Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

  “Captain Short is in there somewhere, Foaly. Below decks. What can you give me?”

  “Nothing, sir. It’s not a permanent fixture. By the time we’ve run down her registration, it’d be way too late.”

  “What about thermal imaging?”

  “No, Commander. That hull must be at least fifty years old. Very high lead content. We can’t even penetrate the first layer. I’m afraid you’re on your own.”

  Root shook his head. “After all the billions we’ve poured into your department. Remind me to slash your budget when I get back.”

  “Yes, sir,” came the reply, sullen for once. Foaly did not like budget jokes.

  “Just have the Retrieval Squad on full alert. I may need them at a moment’s notice.”

  “I will, sir.”

  “You’d better. Over and out.”

  Root was on his own. Truth be told, that was the way he liked it. No science. No uppity centaur whinnying in his ear. Just a fairy, his wits, and maybe a touch of magic.

  Root tilted his polymer wings, hugging the underside of a fogbank. There was no need to be careful. With his shield activated, he was invisible to the human eye. Even on stealth-sensitive radar he would be no more than a barely perceptible distortion. The commander swooped low to the gunwales. It was an ugly craft, this one. The smell of death and pain lingered in the blood-swabbed decks. Many noble creatures had died here, died and been dissected for a few bars of soap and some heating oil. Root shook his head. Humans were such barbarians.

  Holly’s beeper was flashing urgently now. She was close by. Very close. Somewhere within a two-hundred-foot radius was the hopefully still-breathing form of Captain Short. But without blueprints he would have to navigate the belly of this ship unaided.

  Root alighted gently on the deck, his boots adhering slightly to the mixture of dried soap and blubber coating the steel surface. The craft appeared to be deserted. No sentry on the gangplank, no bosun on the bridge, not a light anywhere. Still, no reason to abandon caution. Root knew from bitter experience that humans popped up when you least expected them. Once, when he was helping the Retrieval boys scrape some pod wreckage off a tunnel wall, they were spotted by a group of potholing humans. What a mess that had been. Mass hysteria, high-speed chases, group mind wipes. The whole nine yards. Root shuddered. Nights like that could put decades on a fairy.

  Keeping himself fully shielded, the commander stowed his wings in their sheath, advancing on foot across the deck. There were no other life-forms showing up on his screen but, like Foaly said, the hull had a high lead content, even the paint was lead based! The entire boat was a floating eco hazard. The point being that there could be an entire battalion of stormtroopers concealed below decks, and his helmetcam would never pick them up. Very reassuring. Even Holly’s beacon was a few shades below par, and that had a micro nuclear battery sending out the pulses. Root didn’t like this. Not one bit. Keep calm, he derided himself. You’re shielded. There’s not a human alive that can see you now.

  Root hauled open the first hatch. It swung easily enough. The commander sniffed. The Mud People had greased the hinges with whale blubber. Was there no end to their depravity?

  The corridor was steeped in viscous darkness, so Root flicked down his infrared filter. Okay, so sometimes technology did come in handy, but he wouldn’t be telling Foaly that. The maze of pipes and grilling before him was immediately illuminated with an unnatural red light. Minutes later, he was regretting even thinking something nice about the centaur’s technology. The infrared filter was messing with his depth perception and he’d whacked his head on two protruding U-bends so far.

  Still no sign of life—human or fairy. Plenty of animal.

  Mostly rodents. And when you’re just topping three feet in height yourself, a good-sized rat can be a real threat, especially since rats are one of the few breeds that can see straight through a fairy shield. Root unstrapped his blaster and set it to level three, or medium rare, as the elves in the locker room called it. He sent one of the rats scurrying away with a smoking behind as a warning to the rest. Nothing fatal, just enough to teach him not to look sideways at a fairy in a hurry again.

  Root picked up his pace. This place was ideal for an ambush. He was virtually blind with his back to the only exit. A Recon nightmare. If one of his own men had pulled a stunt like this, he’d have their stripes for it. But desperate times required judicious risk-taking. That was the essence of command.

  He ignored several doors to either side, following the beacon. Ten feet now. A steel hatch sealed the corridor, and Captain Short, or her corpse, lay on the other side of it.

  Root put his shoulder to the door. It swung open without protest. Bad news. If a live creature were being held captive, the hatch would have been locked. The commander flicked the blaster’s power level to five and advanced through the hole. His weapon hummed softly. There was enough power on tap now to vaporize a bull elephant with a single blast.

  No sign of Holly. No sign of anything much. He was in a refrigerated storage bay. Glittering stalactites hung from a maze of piping. Root’s breath fanned before him in icy clouds. How would that look to a human? Disembodied breathing.

  “Ah,” said a familiar voice. “We have a visitor.”

  Root dropped to one knee, leveling the handgun at the voice’s source.

  “Come to rescue your missing officer, no doubt.”

  The commander blinked a bead of sweat from his eye. Sweat? At this temperature?

  “Well, I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place.”

  The voice was tinny. Artificial. Amplified. Root checked his locator for life signs. There were none. Not in this chamber at any rate. He was being monitored somehow. Was there a camera here somewhere, concealed in the maze of overhead plumbing, that could penetrate the fairy shield?

  “Where are you? Show yourself!”

  The human chuckled. It echoed unnaturally around the vast hold.

  “Oh, no. Not yet, my fairy friend. But soon enough. And believe me, when I do, you’ll wish I hadn’t.”

  Root followed the voice. Keep the human talking.

  “What do you want?”

  “Hmm. What do I want? Again, you will know soon enough.”

  There was a low crate in the center of the hold. On it sat an attaché case. The case was open.

  “Why bring me here at all?”

  Root poked the case with his pistol. Nothing happened.

  “I brought you here for a demonstration.”

  The commander leaned over the open container. Inside, in snug foam packing, were a flat vacuum-packed package and a triple-band VHF transmitter. Resting on top was Holly’s locator. Root groaned. Holly wouldn’t willingly give up her equipment; no LEP officer would.

  “What sort of demonstration, you demented freak?”

  Again that cold chuckle.

  “A demonstration of my utter commitment to my goals.”

  Root should have started to worry about his own health then, but he was too busy worrying about Holly’s.

  “If you’ve harmed one tip of my officer’s pointy ears ...”

  “Your officer? Oh, we have management. How privileged. All the better to make my point.”

  Alarm bells went off in Root’s head.

  “Your point?”

  The voice emanating from the aluminium speaker grid was as serious as a nuclear winter.

  “My point, little fairy man, is that I am not someone to be trifled with. Now, if you would please observe the package.”

  The commander duly observed. It was a nondescript enough shape. Flat, like a slab of putty, or . . . Oh no.

  Beneath the sealant, a red light flicked on.

  “Fly, little fairy,” said the voice. “And tell your friends Artemis Fowl the Second says hello.”

  Beside the red light, green symbols began to click through a routine. Root recognized them from his human studies class back in the Academy. They were . . . numbers. Going backward. A countdown!
  “D’Arvit!” growled Root. (There is no point translating that word, as it would have to be censored.)

  He turned and fled up the corridor, Artemis Fowl’s mocking tones carrying down the metal funnel.

  “Three,” said the human. “Two . . .”

  “D’Arvit,” repeated Root.

  The corridor seemed much longer, now. A sliver of starry sky peeked through a wedge of open door. Root activated his wings—this would take some fancy flying. The Hummingbird’s span was barely narrower than the ship’s corridor.


  Sparks flew as the electronic wings scraped a protruding pipe. Root cartwheeled, righting himself at Mach one.

  “Zero . . .” said the voice. “Boom!”

  Inside the vacuum-packed package, a detonator sparked, igniting a kilogram of pure Semtex. The whitehot reaction devoured the surrounding oxygen in a nanosecond and surged down the path of least resistance, which was, of course, immediately after LEP Commander Root.

  Root dropped his visor, opening the throttle to maximum. The door was just a few feet away now. It was just a matter of what reached it first—the fairy or the fireball.

  He made it. Barely. He could feel the explosion rattling his torso as he threw himself into a reverse loop. Flames latched on to his jumpsuit, licking along his legs. Root continued his maneuver, crashing directly into the icy water. He broke the surface swearing.

  Above him, the whaler had been totally consumed by noxious flames.

  “Commander,” came a voice in his earpiece. It was Foaly. He was back in range.

  “Commander. What’s your status?”

  Root lifted free of the water’s grip.

  “My status, Foaly, is extremely annoyed. Get on your computers. I want to know everything there is to know about one Artemis Fowl, and I want to know it before I get back to base.”

  “Yessir, Commander. Right away.”

  No wisecrack. Even Foaly realized that this was not the time.

  Root hovered at three hundred yards. Below him the blazing whaler drew emergency vehicles like moths to a light. He dusted charred threads from his elbows. There will be a reckoning for this Artemis Fowl, he vowed. Count on it.



  Artemis leaned back in the study’s leather swivel chair, smiling over steepled fingers. Perfect. That little explosion should cure those fairies of their cavalier attitude. Plus there was one less whaler in the world. Artemis Fowl did not like whalers. There were less objectionable ways to produce oil by-products.

  The pinhole camera concealed in the locator had worked perfectly. With its high-resolution images he had picked out the fairy’s telltale breath crystals.

  Artemis consulted the basement surveillance monitor. His captive was sitting on the cot now, head in hands. Artemis frowned. He hadn’t expected the fairy to appear so . . . human. Until now, they had merely been quarry. Animals to be hunted. But now, seeing one like this, in obvious discomfort—it changed things.

  Artemis put the computer to sleep and crossed to the main doors. Time for a little chat with their guest. Just as his fingers alighted on the brass handles, the door flew open before him. Juliet appeared in the doorway, cheeks flushed from haste.

  “Artemis,” she gasped. “Your mother. She . . .”

  Artemis felt a lead ball drop in his stomach.


  “Well, she says, Artemis . . . Artemis, that your . . .”

  “Yes, Juliet. For heaven’s sake, what is it?”

  Juliet placed both hands over her mouth, composing herself. After several seconds she parted spangled nails, speaking through her fingers.

  “It’s your father, sir. Artemis Senior. Madam Fowl says he’s come back!”

  For a split second, Artemis could have sworn his heart had stopped. Father? Back? Was it possible? Of course he’d always believed his father was alive. But lately, since he’d hatched this fairy scheme, it was almost as if his father had shifted to the back of his mind. Artemis felt guilt churn his stomach. He had given up. Given up on his own father.

  “Did you see him, Juliet? With your own eyes?”

  The girl shook her head.

  “No, Artemis, sir. I just heard voices. In the bedroom. But she won’t let me through the door. Not for anything. Not even with a hot drink.”

  Artemis calculated. They had returned barely an hour ago. His father could have slipped past Juliet. It was possible. Just possible. He glanced at his watch, synchronized with Greenwich Mean Time by constantly updated radio signals. Three A.M. Time was ticking on. His entire plan depended on the fairies making their next move before daylight.

  Artemis started. He was doing it again, pushing family to one side. What was he becoming? His father was the priority here, not some moneymaking scheme.

  Juliet was still in the doorway, watching him with those enormous blue eyes. She was waiting for him to make a decision, as he always did. And for once, there was indecision scrawled across his pale features.

  “Very well,” he mumbled eventually. “I had better go up there immediately.”

  Artemis brushed past the girl, taking the steps two at a time. His mother’s room was two flights up, a converted attic space.

  He hesitated at the door. What would he say if it was his father miraculously returned? What would he do? It was ridiculous dithering about it. Impossible to predict. He knocked lightly.


  No response, but he thought he heard a giggle and was instantly transported into the past. Initially this room had been his parents’ lounge. They would sit on the chaise longue for hours, tittering like schoolchildren, feeding the pigeons or watching the ships sailing past on Dublin sound. When Artemis Senior had disappeared, Angeline Fowl had become more and more attached to the space, eventually refusing to leave altogether.

  “Mother? Are you all right?”

  Muffled voices from within. Conspiratorial whispers.

  “Mother. I’m coming in.”

  “Wait a moment. Timmy, stop it, you beast. We have company.”

  Timmy? Artemis’s heart thumped like a snare drum in his chest. Timmy, her pet name for his father. Timmy and Arty. The two men in her life. He could wait no longer. Artemis burst through the double doors.

  His first impression was of light. Mother had the lamps on. A good sign surely. Artemis knew where his mother would be. He knew exactly where to look. But he couldn’t. What if . . . What if . . .

  “Yes, can we help you?”

  Artemis turned, his eyes still downcast. “It’s me.”

  His mother laughed. Airy and carefree.

  “I can see it’s you, Papa. Can’t you even give your boy one night off? It is our honeymoon after all.”

  Artemis knew then. It was just an escalation of her madness. Papa? Angeline thought Artemis was his own grandfather. Dead over ten years. He raised his gaze slowly.

  His mother was seated on the chaise longue, resplendent in her own wedding dress, face clumsily coated with makeup. But that wasn’t the worst of it.

  Beside her was a facsimile of his father, constructed from the morning suit he’d worn on that glorious day in Christchurch Cathedral fourteen years ago. The clothes were padded with tissue, and atop the dress shirt was a stuffed pillowcase with lipstick features. It was almost funny. Artemis choked back a sob, his hopes vanishing like a summer rainbow.

  “What do you say, Papa?” said Angeline in a deep bass, nodding the pillow like a ventriloquist manipulating her dummy. “One night off for your boy, eh?”

  Artemis nodded. What else could he do?

  “One night then. Take tomorrow, too. Be happy.”

  Angeline’s face radiated honest joy. She sprang from the couch, embracing her unrecognized son.

  “Thank you, Papa. Thank you.”

  Artemis returned the embrace, though it felt like cheating.

  “You’re welcome, Mo—Angeline. Now, I must be off. Business to attend to.”
  His mother settled beside her imitation husband.

  “Yes, Papa. You go, don’t worry, we can keep ourselves amused.”

  Artemis left. He didn’t look back. There were things to be done. Fairies to be extorted. He had no time for his mother’s fantasy world.

  Captain Holly Short was holding her head in her hands.

  One hand to be precise. The other was scrabbling down the side of her boot, on the camera’s blind side. In actuality her head was crystal clear, but it would do no harm for the enemy to believe her still out of action. Perhaps they would underestimate her. And that would be the last mistake they ever made.

  Holly’s fingers closed around the object that had been digging into her ankle. She knew immediately by its contours what was concealed there. The acorn! It must have slipped into her boot during all the commotion by the oak. This could be a vital development. All she needed was a small patch of earth—then her powers would be restored.

  Holly glanced surreptitiously around the cell. Fresh concrete, by the looks of it. Not a single crack or flaky corner. Nowhere to bury her secret weapon. Holly stood tentatively, trying out her legs for stability. Not too bad, a bit shaky around the knees, but otherwise sound enough. She crossed to the wall, pressing her cheek and palms to the smooth surface. The concrete was fresh all right, very recent. Still damp in patches. Obviously her prison had been specially prepared.

  “Looking for something?”said a voice. A cold, heartless voice.

  Holly reared back from the wall. The human boy was standing not two feet from her, his eyes hidden behind mirrored glasses. He had entered the room without a sound. Extraordinary.

  “Sit, please.”

  Holly did not want to sit, please. What she wanted to do was incapacitate this insolent pup with her elbow and use his miserable hide for leverage. Artemis could see it in her eyes. It amused him.

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