Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer


  Root didn’t comment. He was watching the screen. This must be a movie. It couldn’t be real life.

  “So what’s going on in there? Anything interesting?”

  Root tried to answer, but his soldier’s vocabulary just didn’t have the superlatives.

  “What? What is it?”

  The commander made an attempt. “It’s . . . the human . . . I’ve never . . . Oh, forget it, Foaly. You’re going to have to see this for yourself.”

  * * *

  Holly watched the entire episode through a gap in the tapestry folds. If she hadn’t seen it, she wouldn’t have believed it. In fact, it wasn’t until she’d reviewed the video for her report that she was certain the whole thing wasn’t a hallucination brought on by a near-death experience. As it was, the video sequence became something of a legend, initially doing the rounds on the Amateur Home Movies cable shows and ending up on the LEP Academy Hand-to-Hand curriculum.

  The human, Butler, was strapping on a medieval suit of armor. Incredible as it seemed, he apparently intended going toe-to-toe with the troll. Holly tried to warn him, tried to make some sound, but the magic hadn’t yet reinflated her crushed lungs.

  Butler closed his visor, hefting a vicious mace.

  “Now,” he grunted through the grille. “I’ll show you what happens when someone lays a hand on my sister.”

  The human twirled the mace as though it were a cheerleader’s baton, ramming it home between the troll’s shoulder blades. A blow like that, while not fatal, certainly distracted the troll from its intended victim.

  Butler planted his foot just above the creature’s haunches and tugged the weapon free. It relinquished its grip with a sickly sucking sound. He skipped backward, settling into a defensive stance.

  The troll rounded on him, all ten talons sliding out to their full extent. Drops of venom glistened from the tip of each tusk. Playtime was over. But there would be no lightning strike this time. The beast was wary, it had been hurt. This latest attacker would be afforded the same respect as another male of the species. As far as the troll was concerned, his territory was being encroached on. And there was only one way of solving a dispute of this nature. The same way that trolls solved every dispute. . . .

  “I must warn you,” said Butler, straight-faced. “I am armed and prepared to use deadly force if necessary.”

  Holly would have groaned if she could. Banter! The human was trying to engage a troll in macho repartee! Then Captain Short realized her mistake. The words weren’t important, it was the tone he employed. Calm, soothing. Like a trainer with a spooked unicorn.

  “Step away from the female. Easy, now.”

  The troll ballooned its cheeks and howled. Scare tactics. Testing the waters. Butler didn’t flinch.

  “Yeah, yeah. Real scary. Now just back out of the door and I won’t have to cut you into little pieces.”

  The troll snorted, miffed by this reaction. Generally his roar sent whatever creature was facing it scurrying down the tunnel.

  “One step at a time. Nice and slow. Easy there, big fellow.”

  You could almost see it in the troll’s eyes. A flicker of uncertainty. Maybe this human was . . .

  And that was when Butler struck. He danced under the tusks, hammering home a devastating uppercut with his medieval weapon. The troll staggered backward, talons flailing wildly. But it was too late—Butler had stepped out of reach, scooting across to the other side of the corridor.

  The troll lumbered after him, spitting dislodged teeth from pulped gums. Butler sank to his knees, sliding and turning, the polished floor bearing him like an ice-skater. He ducked and pirouetted, facing his pursuer.

  “Guess what I found?” he said, raising the Sig Sauer.

  No chest shots this time. Butler laid in the rest of the automatic’s clip in a ten-centimeter diameter between the troll’s eyes. Unfortunately for Butler, due to millennia spent butting each other, trolls have developed a thick ridge of bone covering their brows. So his textbook spread failed to penetrate the skull, in spite of the Teflon-coated load.

  However, ten Devastator slugs can’t be ignored by any creature on the planet, and the troll was no exception. The bullets beat a sledgehammer tattoo on its cranium, causing instant concussion. The animal staggered backward, slapping at its own forehead. Butler was after it in a heartbeat, pinning one shaggy foot beneath the mace spikes.

  The troll was concussed, blinded by blood, and lame. A normal person would feel a shard of remorse, but not Butler. He’d seen too many men gored by injured animals.

  Now was the dangerous time. It was no time for mercy, it was time to terminate with extreme prejudice.

  Holly could only watch helplessly as the human took careful aim and delivered a series of crippling blows to the stricken creature. First he took out the tendons, bringing the troll to its knees, then he abandoned the mace and went to work with gauntleted hands, perhaps deadlier than the mace had been. The unfortunate troll fought back pathetically, even managing to land a few glancing blows. But they failed to penetrate the antique armor. Meanwhile Butler toiled like a surgeon. Working on the assumption that the troll and human physiques were basically the same, he rained blow after blow on the dumb creature, reducing it to a heap of quivering fur in so many seconds. It was pitiful to watch. And the manservant wasn’t finished yet. He stripped off the bloodied gauntlets, loading a fresh clip into the handgun.

  “Let’s see how much bone you have under your chin.”

  “No,” gasped Holly, with the first breath in her body. “Don’t.”

  Butler ignored her, jamming the barrel beneath the troll’s jaw.

  “Don’t do it. . . . You owe me.”

  Butler paused. Juliet was alive, it was true. Confused certainly, but alive. He thumbed the hammer on his pistol. Every brain cell in his head screamed for him to pull the trigger. But Juliet was alive.

  “You owe me, human.” Butler sighed. He’d regret this later. “Very well, Captain. The beast lives to fight another day. Lucky for him, I’m in a good mood.” Holly made a noise. It was somewhere between a whimper and a chuckle. “Now let’s get rid of our hairy friend.” Butler rolled the unconscious troll on to an armored

  trolley, dragging it to the devastated doorway. With a huge heave, he jettisoned the lot into the suspended night. “And don’t come back,” he shouted.

  “Amazing,” said Root. “Tell me about it,” agreed Foaly.

  CHAPTER 9

  ACE IN THE HOLE

  Artemis tried the doorknob and got a scorched palm for his trouble. Sealed. The fairy must have blasted it with her weapon. Very astute. One less variable in the equation. It was exactly what he himself would have done.

  Artemis did not waste any time attempting to force open the door. It was reinforced steel, and he was twelve. You didn’t have to be a genius to figure it out, even though he was. Instead the Fowl heir apparent crossed to the monitor wall and followed developments from there.

  He knew immediately what the LEP were up to—send in the troll to secure a cry for help, interpret it as an invitation, and next thing you know a brigade of goblin storm troopers were taking the manor. Clever. And unanticipated. It was the second time he’d underestimated his opponents. One way or another, there wouldn’t be a third.

  As the drama below unfolded on the monitors, Artemis’s emotions jumped from terror to pride. Butler had done it. Defeated the troll, and without a single plea for aid passing his lips. Watching the display, Artemis appreciated fully, perhaps for the first time, the service provided by the Butler family.

  Artemis activated the tri-band radio, broadcasting on revolving frequencies.

  “Commander Root, you are monitoring all channels I presume. . . .”

  For a few moments nothing but white noise emanated from the micro speakers, then Artemis heard the sharp click of a mike button.

  “I hear you, human. What can I do for you?”

  “Is that the commander?”

  A noise f
iltered through the black gauze. It sounded like a whinny.

  “No. This is not the commander. This is Foaly, the centaur. Is that the kidnapping lowlife human?”

  It took Artemis a moment to process the fact that he’d been insulted.

  “Mister . . . ah . . . Foaly. You have obviously not studied your psych texts. It is not wise to antagonize the hostage-taker. I may be unstable.”

  “May be unstable? There’s no may about it. Not that it matters. Soon you’ll be no more than a cloud of radioactive molecules.”

  Artemis chuckled. “That’s where you are mistaken, my quadruped friend. By the time that bio-bomb is detonated, I will be long gone from this time-stop.”

  It was Foaly’s turn to chuckle. “You’re bluffing, human. If there was a way to escape the field, I would have found it. I think you’re talking through your—”

  Thankfully it was at that moment Root took over at the microphone.

  “Fowl? This is Commander Root. What do you want?”

  “I would just like to inform you, Commander, that in spite of your attempted betrayal, I am still willing to negotiate.”

  “That troll had nothing to do with me,” protested Root. “It was done against my wishes.”

  “The fact is that it was done, and by the LEP. Whatever trust we had is gone. So here is my ultimatum. You have thirty minutes to send in the gold, or else I will refuse to release Captain Short. Furthermore, I will not take her with me when I leave the time-field, leaving her to be disintegrated by the bio-bomb.”

  “Don’t be a fool, human. You’re deluding yourself. Mud technology is aeons behind ours. There is no way to escape the time-field.”

  Artemis leaned in close to the mike, smiling his wolfish smile.

  “There’s only one way to find out, Root. Are you willing to bet Captain Short’s life on your hunch?”

  Root’s hesitation was highlighted by the hiss of interference. His reply, when it came, was tinged with just the right note of defeat.

  “No,” he sighed. “I’m not. You’ll have your gold, Fowl. A ton. Twenty-four carat.”

  Artemis smirked. Quite the actor, our Commander Root.

  “Thirty minutes, Commander. Count the seconds if your clock’s stopped. I’m waiting. But not for long.”

  Artemis terminated the contact, settling back in the swivel chair. It would seem as though the bait had been taken. No doubt the LEP analysts had discovered his accidental invitation. The fairies would pay up because they believed the gold would be theirs again as soon as he was dead. Vaporized by the bio-bomb. Which, of course, he wouldn’t be. In theory.

  Butler put three rounds into the door frame. The door itself was steel and would have sent the Devastator slugs ricocheting straight back at him. But the frame was the original porous stone used to build the manor. It crumbled like chalk. A very basic security flaw, and one that would have to be remedied once this business was over.

  Master Artemis was waiting calmly in his chair by the monitor bank.

  “Nice work, Butler.”

  “Thank you, Artemis. We were in trouble for a moment there. If it hadn’t been for the captain . . .”

  Artemis nodded. “Yes. I saw. Healing, one of the fairy arts. I wonder why she did it.”

  “I wonder too,” said Butler softly. “We certainly didn’t deserve it.”

  Artemis glanced up sharply. “Keep the faith, old friend. The end is in sight.”

  Butler nodded; he even attempted a smile. But even though there were plenty of teeth in the grin, there was no heart.

  “In less than an hour, Captain Short will be back with her people and we will have sufficient funds to relaunch some of our more tasteful enterprises.”

  “I know. It’s just . . .”

  Artemis didn’t have to ask. He knew exactly what Butler was feeling. The fairy had saved both their lives and yet he insisted on holding her to ransom. To a man of honor like Butler, this was almost more than he could bear.

  “The negotiations are over. One way or another she will be returned to her kind. No harm will befall Captain Short. You have my word.”

  “And Juliet?”

  “Yes?”

  “Is there any danger to my sister?”

  “No. No danger.”

  “The fairies are just going to give us this gold and walk away?”

  Artemis snorted gently. “No, not exactly. They’re going to bio-bomb Fowl Manor the second Captain Short is clear.”

  Butler took a breath to speak, but hesitated. Obviously there was more to the plan. Master Fowl would tell him when he needed to know. So instead of quizzing his employer, he made a simple statement.

  “I trust you, Artemis.”

  “Yes,” replied the boy, the weight of that trust etched on his brow. “I know.”

  Cudgeon was doing what politicians did best: trying to duck responsibility.

  “Your officer helped the humans,” he blurted, mustering as much indignation as possible. “The entire operation was proceeding exactly as planned, until your female attacked our deputy.”

  “Deputy?” chortled Foaly. “Now the troll’s a deputy.”

  “Yes. He is. And that human made mincemeat of him. This entire situation could be wrapped up if it wasn’t for your department’s incompetence.”

  Ordinarily, Root would have blown his top at this point, but he knew that Cudgeon was grasping at straws, desperately trying to save his career. So the commander just smiled.

  “Hey, Foaly?”

  “Yes, Commander?”

  “Did we get the troll assault on disk?”

  The centaur heaved a dramatic sigh. “No, sir, we ran out of disks just before the troll went in.”

  “What a pity.”

  “A real shame.”

  “Those disks could have been invaluable to Acting Commander Cudgeon at his hearing.”

  Cudgeon’s cool went out the window. “Give me those disks, Julius! I know they’re in there! This is blatant obstruction.”

  “You’re the only one guilty of obstruction around here, Cudgeon. Using this affair to further your own career.”

  Cudgeon’s face took on a hue to match Root’s own. The situation was slipping away from him and he knew it. Even Chix Verbil and the other sprites were sidling out from behind their leader.

  “I am still in charge here, Julius, so hand over those disks or I will have you detained.”

  “Oh, really? You and whose army?”

  For a second Cudgeon’s face glowed with the old pomposity. It evaporated the moment he noticed the conspicuous lack of officers at his shoulders.

  “That’s right,” snickered Foaly. “You ain’t Acting Commander any more. The call came through from below. You’ve got an appointment with the Council, and I don’t think it’s to offer you a seat.”

  It was probably Foaly’s grin that drove Cudgeon over the edge.

  “Give me those disks!” he roared, pinning Foaly to the operation’s shuttle.

  Root was tempted to let them wrestle for a while, but now wasn’t the time to indulge himself.

  “Naughty naughty,” he said, pointing his index finger at Cudgeon. “No one beats Foaly but me.”

  Foaly paled. “Careful with that finger. You’re still wearing the—”

  Root’s thumb accidentally brushed his knuckle, opening a tiny gas valve. The released gas propelled a tranquilized dart through the latex fingertip and straight into Cudgeon’s neck. The Acting Commander, soon to be Private, sank like a stone.

  Foaly rubbed his neck. “Nice shot, Commander.”

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Total accident. I forgot all about the fake finger. There are several precedents, I believe.”

  “Oh, absolutely. Unfortunately Cudgeon will be unconscious for several hours. By the time he awakens, all the excitement will be over.”

  “Shame.” Root allowed himself a fleeting grin, then it was back to business. “Is the gold here?”

  “Yep, they just in
serted it.”

  “Good.” He called to Cudgeon’s sheepish troops. “Get it loaded on a hovertrolley, and send it in. Any trouble and I’ll feed you your wings. Understood?”

  No one actually replied, but it was understood. No doubt about it.

  “Good. Now hop to it.”

  Root disappeared into the operation’s shuttle, Foaly clopping behind him. The Commander shut the door firmly.

  “Is it armed?”

  The centaur flicked a few important-looking switches on the main console.

  “It is now.”

  “I want it launched as soon as possible.” He glanced through the laserproof refractor glass. “We’re down to minutes here. I see sunlight poking through.”

  Foaly bent to his keyboard in earnest. “The magic is breaking up. In fifteen minutes we’re going to be in the middle of overground daytime. The neutrino streams are losing their integrity.”

  “I see,” said Root, which was basically a lie again. “Okay, I don’t see. But I do get the fifteen minutes bit. That gives you ten minutes to get Captain Short out of there. After that we’re going to be sitting ducks for the entire human race.”

  Foaly activated yet another camera. This one was linked to the hovertrolley. He ran a finger experimentally across a trackpad. The trolley shot forward, almost decapitating Chix Verbil.

  “Nice driving,” muttered Root. “Will it get up the steps?”

  Foaly didn’t even look up from his computers.

  “Automatic clearance compensator. A five-foot collar. No problems.”

  Root speared him with a glare. “You do that just to annoy me, don’t you?”

  Foaly shrugged his shoulders. “I might.”

  “Yes, well, count yourself lucky my other fingers aren’t loaded. Get my meaning?”

  “Yessir.”

  “Good. Now let’s bring Captain Short home.”

  Holly hovered beneath the portico. Orange shards of light striped the blue. The time-stop was breaking up. There were only minutes left before Root blue-rinsed the whole place. Foaly’s voice buzzed in her earpiece.

  “Okay, Captain Short. The gold is on the way. Be ready to move.”

 
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