said earlier. The man had sounded friendly enough . . . .
But as he made up his mind to cross the street and go in, he stopped suddenly.