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Chapter 8: To Russia With Gloves



LENIN PROSPEKT, MIRMANSK

MIKHAEL Vassikin was growing impatient. For over two years now he'd been on babysitting duty. At Britva's request. Not that it had actually been a request. The term request implied that you had a choice in the matter.You did not argue with Britva.You did not even protest quietly. The Menidzher, or manager, was from the old school where his word was law.
Britva's instructions had been simple: feed him, wash him and, if he doesn't come out of the coma in another year, kill him and dump the body in the Kola.
Two weeks before the deadline, the Irishman had bolted upright in his bed. He awoke screaming a name. That name was Angeline. Kamar got such a shock, he'd dropped the bottle of wine he'd been opening. The bottle smashed, piercing his Ferruci loafers and cracking a big toenail.Toenails grow back, but Ferruci loafers were hard to come by in the Arctic Circle. Mikhael had been forced to sit on his partner to stop him killing the hostage.
So now they were playing the waiting game. Kidnapping was an established business and there were rules. First you sent the teaser note, or in this case the e-mail. Wait a few days to give the pigeon a chance to put some funds together, then hit him with the ransom demand.
They were locked in Mikhael's apartment on Lenin Prospekt, waiting for the call from Britva. They didn't even dare to go out for air. Not that there was much to see. Murmansk was one of those Russian cities that had been poured directly from a concrete mould. The only time Lenin Prospekt looked good was when it was buried in snow.
Kamar emerged from the bedroom. His sharp features were stretched in disbelief. 'He wants caviar, can you believe it? I give him a nice bowl of stroganina and he wants caviar, the ungrateful Irlanskii.'
Mikhael rolled his eyes. 'I liked him better asleep.'
Kamar nodded, spitting into the fireplace. 'The sheets are too rough, he says. He's lucky I don't wrap him in a sack and roll him into the bay —'
The phone rang, interrupting his empty threats.
'This is it, my friend,'Vassikin said, clapping Kamar on the shoulder. 'We are on our way.'
Vassikin picked up the phone. 'Yes?'
'It's me,' said a voice, made tinny by old wiring.
'Mister Brit -'
'Shut up, idiot! Never use my name!'
Mikhael swallowed. The Menidzher didn't like to be connected to his various businesses. That meant no paperwork and no mention of his name if it could be recorded. It was his custom to make calls while driving around the city so that his location could not be triangulated.
'I'm sorry, boss.'
'You should be,' continued the Mafiya kingpin. 'Now listen, and don't talk. You have nothing to contribute.'
Vassikin covered the handset. 'Everything's fine,' he whispered, giving Kamar the thumbs up. 'We're doing a great job.'
'The Fowls are a clever outfit,' continued Britva. 'And I have no doubt they are concentrating on tracing the last e-mail.'
'But I spiked the last -'
'What did I tell you?'
'You said not to talk, Mister Brit ... sir.'
'That's right. So send the ransom message and then move Fowl to the drop point.'
Mikhael paled. 'The drop point?'
'Yes, the drop point. No one will be looking for you there, I guarantee it.'
'But -'
'Again with the talking! Get yourself a spine, man. It's only for a couple of days. So, you might lose a year off your life. It won't kill you.'
Vassikin's brain churned, searching for an excuse. Nothing came.
'OK, boss. Whatever you say.'
'That's right. Now listen to me. This is your big chance. Do this right and you move up a couple of steps in the organization.'
Vassikin grinned. A life of champagne and expensive cars beckoned.
'If this man really is young Fowl's father, the boy will pay up. When you get the money, dump them both in the Kola. I don't want any survivors to start a vendetta. Call me if there's any trouble.'
'OK, boss.'
'Oh, and one more thing.'
'Yes?'
'Don't call me.'
The line went dead. Vassikin was left staring at the handset as though it were a handful of plague virus.
'Well?' asked Kamar.
'We are to send the second message.'
A broad grin split Kamar's face. 'Excellent. At last this thing is nearly over.'
'Then we are to move the package to the drop zone.'
The broad grin disappeared like a fox down a hole. 'What? Now?'
'Yes. Now.'
Kamar paced the tiny living room. 'That is crazy. Completely insane. Fowl cannot be here for a couple of days at the earliest. There's no need for us to spend two days breathing in that poison. What is the reasoning?'
Mikhael extended the phone. 'You tell him. I'm sure the Menidzher will appreciate being told he is a madman.'
Kamar sank on to the threadbare sofa, dropping his head into his hands. 'Will this thing never end?'
His partner fired up their ancient sixteen-megabyte hard drive. 'I don't know for certain,' he said, sending the pre-prepared message. 'But I do know what will happen if we don't do what Britva says.'
Kamar sighed. 'I think I'll go shout at the prisoner for a while.'
'Will that help?'
'It won't,' admitted Kamar. 'But it will make me feel better.'

E93, ARCTIC SHUTTLE PORT

The Arctic Station had never been high on the fairy tourist list. Sure, icebergs and polar bears were pretty, but nothing was worth saturating your lungs with irradiated air for.
Holly docked the shuttle in the only serviceable bay. The terminal itself resembled nothing more than a deserted warehouse. Static conveyer belts snaked along the floor and low-level heating pipes rattled with insect life.
Holly handed out human overcoats and gloves from an ancient locker.
'Wrap up, Mud Boys. It's cold outside.'
Artemis did not need to be told. The terminal's solar batteries had long since shut down, and the ice's grip had cracked the walls like a nut in a vice.
Holly tossed Butler his coat from a distance. 'You know something, Butler? You stink!' she said, laughing.
The manservant growled. 'You and your radiation gel. I think my skin's changed colour.'
'Don't worry about it. Fifty years and it'll wash right off:
Butler buttoned a Cossack greatcoat up to his neck. 'I don't know why you're getting all wrapped up.You've got the fancy suits.'
'The coats are camouflage,' explained Holly, smearing rad gel on her face and neck. 'If we shield, the vibration makes the suits useless. Might as well dip your bones in a reactor core. So for tonight only, we're all humans.'
Artemis frowned. If the fairies couldn't shield, it would make rescuing his father all the more difficult. His evolving plan would have to be adjusted.
'Less of the chat,' growled Root, pulling a bearskin hat over his pointed ears. 'We move out in five. I want everybody armed and dangerous. Even you, Fowl, if your little wrists can support a weapon.'
Artemis selected a fairy handgun from the shuttle's arsenal. He jacked the battery into its slot, flicking the setting up to three.
'Don't worry about me, Commander. I've been practising. We have quite a stash of LEP weaponry at the manor.'
Root's complexion cranked up one more notch. 'Well, there's a big difference between stunning a cardboard cutout and a real person.'
Artemis gave his vampire smile. 'If everything proceeds according to plan, there will be no need for weapons. The first stage is simplicity itself: we set up a surveillance post near Vassikin's apartment. When the opportunity arises, Butler will snatch our Russian friend and the five of us can have a little chat. I'm sure that he will tell us everything we need to know under the influence of your mesmer. Then, it will be a simple matter to stun any guards and rescue my father.'
Root pulled a heavy scarf over his mouth. 'And what if things don't go according to plan?'
Artemis's eyes were cold and determined. 'Then, Commander, we will have to improvise.'
Holly felt a shiver rattle around her stomach. And it had nothing to do with the climate.

*

The terminal was buried twenty metres below an ice pack. They took the courtesy elevator to the surface, and the party emerged into the Arctic night looking for all the world like an adult and three children. Albeit three children with inhuman weaponry clanking under every loose fold of cloth.
Holly checked the GPS locator on her wrist. 'We're in the Rosta district, Commander. Twenty klicks north of Murmansk.'
'What's Foaly got on the weather? I don't want to be caught in the middle of a blizzard miles from our destination.'
'No luck. I can't get a line. Magma flares must still be up'
'D'Arvit!' swore Root. 'Well, I suppose we'll have to take our chances on foot. Butler, you're the expert here, you take point. Captain Short, bring up the rear. Feel free to boot any human backside if it lags behind.'
Holly winked at Artemis. 'No need to tell me twice, sir.'
'I'll bet there isn't,' grunted Root, with only the barest hint of a smile playing about his lips.
The motley band trudged south-east by moonlight until they reached the railway line. Walking along the sleepers was the one place they could be safe from drifts and suck holes. Progress was slow. A northerly wind snaked through every pore in their clothing, and the cold attacked any exposed skin like a million electric darts.
There was little conversation. The Arctic had that effect on people, even if three of them were wearing coil-heated suits.
Holly broke the silence. Something had been nagging at her for a while. 'Tell me something, Fowl,' she said from behind him. 'Your father. Is he like you?'
Artemis's step faltered for an instant. 'That's a strange question. Why do you ask?'
'Well, you're no friend to the People. What if the man we're trying to rescue is the man who will destroy us?'
There was a long silence, broken only by the chattering of teeth. Holly saw Artemis's chin drop on to his chest.
'You have no cause to be alarmed, Captain. My father, though some of his ventures were undoubtedly illegal, was ... is ... a noble man. The idea of harming another creature would be repugnant to him.'
Holly tugged her boot from twenty centimetres of snow. 'So, what happened to you?'
Artemis's breath came over his shoulder in icy sheets. 'I ... I made a mistake.'
Holly squinted at the back of the human's head. Was this actual sincerity from Artemis Fowl? It was hard to believe. Even more surprising was the fact that she didn't know how to react. Whether to extend the hand of forgiveness, or the boot of retribution. Eventually, she decided to reserve judgement. For the moment.
They passed into a ravine, worn smooth by the whistling wind. Butler didn't like it. His soldier's sense was beating a tattoo on the inside of his skull. He raised a clenched fist.
Root double-timed until he caught up.
'Trouble?'
Butler squinted into the snow field, searching for footprints. 'Maybe. Nice spot for a surprise attack.'
'Maybe. If anyone knew we were coming.'
'Is that possible? Could someone know?'
Root snorted, breath forming clouds in the air before him. 'Impossible. The chute is totally isolated, and LEP security is the tightest on the planet.'
And that was when the goblin hit squad soared over the ridge.
Butler grabbed Artemis by the collar, unceremoniously flinging him into a drift. His other hand was already drawing his weapon.
'Keep your head down, Artemis. Time for me to earn my salary.'
Artemis would have responded testily had his head not been under a metre of snow.
There were four goblins flying in loose formation, dark against the starlit sky. They quickly rose to three hundred metres, making no attempt to conceal their presence. They neither attacked nor fled, simply hovered overhead.
'Goblins,' grunted Root, pulling a Far shoot neutrino rifle into his shoulder. 'Too stupid to live. All they had to do was pick us off.'
Butler picked a spot, spreading his legs for steadiness. 'Do we wait until we see the whites of their eyes, Commander?'
'Goblin eyes don't have whites,' responded Root. 'But even so, holster your weapon. Captain Short and I will stun them. No need for anyone to die.'
Butler slid the Sig Sauer into its pouch beneath his arm. It was next to useless at that range anyway. It would be interesting to see howr Holly and Root handled themselves in a firefight. After all, Artemis's life was pretty much in their hands. Not to mention his own.
Butler glanced sideways. Holly and the commander were pumping the triggers of various weapons. Without any result. Their weapons were as dead as mice in a snake pit.
'I don't understand it,' muttered Root. 'I checked these myself.'
Artemis, naturally, was first to figure it out. He shook the snow from his hair.
'Sabotage,' he proclaimed, tossing aside the useless fairy handgun. 'There is no other alternative. This is why the B'wa Kell needs Softnose weapons, because it has somehow disabled fairy lasers.'
But the commander was not listening, and neither was Butler. This was no time for clever deductions; this was a time for action. They were sitting ducks out here, dark against the pale Arctic glow. This theory was confirmed when several Softnose laser bursts bored hissing holes in the snow at their feet.
Holly activated her helmet Optix, zooming in on the enemy.
'It looks like one of them has a Softnose laser, sir. Something with a long barrel.'
'We need cover. Fast!'
Butler nodded. 'Look. An overhang. Under the ridge.'
The manservant grabbed his charge by the collar, hoisting him aloft as easily as a child would lift a kitten.They struggled through the snow to the shelter of the overhang. Maybe a million years ago the ice had melted sufficiently for a layer to slump slightly, then freeze up again. The resulting wrinkle had somehow lasted through the ages and could now possibly save their lives.
They dived underneath the lip, wriggling backwards against a wall of ice. The frozen canopy was easily thick enough to withstand gunfire from any conventional weapon.
Butler shielded Artemis with his body, risking an upward glance.
'Too far. I can't make them out. Holly?'
Captain Short poked her head from under the frozen ledge and her Optix zoomed into focus.
'Well, what are they up to?'
Holly waited a beat, until the figures sharpened.
'Funny thing,' she commented. 'They're all firing now, but...'
'But what, Captain?'
Holly tapped her helmet to make sure the lenses were working. 'Maybe I'm getting some Optix distortion, sir, but it looks like they're missing on purpose, shooting way over our heads.'
Butler felt the blood pounding in his brain. 'It's a trap!' he roared, reaching behind him to grab Artemis. 'Everybody out! Everybody out!'
And that was when the goblin charges sent fifty tonnes of rock, ice and snow tumbling to the ground.
They nearly made it. Of course, nearly never won a bucket of squid at gnommish roulette. If it hadn't been for Butler, not one of the group would have survived. Something happened to him. An inexplicable surge of strength, not unlike the energy bursts that allow mothers to lift fallen trees off their children. The manservant grabbed Artemis and Holly, spinning them forward like stones across a pond. It wasn't a very dignified way to travel, but it certainly beat having your bones pulverized by falling ice. For the second time in so many minutes, Artemis landed nose first in a snowdrift. Behind him, Butler and Root were scrabbling from beneath the ledge, boots slipping on the icy surface. The air was rent by avalanche thunder, and the pack ice beneath them heaved and split. Thick chunks of rock and ice speared the cave's opening like bars. Butler and Root were trapped.
Holly was on her feet, racing towards her commander. But what could she do? Throw herself back underneath the ledge?
'Stay back, Captain,' said Root into his helmet mike. 'That's an order!'
'Commander,' Holly breathed. 'You're alive.'
'Somehow,' came the reply. 'Butler is unconscious and we're pinned down. The ledge is on the point of collapsing. The only thing holding it up is the debris. If we brush that aside to get out ..."
They were alive then at least. Trapped, but alive. A plan, they needed a plan.
Holly found herself strangely calm. This was one of the qualities that made her such an excellent field agent. In times of excessive stress, Captain Short had the ability to target a course of action. Often the only viable course. In the combat simulator for her captain's exam, Holly had defeated insurmountable virtual enemies by blasting the projector. Technically, she had defeated all her enemies, so the panel had to pass her.
Holly spoke into her helmet mike. 'Commander, undo Butler's Moonbelt and strap yourselves on. I'm going to haul you both out of there.'
'Roger, Holly. Do you need a piton?'
'If you can get one out to me.'
' Standby.'
A piton dart jetted through a gap in the icy bars, landing a metre from Holly's boots. The dart trailed a length of fine-grade cord.
Holly snapped the piton into the cord receptacle on her own belt, making sure there were no kinks in the line. Meanwhile, Artemis had dragged himself from the drift.
'This plan is patently ridiculous,' he said, brushing the snow from his sleeves. 'You cannot hope to drag their combined weight with sufficient velocity to break the icicles and avoid being crushed.'
'I'm not going to drag them,' snapped Holly.
'Well then, who is?'
Captain Short pointed down the track. There was a green train winding its way towards them.
'That is,' she said.
There were three goblins left. Their names were D'Nall, Aymon and Nyle. Three rookies vying for the recently vacated lieutenant's spot. Lieutenant Poll had handed in his resignation when he'd strayed too close to the avalanche and been swatted by a five-hundred-kilo pane of transparent ice.
They hovered at three hundred metres, well out of range. Of course, they weren't out of fairy-weapon range, but LEP weapons weren't operational at the moment. Koboi Laboratories' upgrades had seen to that.
'That was some hole in Lieutenant Poll,' whistled Aymon. 'I could see right through 'im. An' I don't mean that like he was a bad liar.'
Goblins didn't get too attached to each other. Considering the amount of backstabbing, backbiting and general vindictiveness that went on in the B'wa Kell, it didn't pay to make any special friends.
'What you think?' asked D'Nall, the handsome one, relatively speaking. 'Maybe one of you guys should take a spin down there.'
Aymon snorted. 'Sure thing. We go down and get sparked by the big one. Just how dumb do you think we are?'
'The big one is out of the picture. I sparked him myself. Sweet shot.'
'My shot set off the avalanche,' objected Nyle, the baby of the gang. 'You're always claimin' my kills.'
'What kills?The only thing you ever killed was a stink worm. And that was an accident.'
'Rubbish,' sulked Nyle. 'I meant to kill that worm. He was buggin' me.'
Aymon swooped between the two. 'All right. Keep your scales on, the pair of you. All we gotta do is throw a few rounds into the survivors from up here.'
'Nice plan, genius,' sneered D'Nall. 'Except it won't work.'
'And why not?'
D'Nall pointed below with a manicured nail. 'Because they're boarding that train.'
Four green carriages were winding in from the north, dragged along by an ancient diesel engine. A maelstrom of snow flurries coiled in its wake.
Salvation, thought Holly. Or perhaps not. For some reason, the mere sight of the clanking locomotive set her stomach bubbling with acid. Still, she was in no position to be choosy.
'It's the Mayak Chemical train,' said Artemis.
Holly glanced over her shoulder. Artemis seemed even paler than usual. 'The what?'
'Environmentalists worldwide call it the Green Machine, something of an irony. It transports spent uranium and plutonium assemblies to the Mayak Chemical Combine for recycling. One driver locked up in the engine. No guards. Fully loaded, this thing is hotter than a nuclear submarine.'
'And you know about this because
Artemis shrugged. 'I like to keep track of these things. After all, radiation is the world's problem.'
Holly could feel it now. Uranium tendrils eating through the rad gel on her cheeks. That train was poison. But it was her only chance of getting the commander out alive.
'This just keeps getting better and better,' Holly muttered.
The train was closer. Obviously. Motoring along at about ten klicks an hour. No problem for Holly on her own, but with two men down and one next-to-useless Mud Boy, it was going to take quite a feat to get on board that locomotive.
Holly spared a second to check on the goblins. They were holding steady at three hundred metres. Goblins were no good at improvisation. This train was unexpected; it would take them at least a minute to work out a new strategy. The big hole in their fallen comrade might give them further pause for thought.
Holly could feel the radiation emanating from the carriages, burning through the tiniest gap in the radiation gel, prickling her eyeballs. It was only a matter of time before her magic ran out. After that, she was living on borrowed time.
No time to think about it now. Her priority was the commander. She had to get him out of there alive. If the B'wa Kell was brazen enough to mount an operation against the LEP, there was obviously something pretty big going on below ground. Whatever it was, Julius Root would be needed to spearhead the counterattack. She turned towards Artemis.
'OK, Mud Boy. We've got one shot at this. Grab on to whatever you can.'
Artemis couldn't hide an apprehensive shiver.
'Don't be afraid, Artemis. You can make it.'
Artemis bristled. 'It's cold, fairy. Humans shiver in the cold.'
'That's the spirit,' said the LEP captain, and she began to run. The piton wire played out behind her like a harpoon cable. Though it had the approximate grade of fishing line, the cable could easily suspend two struggling elephants. Artemis raced after her as fast as his loafered feet could manage.
They ran parallel to the tracks, feet crunching through the snow. Behind them the train grew closer, pushing a buffer of air before it.
Artemis struggled to keep up. This was not for him. Running and sweating. Combat, for heaven's sake. He was no soldier. He was a planner. A mastermind. The hurly-burly of actual conflict was best left to Butler and people like him. But his manservant wasn't there to take care of the physical tasks this time. And he never would be again if they didn't manage to board this train.
Artemis's breath came short, crystallizing in front of his face, blurring his vision. The train had drawn level now, steel wheels spewing ice and sparks into the air.
'Second carriage,' panted Holly. 'There's a runner. Mind your footing.'
Runner? Artemis glanced behind. The second carriage was coming up fast. But the noise was blurring his vision. Was that possible? It was terrific. Unbearable. There, below the steel doors. A narrow board. Wide enough to stand on. Barely.
Holly alighted easily, flattening herself against the carriage wall. She made it look so effortless. A simple skip and she was safe from the grab of those pulverizing wheels.
'Come on, Fowl,' shouted Holly. 'Jump.'
Artemis tried, he really did. But the toe of his loafer snagged on a sleeper. He stumbled forward, pin-wheeling for balance. A painful death came rushing up to meet him.
Two left feet,' muttered Holly, grabbing her least favourite Mud Boy by the collar. Momentum swung Artemis forward, slamming him into the door like something out of a cartoon.
The piton cord was slapping against the carriage. Only seconds left before Holly departed from the train as quickly as she'd arrived. The LEP captain searched for a strongpoint to anchor herself. Root and Butler's weight may have been reduced by the Moonbelt, but the jerk when it came, would be more than sufficient to drag her from the locomotive. And if that happened, it was all over.
Holly hooked one arm through a rung on the carriage's external ladder. She noticed magical sparks playing over a rip in her suit. They were counteracting the radiation damage. How much longer could her magic last under these conditions? Constant healing really took it out of a girl. She needed to complete the power-restoring Ritual. And the sooner the better.
Holly was about to unclip the cable and attach it to one of the rungs when it snapped taut, pulling Holly's legs from beneath her. She held on to the rung grimly, fingernails digging into her own skin. On reflection, this plan needed a bit of work. Time seemed to stretch, elastic as the cord and, for a moment, Holly thought her elbow would pop right out of its socket. Then the ice gave and Root and Butler were twanged out of their icy tomb like a bolt from a crossbow.
Seconds later, they slapped against the side of the train, their reduced weight keeping them aloft, for now. But it was only a matter of time before what little gravity they had pushed them under the steel wheels.
Artemis latched on to the rung beside her. 'What can I do?'
She nodded at a shoulder pocket. 'In there. A small vial. Take it out.'
Artemis ripped open theVelcro flap, pulling out a tiny spray bottle. 'OK. Got it.'
'Good. It's up to you now, Fowl. Up and over.'
Artemis's mouth dropped open. 'Up and ...?'
'Yes. It's our only hope. We have to get this door open to reel in Butler and the commander.There's a bend in the track two klicks away. If this train slows down even one revolution, they're gone.'
Artemis nodded. 'The vial?'
'Acid. For the lock. The mechanism's on the inside. Cover your face and squeeze. Give it the whole tube. Don't get any on you.'
It was a long conversation under the circumstances. Especially since every second was vital. Artemis did not waste another one on goodbyes.
He dragged himself to the next rung, keeping the length of his body pressed close to the carriage. The wind was whipping along the length of the train, tiny motes of ice in every gust. They stung like bees. Nevertheless, Artemis pulled off his gloves with chattering teeth. Better frostbite than being crushed beneath the wheels.
Upwards. One rung at a time, until his head poked above the carriage. Every shred of shelter was now gone. The air pounded his forehead, forcing itself down his throat. Artemis squinted through the blizzard, along the carriage's roof. There! In the centre. A skylight. Across a desert of steel, blasted smooth as glass by the elements. Not a handhold within five metres. The strength of a rhino would be of no use here, Artemis decided. At last an opportunity to use his brain. Kinetics and momentum. Simple enough, in theory.
Keeping to the front rim of the carriage, Artemis inched on to the roof.The wind wormed beneath his legs, raising them five centimetres from the deck, threatening to float him off the train.
Artemis curled his fingers around the rim. These were not gripping fingers. Artemis hadn't gripped anything bigger than his mobile phone in several months. If you wanted someone to type Paradise Lost in under twenty minutes, then Artemis was your man. But as for hanging on to carriage roofs in a blizzard. Dead loss. Which, fortunately, was all part of the plan.
A millisecond before his finger joints parted company, Artemis let go. The slipstream shot him straight through the skylight's metal housing.
Perfect, he would have grunted, had there been a cubic centimetre of air in his lungs. But even if he had said it, the wind would have snatched away any words before his own ears heard them. He had moments now before the wind dug its fingers beneath his torso, flipping him on to the icy steppes. Cannon fodder for the goblins.
Artemis fumbled the acid vial from his pocket, snapping the top between his teeth. A fleck of the acid flew past his eye. No time to worry about that now. No time for anything.
The skylight was secured by a thick padlock. Artemis dribbled two drops into the keyhole. All he could spare. It would have to be enough.
The effect was immediate. The acid ate through the metal like lava through ice. Fairy technology. Best under -the world.
The padlock pinged open, exposing the hatch to the wind's power. It flipped upwards and Artemis tumbled through on to a pallet of barrels. Not exactly the picture of a gallant rescuer.
The train's motion shook him from the cargo. Artemis landed face up, gazing at the triple-triangled symbol for radiation stamped on the side of each container. At least the barrels were sealed, though rust seemed to have taken hold on quite a few.
Artemis rolled across the slatted floor, clambering to his knees alongside the door. Was Captain Short still anchored there, or was he alone now? For the first time in his life. Truly alone.
'Fowl! Open the door, you pasty-faced Mud Weasel!'
Ah well. Not alone then.
Covering his face with a forearm, Artemis drenched the carriage's triple bolt with fairy acid. The steel lock melted instantly, dripping to the floor like a stream of mercury. Artemis dragged the sliding door back.
Holly was hanging on grimly, her face steaming where radiation was eating through the gel.
Artemis grabbed her waistband. 'On three?'
Holly nodded. No more energy for speech.
Artemis flexed his digits. Fingers, don't fail me now. If he ever got out of this, he would buy one of those ridiculous home gymnasiums advertised on the shopping channels.
'One.'
The bend was coming. He could see it out of the corner of his eye. The train would slow down or derail itself.
'Two.'
Captain Short's strength was almost spent. The wind rippled her frame like a windsock.
'Three!'
Artemis pulled with all the strength in his thin arms. Holly closed her eyes and let go, unable to believe she was trusting her life to this Mud Boy.
Artemis knew a little something about physics. He timed his count to take advantage of swing, momentum and the train's own forward motion. But nature always throws something into the mix that can't be anticipated. In this case the something was a slight gap between two sections of the track. Not enough to derail a locomotive, but certainly enough to cause a bump.
This bump sent the carriage door crashing into its frame like a five-tonne guillotine. But it looked like Holly had made it. Artemis couldn't really tell because she had crashed into him, sending them both careering into the wooden siding. She seemed to be intact, from what he could see. At least her head was still attached to her neck, which was good. But she did seem to be unconscious. Probably trauma.
Artemis knew that he was going to pass out too. He could tell by the darkness eating at the corners of his vision, like some malignant computer virus. He slipped sideways, landing on Holly's chest.
This had more severe repercussions than you might think. Because Holly was unconscious, her magic was on autopilot. And unsupervised magic flows like electricity. Artemis's face made contact with the fairy's left hand, diverting the flow of blue sparks. And while this was good for him, it was most definitely bad for her. Because although Artemis didn't know it, Holly needed every spark of magic she could muster — not all of her had made it inside the train.
Commander Root had just activated his piton cord winch when he received a most unexpected poke in the eye.
The goblin D'Nall removed a small rectangular mirror from his tunic and checked his scales were smooth.
'These Koboi wings are great. You think we'll be allowed to keep 'em?'
Aymon scowled. Not that you'd notice. Goblin lizard ancestry meant that facial movement was pretty limited. 'Quiet, you hot-blooded fool!'
Hot-blooded. That was a pretty serious insult for one of the B'waKell.
D'Nall bristled. 'Be careful, friend, or I'll tear that forked tongue right out of your head.'
'We won't have a tongue between us if those elves escape!' retorted Aymon.
It was true. The generals did not take disappointment well.
'So what do we do? I got the looks in this outfit. That must make you the brains.'
'We shoot at the train,' interjected Nyle. 'Simple.'
D'Nall adjusted his Koboi DoubleDex, hovering across to the squad's junior member.
'Idiot,' he snapped, administering a swift slap to the head. 'That thing is radioactive, can't you smell it? One stray burst and we'll all be ash floating on the breeze.'
'Good point,' admitted Nyle. 'You're not as stupid as you look.'
'Thank you.'
'Welcome.'
Aymon throttled down, descending to a hundred and fifty metres. It was so tempting. One tightly focused burst to take out the elf clinging to the carriage, another to dispatch the human on the roof. But he couldn't risk it. One degree off target and he'd sucked his last stink-worm spaghetti.
'OK,' he announced into his helmet mike. 'Here's the plan. With all the radiation in that carriage, chances are the targets will be dead in minutes. We follow the train for a while just to make sure. Then we go back and tell the general we saw the bodies.'
D'Nall buzzed down beside him. 'And do we see the bodies?'
Aymon groaned. 'Of course not, you fool! Do you want your eyeballs to dry up and fall out?'
'Duh;
'Exactly. So are we clear?'
'Crystal,' said Nyle, drawing his Softnose Redboy handgun. He shot his comrades from behind. Close range, point blank. They never had a chance. He followed their bodies to Earth on full magnification. The snow would cover them in minutes. Nobody would be stumbling over those particular corpses until the polar caps melted.
Nyle bolstered his weapon, punching in the coordinates for the shuttle terminal on his flight computer. If you studied his reptilian face carefully, it was just possible to make out a grin.There was a new lieutenant in town.
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Chapter 9: No Safe Haven



OPERATIONS' BOOTH, POLICE PLAZA

FOALY was sitting in front of the LEP mainframe waiting for the results of his latest search. Extensive laser brushing of the goblin shuttle had revealed one complete and one partial thumbprint. The complete print was his own. Easily explicable as Foaly personally inspected all retired shuttle parts. The partial print could well belong to their traitor. Not enough to identify the fairy who'd been running LEP technology to the B'wa Kell, but certainly enough to eliminate the innocent. Cross-reference the remaining names with everybody who had shuttle-part access, and the list got considerably shorter. Foaly switched his tail contentedly. Genius. No point in being humble about it.
At the moment, the computer was crunching through personnel files with the partial print. All Foaly could do was twiddle his thumbs and wait for contact with the surface team. The magma flares were still up. Very unusual. Unusual and coincidental.
Foaly's suspicious train of thought was interrupted by a familiar voice.
'Search complete,' said the computer, in Foaly's own tones. A little vanity. 'Three hundred and forty-six eliminated. Forty possibles remaining.'
Forty. Not bad. They could easily be interviewed. An opportunity to use the Retimager once again. But there was another way to narrow the field.
'Computer. Cross-reference possibles with Level Three clearance personnel.' Level Three clearance would include everybody with access to the recycling smelters.
'Referencing.'
Of course, the computer would only accept commands from fairies whose voice patterns it was programmed to recognize. And as a further security precaution, Foaly had coded his personal log and other important files in a computer language he'd based on the ancient tongue of the centaurs: Centaurian.
All centaurs were a touch paranoid, and with good reason, since there were less than a hundred left. The humans had managed to kill off their cousins, the unicorns, altogether. There were probably six centaurs under the Earth who could read the language, and only one who could decipher the computer dialect.
Centaurian was possibly the oldest form of writing, dating back over ten millennia to when humans first began hunting fairies. The opening paragraph of The Scrolls of Capalla, the only surviving illuminated Centaurian manuscript, read:
Fairy creatures, heed this warning,
On Earth, the human era is dawning.
So hide, fairy, lest you be found,
And make a home beneath the ground.
Centaurs were known for their intellect, not their poetry. Still, Foaly felt the words were as relevant today as they had been all those centuries ago.
Cudgeon knocked on the booth's security glass. Now, technically, Cudgeon shouldn't be allowed in Ops, but Foaly buzzed him through. He could never resist having a crack at the ex-commander. Cudgeon had been demoted to lieutenant following a disastrous attempt to replace Root as Recon head honcho. If it hadn't been for his family's considerable political clout, he would have been booted off the force altogether. All in all, he might have been better off in some other line of work. At least he wouldn't have had to suffer Foaly's constant teasing.
‘I have some e-forms for you to initial,' said the lieutenant, avoiding eye-contact.
'No problem, Commander,' chuckled the centaur. 'How's the plotting going? Any revolutions planned for this afternoon?'
'Just sign the forms please,' said Cudgeon holding out a digi-pen. His hand was shaking.
Amazing, thought Foaly. This broken-down shell of an elf was once on the LEP fast track.
'No, but seriously, Cudgeon. You're doing a bang-up job on the form-signing thing.'
Cudgeon's eyes narrowed in suspicion. 'Thank you, sir.'
A grin tugged at the corner of Foaly's mouth. 'You're welcome. No need to get a swelled head.'
Cudgeon's hand flew to his misshapen forehead. Still a touch of the old vanity left.
'Oops. Sore subject. Sorry about that.'
There was a spark in the corner of Cudgeon's eye. A spark that should have warned Foaly. But he was distracted by a beep from the computer.
'List complete.'
'Excuse me for a moment, Commander. Important business. Computer stuff, you wouldn't understand it.'
Foaly turned to the plasma screen. The lieutenant would just have to wait for his signature. It was probably just an order for shuttle parts anyway.
The penny dropped. A big penny with a clang louder than a dwarf's underpants hitting a wall. Shuttle parts. An inside job. Someone with a grudge to settle. A line of sweat filled each groove on Foaly's forehead. It was so obvious.
He looked at the plasma screen for confirmation of what he already knew. There were only two names. The first, Bom Arbles, could be eliminated immediately. The Retrieval officer had been killed in a core-diving accident. The second name pulsed gently. Lieutenant Briar Cudgeon. Demoted to recycling crew around the time Holly retired that starboard booster. It all made sense.
Foaly knew that if he didn't acknowledge the message in ten seconds, the computer would read the name aloud. He casually punched the delete button.
'You know, Briar,' he croaked. 'All those jibes about your head problem. It's all in fun. My way of being sympathetic. Actually, I have some ointment ...'
Something cold and metallic pressed against the back of the centaur's head. Foaly had seen too many rock 'em sock 'em movies not to know what it was.
'Save your ointment, donkey boy,' said Cudgeon's voice in his ear. T have a feeling you'll be developing some head problems of your own.'

THE MAYAK CHEMICAL TRAIN, NORTHERN RUSSIA

The first thing Artemis felt was a rhythmical knocking, jarring along the length of his spine. I'm at the spa in Blackrock, he thought. Irina is massaging my back. Just what my system needs, especially after all that horseplay on the train . . .The train!
Obviously they were still aboard the Mayak train. The jerking motion was actually the carriage jolting over the track joins. Artemis forced his eyes open, expecting gargantuan doses of stiffness and pain. But instead he realized he felt fine. More than fine. Great in fact. It must be magic. Holly must have healed his various cuts and bruises while he was unconscious.
Nobody else was feeling quite so chipper. Especially Captain Short, who was still unconscious. Root was draping a large coat over his fallen officer.
'Oh, you're awake, are you?' he said, without so much as a glance at Artemis. 'I don't know how you can sleep at all after what you've just done.'
'Done? But I saved you ... at least, I helped.'
'You helped all right, Fowl. You helped yourself to the last of Holly's magic while she was unconscious.'
Artemis groaned. It must have happened when they fell. Somehow her magic had been diverted. 'I see what must have happened. It was an ..."
Root raised a warning finger. 'Don't say it. The great Artemis Fowl doesn't do anything by accident.'
Artemis fought against the train's motion, climbing to his knees. 'It can't be anything serious. Just exhaustion, surely?'
And suddenly Root's face was a centimetre from his own, his complexion rosy enough to generate heat. 'Nothing serious!' spluttered the commander, barely able to get the words out in his rage. 'Nothing serious! She lost her trigger finger! The door cut it clean off. Her career is over. And because of you, Holly barely had enough magic to stop the bleeding. She's drained of power now. Empty.'
'She lost a finger?' echoed Artemis numbly.
'Not lost exactly,' said the commander, waving the severed digit. 'It poked me in the eye on the way past.' His eye was already beginning to blacken.
'If we go back now, surely your surgeons can graft it on?'
Root shook his head. 'If we could go back now. I have a feeling that the situation below ground is a lot different from when we left. If the goblins sent a hit team to get us, you can bet something big is going on below ground.'
Artemis was shocked. Holly had saved all their lives, and this was how he had repaid her. While it was true that he was not directly to blame for the injury, it had been inflicted while trying to save his father. There was a debt to be paid here.
'How long?' he snapped.
'What?'
'How long ago did it happen?'
'I don't know. A minute.'
'Then there's still time.'
The commander sat up. 'Time for what?'
'We can still save the finger.'
Root rubbed a welt of fresh scar tissue on his shoulder, a reminder of his trip along the side of the train. 'With what? I barely have enough power left for the mesmer.'
Artemis closed his eyes. Concentrating. 'What about the Ritual? There must be a way.'
All the People's magic came from the Earth. In order to top up their powers, they had to periodically complete the Ritual.
'How can we complete the Ritual here?'
Artemis racked his brain. He had committed large sections of the Fairy Book to memory in preparation for the previous year's kidnapping operation.
'From the earth thine power flows,
Given through courtesy, so thanks are owed.
Pluck thou the magick seed,
Where full moon, ancient oak and twisted water meet.
And bury it far from where it was found,
So return your gift into the ground.'
Artemis scrambled across the flooring and began patting down Holly's jumpsuit.
Root's heart nearly shut down then and there. 'In heaven's name, Mud Boy, what are you doing?'
Artemis didn't even look up. 'Last year, Holly escaped because she had an acorn.'
Through some miracle, the commander managed to restrain himself. 'Five seconds, Fowl. Talk fast.'
'An officer like Holly wouldn't forget something like that. I'd be willing to bet ..."
Root sighed. 'It's a good idea, Mud Boy. But the acorns have to be freshly picked. If it hadn't been for the time-stop, that seed mightn't have worked. You've got a couple of days, tops. I know Foaly and Holly put together some proposal for a sealed acorn unit, but the Council rejected it. Heresy apparently.'
It was a long speech for the commander. He wasn't used to explaining himself. But a part of him was hoping. Maybe, just maybe. Holly had never been averse to bending a few rules.
Artemis unzipped Captain Short's tunic. There were two tiny items on the gold chain around her neck. Her copy of the Book, the fairy bible. Artemis knew that it would combust if he tried to touch it without Holly's permission. But there was another item. A small plexiglass sphere filled with earth.
'That's against regulations,' said Root, not sounding too upset.
Holly stirred, half-emerging from her stupor. 'Hey, Commander. What happened to your eye?'
Artemis ignored her, cracking the tiny sphere against the carriage floor. Earth and a small acorn tumbled into his palm. 'Now all we need to do is bury it.'
The commander slung Holly over his shoulder. Artemis tried not to look at the space where her index finger used to be.
'Then it's time to get off this train.'
Artemis glanced at the Arctic landscape whipping past outside the carriage. Getting off the train wasn't as easy as the commander made it sound.
Butler dropped nimbly through the overhead hatch, where he'd been keeping an eye on the goblin hit squad.
'Nice to see you're so limber,' commented Artemis drily.
The manservant smiled. 'Good to see you too, Artemis.'
'Well? What did you see up there?' said Root, interrupting the reunion.
Butler placed a hand on his young master's shoulders. They could talk later. 'The goblins are gone. Funny thing. Two of them dropped low for reconnaissance, then the other one shot them in the back.'
Root nodded. 'Power play. Goblins are their own worst enemies. But right now, we've got to get off this train.'
'There's another bend coming up in about half a klick,' said Butler. 'That's our best chance.'
'So, how do we disembark?' asked Artemis.
Butler grinned. 'Disembark is a pretty gentle term for what I have in mind.'
Artemis groaned. More running and jumping.

OPERATIONS' BOOTH

Foaly's brain was bubbling like a sea slug in a deep-fat fryer. He still had options, providing Cudgeon didn't actually shoot him. One shot and it was all over. Centaurs didn't have magic. Not a drop. They got by on brains alone. That and their ability to trample their enemies underfoot. But Foaly had a feeling that Briar wouldn't plug him just yet. Too busy gloating.
'Hey, Foaly,' said the lieutenant. 'Why don't you go for the intercom? See what happens.'
Foaly could guess what would happen. 'Don't worry, Briar. No sudden moves.'
Cudgeon laughed, and he sounded genuinely happy. 'Briar? First name terms now, is it?You must realize how much trouble you're in.'
Foaly was starting to realize just that. Beyond the tinted glass, LEP techs were beavering away trying to track down the mole, oblivious to the drama being played out not two metres away. He could see and hear them, but it was one-way surveillance.
The centaur had only himself to blame. He had insisted that the Operations' booth be constructed to his own paranoid standards. A titanium cube with blast-proof windows. The entire room was wireless, not even a fibre-optic cable to connect Operations to the outside world.
Totally impregnable. Unless, of course, you opened the door to throw a few insults at an old enemy. Foaly groaned. His mother had always said that his smart mouth would get him into trouble. But all was not lost. He still had a few tricks up his sleeve. A plasma floor, for instance.
'So what's this all about, Cudgeon?' asked the centaur, raising his hooves just off the tiles. 'And please don't say world domination.'
Cudgeon continued to smile. This was his/moment.
'Not immediately. The Lower Elements will suffice for now.'
'But why?'
Cudgeon's eyes were tinged with madness. 'Why?You have the gall to ask me why? I was the the Council's golden boy! In fifty years I would have been chairman! And then along comes the Artemis Fowl Affair. In one short day all my hopes are dashed. I end up deformed and demoted! And it was all because of you, Foaly. You and Root! So the only way to get my life back on track is to discredit both of you. You will be blamed for the goblin attacks, and Julius will be dead and dishonoured. And as an added bonus, I even get Artemis Fowl. It's as close to perfect as I could have hoped.'
Foaly snorted. 'Do you really think you can defeat the LEP with a handful of Softnose weapons?'
'Defeat the LEP? Why would I want to do that? I am the hero of the LEP. Or rather I will be. You will be the villain of this piece.'
'We'll see about that, baboon face,' said Foaly, activating a switch, sending an infra-red signal to a receiver in the floor. In five-tenths of a second, a secret membrane of plasma would warm up. Half a second later, a neutrino charge would spread across the plasma gel like wildfire, hopping anyone connected to the floor off at least three walls. In theory.
Cudgeon giggled delightedly. 'Don't tell me. Your plasma tiles aren't working.'
Foaly was flummoxed. Momentarily. Then he lowered his hooves gingerly and pressed another button. This one engaged a voice-activated laser. Basically, the next person to talk got plugged. The centaur held his breath.
'No plasma tiles,' continued Cudgeon. 'And no voice-activated laser. You really are slipping, Foaly. Not that I'm surprised. I always knew you'd be exposed for the donkey you are.'
The lieutenant settled into a swivel chair, propping his feet on the computer bank. 'So have you figured it out yet?'
Foaly thought. Who could it be? Who could beat him at his own game? Not Cudgeon, that was for sure. A techno fool if ever there was one. No, there was only one person with the ability to crack the Centaurian code and deactivate the booth's safety measures.
'Opal Koboi,' he breathed.
Cudgeon patted Foaly's head. 'That's right. Opal planted a few spy cams during the upgrading work. Once you were kind enough to translate a few documents for the camera, it was a simple matter to crack your code and do a little reprogramming. And the funny thing is, the Council footed the bill. She even charged for the spy cameras. Even now, the B'wa Kell is preparing to launch its attack on the cjty: LEP weapons and communications are down, and the best thing is that you, my horsy friend, will be held responsible. After all, you have locked yourself in the Operations' booth in the middle of a crisis.'
'Nobody will believe it!' protested Foaly.
'Oh yes they will, especially when you disengage the LEP security, including the DNA cannons.'
'Which I won't be doing anytime soon.'
Cudgeon twirled a matt-black remote between his fingers. 'I'm afraid it's not up to you any more. Opal took your little operation apart and wired the whole lot into this little beauty.'
Foaly swallowed. 'You mean ...?'
'That's right,' said Cudgeon. 'Nothing works unless I press the button.'
He pressed the button. And even if Foaly had had the reactions of a sprite, he would never have had time to draw up all his hooves before the plasma shock blasted him right out of his specially modified swivel chair.

ARCTIC CIRCLE

Butler instructed everyone to attach themselves to the Moonbelt, one per link. Floating slightly in the buffeting wind, the group manoeuvred itself to the carriage doorway like a drunken crab.
It's simple physics, Artemis told himself. Reduced gravity will prevent us being dashed against the Arctic ice. In spite of all his logic, when Root launched the group into the night, Artemis couldn't hold back a single gasp. Later, when he replayed the incident in his mind's eye, Artemis would edit out the breath.
The slipstream spun them beyond the railway sleepers, into a drift. Butler turned off the anti-gravity belt a second before impact, otherwise they could have bounced away, like men on the moon.
Root was first to detach, scooping handfuls of snow from the surface until his fingers reached the compacted ice below.
'It's no use,' he said. 'I can't break through the ice.'
He heard a click behind his shoulder.
'Stand back,' advised Butler, taking aim with his handgun.
Root obliged, shielding his eyes with a forearm. Ice slivers could blind you just as efficiently as six-inch nails. Butler put a full clip into a narrow spread, blasting a shallow hollow in the frozen surface. Instant sleet drenched the already sodden group.
Root was checking the results before the smoke cleared. He brought Butler up to speed — they had seconds left before Holly's time ran out. They needed to complete the Ritual. After a certain time it mightn't be wise to attempt a graft. Even if they could.
The commander jumped into the dip, sweeping aside layers of loose ice. There was a disk of brown among the white.
'Yes!' he crowed. 'Earth!'
Butler lowered Holly's twitching form into the hole. She seemed like a doll in his powerful hands. Tiny and limp. Root curled Holly's fingers around the illegal acorn, thrusting her left hand deep into the shattered soil. He pulled a roll of tape from his belt, crudely securing the finger to roughly its original position. The elf and two humans gathered around and waited.
'It mightn't take,' muttered Root nervously. 'This sealed acorn thing is new. Never been tested. Foaly and his ideas. But they usually work. They usually do.'
Artemis laid a hand on his shoulder. It was all he could think to do. Giving comfort was not one of his strong points.
Five seconds. Ten. Nothing.
Then . . .
'Look!' cried Artemis. 'A spark.'
A solitary blue spark travelled lazily along the length of Holly's arm, winding along the veins. It crossed her chest, climbed her pointed chin and sank into the flesh right between the eyes.
'Stand-back,' advised Root. 'I saw a two-minute healing in Tulsa one night. Damn near destroyed an entire shuttle port. I've never even heard of a four-minuter.'
They back-pedalled to the lip of the crater and not a moment too soon. More sparks erupted from the Earth, targeting Holly's hand as the area most in need of assistance. They sank into her finger joint like plasma torpedoes, melting the plastic tape.
Holly shot upright, arms swinging like a puppet. Her legs began to jerk, kicking invisible enemies. Then the vocal cords, a high-pitched keening that cracked the thinner sheets of ice.
'Is this normal?' whispered Artemis, as though Holly could hear.
'I think so,' answered the commander. 'The brain is running a systems check. It's not like fixing cuts and bruises, if you know what I mean.'
Every pore in Holly's body started to steam, venting trace radiation. She thrashed and kicked, sinking back down into a pool of slush. Not a pretty sight. The water evaporated, shrouding the LEP captain in mist. Only her left hand was visible, fingers a desperate blur.
Holly suddenly stopped moving. Her hand froze, then dropped through the mist. The Arctic night rushed in to reclaim the silence.
They inched closer, leaning into the fog. Artemis wanted to see, but he was afraid to look.
Butler took a breath, batting aside sheets of mist. All was quiet below. Holly's frame lay still as the grave.
Artemis peered at the shape in the hole. 'I think she's awake ... '
He was cut short by Holly's sudden return to consciousness. She bolted upright, icicles coating her eyelashes and auburn hair. Her chest ballooned as she swallowed huge gulps of air.
Artemis grabbed her shoulders, for once abandoning his shell of icy composure. 'Holly. Holly, speak to me. Your finger. Is it OK?'
Holly wiggled her fingers, then curled them into a fist. 'I think so,' she said, and whacked Artemis right between the eyes. The surprised boy landed in a snowdrift for the fourth time that day.
Holly winked at an amazed Butler. 'Now, we're even,' she said.
Commander Root didn't have many treasured memories. But in future days, when things were at their grimmest, he would conjure up this moment and have a quiet chuckle.

OPERATIONS' BOOTH

Foaly woke up sore, which was unusual for him. He couldn't even remember the last time he'd experienced actual pain. His feelings had been hurt a few times by Julius's barbed comments, but actual physical discomfort was not something he cared to endure when he could avoid it.
The centaur was lying on the Operations' Security-booth floor, tangled in the remains of his office chair.
'Cudgeon,' he growled, and what followed was about two minutes' worth of unprintable obscenity.
When he had finally vented his anger, the centaur's brain kicked in, and he hauled himself up from the plasma tiles. His rump was singed. He was going to have a couple of bald spots on his hind quarters. Very unattractive in a centaur. It was the first thing a prospective mate looked for in a nightclub. Not that Foaly had ever been much of a dancer. Four left hooves.
The booth was sealed. Tighter than a gnome's wallet, as the saying went. Foaly typed in his exit code. 'Foaly. Doors.'
The computer remained silent.
He tried verbal. 'Foaly. One two one override. Doors.'
Not a peep. He was trapped. A prisoner of his own security devices. Even the windows were set to blackout, blocking his view of the Operations' room. Completely locked out, and locked in. Nothing worked.
Well, that wasn't completely accurate. Everything worked, but his precious computers wouldn't respond to his touch. And Foaly was only too well aware that there was no way out of the booth without access to the mainframe.
Foaly plucked the tin foil hat from his head, crunching it into a ball.
'A lot of good you did me!' he said, tossing it into the waste recycler. The recycler would analyse the chemical make-up of the item, then divert it to the appropriate tank.
A plasma monitor crackled into life on the wall. Opal Koboi's magnified face appeared, plastered with the widest grin the centaur had ever seen.
'Hello, Foaly. Long time no see.'
Foaly returned the grin, but his wasn't quite as wide. 'Opal. How nice to see you. How are the folks?' Everyone knew how Opal had bankrupted her father. It was a legend in the corporate world.
'Very well, thanks. Cumulus House is a lovely asylum.'
Foaly decided he would try sincerity. It was a tool he didn't use very often. But he would give it a go.
'Opal. Think about what you're doing. Cudgeon is insane, for pity's sake. Once he has what he wants, he will dispose of you in a heartbeat!'
The pixie shook a perfectly manicured finger. 'No, Foaly, you're wrong. Briar needs me. He really does. He'd be nothing without me and my gold.'
The centaur looked deep into Opal's eyes. The pixie actually believed what she was saying. How could someone so brilliant be so deluded?
'I know what this is all about, Opal.'
'Oh, you do?'
'Yes. You're still sore because I won the science medal back in university.'
For a second, Koboi's composure slipped, and her features didn't seem quite so perfect.
'That medal was mine, you stupid centaur. My wing design was far superior to your ridiculous iris-cam. You won because you were a male. And that's the only reason.'
Foaly grinned, satisfied. Even with the odds so hugely against him, he hadn't lost the ability to be the most annoying creature under the world when he wanted to be.
'So what do you want, Opal? Or did you just call to chat about our schooldays?'
Opal took a long drink from a crystal glass. 'I just called, Foaly, to let you know I'm watching, so don't try anything. I also wanted to show you something from the security cameras downtown. This is live footage by the way, and Briar is with the Council right now, blaming you for it. Happy viewing.'
Opal's face disappeared to be replaced by a high-angle view of downtown Haven. A tourist district, outside Spud's Spud Emporium. Generally, this area would be thronged with Atlantean couples taking photos of each other in front of the fountain. But not today, because today the square was a battleground. The B'wa Kell was waging open war with the LEP and, by the looks of things, it was a one-sided battle. The goblins were firing their Softnose weapons, but the police were not shooting back. They just huddled behind whatever shelter they could find. Completely helpless.
Foaly's jaw dropped. This was disastrous. And he was being blamed for everything. Of course, the thing about scapegoats was that they could not be left alive to protest their innocence. He had to get a message to Holly, and fast, or they were all dead fairies.

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Variety is the spice of life

Zodijak Aquarius
Pol Muškarac
Poruke 17382
Zastava Srbija
OS
Windows XP
Browser
Opera 9.00
mob
SonyEricsson W610
Chapter 10: Trouble And Strife



DOWNTOWN HAVEN

SPUD'S Spud Emporium was not a place you wanted to be on the best of days. The fries were greasy, the meat was mysterious and the milkshakes had gristly lumps. Nevertheless, the Emporium did a roaring trade, especially during the solstice.
At this precise moment, Captain Trouble Kelp would almost have preferred to be inside the fast-food joint, choking down a rubbery burger, than outside it dodging lasers. Almost.
With Root out of the picture, field command fell to Captain Kelp. Usually this was a responsibility he would have relished. But then again, usually he would have had the benefit of transport and weapons. Thankfully they still had communications.
Trouble and his patrol had been rousting B'wa Kell hot spots when they were bushwhacked by a hundred members of the reptilian triad. The goblins had positioned themselves on the rooftops, catching the LEP squad in a deadly crossfire from Softnose lasers and fireballs. Pretty complex thinking for the B'wa Kell. The average goblin found simultaneous scratching and spitting a challenge. They had to be getting their orders from someone.
Trouble and one of his junior corporals were pinned down behind a photo booth, while the remaining officers had managed to take cover in Spud's Emporium.
For the moment, they were keeping the goblins at bay with tasers and buzz batons. The tasers had a range of ten metres, and the buzz batons were only good for close quarters. Both ran on electric batteries and would run out eventually. After that they were down to rocks and bare fists. They didn't even have the advantage of shielding as the B'wa Kell was equipped with LEP combat helmets. Older models certainly, but still fitted with anti-shield filters.
A fireball arced over the booth, melting through the asphalt at their feet. The goblins were wising up. Relatively speaking. Instead of trying to blast through the booth, they were lobbing missiles over it. Time was short now.
Trouble tapped his mike. 'Kelp to base. Anything on weapons?'
'Not a thing, Cap,' came the reply. 'Plenty of officers with nuthin to shoot 'cept their fingers. We're charging up the old 'lectric guns, but that's gonna take eight hours minimum. There are a coupla body-armour suits over in Recon. I'm having 'em double-timed over to you right now. Five minutes. Tops.'
'D'ArvitF swore the cap tain. They were going to have to move. Any second now this booth would fall apart and they would be sitting ducks for goblin fire. Beside him the corporal was quivering in terror.
'For heaven's sake,' snapped Trouble. 'Pull yourself together.'
'You shut up, Trub,' retorted his brother, Grub, through wobbly lips. 'You were supposed to look out for me. Mummy said.'
Trouble waved a threatening finger. 'It's Captain Kelp while we're on duty, Corporal. And for your information, I am looking out for you.'
'Oh, this is looking out for me, is it?' whined Grub, pouting.
Trouble didn't know who annoyed him more, his kid brother or the goblins.
'OK, Grub.This booth isn't going to last much longer. We've got to make a break for the Emporium. Understand?'
Grub's wobbling lip suddenly stiffened considerably. 'No chance. I'm not moving. You can't make me. I don't mind if I stay here for the rest of my life.'
Trouble raised his visor. 'Listen to me. Listen. The rest of your life is going to be about thirty seconds. We have to go.’
'But the goblins, Trub.'
Captain Kelp grabbed his brother by the shoulders. 'Don't you worry about the goblins. You worry about my foot connecting with your behind if you slow down.'
Grub winced. He'd had that experience before. 'We're going to be all right, aren't we, brother?'
Trouble winked. 'Of course we are. I'm the captain, aren't I?'
His little brother nodded, lip losing its stiffness.
'Good. Now you point your nose at the door and go when I say. Got it?'
More nodding. Grub's chin was bobbing faster than a woodpecker's beak.
'Right, Corporal. Standby. On my command ..."
Another fireball. Closer this time. Rising black smoke from Trouble's rubber soles. The captain poked his nose around the wall. A laser burst almost gave him a third nostril. A steel sandwich board spun around the corner, dancing with the force of a dozen charges. Foto Finish the sign said. Or Fot Finish to be precise. The V had been blasted out of it. Not laserproof then. But it would have to do.
Trouble snared the revolving board, draping it over his shoulders. Armour, of sorts. The LEP suits were lined with micro-filaments that would dissipate neutrino blasts or even sonic bursts, but Softnoses hadn't been used below ground for decades, so the suits hadn't been designed to withstand them. A burst would tear through the LEP uniform like so much rice paper.
He poked his brother in the back. 'Ready?'
Grub may have nodded, or it may have been that his entire body was shaking.
Trouble gathered his legs beneath him, adjusting the sandwich board across his chest and back. It would withstand a couple of rounds. After that, his own body would be providing cover for Grub.
Another fireball. Directly between them and the Emporium. In a moment, the flame would sink a hole in the tarmac. They had to go now. Through the fire.
'Seal your helmet!'
'Why?'
'Just seal it, Corporal.'
Grub did. You could argue with a brother, but not a commanding officer.
Trouble placed a hand on Grub's back and pushed. Hard. 'Go, go, go!'
They went, straight through the white heart of the flame. Trouble heard the filaments in his suit pop as they tried to cope with the heat. Boiling tar sucked at his boots, melting the rubber soles.
Then they were through, stumbling towards the double doors. Trouble scrubbed the soot from his visor. His men were waiting, huddled behind riot shields. Two paramedic warlocks had their gloves off, ready to lay on hands.
Ten metres to go.
On they ran.
The goblins found range. A hail of charges sang through the air around them, pulverizing what was left of the Emporium's shop front. Trouble's crown lurched forward as a slug flattened itself against his helmet. More charges. Lower down. A tight grouping between his shoulder blades. The sandwich board held.
The impact lifted the captain like a kite, slapping him into his brother, and carrying them both through the decimated double doors. They were instantly hauled behind a wall of riot shields.
'Grub,' gasped Captain Kelp, through the pain and noise and soot. 'Is he OK?'
'Fine,' answered the senior warlock paramedic, rolling Trouble on to his stomach. 'Your back on the other hand, is going to have some lovely bruises in the morning.'
Captain Kelp waved the warlock away. 'Any word from the commander?'
The warlock shook his head. 'Nothing. Root is missing in action and Cudgeon has been reinstated as commander. Even worse, now they're saying Foaly is behind this whole thing.'
Trouble paled, and it wasn't from the pain in his back. 'Foaly! It can't be true.'
Trouble ground his teeth in frustration. Foaly and the commander. He had no choice, he would have to do it. The one thing he had nightmares about.
Captain Kelp struggled up on to one elbow. The air above their heads was alive with the buzz of Softnose bursts. It was only a matter of time before they were completely overrun. It had to be done.
Trouble took a breath. 'OK, people. Listen up. Retreat to Police Plaza.'
The troops froze. Even Grub caught himself in mid-sob. Retreat?
'You heard me!' snarled Trouble. 'Retreat. We can't hold the streets without arms. Now move it out.'
The LEP shuffled to the service entrance, unaccustomed to losing. Call it retreat, call it a tactical manoeuvre. It was still running away. And who would have thought that order would ever come out of Trouble Kelp's mouth?

ARCTIC SHUTTLE PORT

Artemis and his fellow travellers took shelter in the shuttle port. Holly made the journey slung over Butler's shoulder. She protested loudly for several minutes until the commander ordered her to shut up.
'You've just had major magical surgery,' he pointed out. 'So just stay quiet and do your exercises.' It was vital that Holly manipulate her finger constantly for the next hour or so to ensure the right tendons got reconnected. It was very important she move her index finger the way she intended to use it later, especially as she would be firing a weapon.
They huddled around a glow cube in the deserted departure lounge.
'Any water?' asked Holly. 'I feel dehydrated after that healing.'
Root winked, something that didn't happen very often. 'Here's a little trick I learned in the field.' He popped a flat-nosed shell from a clip in his belt. It seemed to be made from perspex and filled with clear liquid.
'You won't get much of a drink from that,' commented Butler.
'More than you'd think. This is a Hydrosion shell: a miniature fire extinguisher. The water is compressed into a tiny space. You fire it into the heart of a fire and the impact reverses the compressor. Half a litre of water is blasted at the flames. More effective than a hundred litres poured. We call them Fizzers.'
'Very good,' said Artemis drily. 'If you could use your weapons.'
'Don't need 'em,' said Root, drawing a large knife. 'Manual works just as well.'
He pointed the shell's flat tip at the mouth of a canteen and popped the lid. A fizzing spray jetted into the container.
'There you are, Captain. Never let it be said I don't look after my officers.'
'Clever,' admitted Artemis.
'And the best thing is,' said the commander, pocketing I the empty Fizzer. 'These things are completely reusable. All I have to do is stick it in a pile of snow and the compressor will do the rest, so I won't even have Foaly on my case for wasting equipment.'
Holly took a long drink and soon the colour surged I back to her cheeks.
'So we were ambushed by a B'wa Kell hit team,' she mused. 'What does that mean?'
'It means you have a leak,' said Artemis, holding his hands close to the cube's warmth. 'It was my impression I that this mission was top secret. Not even your Council I was informed. The only person who isn't here is that centaur.'
Holly jumped to her feet. 'Foaly? It can't be.'
Artemis raised his palms. 'Logic. That's all it is.'
'This is all very well,' interrupted the commander, 'but it's conjecture. We need to assess our situation. What have we got, and what do we know for sure?'
Butler nodded. The commander was a being after his own heart. A soldier.
Root answered his own question. 'We've still got the shuttle, provided it's not wired. There's a locker full of provisions. Atlantean food mostly, so get used to fish and squid.'
'And what do we know?'
Artemis took over. 'We know that the goblins have a source in the LER We also know if they tried to take out the LEP's head, Commander Root, then they must be after the body. Their best chance of success would be to mount both operations simultaneously.' Holly chewed her lip. 'So that means 'That means there is probably some kind of revolution going on below ground.'
'The B'wa Kell against the LEP?' scoffed Holly. 'No problem.'
'Generally, that may be true,' agreed Artemis. 'But if your weapons are out
'Then so are theirs,' completed Root, 'in theory.' Artemis moved closer to the glow cube. 'Worst-case scenario: Haven has been taken by the B'wa Kell, and the Council members are either dead or imprisoned. Quite honestly, things look grim.'
Neither fairy responded. Grim hardly did the situation justice. Disastrous was closer to the mark.
Even Artemis was slightly disheartened. None of this was helping his father.
'I suggest we rest here for a while, pack some provisions, and then proceed towards Murmansk as soon as we get some cloud cover. Butler can search this man Vassikin's apartment. Perhaps we will be lucky and my father will be there. I realize that we are at a slight disadvantage without weapons, but we still have surprise on our side.'
No one spoke for several moments. It was an uneasy silence. Everybody knew what should be said, but nobody wanted to say it.
'Artemis,' said Butler eventually, laying a hand on the boy's shoulder. 'We're in no shape to go up against the Mafiya. We don't have any firepower, and our colleagues need to get below ground, so we don't have any magic. If we go in there now, we're not coming out. Any of us.'
Artemis stared deep into the heart of the glow cube. 'But my father is so close, Butler. I can't give up now.'
In spite of herself, Holly was touched by his unwillingness to give up, against all the odds. She was certain that, for once, Artemis wasn't trying to manipulate anybody. He was simply a boy who missed his father. Maybe her defences were down, but she felt sorry for him.
'We're not giving up, Artemis,' she said softly. 'We're regrouping. There's a difference. We'll be back. Remember, it's always darkest before the dawn.'
Artemis looked at her. 'What dawn? We're in the Arctic, remember.'

OPERATIONS' BOOTH

Foaly was furious with himself. After all the security encryptions he'd built into his systems, Opal Koboi had simply strolled in here and hijacked the entire network. And what's more, the LEP had paid her for the job.
The centaur had to admire her nerve. It was a brilliantly simple plan. Apply for the upgrade contract, submit the lowest estimate. Get the LEP to give you an access-all-areas chip and then piggyback spy cams on the local systems. She had even billed the LEP for the surveillance equipment.
Foaly pushed a few buttons experimentally. No response. Not that he'd expected any. Doubtless, Opal Koboi had everything wired, down to the last fibre optic. Perhaps she was watching him at this very moment. He could just imagine her. Coiled up on a Koboi Hoverboy™ giggling at the plasma screen. His greatest rival, gloating over his destruction.
Foaly growled. She may have caught him off guard once, but it wouldn't happen again. He would not go to pieces for Opal Koboi's entertainment ... Then again, maybe he would.
The centaur cradled his head between his hands, the picture of a beaten fairy, and began to heave theatrical sobs. He peeped out between his fingers ... Now, if I were a button camera, where would I hide? Somewhere the sweeper wouldn't check. Foaly glanced at the bug sweeper, a small, complex-looking mass of cables and chips attached to the roof. The only place the sweeper didn't check was inside the sweeper itself ...
So now he knew Opal's vantage point, for all the good it did him. If the camera was piggybacking inside the sweeper, there would be a small blindspot directly below the unit's titanium casing, but the pixie could still see everything of importance. He was still locked out of the computer and locked in the Operations' booth.
He began to scan the booth. What had come in since the last batch of Koboi upgrades? There must be some untainted equipment ...
But there was nothing except junk. A roll of fibre-optic cable. A few conductor clips and a few tools. Nothing useful. Then something winked at him from beneath a workstation. A green light.
Foaly's heart jumped ten beats per minute. He knew instantly what it was. Artemis Fowl's laptop computer. Complete with modem and e-mail capability. He willed himself to maintain calm. Opal Koboi couldn't possibly have bugged it. The device had only come in hours ago. He hadn't even got around to dismantling it yet.
The centaur clopped across to his toolbox and, in a fit of frustration, dumped the contents on to the plasma tiles. He was not so frustrated that he forgot to snag some cable and snips. The next step in his faked breakdown was to flop on to the worktop, sobbing uncontrollably. Naturally he had to flop over the precise spot where Holly had left the laptop. With a casual kick, Foaly slid the computer into the space where the sweeper's blindspot should be. He then threw himself on to the floor, kicking his legs in a furious tantrum. From the button camera, Opal shouldn't be able to see more than his thrashing legs.
So far so good. Foaly popped the laptop's lid, quickly shutting off the speakers. Humans would insist on their machines beeping at the most inopportune moments. He allowed one hand to drag across the keyboard and moments later he was in the e-mail program.
Now for the problem. Wireless Internet access is one thing, but access from the centre of the Earth is quite another. Cradling his head in the crook of one arm, Foaly jimmied one end of a fibre-optic cable into a scope uplink port. The scopes were shrouded trackers concealed on American communications satellites. Now he had an aerial. Let's hope Mud Boy was switched on.

KOBOI LABORATORIES

Opal Koboi had never had so much fun. The underworld was literally her plaything. She stretched on her Koboi Hoverboy like a contented cat, eyes devouring the chaos on the plasma monitors. The LEP had no chance. It was only a matter of time before the B'wa Kell gained access to Police Plaza, then the city was theirs. Next came Atlantis, then the human world.
Opal floated between screens, soaking up every detail. In the city, goblins flowed from every centimetre of darkness, armed and thirsty for blood. Softnose slugs ripped chunks from historical edifices. Ordinary fairies barricaded themselves in their houses, praying that the marauding gangs would pass them by. Businesses were looted and torched. Not too much torching, she hoped. Opal Koboi had no desire to be queen of a war zone.
A com screen opened on the main display. It was Cudgeon on their secure line. And he actually seemed happy. The cold happiness of revenge.
'Briar,' squealed Opal. 'This is wonderful. I wish you were here to see it.'
'Soon. I must remain with my troops. After all, because I was the one who unearthed Foaly's treachery, the Council has reinstated me as commander. How is our prisoner?'
Opal glanced at the Foaly screen. 'Disappointing, frankly. I expected some plotting. An escape attempt, at least. But all he does is mope about and throw the odd tantrum.'
Cudgeon's smile widened. 'Suicidal, I expect. In fact, I'm certain of it.' Then the recently promoted commander was all business again. 'What of the LEP? Any unexpected brainwaves?'
'No. Exactly as you predicted. They are cowering in Police Plaza like tortoises in their shells. Shall I shut off local communications?'
Cudgeon shook his head. 'No. They broadcast their every move on their so-called secure channels. Keep them open. Just in case.'
Opal Koboi hovered closer to the screen. 'Tell me again, Briar. Tell me about the future.'
For a moment, annoyance flashed across Cudgeon's face. But today, of all days, his good humour could not be suppressed for long.
'The Council has been told that Foaly has orchestrated the sabotage from his locked Operations' booth. But you shall miraculously override the centaur's program and return control of Police Plaza's DNA cannons to the LEP. Those ridiculous goblins shall be overrun. I shall be the hero of the resistance, and you shall be my princess. Every military contract for the next five hundred years shall belong to Koboi Laboratories.'
Opal's breath caught in her throat. 'And then?' 'And then, together we will rid the Earth of these tiresome Mud People. That, my dear, is the future.'

ARCTIC SHUTTLE TERMINAL

Artemis's phone rang. Something even he hadn't anticipated. He stripped off a glove with his teeth, tearing the mobile phone from its Velcro strip.
'Text message,' he said, navigating through the mobile phone's menu. 'No one has this number except Butler.'
Holly folded her arms. 'Obviously someone has.'
Artemis ignored her tone. 'It must be Foaly. He's been monitoring my wireless communications for months. Either he's using my computer, or he's found a way to unify our platforms.'
'I see,' said Butler and Root together. Two big lies.
Holly was unimpressed by all the jargon. 'So what does it say?'
Artemis tapped the tiny screen. 'See for yourself.'
Captain Short took the mobile phone, scrolling through the message and reading it aloud. Her face grew longer with each line ...
CMNDR ROOT. TRBLE BELOW. HAVN OVERRN BY GOBLNS. PLICE PLAZA SRROUNDED. CUDGEON + OPL KBOI BHND PLOT. NO WPONS OR CMMUNICATIONS. DNA CNONS CNTRLLED BY KBOI. I M TRPPED IN OP BTH. CNCLTHNKS IM 2 BLM. IF ALIVE PLSE HLP. IF NOT, WRNG NMBR.
Holly swallowed, her throat suddenly dry. 'This is not good.'
The commander jumped to his feet, grabbing the mobile phone to read the message for himself.
'No,' he declared moments later. 'It certainly isn't. Cudgeon! All the time it was Cudgeon. Why didn't I see it? Can we get a message to Foaly?'
Artemis considered it. 'No. There's no network here. I'm surprised we could even receive.'
'Couldn't you rig it somehow?'
'Certainly. Just give me six months, some specialized equipment and three kilometres of steel girder.'
Holly snorted. 'Some criminal mastermind you turned out to be.'
Butler placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. 'Shh,' he whispered. 'Artemis is thinking.'
Artemis stared deep into the glow cube's liquid-plasma heart. 'We have two options,' he began, after a moment. Nobody interrupted, not even Holly. After all, it had been Artemis Fowl who had devised a way to escape the time field.
'We could get some human aid. No doubt some of Butler's more dubious acquaintances could be persuaded to help, for a fee, of course.'
Root shook his head. 'No good.'
'They could be mind-wiped afterwards.'
'Sometimes wipes don't take. The last thing we need is mercenaries with residual memories. Option Two?'
'We break into Koboi Laboratories and return weapons control to the LEP.'
The commander guffawed. 'Break into Koboi Laboratories? Are you serious? That entire compound is built on bedrock. There are no windows, totally blast-resistant walls and DNA stun cannons. Any unauthorized personnel that come within a hundred metres get blasted right between the pointy ears.'
Butler whistled. 'Seems like a whole lot of hardware for an engineering company.'
'I know,' sighed Root. 'Koboi Labs had special permits. I signed them myself.'
Butler considered it for several moments. 'Can't be done,' he pronounced eventually. 'Not without the blueprints.'
'D'Arvit,' swore the commander. 'I never thought I'd say this, but there's only one fairy for a job like this ...'
Holly nodded. 'Mulch Diggums.'
'Diggums?'
'A dwarf. Career criminal. The only fairy ever to break into Koboi Laboratories and live. Unfortunately, we lost him last year. Tunnelling out of your manor as it happens.'
'I remember him,' said Butler. 'Nearly took my head off. A slippery character.'
Root laughed softly. 'Eight times I nabbed old Mulch. The last one was for the Koboi Labs job. As I recall, Mulch and his cousin set up as building contractors. A way to get plans for secure facilities. They got the Koboi contract. Mulch left himself a back door. Typical Diggums, he breaks into the most secure facility under the planet, then tries to sell an alchemy vat to one of my squeals.'
Artemis sat up. 'Alchemy? You have alchemy vats?'
'Stop drooling, Mud Boy. They're experimental. The ancient warlocks used to be able to turn lead into gold, according to the Book, but the secret was lost. Even Opal Koboi hasn't managed it yet.'
'Oh,' said Artemis, disappointed.
'Believe it or not, I almost miss that criminal. He had a way of insulting a person ..." Root glanced towards the heavens. 'I wonder if he's up there now, looking down on us.'
'In a manner of speaking,' said Holly guiltily. 'Actually, Commander, Mulch Diggums is in Los Angeles.'
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Chapter 11: Mulch Ado About Nothing



LOS ANGELES, USA

MULCH Diggums was, in fact, outside the apartment of an Oscar-winning actress.
Of course, she didn't know he was there.
And, naturally, he was up to no good. Once a thief, always a thief.
Not that Mulch needed the money. He'd done very well out of the Artemis Fowl Affair. Well enough to take out a lease on a penthouse apartment in Beverly Hills. He'd stocked the apartment with a Pioneer entertainment system, a full DVD library and enough beef jerky to last a lifetime. Time for a decade of rest and relaxation.
But life is not like that. It refuses to curl up and sit quietly in a corner. The habits of several centuries would not go away. Halfway through the James Bond Collection, Mulch realized that he missed the bad old days. Soon the penthouse suite's reclusive occupant was taking midnight strolls. These strolls generally ended up inside other people's homes.
Initially Mulch just visited, savouring the thrill of defeating sophisticated Mud Man security systems. Then he began to take trophies. Small things — a crystal goblet, an ashtray, or a cat if he was peckish. But soon Mulch Diggums began to crave the old notoriety and his pilferings grew larger. Gold bars, goose egg diamonds, or pit bull terriers if he was really famished.
The Oscar thing began quite by accident. He nabbed one as a curiosity on a midweek break to New York. Best original screenplay. The following morning he was front page news coast to coast. You'd think he'd ripped off a medical convoy instead of a gilded statuette. Mulch, of course, was delighted. He'd found his new nocturnal pastime.
In the next fortnight, Mulch filched best soundtrack and best special effects Academy Awards. The tabloids went crazy. They even gave him a nickname: the Grouch, after another well-known Oscar. When Mulch read that one, his toes wriggled for joy. And dwarf toes wriggling are quite a sight. They are as nimble as fingers, double-jointed and the less said about the smell the better. Mulch's mission became clear. He had to assemble an entire set.
Over the next six months, the Grouch struck all across the United States. He even made a trip to Italy to collect a best foreign-language film award. He had a special cabinet made, with tinted glass that could be blacked out at the touch of a button. Mulch Diggums felt alive again.
Of course, every Oscar winner on the planet trebled their security, which was just the way Mulch liked it. There was no challenge in breaking into a shack on the beach. High rise and high-tech. That's what the public wanted. So that's what the Grouch gave them. The papers ate it up. He was a hero. During the daylight hours, when he couldn't venture outside, Mulch busied himself writing the screenplay of his own exploits.
Tonight was a big night. The last statuette. He was going for a best actress award. And not just any old best actress. Tonight's target was the tempestuous Jamaican beauty, Maggie V. This year's winner for her portrayal of Precious, a tempestuous Jamaican beauty. Maggie V had stated publicly that if the Grouch tried anything in her apartment, he would get a lot more than he had bargained for. How could Mulch resist a challenge like that?
The building itself was easy to locate, a ten-storey block of glass and steel just off Sunset Boulevard, a midnight stroll south of Mulch's own home. So one cloudy night, the intrepid dwarf packed his tools, preparing to burglarize his way into the history books.
Maggie V was on the top floor. There was no question of going up the stairs, lift or shaft. It would have to be an outside job.
In preparation for the climb, Mulch had not had anything to drink in two days. Dwarf pores are not just for sweating, they can take in moisture too. Very handy when you are trapped in a cave-in for days on end. Even if you can't get your mouth to a drink, every centimetre of skin can leech water from the surrounding earth. When a dwarf was thirsty, as Mulch was now, his pores opened to the size of pinholes and began to suck like crazy. This could be extremely useful if, say, you had to climb up the side of a tall building.
Mulch took off his shoes and gloves, donned a stolen LEP helmet and began to climb.

CHUTE E93

Holly could feel the commander's glare crisping the hairs on the back of her neck. She tried to ignore it, concentrating on not dashing the Atlantean ambassador's shuttle against the walls of the Arctic chute.
'So, all this time, you knew Mulch Diggums was alive?'
Holly nudged the starboard thruster to avoid a missile of half-melted rock. 'Not for sure. Foaly just had this theory.'
The commander wrung an imaginary neck. 'Foaly! Why am I not surprised?'
Artemis smirked from his seat in the passenger area.
'Now, you two, we need to work together as a team.'
'So tell me about Foaly's theory, Captain,' ordered Root, belting himself into the co-pilot's seat.
Holly activated a static wash on the shuttle's external cameras. Positive and negative charges dislodged the sheets of dust from the lenses.
'Foaly thought Mulch's death a bit suspicious, given that he was the best tunnel fairy in the business.'
'So why didn't he come to me?'
'It was just a hunch. With respect, you know what you're like with hunches, Commander.'
Root nodded grudgingly. It was true, he didn't have time for hunches. It was hard evidence, or get out of my office until you've got some.
'The centaur did a bit of investigating in his own time. The first thing he realized was that the gold recovered was a bit light. I negotiated for the return of half the ransom and, by Foaly's reckoning, the cart was about two dozen bars short.'
The commander lit one of his trademark fungus cigars. He had to admit it sounded promising: gold missing, Mulch Diggums within a hundred miles. Two and two make four.
'As you know, it's standard procedure to spray any LEP property with solinium-based tracker, including the ransom gold. So, Foaly runs a scan for solinium, and he picks up hot spots all over Los Angeles. Particularly at the Crowley Hotel in Beverly Hills. When he hacks into the building computer, he finds the penthouse resident is listed as one Lance Digger.'
Root's pointy ears quivered. 'Digger?'
'Exactly,' said Holly, nodding. 'A bit more than coincidence. Foaly came to me at that point, and I advised him to get some satellite photos before taking the file to you. Except ...'
'Except Mister Digger is proving very elusive. Am I right?'
'Dead on.'
Root's colouring went from rose to tomato. 'Mulch, that rascal. How did he do it?'
Holly shrugged. 'We're guessing he transferred his iris-cam to some local wildlife, maybe a rabbit.Then collapsed the tunnel.'
'So the life signs we were reading belonged to some rabbit.'
'Exactly. In theory.'
'I'll kill him,' exclaimed Root, pounding the control panel. 'Can't this bucket go any faster?'

LOS ANGELES

Mulch scaled the building without much difficulty. There were external closed-circuit cameras, but the helmet's ion filter showed exactly where these cameras were pointed. It was a simple matter to crawl along the blind spots.
Within an hour, the dwarf was suckered outside Maggie V's apartment on the tenth floor. The windows were triple glazed with a bulletproof coating. Movie stars. Paranoid, every one of them.
Naturally, there was an alarm point sitting on top of the pane and a motion sensor crouching on a wall like a frozen cricket. Only to be expected.
Mulch melted a hole in the glass with a bottle of dwarf rock polish, used to clean up diamonds in the mines. Humans actually cut diamonds to shine them. Imagine. Half the stone down the drain.
Next, the Grouch used the helmet's ion filter to sweep the room for the motion sensor's range. The red ion-stream revealed that the sensor was focused on the floor. No matter. Mulch intended going along the wall.
Pores still crying out for water, the dwarf crept along the partition, making maximum use of a stainless-steel shelving system that almost completely surrounded the main sitting room.
The next step was to find the actual Oscar. It could be hidden anywhere, including under Maggie V's pillow, but this room was as good a place to start as any. You never knew, he might get lucky.
Mulch activated the helmet's X-ray filter, scanning the walls for a safe. Nothing. He tried the floor; humans were getting smarter these days. There, under a fake zebra rug, a metal cuboid. Easy.
The Grouch approached the motion sensor from above, very gently twisting the neck until the gadget was surveying the ceiling. The floor was now safe.
Mulch dropped to the rug, testing the surface with his tactile toes. No pressure pads sewn into the rug's lining. He rolled back the fake skin, revealing a hatch in the wooden floor. The joins were barely visible to the naked eye. But Mulch was an expert and his eyes weren't naked, they were aided by LEP zoom lenses.
He wormed a nail into the crack, flipping the hatch. The safe itself was a bit of a disappointment. Not even lead-lined; he could see right into the mechanism with the X-ray filter. A simple combination lock. Only three digits.
Mulch turned the filter off. What was the point in breaking a see-through lock? Instead he put his ear to the door, jiggling the dial. In fifteen seconds the door was open at his feet.
The Oscar's gold plating winked at him. Mulch made a big mistake at that moment. He relaxed. In the Grouch's mind he was already back in his own apartment, swigging from a two-litre bottle of ice-cold water. And relaxed thieves are destined for prison.
Mulch neglected to check the statuette for traps, plucking it straight from the safe. If he had checked he would have realized that there was a wire attached magnetically to the base. When the Oscar was moved, a circuit was broken allowing all hell to break loose.

CHUTE E93

Holly set the auto-pilot to hover at three thousand metres below the surface. She slapped herself on the chest, releasing the harness, and joined the others in the rear of the shuttle.
'Two problems. Firstly, if we go any lower, we'll be picked up on the scanners, presuming they're still operating.'
'Why am I not looking forward to number two?' asked Butler.
'Secondly, this part of the chute was retired when we pulled out of the Arctic.'
'Which means?'
'Which means the supply tunnels were collapsed. We have no way into the chute system without supply tunnels.'
'No problem,' declared Root. 'We blast the wall.'
Holly sighed. 'With what, Commander? This is a diplomatic craft. We don't have any cannons.'
Butler plucked two concussor eggs from a pouch on his Moonbelt. 'Will these do? Foaly thought they might come in handy.'
Artemis groaned. If he didn't know better, he'd swear the manservant was enjoying this.

LOS ANGELES

'Uh oh,' breathed Mulch.
In a matter of moments, things had gone from rosy to extremely dangerous. Once the security circuit was broken, a side door slid open admitting two very large German shepherds. The ultimate watchdogs. They were followed by their handler, a huge man covered in protective clothing. It looked as though he were dressed in doormats. Obviously the dogs were unstable.
'Nice doggies,' said Mulch, slowly unbuttoning his bum-flap.

CHUTE E93

Holly nudged the flight controls, inching the shuttle closer to the chute wall.
'That's as near as we get,' she said into her helmet mike. 'Any closer and the thermals could flip us against the rock face.'
Thermals?' growled Root. 'You never said anything about thermals before I climbed out here.'
The commander was spread-eagled on the port wing, a concussor egg jammed down each boot.
'Sorry, Commander, someone has to fly this bird.' Root muttered under his breath, dragging himself closer to the wing-tip. While the turbulence was nowhere as severe as it would have been on a moving aircraft, the buffeting thermals were quite enough to shake the commander like dice in a cup. All that kept him going was the thought of his fingers tightening around Mulch Diggums's throat.
'Another metre,' he gasped into the mike. At least they had communications, the shuttle had its own local intercom. 'One more metre and I can make it.'
'No go, Commander. That's your lot.'
Root risked a peek into the abyss. The chute stretched on forever, winding down to the orange magma glow at the Earth's core. This was madness. Crazy. There must be another way. At this point, the commander would even be willing to risk an over-ground flight.
Then Julius Root had a vision. It could have been the sulphur fumes, stress or even lack of food. But the commander could have sworn Mulch Diggums's features appeared before him, etched into the rock face. The face was sucking on a cigar and smirking.
His determination returned in a surge. Bested by a criminal. Not likely.
Root clambered to his feet, drying sweaty palms on his jumpsuit. The thermals plucked at his limbs like mischievous ghosts.
'Ready to put some distance between us and this soon-to-be hole?' he shouted into the mike.
'Bet on it, Commander,' responded Holly. 'Soon as we have you back in the hold, we're out of here.'
'OK. Standby.'
Root fired the piton dart from his belt. The titanium head sank easily into the rock. The commander knew that tiny charges inside the dart would blow out two flanges securing it inside the face. Five metres. Not a great distance to swing on a piton cord. But it wasn't the swing really. It was the bone-crushing drop and the lack of handholds on the chute wall.
Come on, Julius, sniggered the Mulch edifice. Let's see what you look like splattered against a wall.
'You shut your mouth, convict,' roared the commander. And he jumped, swinging into the void.
The rock face rushed out to meet him, knocking the breath from his lungs. Root ground his back teeth against the pain. He hoped nothing was broken, because after the Russian trip, he didn't even have enough magic left to make a daisy bloom, never mind heal a fractured rib.
The shuttle's forward lights picked out the laser burns where the LEP tunnel dwarfs had sealed the supply chute. That weld line would be the weak spot. Root slotted the concussor eggs along two indents.
'I'm coming for you, Diggums,' he muttered, crushing the capsule detonators embedded in each one. Thirty seconds now.
Root aimed a second piton dart at the shuttle wing. An easy shot, he made this kind of thing in his sleep in the sim-range. Unfortunately, the simulators didn't have thermals fouling things up at the last moment.
Just as the commander fired his dart, the edge of a particularly strong whirlpool of gas caught the shuttle's rear, spinning it forty degrees anti-clockwise. The dart missed by a metre. It spun into the abyss, trailing the commander's lifeline behind it. Root had two options: he could rewind the cord using his belt winch, or he could jettison the piton and try again with his spare. Julius unhooked the cord; it would be faster to try again. A good plan, had he not already used his spare to get them out from under the ice. The commander remembered this half a second after he'd cut loose his last piton.
'D'Arvit,' he swore, patting his belt for a dart which he knew wouldn't be there.
'Trouble, Commander?' asked Holly, her voice strained from wrestling with the controls.
'No pitons left, and the charges are set.'
There followed a brief silence. Very brief. No time for lengthy think-tanks. Root glanced at his moonomenter. Twenty-five seconds and counting.
When Holly's voice came over the headset, it was not bursting with enthusiasm or confidence.
'Er ... Commander. You wearing any metal?'
'Yes,' replied Root, puzzled. 'My breastplate, buckle, insignia, blaster. Why?'
Holly nudged the shuttle a shade closer. Any nearer was suicide.
'Put it like this. How fond are you of your ribs?'
'Why?'
'I think I know how to get you out of there.'
'How?'
'I could tell you, but you're not going to like it.'
'Tell me, Captain. That's a direct order.'
Holly told him. He didn't like it.

LOS ANGELES

Dwarf gas. Not the most tasteful of subjects; even dwarfs don't like to talk about it. Many a dwarf wife is known to scold her husband for venting gas at home and not leaving it in the tunnels. The fact is that, genetically, dwarfs are prone to gas attacks, especially if they've been eating clay in the mine. A dwarf can take in several kilos of dirt a second through his unhinged jaws. That's a lot of clay, with a lot of air in it. All this waste has to go somewhere. So it goes south. To put it politely, the tunnels are self-sealing.
Mulch hadn't eaten clay in months, but he still had a few bubbles of gas at his disposal when he needed them.
The dogs were poised to attack. Slobber hung in ribbons from their gaping jaws. He would be torn to pieces. Mulch concentrated. The familiar bubbling began in his stomach, pulling it out of shape. It felt as though a couple of gnome garbage wrestlers were going a few rounds in there. The dwarf gritted his teeth, this was going to be a big one.
The handler blew a football whistle. The dogs lunged forward like torpedoes with teeth. Mulch let go with a stream of gas, blowing a hole in the rug and propelling himself to the ceiling, where his thirsty pores anchored him. Safe. For the moment.
The German shepherds were particularly surprised. In their time they had chewed their way through most creatures in the food chain. This was something new. And not altogether pleasant.You have to remember that a dog's nose is far more sensitive than a human one.
The handler blew his whistle a few more times, but any control he might have had disappeared the moment Mulch flew through the air on a jet of recycled wind. As soon as the dogs' nasal passages cleared, they began to leap, teeth gnashing at the apex.
Mulch swallowed. Dogs are smarter than the average goblin. It was only a matter of time before they thought to scale the furniture and make a jump from there.
Mulch made for the window, but the handler was there before him, blocking the hole with his padded body. Mulch noticed him fumbling with a weapon at his belt. This was getting serious. Dwarfs are many things, but bulletproof is not one of them.
To make matters worse, Maggie V appeared at the bedroom door, brandishing a chrome baseball bat. This was not the Maggie V the public was used to. Her face was covered with a green mask, and there appeared to be a tea bag taped under each eye.
'Now we have you, Mister Grouch,' she gloated. 'And suction pads aren't going to save you.'
Mulch realized that his career as the Grouch was over. Whether he escaped or not, the LAPD would be visiting every dwarf in the city come sunrise.
Mulch only had one card left to play. The gift of tongues. Every fairy has a natural grasp of languages, as all tongues are based on Gnommish, if you trace them back far enough. Including American Dog.
'Arf' grunted Mulch. 'Arf, rrruff rruff.'
The dogs froze. One attempted to freeze in mid-leap, landing on his partner. They chewed each other's tails for a moment, then remembered that there was a creature on the ceiling barking at them. His accent was terrible, something mid-European. But it was Dog nevertheless.
'Aroof?' enquired dog number one. 'Whaddya sayin'?'
Mulch pointed at the handler. ' Woof arfy arrooof! That human has a big bone inside his shirt,' he grunted. (Obviously, that's been translated.)
The German shepherds pounced on their handler, Mulch scampered through the hole in the window, and Maggie V howled so much that her mask cracked and her tea bags fell off. And even though the Grouch knew that this particular chapter in his career was closed, the weight of Maggie V's Academy Award inside his shirt gave him no little satisfaction.

CHUTE E93

Twenty seconds left before the concussors blew, and the commander was still flattened against the chute wall. They had no wing sets, and no time to get one outside even if they had. If they couldn't pull Root out of there right now, then he'd be blown off the wall and into the abyss. And.magic didn't work on melted slop. There was only one option. Holly would have to use the gripper clamps.
All shuttles are equipped with secondary landing gear. If the docking nodes fail, then four magnetic gripper clamps could be blasted from recessed grooves. These clamps will latch on to the metal underside of the landing-bay dock, reeling the shuttle into the airlock. The grippers also came in handy in unfamiliar environments, where the magnets would seek out trace elements and latch on like sucker slugs.
'OK, Julius,' said Holly. 'Don't move a muscle.'
Root paled. Julius. Holly had called him Julius. That was not good.
Ten seconds.
Holly flicked down a small view screen. 'Release forward port docking clamp.'
A grating hum signalled the clamp's release.
The commander's image appeared in the view screen. Even from here he looked worried. Holly centred a cross hair on his chest.
'Captain Short. Are you absolutely sure about this?'
Holly ignored her superior. 'Range fifteen metres. Magnets only.'
'Holly, maybe I could jump. I could make it. I'm sure I could make it.'
Five seconds ...
'Fire port clamp.'
Six tiny charges ignited around the clamp's base, sending the metal disc rocketing from its socket, trailed by a length of retractable polymer cable.
Root opened his mouth to swear, then the clamp crashed into his chest, driving every gasp of air from his body. Several somethings cracked.
'Reel it in,' spat Holly into the computer mike, simultaneously peeling across the chute. The commander was dragged behind like an extreme surfer.
Zero seconds. The concussors blew, sending two thousand kilograms of rubble careering into the void. A drop in an ocean of magma.
A minute later, the commander was strapped on a gurney in the Atlantean ambassador's sick bay. It hurt to breathe, but that wasn't going to stop him talking.
'Captain Short!' he rasped. 'What the hell were you thinking? I could have been killed.'
Butler ripped open Root's tunic to survey the damage. 'You could have been. Five more seconds and you were pulp. It's thanks to Holly that you are still alive.'
Holly set the auto-pilot to hover and grabbed a medi-pac from the first-aid box. She crumpled it between her fingers to activate the crystals. Another of Foaly's inventions. Ice packs infused with healing crystals. No substitute for magic, but better than a hug and a kiss.
'Where does it hurt?'
Root coughed. A bloody string splattered his uniform. 'The general bodily area. Coupla ribs gone.'
Holly chewed her lip. She was no doctor and healing was by no means an automatic business. Things could go wrong. Holly knew a vice-captain once who had broken a leg and passed out. He woke up with one foot pointing backwards. Not that Holly hadn't performed some tricky operations before. When Artemis wanted his mother's depression cured, she was in a different time zone. Holly had sent out a strong positive signal, with enough sparks in it to hang around for a few days. A sort of general pick-me-up. Anyone who even visited Fowl Manor for the following week should have gone away whistling.
'Holly,' groaned Root.
'O-OK,' she stammered. 'OK.'
She laid her hands on Root's chest, sending the magic scurrying down her fingers. 'Heal,' she breathed.
The commander's eyes rolled back in his head. The magic was shutting him down for recuperation. Holly laid a medi-pac on the unconscious LEP officer's chest.
'Hold that,' she instructed Artemis. 'Ten minutes only. Otherwise there'll be tissue damage.'
Artemis applied pressure to the pack. His fingers were quickly submerged in a pool of blood. Suddenly the desire to pass a smart remark utterly deserted him. First physical exercise, then actual bodily harm. And now this. These past few days were turning out to be quite educational. He'd almost prefer to be back in St Bartleby's.
Holly returned quickly to the cockpit, panning the external cameras towards the supply tunnel.
Butler squeezed into the co-pilot's chair. 'Well,' he asked. 'What've we got?'
Holly grinned. And for a second her expression reminded the manservant of Artemis Fowl. 'We've got a big hole.'
'Good. Then let's go visit an old friend.'
Holly's thumbs hovered over the thrusters. 'Yes,' she said. 'Let's.'
The Atlantean shuttle disappeared into the supply tunnel faster than a carrot down Foaly's gullet. And for those who don't know, that's pretty fast.

THE CROWLEY HOTEL, BEVERLY HILLS, LOS ANGELES

Mulch made it back to his hotel undetected. Of course, this time he didn't have to scale the walls. It would have been more of a challenge than Maggie V's building. The walls here were brick, very porous. His fingers would have leeched the moisture from the stone and lost their suction.
No, this time Mulch used the main foyer. And why wouldn't he? As far as the doorman was concerned, he was Lance Digger, reclusive millionaire. Short, maybe. But short and rich.
'Evening, Art,' said Mulch, saluting the doorman on his way to the lift.
Art peered over the marble-topped desk.
'Ah, Mister Digger, it's you,' he said, slightly puzzled. 'I thought I heard you passing below my sightline only moments ago.'
'Nope,' said Mulch, grinning. 'First time tonight.'
'Hmm. The night wind perhaps.'
'Maybe. You'd think they'd block up the holes in this building. All the rent I'm paying.'
'You would indeed,' agreed Art. Always agree with the tenants, company policy.
Inside the mirrored lift, Mulch used a telescopic pointer to push P for penthouse. For the first few months, he had jumped to reach the button, but that was undignified behaviour for a millionaire. And besides, he was certain that Art could hear the thumping from the security desk.
The mirrored box rose silently, flickering past the floors towards the penthouse. Mulch resisted the urge to take the Academy Award out of his bag. Someone could board the lift. He contented himself with a long drink from a bottle of Irish spring water, the closest to fairy pure it was possible to get. As soon as he had stowed the Oscar he would run a cold bath and give his pores a drink. Otherwise he could wake up in the morning glued to the bed.
Mulch's door was key-coded. A fourteen-number sequence. Nothing like a bit of paranoia to keep you out of prison. Even though the LEP believed that he was dead, Mulch could never quite shake the feeling that one day Julius Root would figure it all out and come looking for him.
The apartment's decor was quite unusual, for a human dwelling. A lot of clay, crumbling rock and water features. More like the inside of a cave than an exclusive Beverly Hills residence.
The northern wall appeared to be a single slab of black marble. Appeared to be. Closer inspection revealed a forty-inch flat-screen television, a DVD slot and a tinted glass pane. Mulch hefted a remote control bigger than his leg, popping the hidden cabinet with another complicated key code. Inside were three rows of Oscars. Mulch placed Maggie V's on a waiting velvet pad.
He wiped an imaginary tear from the corner of his eye. 'I'd like to thank the Academy,' giggled the dwarf.
'Very touching,' said a voice behind him.
Mulch slammed the cabinet door shut, cracking the glass pane.
There was a human youth beside the rockery. In his apartment! The boy's appearance was strange, even by Mud Man standards. He was abnormally pale, raven-haired, slender and dressed in a school uniform that looked as though it had been dragged across two continents.
The hairs on Mulch's chin stiffened. This boy was trouble. Dwarf hair is never wrong.
'Your alarm was amusing,' continued the boy. 'It took me several seconds to bypass it.'
Mulch knew he was in trouble then. Human police don't break into people's apartments.
'Who are you, hu ... boy?'
'I think the question here is, who are you? Are you reclusive millionaire Lance Digger? Are you the notorious Grouch? Or perhaps, as Foaly suspects, you are escaped convict Mulch Diggums?'
Mulch ran, the last vestiges of gas providing him with an extra burst of speed. He had no idea who this Mud Boy was, but if Foaly sent him, then he was a bounty hunter of one kind or another.
The dwarf raced across the sunken lounge, making for his escape route. It was the reason he'd chosen this building. In the early nineteen hundreds a wide-bore chimney had run the length of the multi- storey building. When a central-heating system had been installed in the fifties, the building contractor had simply packed the chute with dirt, topping it off with a seal of concrete. Mulch had smelled the vein of soil the second his estate agent had opened the front door. It had been a simple matter to uncover the old fireplace and chip away the concrete. Voila. Instant tunnel.
Mulch unbuttoned his bum-flap on the run. The strange youth made no attempt to follow him. Why would he? There was nowhere to go.
The dwarf spared a second for a parting shot. 'You'll never take me alive, human. Tell Foaly not to send a Mud Man to do a fairy's job.'
Oh dear, thought Artemis, rubbing his brow. Hollywood had a lot to answer for.
Mulch tore a basket of dried flowers from the fireplace and dived right in. He unhinged his jaw and was quickly submerged in the century-old clay. It was not really to his taste. The minerals and nutrients had long since dried up. Instead, the soil was infused with a hundred years of burnt refuse and tobacco ash. But it was clay nevertheless, and this was what dwarfs were born to do. Mulch felt his anxiety melt away. There wasn't a creature alive that could catch him now. This was his domain.
The dwarf descended rapidly, chewing his way through the storeys. More than one wall collapsed on his way past. Mulch had a feeling that he wouldn't be getting his deposit back, even if he had been around to collect it.
In a little over a minute, Mulch had reached the basement car park. He rehinged, gave his rear-end a shake to dislodge any bubbles of gas, then tumbled through the grate. His specially adapted four-wheel drive was waiting for him. Fuelled up, blacked out and ready to go.
'Suckers,' gloated the dwarf, fishing the keys from a chain around his neck.
Then Captain Holly Short materialized not a metre away. 'Suckers?' she said, powering up her buzz baton.
Mulch considered his options. The basement floor was asphalt. Asphalt was death to dwarfs, sealed up their insides like glue. There appeared to be a man mountain blocking the basement ramp. Mulch had seen that one before in Fowl Manor. That meant the human upstairs must be the infamous Artemis Fowl. Captain Short was dead ahead looking none too merciful. Only one way to go. Back into the flue. Up a couple of storeys, and hide out in another apartment.
Holly grinned. 'Go on, Mulch. I dare you.' And Mulch did, he turned, launching himself back into the chimney, expecting a sharp shock in the rear-end. He was not disappointed. How could Holly miss a target like that?

CHUTE EII6, BELOW LOS ANGELES

The Los Angeles shuttle port was sixteen miles south of the city, hidden beneath the holographic projection of a sand dune. Root was waiting for them in the shuttle. He had recovered just enough to crack a grin.
'Well, well,' he grunted, hauling himself off the gurney, a fresh medi-pac strapped across his ribs. 'If it isn't my favourite reprobate, back from the dead.'
Mulch helped himself to a jar of squid pate from the Atlantean ambassador's personal cooler.
'Why is it, Julius, that you never pay me a social visit? After all, I did save your career back in Ireland. If it hadn't been for me, you never would have known about Fowl's copy of the Book.'
When Root was fuming, as he was now, you could have toasted marshmallows on his cheeks.
'We had a deal, convict. You broke it. And now I'm bringing you in.'
Mulch scooped dollops of pate from the jar with his stubby fingers.
'Could use a little beetle juice,' he commented.
'Enjoy it while you can, Diggums. Because your next meal is going to be pushed through a slot in a door.'
The dwarf settled back in a padded chair. 'Comfortable.'
'I thought so,' agreed Artemis. 'Some form of liquid suspension. Expensive, I shouldn't wonder.'
'Sure beats prison shuttles,' agreed Mulch. 'I remember this one time they caught me selling a Van Gogh to aTexan. I was transported in a shuttle the size of a mouse hole. They had a troll in the next cubicle. Stank something awful.'
Holly grinned. 'That's what the troll said.'
Root knew he was being goaded, but he blew his top anyway. 'Listen to me, convict. I have not travelled all this way to listen to your war stories. So shut your trap before I shut it for you.'
Mulch was unimpressed by the outburst. 'Just out of interest, Julius, why have you travelled all this way? The great Commander Root commandeering an ambassador's shuttle just to apprehend little old me? I don't think so. So, what's going on? And what's with the Mud Men?' He nodded at Butler. 'Especially that one.'
The manservant grinned. 'Remember me, little man? Seems to me I owe you something.'
Mulch swallowed. He had crossed swords with Butler before. It hadn't ended well for the human. Mulch had vented a bowel full of dwarf gas directly at the manservant. Very embarrassing for a bodyguard of his status, not to mention painful.
For the first time Root chortled, even though it stretched his ribs. 'OK, Mulch.You're right. Something is going on. Something important.'
'I thought so. And, as usual, you need me to do your dirty work.' Mulch rubbed his rump. 'Well, assaulting me isn't going to help. You didn't have to buzz me so hard, Captain. That's going to leave a mark.'
Holly cupped a hand around one pointed ear. 'Hey, Mulch, if you listen really hard you can just about make out the sound of nobody giving a hoot. From what I saw, you were living pretty well on LEP gold.'
'That apartment cost me a fortune, you know. The deposit alone was four years of your salary. Did you see the view? Used to belong to some movie director.'
Holly raised an eyebrow. 'Glad to see the money was put to good use. Heaven forbid you should squander it.'
Mulch shrugged. 'Hey, I'm a thief. What did you expect — I'd start a shelter?'
'No, Mulch, funnily enough I didn't expect that for one second.'
Artemis cleared his throat. 'This reunion is all very touching. But while you're exchanging witticisms, my father is freezing in the Arctic.'
The dwarf zipped up his suit. 'His father? You want me to rescue Artemis Fowl's father? In the Arctic?'There was real fear in his voice. Dwarfs hated ice almost as much as fire.
Root shook his head. 'I wish it were that simple, and in a few minutes so will you.'
Mulch's beard hairs curled in apprehension. And as his grandmother always said, trust the hair, Mulch, trust the hair.
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Chapter 12: The Boys Are Back



OPERATIONS' BOOTH

FOALY was thinking. Always thinking. His mind popped off ideas like corn in a microwave. But he couldn't do anything with them. He couldn't even call up Julius and pester him with his hair-brained schemes. Fowl's laptop seemed to be the centaur's only weapon. It was like trying to fight a troll with a toothpick.
Not that the human computer was without some merit, in an ancient-history kind of a way. The e-mail had already proved useful. Provided there was anybody alive to answer it. There was also a small camera mounted on the lid, for video-conferencing. Something the Mud People had only come up with recently. Until then, humans had communicated purely through text or sound waves. Foaly tutted, barbarians. But this camera was pretty high quality, with several filter options. If the centaur didn't know better, he'd swear someone had been leaking fairy technology.
Foaly swivelled the laptop with his hoof, pointing the camera towards the screens on the wall. Come on, Cudgeon, he thought. Smile for the birdie.
He didn't have long to wait. Within minutes, a com screen flickered into life and Cudgeon appeared, waving a white flag.
'Nice touch,' commented Foaly sarcastically.
'I thought so,' said the elf, waving the pennant theatrically. 'I'm going to need this later.'
Cudgeon pressed a button on the remote control. 'Why don't I show you what's going on outside?'
The windows cleared to reveal several squads of technicians feverishly trying to break the booth's defences. Most were aiming computer sensors at the booth's various interfaces, but some were doing it the old-fashioned way. Whacking the sensors with big hammers. None were having any luck.
Foaly swallowed. He was a rat in a trap. 'Why don't you fill me in on your plan, Briar? Isn't that what the power-crazed villain usually does?'
Cudgeon settled back into his swivel chair. 'Certainly, Foaly. Because this isn't one of your precious human movies. There will be no hero rushing in at the last moment. Short and Root are already dead. As are their human partners. No reprieve, no rescue. Just certain death.'
Foaly knew he should be feeling sadness, but hatred was all he could find.
'Just when things are at their most desperate, I shall instruct Opal to return weapons control to the LEP. The B'wa Kell will be rendered unconscious, and you will be blamed for the entire affair, provided you survive, which I doubt.'
'When the B'wa Kell recover, they will name you.'
Cudgeon wagged a finger. 'Only a handful know I am involved, and I shall take care of them personally. They have already been summoned to Koboi Labs. I shall join them shortly. The DNA cannons are being calibrated to reject goblin strands. When the time comes I shall activate them, and the entire squadron will be out for the count.'
'And then Opal Koboi becomes your empress, I suppose?'
'Of course,' said Cudgeon aloud. But then he manipulated the remote's keyboard, making certain they were on a secure channel.
'Empress?' he breathed. 'Really, Foaly. Do you think I'd go to all this trouble to share power? Oh no. As soon as this charade is over Miss Koboi will have a tragic accident. Perhaps several tragic accidents.'
Foaly bristled. 'At the risk of sounding cliched, Briar, you'll never get away with this.'
Cudgeon's finger hovered over the terminate button. 'Well if I don't,' he said pleasantly, 'you won't be alive to gloat this time.' And he was gone, leaving the centaur to sweat it out in the booth. Or so Cudgeon thought.
Foaly reached below the desk to the laptop. 'And cut,' he murmured, pausing the camera. 'Take five, people, that's a wrap.'

CHUTE EII6

Holly clamped the shuttle to the wall of a disused chute.
'We got about thirty minutes. Internal sensors say there's a flare coming up here in half an hour, and no shuttle is built to withstand that kind of heat.'
They gathered in the pressurized lounge to put together a plan.
'We need to break into Koboi Labs and regain control of the LEP weaponry,' said the commander.
Mulch was out of his chair and heading for the door. 'No way, Julius. That place has been upgraded since I was there. I heard they've got DNA-coded cannons.'
Root grabbed the dwarf by the scruff of his neck. 'One, don't call me Julius. And two, you're acting like you have a choice, convict.'
Mulch glared at him. 'I do have a choice, Julius. I can just serve out my sentence in a nice little cell. Putting me in the line of fire is a violation of my civil rights.'
Root's facial tones alternated from pastel pink to turnip purple. 'Civil rights!' he spluttered. 'You're talking to me about civil rights! Isn't that just typical?'
Then, strangely, he calmed down. In fact, he seemed almost happy. Those who were close to the commander knew that when he was happy, somebody else was about to be extremely sad.
'What?' asked Mulch suspiciously.
Root lit one of his noxious fungus cigars. 'Oh, nothing. Just that you're right, that's all.'
The dwarf squinted. 'I'm right? You're saying, in front of witnesses, that I'm right.'
'Certainly you are. Putting you in the line of fire would violate every right in the book. So, instead of cutting you the fantastic deal that I was about to offer, I'm going to add a couple of centuries to your sentence and throw you in maximum security.' Root paused, blowing a cloud of smoke at Mulch's face. 'In Howler's Peak.'
Mulch paled beneath the mud caking his cheeks. 'Howler's Peak? But that's a ...'
'A goblin prison,' completed the commander. 'I know. But for an obvious escape risk such as yourself, I don't think I'd have any trouble convincing the board to make an exception.'
Mulch dropped into the padded gyro chair. This wasn't good. The last time he'd been in a cell with goblins, it hadn't been any fun. And that had been in Police Plaza. He wouldn't last a week in general population.
'So what was this deal?'
Artemis smiled, fascinated: Commander Root was smarter than he looked. Then again, it would be almost impossible not to be.
'Oh, now you're interested?'
'I might be. No promises, mind.'
'OK, here it is. One-time offer. Don't even bother bargaining. You get us into Koboi Labs and I give you a two-day head start when this is over.'
Mulch swallowed. That was a good offer. They must be in a whole lot of trouble.

POLICE PLAZA

Things were hotting up at Police Plaza. The monsters were at the door. Literally. Captain Kelp was running between stations, trying to reassure his men.
'Don't worry, people, they can't get through those doors with Softnoses. Nothing less than some kind of missile —'
At that moment, a tremendous force buckled the main doors, like a child blowing up a paper bag. They held. Barely.
Cudgeon came rushing out of the tactical room, his commander's acorns glinting on his breast. With his reinstatement by the Council, he had made history by becoming the only commander in the LEP to have been appointed twice.
'What was that?'
Trouble brought up a front view on the monitors. A goblin stood with a large tube on his shoulder.
'Bazooka of some kind. I think it's one of the old wide-bore Softnose cannons.'
Cudgeon smacked his own forehead. 'Don't tell me. They were all supposed to have been destroyed. A curse on that centaur! How did he manage to sneak all that hardware out from under my nose?'
'Don't be too hard on yourself,' said Trouble. 'He fooled all of us.'
'How much more of that can we stand?'
Trouble shrugged. 'Not much. A couple more hits. Maybe they only had one missile.'
Famous last words. The doorway shook a second time; large chunks of masonry tumbled from the marble pillars.
Trouble picked himself off the ground, magic zipping a gash on his forehead. 'Paramedics, check for casualties. Have we got those weapons charged yet?'
Grub hobbled over, hampered by the weight of two electric rifles. 'Ready to go, Captain. Thirty-two weapons. Twenty pulses each.'
'OK. Best marks-fairies only. Not one shot fired until I give the word.'
Grub nodded, his face grim and pale.
'Good, Corporal, now move it out.'
When his brother was out of earshot, Trouble spoke quietly to Commander Cudgeon. 'I don't know what to tell you, Commander. They blew the Atlantis tunnel, so there's no help coming from there. We can't get a pentagram around them to stop time. We're completely surrounded, outnumbered and outgunned. If the B'wa Kell breaches the blast doors, it will be over in seconds. We have to get into that Operations' booth. Any progress?'
Cudgeon shook his head. 'The techies are working on it. We have sensors pointed at every centimetre of the surface. If we hit on the access code, it will be blind luck.'
Trouble rubbed the tiredness from his eyes. 'I need time. There must be a way to stall them.'
Cudgeon drew a white flag from inside his tunic. 'There is a way
'Commander! You can't go out there. It's suicide.'
'Perhaps,' admitted the commander. 'But if I don't go, we could all be dead in a matter of minutes. At least this way, we'll have a few minutes to work on the Operations' booth.'
Trouble considered it. There was no other way. 'What have you got to bargain with?'
'The prisoners in Howler's Peak. Maybe we could negotiate some kind of controlled release.'
'The Council will never go for that.'
Cudgeon drew himself up to his full height. 'This is not a time for politics, Captain. This is a time for action.'
Trouble was, quite frankly, amazed. This was not the same Briar Cudgeon he knew. Someone had given this fairy a spine transplant.
Now the newly appointed commander was going to earn that acorn cluster on his lapel. Trouble felt an emotion well up in his chest. One that he'd never before associated with Briar Cudgeon. It was respect.
'Open the front door a crack,' ordered the commander in steely tones. Foaly would be just loving this on camera. 'I'm going out to talk to these reptiles.'

Trouble relayed the command. If they ever got out of this, he would see to it that Commander Cudgeon was awarded a posthumous Golden Acorn. At the very least.

UNCHARTED CHUTE, BELOW KOBOI LABORATORIES

The Atlantean shuttle sped down a vast chute, sticking tightly to the walls. Close enough to scrape paint from the hull.
Artemis poked his head through from the passenger bay.
'Is this really necessary, Captain?' he asked, as they avoided death by a centimetre for the umpteenth time. 'Or is it just more fly-boy grandstanding?'
Holly winked. 'Do I look like a fly boy to you, Fowl?'
Artemis had to admit that she didn't. Captain Short was extremely pretty in a dangerous sort of way. Black-widow pretty. Artemis was expecting puberty to hit in approximately eight months, and he suspected that at that point he would look at Holly in a different light. It was probably just as well that she was eighty years old.
'I'm hugging the surface to search for this alleged crack that Mulch insists is along here,' Holly explained.
Artemis nodded. The dwarf's theory. Just incredible enough to be true. He returned to the aft bay for Mulch's version of a briefing.
The dwarf had drawn a crude diagram on a backlit wall panel. In fairness, there were more artistic chimpanzees. And less pungent ones. Mulch was using a carrot as a pointer — or, more accurately, several carrots. Dwarfs liked carrots.
'This is Koboi Labs,' he mumbled around a mouthful of vegetable.
'That?' exclaimed Root.
'I realize, Julius, that it is not an accurate schematic.'
The commander exploded from his chair. If you didn't know better, you'd swear there was dwarf gas involved. 'An accurate schematic? It's a rectangle, for heaven's sake!'
Mulch was unperturbed. 'That's not important. This is the important bit.'
'That wobbly line?'
'It's a fissure,' protested the dwarf. 'Anybody can see that.'
'Anybody in kindergarten, maybe. So it's a fissure, so what?'
'This is the clever bit.Y'see, that fissure is not usually there.'
Root began strangling the air again. Something he was doing more and more lately. But Artemis was suddenly interested.
'When does the fissure appear?'
But Mulch wasn't just going to give a straight answer. 'Us dwarfs. We know something about rocks. Been digging around 'em for ages.' Root's fingers began beating a tattoo on his buzz baton. 'What fairies don't realize is that rocks are alive. They breathe.'
Artemis nodded. 'Of course. Heat expansion.'
Mulch bit the carrot triumphantly. 'Exactly. And, of course, the opposite. They contract when they cool down.' Even Root was listening now. 'Koboi Labs is built on solid mantle. Three miles of rock. No way in, short of sonix warheads. And I think Opal Koboi might notice them.'
'And that helps us how?'
'A crack opens up in that rock when it cools down. I worked on the foundations when they were building this place. Gets you right in under the labs. Still a way to go, but at least you're in.'
The commander was sceptical. 'So how come Opal Koboi hasn't noticed this gaping fissure?'
'Oh, I wouldn't say it was gaping.'
'How big?'
Mulch shrugged. 'Dunno. Maybe five metres. At its widest point.'
'That's still a pretty big fissure to be sitting there all I day.'
'Only it's not there all day,' interrupted Artemis. 'Is it, Mulch?'
'All day? I wish. I'd say, at a guess, this is only an approximation mind ..."
Root was losing his cool. Being one step behind all the time didn't agree with him.
'Tell me, convict, before I add another scorch mark to your behind!'
Mulch was injured. 'Stop shouting, Julius, you're curling my beard.'
Root opened the cooler, letting the icy tendrils play over his face.
'OK, Mulch. How long?'
'Three minutes max. Last time I did it with a set of wings, wearing a pressure suit. Nearly got crushed and fried.'
'Fried?'
'Let me guess,' said Artemis. 'The fissure only opens when the rock has contracted sufficiently. If this fissure is on a chute wall, then the coolest time would be moments before the next flare.'
Mulch winked. 'Smart, Mud Boy. If the rocks don't get you, the magma will.'
Holly's voice crackled over the com speakers. 'I've got a visual on something. Could be a shadow, or it could just be a crack in the chute wall.'
Mulch did a little dance, looking very pleased with himself. Now, Julius, you can say it. I was right again! You owe me, Julius, you owe me.'
The commander rubbed the bridge of his nose. If he made it through this alive, he was never leaving the station again.

KOBOI LABORATORIES

Koboi Labs was surrounded by a ring of B'wa Kell goblins. Armed to the teeth, tongues hanging out for blood. Cudgeon was hustled past roughly, prodded by a dozen barrels. The DNA cannons hung inoperative in their towers, for the moment. The second Cudgeon felt the B'wa Kell had outlived its usefulness, then the guns would be reactivated.
The commander was taken to the inner sanctum, and forced to his knees before Opal and the B'wa Kell generals. Once the soldiers had been dismissed, Cudgeon was back on his feet and in command.
'Everything proceeds according to plan,' he announced, crossing to stroke Opal's cheek. 'In an hour Haven will be ours.'
General Scalene was not convinced. 'It would be ours a lot faster if we had some Koboi blasters.'
Cudgeon sighed patiently. 'We've been through this, General. The disruption signal knocks out all neutrino weapons. If you get blasters, so will the LEP.'
Scalene shuffled into a corner, licking his eyeballs.
Of course, that was not the only reason for denying the goblins neutrino weapons. Cudgeon had no intention of arming a group he intended to betray. As soon as the B'wa Kell had disposed of the Council, Opal would return power to the LEP.
'How are things proceeding?'
Opal swivelled in her Hoverboy, legs curled beneath her. 'Deliciously. The main doors fell moments after you left to ... negotiate.'
Cudgeon grinned. 'Good thing I left. I might have been injured.'
'Captain Kelp has pulled his remaining forces into the Operations' room, ringing the booth. The Council is in there too.'
'Perfect,' said Cudgeon.
Another B'wa Kell general, Sputa, banged the conference table. 'No, Cudgeon. Far from perfect. Our brothers are wasting away in Howler's Peak.'
'Patience, General Sputa,' said Cudgeon soothingly, actually laying a hand on the goblin's shoulder. 'As soon as Police Plaza falls, we can open the cells in Howler's Peak without resistance.'
Internally Cudgeon fumed. These idiot creatures. How he detested them. Clothed in robes fashioned from their own cast-off skin. Repulsive. Cudgeon longed to reactivate the DNA cannons and stop their jabbering for a few sweet hours.
He caught Opal's eye. She knew what he was thinking. Her tiny teeth showed in anticipation. What a delightfully vicious creature. Which was, of course, why she had to be disposed of. Opal Koboi could never be happy as second in command.
He dropped her a wink.
'Soon,' he mouthed silently. 'Soon.'
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Chapter 13: Into The Breach



BELOW KOBOI LABORATORIES

AN LEP shuttle is shaped like a teardrop, bottom heavy with thrusters and a nose that could cut through steel. Of course our heroes weren't in an LEP shuttle, they were in the ambassador's luxury cruiser. Comfort was definitely favoured over speed. It had a nose like a gnome's behind. Bulky and expensive-looking, with a grill you could use to barbecue buffalo.
'So, you're saying this fissure is going to open up for a couple of minutes and I have to fly through. And that's the entire plan?' said Holly.
'It's the best we've got,' said Root glumly. 'Well, at least we'll be in padded seats when we get squashed. This thing handles like a three-legged rhinoceros.'
'How was I to know?' grumbled Root. 'This was supposed to be a routine run. This shuttle has an excellent stereo.'
Butler raised his hand. 'Listen. What's that sound?'
They listened. The noise came from below them, like a giant clearing its throat.
Holly consulted the keel cams.
'Flare,' she announced. 'Big sucker. It'll be roasting our tail feathers any minute.'
The rock face before them cracked and groaned in constant expansion and retraction. Fissures heaved like grinning mouths lined with black teeth.
'That's it. Let's go,' urged Mulch. 'That fissure is going to seal up faster than a stink worm's —'
'Not enough room yet,' snapped Holly. 'This is a shuttle, not one fat dwarf riding stolen wings.'
Mulch was too scared to be insulted. 'Just move it. It'll widen as we go.'
Generally Holly would have waited for Root to give the green light. But this was her area. No one was going to argue with Captain Holly Short at the controls of a shuttle.
The chasm shuddered open another metre.
Holly gritted her teeth. 'Hold on to your ears,' she said, ramming the thrusters to maximum.
The craft's occupants clutched their armrests, and more than one of them closed their eyes. But not Artemis. He couldn't. There was something morbidly fascinating about flying into an uncharted tunnel at a reckless speed, with only a kleptomaniac dwarf's word for what lay at the other end.
Holly concentrated on her instruments. Hull cameras and sensors fed information to various screens and speakers. Sonar was going crazy, beeping so fast it was almost a continuous whine. Fixed halogen headlights fed frightening images to the monitors, and laser radar drew a green 3D line picture on a dark screen. Then, of course, there was the quartz windscreen. But with sheets of rock dust and larger debris, the naked eye was next to useless.
'Temperature increasing,' she muttered, glancing at the rear-view monitor. An orange magma column blasted past the fissure mouth, spilling over into the tunnel.
They were in a desperate race. The fissure was closing behind them and expanding before the craft's prow. The noise was terrific. Thunder in a bubble.
Mulch covered his ears. 'Next time, I'll take Howler's Peak.'
'Quiet, convict,' growled Root. 'This was all your idea.'
Their arguing was interrupted by a tremendous grating, sending sparks dancing across the windscreen.
'Sorry,' apologized Captain Short. 'There goes our communications array.'
She flipped the craft sideways, scraping between two shifting plates. The magma's heat coated the rock face, dragging the plates together. A jagged edge clipped the shuttle's rear as the plates crashed behind them. A giant's handclap. Butler held his Sig Sauer. It was a comfort thing.
Then they were through, spiralling into a cavern towards three enormous titanium rods.
'There,' gasped Mulch. 'The foundation rods.'
Holly rolled her eyes. 'You don't say,' she groaned, firing the docking clamps.
Mulch had drawn another diagram. This one looked like a bendy snake.
'We're being led by an idiot with a crayon,' said Root, with deceptive calmness.
'I got you this far, didn't I, Julius?' said Mulch, pouting.
Holly was finishing the last bottle of mineral water. A good third of it went over her head.
'Don't you dare start sulking, dwarf,' she said. 'As far as I can see, we're stuck in the centre of the Earth, with no way out and no communications.'
Mulch backed up a step. 'I can see you're a bit tense after the flight. Let's all calm down now, shall we?'
Nobody looked very calm. Even Artemis seemed slightly shaken by the ordeal. Butler still hadn't let go of the Sig Sauer.
'That's the hard bit over. We're in the foundations now. The only way is up.'
'Oh really, convict?' said Root. 'And how do you suggest we go up exactly?'
Mulch plucked a carrot from the cooler, waving it at his diagram. 'This here is ...'
'A snake?'
'No, Julius. It's one of the foundation rods.'
'The solid titanium foundation rods, sunk in impregnable bedrock?'
'The very ones. Except one isn't exactly solid.'
Artemis nodded. 'I thought so. You cut corners on this work, didn't you, Mulch?'
Mulch was unrepentant. 'You know what building regulations are like. Solid titanium pillars? Do you have any idea how expensive that is? Threw our estimate right off. So me 'n' cousin Nord decided to forget the titanium packing.'
'But you had to fill that column with something,' interrupted the commander. 'Koboi would have run scans.'
Mulch nodded guiltily.
'We hooked up the sewage pipes to it for a couple of days. The sonographs came up clean.'
Holly felt her throat clench. 'Sewage. You mean ..."
'No. Not any more. That was a hundred years ago, it's just clay now. Very good clay as it happens.'
Root's face could have boiled a large cauldron of water.
'You expect us to climb through twenty metres of ... manure?'
The dwarf shrugged. 'Hey, do I care? Stay here forever if you want, I'm going up the pipe.'
Artemis did not like this sudden turn of events. Running, jumping, injury. OK. But sewage? 'This is your plan?' he managed to mutter.
'What's the matter, Mud Boy,' smirked Mulch. 'Afraid of getting your hands dirty?'
It was only a figure of speech, Artemis knew. But true nevertheless. He glanced at his slender fingers. Yesterday morning they were pianist's fingers with manicured nails. Today they could have belonged to a builder.
Holly clapped Artemis on the shoulder. 'OK,' she declared. 'Let's do it. As soon as we save the Lower Elements, we can get back to rescuing your father.'
Holly noticed a change in Artemis's face. Almost as if his features weren't sure how to arrange themselves. She paused, realizing what she had said. For her, the remark had been a casual encouragement, the kind of thing an officer said every day. But it seemed as though Artemis was not accustomed to being a member of a team.
'Don't think I'm getting chummy or anything. It's just that when I give my word, I stick to it.'
Artemis decided not to respond. He'd already been punched once today.

*

They descended from the shuttle on a folding stairway.
Artemis stepped on to the surface, picking his way through the jagged stones and construction debris abandoned by Mulch and his cousin a century earlier. The cavern was lit by the star-like twinkle of rock phosphorescence.
'This place is a geological marvel,' he exclaimed. 'The pressure at this depth should be crushing us, but it isn't.' He knelt to examine a fungus sprouting from a rusting paint tin. 'There's even life.'
Mulch wrenched the remains of a hammer from between two rocks.
'So that's where this got to. We overdid it a bit on the explosives, blasting the shaft for these columns. Some of our waste must have ... fallen down here.'
Holly was appalled. Pollution is an abomination to the People.

'You've broken so many laws here, Mulch, I don't even have the fingers to count them. When you get that two-day head start, you better move fast, because I'm going to be the one chasing you.'
'Here we are,' said Mulch, ignoring the threat. When you'd heard as many as he had, they just rolled right off.
There was a hole bored into one of the columns. Mulch rubbed the edges fondly.
'Diamond laser cutter. Little nuclear battery.That baby could cut through anything.'
'I remember that cutter too,' said Root. 'You nearly decapitated me with it once.'
Mulch sighed. 'Happy days, eh, Julius?'
Root's reply was a swift kick in the behind. 'Less talk, more eating dirt, convict.'
Holly placed her hand into the hole. 'Air currents. The pressure field from the city must have equalized this cave over the years. That's why we're not flat as manta rays right now.'
'I see,' said Butler and Root simultaneously. Another lie for the list.
Mulch undid his bum-flap.
'I'll tunnel up to the top and wait for you there. Clear as much of the debris as you can. I'll spread the recycled mud around, to avoid closing up the shaft.'
Artemis groaned. The idea of crawling through Mulch's recyclings was almost intolerable. Only the thought of his father kept him going.
Mulch stepped into the shaft. 'Stand back,' he warned, unhinging his jaw.
Butler moved quickly — he was not about to get nailed by dwarf gas again.
Mulch disappeared up to his waist in the titanium column. In moments he had disappeared entirely. The pipe began to shudder with strange, unappetizing sounds. Chunks of clay clattered against the metal walls. A constant stream of condensed air and debris spiralled from the hole.
'Amazing,' breathed Artemis. 'What I could do with ten like him. Fort Knox would be a pushover.'
'Don't even think about it,' warned Root. He turned to Butler. 'What have we got?'
The manservant drew his pistol. 'One Sig Sauer handgun with twelve rounds in the magazine. That's it. I'll take the gun, as I'm the only one who can lift it. You two pick up whatever you can on the run.'
'And what about me?' asked Artemis, even though he knew what was coming.
Butler looked his master straight in the eye. 'I want you to stay here. This is a military operation. All you can do is get yourself killed.'

'But...'
'My job is to protect you, Artemis, and this is quite possibly the safest spot on the planet.'
Artemis didn't argue. In truth, these facts had already occurred to him. Sometimes being a genius was a burden.
'Very well, Butler. I shall remain here. Unless ...'
Butler's eyes narrowed. 'Unless what?'
Artemis gave a dangerous smile. 'Unless I have an idea.'

POLICE PLAZA

In Police Plaza the situation was desperate. Captain Kelp had pulled the remaining forces into a circle behind overturned workstations. The goblins were taking pot shots through the doorway, and none of the warlocks had a drop of magic left in them. Anyone who got injured from now on, stayed injured.
The Council was huddled behind a wall of troops. All except Wing Commander Vinyaya, who had demanded to be given one of the electric rifles. She hadn't missed yet.
The techs were crouched behind their desks, trying every code combination in the book to gain access to the Operations' booth. Trouble didn't hold out much hope on that front. If Foaly locked a door then it stayed locked.
Meanwhile, inside the booth, all the centaur could do was pound his fists in frustration. It was a sign of Cudgeon's cruelty that he allowed Foaly to view the battle beyond the blast windows.
It seemed hopeless. Even if Julius and Holly had received his message, it was too late now to do anything. Foaly's lips and throat were dry. Everything had deserted him. His computer, his intellect, his glib sarcasm. Everything.

BELOW KOBOI LABORATORIES

Something wet slapped Butler in the head.
'What was that?' he hissed at Holly, who was bringing up the rear.
'Don't ask,' croaked Captain Short. Even through her helmet filters the smell was foul.
The contents of the column had had a century to ferment, and smelled as toxic as the day it went in. Probably worse. At least, thought the bodyguard, I don't have to eat this stuff.
Root was on point, his helmet lights cutting swathes through the darkness. The pillar was on a forty-degree angle, with regular grooves that were intended to anchor the titanium block filling.
Mulch had done a sterling job of breaking down the pipe's contents. But the recycling had to go somewhere. Mulch, in fairness to him, chewed every mouthful thoroughly to avoid too many lumps.
The raiding party struggled on grimly, trying not to think about what they were actually doing. By the time they caught up with the dwarf, he was clinging to a ridge, face constricted in pain.
'What is it, Mulch?' asked Root, concern accidentally slipping into his tones.
'Geddup,' Mulch groaned. 'Geddup rih now.'
Root's eyes widened with something approaching panic. 'Up!' he hissed. 'Everybody up!'
They scrambled into the tight wedge of space above the dwarf. Not a second too soon. Mulch relaxed, releasing a burst of dwarf gas that could have inflated a circus tent. He rehinged his jaw.
'That's better,' he sighed. 'Lotta air in that soil. Now would you mind getting that beam out of my face. You know how I feel about light.'
The commander obliged, switching to infra-red.
'OK, now we're up here, how do we get out? You didn't bring your cutter, I seem to remember.'
The dwarf grinned. 'No problem. A good thief always plans on a return visit. See here.' Mulch was pointing to an area of titanium that seemed exactly like the rest of the pipe. 'I patched this up last time. It's just flexi-bond.'
Root had to smile. 'You are a cunning reprobate. How did we ever catch you?'
'Luck,' replied the dwarf, elbowing a section of the pipe. A large circle popped out, revealing the hundred-year-old hole. 'Welcome to Koboi Labs.'
They clambered into a dimly lit corridor. Loaded hover trolleys were stacked four deep around the walls. Strip lighting operated with minimum illumination overhead.
'I know this place,' noted Root. 'I've been here before on inspection for the special-weapons permits. We're two corridors across from the computer centre. We have a real chance of making it.'
'What about these DNA stun cannons?' enquired Butler.
'Tricky,' admitted the commander. 'If the cannon's onboard doesn't recognize you, you're dead. They can be programmed to reject entire species.'
'Tricky,' agreed the manservant.
'I'm betting they're not active,' continued Root. 'First, if this place is crawling with goblins, they hardly came in through the front door. And second, if Foaly is being blamed for this little uprising, Koboi will want to pretend they had no weapons, just like the LEP.'
'Strategy?' asked Butler.
'Not much,' admitted the commander. 'Once we turn the corner, we're on camera. So down the corridor as fast as you can, hit anything that gets in your way. If it has a weapon, confiscate it. Mulch, you stay here and widen the tunnel, we may need to get out fast. Ready?'
Holly extended a hand. 'Gentlemen, it's been a pleasure.'
The commander and manservant laid their hands on hers. 'Likewise.'
They headed down the corridor. Two hundred goblins versus our three virtually unarmed heroes. It was going to be close.

INNER SANCTUM, KOBOI LABORATORIES

'Intruders,' squealed Opal Koboi delightedly. 'Inside the building.'
Cudgeon crossed to the surveillance plasma screen.
'I do believe it's Julius. Amazing. Obviously your hit team was exaggerating, General Sputa.'
Sputa licked his eyeballs furiously. Lieutenant Nyle would be losing his skin before shedding season.
Cudgeon whispered into Opal's ear. 'Can we activate the DNA cannons?'
The pixie shook her head. 'Not immediately. They've been reprogrammed to reject goblin DNA. It would take a few minutes.'
Cudgeon turned to the four goblin generals. 'Have an armoured squad come up behind and another one from the flank. We can trap them at the door. There will be no way out.'
Cudgeon stared raptly at the plasma screen. 'This is even better than I'd planned. Now, my old friend, Julius, it's my turn to humiliate you.'
Artemis was meditating. This was a time for concentration. He sat cross-legged on a rock, visualizing the various rescue strategies that could be utilized when they returned to the Arctic. If the Mafiya managed to set up the drop before Artemis could reach them, then there was only one plan that could work. And it was a high-risk plan. Artemis searched deeper inside his brain. There must be another way.
He was disturbed by an orchestral noise emanating from the titanium column. It sounded like a sustained note on a bassoon. Dwarf gas, he reasoned. The column had decent acoustics.
What he needed was a brainwave. One crystal thought that would slice through this mire he had become embroiled in, and save the day.
After eight minutes, he was interrupted again. Not gas this time. A cry for help. Mulch was in trouble, and in pain.
Artemis was about to suggest that Butler deal with it when he realized that his bodyguard wasn't there. Off on his mission to save the Lower Elements. It was up to him.
He poked his head into the column. It was black as the inside of an old boot, and twice as pungent. Artemis decided that an LEP helmet was his first requirement. He quickly retrieved a spare from the shuttle and, after a moment's experimentation, activated the lights and seals.
'Mulch? Are you up there?'
No reply. Could this be a trap? Was it possible that he, Artemis Fowl, was about to fall for the oldest ruse in the book? Entirely possible, he decided. But in spite of that, he couldn't really afford to take chances with that hairy little creature's life. Somewhere since Los Angeles, and against his better judgement, he had bonded with Mister Diggums. Artemis shuddered. It was happening more and more since his mother's return to sanity.
Artemis climbed into the tube, beginning his journey to the disc of light above. The smell was horrendous. His shoes were ruined, and no amount of dry-cleaning could redeem the St Bartleby's blazer. Mulch had better be in a lot of pain.
When he reached the entrance, he found Mulch writhing on the floor, face contorted in genuine agony.
'What is it?' he asked, peeling off the helmet and kneeling by the dwarf's side.
'Blockage in my gut,' grunted the dwarf, beads of sweat sliding down his beard hairs. 'Something hard. Can't break it down.'
'What can I do?' Artemis asked, though he dreaded the possible replies.
'My left boot. Take it off.'
'Your boot? Did you say boot?'
'Yes,' howled the dwarf, pain stiffening his entire torso. 'Get it off!'
Artemis couldn't stifle a relieved sigh. He'd been fearing much worse. He hefted the dwarf's leg into his lap and pulled at the climbing boot.
'Nice boots,' he commented.
-'Rodeo Drive,' gasped Mulch. 'Now, if you wouldn't mind.'
' Sorry.'
The boot slid off, revealing a not-quite-so-designer sock, complete with toe holes and darn patches.
'Little toe,' said Mulch, eyes closed with pain.
'Little toe what?'
'Squeeze the joint. Hard.'
Squeeze the joint. Must be a reflexology thing. Every part of the body corresponds to an area of the foot. The body's keyboard, so to speak. Practised in the Orient for centuries.
'Very well. If you insist.'
Artemis placed his finger and thumb around Mulch's hairy toe. It could have been his imagination, but it seemed that the hairs parted to allow him access.
'Squeeze,' gasped the dwarf. 'Why aren't you squeezing?'
Artemis wasn't squeezing because his eyes were crossed, looking at the laser barrel in the middle of his forehead.
Lieutenant Nyle, who was holding the weapon, couldn't believe his luck. He'd single-handedly captured two intruders, plus he'd discovered their bolt hole. Who said hanging back to avoid the fighting didn't have advantages? This was turning out to be an exceptional revolution for him. He'd be colonel before shedding his third skin.
'On your feet,' he ordered, panting blue flames. Even through the translator it sounded reptilian.
Artemis stood slowly, lifting Mulch's leg with him.The dwarf's bum-flap flopped open.
'What's wrong with him anyway?' asked Nyle, bending in for a closer look.
'Something he ate,' said Artemis, and squeezed the joint.
The resulting explosion knocked the goblin off his feet, sending him tumbling down the corridor. There was something you didn't see every day.
Mulch hopped to his feet.
'Thanks, kid. I thought I was a goner there. Must've been something hard. Granite maybe, or diamond.'
Artemis nodded. Not ready for words.
'Those goblins are dumb. Did you see the look on his face?'
Artemis shook his head. Still not ready.
'Do you want to go look?'
The tactless humour snapped Artemis out of his daze. 'That goblin. I doubt he was on his own.'
Mulch buttoned up his bum-flap. 'Nope. A whole squadron of 'em just went past. This guy must have been trying to avoid the action. Typical goblin.'
Artemis rubbed his temples. There must be something he could do to help his friends. He had the highest tested IQ in Europe, for heaven's sake.
'Mulch, I have an important question for you.'
'I suppose I owe you one, for saving my hide.'
Artemis draped an arm around the dwarf's shoulder. 'I know how you got into Koboi Labs. But you couldn't go back that way, the flare would get you. So, how did you get out?'
Mulch grinned. 'Simple. I activated the alarm, then left in the LEP uniform I came in.'
Artemis scowled. 'No use, there must be another way. There has to be.'
The DNA cannons were obviously out of commission. Root was just starting to feel optimistic when he heard the thunder of approaching boots.
'D'Arvit. Rumbled. You two keep going. I'll hold them here as long as I can.'
'No, Commander,' said Butler. 'With respect, we only have one weapon, and I can hit a lot more with it than you. I'll take them coming around the corner. You try to get the door open.'
Holly opened her mouth to argue. But who was going to argue with a man that size?
'OK. Good luck. If you're wounded, lie as still as you can until I get back. Four minutes, remember.'
Butler nodded. 'I remember.'
'And, Butler?'
'Yes, Captain?'
'That little misunderstanding last year. When you and Artemis kidnapped me.'
Butler gazed at the ceiling. He would have stared at his shoes, but Holly was in the way. 'Yes, that. I've been meaning to talk to ...'
'Just forget it. After this, all square.'
'Holly, move it out,' ordered Root. 'Butler, don't let them get too close.'
Butler wrapped his fingers around the gun's moulded grip. He looked like an armed bear. 'They better not. For their sake.'
Artemis climbed up on a hover trolley, tapping one of the overhead conduits that ran the length of the corridor.
'This pipe appears to run along the entire ceiling structure. What is it, a ventilation system?'
Mulch snorted. 'I wish. It's the plasma supply for the DNA cannons.'
'So why didn't you come in this way?'
'Oh, a little matter of there being enough charge in every drop of plasma to fry a troll.'
Artemis placed his palm against the metal. 'What if the cannons weren't operational?'
'Once the cannons are deactivated, the plasma is just so much radioactive slop.'
'Radioactive?'
Mulch tugged at his beard thoughtfully. 'Actually, Julius reckons the cannons have been turned off.'
'Any way to be certain?'
'We could open this unopenable panel.' Mulch ran his fingers along the curved surface. 'Ahh, see here. A micro-keyhole. To service the cannons. Even plasma needs recharging.' He pointed to a tiny hole in the metal. It could have been a speck of dirt. 'Now, observe a master at work.'
The dwarf fed one of his chin hairs into the hole. When the tip reappeared, Mulch plucked the hair out by the root. The hair died as soon as Mulch plucked it, stiffening in rigor mortis and retaining the precise shape of the lock's interior.
Mulch held his breath, twisting the makeshift key. The hatch dropped open.
'That, my boy, is talent.'
Inside the pipe, an orange jelly pulsed gently. Occasional sparks roiled in its depths. The plasma was too dense even to spill from the hatch, and hung on to its cylindrical shape.
Mulch squinted through the wobbling gel. 'Deactivated all right. If that stuff were live, our faces would be getting a nice tan about now.'
'What about those sparks?'
'Residual charge. They'd give you a bit of a tingle, but nothing serious.'
Artemis nodded. 'Right,' he said, strapping on the helmet.
Mulch blanched. 'You are not serious, MudWhelp? Do you have any idea what will happen if those cannons are activated?'
'I'm trying not to think about it.'
'It's probably just as well.' The dwarf shook his head, bewildered. 'OK. You've got thirty metres to go, and no more than ten minutes of air in that helmet. Keep the filters closed. The air may get a bit stale after a while, but it's better than sucking plasma. And here, take this.' He plucked the stiffened hair from the keyhole.
'What for?'
'I presume you will want to get out again at the other end. Or hadn't you thought of that, genius boy?'
Artemis swallowed. He hadn't. There was more to this heroism thing than rushing in blindly.
'Just feed it in gently. Remember, it's hair not metal.'
'Feed it in gently. Got it.'
'And don't use any lights. Halogen could reactivate the plasma.'
Artemis felt his head beginning to spin.
'And make sure you get foamed as soon as you can.The anti-rad canisters are blue. They're everywhere in this facility.'
'Blue canisters. Anything else, Mister Diggums?'
'Well, there are the plasma snakes
Artemis's knees almost collapsed. 'You're not serious?'
'No,' Mulch conceded. 'I'm not. Now, your reach is about half a metre. So calculate for sixty pulls and then get out of there.'
'Slightly under half a metre I'd say. Perhaps sixty-three pulls.' He placed the dwarf hair inside his breast pocket.
Mulch shrugged. 'Whatever, kid. It's your skin. Now in you go.'
The dwarf interlaced his fingers and Artemis stepped into the makeshift stirrup. He was considering changing his mind when Mister Diggums heaved him into the pipe. The orange gel sucked him in, enveloping his body in a second.
The plasma coiled around him like a living being, popping bubbles of air trapped in his clothing. A residual spark brushed his leg, sending sharp pain spasming through his body. A bit of a tingle?
Artemis gazed out through the orange gel. Mulch was there giving him the thumbs up. Grinning like a loon. Artemis decided that if he made it through this, then he would have to place the dwarf on the payroll.
He began to crawl blindly. One pull, two pulls ...
Sixty-three seemed a long way off.
Butler cocked the Sig Sauer. The footsteps were ear-splitting now, bouncing off the metal walls. Shadows stretched around the corner, ahead of their owners. The manservant took approximate aim.
A head appeared. Froglike. Licking its own eyeballs. Butler pulled the trigger. The slug punched a melon-sized hole in the wall above the goblin's head. The head was hurriedly withdrawn. Of course, Butler had missed on purpose. Scared was always better than dead. But it couldn't last forever. Twelve more shots to be precise.
The goblins grew braver, sneaking out further and further. Eventually, Butler knew he would be forced to shoot one.
The manservant decided that it was time to go close-quarters. He rose from his hunkers, making slightly less noise than a panther, and hurtled down the corridor towards the enemy.
There were only two men on the planet better educated in the various martial arts than Butler, and he was related to one of them. The other lived on an island in the South China Seas and spent his days meditating and beating up palm trees. You really had to feel sorry for those goblins.
The B'wa Kell had two guards on the sanctum door. Both armed to the teeth and both as thick as several short planks. In spite of repeated warnings, they were both falling asleep inside their helmets when the elves came running around the corner.
'Look,' mumbled one. 'Elves.'
'Huh?' said the other, the denser of the two.
'Don't matter,' said number one. 'LEP don't got no guns.'
Number two gave his eyeballs a lick. 'Yeah, but they sure are irritable.'
And that was when Holly's boot impacted with his chest, slamming him into the wall.
'Hey,' complained number one, bringing up his own gun. 'Not fair.'
Root didn't bother with fancy spinning kicks, preferring instead to body-slam the sentry against the titanium door.
'There,' panted Holly. 'Two down. That wasn't so hard.' A premature statement as it happened. Because that was when the rest of the two-hundred-strong B'wa Kell squadron thundered down the perpendicular corridor.
'That wasn't so hard,' mimicked the commander, curling his fingers into fists.
Artemis's concentration was failing him. There seemed to be more sparks now, and each shock disrupted his focus. He had lost count twice. He was at fifty-four now. Or fifty-six. The difference was life or death.
He trawled ahead, reaching out one arm and then the other, swimming through a turgid sea of gel. Vision was next to useless. Everything was orange. And the only confirmation he had that any progress was being made was when his knee sank into a recess, where the plasma diverted into a cannon.
Artemis punched one last time through the gel, filling his lungs with stale air — sixty-three. That was it. Soon the air purifiers in his helmet would be useless and he would be breathing carbon dioxide.
He placed his fingertips against the pipe's inner curve, searching for a keyhole. Again his eyes were no help. He couldn't even activate the helmet lamps for fear of igniting a river of plasma.
Nothing. No indent. He was going to die here alone. He would never be great. Artemis felt his brain going, spiralling off into a black tunnel. Concentrate, he told himself. Focus. There was a spark approaching. A silver star in the sunset. It coiled lazily along the tube, lighting each section it passed.
There! A hole. The hole. Revealed for a moment by the passing spark. Artemis reached into his pocket like a drunken swimmer, pulling out the dwarf hair. Would it work? There was no reason this access port should have a different locking mechanism.
Artemis slid the hair into the keyhole. Gently. He squinted through the gel. Was it going in? He thought so. Perhaps sixty per cent sure. It would have to be enough.
Artemis twisted. The flap dropped open. He imagined Mulch's grin. That, my boy, is talent.
It was quite possible that every enemy he had in the underworld was waiting outside that hatch, big nasty guns pointed at his head. At that point, Artemis didn't much care. He couldn't bear one more of his own oxygen-depleted breaths or one more excruciating shock to his body.
So, Artemis Fowl poked his helmet through the plasma's surface. He flipped the visor, savouring what could very well be his last breath. Lucky for him, the room's occupants were looking at the view screen.
Watching his friends fight for their lives. Not so lucky for his friends.
There are too many, thought Butler as he rounded the corner and saw almost an entire army of B'wa Kell slotting fresh batteries into their weapons.
The goblins, when they noticed Butler, began to think things like, O gods, it's a troll in clothes; or, why didn't I listen to Mummy and stay out of the gangs?
Then Butler was above them and on the way down. He landed like the proverbial tonne of bricks, except with considerably more precision. Three goblins were out cold before they knew they'd been hit. One shot himself in the foot and several others lay down pretending to be unconscious.
Artemis watched it all on the control room's plasma screen. Along with all the other occupants of the inner sanctum. It was entertainment to them. TV. The goblin generals chuckled and winced as Butler decimated their men. It was all immaterial. There were hundreds of goblins in the building and no way into this room.
Artemis had seconds to decide on a course of action. Seconds. And he had no idea how to use any of this technology. He scanned the walls below him for something he could use. Anything.
There. On a small picture-in-picture screen, away from the main console, was Foaly. Trapped in the Operations' booth. The centaur would have a plan. He had certainly had time to come up with one. Artemis knew that as soon as he emerged from the conduit he was a target. They would kill him without hesitation.
He dragged himself from within the tube, falling to Earth with a thick slap. His saturated clothes slowed his progress to the monitor bank. Heads were turning, he could see them out the corner of his eye. Figures came his way. He didn't know how many.
There was a reed mike below Foaly's image. Artemis pressed the button.
'Foaly!' he rasped, globs of gel splatting on to the console.'Can you hear me?'
The centaur reacted instantly. 'Fowl? What happened to you?'
'Five seconds, Foaly. I need a plan or we're all dead.'
Foaly nodded curtly. 'I've got one ready. Put me on all screens.'
'What? How?'
'Press the conference button. Yellow. A circle with lines shooting out, like the sun. Do you see it?'
Artemis saw it. He pressed it. Then something pressed him. Very painfully.
General Scalene first noticed the creature flopping out of the plasma pipe. What was it? A pixie? No. No, by all the gods. It was human.
'Look!' he cackled. 'A Mud Man.'
The others were oblivious, too interested in the spectacle on-screen.
But not Cudgeon. A human in the inner sanctum. How could this be? He seized Scalene by the shoulders. 'Kill him!'
All the generals were listening now. There was killing to be done. With no danger to themselves.They would do this the old-fashioned way: with claws and fireballs.
The human stumbled to one of the consoles and they surrounded him, tongues dangling excitedly. Sputa spun the human around to face his fate.
One by one, the generals conjured fireballs around their fists, closing in for the kill. But then something made them completely forget the injured human. Cudgeon's face had appeared on all the screens. And the B'wa Kell executive didn't like what it was saying:
'— Just when things are at their most desperate, I shall instruct Opal to return weapons control to the LEP. The B'wa Kell will be rendered unconscious, and you will be blamed for the entire affair, provided you survive, which I doubt -'
Sputa whirled on his ally. 'Cudgeon! What does this mean?'
The generals advanced, hissing and spitting. 'Treachery, Cudgeon! Treachery!'
Cudgeon was not unduly worried. 'OK,' he said. 'Treachery.'
It took Cudgeon a moment to figure out what had happened. It was Foaly. He must have recorded their conversation somehow. How tiresome. Still, you had to hand it to the centaur. He was resourceful.
Cudgeon quickly crossed to the main console, shutting off the broadcast. It wouldn't do for Opal to hear the rest of it. Particularly the part concerning her tragic accident. He really would have to cut out this grandstanding. Still, no matter. Everything was on track.
'Treachery!' hissed Scalene.
'OK,' admitted Cudgeon. 'Treachery.' And directly after that he said, 'Computer, activate DNA cannons. Authorization Cudgeon B. Alpha alpha two two.'
On her hover chair, Opal spun with sheer joy, clapping her tiny hands in delight. Briar was sooo ugly, but he was sooo evil.
Throughout Koboi Labs, robot DNA cannons perked up in their cradles and ran swift self-diagnostics. Apart from a slight drain in the inner sanctum, everything was in order. And so, without further ado, they began to obey their program parameters and target anything with goblin DNA at a rate often blasts per second.
It was swift and, as with everything Koboi, efficient. In less than five seconds, the cannons settled back into their cradles. Mission accomplished: two hundred unconscious goblins throughout the facility.
'Phew,' said Holly, stepping over rows of snoring goblins. 'Close one.'
'Tell me about it,' agreed Root.
Cudgeon kicked Sputa's sleeping body.
'You see, you haven't accomplished anything, Artemis Fowl,' he said, drawing his Redboy.
'Your friends are out there. You're in here. And the goblins are unconscious, soon to be mind-wiped with some particularly unstable chemicals. Just as I planned.' He smiled at Opal hovering above them. 'Just as we planned.'
Opal returned the smile.
At another time, Artemis would have been forced to pass a snide comment. But the possibility of imminent death was occupying his thoughts for the moment.
'Now, I simply reprogram the cannons to target your friends, return power to the LEP cannons, and take over the world. And nobody can get in here to stop me.'
Of course, you should never say something like that, especially when you're an arch-villain. It's just asking for trouble.
Butler hurried down the corridor, catching up with the others outside the inner sanctum. He could see Artemis's predicament through the door's quartz pane. In spite of all his efforts, Master Artemis had still managed to place himself in mortal danger. How was a bodyguard supposed to do his job when his charge insisted on jumping into bear pits, so to speak?
Butler felt the testosterone building in his system. One door was all that separated him from Artemis. One little door, designed to withstand fairies with ray guns. He took several steps backwards.
Holly could tell what he was thinking. 'Don't bother. That door is reinforced.'
The manservant didn't answer. He couldn't. The real Butler was submerged beneath layers of adrenalin and brute force.
With a roar, Butler charged the entrance, concentrating all of his considerable might in the triangular point of his shoulder. It was a blow that would have felled a medium-sized hippopotamus. And while this door was tested for plasma dispersion and moderate physical resistance, it was certainly not Butler-proof. The metal portal crumpled like tin foil.
Butler's momentum took him halfway across the inner sanctum's rubber tiling. Holly and Root followed, pausing only to grab some Softnose lasers from the unconscious goblins.
Cudgeon moved fast, dragging Artemis upright. 'Don't move, any of you. Or I'll kill the Mud Boy.'
Butler kept right on going. His last rational thought had been to disable Cudgeon. Now this was his sole aim in life. He raced forward, arms outstretched.
Holly dived desperately, latching on to Butler's belt. He dragged her like a string of cans behind a wedding car.
'Butler, stop,' she grunted.
The bodyguard ignored her.
Holly hung on, digging in her heels. 'Stop!' she repeated, this time layering her voice with the mesmer.
Butler seemed to wake up. He shook the cave man from his system.
'That's right, Mud Man,' said Cudgeon. 'Listen to Captain Short. Surely we can work something out here.'
'No deals, Briar,' said Root. 'It's all over, so just put the Mud Boy down.'
Cudgeon cocked the Redboy. ‘I’ll put him down all right.'
This was Butler's worst nightmare. His charge was in the hands of a psychopath with nothing to lose. And there was nothing he could do about it.
A phone rang.
'I think it's mine,' said Artemis automatically.
Another ring. Definitely his mobile phone. Amazing the thing worked at all really, considering what it had been through. Artemis ripped open the case.
'Yes?'
It was one of those frozen moments. Nobody knew what to expect.
Artemis tossed the handset at Opal Koboi. 'It's for
The pixie swooped low to catch the tiny mobile phone. Cudgeon's chest heaved. His body knew what was happening even if his brain hadn't figured it out yet.
Opal placed the tiny speaker to her pointed ear.
'— Really, Foaly,' said Cudgeon's voice. 'Do you think I'd go to all this trouble to share power? Oh no. As soon as this charade is over, Miss Koboi will have a tragic accident. Perhaps several tragic accidents — '
All colour drained from Opal's face. 'You!' she screeched.
'It's a trick!' protested Cudgeon. 'They're trying to turn us against each other.'
But his eyes told the real story.
Pixies are feisty creatures, in spite of their size. They put up with so much and then explode. For Opal Koboi, it was explosion time. She manipulated the Hoverboy's controls, dropping in a steep dive.
Cudgeon didn't hesitate. He put two bursts into the chair, but the thick cushion protected its pilot.
Opal Koboi flew straight at her former partner. When the elf raised his arms to protect himself, Artemis slid to the floor. Briar Cudgeon was not so lucky. He became entangled in the Hoverboy's safety rail and was borne aloft by the wildcat pixie. They whirled around the chamber ricocheting off several walls before crashing straight through the open plasma panel in the cannon Pipe - Unfortunately for Cudgeon, the plasma was now active. He had activated it himself. But this irony did not occur to him as he was fried by a million radioactive tendrils.
Koboi was lucky. She was pitched from the hoverchair and lay moaning on the rubber tiles.
Butler was on the move before Cudgeon landed. He flipped Artemis over, checking his frame for wounds. A couple of scratches. Superficial. Nothing a shot of blue sparks wouldn't take care of.
Holly checked Opal Koboi's status.
'She conscious?' asked the commander.
Koboi's eyes flickered open. Holly shut them with a swift rabbit punch to the forehead. 'Nope,' she said innocently. 'Out cold.'
Root took one look at Cudgeon and realized there was no point checking for vitals. Maybe he was better off. The alternative would have been a couple of centuries in Howler's Peak.
Artemis noticed movement by the door. It was Mulch. He was grinning and waving. Waving goodbye, just in case Julius forgot about his two-day head start. The dwarf pointed to a blue canister mounted on a wall bracket and he was gone.
'Butler,' rasped Artemis, with the absolute last ounce of his strength. 'Could someone spray me down? And then could we please go to Murmansk?'
Butler was mystified. 'Spray? What spray?'
Holly unhooked the anti-rad foam canister, flipping the safety catch. 'Allow me,' she said, grinning. 'It would be my pleasure.'
She directed a jet of foul-smelling foam at Artemis. In seconds, he resembled a half-melted snowman. Holly laughed. Who said there were no perks in law enforcement?

OPERATIONS' BOOTH



Once the cannon plasma had short-circuited Cudgeon's remote control, power came rushing back to the Operations' booth. Foaly lost no time in activating the subcutaneous sleepers planted below goblin offenders' skin. That put half of the B'wa Kell out of action straight away. Then he reprogrammed Police Plaza's own DNA cannons for non-lethal bursts. It was all over in seconds. Captain Kelp's first thought was for his subordinates. 'Sound off,' he shouted, his voice slicing through the chaos. 'Did we lose anyone?'
The squadron leaders answered in sequence, confirming that there had been no fatalities.
'We were lucky,' remarked a warlock medic. 'There's not a drop of magic left in the building. Not even a medi-pac. The next officer to go down would have stayed down.'
Trouble turned his attention to the Ops' booth. He did not look amused.
Foaly depolarized the quartz window and opened a channel. 'Hey, guys. I wasn't behind this. It was Cudgeon. I just saved everyone. I sent a sound recording to a mobile phone; that wasn't easy. You should be giving me a medal.'
Trouble clenched his fist. 'Yeah, Foaly, come on out here and let me give you your medal.'
Foaly may not have had many social skills, but he knew thinly veiled threats when he heard them.
'Oh no. Not me. I'm staying right here until Commander Root gets back. He can explain everything.'
The centaur blacked out the window and busied himself running a bug sweep. He would isolate every last trace of Opal Koboi and flush it out of the system. Paranoid was he? Who was the paranoid one now, Holly? Who was the paranoid one now?
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Chapter 14: Father's Day



MURMANSK

THE Arctic seascape between Murmansk and Severomorsk had become a submarine graveyard for Russia's once mighty fleet. Easily a hundred nuclear submarines lay rusting in the coastline's various inlets and fjords, with only the odd danger sign or roving patrol to warn off curious passers-by. At night, you didn't have to look too hard to see the glow, or listen too hard to hear the hum.
One such submarine was the Nikodim. A twenty-year-old Typhoon class, with rusty pipes and a leaky reactor. Not a healthy combination. And it was here that the Mafiya kingpin, Britva, had instructed his lackeys to make the exchange for Artemis Fowl Senior.
Mikhael Vassikin and Kamar were none too happy with the situation. They had been bunked in the captain's quarters for two days already, and were convinced their lives were growing shorter by the minute.
Vassikin coughed. 'You hear that? My guts aren't right. It's the radiation, I'm telling you.'
'This whole thing is ridiculous,' snarled Kamar. 'The Fowl boy is thirteen. Thirteen! He's a baby. How can a child raise five million dollars? It's crazy.'
Vassikin sat up on his bunk. 'Maybe not. I've heard stories about this one. They say he has powers.'
Kamar snorted. 'Powers? Magic? Oh, go stuff your head in the reactor, you old woman.'
'No, I have a contact in Interpol. They have an active file on this boy. Thirteen years old and with an active file? I am thirty-seven, and still no Interpol file.' The Russian sounded disappointed.
'An active file. What's magic about that?'
'But my contact swears that this boy, Fowl, is sighted all over the world, on the same day. The same hour.'
Kamar was unimpressed. 'Your contact is a bigger coward than you are.'
'Believe what you want. But I'll be happy to get off this cursed boat alive. One way or the other.'
Kamar pulled a fur cap down over his ears. 'OK. Let's go. It's time.'
'Finally,' sighed Vassikin.
The two men collected the prisoner from the next cabin. They were not worried about an escape attempt. Not with one leg missing and a hood secured over his head. Vassikin slung Fowl Senior over his shoulder and climbed the rungs to the conning tower.
Kamar used a radio to check in with the back-up. There were over a hundred criminals hiding among the petrified bushes and snowdrifts. Cigarette tips lit the night like fireflies.
'Put those cigarettes out, idiots,' he hissed over an open frequency. 'It's almost midnight. Fowl could be here any second. Remember, no one shoots until I give the order. Then everybody shoots.'
You could almost hear the hiss as a hundred cigarette butts were flicked into the snow. A hundred men. It was a costly operation. But a mere drop in the ocean compared to the twenty per cent promised them by Britva.
Wherever this boy Fowl came from, he would be trapped in a deadly crossfire. There was no way out for him or his father, while he and Vassikin were safe behind the steel conning tower.
Kamar grinned. Let's see how much magic you have then, Irlanskii.
Holly surveyed the scene through the hi-res night-sight filter in her helmet with the eyes of a seasoned Recon officer. Butler was stuck with plain old binoculars.
'How many cigarettes did you count?'
'More than eighty,' replied the captain. 'Could be up to a hundred men. You walk in there and you'll be carried out.'
Root nodded in agreement. It was a tactical nightmare.
They were bivouacked on the opposite side of the fjord, high on a sloped hill. The Council had even approved wings, on account of Artemis's recent services.
Foaly had done a mail retrieval from Artemis's computer and found a message: Five million US. The Nikodim. Murmansk. Midnight on the fourteenth. It was short and to the point. What else was there to say? They had missed their opportunity to snatch Artemis Senior before he was moved to the drop point, and now the Mafiya were in control.
They gathered around while Butler sketched a diagram in the snow with a laser pointer.
'I would guess that the target is being held here, in the conning tower.To get there, you've got to walk all the way along the sub. They've got a hundred men hiding out around the perimeter. We have no air support, no satellite information and minimal weaponry.' Butler sighed. 'I'm sorry, Artemis. I just don't see it.'
Holly knelt to study the diagram.'A time-stop would take days to set up. We can't shield either because of the radiation, and there's no way to get close enough to mesmerize.'
'What about LEP weaponry?' asked Artemis, though he knew the answer.
Root chewed an unlit cigar. 'We discussed this, Artemis. We have as much firepower as you like, but if we start blasting, your father will be their first target. Standard kidnapping rules.'
Artemis pulled an LEP field parka closer to his throat, staring at the rough diagram. 'And if we give them the money?'
Foaly had run them up five million in small bills on one of his old printers. He had even had a squad of sprites crumple it up a bit.
Butler shook his head. 'That's not the way these people do business. Alive, Mister Fowl is a potential enemy. He has to die.'
Artemis nodded slowly. There was absolutely no other way. He would have to implement the plan he had concocted in the Arctic shuttle port.
'Very well, everyone,' he said. 'I have a plan. But it's going to sound a bit extreme.'
Mikhael Vassikin's mobile phone rang, shattering the Arctic silence. Vassikin almost fell down the tower hatch.
'Da? What is it? I'm busy.'
'This is Fowl,' said a voice in flawless Russian, colder than Arctic pack ice. 'It's midnight. I'm here.'
Mikhael swung around, scanning the surroundings through his binoculars.
'Here? Where? I don't see anything.'
'Close enough.'
'How did you get this number?'
A chuckle rattled through the speakers. The sound set Vassikin's fillings on edge.
'I know someone. He has all the numbers.'
Mikhael took deep breaths, settling himself. 'Do you have the money?'
'Of course. Do you have the package?'
'Right here.'
Again the cold chuckle. 'All I see is a fat imbecile, a little rat and someone with a hood over his head. It could be anyone. I'm not paying five million for your cousin Yuri.'
Vassikin ducked below the lip of the tower. 'Fowl can see us!' he hissed at Kamar. 'Stay low.'
Kamar scuttled to the far side of the tower, opening a line to his men. 'He's here. Fowl is here. Search the area.'
Vassikin brought the phone back to his ear. 'So come down here and check. You'll see soon enough.'
'I can see fine from right here. Just take the hood off.'
Mikhael covered the phone. 'He wants me to take the hood off. What should I do?'
Kamar sighed. Now it was becoming plain who was the brains in this outfit. 'Take it off. What difference does it make? Either way they're both dead in five minutes.'
'OK, Fowl. I'm taking off the hood. The next face you see will be your father's.' The big Russian propped up the prisoner, high over the lip of the conning tower. He reached up with one hand and pulled off the rough sackcloth hood.
On the other end of the line, he heard a sharp intake of breath.
Through the filters of his borrowed LEP helmet, Artemis could see the conning tower as though it were a metre away. The hood came off, and he could not suppress a sharp gasp.
It was his father. Different certainly. But not beyond recognition. Artemis Fowl the First, without a shadow of a doubt.
'Well,' said a Russian voice in his ear. 'Is it him?'
Artemis struggled to stop his voice from shaking. 'Yes,' he said. 'It is him. Congratulations. You have an item of some value.'
In the conning tower, Vassikin gave his partner the thumbs up. 'It's him,' he hissed. 'We're in the money.'
Kamar didn't share his confidence. There would be no celebrating until the cash was in his hand.
Butler steadied the fairy Far shoot rifle on its stand. He had selected it from the LEP armoury. Fifteen hundred metres. Not an easy shot. But there was no wind, and Foaly had given him a scope that did the aiming for him. Artemis Fowl Senior's torso was centred in the crosshair.
He took a breath. 'Artemis. Are you sure?This is risky.'
Artemis did not reply, checking for the hundredth time that Holly was in position. Of course he wasn't sure. A million things could go wrong with this deception, but what choice did he have?
Artemis nodded. Just once.
Butler fired the shot.
The shot caught Artemis Senior in the shoulder. He spun around, slumping over the startled Vassikin.
The Russian howled in disgust, heaving the bleeding Irishman over the lip of the conning tower. Artemis Senior slid along the keel, crashing through the brittle ice plates clinging to the sub's hull.
'He shot him,' yelped the khuligany. 'That devil shot his own father.'
Kamar was stunned, 'idiot!' he howled. 'You've just thrown our hostage overboard!' He peered into the black Arctic waters. Nothing remained of the Irlanskii but ripples.
'Go down and get him, if you wish,' said Vassikin sullenly.
'Was he dead?'
His partner shrugged. 'Maybe. He was bleeding bad. And if the bullet doesn't finish him, the water will. Anyway, it's not our fault.'
Kamar swore viciously. 'I don't think Britva will see it that way.'
'Britva,' breathed Vassikin.The only thing the Menidzher understood was money. 'O gods. We're dead.'
The mobile phone rattled on the deck. The speaker was vibrating. Fowl was still on the other end.
Mikhael picked up the mobile as though it were a grenade. 'Fowl?You there?'
'Yes,' came the reply.
'You crazy devil! What are you doing?Your father is as good as dead. I thought we had a deal!'
'We still do. A new one. You can still make some money tonight.'
Mikhael stopped panicking and started paying attention. Could there possibly be a way out of this nightmare?
'I'm listening.'
'The last thing I need is for my father to return and destroy what I have built up over the past two years.'
Mikhael nodded. This made perfect sense to him.
'So he had to die. I had to see it done myself, just to be sure. But I could still leave you a little something.'
Mikhael could barely breathe. 'A little something?'
'The ransom. All five million.'
'And why would you do that?'
'You get the money; I get safe passage home. Fair enough?'
'Seems fair to me.'
'Very well. Now look across the bay, above the fjord.'
Mikhael looked. There was a flare burning, right at the snow-covered hill's tip.
'There is a briefcase tied to that flare. The flare goes out in ten minutes. I'd get there before then if I were you. Otherwise the case could take years to find.'
Mikhael didn't bother to cut the connection. He just dropped the phone and ran. 'The money,' he shouted at Kamar. 'Up there. The flare.'
Kamar was after him in a heartbeat, shouting instructions into the radio. Someone had to reach that money. Who cared about a drowning Irlanskii when there were five million dollars to be claimed?
Root pointed at Holly the moment Artemis Senior had been shot. 'Go!' he ordered.
Captain Short activated her wings, launching herself right off the hilltop. Of course, what they were doing here was against all the regulations, but the Council was cutting Foaly a lot of slack having more or less convicted him of treason. The only conditions were that the centaur was in constant communication, and that every member of the party was fitted with remote incineration packs, so that they and all their fairy technology could be destroyed in the event of capture or injury.
Holly followed events on the submarine through her visor. She saw the charge impact on Artemis Senior's shoulder, knocking him against the larger Russian. Blood registered in her field of vision. It was still warm enough to be picked up by her thermal imager. Holly had to admit, it looked effective. Maybe Artemis's plan could actually work. Maybe the Russians would be fooled. After all, humans generally saw what they wanted to see.
Then things went horribly wrong.
'He's in the water!' shouted Holly into her helmet mike, opening the wing rig's throttle to the max. 'He's alive, but not for long unless we get him out.'
She skimmed silently over the glistening ice, arms crossed over her chest for speed. She was moving too fast for human vision to pin her down. She could be a bird, or a seal breaking the waves. The submarine loomed before her.
On board the Nikodim, the Russians were evacuating. Clambering down the tower ladder, feet slipping in their haste. And ashore, the same. Men breaking cover, crashing through the frosted undergrowth. The commander must have set the flare. Those Mud Men would be delirious to find their precious money, only to have it dissolve in seventy-two hours. That should just about give them time to deliver it to their boss. Odds on he wouldn't be happy with disappearing cash.
Holly skimmed the sub's keel, safe from radiation in her suit and helmet. At the last moment, she flipped upwards, shielded from the northern shore by the conning tower. She popped the throttle, hovering above the ice hole where the human had fallen in. The commander was talking into her ear, but Holly didn't reply. She had a job to do and no time for talk.
Fairies hate cold. They hate it. Some are so phobic about low temperatures that they won't even eat ice cream. The last thing Holly wanted to do right now was put so much as a toe into that sub-zero, radioactive water. But what choice did she have? 'D'Arvit,' she swore, and plunged into the water.
The micro-filaments in her suit deadened the cold, but they could not dispel it entirely. Holly knew that she had seconds before the temperature-drop slowed her reactions and sent her into shock.
Below her, the unconscious human was as pale as a ghost. Holly fumbled with her wing controls. A touch too much on the throttle could send her too deep. Not enough and she would fall short. And at these temperatures, you got one shot only.
Holly hit the throttle. The engine buzzed once, sending her ten fathoms down. Perfect. She grabbed Fowl Senior by the waist, quickly clipping him on to her Moonbelt. He hung there limply. He needed an infusion of magic, and the sooner the better.
Holly glanced upwards. It seemed as though the ice hole was already closing. Was there anything else that could go wrong? The commander was shouting in her ear, but she shut him out, concentrating on getting back to dry land.
Ice crystals spun themselves across the hole like spiders' webs. The ocean seemed determined to claim them.
I don't think so, thought Holly, pointing her helmeted head at the surface, and opening the throttle as far as it would go.They crashed through the ice, arced through the air and landed on the slatted surface of the sub's forward deck.
The human's face was the colour of the surrounding landscape. Holly crouched on his chest like a predatory creature, exposing the supposed wound to the night air. There was blood on the deck, but it was Artemis Junior's blood: they had pried the cap from a Hydrosion shell, and half filled it with blood taken from Artemis's arm. On impact, the Fizzer had knocked Artemis Senior off his feet, sending the crimson liquid spiralling through the air. Very convincing. Of course, being thrown into the freezing waters had not been part of the plan.
The shell had not penetrated his skin, but Mister Fowl was not safe yet. Holly's thermal imager showed that his heartbeat was dangerously slow and weak. She laid her hands on his chest. 'Heal,' she whispered. 'Heal.'
And the magic scurried down her fingers.
Artemis couldn't watch Holly's rescue attempt. Had he done the right thing? What if the Hydrosion shell penetrated? How could he ever face his mother again?
'Oh no,' said Butler.
Artemis was at his side in an instant. 'What is it?'
'Your father is in the water. One of the Russians threw him in.'
The boy groaned. That water was as deadly as any bullet. He'd been afraid that something like this would happen.
Root had also been following the rescue attempt. 'OK. She's over the water. Can you see him, Holly?'
No answer. Just static in his earphones.
'Status, Captain? Respond.'
Nothing.
'Holly?'
She's not talking because it's too late, thought Artemis. There's nothing she can do to save my father and it's all my fault.
Root's voice cut through his thoughts. 'The Russians are evacuating,' he said. 'Holly's at the sub now, over the hole in the ice. She's going in. Holly, what have you got? Come on, Holly. Talk to me.'
Nothing. For the longest time.
Then Holly erupted through the ice like a mechanized dolphin. She arced briefly through the Arctic night, crash-landing on the Typhoon's deck.
'She has your father,' said the commander.
Artemis slipped on the spare Recon helmet, willing Holly's voice to sound through the speakers. He magnified the picture in his visor until it seemed as though he could touch his father and watched Holly lean over his father's chest, pulses of magic shooting down her fingers.
After several moments, Holly looked up, straight into Artemis's eyes, as though she knew he was watching. 'I got him,' she gasped. 'One live Mud Man. He's not pretty, but he's breathing.'
Artemis sank to the ground, sobs of relief shaking his thin shoulders. He cried for a whole minute. Then he was himself again.
'Well done, Captain. Now let's get out of here before Foaly activates one of these incinerator packs by accident.'
In the bowels of the Earth, the centaur leaned back from his communications console.
'Don't tempt me,' he chuckled.
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An Epilogue Or Two



TARA

Artemis was heading back to St Bartleby's. This was where he had to be when the Helsinki medical services identified his father from the suitably weathered passport Foaly had run up for him.
Holly had done her best for the injured man, healing his chest wound and even restoring sight to his blinded eye. But it was too late to reattach the leg, which they didn't have in any case. No, Artemis Senior needed prolonged medical attention, and it had to begin somewhere that could be rationally explained. So Holly had flown south-west to Helsinki, depositing the unconscious man at the doors of the University Hospital. One porter had spotted the flying patient, but he had been successfully mind-wiped.
When Artemis Senior regained consciousness the past two years would be a blur, and his last memory would be a happy one: bidding his family farewell at Dublin harbour. Thanks again to Foaly and his mind-wiping technology.
'Why don't I just move in with you?' the centaur had quipped when they returned to Police Plaza. 'Do your ironing while I'm at it.'
Artemis smiled. He had been doing that a lot lately. Even the parting with Holly had gone better than he could have expected, considering she'd seen him shoot his own father. Artemis shuddered. He anticipated many sleepless nights over that particular strategy.
The captain escorted them to Tara, slipping them out through a holographic hedge. There was even a holographic cow chewing the virtual leaves to throw humans off the fairy scent.
Artemis was back in his school uniform, which had been miraculously restored by the People's technology. He sniffed his lapel.
'This blazer smells unusual,' he commented. 'Not unpleasant, but unusual.'
'It's completely clean,' said Holly, smiling. 'Foaly had to put it through three cycles in the machine to purge...'
'To purge the Mud People from it,' completed Artemis.
'Exactly.'
There was a full moon overhead, bright and pocked like a golf ball. Holly could feel its magic singing to her.
'Foaly said, in the light of the help you've given us, he's pulling the surveillance on Fowl Manor.' 'That's good to know,' said Artemis.
'Is it the right decision?'
Artemis considered it. 'Yes. The People are safe from me.'
'Good. Because a large section of the Council wanted you mind-wiped. And with a chunk of memory this big, your IQ could take a bit of a dip.'
Butler extended a hand. 'Well, Captain. I don't suppose I'll see you again.'
Holly shook it. 'If you do, it'll be too late.' Captain Short turned towards the fairy fort. 'I had better go. It will be light soon. I don't want to be caught unshielded on a spy satellite. The last thing I need is my photo all over the Internet. Not when I've just been reinstated at Recon.'
Butler elbowed his employer gently.
'Oh, Holly ... Eh, Captain Short.' Eh? Artemis couldn't believe he'd actually said eh. It wasn't even a word.
'Yes, Mud B ... Yes, Artemis?'
Artemis looked Holly in the eye, just as Butler had instructed. This 'being civil' business was more difficult than one would think. 'I would like to ... I mean.What I mean is ..."
Another elbow from Butler.
'Thank you. I owe you everything. Because of you I have my parents. And the way you flew that craft was nothing short of spectacular. And on the train ... Well, I could never have done what you ...'
A third elbow. This time to stop the babbling.
'Sorry. Well, you get the idea.'
Holly's elfin features wore a strange expression. Somewhere between embarrassment and — could it possibly be? — delight. She recovered quickly.
'Maybe I owe you something too, human,' she said, drawing her pistol. Butler almost reacted, but decided to give Holly the benefit of the doubt.
Captain Short plucked a gold coin from her belt, flicking it twenty metres into the moonlit sky. With one fluid movement, she brought her weapon up and loosed a single blast. The coin rose another twenty metres, then spun earthwards. Artemis somehow managed to snatch it from the air. The first cool moment of his young life.
'Nice shot,' he said. The previously solid disc now had a tiny hole in the centre.
Holly held out her hand, revealing the still-raw scar on her finger. 'If it wasn't for you, I would have missed altogether. No mech-digit can replicate that kind of accuracy. So, thank you too, I suppose.'
Artemis held out the coin.
'No,' said Holly. 'You keep it, to remind you.'
'To remind me?'
Holly stared at him frankly. 'To remind you that deep beneath the layers of deviousness, there is a spark of decency. Perhaps you could blow on that spark occasionally.'
Artemis closed his fingers around the coin. It was warm against his palm. 'Yes, perhaps.'
A small two-seater plane buzzed overhead. Artemis glanced skywards, and when he looked back Holly was gone. A slight heat haze hovered above the grass.
'Goodbye, Holly,' he said softly.
The Bentley started on the first turn of the key. In less than an hour they arrived at St Bartleby's main gate.
'Make sure your phone's switched on,' Butler said, holding the door. 'The Helsinki officials should be getting the results of their trace from Interpol soon. Your father's file has been reactivated in their mainframe thanks, once again, to Foaly.'
Artemis nodded, checking his phone was switched on. 'Try to locate Mother and Juliet before the news comes through. I don't want to be hunting through every spa in the south of France looking for them.'
'Yes, Artemis.'
'And check my accounts are well hidden. No need for Father to know exactly what I've been up to for the past two years.'
Butler smiled. 'Yes, Artemis.'
Artemis took a few steps towards the school gates, then turned. 'And, Butler, one more thing. In the Arctic ..."
Artemis couldn't ask, but his bodyguard knew the answer anyway.
'Yes, Artemis,' he said gently. 'You did the right thing. It was the only way.'
Artemis nodded, standing by the gates until the Bentley had disappeared down the avenue. From this moment on, life would be different. With two parents in the manor, his schemes would have to be much more carefully planned. Yes, he owed it to the People to leave them alone for a while, but Mulch Diggums ... that was a different matter. So many secure facilities, so little time.

COUNSELLOR'S OFFICE, ST BARTLEBY'S SCHOOL FOR YOUNG GENTLEMEN

Not only was Doctor Po still employed at St Bartleby's, but he seemed fortified by his break from Artemis. His other patients were relatively straightforward cases of anger management, exam stress and chronic shyness. And that was just the teachers.
Artemis settled on to the couch, taking care not to accidentally press the power button on his mobile.
Doctor Po nodded at his computer. 'Principal Guiney forwarded me your e-mail. Charming.'
'I'm sorry about that,' muttered Artemis, surprised to find that he actually was sorry. Upsetting other people didn't usually upset him. 'I was in denial. So, I projected my anxieties on to you.'
Po half chuckled. 'Yes, very good. Just what it says in the book.'
'I know,' said Artemis. And he did know. Doctor F. Roy Dean Schlippe had contributed a chapter to that particular book.
Doctor Po laid down his pen, something he had never done before.
'You know, we still haven't resolved that last issue.'
'Which issue is that, Doctor?'
'The one we touched on at our last session. About respect?'
'Ah, that issue.'
Po steepled his fingers. 'I want you to pretend I'm as smart as you are, and give me an honest answer.'
Artemis thought of his father lying in a Helsinki hospital, of Captain Holly Short risking her life to help him and, of course, Butler, without whom he would never have made it out of Koboi Laboratories. He looked up, catching Doctor Po smiling at him.
'Well, young man, have you found anyone worthy of your respect?'
Artemis smiled back. 'Yes,' he said. 'I believe I have.'


The End
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Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code


Prologue



Excerpt From Artemis Fowl's Diary. Disk 2. Encrypted.

FOR the past two years my business enterprises have thrived without parental interference. In this time, I have sold the Pyramids to a Western businessman, forged and auctioned off the lost diaries of Leonardo da Vinci and separated the fairy People from a large portion of their precious gold. But my freedom to plot is almost at an end. As I write, my father lies in a hospital bed in Helsinki, where he recovers after a two-year imprisonment by the Russian Mafiya. He is still unconscious following his ordeal, but he will awaken soon and retake control of the Fowl finances.
With two parents resident in Fowl Manor, it will be impossible for me to conduct my various illegal ventures undetected. Previously this would not have been a problem as my father was a bigger crook than me, but Mother is determined that the Fowls are going straight.
However, there is time for one last job. Something that my mother would not approve of. I don’t think the fairy folk would like it much either. So I shall not tell them.
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Chapter I: The Cube



EN FIN, KNIGHTSBRIDGE, LONDON

ARTEMIS  Fowl was almost content. His   father   would   be   discharged   from Helsinki’s University Hospital any day now. He himself was looking forward to a delicious late lunch at En Fin, a London seafood restaurant, and his business contact should arrive any moment. All according to plan.
His bodyguard, Butler, was not quite so relaxed. But then again he was never truly at ease - one did not become one of the world’s deadliest men by dropping one’s guard. The giant Eurasian flitted between tables in the Knightsbridge bistro, positioning the usual security items and clearing exit routes.
‘Are you wearing the earplugs?’ he asked his employer.
Artemis sighed deeply. ‘Yes, Butler. Though I hardly think we are in danger here. It’s a perfectly legal business meeting in broad daylight, for heaven’s sake.’
The earplugs were actually sonic filter sponges, cannibalized from fairy Lower Elements Police helmets. Butler had obtained the helmets, along with a treasure trove of fairy technology, over a year previously when one of Artemis’s schemes pitted him against a fairy SWAT team. The sponges were grown in LEP labs, and had tiny porous membranes that sealed automatically when decibel levels surpassed safety standards.
‘Maybe so, Artemis, but the thing about assassins is that they like to catch you unawares.’
‘Perhaps,’ replied Artemis, perusing the menu’s entree section. ‘But who could possibly have a motive to kill us?’
Butler shot one of the half-dozen diners a fierce glare, just in case she was planning something. The woman must have been at least eighty.
‘They might not be after us. Remember, Jon Spiro is a powerful man. He put a lot of companies out of business. We could be caught in a crossfire.
Artemis nodded. As usual, Butler was right, which explained why they were both still alive. Jon Spiro, the American he was meeting, was just the kind of man to attract assassins’ bullets. A successful IT billionaire, with a shady past and alleged mob connections. Rumour had it that his company, Fission Chips, had made it to the top on the back of stolen research. Of course, nothing was ever proved - not that Chicago’s district attorney hadn’t tried. Several times.
A waitress wandered over, giving them a dazzling smile.
‘Hello there, young man. Would you like to see the children’s menu?’
A vein pulsed in Artemis’s temple.
‘No, mademoiselle, I would not like to see the children’s menu. I have no doubt the children’s menu itself tastes better than the meals on it. I would like to order a la carte. Or don’t you serve fish to minors?’
The waitress’s smile shrank by a couple of molars. Artemis’s vocabulary had that effect on most people.
Butler rolled his eyes. And Artemis wondered who would want to kill him. Most of the waiters and tailors in Europe, for a start.
‘Yes, sir,’ stammered the unfortunate waitress. ‘Whatever you like.’
‘What I would like is a medley of shark and swordfish, pan-seared, on a bed of vegetables and new potatoes.’
‘And to drink?’
‘Spring water. Irish, if you have it. And no ice, please, as your ice is no doubt made from tap water, which rather defeats the purpose of spring water.’
The waitress scurried to the kitchen, relieved to escape from the pale youth at table six. She’d seen a vampire movie once. The undead creature had the very same hypnotic stare. Maybe the kid spoke like a grown-up because he was actually five hundred years old.
Artemis smiled in anticipation of his meal, unaware of the consternation he’d caused.
‘You’re going to be a big hit at the school dances,’ Butler commented.
‘Pardon?’
‘That poor girl was almost in tears. It wouldn’t hurt you to be nice occasionally.’
Artemis was surprised. Butler rarely offered opinions on personal matters.
‘I don’t see myself at school dances, Butler.’
‘Dancing isn’t the point. It’s all about communication.’
‘Communication?’ scoffed young Master Fowl. ‘I doubt there is a teenager alive with a vocabulary equal to mine.’
Butler was about to point out the difference between talking and communicating when the restaurant door opened. A small tanned man entered, flanked by a veritable giant. Jon Spiro and his security.
Butler bent low to whisper in his charge’s ear. ‘Be careful, Artemis. I know the big one by reputation.’
Spiro wound through the tables, arms outstretched. He was a middle-aged American, thin as a javelin, and barely taller than Artemis himself. In the eighties, shipping had been his thing; in the nineties he made a killing in stocks and shares. Now, it was communications.
He wore his trademark white linen suit, and there was enough jewellery hanging from his wrists and fingers to gold leaf the Taj Mahal.
Artemis rose to greet his associate. ‘Mister Spiro, welcome.’
‘Hey, little Artemis Fowl. How the hell are you?’
Artemis shook the man’s hand. His jewellery jangled like a rattlesnake’s tail.
‘I am well. Glad you could come.’
Spiro took a chair. ‘Artemis Fowl calls with a proposition: I would’ve walked across broken glass to be here.’
The bodyguards appraised each other openly. Apart from their bulk, the two were polar opposites. Butler was the epitome of understated efficiency. Black suit, shaven head, as inconspicuous as it was possible to be at almost seven feet tall. The newcomer had bleached blond hair, a cut-off T-shirt and silver pirate rings in both ears. This was not a man who wanted to be forgotten, or ignored.
‘Arno Blunt,’ said Butler. ‘I’ve heard about you.’
Blunt took up his position at Jon Spiro’s shoulder.
‘Butler. One of the Butlers,’ he said, in a New Zealand drawl. ‘I hear you guys are the best. That’s what I hear. Let’s hope we don’t have to find out.’
Spiro laughed. It sounded like a box of crickets.
‘Arno, please. We are among friends here. This is not a day for threats.’
Butler was not so sure. His soldier’s sense was buzzing like a nest of hornets at the base of his skull. There was danger here.
‘So, my friend. To business,’ said Spiro, fixing Artemis with his close-set dark eyes. ‘I’ve been salivating all the way across the Atlantic. What have you got for me?’
Artemis frowned. He’d hoped business could wait until after lunch.
‘Wouldn’t you like to see a menu?’
‘No. I don’t eat much any more. Pills and liquids mostly. Gut problems.’
‘Very well,’ said Artemis, laying an aluminium briefcase on the table. ‘To business then.’
He flipped the case’s lid, revealing a red cube the size of a minidisc player, nestling in blue foam.
Spiro cleaned his spectacles with the tail end of his tie.
‘What am I seeing here, kid?’
Artemis placed the shining box on the table.
‘The future, Mister Spiro. Ahead of schedule.’
Jon Spiro leaned in, taking a good look.
‘Looks like a paperweight to me.’
Arno Blunt sniggered, his eyes taunting Butler.
‘A demonstration then,’ said Artemis, picking up the metal box. He pressed a button and the gadget purred into life. Sections slid back to reveal speakers and a screen.
‘Cute,’ muttered Spiro. ‘I flew three thousand miles for a micro-TV?’
Artemis nodded. ‘A micro-TV. But also a verbally controlled computer, a mobile phone, a diagnostic aid. This little box can read any information on absolutely any platform, electrical or organic. It can play videos, laserdiscs, DVDs; go online, retrieve e-mail, hack any computer. It can even scan your chest to see how fast your heart’s beating. Its battery is good for two years and, of course, it’s completely wireless.’
Artemis paused, to let it sink in.
Spiro’s eyes seemed huge behind his spectacles.
‘You mean, this box . . .?’
‘Will render all other technology obsolete. Your computer plants will be worthless.’
The American took several deep breaths.
‘But how . . . how?’
Artemis flipped the box over. An infrared sensor pulsed gently on the back.
‘This is the secret. An omni-sensor. It can read anything you ask it to. And if the source is programmed in, it can piggyback any satellite you choose.’
Spiro wagged a finger. ‘But that’s illegal, isn’t it?’
‘No, no,’ said Artemis, smiling. ‘There are no laws against something like this. And there won’t be for at least two years after it comes out. Look how long it took to shut down Napster.’
The American rested his face in his hands. It was too much.
‘I don’t understand. This is years, no, decades ahead of anything we have now. You’re nothing but a thirteen-year-old kid. How did you do it?’
Artemis thought for a second. What was he going to say? Sixteen months ago Butler took on a Lower Elements Police Retrieval squad and confiscated their fairy technology? Then he, Artemis, had taken the components and built this wonderful box? Hardly.
‘Let’s just say I’m a very smart boy, Mister Spiro.’
Spiro’s eyes narrowed. ‘Maybe not as smart as you’d like us to think. I want a demonstration.’
‘Fair enough.’ Artemis nodded. ‘Do you have a mobile phone?’
‘Naturally.’ Spiro placed his mobile phone on the table. It was the latest Fission Chips model.
‘Secure, I take it?’
Spiro nodded arrogantly. ‘Five hundred bit encryption. Best in its class. You’re not getting into the Fission 400 without a code.’
‘We shall see.’
Artemis pointed the sensor at the handset. The screen instantly displayed an image of the mobile phone’s workings.
‘Download?’ enquired a metallic voice from the speaker.
‘Confirm.’
In less than a second, the job was done. ‘Download complete,’ said the box, with a hint of smugness.
Spiro was aghast. ‘I don’t believe it. That system cost twenty million dollars.’
‘Worthless,’ said Artemis, showing him the screen. ‘Would you like to call home? Or maybe move some funds around? You really shouldn’t keep your bank account numbers on a sim card.’
The American thought for several moments.
‘It’s a trick,’ he pronounced finally. ‘You must’ve known about my phone. Somehow, don’t ask me how, you got access to it earlier.’
‘That is logical,’ admitted Artemis. ‘It’s what I would suspect. Name your test.’
Spiro cast his eyes around the restaurant, fingers drumming the tabletop.
‘Over there,’ he said, pointing to a video shelf above the bar. ‘Play one of those tapes.’
‘That’s it?’
‘It’ll do, for a start.’
Arno Blunt made a huge show of flicking through the tapes, eventually selecting one without a label. He slapped it down on the table, bouncing the engraved silver cutlery into the air.
Artemis resisted the urge to roll his eyes and placed the red box directly on to the tape’s surface.
An image of the cassette’s innards appeared on the tiny plasma screen.
‘Download?’ asked the box.
Artemis nodded. ‘Download, compensate and play.’
Again, the operation was completed in under a second. An old episode of an English soap crackled into life.
‘DVD quality,’ commented Artemis. ‘Regardless of the input, the C Cube will compensate.’
‘The what?’
‘C Cube,’ repeated Artemis. ‘The name I have given my little box. A tad obvious, I admit. But appropriate. The cube that sees everything.’
Spiro snatched the video cassette. ‘Check it,’ he ordered, tossing the tape to Arno Blunt.
The bleached-blond bodyguard activated the bar’s TV, sliding the video into its slot. Coronation Street flickered across the screen. The same show. Nowhere near the same quality.
‘Convinced?’ asked Artemis.
The American tinkered with one of his many bracelets.
‘Almost. One last test. I have a feeling that the government is monitoring me. Could you check it out?’
Artemis thought for a moment, then addressed the red box again.
‘Cube, do you read any surveillance beams concentrated on this building?’
The machine whirred for a moment. ‘The strongest ion beam is eighty kilometres due west, emanating  from   US  satellite  code  number  ST1132P. Registered to the Central Intelligence Agency. Estimated time of arrival, eight minutes. There are also several LEP probes connected to . . .’
Artemis hit the mute button before the Cube could continue. Obviously the computer’s fairy components could pick up Lower Elements technology too. He would have to remedy that. In the wrong hands that information would be devastating to fairy security.
‘What’s the matter, kid? The box was still talking. Who are the LEP?’
Artemis shrugged. ‘No pay, no play, as you Americans say. One example is enough. The CIA no less.’
‘The CIA,’ breathed Spiro. ‘They suspect me of selling military secrets. They’ve pulled one of their birds out of orbit, just to track me.’
‘Or perhaps me,’ noted Artemis.
‘Perhaps you,’ agreed Spiro. ‘You’re looking more dangerous by the second.’
Arno Blunt chuckled derisively.
Butler ignored it. One of them had to be professional.
Spiro cracked his knuckles, a habit Artemis detested.
‘We’ve got eight minutes, so let’s get down to the nitty gritty, kid. How much for the box?’
Artemis was not paying attention, distracted by the LEP information that the Cube had almost revealed. In a careless moment, he had nearly exposed his subterranean friends to exactly the kind of man who would exploit them.
‘I’m sorry, what did you say?’
‘I said, how much for the box?’
‘Firstly, it’s a Cube,’ corrected Artemis. ‘And secondly, it’s not for sale.’
Jon Spiro took a deep, shuddering breath. ‘Not for sale? You brought me across the Atlantic to show me something you’re not going to sell me? What’s going on here?’
Butler wrapped his fingers around the handle of a pistol in his waistband. Arno Blunt’s hand disappeared behind his back. The tension cranked up another notch.
Artemis steepled his fingers. ‘Mister Spiro. Jon. I am not a complete idiot. I realize the value of my Cube. There is not enough money in the world to pay for this particular item. Whatever you could give me, it would be worth a thousand per cent more in a week.’
‘So what’s the deal, Fowl?’ asked Spiro, through gritted teeth. ‘What are you offering?’
‘I’m offering you twelve months. For the right price, I’m prepared to keep my Cube off the market for a year.’
Jon Spiro toyed with his ID bracelet. A birthday present to himself.
‘You’ll suppress the technology for a year?’
‘Correct. That should give you ample time to sell your stocks before they crash, and to use the profits to buy into Fowl Industries.’
‘There is no Fowl Industries.’
Artemis smirked. ‘There will be.’
Butler squeezed his employer’s shoulder. It was not a good idea to bait a man like Jon Spiro.
But Spiro hadn’t even noticed the jibe. He was too busy calculating, twisting his bracelet like a string of worry beads.
‘Your price?’ he asked eventually.
‘Gold. One metric ton,’ replied the heir to the Fowl estate.
‘That’s a lot of gold.’
Artemis shrugged. ‘I like gold. It holds its value. And anyway, it’s a pittance compared to what this deal will save you.’
Spiro thought about it. At his shoulder, Arno Blunt continued staring at Butler. The Fowl bodyguard blinked freely: in the event of confrontation, dry eyeballs would only lessen his advantage. Staring matches were for amateurs.
‘Let’s say I don’t like your terms,’ said Jon Spiro. ‘Let’s say I decide to take your little gadget with me right now.’
Arno Blunt’s chest puffed out another centimetre.
‘Even if you could take the Cube,’ said Artemis, smiling, ‘it would be of little use to you. The technology is beyond anything your engineers have ever seen.’
Spiro gave a thin, mirthless smile. ‘Oh, I’m sure they could figure it out. Even if it took a couple of years, it won’t matter to you. Not where you’re going.’
‘If I go anywhere, then the C Cube’s secrets go with me. Its every function is coded to my voice patterns. It’s quite a clever code.’
Butler bent his knees slightly, ready to spring.
‘I bet we could break that code. I got one helluva team assembled in Fission Chips.’
‘Pardon me if I am unimpressed by your “one helluva team”,’ said Artemis. ‘Thus far you have been trailing several years behind Phonetix.’
Spiro jumped to his feet. He did not like the P word. Phonetix was the only communications company whose stock was higher than Fission Chips’s.
‘OK, kid, you’ve had your fun. Now it’s my turn. I have to go now, before the satellite beam gets here. But I’m leaving Mister Blunt behind.’ He patted his bodyguard on the shoulder. ‘You know what you have to do.’
Blunt nodded. He knew. He was looking forward to it.
For the first time since the meeting began, Artemis forgot about his lunch and concentrated completely on the situation at hand. This was not going according to plan.
‘Mister Spiro. You cannot be serious. We are in a public place, surrounded by civilians. Your man cannot hope to compete with Butler. If you persist with these ludicrous threats, I will be forced to withdraw my offer, and will release the C Cube immediately.’
Spiro placed his palms on the table. ‘Listen, kid,’ he whispered. ‘I like you. In a couple of years, you could have been just like me. But did you ever put a gun to somebody’s head and pull the trigger?’
Artemis didn’t reply.
‘No?’ grunted Spiro. ‘I didn’t think so. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Guts. And you don’t have them.’
Artemis was at a loss for words. Something that had only happened twice since his fifth birthday. Butler stepped in to fill the silence. Unveiled threats were more his area.
‘Mister Spiro. Don’t try to bluff us. Blunt may be big, but I can snap him like a twig. Then there’s nobody between me and you. And, take my word for it, you don’t want that.’
Spiro’s smile spread across his nicotine-stained teeth like a smear of treacle.
‘Oh, I wouldn’t say there’s nobody between us.’
Butler got that sinking feeling. The one you get when there are a dozen laser sights playing across your chest. They had been set up. Somehow Spiro had outmanoeuvred Artemis.
‘Hey, Fowl?’ said the American. ‘I wonder how come your lunch is taking so long.’
It was at that moment Artemis realized just how much trouble they were in.

It all happened in a heartbeat. Spiro clicked his fingers and every single customer in En Fin drew a weapon from inside his or her coat. The eighty-year-old lady suddenly looked a lot more threatening with a revolver in her bony fist. Two armed waiters emerged from the kitchen wielding folding-stock machine guns. Butler never even had time to draw breath.
Spiro tipped over the salt cellar. ‘Check and mate. My game, kid.’
Artemis tried to concentrate. There must be a way out. There was always a way out. But it wouldn’t come. He had been hoodwinked. Perhaps fatally. No human had ever outsmarted Artemis Fowl. Then again, it only had to happen once.
‘I’m going now,’ continued Spiro, pocketing the C Cube, ‘before that satellite beam shows up, and those other ones. The LEP, I’ve never heard of that particular agency. And as soon as I get this gizmo working they’re going to wish they never heard of me. It’s been fun doing business with you.’
On his way to the door, Spiro winked at his bodyguard.
‘You got six minutes, Arno. A dream come true, eh? You get to be the guy who took out the great Butler.’ He turned back to Artemis, unable to resist a final jibe.
‘Oh, and by the way - Artemis, isn’t that a girl’s name?’ And he was gone, into the multicultural throngs of tourists on the high street.
The old lady locked the door behind him. The click echoed around the restaurant.
Artemis decided to take the initiative. ‘Now, ladies and gentlemen,’ he said, trying to avoid staring down the black-eyed gun barrels. ‘I’m sure we can come to an arrangement.’
‘Quiet, Artemis!’
It took a moment for Artemis’s brain to process the fact that Butler had ordered him to be silent. Most impertinently in fact.
‘I beg your pardon . . .”
Butler clamped a hand over his employer’s mouth.
‘Quiet, Artemis. These people are professionals, not to be bargained with.’
Blunt rotated his skull, cracking the tendons in his neck.
‘You got that right, Butler. We’re here to kill you. As soon as Mister Spiro got the call we started sending people in. I can’t believe you fell for it, man. You must be getting old.’
Butler couldn’t believe it either. There was a time when he would have staked out any rendezvous site for a week before giving it the thumbs-up. Maybe he was petting old, but there was an excellent chance he wouldn’t be getting any older.
‘OK, Blunt,’ said Butler, stretching out his empty palms before him. ‘You and me. One on one.’
‘Very noble,’ said Blunt. ‘That’s your Asian code of honour, I suppose. Me, I don’t have a code. If you think I’m going to risk you somehow getting out of here, you’re crazy. This is an uncomplicated deal. I shoot you. You die. No face-off, no duel.’
Blunt reached lazily into his waistband. Why hurry? One move from Butler and a dozen bullets would find their mark.
Artemis’s brain seemed to have shut down. The usual stream of ideas had dried up. I’m going to die, he thought. I don’t believe it.
Butler was saying something. Artemis decided he should listen.
‘Richard of York gave battle in vain,’ said the bodyguard, enunciating clearly.
Blunt was screwing a silencer on to the muzzle of his ceramic pistol.
‘What are you saying? What kind of gibberish is that? Don’t say the great Butler is cracking up! Wait till I tell the guys.’
But the old woman looked thoughtful.
‘Richard of York . . . I know that.’
Artemis knew it too. It was virtually the entire verbal detonation code for the fairy sonix grenade magnetized to the underside of the table. One of Butler’s little security devices. All they needed was one more word and the grenade would explode, sending a solid wall of sound charging through the building, blowing out every window and eardrum. There would be no smoke or flames, but anyone within a ten-metre radius not wearing earplugs had about five seconds before severe pain set in. One more word.
The old lady scratched her head with the revolver’s barrel.
‘Richard of York? I remember now, the nuns taught us that in school. Richard of York gave battle in vain. It’s one of those memory tricks. The colours of the rainbow.’
Rainbow. The final word. Artemis remembered - just in time - to slacken his jaw. If his teeth were clenched, the sonic waves would shatter them like sugar glass.
The grenade detonated in a blast of compressed sound, instantaneously hurling eleven people to the furthest extremities of the room, until they came into contact with various walls. The lucky ones hit partitions and went straight through. The unlucky ones collided with cavity block walls. Things broke. Not the blocks.
Artemis was safe in Butler’s bear-hug. The bodyguard had anchored himself against a solid door frame, folding the flying boy into his arms. And they had several other advantages over Spiro’s assassins: their teeth were intact, they did not suffer from any compound fractures and the sonic filter sponges had sealed, saving their eardrums from perforation.
Butler surveyed the room. The assassins were all down, clutching their ears. They wouldn’t be uncrossing their eyes for several days. The manservant drew his Sig Sauer pistol from a shoulder holster.
‘Stay here,’ he commanded. ‘I’m going to check the kitchen.’
Artemis settled back into his chair, drawing several shaky breaths. All around was a chaos of dust and moans. But once again, Butler had saved them. All was not lost. It was even possible that they could catch Spiro before he left the country. Butler had a contact in Heathrow Security: Sid Commons, an ex-Green Beret he’d served with on bodyguard duty in Monte Carlo.
A large figure came into view, blocking out the sunlight. It was Butler, returned from his reconnoitre. Artemis breathed deeply, feelingly uncharacteristically emotional.
‘Butler,’ he began. ‘We really must talk regarding your salary . . .’
But it wasn’t Butler. It was Arno Blunt. He had something in each hand. On his left palm, two tiny cones of yellow foam.
‘Ear plugs,’ he spat through broken teeth. ‘I always wear ‘em before a fire fight. Good thing too, eh?’
In his right hand, Blunt held a silenced pistol.
‘You first,’ he said. ‘Then the ape.’
Arno Blunt cocked the gun, took aim briefly and fired.
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