Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

  In case of what? wondered Foaly, but he didn’t comment. Save it for an I told you so later.

  Root turned to Holly.

  “Are you ready, Captain?”

  Going back in. The idea of identifying three cadavers didn’t appeal to Holly. But she knew it was her duty. She was the only one with firsthand knowledge of the interior.

  “Yessir. On my way.”

  Holly selected a blackout suit from the rack, pulling it on over her jumpsuit. As per training, she checked the gauge before tugging the vulcanized cowl. A dip in pressure would indicate a rip, which could prove fatal in the long term.

  Root lined up the insertion team at the perimeter. The remains of Retrieval One were about as eager to insert themselves into the manor as they would be to juggle Atlantean stink balloons.

  “You’re certain the big one is gone?”

  “Yes, Captain Kelp. He’s gone, one way or another.”

  Trouble wasn’t convinced. “Because that’s one mean human. I think he has magic of his own.”

  Corporal Grub giggled, and got an immediate clip on the ear for himself. He muttered something about telling Mommy and quickly strapped on his helmet.

  Root felt his complexion redden. “Let’s move out. Your mission is to locate and recover the bullion. Watch for booby traps. I didn’t trust Fowl when he was alive, and I definitely don’t trust him now that he’s dead.”

  The words “booby traps” got everyone’s attention. The idea of a Bouncing Betty anti-personnel mine exploding at head height was enough to dispel any nonchalance in the troops. No one built weapons of cruelty like the Mud Men.

  As the junior Recon officer, Holly was on point. And even though there weren’t supposed to be any hostiles in the manor, she found her gun hand automatically straying to the Neutrino 2000.

  The mansion was eerily quiet, with only the fizzle of the last few solinium flares to alleviate the stillness. Death was there too, in the silence. The manor was a cradle of death. Holly could smell it. Behind those medieval walls lay the bodies of a million insects, and under its floors the cooling corpses of spiders and mice.

  They approached the doorway tentatively. Holly swept the area with an X-ray scanner. Nothing under the flagstones but dirt, and a nest of dead money-spiders.

  “Clear,” she said into her microphone. “I’m going in. Foaly, have you got your ears on?”

  “I’m right there with you, darlin’,” replied the centaur. “Unless you step on a land mine, in which case I’m way back in the Operations Room.”

  “Are you getting any thermals?”

  “Not after a blue-rinse. We have residual heat signatures all over the place. Mostly solinium flares. It won’t calm down for a couple of days.”

  “But no radiation, right?”

  “That’s right.”

  Root snorted in disbelief. Over the headsets it sounded like an elephant sneezing.

  “It looks like we’re going to have to sweep this house the old-fashioned way,” he grumbled.

  “Make it quick,” advised Foaly. “I give it five minutes tops before Fowl Manor rejoins the world at large.”

  Holly stepped through what used to be the doorway. The chandelier swung gently from the concussive force of the missile’s detonation, but otherwise everything was as she remembered it.

  “The gold is downstairs. In my cell.”

  Nobody answered. Not in words. Someone did manage a retch. Right into the microphone. Holly spun around. Trouble was doubled over, clutching his stomach.

  “I don’ feel so good,” he groaned. A tad unnecessarily, considering the pool of vomit all over his boots.

  Corporal Grub took a breath, possibly to utter a sentence containing the word Mommy. What came out was a jet of concentrated bile. Unfortunately Grub didn’t have the opportunity to open his visor before the illness struck. It was not a pretty sight.

  “Ugh,” said Holly, pressing the corporal’s visor-release button. A tsunami of regurgitated rations flooded over Grub’s blackout suit.

  “Oh, for heaven’s sake,” muttered Root, elbowing past the brothers. He didn’t get very far. One step over the threshold and he was throwing up with the rest of them.

  Holly pointed her helmet-cam at the stricken officers.

  “What the hell is going on here, Foaly?”

  “I’m searching. Hold on.”

  Holly could hear computer keys being punched furiously.

  “Okay. Sudden vomiting. Spatial nausea . . . Oh no.”

  “What?” asked Holly. But she already knew. Maybe she always had.

  “It’s the magic,” blurted Foaly, words barely decipherable in his excitement. “They can’t enter the house until Fowl is dead. It’s like an extreme allergic reaction. That means, unbelievable, that means . . .”

  “They made it,” completed Holly. “He’s alive. Artemis Fowl is alive.”

  “D’Arvit,” groaned Root, and heaved another quart of vomit onto the terra-cotta tiles.

  Holly went on alone. She had to see for herself. If Fowl’s corpse was here, it would be with the gold, of that she was certain.

  The same family portraits glared down at her, but now they seemed smug rather than austere. Holly was tempted to loose a few blasts into them from the Neutrino 2000. But that would be against the rules. If Artemis Fowl had beaten them, then that was it. There would be no recriminations.

  She descended the stairway to her cell. The door was still swinging slightly from the bio-bomb concussion. A solinium flare ricocheted around the room like a trapped bolt of blue lightning. Holly stepped inside, half-afraid of what she might or might not see.

  There was nothing. Nothing dead at any rate. Just gold. Two hundred ingots approximately. Piled on the mattress of her cot. Nice neat military rows. Good old Butler, the only human ever to take on a troll and win.

  “Commander? Are you receiving? Over.”

  “Affirmative, Captain. Body count?”

  “Negative on the bodies, sir. I found the rest of the ransom.”

  There was along silence.

  “Leave it, Holly. You know the rules. We’re pulling out.”

  “But, sir. There must be a way. . . .”

  Foaly broke in on the conversation. “But nothing, Captain. I’m counting down the seconds until daylight here, and I don’t like our odds if we have to exit at high noon.”

  Holly sighed. It made sense. The People could chose their exit time, as long as they left before the field disintegrated. It just galled her to think they’d been beaten by a human. An adolescent human at that.

  She took a last look around the cell. A big ball of hatred had been born here, she realized, and it would have to be dealt with sooner or later. Holly jammed her pistol back into its holster. Preferably sooner. Fowl was the winner this time, but someone like him wouldn’t be able to rest on his laurels. He would be back with some other moneymaking scheme. And when he arrived, he would find Holly Short waiting for him. Waiting with a big gun and a smile.

  The ground was soft by the time-stop perimeter. Half a millennium’s bad drainage from the medieval walls had transformed the foundations into a virtual bog. So that was where Mulch surfaced.

  The soft ground wasn’t the only reason for choosing that exact spot. The other reason was the smell. A good tunnel dwarf can pick up the scent of gold through half a mile of granite bedrock. Mulch Diggums had one of the best noses in the business.

  The hovertrolley floated virtually unguarded. Two of Retrieval’s finest were stationed beside the recovered ransom, but at the moment they were having a little giggle at their stricken commander.

  “’E can’t half chuck it, can’t’e, Chix?”

  Chix nodded, mimicking Root’s spewing technique.

  Chix Verbil’s pantomime antics provided the perfect cover for a spot of pilfering. Mulch gave his tubes a clearing before clambering from the tunnel. The last thing he needed was for a sudden burst of gas to alert the LEP to his presence. He needn’t have worri
ed. He could have slapped Chix Verbil in the face with a wet stink worm, and the sprite wouldn’t have noticed.

  In a matter of seconds, he had transferred two dozen ingots into the tunnel. It was the easiest job he had ever pulled. Mulch had to stifle a giggle as he dropped the last two bars down the hole. Julius had really done him a favor, getting him involved in this whole affair. Things couldn’t have worked out much better. He was free as a bird, rich, and best of all presumed dead. By the time the LEP realized that the gold was missing, Mulch Diggums would be half a continent away. If they realized at all.

  The dwarf lowered himself into the ground. It would take several trips to move his treasure trove, but it would be worth the delay. With this kind of money, he could take early retirement. He would have to completely disappear of course, but a plan was already forming in his devious mind.

  He would live above ground for a spell. Masquerade as a human dwarf, with an aversion to light. Perhaps buy a penthouse with thick blinds. In Manhattan perhaps, or Monte Carlo. It might seem odd, of course, a dwarf shutting himself away from the sun. But then again, he would be an obscenely rich dwarf. And humans will accept any story, however outlandish, when there’s something in it for them. Preferably something green that folds.

  Artemis could hear a voice calling his name. There was a face behind the voice, but it was blurred, hard to make out. His father, perhaps?

  “Father?” The word was strange in his mouth. Unused. Rusty. Artemis opened his eyes.

  Butler was leaning over him. “Artemis. You’re awake.”

  “Ah, Butler. It’s you.”

  Artemis got to his feet, head spinning with the effort. He expected Butler’s hand at his elbow to steady him. It didn’t come. Juliet was lying on a chaise longue, dribbling onto the cushions. Obviously the draft hadn’t worn off yet.

  “It was just sleeping pills, Butler. Harmless.”

  The manservant’s eyes had a dangerous glint. “Explain yourself.”

  Artemis rubbed his eyes. “Later, Butler. I’m feeling a bit—”

  Butler stepped into his path. “Artemis, my sister is lying drugged on that couch. She was almost killed. So explain yourself now!”

  Artemis realized that he’d been given an order. He considered being offended, then decided that perhaps Butler was right. He had gone too far.

  “I didn’t tell you about the sleeping pills because you’d fight them. It’s only natural. And it was imperative to the plan that we all go to sleep immediately.”

  “The plan?”

  Artemis lowered himself into a comfortable chair.

  “The time-field was the key to this whole affair. It’s the LEP’s ace in the hole. It’s what has made them unbeatable for all these years. Any incident can be contained. That and the bio-bomb make a formidable combination.”

  “So why did we have to be drugged?”

  Artemis smiled. “Look out the window. Don’t you see? They’re gone. It’s over.”

  Butler glanced through the net curtains. The light was bright and clear. Not a hint of blue. Nevertheless, the manservant was unimpressed. “They’re gone for now. They’ll be back tonight, I guarantee it.”

  “No. That’s against the rules. We beat them. That’s it, game over.”

  Butler raised an eyebrow.“The sleeping pills, Artemis?”

  “Not to be distracted, I see.”

  Butler’s answer was an implacable silence.

  “The sleeping pills. Very well. I had to think of a way to escape the time-field. I trawled through the Book, but there was nothing. Not a clue. The People themselves have not yet developed a way. So I went back to their Old Testament, back when their lives and ours were intertwined. You know the stories—elves that made shoes during the night, sprites that cleaned houses. Back when we coexisted to a certain extent. Magical favors in exchange for their fairy forts. The big one, of course, was Santa Claus.”

  Butler’s eyebrows nearly jumped off the front of his face.

  “Santa Claus?”

  Artemis raised his palms. “I know, I know. I was a tad skeptical myself. But apparently our little corporate-image Santa Claus is not descended from a Turkish saint, he is a shadow of San D’Klass, the third king of the Frond Elfin dynasty. He is known as San the Deluded.”

  “Not a great title, as titles go.”

  “Admittedly. D’Klass thought that the greed of the Mud People in his kingdom could be assuaged by distributing lavish gifts. He would marshal all the great wizards once a year and have them throw up a great time-stop over vast regions. Flocks of sprites would be sent out to deliver the presents while the humans were asleep. Of course, it didn’t work. Human greed can never be assuaged, especially not by gifts.”

  Butler frowned. “What if the humans . . . we, that is . . . What if we had woken up?”

  “Ah yes. Excellent question. The heart of the matter. We wouldn’t wake up. That is the nature of the time-stop. Whatever your state of consciousness going in, that’s how you stay. You can neither wake up nor fall asleep. You must have noticed the fatigue in your bones these last few hours, yet your mind would not let you sleep.”

  Butler nodded. Things were getting clearer, in a roundabout sort of way.

  “So my theory was that the only way to escape the time-field was to simply fall asleep. Our own consciousness was all that kept us imprisoned.”

  “You risked an awful lot on a theory, Artemis.”

  “Not just a theory. We did have a test subject.”

  “Who? Ah, Angeline.”

  “Yes. My mother. Because of her narcotic-induced slumber, she moved with the natural order of time, unhindered by the time-field. If she had not, I would have simply surrendered to the LEP and submitted to their mind wipe.”

  Butler snorted. He doubted it.

  “So, because we could not fall asleep naturally, I simply administered us all a dose of Mother’s pills. Simple.”

  “You cut it pretty fine, though. Another minute . . . ”

  “Agreed.” The boy nodded. “Things were tense there at the end. It was necessary in order to double-bluff the LEP.”

  He paused so that Butler could process the information.

  “Well, am I forgiven?”

  Butler sighed. On the chaise lounge, Juliet snored like a drunken sailor. He smiled suddenly.

  “Yes, Artemis. All is forgiven. Just one thing . . .”


  “Never again. Fairies are too . . . human.”

  “You’re right,” said Artemis, the crow’s feet deepening around his eyes. “Never again. We shall restrict ourselves to more tasteful ventures in the future. Legal, I can’t promise.”

  Butler nodded. It was close enough.

  “Now, young Master, shouldn’t we check on your mother?”

  Artemis grew paler, if that were possible. Could the captain have reneged on her promise? She would certainly be entitled to.

  “Yes. I suppose we should. Let Juliet rest. She’s earned it.”

  He cast his eyes upward, along the stairs. It had been too much to hope for that he could trust the fairy. After all, he had held her captive against her will. He berated himself silently. Imagine parting with all those millions for the promise of a wish. Oh, the gullibility.

  Then the loft door opened.

  Butler drew his weapon instantly.

  “Artemis, behind me. Intruders.”

  The boy waved him away. “No, Butler. I don’t think so.”

  His heart pounded in his ears, blood pulsed in his fingertips. Could it be? Could it possibly be? A figure appeared on the stairs. Wraithlike in a toweled robe, her hair wet from the shower.

  “Arty?” she called. “Arty, are you there?”

  Artemis wanted to answer, he wanted to race up the grand stairway, arms outstretched. But he couldn’t. His cerebral functions had deserted him.

  Angeline Fowl descended, one hand resting lightly on the banister. Artemis had forgotten how graceful his mother was. Her bare feet
skipped over the carpeted steps and soon she was standing before him.

  “Morning, darling,” she said brightly, as though it were just another day.

  “M-Mother,” stammered Artemis.

  “Well, give me a hug.”

  Artemis stepped into his mother’s embrace. It was warm and strong. She was wearing perfume. He felt like the boy he was.

  “I’m sorry, Arty,” she whispered into his ear.

  “Sorry for what?”

  “For everything. For the last few months, I haven’t been myself. But things are going to change. Time to stop living in the past.”

  Artemis felt a tear on his cheek. He wasn’t sure whose tear it was.

  “And I don’t have a present for you.”

  “A present?” said Artemis.

  “Of course,” sang his mother, spinning him around. “Don’t you know what day it is?”


  “It’s Christmas Day, you silly boy. Christmas Day! Presents are traditional, are they not?”

  Yes, thought Artemis. Traditional. San D’Klass.

  “And look at this place. Drab as a mausoleum. Butler?”

  The manservant hurriedly pocketed his Sig Sauer.

  “Yes, ma’am?”

  “Get on the phone to Brown Thomas. The platinum set number. Reopen my account. Tell Hélène I want a Yuletide makeover. The works.”

  “Yes, ma’am. The works.”

  “Oh, and wake up Juliet. I want my things moved into the main bedroom. That attic is far too dusty.”

  “Yes, ma’am. Right away, ma’am.”

  Angeline Fowl linked her son’s arm.

  “Now, Arty, I want to know everything. First of all, what happened here?”

  “Remodeling,” said Artemis. “The old doorway was riddled with damp.”

  Angeline frowned, completely unconvinced. “I see. And how about school? Have you decided on a career?”

  While his mouth answered these everyday questions, Artemis’s mind was in turmoil. He was a boy again. His life was going to change utterly. His plans would have to be much more devious than usual if they were to escape his mother’s attention. But it would be worth it.

  Angeline Fowl was wrong. She had brought him a Christmas present.


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