Payne discovered what he called Shadows, particles of consciousness known as Dust in Lyra's world. He found that the particles first appeared on the skulls of humans around thirty- to forty-thousand years ago, suggesting that this was when the first modern humans appeared.
After making this discovery, he travelled to Geneva for a job interview, at which he was successful, being offered the job. On returning, he met with his colleague, Mary Malone, who told him about her meeting with Lyra Silvertongue. After Charles Latrom visited their lab and offered them funding in exchange for being able to control the direction of research, Payne argued with Malone over whether to accept his proposition. After Malone left the lab, Payne immediately called Latrom.