Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer


  Something was waiting beside the tree. Something roughly the size of a mountain, but considerably more mobile.

  “Nice peashooter,” grinned the figure, smothering Holly’s gun hand in a turnip-sized fist.

  Holly managed to extricate her fingers a nanosecond before they snapped like brittle spaghetti.

  “I don’t suppose you would consider peaceful surrender?” said a cold voice behind her.

  Holly turned, elbows raised for combat.

  “No,” sighed the boy melodramatically. “I suppose not.”

  Holly put on her best brave face.

  “Stay back, human. You don’t know what you’re dealing with.”

  The boy laughed. “I believe, fairy, that you are the one unfamiliar with the facts.”

  Fairy? He knew she was a fairy.

  “I have magic, mud-worm. Enough to turn you and your gorilla into pig droppings.”

  The boy took a step closer. “Brave words, miss. But lies nonetheless. If, as you say, you had magic, you would have no doubt used it by now. No, I suspect that you have gone too long without the Ritual and you are here to replenish your powers.”

  Holly was dumbfounded. There was a human before her, casually spouting sacred secrets. This was disastrous. Catastrophic. It could mean the end of generations of peace. If the humans were aware of a fairy subculture, it was only a matter of time before the two species went to war. She must do something, and there was only one weapon left in her arsenal.

  The mesmer is the lowest form of magic and requires only a trickle of power. There are even certain humans with a bent for the talent. It is within the ability of even the most drained fairy to put a complete mind kibosh on any human alive.

  Holly summoned the final dribble of magic from the base of her skull.

  “Human,” she intoned, her voice suddenly resonating with bass tones. “Your will is mine.”

  Artemis smiled, safe behind his mirrored lenses. “I doubt it,” he said, and nodded curtly.

  Holly felt the dart puncture the suit’s toughened material, depositing its load of curare and succinylcholine chloride-based tranquilizer into her shoulder. The world instantly dissolved into a series of technicolored bubbles and, try as she might, Holly couldn’t seem to hold on to more than one thought. And that thought was: How did they know? It spiraled around her head as she sank into unconsciousness. How did they know? How did they know? How did they . . .

  Artemis saw the pain in the creature’s eyes as the hollow hypodermic plunged into her body. And for a moment he experienced misgivings. A female. He hadn’t expected that. A female, like Juliet, or Mother. Then the moment passed and he was himself again.

  “Good shooting,” he said, bending to study their prisoner. Definitely a girl. Pretty too. In a pointy sort of way.

  “Sir?”

  “Hmm?”

  Butler was pointing to the creature’s helmet. It was half buried in a drift of leaves where the fairy had dropped it. A buzzing noise was coming from the crown.

  Artemis picked up the contraption by the straps, searching for the source.

  “Ah, here we are.” He plucked the viewcam from its slot, careful to point the lens away from Butler. “Fairy technology. Most impressive,” he muttered, popping the battery from its groove. The camera whined and died. “Nuclear power source, if I’m not mistaken. We must be careful not to underestimate our opponents.”

  Butler nodded, sliding their captive into an oversized duffel bag. Something else to be lugged across two fields, a bog, and a stile.

  CHAPTER 5

  MISSING IN ACTION

  Commander Root was sucking on a particularly noxious fungus cigar. Several of the Retrieval Squad had nearly passed out in the shuttle. Even the stench from the manacled troll seemed mild in comparison. Of course, no one said anything, their boss being touchier than a septic boil.

  Foaly, on the other hand, delighted in antagonizing his superior. “None of your rancid stogies in here, Commander!” he brayed, the moment Root made it back to Ops. “The computers don’t like smoke!”

  Root scowled, certain that Foaly was making this up. Nevertheless, the commander was not prepared to risk a computer crash in the middle of an alert, and so doused his cigar in the coffee cup of a passing gremlin.

  “Now, Foaly, what’s this so-called alert? And it better be good this time!”

  The centaur had a tendency to go completely hyper over trivialities. He’d once gone to Defcon Two because his human satellite stations were out.

  “It’s good all right,” Foaly assured him. “Or should I say bad? Very bad.”

  Root felt the ulcer in his gut begin to bubble like a volcano.

  “How bad?”

  Foaly punched up Ireland on the Eurosat. “We lost contact with Captain Short.”

  “Why am I not surprised?” groaned Root, burying his face in his hands.

  “We had her all the way over the Alps.”

  “The Alps? She took a land route?”

  Foaly nodded. “Against regulations, I know. But everyone does it.”

  The commander agreed grudgingly. Who could resist a view like that? As a rookie, he’d been placed on report himself for that exact offense.

  “Okay. Move on. When did we lose her?”

  Foaly opened a viewer window on the screen.

  “This is the feed from Holly’s helmet unit. Here we are over Disneyland Paris. . . .”

  The centaur pressed the fast forward.

  “Now dolphins, blah blah blah. The Irish coastline. Still no worries. Look, her locator comes into shot. Captain Short is scanning for magic hot spots. Site fifty-seven shows up red, so she heads for that one.”

  “Why not Tara?”

  Foaly snorted. “Tara? Every fairy hippie in the northern hemisphere will be dancing around the Lia Fáil at the full moon. There’ll be so many shields on, it’ll look like the whole place is underwater.”

  “Fine,” grunted Root through gritted teeth. “Just get on with it, will you.”

  “All right. Don’t get your ears in a knot.” Foaly skipped several minutes of tape. “Now. Here’s the interesting bit. . . . Nice smooth landing, hangs up the wings. Holly takes off the helmet.”

  “Against regulations,” interjected Root. “LEP officers must never remove—”

  “LEP officers must never remove their headgear above ground, unless said headgear is defective,” completed Foaly. “Yes, Commander, we all know what the handbook says. But are you trying to tell me that you never sneaked a breath of air after a few hours in the sky?”

  “No,” admitted Root. “What are you? Her fairy godmother or something? Get to the important part!”

  Foaly smirked behind his hand. Driving up Root’s blood pressure was one of the few perks of the job. No one else would dare to do it. That was because everybody else was replaceable. Not Foaly. He’d built the system from scratch, and if anyone else even tried to boot it up, a hidden virus would bring it crashing about their pointy ears.

  “The important part. Here we are. Look. Suddenly Holly drops the helmet. It must land lens down, because we lose, picture. We’ve still got sound though, so I’ll bring that up.”

  Foaly boosted the audio signal, filtering out background noise.

  “Not great quality. The mike is in the camera. So that was nose down in the dirt too.”

  “Nice peashooter,” said a voice. Definitely human. Deep too. That usually meant big.

  Root raised an eyebrow. “Peashooter?”

  “Slang for gun.”

  “Oh.” Then the importance of that simple statement struck him. “She drew her weapon.”

  “Just wait. It gets worse.”

  “I don’t suppose you would consider peaceful surrender?” said a second voice. Just listening to it gave the commander shivers. “No,” continued the voice. “I suppose not.”

  “This is bad,” said Root, his face uncharacteristically pale. “This feels like a setup. These two goons were waiting. How i
s that possible?”

  Holly’s voice came through the speaker then, typically brazen in the face of danger. The commander sighed. At least she was alive. It was more bad news, though, as the parties exchanged threats, and the second human displayed an uncommon knowledge of fairy affairs.

  “He knows about the Ritual!”

  “Here’s the worst bit.”

  Root’s jaw dropped. “The worst bit?”

  Holly’s voice again. This time layered with the mesmer.

  “Now she has them,” crowed Root.

  But apparently not. Not only did the mesmer prove ineffective, but the mysterious pair seemed to find it amusing.

  “That’s all there is from Holly,” noted Foaly. “One of the Mud People messes around with the camera for a bit and then we lose everything.”

  Root rubbed the creases between his eyes. “Not much to go on. No visual, not even a name. We can’t really be a hundred percent sure that we have a situation.”

  “You want proof?” asked Foaly, rewinding the tape. “I’ll give you proof.”

  He ran the available video.

  “Now, watch this. I’m going to slow it right down. One frame per second.”

  Root leaned in close to the screen, close enough to see the pixels.

  “Captain Short comes in for a landing. She takes off her helmet. Bends down, presumably to pick up an acorn, and . . . there!”

  Foaly jabbed the pause button, freezing the picture completely. “See anything unusual?”

  The commander felt his ulcer churn into overdrive.

  Something had appeared in the top right-hand corner of the frame. At first glance it seemed like a shaft of light, but light from what or reflected from what?

  “Can you blow that up?”

  “No problem.”

  Foaly cut to the relevant area, increasing it by four hundred percent. The light expanded to fill the screen.

  “Oh no,” breathed Root.

  There on the monitor before them, in frozen suspension, was a hypodermic dart. There could be no doubt. Captain Holly Short was missing in action. Most probably dead, but at the very least held captive by a hostile force.

  “Tell me we still have the locator.”

  “Yep. Strong signal. Moving north at about eighty klicks an hour.”

  Root was silent for a moment, formulating his strategy.

  “Go to full alert, and get Retrieval out of their bunks and back down here. Prep them for a surface shot. I want full tactical and a couple of techies. You too, Foaly. We may have to stop time on this one.”

  “Ten four, Commander. You want Recon in on this?”

  Root nodded. “You bet.”

  “I’ll call in Captain Vein. He’s our number one.”

  “Oh, no,” said Root. “For a job like this, we need our very best. And that’s me. I’m reactivating myself.”

  Foaly was so amazed, he couldn’t even formulate a smart comment.

  “You’re . . . You’re . . .”

  “Yes, Foaly. Don’t act so surprised. I have more successful recons under my belt than any officer in history. Plus I did my basic training in Ireland. Back in the top hat and shillelagh days.”

  “Yes, but that was five hundred years ago, and you were no spring bud then, not to put too fine a point on it.”

  Root smiled dangerously. “Don’t worry, Foaly. I’m still running red hot. And I’ll make up for my age with a really big gun. Now get a pod ready. I’m leaving on the next flare.”

  Foaly did what he was told without a single quip. When the commander got that glint in his eyes, you hopped to and kept your mouth shut. But there was another reason for Foaly’s silent compliance. It had just hit him that Holly could be in real trouble. Centaurs don’t make many friends, and Foaly was worried he might lose one of the few he had.

  Artemis had anticipated some technological advances, but nothing like the treasure trove of fairy hardware spread out on the four-wheel drive’s dashboard.

  “Impressive,” he murmured. “We could abort this mission right now and still make a fortune in patents.”

  Artemis ran a handheld scanner bar over the unconscious elf’s wristband. He then fed the fairy characters into his PowerBook translator.

  “This is a locator of some kind. No doubt this leprechaun’s comrades are tracking us right now.”

  Butler swallowed. “Right now, sir?”

  “It would seem so. Or at any rate they’re tracking the locator—”

  Artemis stopped speaking suddenly, his eyes losing focus as the electricity in his cranium sparked off another brainwave.

  “Butler?”

  The manservant felt his pulse quicken. He knew that tone. Something was afoot.

  “Yes, Artemis?”

  “That Japanese whaler. The one seized by the port authorities. Is she still tied up at the docks?”

  Butler nodded. “Yes, I believe so.”

  Artemis twirled the locator’s band around his index finger.

  “Good. Take us down there. I believe it’s time to let our diminutive friends know exactly who they’re dealing with.”

  Root rubber-stamped his own reactivation with remarkable speed—very unusual for LEP upper management. Generally it took months, and several mind-crushingly dull meetings, to approve any application to the Recon Squad. Luckily, Root had a bit of influence with the commander.

  It felt good to be back in a field uniform, and Root even managed to convince himself that the jumpsuit was no tighter around the middle than it used to be. The bulge, he rationalized, was caused by all the new equipment they jammed into these things. Personally, Root had no time for gadgetry. The only items the commander was interested in were the wings on his back and the multiphase, water-cooled, tribarreled blaster strapped to his hip—the most powerful production handgun under the world. Old, to be sure, but it had seen Root through a dozen firefights and it made him feel like a field officer again.

  The nearest chute to Holly’s position was E1:Tara. Not exactly an ideal location for a stealth mission, but with barely two hours of moon time left there was no time for an overground jaunt. If there was to be any chance of sorting out this mess before sunrise, speed was of the essence. He commandeered the E1 shuttle for his team, bumping a tour group that had apparently been on line for two years.

  “Tough nuggets,” Root growled at the holiday rep. “And what’s more, I’m shutting down all nonessential flights until the present crisis is past.”

  “And when might that be?” squeaked the irate gnome, brandishing a notebook as though she were prepared to make a complaint of some kind.

  Root spat out the butt of his cigar, squashing it comprehensively beneath his boot heel. The symbolism was all too obvious.

  “The chutes will be opened, madam, when I feel like it,” growled the commander. “And if you and your fluorescent uniform don’t get out of my way, I’ll yank your operating license and have you thrown into the cells for obstructing an LEP officer.”

  The holiday rep wilted before him and slunk back into line, wishing her uniform wasn’t quite so pink.

  Foaly was waiting at the pod. Serious though the moment was, he couldn’t resist an amused whinny at the sight of Root’s belly wobbling ever so slightly in his clinging jumpsuit.

  “Are you sure about this, commander? Generally we allow only one passenger per pod.”

  “What do you mean?” snarled Root. “There is only one. . . .”

  Then he caught Foaly’s meaningful glance at his stomach.

  “Oh. Ha ha. Very amusing. Keep it up, Foaly. I have my limit, you know.”

  But it was a hollow threat and they both knew it. Not only had Foaly built their communications network from scratch, but he was also a pioneer in the field of flare prediction. Without him, human technology could very easily catch up with the fairy brand.

  Root strapped himself into the pod. No half-century-old crafts for the commander. This baby was fresh off the assembly line. All silver and shiny, wit
h the new jagged fin stabilizers that were supposed to read the magma currents automatically. Foaly’s innovation, of course. For a century or so his pod designs had leaned toward the futuristic— plenty of neon and rubber. Lately, however, his sensibilities had become more retrospective, replacing the gadgetry with walnut dashes and leather upholstery. Root found this old style decor strangely comforting.

  He wrapped his fingers around the joysticks and suddenly realized just how long it had been since he had ridden the hotshots. Foaly noticed his discomfort.

  “Don’t worry, chief,” he said without the usual cynicism. “It’s like riding a unicorn. You never forget.”

  Root grunted, unconvinced. “Let’s get the show on the road,” he muttered. “Before I change my mind.”

  Foaly hauled the door across until the suction ring took hold, sealing the portal with a pneumatic hiss. Root’s face took on a green hue through the quartz pane. He didn’t look too scary anymore. Quite the opposite in fact.

  Artemis was performing a little field surgery on the fairy locator. It was no mean feat to alter some of the dimensions without destroying the mechanisms. The technologies were most definitely incompatible. Imagine trying to perform open-heart surgery with a sledgehammer.

  The first problem was opening the cursed thing. The screwheads defied both flathead and Phillips screwdrivers. Even Artemis’s extensive set of Allen wrenches were unable to find purchase in the tiny grooves. Think futuristic, Artemis told himself. Think advanced technology.

  It came to him after a few moments of silent contemplation. Magnetic bolts. Obvious, really. But how to construct a revolving magnetic field in the back of a four-wheel drive? Impossible. The only thing for it was to chase the screws around manually with a domestic magnet.

  Artemis hunted the small magnet from its niche in the toolbox and applied both poles to the tiny screws. The negative side wiggled them slightly. It was enough to give Artemis some room to maneuver with needlenose pliers, and he soon had the locator’s panel disassembled before him.

  The circuitry was minute. And not a sign of a solder bead. They must use another form of binder. Perhaps if he had time the principles of this device could be unraveled, but for now he would have to improvise. He would have to rely on the inattention of others. And if the People were anything like humans, they saw what they wanted to see.

 
Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]