The Girl in the Spider's Web (Millennium series Book 4) (11 page)

It was so typical of her snobbish background to judge people by their names. She might have had more cause for concern if they had a posh name like Gyllentofs or something. Then they could have been irresponsible layabouts.
I’m sure this’ll be fine
, she thought.

Then she got back to work. It was going to be a long night.

CHAPTER 9

20.xi – 21.xi, Night

Salander woke up lying straight across the kingsize double bed and realized that she had been dreaming about her father. A feeling of menace swept over her like a cloak. But then she remembered the evening before and concluded that it could as easily be a chemical reaction in her body. She had a terrible hangover. She got up on wobbly legs and went into the large bathroom – with the jacuzzi and the marble and all the idiotic luxuries – to be sick. But nothing happened and she just sank to the floor, breathing heavily.

Then she stood up and looked at herself in the mirror, which was not especially reassuring either. Her eyes were red. On the other hand it was not long after midnight. She must have slept for a few hours only. She took a glass from the bathroom cupboard and filled it with water. But at the same moment the details of her dream came flooding back and she crushed the glass in her hand. Blood dripped to the floor, and she swore and realized that she was unlikely to be going back to sleep.

Should she try to crack the encrypted N.S.A. file she had downloaded? No, that would be pointless, at least for now. Instead she wound a towel around her hand and took from her bookshelves a new study by Princeton physicist Julie Tammet, which described how a big star collapses into a black hole. She lay down on the sofa by the windows overlooking Slussen and Riddarfjärden.

As she began to read she felt a little better. Blood from the towel did seep onto the pages and her head would not stop hurting, but she became more and more engrossed in the book, every now and then making a note in the margin. None of it was new to her. She knew better than most that a star stays alive as a result of two opposing actions, the fusion reactions at its core forcing it outwards and the gravitational pull keeping it together. She saw it as a balancing act, a tug of war from which a victor eventually emerges, once the fuel for the reactions runs out and the explosions weaken.

Once gravity gains the upper hand, the celestial body shrinks like a punctured balloon and becomes smaller and smaller. In this way, a star can vanish into nothing. Salander liked black holes. She felt an affinity with them.

Yet, like Julie Tammet, she was not interested in black holes
per se
, but rather in the process which creates them. Salander was convinced that if only she could describe that process she would be able to draw together the two irreconcilable languages of the universe, quantum physics and the theory of relativity. But it was no doubt beyond her capabilities, just like the bloody encryption, and involuntarily she began again to think about her father.

When she was a child, that revolting specimen had raped her mother over and over again, right up until the time her mother received injuries from which she would never recover. Salander herself, then twelve, hit back with a horrific force. At the time she could have no idea that her father was an important spy who had defected from the G.R.U., the Soviet military intelligence service, nor could she know that a special department within the Swedish Security Police, referred to as the Section, was protecting him at any cost. Yet even then she understood that there was some mystery surrounding the man, a darkness no-one was allowed to approach in any way. That even applied to so simple a thing as his name.

Zala, or Alexander Zalachenko to be more precise. Other fathers could be reported to the social services and the police. But Zala had forces behind him which were above all that.

It was this and one other thing which for her were true black holes.

The alarm went off at 1.18 and Balder woke with a start. Was there someone in the house? He felt an inexplicable fear and reached across the bed. August was lying beside him. The boy must have crept in as usual, and now he whimpered with worry, as if the wailing of the siren had made its way into his dreams.
My little boy
, Balder thought. Then he stiffened. Were those footsteps?

No, he must be imagining things. All you could hear was the alarm. He cast a worried look towards the storm beyond the windows. It seemed to have grown worse. The sea was beating against the jetty and the shore. The windowpanes shook and bowed. Could the alarm have been set off by a gust of wind? Perhaps it was as simple as that.

He still had to check to see if that protection Gabriella Grane was organizing had arrived at last. Two men from the regular police were supposed to have been there hours ago. It was a farce. They had been delayed by the storm and by a series of conflicting orders. It was either one thing or another, and he agreed with Grane, it seemed hopelessly incompetent.

He would have to deal with that in due course. Now he had to make a call. But August was beginning to wake up, and a hysterical child banging his body against the headboard was the last thing Balder needed right now. The earplugs, it occurred to him, those old green earplugs he had bought at Frankfurt airport.

He took them from the bedside table and gently pushed them into his son’s ears. Then he tucked him in and kissed him on the cheek and stroked his curly, tousled hair, straightened the collar on the boy’s pyjamas and made sure that his head was resting comfortably on the pillow. Balder was frightened and should have been in a hurry, or had every reason to be. Yet he took his time and fussed over his son. Perhaps it was a sentimental moment in the midst of a crisis. Or he wanted to put off confronting whatever awaited him out there. For a moment he wished he did have a weapon. Not that he would have known how to use it.

He was a programmer, for heaven’s sake, who had developed some paternal instinct in his old age, that was all. He should never have got into this mess. To hell with Solifon and the N.S.A. and all criminal gangs! But now he had to get a grip. With stealthy, uncertain steps he went into the hallway, and before doing anything else, before even looking out at the road, he turned off the alarm. The racket had set his nerves on edge and in the sudden silence which followed he stood stock still. Then his mobile rang and even though it startled him he was grateful for the distraction.

“Yes,” he said.

“Hello, this is Jonas Anderberg, I’m on duty tonight at Milton Security. Is everything alright?”

“What, well … I think so. My alarm went off.”

“I know that and, according to our instructions, when this happens you’re supposed to go down to a special room in the cellar and lock the door. Are you down there?”

“Yes,” he lied.

“Good, very good. Do you know what’s happened?”

“No idea. The alarm woke me up. I have no clue what set it off. Could it have been the storm?”

“Unlikely … One moment please!”

Anderberg’s voice sounded a bit unfocused.

“What is it?” Balder said nervously.

“It seems …”

“For God’s sake, tell me what’s going on.”

“Sorry, just take it easy, take it easy … I’m going through the picture sequence from your cameras, and it does look as if …”

“As if what?”

“As if you’ve got a visitor. A man, well, you can see for yourself later, a lanky man with dark glasses and a cap has been prowling around your property. He’s been there twice, as far as I can see, but as I said … I’ve only just noticed it now. I’d have to look at it more closely to be able to say more.”

“What sort of person is it?”

“Well, it’s hard to say.”

Anderberg seemed to be studying the picture sequences again.

“But maybe … I don’t know … no, it’s too soon to be speculating,” he said.

“Go on, please go on. I need something specific. It would make me feel better.”

“O.K., in that case there’s at least one reassuring thing I can tell you.”

“And what’s that?”

“His walk. The man walks like a junkie – like a guy who’s just taken a load of speed. There’s something cocky and stilted about the way he moves, and of course that could be a sign that he’s just an ordinary druggie and petty thief. On the other hand …”

“Yes?”

“He’s done a very good job of hiding his face and then …”

Anderberg fell silent again.

“Keep going!”

“One moment.”

“You’re making me nervous, you know that?”

“Don’t mean to. But you know …”

Balder froze. The sound of a car engine could be heard from his garage drive.

“… you’re getting a visitor.”

“What should I do?”

“Stay where you are.”

“O.K.,” Balder said, more or less paralysed. But he was not where Anderberg thought he was.

When the telephone rang at 1.58, Blomkvist was still awake. But his mobile was in the pocket of his jeans on the floor and he did not manage to answer it in time. In any case the call was from a withheld number, so he swore and crawled back into bed and closed his eyes.

He could really do without another sleepless night. Ever since Berger had fallen asleep a little before midnight, he had been tossing and turning and thinking about his life. Not much of it felt right, not even his relationship to Berger. He had loved her for many years, and there was every reason to think that she felt the same way about him. But it was no longer as simple as once it had been. Perhaps Blomkvist had started to feel some sympathy for Greger. Greger Beckman was Erika’s husband, an artist, and he could not reasonably be accused of being grudging or small-minded. On the contrary, when Greger had realized that Erika would never get over Blomkvist or even be able to stop herself from tearing his clothes off every now and then, he had not lost his temper. He had made a deal:

“You can be with him – just so long as you always come back to me.” And that’s how it became.

They set up an unconventional arrangement, with Berger mostly sleeping at home with her husband in Saltsjöbaden, but sometimes here with Blomkvist at Bellmansgatan. Over the years Blomkvist had thought that it really was an ideal solution, one which many couples who lived under the dictatorship of monogamy ought to have adopted. Every time Berger said, “I love my husband more when I can also be with you,” or when at some cocktail party Beckman put his arm around him in a brotherly embrace, Blomkvist had thanked his lucky stars for the arrangement.

Yet he had lately begun to have doubts, perhaps because he had had more time to think and it had occurred to him that something that is called an agreement is not necessarily always that.

On the contrary, one party might advance their self-interest under the guise of a common decision, and in the long run it often becomes clear that someone is suffering, despite assurances to the contrary. Berger’s call to her husband that evening had evidently not been well received. Who knows? Maybe Beckman was also lying awake right now.

Blomkvist tried to put it out of his mind. For a little while he even tried daydreaming. But that did not help much, and in the end he got up, determined to do something more useful. Why not do some reading on industrial espionage or, better still, sketch out an alternative funding plan for
Millennium
? He got dressed, sat down at his computer and checked his inbox.

Most of it was rubbish as usual, even if some of the emails did give him a bit of a boost. There were shouts of encouragement from Malm and Eriksson, also from Andrei Zander and Harriet Vanger in the light of the coming battle with Serner, and he answered them with more of a fighting spirit than he actually felt. After that he checked Salander’s document, without expecting to find anything there. But then he lit up. She had answered. For the first time in ages she had given a sign of life:

And what happens, Blomkvist, if we create a machine which is a little bit cleverer than we are?>

Blomkvist smiled and thought of the last time they had met, at Kaffebar on St Paulsgatan. It took a while before he noticed that her message contained two questions, the first one a friendly little jibe which perhaps regrettably contained a grain of truth. What he had written in the magazine lately had lacked intelligence and genuine newsworthiness. Like so many journalists, he had just been plugging away, occasionally trotting out clichés. But that’s how it was for the moment and he was much keener to ponder Salander’s second question, her riddle, not so much because in itself it interested him especially, but because he wanted to think of some clever response.

If we create a machine that is cleverer than we ourselves are
, he thought,
what happens then
? He went to the kitchen, opened a bottle of Ramlösa mineral water and sat at the kitchen table. Downstairs Fru Gerner was coughing rather painfully and in the distance, amid the hubbub of the city, an ambulance wailed away in the storm. Well, he mused, then we get a machine that can do all the clever things which we ourselves can do, plus a little bit more, for example … He laughed out loud and understood the point of the question. A machine like that could go on to produce something more intelligent than itself in turn, and then what happens?

The same would be true of the next machine and the next one and the next one, and soon the very source of it all, man himself, would be no more interesting to the latest computer than a lab rat. There would be an explosion of intelligence beyond all control, as in the Matrix films. Blomkvist smiled and went back to his computer and wrote:


After that he sat looking out through the window, in so far as one could see anything beyond the swirling snow. Every now and then he looked through the open door at Berger, who was sleeping soundly and who knew nothing about machines more intelligent than human beings, or was not the least bit concerned about that right now.

He thought he heard his mobile give a ping, and sure enough he had a new voicemail. That worried him, he was not really sure why. Apart from ex-girlfriends who call when they’re drunk and want to have sex, you generally only get bad news at night. The voice on the message sounded harried:

My name is Frans Balder. I know it’s rude to call this late. I apologize for that. But my situation has become somewhat critical, at least that’s how I see it. I’ve just discovered that you were looking for me, which is really a strange coincidence. There are a few things I’ve been wanting to tell you about for some time now, I think they might interest you. I’d be grateful if you could get in touch as soon as possible. I have a feeling that this might be a bit urgent.

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