Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer


  “Getting ideas, are we, Captain Short?”

  Holly bared her teeth, it was answer enough.

  “We are both fully aware of the rules here, Captain. This is my house. You must abide by my wishes. Your laws, not mine. Obviously my wishes do not include bodily harm to myself, or your attempting to leave this house.”

  It hit Holly then.

  “How do you know my—”

  “Your name? Your rank?”Artemis smiled, though there was no joy in it. “If you wear a name tag . . .”

  Holly’s hand unconsciously covered the silver tag on her suit.

  “But that’s written in—”

  “Gnommish. I know. I happen to be fluent. As is everyone in my network.”

  Holly was silent for a moment, processing this momentous revelation.

  “Fowl,” she said with feeling. “You have no idea what you’ve done. Bringing the worlds together like this could mean disaster for us all.”

  Artemis shrugged. “I am not concerned with us all, just myself. And believe me, I shall be perfectly fine. Now, sit, please.”

  Holly sat, never taking her hazel eyes from the diminutive monster before her.

  “So what is this master plan, Fowl? Let me guess— world domination?”

  “Nothing so melodramatic,” chuckled Artemis.“Just riches.”

  “A thief!” spat Holly. “You’re just a thief!”

  Annoyance flashed across Artemis’s features, only to be replaced by his customary sardonic grin.

  “Yes. A thief if you like. Hardly just a thief, though. The world’s first cross-species thief.”

  Captain Short snorted. “First cross-species thief! Mud People have been stealing from us for millennia. Why do you think we live underground?”

  “True. But I will be first to successfully separate a fairy from its gold.”

  “Gold? Gold? Human idiot. You don’t honestly believe that crock-of-gold nonsense. Some things aren’t true, you know.” Holly threw her head back and laughed.

  Artemis checked his nails patiently, waiting for her to finish. When the gales had finally subsided, he shook his index finger.

  “You are right to laugh, Captain Short. For a while there, I did believe in all that under-the-rainbow crock-of-gold blarney, but now I know better. Now I know about the hostage fund.”

  Holly struggled to keep her face under control.

  “What hostage fund?”

  “Oh, come now, Captain. Why bother with the charade? You told me about it yourself.”

  “I—I told you!” stammered Holly. “Ridiculous!”

  “Look at your arm.”

  Holly rolled up her right sleeve. There was a small cotton pad taped to the vein.

  “That’s where we administered the sodium pentathol. Commonly known as truth serum. You sang like a bird.”

  Holly knew it was true. How else could he know?

  “You’re crazy!”

  Artemis nodded indulgently. “If I win, I’m a prodigy. If I lose, then I’m crazy. That’s the way history is written.”

  Of course, there had been no sodium pentathol, just a harmless prick with a sterilized needle. Artemis would not risk causing brain damage to his meal ticket, nor could he afford to reveal the Book as the source of his information. Better to let the hostage believe that she had betrayed her own people. It would lower her morale, making her more susceptible to his mind games. Still, the ruse disturbed him. It was undeniably cruel. How far was he prepared to go for this gold? He didn’t know, and wouldn’t until the time came.

  Holly slumped, momentarily defeated by this latest development. She had talked. Revealed sacred secrets. Even if she did manage to escape, she would be banished to some freezing tunnel under the Arctic Circle.

  “This isn’t over, Fowl,” she said at last. “We have powers you can’t possibly know about. It would take days to describe them all.”

  The infuriating boy laughed again. “How long do you think you’ve been here?”

  Holly groaned; she knew what was coming. “A few hours?”

  Artemis shook his head. “Three days,” he lied. “We’ve had you on a drip for over sixty hours . . . until you told us everything we needed to know.”

  Even as the words came out, Artemis felt guilty. These mind games were having an obvious effect on Holly, destroying her from the inside out. Was there really a need for this?

  “Three days? You could have killed me. What kind of ...”

  And it was that speechless quality that sent the doubt shooting through Artemis’s brain. The fairy thought him so evil, she couldn’t even find the words.

  Holly pulled herself together.

  “Well then, Master Fowl,” she spat, heavy on the contempt, “if you know so much about us, then you know what happens when they locate me.”

  Artemis nodded absently. “Oh yes, I know. In fact, I’m counting on it.”

  It was Holly’s turn to grin.

  “Oh really. Tell me, boy, have you ever met a troll?”

  For the first time, the human’s confidence dropped a notch.

  “No. Never a troll.”

  Holly showed more teeth.

  “You will, Fowl. You will. And I hope I’m there to see it.”

  The LEP had established a surface Ops HQ at E1: Tara.

  “Well?” said Root, slapping at a paramedic gremlin who was applying burn salve to his forehead. “Leave it. The magic will sort me out soon enough.”

  “Well, what?” replied Foaly.

  “Don’t give me any of your lip today, Foaly, because today is not one of those Oh-I’m-so-impressed-with-the-pony’s-technology days. Tell me what you found on the human.”

  Foaly scowled, securing his foil hat between curled horns. He flipped the top on a wafer-thin laptop.

  “I hacked into Interpol. Not too difficult, I can tell you. They might as well have put out a welcome mat. . . .”

  Root drummed his fingers on the conference table. “Get on with it.”

  “Right. Fowl. Ten-gigabyte file. In paper terms, that’s half a library.”

  The commander whistled. “That’s one busy human.”

  “Family,” corrected Foaly. “The Fowls have been subverting justice for generations. Racketeering, smuggling, armed robbery. Mostly corporate crime last century.”

  “So do we have a location?”

  “That was the easy part. Fowl Manor. On a two-hundred-acre estate on the outskirts of Dublin. Fowl Manor is only about twenty klicks from our current location.”

  Root chewed his bottom lip.

  “Only twenty? That means we could make it before first light.”

  “Yep. Sort out this whole mess before it gets out of hand in the rays of the sun.”

  The commander nodded. This was their first break. Fairies had not operated in natural light for centuries. Even when they had lived above ground, they were essentially night creatures. The sun diluted their magic like bleaching a photograph. If they had to wait another day before sending in a strike force, who knew what damage Fowl could achieve?

  It was even possible that this whole affair was media-oriented, and by tomorrow evening Captain Short’s face would be on the cover of every publication on the planet. Root shuddered. That would spell the end of everything, unless the Mud People had learned to coexist with other species. And if history had taught any lessons it was that humans couldn’t get along with anyone, even themselves.

  “Right. Everyone, lock and load. V flight pattern. Establish a perimeter inside the Manor grounds.”

  The Retrieval Squad roared military-type affirmatives, coaxing as many metallic noises from their weapons as possible.

  “Foaly, round up the techies. Follow us in the shuttle. And bring the big dishes. We’ll shut down the entire estate, give ourselves a bit of breathing room.”

  “One thing, Commander,” mused Foaly.

  “Yes?” said Root impatiently.

  “Why did this human tell us who he was? He must have known we cou
ld find him.”

  Root shrugged. “Maybe he’s not as clever as he thinks he is.”

  “No. I don’t think that’s it. I don’t think that’s it at all. I think he’s been one step ahead of us all the way, and this is no different.”

  “I don’t have time for theorizing now, Foaly. First light is approaching.”

  “One more thing, Commander.”

  “Is this important?”

  “Yes, I think it is.”

  “Well?”

  Foaly tapped a key on his laptop, scrolling through Artemis’s vital statistics.

  “This criminal mastermind, the one behind this elaborate scheme . . .”

  “Yes, what about him?”

  Foaly looked up, an almost admiring look in his golden eyes.

  “Well, he’s only twelve years old. And that’s young, even for a human.”

  Root snorted, jacking a new battery into his tribarreled blaster.

  “Too much damned TV. Thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes.”

  “That’s Professor Moriarty,” corrected Foaly.

  “Holmes, Moriarty, they both look the same with the flesh scorched off their skulls.”

  And with that elegant parting response, Root followed his squad into the night air.

  The Retrieval Squad adopted the V goose formation with Root on point. They flew southwest, following the video feed e-mailed to their helmets. Foaly had even marked Fowl Manor with a red dot. Idiot-proof, he’d muttered into his mouthpiece, just loud enough for the commander to hear him.

  The centerpiece of the Fowl estate was a renovated late-medieval/early-modern castle, built by Lord Hugh Fowl in the fifteenth century.

  The Fowls had held on to Fowl Manor over the years, surviving war, civil unrest, and several tax audits. Artemis did not intend to be the one to lose it.

  The estate was ringed by a ten-foot crenelated stone wall, complete with the original guard towers and walkways. The Retrieval Squad put down just inside the boundary and began an immediate scan for possible hostiles.

  “Fifty feet apart,” instructed Root. “Sweep the area. Check in every sixty seconds. Clear?”

  Retrieval nodded. Of course it was clear. They were professionals.

  Lieutenant Cudgeon, Retrieval Squad’s leader, climbed a guard tower.

  “You know what we should do, Julius?”

  He and Root had been in the Academy together, brought up in the same tunnel. Cudgeon was one of perhaps five fairies who called Root by his first name.

  “I know what you think we should do.”

  “We should blast the whole place.”

  “What a surprise.”

  “The cleanest way. One blue rinse and our losses are minimum.”

  Blue rinse was the slang term for the devastating biological bomb used on rare occasions by the force. The clever thing about a bio-bomb was that it destroyed only living tissue. The landscape was unchanged.

  “That minimum loss you’re talking about happens to be one of my officers.”

  “Oh yes,” tutted Cudgeon. “A female Recon officer. The test case. Well, I don’t think you’ll have any problem justifying a tactical solution.”

  Root’s face took on that familiar purple hue.

  “The best thing you can do right now is stay out of my way, or else I may be forced to ram that blue rinse straight into that morass you call a brain.”

  Cudgeon was unperturbed. “Insulting me doesn’t change the facts, Julius. You know what the Book says. We cannot under any circumstances allow the Lower Elements to be compromised. One time-stop is all you get, after that . . .”

  The lieutenant didn’t finish his statement. He didn’t have to.

  “I know what the Book says,” snapped Root. “I just wish you weren’t so gung ho about it. If I didn’t know you better, I’d say there was some human blood in you.”

  “There’s no call for that,” pouted Cudgeon. “I’m only doing my job.”

  “Point taken,” conceded the commander. “I’m sorry.”

  You didn’t often hear Root apologizing, but then it had been a deeply offensive insult.

  Butler was on monitors.

  “Anything?” asked Artemis.

  Butler started; he hadn’t heard the young master come in.

  “No. Nothing. Once or twice I thought I saw a flicker, but it turned out to be nothing.”

  “Nothing is nothing,” commented Artemis cryptically. “Use the new camera.”

  Butler nodded. Only last month, Master Fowl had purchased a cinecamera over the Internet. Two thousand frames a second, recently developed by Industrial Light and Magic for specialized nature shoots, hummingbird wings, and such. It processed images faster than the human eye could. Artemis had had it installed behind a cherub over the main entrance.

  Butler activated the joypad.

  “Where?”

  “Try the avenue. I have a feeling visitors are on the way.”

  The manservant manipulated the toothpick-sized stick with his massive fingers. A live image sprang into life on the digital monitor.

  “Nothing,” muttered Butler. “Quiet as the grave.”

  Artemis pointed to the control desk.

  “Freeze it.”

  Butler nearly questioned the order. Nearly. Instead he held his tongue and pressed the pad. On screen, the cherry trees froze, blossoms trapped in midair. More important, a dozen or so black-clad figures suddenly appeared on the avenue.

  “What!” exclaimed Butler. “Where did they spring from?”

  “They’re shielded,” explained Artemis. “Vibrating at high speed. Too fast for the human eye to follow . . .”

  “But not for the camera,” nodded Butler. Master Artemis. Always two steps ahead. “If only I could carry it around with me.”

  “If only. But we do have the next best thing. . . .”

  Artemis lifted a headset gingerly from the workbench. It was the remains of Holly’s helmet. Obviously, trying to cram Butler’s head into the original helmet would be like trying to fit a potato into a thimble. Only the visor and control buttons were intact. Straps from a hard hat had been rigged to fit the manservant’s cranium.

  “This thing is equipped with several filters. It stands to reason that one of them is anti-shield. Let’s try it out, shall we?”

  Artemis placed the set over Butler’s ears.

  “Obviously, with your eye span, there are going to be blind spots, but that shouldn’t hamper you unduly. Now, run the camera.”

  Butler set the camera rolling again, while Artemis slotted down one filter after another.

  “Now?”

  “No.”

  “Now ...”

  “Everything’s gone red. Ultraviolet. No fairies.”

  “Now?”

  “No. Polaroid, I think.”

  “Last one.”

  Butler smiled. A shark that’s spotted a bare behind.

  ,

  “Got em.”

  Butler was seeing the world as it was, complete with LEPretrieval team sweeping the avenue.

  “Hmm,” said Artemis. “Strobe variation, I would guess. Very high frequency.”

  “I see,” fibbed Butler.

  “Metaphorically or literally?” His employer smiled.

  “Exactly.”

  Artemis shook himself. More jokes. Next thing he’d be wearing clown shoes and turning cartwheels in the main hall.

  “Very well, Butler. Time for you to do what you do best. We appear to have intruders in the grounds. . . .”

  Butler stood. No further instructions were necessary. He tightened the hard-hat straps, striding brusquely to the door.

  “Oh, and, Butler . . .”

  “Yes, Artemis?”

  “I prefer scared to dead. If possible.”

  Butler nodded. If possible.

  LEPretrieval One were the best and the brightest. It was every little fairy’s dream that one day he would grow up to don the stealth-black jumpsuit of the Retrieval commandos. These were the el
ite. Trouble was their middle name. In the case of Captain Kelp, Trouble was actually his first name. He’d insisted on it at his manhood ceremony, having just been accepted into the Academy.

  Trouble led his team down the sweeping avenue. As usual, he took the point position himself, determined to be the first into the fray if, as he fervently hoped, a fray developed.

  “Check in,” he whispered into the mike that wound snakelike from his helmet.

  “Negative on one.”

  “Nothing, Captain.”

  “A big negatori, Trouble.”

  Captain Kelp winced.

  “We’re in the field, Corporal. Follow procedure.”

  “But Mommy said!”

  “I don’t care what Mommy said, Corporal! Rank is rank! You will refer to me as Captain Kelp.”

  “Yessir, Captain,” sulked the corporal. “But don’t ask me to iron your tunic anymore.”

  Trouble zeroed in on his brother’s channel, shutting out the rest of the squad.

  “Shut up about Mommy, will you? And the ironing. You’re only on this mission because I requested you! Now start acting like a professional or get back to the perimeter!”

  “Okay, Trubs.”

  “Trouble!” shouted Captain Kelp. “It’s Trouble. Not Trubs, or Trub. Trouble! Okay?”

  “Okay. Trouble. Mommy’s right. You’re only a baby.”

  Swearing very unprofessionally, Captain Kelp switched his headset back to the open channel. He was just in time to hear an unusual sound.

  “Arrkk.”

  “What was that?”

  “What?”

  “Dunno.”

  “Nothing, Captain.”

  But Trouble had done a Sound Recognition in-service for his captain’s exam, and he was pretty sure the “Arrkk” had been caused by someone getting a chop across the windpipe. More than likely his brother had walked into a shrub.

  “Grub? Are you all right?”

  “That’s Corporal Grub to you.”

  Kelp viciously kicked a daisy.

  “Check in. Sound off in sequence.”

  “One, Okay.”

  “Two, fine.”

  “Three, bored but alive.”

  “Five, approaching west wing.”

  Kelp froze.“Wait. Four? You there, Four? What’s your situation?”

  “.................” Nothing except static.

  “Right. Four is down. Possibly an equipment malfunction. Still, we can’t afford to take any chances. Regroup by the main door.”

 
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