Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer


  Retrieval One crept together, making slightly less noise than a silk spider. Kelp did a quick head count. Eleven. One short of a full complement. Four was probably wandering around the rose bushes, wondering why nobody was talking to him.

  Then Trouble noticed two things—one, a pair of black boots was sticking out of a shrub beside the door, and two, there was a massive human standing in the doorway. The figure was cradling a very nasty-looking gun in the crook of his arm.

  “Go silent,” whispered Kelp, and immediately eleven full-face visors slid down to seal in the sounds of his squad’s breathing and communications.

  “Now, nobody panic. I think I can trace the sequence of events here. Four is skulking around outside the door. The Mud Man opens it. Four gets a whack on the noggin and lands in the bushes. No problem. Our cover is intact. Repeat intact. So no itchy fingers, please. Grub . . . Sorry, Corporal Kelp, check Four’s vitals. The rest of you make a hole and keep it quiet.”

  The squad stepped back carefully, until they were standing on the manicured grassy verge. The figure before them was indeed impressive, without doubt the biggest human any of them had ever seen.

  “D’Arvit,” breathed Two.

  “Maintain radio silence, except in emergencies,” ordered Kelp. “Swearing is hardly an emergency.” Secretly, however, he concurred with the sentiment. This was one time he was glad to be shielded. That man looked as if he could squash half a dozen fairies in one massive fist.

  Grub returned to his slot. “Four is stable. Concussed, I’d guess. But otherwise okay. His shield’s off, though, so I stuffed him in the bushes.”

  “Well done, Corporal. Good thinking.”

  The last thing they needed was for Four’s boots to be spotted.

  The man moved, lumbering casually along the path. He may have glanced left or right, it was difficult to tell beneath the hood pulled over his eyes. Odd for a human to wear a hood on such a fine night.

  “Safety catches off,” ordered Trouble.

  He imagined his men rolling their eyes. Like they hadn’t had their safeties off for the last half an hour. Still, you had to go by the book, in case of a tribunal later on. There was a time when Retrieval blasted first and answered questions never. But not anymore. Now there was always some do-gooder civilian banging on about civil rights. Even for humans, if you can believe it.

  The man mountain stopped, right in the middle of the squad. If he had been able to see them, it would be the perfect tactical position. Their own firearms were virtually useless, as they would probably do more damage to each other than the human.

  Fortunately, the entire squad was invisible, with the exception of Four who was safely hidden in what appeared to be a rhododendron.

  “Buzz batons. Fire ’em up.”

  Just in case. No harm in being cautious.

  And when the LEP officers were switching weapons, right at that moment when their hands were fumbling with holsters, that’s when the Mud Man spoke.

  “Evening, gentlemen,” he said, sweeping back his hood.

  Funny that, thought Trouble. It was almost as if . . . Then he saw the makeshift goggles.

  “Cover!” he screamed. “Cover!”

  But it was too late. No option but to stand and fight. And that was no option at all.

  Butler could have taken them from the parapet. One at a time with the ivory hunter’s rifle. But that wasn’t the plan. This was all about making an impression. Sending a message. It was standard procedure with any police force in the world to send in the cannon fodder first before opening negotiations. It was almost expected that they would meet with resistance, and Butler was happy to oblige.

  He peeked out through the letter box and, oh happy coincidence, there was a pair of goggled eyes peeking right back at him. It was just too fortuitous to pass up.

  “Bedtime,” said Butler, heaving the door with a mighty shoulder. The fairy flew several feet before alighting in the shrubbery. Juliet would be devastated. She loved rhododendrons. One down. Several to go.

  Butler pulled up the peaked hood on his field jacket, stepping into the porch. There they were, spread out like a squadron of Action Men. If not for the array of very proficient-looking weaponry hanging from each belt, it would have been almost comical.

  Sliding his finger casually under the trigger guard, Butler strode into their midst. The bulky one at two o’clock was giving the orders. You could tell from the heads angled his way.

  The leader gave a command and the squad switched to close-quarters weapons. It made sense, they’d only cut themselves to pieces with firearms. Time for action.

  “Evening, gentlemen,” Butler said. He couldn’t help it, and it was worth it for that one moment of consternation. Then his gun was up and blazing.

  Captain Kelp was the first casualty, a titanium-tipped dart puncturing the neck of his suit. He went down sluggishly, as though the air had turned to water. Two more of the squad were dropped before they had any idea what was going on.

  It must be quite traumatic, thought Butler dispassionately, to lose an advantage that you’ve held for centuries.

  By now, the remains of Retrieval One had their buzz batons fired up and raised. But they made the mistake of hanging back, waiting for a command that was not forthcoming. This gave Butler an opportunity to take the fight to them. As if he needed another advantage.

  Even so, for a second the manservant hesitated. These beings were so small. Like children. Then Grub clipped him on the elbow with his buzz baton and a thousand volts spread across Butler’s chest. All sympathy for the little people vanished instantly.

  Butler grabbed the offending baton, swinging weapon and bearer like a set of bolas. Grub squealed as he was released, his newfound momentum carrying him directly into three of his comrades.

  Butler continued the swinging motion, driving punishing punches into the chests of two more fairies. Another clambered on to his back, stinging him repeatedly with the baton. Butler fell on him. Something cracked and the stinging stopped.

  Suddenly there was a barrel under his chin. One of Retrieval had managed to get his weapon cocked.

  “Freeze, Mud Boy,” droned a helmet-filtered voice. It was a serious-looking gun, liquid coolant bubbled along its length. “Just give me a reason.”

  Butler rolled his eyes. Different race, same macho clichés. He slapped the fairy open-handed. To the little man it must have been like the sky falling on his head.

  “That reason enough for you?”

  Butler scrambled to his feet. Fairy bodies were scattered around him in various stages of shock and unconsciousness. Scared definitely. Dead, probably not. Mission accomplished.

  One little guy was faking, though. You could tell by the way his tiny knees knocked together. Butler picked him up by the neck, finger and thumb easily meeting around the back.

  “Name?”

  “G-Grub . . . er, I mean Corporal Kelp.”

  “Well, Corporal, you tell your commander that the next time I see armed forces coming in here, they’ll be picked off by sniper fire. No darts either. Armor-piercing bullets.”

  “Yessir. Sniper fire. Got it. Seems fair.”

  “Good. You are, however, permitted to remove your injured.”

  “Most generous of you.”

  “But if I see so much as the twinkle of a weapon on any of the medics, I might be tempted to detonate a few of the mines I have planted in the grounds.”

  Grub swallowed, his pallor increasing behind the visor.

  “Unarmed medics. Crystal clear.”

  Butler set the fairy down, brushing his tunic with massive fingers.

  “Now. Final thing. Listening?”

  Furious nods.

  “I want a negotiator. Someone who can make decisions. Not some no-ranker who has to run off back to base after every demand. Understood?”

  “Fine. That is, I’m sure it will be fine. Unfortunately I’m one of those no-rankers. So, you see, I can’t actually guarantee it will be fine.
. . .”

  Butler was sorely tempted to drop-kick this little fellow back to his camp.

  “Very well. I understand. Just . . . shut up!”

  Grub almost agreed, then he clamped his mouth shut and nodded.

  “Good. Now, before you go, collect all weapons and helmets and make a little pile right there.”

  Grub took a deep breath. Ah well, may as well go out a hero.

  “I can’t do that.”

  “Oh, really? And why not?”

  Grub drew himself up to his full height. “An LEP officer never relinquishes his weapon.”

  Butler nodded. “Fair enough. Thought I’d ask. Off you go then.”

  Hardly able to believe his luck, Grub scurried back toward the command tower. He was the last fairy standing. Trouble was snoring in the gravel but he, Grub Kelp, had faced down the Mud Monster. Wait until Mommy heard about this.

  Holly sat on the edge of her bed, fingers curled around the metal base. She lifted slowly, taking the weight on her arms. The strain threatened to pop her elbows from their sockets. She held it for a second, and then slammed the frame into the concrete. A satisfying cloud of dust and splinters swirled around her knees.

  “Good,” she grunted.

  Holly eyed the camera. Doubtless they were watching her. No time to waste. She flexed her fingers, repeating the maneuver again and again, until the steel base left deep welts in her finger joints. With each impact more and more splinters popped from the fresh floor.

  After several moments, the cell door burst open and Juliet fell into the room.

  “What are you doing?” she panted. “Trying to knock the house down?”

  “I’m hungry!” shouted Holly. “And I’m fed up of waving at that stupid camera. Don’t you feed your prisoners around here? I want some food!”

  Juliet’s fingers curled into a fist. Artemis had warned her to be civil, but there was a limit.

  “No need to get your pant . . . or whatever in a twist. So what do you fairies eat?”

  “Got any dolphin?” Holly asked sarcastically.

  Juliet shuddered. “No, I don’t, you beast!”

  “Fruit then. Or vegetables. Make sure they’re washed. I don’t want any of your chemical poisons in my blood.”

  “Ha ha, what a riot you are. Don’t worry, all our produce is grown naturally.” Juliet paused on her way to the door. “And don’t you go forgetting the rules. No trying to escape from the house. And there’s no need to break up the furniture either. Don’t make me demonstrate my full nelson.”

  As soon as Juliet’s footsteps had faded, Holly began smashing the bed into the concrete. That was the thing about fairy bonds. The instructions had to be given eye to eye, and they had to be very precise. Just saying there was no need to do a thing wasn’t specifically forbidding an elf to do it. And another thing, Holly had no intention of escaping from the house. That wasn’t to say that she didn’t mean to get out of her cell.

  Artemis had added yet another monitor to the bank. This one was linked to a camera in Angeline Fowl’s attic room. He spared a moment to check on his mother. Sometimes it bothered him having a camera in her room; it seemed almost like spying. But it was for her own good. There was always the danger that she could hurt herself. At the moment she was sleeping peacefully, having swallowed the sleeping pill that Juliet had left on her tray. All part of the plan. A vital part.

  Butler entered the control room. He was clutching a fistful of fairy hardware and rubbing his neck.

  “Tricky little blighters.”

  Artemis looked up from the monitor bank.

  “Any problems?”

  “Nothing major. These little batons pack quite a punch, though. How’s our prisoner?”

  “Fine. Juliet is getting her something to eat. I’m afraid Captain Short is going a bit stir-crazy.”

  On the screen, Holly was smashing her cot into the concrete.

  “It’s understandable,” noted the manservant. “Imagine her frustration. It’s not as if she can tunnel her way out.”

  Artemis smiled.“No. The entire estate is built on a bed of limestone. Not even a dwarf could tunnel his way out of here. Or in.”

  Wrong, as it happened. Dead wrong. A landmark moment for Artemis Fowl.

  The LEP had procedures for emergencies like this one. Admittedly these did not include the Retrieval Squad getting hammered by a lone enemy. Still, that just made the next step all the more urgent, especially with the faintest of orange tinges creeping into the sky.

  “Are we good to go?” roared Root into his mike, as though it wasn’t whisper-sensitive.

  Good to go, thought Foaly, busy wiring the last dish on a watchtower. These military types and their catchphrases. Good to go, Lock and load, I don’t know but I’ve been told. So insecure.

  Aloud he said, “No need to shout, Commander. These headsets could pick up a spider scratching in Madagascar.”

  “And is there a spider scratching in Madagascar?”

  “Well . . . I don’t know. They can’t really—”

  “Well, stop changing the subject, Foaly, and answer the question!”

  The centaur scowled. The commander took everything so literally. He plugged the dish’s modem lead into his laptop.

  “Okay. We’re . . . good to go.”

  “About time, too. Right, flip the switch.”

  For the third time in as many moments, Foaly gritted his horsey teeth. He was indeed the stereotypical unappreciated genius. Flick the switch, if you don’t mind. Root didn’t have the cranial capacity to appreciate what he was trying to do here.

  Stopping time wasn’t just a matter of pressing the on button, there was a series of delicate procedures that had to be performed with utmost precision. Otherwise the stop zone could end up as just so much ash and radioactive slop.

  While it was true that fairies had been stopping time for millennia, these days, with satellite communication and the Internet, humans were liable to notice if a zone just dropped out of time for a couple of hours. There was an age when you could throw a blanket stoppage over a whole country and the Mud People would simply think the gods were angry. But not anymore. Nowadays the humans had instruments for measuring anything, so if there was any time-stopping to be done, it had better be fine-tuned and precise.

  In the old days, five elfin warlocks would form a pentagram around the target and spread a magic shield over it, temporarily stopping time inside the enchanted enclosure.

  This was fine as far as it went, provided the warlocks didn’t have to use the bathroom. Many a siege was lost because an elf had one glass of wine too many. Warlocks tire quickly too, and their arms get sore. On a good day, you had maybe an hour and a half, which was hardly worth the trouble in the first place.

  It was Foaly’s idea to mechanize the whole procedure. He had the warlocks do their thing into lithium batteries, and then set up a network of receiver dishes around the designated area. Sounds simple? Well, it wasn’t. But there were definite advantages. For one thing, there were no more power surges. Batteries didn’t try to show off to each other. You could calculate exactly how many power cells were needed, and sieges could be extended for up to eight hours.

  As it happened, the Fowl estate was the perfect location for a time-stop—isolated with a definite boundary. It even had elevated towers for the dishes, for heaven’s sake. It was almost as if Artemis Fowl wanted it to be time-stopped . . . Foaly’s finger hesitated over the button. Could it be possible? After all, the human youth had been one step ahead throughout this whole affair.

  “Commander?”

  “Are we on-line yet?”

  “Not exactly. There’s something—”

  Root’s reaction nearly blew out the woofers in Foaly’s earpiece.

  “No, Foaly! There isn’t something! None of your bright ideas, thank you very much. Captain Short’s life is in danger, so push the button before I climb that tower and push it with your face!”

  “Touchy,” muttered Foaly,
and pushed the button.

  Lieutenant Cudgeon checked his moonometer.

  “You have eight hours.”

  “I know how much time I have,” growled Root. “And stop following me. Don’t you have work to do?”

  “Actually, now that you mention it, I have a bio-bomb to arm.”

  Root rounded on him. “Don’t annoy me, Lieutenant.

  Having you make comments at every turn is not improving my concentration. Just do whatever it is you feel you have to do. But be prepared to back it up at tribunal. If this one goes wrong, heads are going to roll.”

  “Indeed,” muttered Cudgeon under his breath. “But mine is not going to be one of them.”

  Root checked the sky. A shimmering azure field had descended over the Fowl estate. Good. They were in limbo. Outside the walls, life continued at an exaggerated pace, but if anyone were to somehow gain access to the manor in spite of the fortified walls and high gate, they would find it deserted, all occupants trapped in the past.

  So for the next eight hours, it would be twilight on the Fowl estate. After that, Root could not guarantee Holly’s safety. Given the gravity of the situation, it was more than likely that Cudgeon would get the go-ahead to bio-bomb the whole place. Root had seen a blue rinse before. No living thing escaped, not even the rats.

  Root caught up with Foaly at the base of the north tower. The centaur had parked a shuttle by the three-foot-thick wall. Already the work area was a mess of tangled wires and pulsating fiber optics.

  “Foaly? Are you in here?”

  The centaur’s foil-capped head emerged from the belly of a disemboweled hard drive.

  “Over here, Commander. You’ve come to push a button with my face, I presume.”

  Root almost laughed. “Don’t tell me you’re looking for an apology, Foaly. I’ve already used my quota for today. And that was to a lifelong friend.”

  “Cudgeon? Forgive me, Commander, but I wouldn’t waste my apologies on the lieutenant. He won’t be wasting any on you when he stabs you in the back.”

  “You’re wrong about him. Cudgeon is a good officer. A bit eager, certainly, but he’ll do the right thing when the time comes.”

 
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