Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer


  Perhaps a description would be more helpful than a lecture on fairy genealogy. Holly Short had nut-brown skin, cropped auburn hair, and hazel eyes. Her nose had a hook, and her mouth was plump and cherubic, which was appropriate considering Cupid was her great-grandfather. Her mother was a European elf with a fiery temper and willowy figure. Holly, too, had a slim frame with long tapered fingers, perfect for wrapping around a buzz baton. Her ears, of course, were pointed. At exactly three feet in height, Holly was only a centimeter below the fairy average, but even one centimeter can make an awful lot of difference when you don’t have many to spare.

  Commander Root was the cause of Holly’s distress. Root had been on Holly’s case since day one. The commander had decided to take offense at the fact that the first female officer in Recon’s history had been assigned to his squad. Recon was a notoriously dangerous posting with a high fatality rate, and Root didn’t think it was any place for a girlie. Well, he was just going to have to get used to the idea, because Holly Short had no intention of quitting for him or anybody else.

  Though she’d never admit it, another possible cause for Holly’s irritability was the Ritual. She’d been meaning to perform it for several moons now, but somehow there just never seemed to be time. And if Root found out she was running low on magic, she’d be transferred to Traffic for sure.

  Holly rolled off her futon and stumbled into the shower. That was one advantage of living near the earth’s core—the water was always hot. No natural light, of course, but that was a small price to pay for privacy. Underground. The last human-free zone. There was nothing like coming home after a long day on the job, switching off your shield, and sinking into a bubbling slime pool. Bliss.

  The fairy suited up, zipping the dull-green jumpsuit up to her chin and strapping on her helmet. LEPrecon uniforms were stylish these days. Not like that top-o’-the-morning costume the force had to wear back in the old days. Buckled shoes and knickerbockers! Honestly. No wonder leprechauns were such ridiculous figures in human folklore. Still, probably better that way. If the Mud People knew that the word “leprechaun” actually originated from LEPrecon, an elite branch of the Lower Elements Police, they’d probably take steps to stamp them out. Better to stay inconspicuous and let the humans have their stereotypes.

  With the moon already rising on the surface, there was no time for a proper breakfast. Holly grabbed the remains of a nettle smoothie from the cooler and drank it in the tunnels. As usual there was chaos in the main thoroughfare. Airborne sprites jammed the avenue like stones in a bottle. The gnomes weren’t helping either, lumbering along with their big swinging behinds blocking two lanes. Swear toads infested every damp patch, cursing like sailors. That particular breed began as a joke, but had multiplied into an epidemic. Someone lost their wand over that one.

  Holly battled through the crowds to the police station. There was already a riot outside Spud’s Spud Emporium. LEP Corporal Newt was trying to sort it out. Good luck to him. Nightmare. At least Holly got the chance to work above ground.

  The LEP station doors were crammed with protesters. The goblin-dwarf turf war had flared up again, and every morning hordes of angry parents showed up demanding the release of their innocent offspring. Holly snorted. If there actually was an innocent goblin, Holly Short had yet to meet him. They were clogging up the cells now, howling gang chants and hurling fireballs at each other.

  Holly shouldered her way into the throng. “Coming through,” she grunted. “Police business.”

  They were on her like flies on a stink worm.

  “My Grumpo is innocent!”

  “Police brutality!”

  “Officer, could you take my baby in his blankie? He can’t sleep without it.”

  Holly set her visor to reflect, and ignored them all. Once upon a time the uniform would have earned you some respect. Not anymore. Now you were a target. “Excuse me, officer, but I seem to have misplaced my jar of warts.” “Pardon me, young elf, but my cat’s climbed a stalactite.” Or “If you have a minute, Captain, could you tell me how to get to the Fountain of Youth?” Holly shuddered. Tourists. She had troubles of her own. More than she knew, as she was about to find out.

  In the station lobby, a kleptomaniac dwarf was busy picking the pockets of everyone else in the booking line, including the officer he was handcuffed to. Holly gave him a swipe in the backside with her buzz baton. The electric charge singed the seat of his leather pants.

  “Whatcha doing there, Mulch?”

  Mulch started, contraband dropping from his sleeves.

  “Officer Short,” he whined, his face a mask of regret. “I can’t help myself. It’s my nature.”

  “I know that, Mulch. And it’s our nature to throw you in a cell for a couple of centuries.”

  She winked at the dwarf’s arresting officer.

  “Nice to see you’re staying alert.”

  The elf blushed, kneeling to pick up his wallet and badge.

  Holly forged past Root’s office, hoping she would make it to her cubicle before . . .

  “SHORT! GET IN HERE!”

  Holly sighed. Ah well. Here we go again.

  Stowing her helmet under her arm, Holly smoothed the creases from her uniform and stepped into Commander Root’s office.

  Root’s face was purple with rage. This was more or less his general state of existence, a fact that had earned him the nickname “Beetroot.” There was an office pool running on how long he had before his heart exploded. The smart money was on half a century, at the outside.

  Commander Root was tapping the moonometer on his wrist. “Well?” he demanded. “What time do you call this?”

  Holly could feel her own face coloring. She was barely a minute late. There were at least a dozen officers on this shift who hadn’t even reported in yet. But Root always singled her out for persecution.

  “The thoroughfare,” she mumbled lamely. “There were four lanes down.”

  “Don’t insult me with your excuses!” roared the commander. “You know what the city center is like! Get up a few minutes earlier!”

  It was true, she did know what Haven was like. Holly Short was a city elf born and bred. Since the humans had begun experimenting with mineral drilling, more and more fairies had been driven out of the shallow forts and into the depth and security of Haven City. The metropolis was overcrowded and underserviced. And now there was a lobby to allow automobiles in the pedestrianized city center. As if the place wasn’t smelly enough already with all those country gnomes lumbering around the place.

  Root was right. She should get up a bit earlier. But she wouldn’t. Not until everybody else was forced to.

  “I know what you’re thinking,” said Root. “Why am I picking on you every day? Why don’t I ever bawl out those other layabouts?”

  Holly said nothing, but agreement was written all over her face.

  “I’ll tell you why, shall I?”

  Holly risked a nod.

  “It’s because you’re a girl.”

  Holly felt her fingers curl into fists. She knew it!

  “But not for the reasons you think,” continued Root. “You are the first girl in Recon. Ever. You are a test case.

  A beacon. There are a million fairies out there watching your every move. There are a lot of hopes riding on you. But there is a lot of prejudice against you too. The future of law enforcement is in your hands. And at the moment, I’d say it was a little heavy.”

  Holly blinked. Root had never said anything like this before. Usually it was just “Fix your helmet,” “Stand up straight,” blah blah blah.

  “You have to be the best you can be, Short, and that has to be better than anybody else.” Root sighed, sinking into his swivel chair. “I don’t know, Holly. Ever since that Hamburg incident . . .”

  Holly winced. The Hamburg incident had been a total disaster. One of her perps had skipped out to the surface and tried to bargain with the Mud People for asylum. Root had to stop time, call in the Retrieval Squad,
and do four memory wipes. A lot of police time wasted. All her fault.

  The commander took a form from his desk. “It’s no use. I’ve made up my mind. I’m putting you on Traffic and bringing in Corporal Frond.”

  “Frond!” exploded Holly. “She’s a bimbo. An airhead. You can’t make her the test case!”

  Root’s face turned an even deeper shade of purple.

  “I can, and I will. Why shouldn’t I? You have never given me your best; either that or your best just isn’t good enough. Sorry Short, you had your chance. . . .”

  The commander turned back to his paperwork. The meeting was over. Holly could only stand there, aghast. She’d blown it. The best career opportunity she was ever likely to get, and she’d tossed it in the gutter. One mistake and her future was past. It wasn’t fair. Holly felt an uncharacteristic anger take hold of her, but she swallowed it. This was no time to lose her temper.

  “Commander Root, sir. I feel I deserve one more chance.”

  Root didn’t even look up from the paperwork. “And why’s that?”

  Holly took a deep breath. “Because of my record, sir. It speaks for itself, apart from the Hamburg thing. Ten successful recons. Not a single memory wipe or time-stop, apart from . . .”

  “The Hamburg thing,” completed Root.

  Holly took a chance. “If I were a male—one of your precious sprites—we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.”

  Root glanced up sharply. “Now, just a minute, Captain Short—”

  He was interrupted by the bleeping of one of the phones on his desk. Then two, then three. A giant viewscreen crackled into life on the wall behind him.

  Root jabbed the speaker button, putting all the callers on conference.

  “Yes?”

  “We’ve got a runner.”

  Root nodded. “Anything on Scopes?”

  Scopes was the shop name for the shrouded trackers attached to American communications satellites.

  “Yep,” said caller two. “Big blip in Europe. Southern Italy. No shield.”

  Root cursed. An unshielded fairy could be seen by mortal eyes. That wasn’t so bad if the perp was humanoid.

  “Classification?”

  “Bad news, Commander,” said the third caller. “We got us a rogue troll.”

  Root rubbed his eyes. Why did these things always happen on his watch? Holly could understand his frustration. Trolls were the meanest of the deep-tunnel creatures. They wandered the labyrinth, preying on anything unlucky enough to cross their path. Their tiny brains had no room for rules or restraint. Occasionally one found its way into the shaft of a pressure elevator. Usually the concentrated air current fried them, but sometimes one survived and was blasted to the surface. Driven crazy by pain and even the tiniest amount of light, they would generally proceed to destroy everything in their path.

  Root shook his head rapidly, recovering himself.

  “Okay, Captain Short. Looks like you get your chance. You’re running hot, I take it?”

  “Yes, sir,” lied Holly, all too aware that Root would suspend her immediately if he knew she’d neglected the Ritual.

  “Good. Then sign yourself out a sidearm, and proceed to the target area.”

  Holly glanced at the view screen. Scopes were sending high-res shots of an Italian fortified town. A red dot was moving rapidly through the countryside toward the human population.

  “Do a thorough reconnaissance and report in. Do not attempt a retrieval. Is that understood?”

  “Yessir.”

  “We lost six men to troll attacks last quarter. Six men. That was belowground, in familiar territory.”

  “I understand, sir.”

  Root pursed his lips doubtfully.

  “Do you understand, Short? Do you really?”

  “I think so, sir.”

  “Have you ever seen what a troll can do to flesh and bone?”

  “No, sir. Not up close.”

  “Good. Let’s not make today your first time.”

  “Understood.”

  Root glared at her. “I don’t know why it is, Captain Short, but whenever you start agreeing with me, I get decidedly nervous.”

  Root was right to be nervous. If he’d known how this straightforward Recon assignment was going to turn out, he would probably have retired then and there. Tonight, history was going to be made. And it wasn’t the discovery-of-radium, first-man-on-the-moon, happy kind of history. It was the Spanish Inquisition, here-comes-the-Hindenburg bad kind of history. Bad for humans and fairies. Bad for everyone.

  Holly proceeded directly to the chutes. Her normally chatty mouth was a grim slash of determination. One chance, that was it. She would allow nothing to break her concentration.

  There was the usual line of holiday visa hopefuls stretching to the corner of Elevator Plaza, but Holly bypassed it by waving her badge at the waiting line. A truculent gnome refused to yield.

  “How come you LEP guys get to go topside? What’s so special about you?”

  Holly breathed deeply through her nose. Courtesy at all times. “Police business, sir. Now, if you could just excuse me.”

  The gnome scratched his massive behind. “I hear you LEP guys make up your police business just to get a look at some moonlight. That’s what I hear.”

  Holly attempted an amused smile. What actually formed on her lips resembled a lemon-sucking grimace.

  “Whoever told you that is an idiot . . . sir. Recon only ventures above ground when absolutely necessary.”

  The gnome frowned. Obviously he had made up the rumor himself, and suspected that Holly might have just called him an idiot. By the time he’d figured it out, she had skipped through the double doors.

  Foaly was waiting for her in Ops. Foaly was a paranoid centaur, convinced that human intelligence agencies were monitoring his transport and surveillance network. To prevent them from reading his mind, he wore a tinfoil hat at all times.

  He glanced up sharply when Holly entered through the pneumatic double doors.

  “Anybody see you come in here?”

  Holly thought about it.

  “The FBI, CIA, NSA, DEA, MI6. Oh, and the EIB.”

  Foaly frowned. “The EIB?”

  “Everyone in the building.” Holly smirked.

  Foaly rose from his swivel chair and clip-clopped over to her.

  “Oh, you’re very funny, Short. A regular riot. I thought the Hamburg incident might have knocked some of the cockiness out of you. If I were you, I’d concentrate on the job in hand.”

  Holly composed herself. He was right.

  “Okay, Foaly. Fill me in.”

  The centaur pointed to a live feed from the Eurosat, which was displayed on a large plasma screen.

  “This red dot is the troll. He’s moving toward Martina Franca, a fortified town near the city of Brindisi. As far as we can tell, he stumbled into vent E7. It was on cooldown after a surface shot; that’s why the troll isn’t crispy barbecue right now.”

  Holly grimaced. Charming, she thought.

  “We’ve been lucky in that our target has bumped into some food along the way. He chewed on a couple of cows for an hour or two, so that bought us a bit of time.”

  “A couple of cows!” exclaimed Holly. “Just how big is this fellow?”

  Foaly adjusted his foil bonnet. “Bull troll. Fully grown. One hundred and eighty kilos, with tusks like a wild boar. A really wild boar.”

  Holly swallowed. Suddenly Recon seemed a much better job than Retrieval.

  “Right. What have you got for me?”

  Foaly cantered across to the equipment table. He selected what looked like a rectangular wristwatch.

  “Locator. You find him, we find you. Routine stuff.”

  “Video?”

  The centaur clipped a small cylinder into the accommodating groove on Holly’s helmet.

  “Live feed. Nuclear battery. No time limit. The mike is voice activated.”

  “Good,” said Holly. “Root said I should take
a weapon on this one. Just in case.”

  “Way ahead of you,” said Foaly. He picked a platinum handgun from the pile. “A Neutrino 2000. The latest model. Even the tunnel gangs don’t have these. Three settings if you don’t mind. Scorched, well-done, and crisped to a cinder. Nuclear power source too, so plug away. This baby will outlive you by a thousand years.”

  Holly strapped the lightweight weapon into her shoulder holster.

  “I’m ready . . . I think.”

  Foaly chuckled. “I doubt it. No one’s ever really ready for a troll.”

  “Thanks for the confidence booster.”

  “Confidence is ignorance,” advised the centaur. “If you’re feeling cocky, it’s because there’s something you don’t know.”

  Holly thought about arguing, but didn’t. Maybe it was because she had a sneaking suspicion that Foaly was right.

  The pressure elevators were powered by gaseous columns vented from the earth’s core. The LEP tech boys, under Foaly’s guidance, had fashioned titanium eggs that could ride on the currents. They had their own independent motors, but for an express ride to the surface, there was nothing like the blast from a tidal flare.

  Foaly led her past a long line of chute bays to E7. The pod sat in its clamp, looking very fragile to be rocketing about on magma streams. Its underside was charred black and pockmarked from shrapnel.

  The centaur slapped it fondly on a fender. “This baby’s been in service for fifty years. Oldest model still in the chutes.”

  Holly swallowed. The chutes made her nervous enough without riding in an antique.

  “When does it come off-line?”

  Foaly scratched his hairy belly. “With funding the way it is, not until we have us a fatality.”

  Holly cranked open the heavy door, the rubber seal yielding with a hiss. The pod was not built for comfort. There was barely enough space for a restraining seat among the jumble of electronics.

  “What’s that?” asked Holly, pointing at a grayish stain on the seat’s headrest.

  Foaly shuffled uncomfortably.

 
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