How we think the fight will go
Will told Lyra that he would sit with her on Midsummer Day, on the park bench under the spreading, low-branched tree, for as long as he lived. Will did as he promised—in his world, his version of Oxford, as did Lyra in her own. For many years they had those afternoons together. That was, if not what she would have preferred, at least enough.
But eventually—much too soon, in Lyra’s opinion–there came a Midsummer Day when Will did not meet her. She waited for him from midday until well after dark. When he did not meet her there the following year, she understood that he would never come again.
She was older by then, and a scholar. She could not travel to Will’s world, but she had found ways to peek into it. When she saw what had become of him, how it ended, she grew pale. She closed her peephole, wishing with all her heart that she had not opened it in the first place.
By then she was also a mother of three. She grieved for Will, but did not speak of him; she lived her life, loved as best she was able. It was also true that in working to master the alethiometer she sometimes glimpsed other possibilities. Many years later, when her children were grown, she turned her attentions to those.
She had not forgotten Will, had not forgotten how it ended for him.
After a number of failed experiments and blind alleys, she succeeded in crafting an hourglass—of a sort. The ‘glass’ was not glass at all, but rather crystalline carbon. And not just any carbon, either—these were the very first particles of their kind, wrenched from nothingness in the birth agonies of the universe. She collected them one painstaking atom at a time, arranged them into lattices and, eventually, smoothed and shaped the resulting diamond into an hourglass.
The wooden braces that bound the diamond were carved from a fallen branch of Yggdrasil, the world tree. The hourglass had a number of peculiar properties, one of which was that the Dust inside was visible to the naked eye. Also, it appeared to fall slowly, imperceptibly so. A casual observer might think she had built a tool that defied gravity. Lyra knew better. The Dust did fall, but very slowly, at the rate of precisely one grain per year.
She also suspected that if you took the glass itself into your hands its effects would be much different. She kept the diamond hourglass locked in a safe in the darkest corner of her study, and never spoke of it.
Things went on this way for many years—almost, but not quite, a lifetime.
On the day she buried her husband Lyra went to her study and opened the safe. Using brass forceps, careful not to touch, she swaddled the diamond hourglass in rags and placed it in her knapsack next to the alethiometer. Then she walked alone to the park bench under the spreading tree. She sat there all that afternoon, basking in sunlight, thinking of her husband, her children…and of Will. Pan slept at her side. The sun warmed her wrinkled cheeks. By twilight her mind was sufficiently clear. Only then did she frame the question in her thoughts, and open the alethiometer. Pantalaimon, himself now old and noticeably gray, settled into her lap. She stroked him for a moment. “Are you ready?”
He swished his tail.
“Right, then. Best give it a go, hadn’t we?” She had never been completely sure that it would work. She wasn’t sure which of the two possibilities—that it would work as designed or that it would not—frightened her more.
Lyra took the diamond hourglass in hand.
Her time machine worked.
At her touch, the single grain of sand which had been inching towards the pile in the bottom dropped like a stone. It was joined almost immediately by another, then another. She looked up.
The autumn leaves dropped from the low-branched tree in a blink, re-grew, fell again. This happened faster and faster—seasons passing by in a blur, snow and sunshine mingling as one. Jordan college lasted a long time, centuries, or perhaps even millennia. As she watched the last stone she knew crumble to dust, Lyra began to feel a bit dizzy. She looked down, focused on Pan’s brown eyes.
For a long time, that looking was all that there was. Somewhere the grains of the hourglass fell, time rushed by like waters of a broken dam, the world they knew crumbled beneath them. The stars went out. The alethiometer’s fourth hand spun too fast to see.
But all that seemed far away. Lyra and Pantalaimon looked only into themselves, getting ready for what came next.
When the dust was almost gone from the top of the hourglass, its flow began to slow—from a flood, to a stream, then to a trickle. Lyra looked up then. She still sat on the bench, had carried it with her somehow, but beyond that there was nothing left that she could see. Jordan college was gone. The earth was gone. Everything was gone. Nothing remained of creation but blackness and void.
Even then, Lyra held tight to the glass. She waited what seemed like hours for the last half dozen grains to tick away, each more slowly than the rest. Only when the very last one rattled through the neck of the glass and began to fall did she release her grip.
The final bit of Dust hung suspended in the air in the hourglass, motionless. “Go,” she whispered to Pan. “I’ll call you when I’m ready.” Pan scurried off into emptiness. Lyra rose to stand in the Last Moment, the very end of time.
She looked down at the Alethiometer. The fourth hand no longer spun. It pointed directly ahead of her. Lyra followed it with her eyes, and at long last gazed upon the one who she had come so very far to meet. The fourth hand, she saw, had stopped on the symbol of an Hourglass.
The woman was black-haired and very pale. She walked alone. Her head was tilted back to bask in sunshine that hadn’t been there for a long time. Her hands stretched out at her side, brushing the memory of tall grass. She trod a path that wasn’t there.
“Right,” Lyra said. “I thought I might find you here.”
The woman spun, startled. Under her eye there was a dark smudge, a curlicue, that might have been a tattoo but was not. It was highlighted now by a wet, silver trail.
Seeing this, Lyra was certain for the first time that she was doing the correct thing. “Oh! Um… sorry. I didn’t mean to—“
“It’s okay. I just thought I was alone.”
Lyra smiled, gentle. “You en’t.”
“Are you with Tim?”
“Timothy Hunter. He was just here.”
She shook her head. “Don’t know who that is. No.”
“Who are you? Oh—wait. I remember now. Lyra Silvertongue?”
Lyra smiled, pleased to be remembered by such a one. She also tried for a curtsy, as was polite, but her old bones weren’t quite up to it.
“You shouldn’t be here,” the pale woman said, not un-gently. “I took you a long time ago.”
“Then it is you. You’re–”
The woman brushed at her eye, where the wet trail had been. “Call me Deedee.”
“As you like.”
The pale woman held out her hand to shake.
Lyra didn’t take it. “Meaning no offense to you, Ladyship, but…not just yet.”
Deedee shrugged, took her hand back. “Have it your way. But none of that ‘ladyship’ nonsense, okay? It doesn’t suit you.”
“Right, then,” Lyra said, relieved.
“What are you doing here?”
Lyra stifled a laugh. “Well, I’m looking for you, en’t I? What else would I be doing? I’ve wanted to have a word with you for quite some time now. I wanted to–”
Lyra broke off. ‘Deedee’ wasn’t ignoring her, exactly, but she wasn’t really paying attention either. Instead she peered over Lyra’s shoulder, into the void. There would be nothing there, of course. Well…almost nothing. “Here–what you looking at?”
“What? Oh, sorry. I thought I saw something moving out there. My brother, I expect.”
Deedee cocked an eyebrow. “My, my. Someone’s been studying. No. Dream is gone. All that’s left are me, and my brother Destiny, and the universe. And you, of course. But these days that’s a crowd.” Deedee, dark-eyed and cheerful, grinned into the void. “When he shows up, we’ll have a regular party, won’t we?”
“Well…maybe not. You don’t seem like you’re in a ‘party’ sort of mood. And you’ve been looking for me.” Deedee’s eyes seemed darker, somehow. “Now you’ve found me. What can I do for you, Lyra?”
“I am sorry for intruding,” Lyra said. “I don’t normally barge in like this. Rude, en’t it? I know. But I needed to ask you something. Two things.”
“It’s alright.” Deedee offered a wry smile. “I’ll be honest, I’m glad for a last little bit of company. It’s been lonely, of late.” She sighed. “And it’s liable to get worse before it gets better. What’s your question?”
Here it is, then, Lyra thought. “Why were you crying like that?” She was relieved to hear that her voice did not tremble.
“I don’t cry.”
Lyra looked at her.
Deedee’s smile faded a bit. “I wasn’t crying. Why do you think I was crying?”
Lyra only looked.
Deedee sighed. “You weren’t supposed to see that. No one has ever seen that. Not ever. Not once.”
“Do you mind telling me? In the stories, when you…do the things that you do…you always seem so…so serene. Is it all an act?”
“No. Not an act. I am at peace. I have to be.”
Deedee sighed. “Alright. If you must know. This is the end. Time is very nearly unraveled. Space is almost flat. In a little while I will take my brother, Destiny. He’s the last. Even the Constantine is gone. After Destiny, then I take the universe itself. Do you know what will happen next?”
Lyra, who had once been prophesied to bring about the end of Destiny, found this interesting. “It will be the end, won’t it? Nothing will come after that.”
“That is true. It is the end of everything, and everyone.” Deedee was no longer smiling. “Almost.”
“What do you mean?”
“There is a new universe to come, Lyra. Just as there was one before this. It deserves its lifetime, just as this one did. And of course, when you have life, you must have…”
“Taxes?” Lyra asked.
“A new world like this one, you mean? With Authority, and spirits, and–”
“No. Well, maybe. But probably not.”
“What do you mean?”
“Each time the universe is reborn, the rules are a little different. They all last an eternity but—“ Deedee shrugged “—some eternities are more eternal than others. This was a fun one. We had warmth, and love, and friendship, and Dreams, and brave little girls.”
“But they’re not all like that. The rules that underlie the universe to come will be random. Perhaps there will be light, perhaps not. Without light…well, not much happens. I’ve tried to stack the deck a couple of times, before things get rolling, but it never works out very well. I’m about endings, not beginnings. So lately I just let it happen. If the new rules line up in just the right way, we might get some more little pockets of warmth in the great void, but…”
Deedee gave a sad little smile “…we probably won’t.”
“What, then? If not stars, and dreams, and…and life–what?”
“Usually nothing. The most common scenario is an even distribution of dust.” She glanced down at Lyra. “Not your sort of Dust. The boring kind. Most likely I’ll sit through an eternity of that. I have to be there, you see, even if no one else is. I have to be there for when there is an end.”
“Oh.” Lyra had gone a little paler. Now they looked almost like sisters. “I can’t imagine that’s much fun.”
“It’s not so bad. It’s boring, but it’s a lot less work. And, like I said, even the plainest of universes is entitled to its lifetime. But the sort of universe we’re in now is better.” She made a sour face. “That’s where the tear came from, if you must know. I’ll miss you. That’s why. I’ll miss all of you.”
“How many times have you done this?”
“That’s not really a meaningful question, Lyra. All of them.”
“Do you cry every time? Just the one tear?”
“No. Not every time. Only when there’s something that I’ll miss.”
“How often is that?”
Deedee pursed her lips. “Again, not a meaningful question. If I told you it was once in a million million universes, it wouldn’t be literally true, but…”
Lyra had been a teacher. She understood. “But it would get the idea across. I see.”
She thought about it. “Once in a million, million eternities, a single tear.”
“Something like that.”
“But your tears en’t like my tears, are they? Mine wipe away, but not yours. Yours are Endless.” Lyra reached up to the pale woman’s face. She stopped just short of touching the curlicue under her eye that might have been a tattoo, but wasn’t. “Once in a million million eternities, you cry a single tear. And each tear leaves a tiny stain. And…”
“They add up,” Deedee admitted, raising her own hand to the black trail under her eye. “Sometimes I cover it with makeup, but mostly I don’t bother.”
Lyra nodded, satisfied. “Thought so.”
“Is that why you came here? To ask me that?”
“Alright then. Now that that’s settled then we need to get you back to—“
“Wait!” Lyra said, speaking a bit more sharply than was strictly polite. “There’s one other thing. I also came to thank you.”
“Not in that way. Not with words. I mean, in that way, but not only in that way. Do you remember when you came for Will?”
Deedee thought about it. “I do. Again, it was a long time ago. He was very sick.”
“Yes. He was. I loved him, you know. Very much. More than anything.”
“It hurt me, to know that he was gone. At first I was angry. I hated you, so much. So much.”
“You always did have a bit of a temper.”
“But when I found out what had happened to him…I understood. It would have been bad, if he had kept on the way he was. He wouldn’t have gotten any better, would he?”
“No. Probably not.”
“No. And he wouldn’t have wanted to live that way.”
“And he’s in a better place now?”
“Lyra…you can ask, of course, but that isn’t for me to say.”
“Well…all the same. That’s why I’m here. I wanted to thank you, and…the only way I could think was to offer you the same thing you gave to Will.”
Deedee blinked. “I don’t think that’s—“
“There is a precedent, you know. I learned about your brother. How he came to a point where he had to change, and found he couldn’t. So you took him, and a child born from Dream assumed his aspect.”
“You do get around, don’t you?” Deedee pursed her lips. “What’s your point, Lyra? If someone was going to replace me, it would have be a child born from de—“
“We are all of us born from death,” Lyra said softly. “Every one. Have you forgotten so much?”
Deedee opened her mouth, shut it.
“You’ve done what you do for a long time,” Lyra said. “Whether it’s been too long is something only you could answer. But I wanted to offer you the chance to move on. I could take up the burden for you, if you like? For what you did for Will.” She held her hands out, palm up. “A friend of mine once taught me that you must always repay a debt, for good or ill. And this is the only way I could think of to thank you.”
Deedee opened her mouth, shut it. She spun then, turned to stand so that her back was to Lyra. Lyra couldn’t see her face, but the hitch in her shoulders was impossible to hide. But when Deedee spoke her voice was calm. “I can’t. It would be a paradox. I already took you, back in—“
“Paradox?” Lyra snorted. “Here? Now? I expect you’re right, of course, but don’t you think the universe could put up with it for another moment or so?”
Deedee considered this. “Perhaps.” Her tone was different now. She still spoke calmly, but there was something new in her voice, something rising. Hope? “You couldn’t. Even if—if–I wanted that, it wouldn’t be physically possible for you to—“
“Oh, I could,” Lyra said.
Pantalaimon came to her from out of the darkness. In his jaws he carried a small golden scythe. He scrambled on Lyra’s shoulder. Lyra took the scythe from him. “I’ve been studying. And not just me, either. No one universe had the technology, but I found a way to peek between them. I found the technique used to craft the subtle knife. That gave me the basics. Then I refined it a bit, copied bits from here and there, added the odd touch of my own.” She held the scythe out for Deedee to examine.
Deedee turned to face her. She looked Lyra’s scythe up and down. “Not bad,” she said. “Not terribly sophisticated, but…not bad. I used to have something very like that, once. I suppose you knew.”
“I don’t need it anymore, of course.” Deedee’s eyes were very black now.
“Of course not. But this one would get the job done. Don’t you think?”
Deedee considered the question for a long time. “Perhaps,” she said finally. “A chance to rest.”
“A chance to rest,” Lyra said. “Or you could send me back to my children. It’s your choice.” Lyra held out her hand.
Deedee reached down and took it.
From one of them, there was a sound of wings.
Predicted Winner: Lyra
NOTE: THIS MATCH ENDS ON Thursday, March 12, 2015, AT 11:59 PM, EST
Cage Match fans: We’re looking forward to hearing your responses! If possible, please abstain from including potential spoilers about the books in your comments (and if you need spoilers to make your case, start your comments with: “SPOILER ALERT!”)