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Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 7 maj 2011 03:48

Sophie stood up reluctantly and walked slowly from the room. Miranda followed her upstairs to a messy bedroom decorated with posters of boys with peculiar haircuts and ludicrously baggy jeans. "We'll be at Steepfall for five days, so you need ten pairs of knickers, for a start." "I haven't got ten." Miranda did not believe her, but she said, "Then we'll take what you've got, and you can do laundry." Sophie stood in the middle of the room, a mutinous expression on her pretty face. "Come on," Miranda said. "I'm not going to be your maid. Get some knickers out." She stared at the girl. Sophie was not able to stare her out. She dropped her eyes, turned away, and opened the top drawer of a chest. It was full of underwear. "Pack five bras," Miranda said. Sophie began taking items out. Crisis over, Miranda thought. She opened the door of a closet. "You'll need a couple of frocks for the evenings." She took out a red dress with spaghetti straps, much too sexy for a fourteen-year-old. "This is nice," she lied. Sophie thawed a little. "It's new." "We should wrap it so that it doesn't crease. Where do you keep tissue paper?" "In the kitchen drawer, I think." "I'll fetch it. You find a couple of clean pairs of jeans." Miranda went downstairs, feeling that she was beginning to establish the right balance of friendliness and authority with Sophie. Ned and Tom were in the living room, watching TV. Miranda entered the kitchen and called out: "Ned, do you know where tissue paper is kept?" "I'm sorry, I don't." "Stupid question," Miranda muttered, and she began opening drawers. She eventually found some at the back of a cupboard of sewing materials. She had to kneel on the tiled floor to pull the packet from under a box of ribbons. It was an effort to reach into the cupboard, and she felt herself flush. This is ridiculous, she thought. I'm only thirty-five, I should be able to bend without effort. I must lose ten pounds. No roast potatoes with the Christmas turkey. As she took the packet of tissue paper from the cupboard, she heard the back door of the house open, then a woman's footsteps. She looked up to see Jennifer. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" Jennifer said. She was a small woman, but managed to look formidable, with her high forehead and arched nose. She was smartly dressed in a tailored coat and high-heeled boots. Miranda got to her feet, panting slightly. To her mortification, she felt perspiration break out on her throat. "I was looking for tissue paper." "I can see that. I want to know why you're in my house at all." Ned appeared in the doorway. "Hello, Jenny, I didn't hear you come in." "Obviously I didn't give you time to sound the alarm," she said sarcastically. "Sorry," he said, "but I asked Miranda to come in and—" "Well, don't!" Jennifer interrupted. "I don't want your women here." She made it sound as if Ned had a harem. In fact he had dated only two women since Jennifer. The first he had seen only once, and the second was Miranda. But it seemed childishly quarrelsome to point that out. Instead, Miranda said, "I was just trying to help Sophie." "I'll take care of Sophie. Please leave my house." Ned said, "I'm sorry if we startled you, Jenny, but—" "Don't bother to apologize, just get her out of here." Miranda blushed hotly. No one had ever been so rude to her. "I'd better leave," she said. "That's right," Jennifer said. Ned said, "I'll bring Sophie out as soon as I can." Miranda was as angry with Ned as with Jennifer, though for the moment she was not sure why. She turned toward the hall. "You can use the back door," Jennifer said. To her shame, Miranda hesitated. She looked at Jennifer and saw on her face the hint of a smirk. That gave Miranda an ounce of courage. "I don't think so," she said quietly. She went to the front door. "Tom, come with me," she called. "Just a minute," he shouted back. She stepped into the living room. Tom was watching TV. She grabbed his wrist, hauled him to his feet, and dragged him out of the house. "That hurts!" he protested. She slammed the front door. "Next time, come when I call." She felt like crying as she got into the car. Now she had to sit waiting, like a servant, while Ned was in the house with his ex-wife. Had Jennifer actually planned this whole drama as a way of humiliating Miranda? It was possible. Ned had been hopeless. She knew now why she was so cross with him. He had let Jennifer insult her without a word of protest. He just kept apologizing. And for what? If Jennifer had packed a case for her daughter, or even got the girl to do it herself, Miranda would not have had to enter the house. And then, worst of all, Miranda had taken out her anger on her son. She should have shouted at Jennifer, not Tom. She looked at him in the driving mirror. "Tommy, I'm sorry I hurt your wrist," she said. "It's okay," he said without looking up from his Game Boy. "I'm sorry I didn't come when you called." "All forgiven, then," she said. A tear rolled down her cheek, and she quickly wiped it away.

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NED could not drive, so Miranda took the wheel of the Toyota Previa. Her son, Tom, sat behind with his Game Boy. The back row of seats had been folded away to make room for a stack of presents wrapped in red-and-gold paper and tied with green ribbon. As they pulled away from the Georgian terrace off the Great Western Road where Miranda had her flat, a light snowfall began. There was a blizzard over the sea to the north, but the weather forecasters said it was going to bypass Scotland. She felt content, driving with the two men in her life, heading for Christmas with her family at her father's house. She was reminded of driving back from university for the holidays, looking forward to home cooking, clean bathrooms, ironed sheets, and that feeling of being loved and cared for. She headed first for the suburb where Ned's ex-wife lived. They were to pick up his daughter, Sophie, before driving to Steepfall. Tom's toy played a descending melody, probably indicating that he had crashed his spaceship or been beheaded by a gladiator. He sighed and said, "I saw an advertisement in a car magazine for these really cool screens that go in the back of the headrests, so the people in the backseat can watch movies and stuff." "A must-have accessory," said Ned with a smile. "Sounds expensive," said Miranda. "They don't cost that much," Tom said. Miranda looked at him in the driving mirror. "Well, how much?" "I don't know, just, but they didn't look expensive, d'you know what I mean?" "Why don't you find out the price, and we'll see if we can afford one." "Okay, great! And if it's too dear for you, I'll ask Grandpa." Miranda smiled. Catch Grandpa in the right mood and he would give you anything. Miranda had always hoped Tom would be the one to inherit his grandfather's scientific genius. The jury was still out. His schoolwork was excellent, but not astonishingly so. However, she was not sure what, exactly, her father's talent was. Of course he was a brilliant microbiologist, but he had something more. It was partly the imagination to see the direction in which progress lay, and partly the leadership to inspire a team of scientists to pull together. How could you tell whether an eleven-year-old had that kind of ability? Meanwhile, nothing captured Tom's imagination half as much as a new computer game. She turned on the radio. A choir was singing a Christmas carol. Ned said, "If I hear Away in a Manger' one more time, I may have to commit suicide by impaling myself on a Christmas tree." Miranda changed the station and got John Lennon singing "War Is Over." Ned groaned and said, "Do you realize that Radio Hell plays Christmas music all the year round? It's a well-known fact." Miranda laughed. After a minute she found a classical station that was playing a piano trio. "How's this?" "Haydn—perfect." Ned was curmudgeonly about popular culture. It was part of his egghead act, like not knowing how to drive. Miranda did not mind: she, too, disliked pop music, soap operas, and cheap reproductions of famous paintings. But she liked carols. She was fond of Ned's idiosyncrasies, but her conversation with Olga in the coffee bar nagged at her. Was Ned weak? She sometimes wished he were more assertive. Her husband, Jasper, had been too much so. But she sometimes hankered after the kind of sex she had had with Jasper. He had been selfish in bed, taking her roughly, thinking only of his own pleasure—and Miranda, to her shame, had felt liberated, and enjoyed it. The thrill had worn off, eventually, when she got fed up with his being selfish and inconsiderate about everything else. All the same, she wished Ned could be like that just sometimes. Her thoughts turned to Kit. She was desperately disappointed that he had canceled. She had worked so hard to persuade him to join the family for Christmas. At first he had refused, then he had relented, so she could hardly be surprised that he had changed his mind again. All the same, it was a painful blow, for she badly wanted them all to be together, as they had been most Christmases before Mamma died. The rift between Daddy and Kit scared her. Coming so soon after Mamma's death, it made the family seem dangerously fragile. And if the family was vulnerable, what could she be sure of? She turned into a street of old stone-built workers' cottages and pulled up outside a larger house that might have been occupied by an overseer. Ned had lived here with Jennifer until they split up two years ago. Before that they had modernized the place at great expense, and the payments still burdened Ned. Every time Miranda drove past this street, she felt angry about the amount of money Ned was paying Jennifer. Miranda engaged the hand brake, but left the engine running. She and Tom stayed in the car while Ned walked up the path to the house. Miranda never went inside. Although Ned had left the marital home before he met Miranda, Jennifer was as hostile as if Miranda had been responsible for the breakup. She avoided meeting her, spoke curtly to her on the phone, and—according to the indiscreet Sophie—referred to her as "that fat tart" when speaking to her women friends. Jennifer herself was as thin as a bird, with a nose like a beak. The door was opened by Sophie, a fourteen-year-old in jeans and a skimpy sweater. Ned kissed her and went inside. The car radio played one of Dvorak's Hungarian dances. In the backseat, Tom's Game Boy beeped irregularly. Snow blew around the car in flurries. Miranda turned the heater higher. Ned came out of the house, looking annoyed. He came to Miranda's window. "Jennifer's out," he said. "Sophie hasn't even begun to get ready. Will you come in and help her pack?" "Oh, Ned, I don't think I should," Miranda said unhappily. She felt uncomfortable about going inside when Jennifer was not there. Ned looked panicked. "To tell you the truth, I'm not sure what a girl needs." Miranda could believe that. Ned found it a challenge to pack a case for himself. He had never done it while he was with Jennifer. When he and Miranda were about to take their first holiday together—a trip to the museums of Florence—she had refused, on principle, to do it for him, and he had been forced to learn. However, on subsequent trips—a weekend in London, four days in Vienna—she had checked his luggage, and each time found that he had forgotten something important. To pack for someone else was beyond him. She sighed and killed the engine. "Tom, you'll have to come, too." The house was attractively decorated, Miranda thought as she stepped into the hall. Jennifer had a good eye. She had combined plain rustic furniture with colorful fabrics in the way an overseer's house-proud wife might have done a hundred years ago. There were Christmas cards on the mantelpiece, but no tree. It seemed strange to think that Ned had lived here. He had come home every evening to this house, just as now he came home to Miranda's flat. He had listened to the news on the radio, sat down to dinner, read Russian novels, brushed his teeth automatically, and gone unthinkingly to bed to hold a different woman in his arms. Sophie was in the living room, lying on a couch in front of the television. She had a pierced navel with a cheap jewel in it. Miranda smelled cigarette smoke. Ned said, "Now, Sophie, Miranda's going to help you get ready, okay, poppet?" There was a pleading note in his voice that made Miranda wince. "I'm watching a film," Sophie said sulkily. Miranda knew that Sophie would respond to firmness, not supplication. She picked up the remote control and turned the television off. "Show me your bedroom, please, Sophie," she said briskly. Sophie looked rebellious.

Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 7 maj 2011 03:45

MIRANDA OXENFORD ordered a cappuccino Viennoise, with a pyramid of whipped cream on top. At the last moment she asked for a piece of carrot cake as well. She stuffed her change into the pocket of her skirt and carried her breakfast to the table where her thin sister Olga was seated with a double espresso and a cigarette. The place was bedecked with paper chains, and a Christmas tree twinkled over the panini toaster, but someone with a nice sense of irony had put the Beach Boys on the music system, and they were singing "Surfin' USA." Miranda often ran into Olga first thing in the morning at this coffee bar in Sauchiehall Street, in the center of Glasgow. They worked nearby: Miranda was managing director of a recruitment agency specializing in IT personnel, and Olga was an advocate. They both liked to take five minutes to gather their thoughts before going into their offices. They did not look like sisters, Miranda thought, catching a glimpse of her reflection in a mirror. She was short, with curly blond hair, and her figure was, well, cuddly. Olga was tall like Daddy, but she had the same black eyebrows as their late mother, who had been Italian by birth and was always called Mamma Marta. Olga was dressed for work in a dark gray suit and sharply pointed shoes. She could have played the part of Cruella De Vil. She probably terrified juries. Miranda took off her coat and scarf. She wore a pleated skirt and a sweater embroidered with small flowers. She dressed to charm, not to intimidate. As she sat down, Olga said, "You're working on Christmas Eve?" "Just for an hour," Miranda replied. "To make sure nothing's left undone over the holiday." "Same here." "Have you heard the news? A technician at the Kremlin died of a virus." "Oh, God, that's going to blight our Christmas." Olga could seem heartless, but she was not really so, Miranda thought. "It was on the radio. I haven't spoken to Daddy yet, but it seems the poor boy became fond of a lab hamster and took it home." "What did he do, have sex with it?" "It probably bit him. He lived alone, so nobody called for help. At least that means he probably didn't pass the virus to anyone else. All the same, it's awful for Daddy. He won't show it, but he's sure to feel responsible." "He should have gone in for a less hazardous branch of science— something like atomic weapons research." Miranda smiled. She was especially pleased to see Olga today. She was glad of the chance of a quiet word. The whole family was about to gather at Steepfall, their father's house, for Christmas. She was bringing her fiance, Ned Hanley, and she wanted to make sure Olga would be nice to him. But she approached the subject in a roundabout way. "I hope this doesn't spoil the holiday. I've been looking forward to it so much. You know Kit's coming?" "I'm deeply sensible of the honor our little brother is doing us." "He wasn't going to come, but I talked him round." "Daddy will be pleased." Olga spoke with a touch of sarcasm. "He will, actually," Miranda said reproachfully. "You know it broke his heart to fire Kit." "I know I've never seen him so angry. I thought he would kill someone." "Then he cried." "I didn't see that." "Nor did I. Lori told me." Lori was Stanley's housekeeper. "But now he wants to forgive and forget." Olga stubbed her cigarette. "I know. Daddy's magnanimity is boundless. Does Kit have a job yet?" "No." "Can't you find him something? It's your field, and he's good." "Things are quiet—and people know he was sacked by his father." "Has he stopped gambling?" "He must have. He promised Daddy he would. And he's got no money." "Daddy paid his debts, didn't he?" "I don't think we're supposed to know." "Come on, Mandy." Olga was using Miranda's childhood name. "How much?" "You should ask Daddy—or Kit." "Was it ten thousand pounds?" Miranda looked away. "More than that? Twenty?" Miranda whispered, "Fifty." "Good God! That little bastard pissed away fifty grand of our inheritance? Wait till I see him." "Anyway, enough of Kit. You're going to get to know Ned much better this Christmas. I want you to treat him as one of the family." "Ned should be one of the family by now. When are you getting married? You're too old for a long engagement. You've both been married before—it's not as if you have to save up for your trousseau." This was not the response Miranda was hoping for. She wanted Olga to feel warm toward Ned. "Oh, you know what Ned's like," she said defensively. "He's lost in his own world." Ned was editor of The Glasgow Review of Books, a respected cultural-political journal, but he was not practical. "I don't know how you stand it. I can't abide vacillation." The conversation was not going the way Miranda wanted. "Believe me, it's a blessed relief after Jasper." Miranda's first husband had been a bully and a tyrant. Ned was the opposite, and that was one of the reasons she loved him. "Ned will never be organized enough to boss me around— half the time he can't remember what day it is." "Still, you managed perfectly well without a man for five years." "I did, and I was proud of myself, especially when the economy turned down and they stopped paying me those big bonuses."

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She ran the footage forward, stopping again as Michael moved away from the rabbit rack. "How many rabbits in the top right-hand cage?" "Two, damn it." Stanley looked perplexed. "I thought your theory was that Michael took a rabbit out of the lab. You've shown him bringing one in!" "A substitute. Otherwise the scientists would have noticed one was missing." "Then what's his motivation? In order to save one rabbit, he has to condemn another to death!" "Insofar as he was rational at all, I imagine he felt there was something special about the rabbit he saved." "For God's sake, one rabbit is the same as another." "Not to Michael, I suspect." Stanley nodded. "You're right. Who knows how his mind was working at this point." Toni ran the video footage forward. "He did his chores as usual, checking the food and water in the cages, making sure the animals were still alive, ticking off his tasks on a checklist. Monica came in, but she went to a side laboratory to work on her tissue cultures, so she could not see him. He went next door, to the larger lab, to take care of the macaque monkeys. Then he came back. Now watch." Michael disconnected his air hose, as was normal when moving from one room to another within the lab—the suit contained three or four minutes' worth of fresh air, and when it began to run out the faceplate would fog, warning the wearer. He stepped into a small room containing the vault, a locked refrigerator used for storing live samples of viruses. Being the most secure location in the entire building, it also held all stocks of the priceless antiviral drug. He tapped a combination of digits on its keypad. A security camera inside the refrigerator showed him selecting two doses of the drug, already measured and loaded into disposable syringes. "The small dose for the rabbit and the large one, presumably, for himself," Toni said. "Like you, he expected the drug to work against Madoba-2. He planned to cure the rabbit and immunize himself." "The guards could have seen him taking the drug from the vault." "But they wouldn't find that suspicious. He's authorized to handle these materials." "They might have noticed that he didn't write anything in the log." "They might have, but remember that one guard is watching thirty-seven screens, and he's not trained in laboratory practice." Stanley grunted. Toni said, "Michael must have figured that the discrepancy wouldn't be noticed until the annual audit, and even then it would be put down to clerical error. He didn't know I was planning a spot check." On the television screen, Michael closed the vault and returned to the rabbit lab, reconnecting his air hose. "He's finished his chores," Toni explained. "Now he returns to the rabbit racks." Once again, Michael's back concealed what he was doing from the camera. "Here's where he takes his favorite rabbit out of its cage. I think he slips it into its own miniature suit, probably made from parts of an old worn-out one." Michael turned his left side to the camera. As he walked to the exit, he seemed to have something under his right arm, but it was hard to tell. Leaving BSL4, everyone had to pass through a chemical shower that decontaminated the suit, then take a regular shower before dressing. "The suit would have protected the rabbit in the chemical shower," Toni said. "My guess is that he then dumped the rabbit suit in the incinerator. The water shower would not have harmed the animal. In the dressing room he put the rabbit in the duffel bag. As he exited the building, the guards saw him carrying the same bag he came in with, and suspected nothing." Stanley sat back in his seat. "Well, I'm damned," he said. "I would have sworn it was impossible." "He took the rabbit home. I think it may have bitten him when he injected it with the drug. He injected himself and thought he was safe. But he was wrong." Stanley looked sad. "Poor boy," he said. "Poor, foolish boy." "Now you know everything I know," Toni said. She watched him, waiting for the verdict. Was this phase of her life over? Would she be out of work for Christmas? He gave her a level look. "There's one obvious security precaution we could have taken that would have prevented this." "I know," she said. "A bag search for everyone entering and leaving BSL4." "Exactly." "I've instituted it from this morning." "Thereby closing the stable door after the horse has bolted." "I'm sorry," she said. He wanted her to quit, she felt sure. "You pay me to stop this kind of thing happening. I've failed. I expect you'd like me to tender my resignation." He looked irritated. "If I want to fire you, you'll know soon enough." She stared at him. Had she been reprieved? His expression softened. "All right, you're a conscientious person and you feel guilty, even though neither you nor anyone else could have anticipated what happened." "I could have instituted the bag check." "I probably would have vetoed it, on the grounds that it would upset staff." "Oh." "So I'll tell you this once. Since you came, our security has been tighter than ever before. You're damn good, and I aim to keep you. So, please, no more self-pity." She suddenly felt weak with relief. "Thank you," she said. "Now, we've got a busy day ahead—let's get on with it." He went out. She closed her eyes in relief. She had been forgiven. Thank you, she thought.

Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 7 maj 2011 03:40

KIT OXENFORD woke early, feeling eager and anxious at the same time. It was a strange sensation. Today he was going to rob Oxenford Medical. The idea filled him with excitement. It would be the greatest prank ever. It would be written up in books with titles like The Perfect Crime. Even better, it would be revenge on his father. The company would be destroyed, and Stanley Oxenford would be ruined financially. The fact that the old man would never know who had done this to him somehow made it better. It would be a secret gratification that Kit could hug to himself for the rest of his life. But he was anxious, too. This was unusual. By nature, he was not a worrier. Whatever trouble he was in, he could generally talk his way out. He rarely planned anything. He had planned today. Perhaps that was his problem. He lay in bed with his eyes closed, thinking of the obstacles he had to overcome. First, there was the physical security around the Kremlin: the double row of fencing, the razor wire, the lights, the intruder alarms. Those alarms were protected by tamper switches, shock sensors, and end-of-line circuitry that would detect a short circuit. The alarms were directly connected to regional police headquarters at Inverburn via a phone line that was continuously checked by the system to verify that it was operational. None of that would protect the place against Kit and his collaborators. Then there were the guards, watching important areas on closed-circuit television cameras, patrolling the premises hourly. Their TV monitors were fitted with high-security biased switches that would detect equipment substitution, for example if the feed from a camera were replaced by a signal from a videotape player. Kit had thought of a way around that. Finally there was the elaborate scheme of access control: the plastic credit-card passes, each bearing a photo of the authorized user plus details of the user's fingerprint embedded in a chip. Defeating this system would be complicated, but Kit knew how to do it. His degree was in computer science, and he had been top of his class, but he had an even more important advantage. He had designed the software that controlled the entire security setup at the Kremlin. It was his baby. He had done a terrific job for his ungrateful father, and the system was virtually impenetrable to an outsider, but Kit knew its secrets. At around midnight tonight, he would walk into the holy of holies, the BSL4 laboratory, the most secure location in Scotland. With him would be his client, a quietly menacing Londoner called Nigel Buchanan, and two collaborators. Once there, Kit would open the refrigerated vault with a simple four-digit code. Then Nigel would steal samples of Stanley Oxenford's precious new antiviral drug. They would not keep the samples long. Nigel had a strict deadline. He had to hand over the samples by ten o'clock tomorrow morning, Christmas Day. Kit did not know the reason for the deadline. He did not know who the customer was, either, but he could guess. It had to be one of the pharmaceutical multinationals. Having a sample to analyze would save years of research. The company would be able to make its own version of the drug, instead of paying Oxenford millions in licensing fees. It was dishonest, of course, but men found excuses for dishonesty when the stakes were high. Kit could picture the company's distinguished chairman, with his silver hair and pin-striped suit, saying hypocritically, "Can you assure me categorically that no employee of our organization broke any laws in obtaining this sample?"

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She resolved to be calm, friendly, and businesslike. He got out of the car and came toward her. She said, "Please don't cross the line—I'll come out." She realized right away she had made an error of tact. He was the police officer and she was the civilian—he would feel that he should be giving orders to her, not the other way around. The frown that crossed his face showed her that he had felt the slight. Trying to be more friendly, she said, "How are you, Frank?" "What's going on here?" "A technician from the lab appears to have caught a virus. We've just taken him away in an isolation ambulance. Now we're decontaminating his house. Where's Jim Kincaid?" "He's on holiday." "Where?" Toni hoped Jim might be reached and brought back for this emergency. "Portugal. He and his wife have a wee time-share." A pity, Toni thought. Kincaid knew about biohazards, but Frank did not. Reading her mind, Frank said, "Don't worry." He had in his hand a photocopied document an inch thick. "I've got the protocol here." It was the plan Toni had agreed on with Kincaid. Frank had obviously been reading it while waiting. "My first duty is to secure the area." He looked around. Toni had already secured the area, but she said nothing. Frank needed to assert himself. He called out to the two uniformed officers in the patrol car. "You two! Move that car to the entrance of the driveway, and don't let anyone by without asking me." "Good idea," Toni said, though in truth it made no difference to anything. Nothing, I promise you. But everything in the house has to be decontaminated, either with disinfectant or by high-pressure steam. Both processes destroy papers and might well damage a computer." "I'm going to get this protocol changed. I wonder whether the chief constable knows what Kincaid has let you get away with." Toni felt weary. It was the middle of the night, she had a major crisis to deal with, and she was being forced to pussyfoot around the feelings of a resentful former lover. "Oh, Frank, for God's sake—you might be right, but this is what we've got, so could we try to forget the past and work as a team?" "Your idea of teamwork is everyone doing what you say." She laughed. "Fair enough. What do you think should be our next move?" "I'll inform the health board. They're the lead agency, according to the protocol. Once they've tracked down their designated biohazard consultant, he'll want to convene a meeting here first thing in the morning. Meanwhile, we should start contacting everyone who might have seen Michael Ross. I'll get a couple of detectives phoning every number in that address book. I suggest you question every employee at the Kremlin. It would be useful to have that done by the time we meet with the health board." "All right." Toni hesitated. She had something she had to ask Frank. His best friend was Carl Osborne, a local television reporter who valued sensation more than accuracy. If Carl got hold of this story, he would start a riot. She knew that the way to get something from Frank was to be matter-of-fact, not appearing either assertive or needy. "There's a paragraph in the protocol I've got to mention," she began. "It says that no statements should be made to the press without first being discussed by the main interested parties, including the police, the health board, and the company." "No problem." "The reason I mention it is that this doesn't need to become a major public scare. The chances are that no one is in danger." "Good." "We don't want to hold anything back, but the publicity should be calm and measured. No one needs to panic." Frank grinned. "You're frightened of tabloid stories about killer hamsters roaming the highlands." "You owe me, Frank. I hope you remember." His face darkened. "I owe you?" She lowered her voice, although there was no one nearby. "You remember Farmer Johnny Kirk." Kirk had been a big-time cocaine importer. Born in the rough Glasgow neighborhood of Garscube Road, he had never seen a farm in his life, but got the nickname from the oversize green rubber boots he wore to ease the pain of the corns on his feet. Frank had put together a case against Farmer Johnny. During the trial, by accident, Toni had come across evidence that would have helped the defense. She had told Frank, but Frank had not informed the court. lohnny was as guilty as sin, and Frank had got a conviction—but if the truth ever came out, Frank's career would be over. Now Frank said angrily, "Are you threatening to bring that up again if I don't do what you want?" "No, just reminding you of a time when you needed me to keep quiet about something, and I did." His attitude changed again. He had been frightened, for a moment, but now he was his old arrogant self. "We all bend the rules from time to time. That's life." "Yes. And I'm asking you not to leak this story to your friend Carl Osborne, or anyone else in the media." Frank grinned. "Why, Toni," he said in a tone of mock indignation, "1 never do things like that."

Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 7 maj 2011 03:37

TWO tired men looked at Antonia Gallo with resentment and hostility in their eyes. They wanted to go home, but she would not let them. And they knew she was right, which made it worse. All three were in the personnel department of Oxenford Medical. Antonia, always called Toni, was facilities director, and her main responsibility was security. Oxenford was a small pharmaceuticals outfit— a boutique company, in stock market jargon—that did research on viruses that could kill. Security was deadly serious. Toni had organized a spot check of supplies, and had found that two doses of an experimental drug were missing. That was bad enough: the drug, an antiviral agent, was top secret, its formula priceless. It might have been stolen for sale to a rival company. But another, more frightening possibility had brought the look of grim anxiety to Toni's freckled face and drawn dark circles under her green eyes. A thief might have stolen the drug for personal use. And there was only one reason for that: someone had become infected by one of the lethal viruses used in Oxenford's laboratories. The labs were located in a vast nineteenth-century house built as a Scottish holiday home for a Victorian millionaire. It was nicknamed the Kremlin, because of the double row of fencing, the razor wire, the uniformed guards, and the state-of-the-art electronic security. But it looked more like a church, with pointed arches and a tower and rows of gargoyles along the roof. The personnel office had been one of the grander bedrooms. It still had Gothic windows and linenfold paneling, but now there were filing cabinets instead of wardrobes, and desks with computers and phones where once there had been dressing tables crowded with crystal bottles and silver-backed brushes. Toni and the two men were working the phones, calling everyone who had a pass to the top-security laboratory. There were four biosafety levels. At the highest, BSL4, the scientists worked in space suits, handling viruses for which there was no vaccine or antidote. Because it was the most secure location in the building, samples of the experimental drug were stored there. Not everyone was allowed into BSL4. Biohazard training was compulsory, even for the maintenance men who went in to service air filters and repair autoclaves. Toni herself had undergone the training, so that she could enter the lab to check on security. Only twenty-seven of the company's staff of eighty had access. However, many had already departed for the Christmas vacation, and Monday had turned into Tuesday while the three people responsible doggedly tracked them down. Toni got through to a resort in Barbados called Le Club Beach and, after much insistence, persuaded the assistant manager to go looking for a young laboratory technician called Jenny Crawford. As Toni waited, she glanced at her reflection in the window. She was holding up well, considering the late hour. Her chocolate-brown chalk-stripe suit still looked businesslike, her thick hair was tidy, her face did not betray fatigue. Her father had been Spanish, but she had her Scottish mother's pale skin and red-blond hair. She was tall and looked fit. Not bad, she thought, for thirty-eight years old. "It must be the middle of the night back there!" Jenny said when at last she came to the phone. "We've discovered a discrepancy in the BSL4 log," Toni explained. Jenny was a little drunk. "That's happened before," she said carelessly. "But no one's ever made, like, a great big drama over it." "That's because I wasn't working here," Toni said crisply. "When was the last time you entered BSL4?" "Tuesday, I think. Won't the computer tell you that?" It would, but Toni wanted to know whether Jenny's story would match the computer record. "And when was the last time you accessed the vault?" The vault was a locked refrigerator within BSL4. Jenny's tone was becoming surly. "I really don't remember, but it will be on video." The touch-pad combination lock on the vault activated a security camera that rolled the entire time the door was open. "Do you recall the last time you used Madoba-2?" This was the virus the scientists were working on right now. Jenny was shocked. "Bloody hell, is that what's gone missing?" "No, it's not. All the same—" "I don't think I've ever handled an actual virus. I mostly work in the tissue-culture lab." That agreed with the information Toni had. "Have you noticed any of your colleagues behaving in a way that was strange, or out of character, in the last few weeks?" "This is like the sodding Gestapo," Jenny said. "Be that as it may, have you—" "No, I have not." "Just one more question. Is your temperature normal?" "Fuck me, are you saying I might have Madoba-2?" "Have you got a cold or fever?" "No!" "Then you're all right. You left the country eleven days ago—by now you would have flu-like symptoms if anything were wrong. Thank you, ]enny. It's probably just an error in the log, but we have to make sure." "Well, you've spoiled my night." Jenny hung up. "Shame," Toni said to the dead phone. She cradled the receiver and said, "Jenny Crawford checks out. A cow, but straight."

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There’s something going to get loose tonight, D’Amour,” Cha’Chat said. The blood that was pooling around it had begun to thicken and grow milky, like melted wax. “Something wilder that me.” “Name it,” said Harry. The demon grinned. “Who knows?” it said. “It’s a strange season, isn’t it? Long nights. Clear skies. Things get born on nights like this, don’t you find?” “Where?” said Harry, pressing the gun to Cha’Chat’s nose. “You’re a bully, D’Amour,” it said reprovingly. “You know that?” “Tell me...” The thing’s eyes grew darker; its face seemed to blur. “South of here, I’d say...” it replied. “A hotel...” The tone of its voice was changing subtly; the features losing their solidity. Harry’s trigger finger itched to give the damned thing a wound that would keep it from a mirror for life, but it was still talking, and he couldn’t afford to interrupt its flow. “...on Forty-fourth,” it said. “Between Sixth...Sixth and Broadway.” The voice was indisputably feminine now. “Blue blinds,” it murmured. “I can see blue blinds...” As it spoke the last vestiges of its true features fled, and suddenly it was Norma who was bleeding on the sidewalk at Harry’s feet. “You wouldn’t shoot an old lady, would you?” she piped up. The trick lasted seconds only, but Harry’s hesitation was all that Cha’Chat needed to fold itself between one plane and the next, and flit. He’d lost the creature, for the second time in a month. And to add discomfort to distress, it had begun to snow. The small hotel that Cha’Chat had described had seen better years; even the light that burned in the lobby seemed to tremble on the brink of expiring. There was nobody at the desk. Harry was about to start up the stairs when a young man whose pate was shaved as bald as an egg, but for a single kiss curl that was oiled to his scalp, stepped out of the gloom and took hold of his arm. “There’s nobody here,” he informed Harry. In better days Harry might have cracked the egg open with his bare fists, and enjoyed doing so. Tonight he guessed he would come off the worse. So he simply said, “Well, I’ll find another hotel then, eh?” Kiss Curl seemed placated; the grip relaxed. In the next instant Harry’s hand found his gun, and the gun found Kiss Curl’s chin. An expression of bewilderment crossed the boy’s face as he fell back against the wall, spitting blood. As Harry started up the stairs, he heard the youth yell, “Darrieux!” from below. Neither the shout nor the sound of the struggle had roused any response from the rooms. The place was empty. It had been elected, Harry began to comprehend, for some purpose other than hostelry. As he started along the landing a woman’s cry, begun but never finished, came to meet him. He stopped dead. Kiss Curl was coming up the stairs behind him two or three at a time; ahead, someone was dying. This couldn’t end well, Harry suspected. Then the door at the end of the corridor opened, and suspicion became plain fact. A man in a gray suit was standing on the threshold, skinning off a pair of bloodied surgical gloves. Harry knew him vaguely; indeed had begun to sense a terrible pattern in all of this from the moment he’d heard Kiss Curl call his employer’s name. This was Darrieux Marchetti; also called the Cankerist; one of the whispered order of theological assassins whose directives came from Rome, or Hell, or both. “D’Amour,” he said. Harry had to fight the urge to be flattered that he had been remembered. “What happened here?” he demanded to know, taking a step toward the open door. “Private business,” the Cankerist insisted. “Please, no closer.” Candles burned in the little room, and by their generous light, Harry could see the bodies laid out on the bare bed. The woman from the house on Ridge Street, and her child. Both had been dispatched with Roman efficiency. “She protested,” said Marchetti, not overly concerned that Harry was viewing the results of his handiwork. “All I needed was the child.” “What was it?” Harry demanded. “A demon?” Marchetti shrugged. “We’ll never know,” he said. “But at this time of year there’s usually something that tries to get in under the wire. We like to be safe rather than sorry. Besides, there are those-I number myself amongst them-that believe there is such a thing as a surfeit of Messiahs-“ “Messiahs?” said Harry. He looked again at the tiny body. “There was power there, I suspect,” said Marchetti. “But it could have gone either way. Be thankful, D’Amour. Your world isn’t ready for revelation.” He looked past Harry to the youth, who was at the top of the stairs. “Patrice. Be an angel, will you, bring the car over? I’m late for Mass.” He threw the gloves back onto the bed. “You’re not above the law,” said Harry. “Oh please,” the Cankerist protested. “let’s have no nonsense. It’s too late at night.” Harry felt a sharp pain at the base of his skull, and a trace of heat where blood was running. “Patrice thinks you should go home, D’Amour. And so do I.” The knife point was pressed a little deeper. “Yes?” said Marchetti. “Yes,” said Harry. “He was here,” said Norma, when Harry called back at the house. “Who?” “Eddie Axel; of Axel’s Superette. He came through, clear as daylight.” “Dead?” “Of course dead. He killed himself in his cell. Asked me if I’d seen his soul.” “And what did you say?” “I’m a telephonist, Harry; I just make the connections. I don’t pretend to understand the metaphysics.” She picked up the bottle of brandy Harry had set on the table beside her chair. “How sweet of you,” she said. “Sit down. Drink.” “Another time, Norma. When I’m not so tired.” He went to the door. “By the way, “ he said. “You were right. There was something on Ridge Street...” “Where is it now?” “Gone...home.” “And Cha’Chat?” “Still out there somewhere. In a foul temper...” “Manhattan’s seen worse, Harry.” It was little consolation, but Harry muttered his agreement as he closed the door. The snow was coming on more heavily all the time. He stood on the step and watched the way the flakes spiraled in the lamplight. No two, he had read somewhere, were ever alike. When such variety was available to the humble snowflake, could he be surprised that events had such unpredictable faces? Each moment was its own master, he mused, as he put his head between the blizzard’s teeth, and he would have to take whatever comfort he could find in the knowledge that between this chilly hour and dawn there were innumerable such moments-blind maybe, and wild and hungry-but all at least eager to be born.

Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 5 maj 2011 07:58

The witch Serafina Pekkala, who had rescued Lyra and the other children from the experimental station at Bolvangar and flown with her to the island of Svalbard, was deeply troubled. In the atmospheric disturbances that followed Lord Asriel's escape from his exile on Svalbard, she and her companions were blown far from the island and many miles out over the frozen sea. Some of them managed to stay with the damaged balloon of Lee Scoresby, the Texan aeronaut, but Serafina herself was tossed high into the banks of fog that soon came rolling in from the gap that Lord Asriel's experiment had torn in the sky. When she found herself able to control her flight once more, her first thought was of Lyra; for she knew nothing of the fight between the false bear-king and the true one, Iorek Byrnison, nor of what had happened to Lyra after that. So she began to search for her, flying through the cloudy gold-tinged air on her branch of cloud-pine, accompanied by her daemon, Kaisa the snow goose. They moved back toward Svalbard and south a little, soaring for several hours under a sky turbulent with strange lights and shadows. Serafina Pekkala knew from the unsettling tingle of the light on her skin that it came from another world. After some time had passed, Kaisa said, "Look! A witch's daemon, lost…" Serafina Pekkala looked through the fog banks and saw a tern, circling and crying in the chasms of misty light. They wheeled and flew toward him. Seeing them come near, the tern darted up in alarm, but Serafina Pekkala signaled friendship, and he dropped down beside them. Serafina Pekkala said, "What clan are you from?" "Taymyr," he told her. "My witch is captured. Our companions have been driven away! I am lost!" "Who has captured your witch?" "The woman with the monkey daemon, from Bolvangar… Help me! Help us! I am so afraid!" "Was your clan allied with the child cutters?" "Yes, until we found out what they were doing. After the fight at Bolvangar they drove us off, but my witch was taken prisoner. They have her on a ship… What can I do? She is calling to me and I can't find her! Oh, help, help me!" "Quiet," said Kaisa, the goose daemon. "Listen down below." They glided lower, listening with keen ears, and Serafina Pekkala soon made out the beat of a gas engine, muffled by the fog. "They can't navigate a ship in fog like this," Kaisa said. "What are they doing?" "It's a smaller engine than that," said Serafina Pekkala, and as she spoke there came a new sound from a different direction: a low, brutal, shuddering blast, like some immense sea creature calling from the depths. It roared for several seconds and then stopped abruptly. "The ship's foghorn," said Serafina Pekkala. They wheeled low over the water and cast about again for the sound of the engine. Suddenly they found it, for the fog seemed to have patches of different density, and the witch darted up out of sight just in time as a launch came chugging slowly through the swathes of damp air. The swell was slow and oily, as if the water was reluctant to rise. They swung around and above, the tern daemon keeping close like a child to its mother, and watched the steersman adjust the course slightly as the foghorn boomed again. There was a light mounted on the bow, but all it lit up was the fog a few yards in front. Serafina Pekkala said to the lost daemon: "Did you say there are still some witches helping these people?" "I think so—a few renegade witches from Volgorsk, unless they've fled too," he told her. "What are you going to do? Will you look for my witch?" "Yes. But stay with Kaisa for now." Serafina Pekkala flew down toward the launch, leaving the daemons out of sight above, and alighted on the counter just behind the steersman. His seagull daemon squawked, and the man turned to look. "You taken your time, en't you?" he said. "Get up ahead and guide us in on the port side." She took off again at once. It had worked: they still had some witches helping them, and he thought she was one. Port was left, she remembered, and the port light was red. She cast about in the fog until she caught its hazy glow no more than a hundred yards away. She darted back and hovered above the launch calling directions to the steersman, who slowed the craft down to a crawling pace and brought it in to the ship's gangway ladder that hung just above the water line. The steersman called, and a sailor threw a line from above, and another hurried down the ladder to make it fast to the launch. Serafina Pekkala flew up to the ship's rail, and retreated to the shadows by the lifeboats. She could see no other witches, but they were probably patrolling the skies; Kaisa would know what to do. Below, a passenger was leaving the launch and climbing the ladder. The figure was fur-swathed, hooded, anonymous; but as it reached the deck, a golden monkey daemon swung himself lightly up on the rail and glared around, his black eyes radiating malevolence. Serafina caught her breath: the figure was Mrs. Coulter. A dark-clothed man hurried out on deck to greet her, and looked around as if he were expecting someone else as well. "Lord Boreal—" he began. But Mrs. Coulter interrupted: "He has gone on elsewhere. Have they started the torture?" "Yes, Mrs. Coulter," was the reply, "but—" "I ordered them to wait," she snapped. "Have they taken to disobeying me? Perhaps there should be more discipline on this ship." She pushed her hood back. Serafina Pekkala saw her face clearly in the yellow light: proud, passionate, and, to the witch, so young. "Where are the other witches?" she demanded. The man from the ship said, "All gone, ma'am. Red to their homeland." "But a witch guided the launch in," said Mrs. Coulter. "Where has she gone?" Serafina shrank back; obviously the sailor in the launch hadn't heard the latest state of things. The cleric looked around, bewildered, but Mrs. Coulter was too impatient, and after a cursory glance above and along the deck, she shook her head and hurried in with her daemon through the open door that cast a yellow nimbus on the air. The man followed. Serafina Pekkala looked around to check her position. She was concealed behind a ventilator on the narrow area of decking between the rail and the central superstructure of the ship; and on this level, facing forward below the bridge and the funnel, was a saloon from which windows, not portholes, looked out on three sides. That was where the people had gone in. Light spilled thickly from the windows onto the fog-pearled railing, and dimly showed up the foremast and the canvas-covered hatch. Everything was wringing-wet and beginning to freeze into stiffness. No one could see Serafina where she was; but if she wanted to see any more, she would have to leave her hiding place. That was too bad. With her pine branch she could escape, and with her knife and her bow she could fight. She hid the branch behind the ventilator and slipped along the deck until she reached the first window. It was fogged with condensation and impossible to see through, and Serafina could hear no voices, either. She withdrew to the shadows again.

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She sniffed the beans, and again an expression of pleasure and suspicion entered her eyes. She tipped the can into the saucepan and licked a finger, watching as Will shook salt and pepper into the eggs and cut a knob of butter from a package in the fridge into a cast-iron pan. He went into the bar to find some matches, and when he came back she was dipping her dirty finger in the bowl of beaten eggs and licking it greedily. Her daemon, a cat again, was dipping his paw in it, too, but he backed away when Will came near. "It's not cooked yet," Will said, taking it away. "When did you last have a meal?" "At my father's house on Svalbard," she said. "Days and days ago. I don't know. I found bread and stuff here and ate that." He lit the gas, melted the butter, poured in the eggs, and let them run all over the base of it. Her eyes followed everything greedily, watching him pull the eggs up into soft ridges in the center as they cooked and tilt the pan to let raw egg flow into the space. She watched him, too, looking at his face and his working hands and his bare shoulders and his feet. When the omelette was cooked he folded it over and cut it in half with the spatula. "Find a couple of plates," he said, and Lyra obediently did so. She seemed quite willing to take orders if she saw the sense of them, so he told her to go and clear a table in front of the café. He brought out the food and some knives and forks from a drawer, and they sat down together, a little awkwardly. She ate hers in less than a minute, and then fidgeted, swinging back and forth on her chair and plucking at the plastic strips of the woven seat while he finished his. Her daemon changed yet again, and became a goldfinch, pecking at invisible crumbs on the tabletop. Will ate slowly. He'd given her most of the beans, but even so he took much longer than she did. The harbor in front of them, the lights along the empty boulevard, the stars in the dark sky above, all hung in the huge silence as if nothing else existed at all. And all the time he was intensely aware of the girl. She was small and slight, but wiry, and she'd fought like a tiger; his fist had raised a bruise on her cheek, and she was ignoring it. Her expression was a mixture of the very young—when she first tasted the cola—and a kind of deep, sad wariness. Her eyes were pale blue, and her hair would be a darkish blond once it was washed; because she was filthy, and she smelled as if she hadn't bathed for days. "Laura? Lara?" Will said. "Lyra." "Lyra… Silvertongue?" "Yes." "Where is your world? How did you get here?" She shrugged. "I walked," she said. "It was all foggy. I didn't know where I was going. At least, I knew I was going out of my world. But I couldn't see this one till the fog cleared. Then I found myself here." "What did you say about dust?" "Dust, yeah. I'm going to find out about it. But this world seems to be empty. There's no one here to ask. I've been here for… I dunno, three days, maybe four. And there's no one here." "But why do you want to find out about dust?" "Special Dust," she said shortly. "Not ordinary dust, obviously." The daemon changed again. He did so in the flick of an eye, and from a goldfinch he became a rat, a powerful pitch-black rat with red eyes. Will looked at him with wide wary eyes, and the girl saw his glance. "You have got a daemon," she said decisively. "Inside you." He didn't know what to say. "You have," she went on. "You wouldn't be human else. You'd be… half dead. We seen a kid with his daemon cut away. You en't like that. Even if you don't know you've got a daemon, you have. We was scared at first when we saw you. Like you was a night-ghast or something. But then we saw you weren't like that at all." "We?" "Me and Pantalaimon. Us. But you, your daemon en't separate from you. It's you. A part of you. You're part of each other. En't there anyone in your world like us? Are they all like you, with their daemons all hidden away?" Will looked at the two of them, the skinny pale-eyed girl with her black-rat daemon now sitting in her arms, and felt profoundly alone. "I'm tired. I'm going to bed," he said. "Are you going to stay in this city?" "Dunno. I've got to find out more about what I'm looking for. There must be some Scholars in this world. There must be someone who knows about it." "Maybe not in this world. But I came here out of a place called Oxford. There's plenty of scholars there, if that's what you want." "Oxford?" she cried. "That's where I come from!" "Is there an Oxford in your world, then? You never came from my world." "No," she said decisively. "Different worlds. But in my world there's an Oxford too. We're both speaking English, en't we? Stands to reason there's other things the same. How did you get through? Is there a bridge, or what?" "Just a kind of window in the air." "Show me," she said. It was a command, not a request. He shook his head. "Not now," he said. "I want to sleep. Anyway, it's the middle of the night." "Then show me in the morning!" "All right, I'll show you. But I've got my own things to do. You'll have to find your scholars by yourself." "Easy," she said. "I know all about Scholars." He put the plates together and stood up. "I cooked," he said, "so you can wash the dishes." She looked incredulous. "Wash the dishes?" she scoffed. "There's millions of clean ones lying about! Anyway, I'm not a servant. I'm not going to wash them." "So I won't show you the way through." "I'll find it by myself." "You won't; it's hidden. You'd never find it. Listen, I don't know how long we can stay in this place. We've got to eat, so we'll eat what's here, but we'll tidy up afterward and keep the place clean, because we ought to. You wash these dishes. We've got to treat this place right. Now I'm going to bed. I'll have the other room. I'll see you in the morning." He went inside, cleaned his teeth with a finger and some toothpaste from his tattered bag, fell on the double bed, and was asleep in a moment. Lyra waited till she was sure he was asleep, and then took the dishes into the kitchen and ran them under the tap, rubbing hard with a cloth until they looked clean. She did the same with the knives and forks, but the procedure didn't work with the omelette pan, so she tried a bar of yellow soap on it, and picked at it stubbornly until it looked as clean as she thought it was going to. Then she dried everything on another cloth and stacked it neatly on the drainboard. Because she was still thirsty and because she wanted to try opening a can, she snapped open another cola and took it upstairs. She listened outside Will's door and, hearing nothing, tiptoed into the other room and took out the alethiometer from under her pillow. She didn't need to be close to Will to ask about him, but she wanted to look anyway, and she turned his door handle as quietly as she could before going in. There was a light on the sea front outside shining straight up into the room, and in the glow reflected from the ceiling she looked down at the sleeping boy. He was frowning, and his face glistened with sweat. He was strong and stocky, not as formed as a grown man, of course, because he wasn't much older than she was, but he'd be powerful one day. How much easier if his daemon had been visible! She wondered what its form might be, and whether it was fixed yet. Whatever its form was, it would express a nature that was savage, and courteous, and unhappy. She tiptoed to the window. In the glow from the streetlight she carefully set the hands of the alethiometer, and relaxed her mind into the shape of a question. The needle began to sweep around the dial in a series of pauses and swings almost too fast to watch. She had asked: What is he? A friend or an enemy? The alethiometer answered: He is a murderer. When she saw the answer, she relaxed at once. He could find food, and show her how to reach Oxford, and those were powers that were useful, but he might still have been untrustworthy or cowardly. A murderer was a worthy companion. She felt as safe with him as she'd felt with Iorek Byrnison, the armored bear. She swung the shutter across the open window so the morning sunlight wouldn't strike in on his face, and tiptoed out.

Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 5 maj 2011 07:55

Just beside him was that bare patch in the air, as hard to see from this side as from the other, but definitely there. He bent to look through and saw the road in Oxford, his own world. He turned away with a shudder: whatever this new world was, it had to be better than what he'd just left. With a dawning lightheadedness, the feeling that he was dreaming but awake at the same time, he stood up and looked around for the cat, his guide. She was nowhere in sight. No doubt she was already exploring those narrow streets and gardens beyond the cafés whose lights were so inviting. Will lifted up his tattered tote bag and walked slowly across the road toward them, moving very carefully in case it all disappeared. The air of the place had something Mediterranean or maybe Caribbean about it. Will had never been out of England, so he couldn't compare it with anywhere he knew, but it was the kind of place where people came out late at night to eat and drink, to dance and enjoy music. Except that there was no one here, and the silence was immense. On the first corner he reached there stood a café, with little green tables on the pavement and a zinc-topped bar and an espresso machine. On some of the tables glasses stood half-empty; in one ashtray a cigarette had burned down to the butt; a plate of risotto stood next to a basket of stale rolls as hard as cardboard. He took a bottle of lemonade from the cooler behind the bar and then thought for a moment before dropping a pound coin in the till. As soon as he'd shut the till, he opened it again, realizing that the money in there might say what this place was called. The currency was called the corona, but he couldn't tell any more than that. He put the money back and opened the bottle on the opener fixed to the counter before leaving the café and wandering down the street going away from the boulevard. Little grocery shops and bakeries stood between jewelers and florists and bead-curtained doors opening into private houses, where wrought-iron balconies thick with flowers overhung the narrow pavement, and where the silence, being enclosed, was even more profound. The streets were leading downward, and before very long they opened out onto a broad avenue where more palm trees reached high into the air, the underside of their leaves glowing in the streetlights. On the other side of the avenue was the sea. Will found himself facing a harbor enclosed from the left by a stone breakwater and from the right by a headland on which a large building with stone columns and wide steps and ornate balconies stood floodlit among flowering trees and bushes. In the harbor one or two rowboats lay still at anchor, and beyond the breakwater the starlight glittered on a calm sea. By now Will's exhaustion had been wiped out. He was wide-awake and possessed by wonder. From time to time, on his way through the narrow streets, he'd put out a hand to touch a wall or a doorway or the flowers in a window box, and found them solid and convincing. Now he wanted to touch the whole landscape in front of him, because it was too wide to take in through his eyes alone. He stood still, breathing deeply, almost afraid. He discovered that he was still holding the bottle he'd taken from the café. He drank from it, and it tasted like what it was, ice-cold lemonade; and welcome, too, because the night air was hot. He wandered along to the right, past hotels with awnings over brightly lit entrances and bougainvillea flowering beside them, until he came to the gardens on the little headland. The building in the trees with its ornate façade lit by floodlights might have been an opera house. There were paths leading here and there among the lamp-hung oleander trees, but not a sound of life could be heard: no night birds singing, no insects, nothing but Will's own footsteps. The only sound he could hear came from the regular, quiet breaking of delicate waves from the beach beyond the palm trees at the edge of the garden. Will made his way there. The tide was halfway in, or halfway out, and a row of pedal boats was drawn up on the soft white sand above the high-water line. Every few seconds a tiny wave folded itself over at the sea's edge before sliding back neatly under the next. Fifty yards or so out on the calm water was a diving platform. Will sat on the side of one of the pedal boats and kicked off his shoes, his cheap sneakers that were coming apart and cramping his hot feet. He dropped his socks beside them and pushed his toes deep into the sand. A few seconds later he had thrown off the rest of his clothes and was walking into the sea. The water was deliciously between cool and warm. He splashed out to the diving platform and pulled himself up to sit on its weather-softened planking and look back at the city. To his right the harbor lay enclosed by its breakwater. Beyond it a mile or so away stood a red-and-white-striped lighthouse. And beyond the lighthouse, distant cliffs rose dimly, and beyond them, those great wide rolling hills he'd seen from the place he'd first come through. Closer at hand were the light-bearing trees of the casino gardens, and the streets of the city, and the waterfront with its hotels and cafés and warm-lit shops, all silent, all empty. And all safe. No one could follow him here; the men who'd searched the house would never know; the police would never find him. He had a whole world to hide in. For the first time since he'd run out of his front door that morning, Will began to feel secure. He was thirsty again, and hungry too, because he'd last eaten in another world, after all. He slipped into the water and swam back more slowly to the beach, where he put on his underpants and carried the rest of his clothes and the tote bag. He dropped the empty bottle into the first rubbish bin he found and walked barefoot along the pavement toward the harbor. When his skin had dried a little, he pulled on his jeans and looked for somewhere he'd be likely to find food. The hotels were too grand. He looked inside the first hotel, but it was so large that he felt uncomfortable, and he kept moving down the waterfront until he found a little café that looked like the right place. He couldn't have said why; it was very similar to a dozen others, with its first-floor balcony laden with flowerpots and its tables and chairs on the pavement outside, but it welcomed him. There was a bar with photographs of boxers on the wall, and a signed poster of a broadly smiling accordion player. There was a kitchen, and a door beside it that opened on to a narrow flight of stairs, carpeted in a bright floral pattern. He climbed quietly up to the narrow landing and opened the first door he came to. It was the room at the front. The air was hot and stuffy, and Will opened the glass door onto the balcony to let in the night air. The room itself was small and furnished with things that were too big for it, and shabby, but it was clean and comfortable. Hospitable people lived here. There was a little shelf of books, a magazine on the table, a couple of photographs in frames. Will left and looked in the other rooms: a little bathroom, a bedroom with a double bed. Something made his skin prickle before he opened the last door. His heart raced. He wasn't sure if he'd heard a sound from inside, but something told him that the room wasn't empty. He thought how odd it was that this day had begun with someone outside a darkened room, and himself waiting inside; and now the positions were reversed— And as he stood wondering, the door burst open and something came hurtling at him like a wild beast. But his memory had warned him, and he wasn't standing quite close enough to be knocked over. He fought hard: knee, head, fist, and the strength of his arms against it, him, her— A girl about his own age, ferocious, snarling, with ragged dirty clothes and thin bare limbs. She realized what he was at the same moment, and snatched herself away from his bare chest to crouch in the corner of the dark landing like a cat at bay. And there was a cat beside her, to his astonishment: a large wildcat, as tall as his knee, fur on end, teeth bared, tail erect.

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The last question was the only one she could help him with. John Parry had been a handsome man, a brave and clever officer in the Royal Marines, who had left the army to become an explorer and lead expeditions to remote parts of the world. Will thrilled to hear about this. No father could be more exciting than an explorer. From then on, in all his games he had an invisible companion: he and his father were together hacking through the jungle, shading their eyes to gaze out across stormy seas from the deck of their schooner, holding up a torch to decipher mysterious inscriptions in a bat-infested cave… They were the best of friends, they saved each other's life countless times, they laughed and talked together over campfires long into the night. But the older he got, the more Will began to wonder. Why were there no pictures of his father in this part of the world or that, riding with frost-bearded men on Arctic sledges or examining creeper-covered ruins in the jungle? Had nothing survived of the trophies and curiosities he must have brought home? Was nothing written about him in a book? His mother didn't know. But one thing she had said stuck in his mind. She said, "One day, you'll follow in your father's footsteps. You're going to be a great man too. You'll take up his mantle." And though Will didn't know what that meant, he understood the sense of it, and felt uplifted with pride and purpose. All his games were going to come true. His father was alive, lost somewhere in the wild, and he was going to rescue him and take up his mantle… It was worth living a difficult life, if you had a great aim like that. So he kept his mother's trouble secret. There were times when she was calmer and clearer than others, and he took care to learn from her then how to shop and cook and keep the house clean, so that he could do it when she was confused and frightened. And he learned how to conceal himself, too, how to remain unnoticed at school, how not to attract attention from the neighbors, even when his mother was in such a state of fear and madness that she could barely speak. What Will himself feared more than anything was that the authorities would find out about her, and take her away, and put him in a home among strangers. Any difficulty was better than that. Because there came times when the darkness cleared from her mind, and she was happy again, and she laughed at her fears and blessed him for looking after her so well; and she was so full of love and sweetness then that he could think of no better companion, and wanted nothing more than to live with her alone forever. But then the men came. They weren't police, and they weren't social services, and they weren't criminals—at least as far as Will could judge. They wouldn't tell him what they wanted, in spite of his efforts to keep them away; they'd speak only to his mother. And her state was fragile just then. But he listened outside the door, and heard them ask about his father, and felt his breath come more quickly. The men wanted to know where John Parry had gone, and whether he'd sent anything back to her, and when she'd last heard from him, and whether he'd had contact with any foreign embassies. Will heard his mother getting more and more distressed, and finally he ran into the room and told them to go. He looked so fierce that neither of the men laughed, though he was so young. They could easily have knocked him down, or held him off the floor with one hand, but he was fearless, and his anger was hot and deadly. So they left. Naturally, this episode strengthened Will's conviction: his father was in trouble somewhere, and only he could help. His games weren't childish anymore, and he didn't play so openly. It was coming true, and he had to be worthy of it. And not long afterward the men came back, insisting that Will's mother had something to tell them. They came when Will was at school, and one of them kept her talking downstairs while the other searched the bedrooms. She didn't realize what they were doing. But Will came home early and found them, and once again he blazed at them, and once again they left. They seemed to know that he wouldn't go to the police, for fear of losing his mother to the authorities, and they got more and more persistent. Finally they broke into the house when Will had gone to fetch his mother home from the park. It was getting worse for her now, and she believed that she had to touch every separate slat in every separate bench beside the pond. Will would help her, to get it done quicker. When they got home that day they saw the back of the men's car disappearing out of the close, and he got inside to find that they'd been through the house and searched most of the drawers and cupboards. He knew what they were after. The green leather case was his mother's most precious possession; he would never dream of looking through it, and he didn't even know where she kept it. But he knew it contained letters, and he knew she read them sometimes, and cried, and it was then that she talked about his father. So Will supposed that this was what the men were after, and knew he had to do something about it. He decided first to find somewhere safe for his mother to stay. He thought and thought, but he had no friends to ask, and the neighbors were already suspicious, and the only person he thought he could trust was Mrs. Cooper. Once his mother was safely there, he was going to find the green leather case and look at what was in it, and then he was going to go to Oxford, where he'd find the answer to some of his questions. But the men came too soon. And now he'd killed one of them. So the police would be after him too. Well, he was good at not being noticed. He'd have to not be noticed harder than he'd ever done in his life before, and keep it up as long as he could, till either he found his father or they found him. And if they found him first, he didn't care how many more of them he killed. Later that day, toward midnight in fact, Will was walking out of the city of Oxford, forty miles away. He was tired to his very bones. He had hitchhiked, and ridden on two buses, and walked, and reached Oxford at six in the evening, too late to do what he needed to do. He'd eaten at a Burger King and gone to a cinema to hide (though what the film was, he forgot even as he was watching it), and now he was walking along an endless road through the suburbs, heading north. No one had noticed him so far. But he was aware that he'd better find somewhere to sleep before long, because the later it got, the more noticeable he'd be. The trouble was that there was nowhere to hide in the gardens of the comfortable houses along this road, and there was still no sign of open country. He came to a large traffic circle where the road going north crossed the Oxford ring road going east and west. At this time of night there was very little traffic, and the road where he stood was quiet, with comfortable houses set back behind a wide expanse of grass on either side. Planted along the grass at the road's edge were two lines of hornbeam trees, odd-looking things with perfectly symmetrical close-leafed crowns, more like children's drawings than like real trees. The streetlights made the scene look artificial, like a stage set. Will was stupefied with exhaustion, and he might have gone on to the north, or he might have laid his head on the grass under one of those trees and slept; but as he stood trying to clear his head, he saw a cat. She was a tabby, like Moxie. She padded out of a garden on the Oxford side of the road, where Will was standing. Will put down his tote bag and held out his hand, and the cat came up to rub her head against his knuckles, just as Moxie did. Of course, every cat behaved like that, but all the same Will felt such a longing for home that tears scalded his eyes. Eventually the cat turned away. This was night, and there was a territory to patrol, there were mice to hunt. She padded across the road and toward the bushes just beyond the hornbeam trees, and there she stopped. Will, still watching, saw the cat behave curiously. She reached out a paw to pat something in the air in front of her, something quite invisible to Will. Then she leaped backward, back arched and fur on end, tail held out stiffly. Will knew cat behavior. He watched more alertly as the cat approached the spot again, just an empty patch of grass between the hornbeams and the bushes of a garden hedge, and patted the air once more. Again she leaped back, but less far and with less alarm this time. After another few seconds of sniffing, touching, and whisker twitching, curiosity overcame wariness. The cat stepped forward—and vanished. Will blinked. Then he stood still, close to the trunk of the nearest tree, as a truck came around the circle and swept its lights over him. When it had gone past, he crossed the road, keeping his eyes on the spot where the cat had been investigating. It wasn't easy, because there was nothing to fix on, but when he came to the place and cast about to look closely, he saw it. At least, he saw it from some angles. It looked as if someone had cut a patch out of the air, about two yards from the edge of the road, a patch roughly square in shape and less than a yard across. If you were level with the patch so that it was edge-on, it was nearly invisible, and it was completely invisible from behind. You could see it only from the side nearest the road, and you couldn't see it easily even from there, because all you could see through it was exactly the same kind of thing that lay in front of it on this side: a patch of grass lit by a streetlight. But Will knew without the slightest doubt that that patch of grass on the other side was in a different world. He couldn't possibly have said why. He knew it at once, as strongly as he knew that fire burned and kindness was good. He was looking at something profoundly alien. And for that reason alone, it enticed him to stoop and look further. What he saw made his head swim and his heart thump harder, but he didn't hesitate: he pushed his tote bag through, and then scrambled through himself, through the hole in the fabric of this world and into another. He found himself standing under a row of trees. But not hornbeam trees: these were tall palms, and they were growing, like the trees in Oxford, in a row along the grass. But this was the center of a broad boulevard, and at the side of the boulevard was a line of cafés and small shops, all brightly lit, all open, and all utterly silent and empty beneath a sky thick with stars. The hot night was laden with the scent of flowers and with the salt smell of the sea. Will looked around carefully. Behind him the full moon shone down over a distant prospect of great green hills, and on the slopes at the foot of the hills there were houses with rich gardens, and an open parkland with groves of trees and the white gleam of a classical temple.

Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 5 maj 2011 07:48

They're in complete confusion. You see, they don't know what Lord Asriel intends to do." "Nor do I," she said, "and I can't imagine what it might be. What do you think he's intending, Dr. Lanselius?" He gently rubbed the head of his serpent daemon with his thumb. "He is a scholar," he said after a moment, "but scholarship is not his ruling passion. Nor is statesmanship. I met him once, and I thought he had an ardent and powerful nature, but not a despotic one. I don't think he wants to rule… I don't know, Serafina Pekkala. I suppose his servant might be able to tell you. He is a man called Thorold, and he was imprisoned with Lord Asriel in the house on Svalbard. It might be worth a visit there to see if he can tell you anything; but, of course, he might have gone into the other world with his master." "Thank you. That's a good idea… I'll do it. And I'll go at once." She said farewell to the consul and flew up through the gathering dark to join Kaisa in the clouds. Serafina's journey to the north was made harder by the confusion in the world around her. All the Arctic peoples had been thrown into panic, and so had the animals, not only by the fog and the magnetic variations but by unseasonal crackings of ice and stirrings in the soil. It was as if the earth itself, the permafrost, were slowly awakening from a long dream of being frozen. In all this turmoil, where sudden shafts of uncanny brilliance lanced down through rents in towers of fog and then vanished as quickly, where herds of muskox were seized by the urge to gallop south and then wheeled immediately to the west or the north again, where tight-knit skeins of geese disintegrated into a honking chaos as the magnetic fields they flew by wavered and snapped this way and that, Serafina Pekkala sat on her cloud-pine and flew north, to the house on the headland in the wastes of Svalbard. There she found Lord Asriel's servant, Thorold, fighting off a group of cliff-ghasts. She saw the movement before she came close enough to see what was happening. There was a swirl of lunging leathery wings, and a malevolent yowk-yowk-yowk resounding in the snowy courtyard. A single figure swathed in furs fired a rifle into the midst of them with a gaunt dog daemon snarling and snapping beside him whenever one of the filthy things flew low enough. She didn't know the man, but a cliff-ghast was an enemy always. She swung around above and loosed a dozen arrows into the melee. With shrieks and gibberings, the gang—too loosely organized to be called a troop—circled, saw their new opponent, and fled in confusion. A minute later the skies were bare again, and their dismayed yowk-yowk-yowk echoed distantly off the mountains before dwindling into silence. Serafina flew down to the courtyard and alighted on the trampled, blood-sprinkled snow. The man pushed back his hood, still holding his rifle warily, because a witch was an enemy sometimes, and she saw an elderly man, long-jawed and grizzled and steady-eyed. "I am a friend of Lyra's," she said. "I hope we can talk. Look: I lay my bow down." "Where is the child?" he said. "In another world. I'm concerned for her safety. And I need to know what Lord Asriel is doing." He lowered the rifle and said, "Step inside, then. Look: I lay my rifle down." The formalities exchanged, they went indoors. Kaisa glided through the skies above, keeping watch, while Thorold brewed some coffee and Serafina told him of her involvement with Lyra. "She was always a willful child," he said when they were seated at the oaken table in the glow of a naphtha lamp. "I'd see her every year or so when his lordship visited his college. I was fond of her, mind—you couldn't help it. But what her place was in the wider scheme of things, I don't know." "What was Lord Asriel planning to do?" "You don't think he told me, do you, Serafina Pekkala? I'm his manservant, that's all. I clean his clothes and cook his meals and keep his house tidy. I may have learned a thing or two in the years I been with his lordship, but only by picking 'em up accidental. He wouldn't confide in me any more than in his shaving mug." "Then tell me the thing or two you've learned by accident," she insisted. Thorold was an elderly man, but he was healthy and vigorous, and he felt flattered by the attention of this young witch and her beauty, as any man would. He was shrewd, though, too, and he knew the attention was not really on him but on what he knew; and he was honest, so he did not draw out his telling for much longer than he needed. "I can't tell you precisely what he's doing," he said, "because all the philosophical details are beyond my grasp. But I can tell you what drives his lordship, though he doesn't know I know. I've seen this in a hundred little signs. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the witch people have different gods from ours, en't that right?" "Yes, that's true." "But you know about our God? The God of the Church, the one they call the Authority?" "Yes, I do." "Well, Lord Asriel has never found hisself at ease with the doctrines of the Church, so to speak. I've seen a spasm of disgust cross his face when they talk of the sacraments, and atonement, and redemption, and suchlike. It's death among our people, Serafina Pekkala, to challenge the Church, but Lord Asriel's been nursing a rebellion in his heart for as long as I've served him, that's one thing I do know." "A rebellion against the Church?" "Partly, aye. There was a time when he thought of making it an issue of force, but he turned away from that." "Why? Was the Church too strong?" "No," said the old servant, "that wouldn't stop my master. Now this might sound strange to you, Serafina Pekkala, but I know the man better than any wife could know him, better than a mother. He's been my master and my study for nigh on forty years. I can't follow him to the height of his thought any more than I can fly, but I can see where he's a-heading even if I can't go after him. No, it's my belief he turned away from a rebellion against the Church not because the Church was too strong, but because it was too weak to be worth the fighting." "So… what is he doing?" "I think he's a-waging a higher war than that. I think he's aiming a rebellion against the highest power of all. He's gone a-searching for the dwelling place of the Authority Himself, and he's a-going to destroy Him. That's what I think. It shakes my heart to voice it, ma'am. I hardly dare think of it. But I can't put together any other story that makes sense of what he's doing." Serafina sat quiet for a few moments, absorbing what Thorold had said. Before she could speak, he went on: "'Course, anyone setting out to do a grand thing like that would be the target of the Church's anger. Goes without saying. It'd be the most gigantic blasphemy, that's what they'd say. They'd have him before the Consistorial Court and sentenced to death before you could blink. I've never spoke of it before and I shan't again; I'd be afraid to speak it aloud to you if you weren't a witch and beyond the power of the Church; but that makes sense, and nothing else does. He's a-going to find the Authority and kill Him." "Is that possible?" said Serafina. "Lord Asriel's life has been filled with things that were impossible. I wouldn't like to say there was anything he couldn't do. But on the face of it, Serafina Pekkala, yes, he's stark mad. If angels couldn't do it, how can a man dare to think about it?" "Angels? What are angels?" "Beings of pure spirit, the Church says. The Church teaches that some of the angels rebelled before the world was created, and got flung out of heaven and into hell. They failed, you see, that's the point. They couldn't do it. And they had the power of angels. Lord Asriel is just a man, with human power, no more than that. But his ambition is limitless. He dares to do what men and women don't even dare to think. And look what he's done already: he's torn open the sky, he's opened the way to another world. Who else has ever done that? Who else could think of it? So with one part of me, Serafina Pekkala, I say he's mad, wicked, deranged. Yet with another part I think, he's Lord Asriel, he's not like other men. Maybe… if it was ever going to be possible, it'd be done by him and by no one else." "And what will you do, Thorold?" "I'll stay here and wait. I'll guard this house till he comes back and tells me different, or till I die. And now I might ask you the same question, ma'am." "I'm going to make sure the child is safe," she said. "It might be that I have to pass this way again, Thorold. I'm glad to know that you will still be here." "I won't budge," he told her. She refused Thorold's offer of food, and said good-bye. A minute or so later she joined her goose daemon again, and the daemon kept silence with her as they soared and wheeled above the foggy mountains. She was deeply troubled, and there was no need to explain: every strand of moss, every icy puddle, every midge in her homeland thrilled against her nerves and called her back. She felt fear for them, but fear of herself, too, for she was having to change. These were human affairs she was inquiring into, this was a human matter; Lord Asriel's god was not hers. Was she becoming human? Was she losing her witchhood? If she were, she could not do it alone.

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Mrs. Coulter had lost her flush. Her face was chalk-white with fury. "How dare you interrogate me?" she spat. "And how dare you keep from me what you've learned from the witch? And, finally, how dare you assume that I am keeping something from you? D'you think I'm on her side? Or perhaps you think I'm on her father's side? Perhaps you think I should be tortured like the witch. Well, we are all under your command, Your Eminence. You have only to snap your fingers and you could have me torn apart. But if you searched every scrap of flesh for an answer, you wouldn't find one, because I know nothing of this prophecy, nothing whatever. And I demand that you tell me what you know. My child, my own child, conceived in sin and born in shame, but my child nonetheless, and you keep from me what I have every right to know!" "Please," said another of the clerics nervously. "Please, Mrs. Coulter, the witch hasn't spoken yet; we shall learn more from her. Cardinal Sturrock himself says that she's only hinted at it." "And suppose the witch doesn't reveal it?" Mrs. Coulter said. "What then? We guess, do we? We shiver and quail and guess?" Fra Pavel said, "No, because that is the question I am now preparing to put to the alethiometer. We shall find the answer, whether from the witch or from the books of readings." "And how long will that take?" He raised his eyebrows wearily and said, "A considerable time. It is an immensely complex question." "But the witch would tell us at once," said Mrs. Coulter. And she rose to her feet. As if in awe of her, most of the men did too. Only the Cardinal and Fra Pavel remained seated. Serafina Pekkala stood back, fiercely holding herself unseen. The golden monkey was gnashing his teeth, and all his shimmering fur was standing on end. Mrs. Coulter swung him up to her shoulder. "So let us go and ask her," she said. She turned and swept out into the corridor. The men hastened to follow her, jostling and shoving past Serafina Pekkala, who had only time to stand quickly aside, her mind in a turmoil. The last to go was the Cardinal. Serafina took a few seconds to compose herself, because her agitation was beginning to make her visible. Then she followed the clerics down the corridor and into a smaller room, bare and white and hot, where they were all clustered around the dreadful figure in the center: a witch bound tightly to a steel chair, with agony on her gray face and her legs twisted and broken. Mrs. Coulter stood over her. Serafina took up a position by the door, knowing that she could not stay unseen for long; this was too hard. "Tell us about the child, witch," said Mrs. Coulter. "No!" "You will suffer." "I have suffered enough." "Oh, there is more suffering to come. We have a thousand years of experience in this Church of ours. We can draw out your suffering endlessly. Tell us about the child," Mrs. Coulter said, and reached down to break one of the witch's fingers. It snapped easily. The witch cried out, and for a clear second Serafina Pekkala became visible to everyone, and one or two of the clerics looked at her, puzzled and fearful; but then she controlled herself again, and they turned back to the torture. Mrs. Coulter was saying, "If you don't answer I'll break another finger, and then another. What do you know about the child? Tell me." "All right! Please, please, no more!" "Answer then." There came another sickening crack, and this time a flood of sobbing broke from the witch. Serafina Pekkala could hardly hold herself back. Then came these words, in a shriek: "No, no! I'll tell you! I beg you, no more! The child who was to come… The witches knew who she was before you did… We found out her name…" "We know her name. What name do you mean?" "Her true name! The name of her destiny!" "What is this name? Tell me!" said Mrs. Coulter. "No… no…" "And how? Found out how?" "There was a test… If she was able to pick out one spray of cloud-pine from many others, she would be the child who would come, and it happened at our consul's house at Trollesund, when the child came with the gyptian men… The child with the bear…" Her voice gave out. Mrs. Coulter gave a little exclamation of impatience, and there came a loud slap, and a groan. "But what was your prophecy about this child?" Mrs. Coulter went on, and her voice was all bronze now, and ringing with passion. "And what is this name that will make her destiny clear?" Serafina Pekkala moved closer, even among the tight throng of men around the witch, and none of them felt her presence at their very elbows. She must end this witch's suffering, and soon, but the strain of holding herself unseen was enormous. She trembled as she took the knife from her waist. The witch was sobbing. "She is the one who came before, and you have hated and feared her ever since! Well, now she has come again, and you failed to find her… She was there on Svalbard—she was with Lord Asriel, and you lost her. She escaped, and she will be—" But before she could finish, there came an interruption. Through the open doorway there flew a tern, mad with terror, and it beat its wings brokenly as it crashed to the floor and struggled up and darted to the breast of the tortured witch, pressing itself against her, nuzzling, chirruping, crying, and the witch called in anguish, "Yambe-Akka! Come to me, come to me!" No one but Serafina Pekkala understood. Yambe-Akka was the goddess who came to a witch when she was about to die. And Serafina was ready. She became visible at once and stepped forward smiling happily, because Yambe-Akka was merry and lighthearted and her visits were gifts of joy. The witch saw her and turned up her tear-stained face, and Serafina bent to kiss it and slid her knife gently into the witch's heart. The tern daemon looked up with dim eyes and vanished. And now Serafina Pekkala would have to fight her way out. The men were still shocked, disbelieving, but Mrs. Coulter recovered her wits almost at once. "Seize her! Don't let her go!" she cried, but Serafina was already at the door, with an arrow nocked in her bowstring. She swung up the bow and loosed the arrow in less than a second, and the Cardinal fell choking and kicking to the floor. Out, along the corridor to the stairs, turn, nock, loose, and another man fell; and already a loud jarring bell was filling the ship with its clangor. Up the stairs and out onto the deck. Two sailors barred her way, and she said, "Down there! The prisoner has got loose! Get help!" That was enough to puzzle them, and they stood undecided, which gave her time to dodge past and seize her cloud-pine from where she had hidden it behind the ventilator. "Shoot her!" came a cry in Mrs. Coulter's voice from behind, and at once three rifles fired, and the bullets struck metal and whined off into the fog as Serafina leaped on the branch and urged it up like one of her own arrows. A few seconds later she was in the air, in the thick of the fog, safe, and then a great goose shape glided out of the wraiths of gray to her side. "Where to?" he said. "Away, Kaisa, away," she said. "I want to get the stench of these people out of my nose." In truth, she didn't know where to go or what to do next. But there was one thing she knew for certain: there was an arrow in her quiver that would find its mark in Mrs. Coulter's throat. They turned south, away from that troubling other-world gleam in the fog, and as they flew a question began to form more clearly in Serafina's mind. What was Lord Asriel doing? Because all the events that had overturned the world had their origin in his mysterious activities. The problem was that the usual sources of her knowledge were natural ones. She could track any animal, catch any fish, find the rarest berries; and she could read the signs in the pine marten's entrails, or decipher the wisdom in the scales of a perch, or interpret the warnings in the crocus pollen; but these were children of nature, and they told her natural truths. For knowledge about Lord Asriel, she had to go elsewhere. In the port of Trollesund, their consul Dr. Lanselius maintained his contact with the world of men and women, and Serafina Pekkala sped there through the fog to see what he could tell her. Before she went to his house she circled over the harbor, where wisps and tendrils of mist drifted ghostlike on the icy water, and watched as the pilot guided in a large vessel with an African registration. There were several other ships riding at anchor outside the harbor. She had never seen so many. As the short day faded, she flew down and landed in the back garden of the consul's house. She tapped on the window, and Dr. Lanselius himself opened the door, a finger to his lips. "Serafina Pekkala, greetings," he said. "Come in quickly, and welcome. But you had better not stay long." He offered her a chair at the fireside, having glanced through the curtains out of a window that fronted the street. "You'll have some wine?" She sipped the golden Tokay and told him of what she had seen and heard aboard the ship. "Do you think they understood what she said about the child?" he asked. "Not fully, I think. But they know she is important. As for that woman, I'm afraid of her, Dr. Lanselius. I shall kill her, I think, but still I'm afraid of her." "Yes," he said. "So am I." And Serafina listened as he told her of the rumors that had swept the town. Amid the fog of rumor, a few facts had begun to emerge clearly. "They say that the Magisterium is assembling the greatest army ever known, and this is an advance party. And there are unpleasant rumors about some of the soldiers, Serafina Pekkala. I've heard about Bolvangar, and what they were doing there—cutting children's daemons away, the most evil work I've ever heard of. Well, it seems there is a regiment of warriors who have been treated in the same way. Do you know the word zombi? They fear nothing, because they're mindless. There are some in this town now. The authorities keep them hidden, but word gets out, and the townspeople are terrified of them." "What of the other witch clans?" said Serafina Pekkala. "What news do you have of them?" "Most have gone back to their homelands. All the witches are waiting, Serafina Pekkala, with fear in their hearts, for what will happen next." "And what do you hear of the Church?"

Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 5 maj 2011 07:44

She was obliged to revisit the shop for a stamp, stamps being kept in Mr. Povey's desk in the corner--a high desk, at which you stood. Mr. Povey was now in earnest converse with Mr. Yardley at the door, and twilight, which began a full hour earlier in the shop than in the Square, had cast faint shadows in corners behind counters. "Will you just run out with this to the pillar, Miss Dadd?" "With pleasure, Mrs. Povey." "Where are you going to?" Mr. Povey interrupted his conversation to stop the flying girl. "She's just going to the post for me," Constance called out from the region of the till. "Oh! All right!" A trifle! A nothing! Yet somehow, in the quiet customerless shop, the episode, with the scarce perceptible difference in Samuel's tone at his second remark, was delicious to Constance. Somehow it was the REAL beginning of her wifehood. (There had been about nine other real beginnings in the past fortnight.) Mr. Povey came in to supper, laden with ledgers and similar works which Constance had never even pretended to understand. It was a sign from him that the honeymoon was over. He was proprietor now, and his ardour for ledgers most justifiable. Still, there was the question of her servant. "Never!" he exclaimed, when she told him all about the end of the world. A 'never' which expressed extreme astonishment and the liveliest concern! But Constance had anticipated that he would have been just a little more knocked down, bowled over, staggered, stunned, flabbergasted. In a swift gleam of insight she saw that she had been in danger of forgetting her role of experienced, capable married woman. "I shall have to set about getting a fresh one," she said hastily, with an admirable assumption of light and easy casualness. Mr. Povey seemed to think that Hollins would suit Maggie pretty well. He made no remark to the betrothed when she answered the final bell of the night. He opened his ledgers, whistling. "I think I shall go up, dear," said Constance. "I've a lot of things to put away." "Do," said he. "Call out when you've done."

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Yes," said Mrs. Baines. "It looks like marl. Where on earth have you been?" She interrogated her daughter with an upward gaze, frigid and unconsciously hostile, through her gold-rimmed glasses. "I must have picked it up on the roads," said Sophia, and hastened to the door. "Sophia!" "Yes, mother." "Shut the door." Sophia unwillingly shut the door which she had half opened. "Come here." Sophia obeyed, with falling lip. "You are deceiving me, Sophia," said Mrs. Baines, with fierce solemnity. "Where have you been this afternoon?" Sophia's foot was restless on the carpet behind the table. "I haven't been anywhere," she murmured glumly. "Have you seen young Scales?" "Yes," said Sophia with grimness, glancing audaciously for an instant at her mother. ("She can't kill me: She can't kill me," her heart muttered. And she had youth and beauty in her favour, while her mother was only a fat middle-aged woman. "She can't kill me," said her heart, with the trembling, cruel insolence of the mirror-flattered child.) "How came you to meet him?" No answer. "Sophia, you heard what I said!" Still no answer. Sophia looked down at the table. ("She can't kill me.") "If you are going to be sullen, I shall have to suppose the worst," said Mrs. Baines. Sophia kept her silence. "Of course," Mrs. Baines resumed, "if you choose to be wicked, neither your mother nor any one else can stop you. There are certain things I CAN do, and these I SHALL do ... Let me warn you that young Scales is a thoroughly bad lot. I know all about him. He has been living a wild life abroad, and if it hadn't been that his uncle is a partner in Birkinshaws, they would never have taken him on again." A pause. "I hope that one day you will be a happy wife, but you are much too young yet to be meeting young men, and nothing would ever induce me to let you have anything to do with this Scales. I won't have it. In future you are not to go out alone. You understand me?" Sophia kept silence. "I hope you will be in a better frame of mind to-morrow. I can only hope so. But if you aren't, I shall take very severe measures. You think you can defy me. But you never were more mistaken in your life. I don't want to see any more of you now. Go and tell Mr. Povey; and call Maggie for the fresh tea. You make me almost glad that your father died even as he did. He has, at any rate, been spared this." Those words 'died even as he did' achieved the intimidation of Sophia. They seemed to indicate that Mrs. Baines, though she had magnanimously never mentioned the subject to Sophia, knew exactly how the old man had died. Sophia escaped from the room in fear, cowed. Nevertheless, her thought was, "She hasn't killed me. I made up my mind I wouldn't talk, and I didn't." In the evening, as she sat in the shop primly and sternly sewing at hats--while her mother wept in secret on the first floor, and Constance remained hidden on the second--Sophia lived over again the scene at the old shaft; but she lived it differently, admitting that she had been wrong, guessing by instinct that she had shown a foolish mistrust of love. As she sat in the shop, she adopted just the right attitude and said just the right things. Instead of being a silly baby she was an accomplished and dazzling woman, then. When customers came in, and the young lady assistants unobtrusively turned higher the central gas, according to the regime of the shop, it was really extraordinary that they could not read in the heart of the beautiful Miss Baines the words which blazed there; "YOU'RE THE FINEST GIRL I EVER MET," and "I SHALL WRITE TO YOU." The young lady assistants had their notions as to both Constance and Sophia, but the truth, at least as regarded Sophia, was beyond the flight of their imaginations. When eight o'clock struck and she gave the formal order for dust-sheets, the shop being empty, they never supposed that she was dreaming about posts and plotting how to get hold of the morning's letters before Mr. Povey. "Well," said Mr. Povey, rising from the rocking-chair that in a previous age had been John Baines's, "I've got to make a start some time, so I may as well begin now!" And he went from the parlour into the shop. Constance's eye followed him as far as the door, where their glances met for an instant in the transient gaze which expresses the tenderness of people who feel more than they kiss. It was on the morning of this day that Mrs. Baines, relinquishing the sovereignty of St. Luke's Square, had gone to live as a younger sister in the house of Harriet Maddack at Axe. Constance guessed little of the secret anguish of that departure. She only knew that it was just like her mother, having perfectly arranged the entire house for the arrival of the honeymoon couple from Buxton, to flit early away so as to spare the natural blushing diffidence of the said couple. It was like her mother's commonsense and her mother's sympathetic comprehension. Further, Constance did not pursue her mother's feelings, being far too busy with her own. She sat there full of new knowledge and new importance, brimming with experience and strange, unexpected aspirations, purposes, yes--and cunnings! And yet, though the very curves of her cheeks seemed to be mysteriously altering, the old Constance still lingered in that frame, an innocent soul hesitating to spread its wings and quit for ever the body which had been its home; you could see the timid thing peeping wistfully out of the eyes of the married woman. Constance rang the bell for Maggie to clear the table; and as she did so she had the illusion that she was not really a married woman and a house-mistress, but only a kind of counterfeit. She did most fervently hope that all would go right in the house--at any rate until she had grown more accustomed to her situation. The hope was to be disappointed. Maggie's rather silly, obsequious smile concealed but for a moment the ineffable tragedy that had lain in wait for unarmed Constance. "If you please, Mrs. Povey," said Maggie, as she crushed cups together on the tin tray with her great, red hands, which always looked like something out of a butcher's shop; then a pause, "Will you please accept of this?" Now, before the wedding Maggie had already, with tears of affection, given Constance a pair of blue glass vases (in order to purchase which she had been obliged to ask for special permission to go out), and Constance wondered what was coming now from Maggie's pocket. A small piece of folded paper came from Maggie's pocket. Constance accepted of it, and read: "I begs to give one month's notice to leave. Signed Maggie. June 10, 1867."


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