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Chapter 7: The Temple of Artemis


The Lower Elements

Opal Koboi’s shuttle was a concept model that had never gone into
mass production. It was years ahead of anything on the market, but its skin
of stealth ore and cam-foil made the cost of such a vehicle so exorbitant
that even Opal Koboi couldn’t have afforded one without the government
grants that had helped to pay for it.
Scant secured the prisoners into the passenger bay, while Merv piloted
them across to Scotland, then underground through a mountain river in the
highlands. Opal busied herself making sure that her other plan, the one involving
world domination, was proceeding smoothly.
She closed the screen on her video phone and dialed a connection to
Sicily.
The person at the other end picked up in the middle of the first ring.
“Belinda, my dear. Is it you?”
The man who had answered was in his late forties, with Latin good
looks and gray-streaked black hair framing his tanned face. He wore a white
lab coat over an open-necked striped Versace shirt.
“Yes, Papa. It’s me. Don’t worry, I am safe.”
Opal’s voice was layered with the hypnotic mesmer.
The poor human was utterly in her power, as he had been for over a
month.
“When are you coming home, my dear? I miss you.”
“Today, Papa, in a few hours. How is everything there?” The man
smiled dreamily.
“Molto bene. Wonderful. The weather is fine. We can take a drive to
the mountains. Perhaps I can teach you to ski.”
Opal frowned impatiently. “Listen to me, idiota… Papa. How is everything
with the probe? Are we on schedule?” For a moment, a flash of annoyance
wrinkled the Italian’s brow, then he was bewitched again.
“Yes, my dear.
Everything is on schedule. The explosive pods are being buried to the
probe’s systems’ check was a resounding success.”
Opal clapped her hands, the picture of a delighted daughter. “Excellent,
Papa. You are so good to your little Belinda. I will be with you soon.”
“Hurry home, my dear,” said the man, utterly lost without the creature
he believed to be his daughter.
91
Opal ended the call. “Fool,” she said contemptuously. But Giovanni
Zito would be allowed to live at least until the probe he was constructing
to her specifications punctured the Lower Elements. Now that she had
spoken to Zito, Opal was eager to concentrate on the probe portion of her
plan. Revenge was certainly sweet, but it was also a distraction. Perhaps she
should just dump these two from the shuttle and let the earth’s magma core
have them.
“Merv,” she barked. “How long to the theme park?”
Merv checked the instruments on the shuttle’s dashboard.
“We’ve just entered the main chute network, Miss Koboi. Five hours,”
he called over his shoulder. “Perhaps less.”
Five hours, mused Opal, curling in her bucket seat like a contented cat.
She could spare five hours.
Some time later, Artemis and Holly were stirring in their seats. Scant
helped them into consciousness with a couple of jolts from a buzz baton.
“Welcome back to the land of the condemned,” said Opal. “How do
you like my shuttle?”
The craft was impressive, even if it was ferrying Artemis and Holly to
their deaths. The seats were covered with illegally harvested fur, and the
decor was plusher than your average palace. There were small entertainment
hologram cubes suspended from the ceiling, in case the passengers
wanted to watch a movie.
Holly began to squirm when she noticed what she was sitting on. “Fur!
You animal.”
“No,” said Opal. “You’re sitting on the animals. As I told you, I am human
now. And that is what humans do, skin animals for their own comfort.
Isn’t that right, Master Fowl?”
“Some do,” said Artemis coolly. “Not me personally.”
“Really, Artemis,” said Opal archly. “I hardly think that qualifies you
for sainthood. From what I hear, you’re just as eager to exploit the People as
I am.”
“Perhaps. I don’t remember.”
Opal rose from her seat and fixed herself a light salad from the buffet.
“Of course, they mind-wiped you. But surely you must remember now?
Not even your subconscious could deny that this is happening.”
Artemis concentrated. He could remember something.
Vague out of focus images. Nothing very specific. “I do remember
something.”
Opal lifted her eyes from her plate.
“Yes?”
Artemis fixed her with a cool stare. “I remember how Foaly defeated
you before with superior intellect. I am certain he will do it again.”
Of course, Artemis had not truly remembered this; he was simply repeating
what Holly had told him. But the statement had the desired effect.
92
“That ridiculous centaur!” shrieked Opal, hurling her plate against the
wall. “He was lucky, and I was hampered by that idiot Cudgeon. Not this
time. This time I am the architect of my own fate. And of yours.”
“And what is it this time?” Artemis asked mockingly. “Another orchestrated
rebellion? Or perhaps a mechanical dinosaur?”
Opal’s face grew white with rage. “Is there no end to your impudence,
Mud Boy? No small-scale rebellions this time. I have a grander vision. I will
lead the humans to the People. When the two worlds collide, there will be
a war and my adopted people will win.”
“You’re a fairy, Koboi,” interjected Holly. “One of us. Rounded ears
don’t change that. Don’t you think the humans will notice when you don’t
get any taller?”
Opal patted Holly’s cheek almost affectionately. “My poor, dear, underpaid
police officer. Don’t you think I thought of all this while I stewed
in that coma for almost a year? Don’t you think I thought of everything? I
have always known humans would discover us eventually, so I have prepared.”
Opal leaned over, parting her jet-black hair to reveal a magically fading
three-inch scar on her scalp.
“Getting my ears rounded wasn’t the only surgery I had done. I also
had something inserted in my skull.”
“A pituitary gland,” guessed Artemis.
“Very good, Mud Boy. A rather tiny artificial human pituitary gland.
HGH is one of seven hormones secreted by the pituitary.”
“HGH?” interrupted Holly.
“Human growth hormone,” explained Artemis.
“Exactly. As the name implies, HGH enhances the growth of various
organs and tissues, especially muscle and bone. In three months, I have already
grown half an inch. Oh, maybe I’ll never make the basketball team,
but no one will ever believe that I am a fairy.”
“You’re no fairy,” said Holly bitterly.
“At heart you’ve always been human.”
“That’s supposed to be an insult, I suppose. Maybe I deserve that, considering
what I am about to do to you. In an hour’s time, there won’t be
enough of you two remaining to fill the booty box.”
This was a term that Artemis had not heard before.
“Booty box” That sounds like a pirate expression.”
Opal opened a secret panel in the flooring, revealing a small compartment
underneath. “This is a booty box. The term was coined by vegetable
smugglers more than eight thousand years ago. A secret compartment that
would go unnoticed by customs officials. Of course, these days, with X-ray,
infrared, and motion-sensitive cameras, a booty box isn’t much good.” Opal
smiled slyly, like a child who has put one over on her teacher. “Unless of
course the box is completely constructed from stealth ore, refrigerated, and
has internal projectors to fool X-ray and infrared. The only way to detect
93
this booty box is to put your foot into it. So, even if the LEP did board my
shuttle, they would not find whatever it is I am choosing to smuggle.
Which in this case is a jar of chocolate truffles. Hardly illegal, but the
cooler is full. Chocolate truffles are my passion, you know. All that time I
was away, truffles were one of two things I craved. The other was revenge.”
Artemis yawned. “How fascinating. A secret compartment. What a
genius you are. How can you fail to take over the world with a booty box
full of truffles?”
Opal smoothed Artemis’s hair back from his forehead. “Make all the
jokes you want, Mud Boy. Words are all you have now.”
Minutes later, Merv brought the stealth shuttle in to land. Artemis and
Holly were cuffed and led down the retractable gangplank. They emerged
into a giant tunnel dimly illuminated by Glo-Strips. Most of the lighting
panels were shattered, the rest were on their last legs. This section of the
chute had once been part of a thriving metropolis, but now was completely
deserted and derelict. Demolition notices were pasted across various drooping
billboards.
Opal pointed to one. “This whole place is being torn down in a month.
We just made the deadline.”
“Lucky us,” muttered Holly.
Merv and Scant prodded them wordlessly along the chute with their
gun barrels. The road surface beneath their feet was buckled and cracked.
Swear toads clustered in damp patches, spouting obscenities.
The roadside was lined with abandoned concession stands and souvenir
shops.
In one window, human dolls were arranged in various warlike poses.
Artemis stopped in spite of the gun at his back. “Is that how you see
us?” he asked.
“Oh, no,” said Opal. “You’re much worse than that, but the manufacturers
don’t want to scare the children.”
Several huge hemispherical structures squatted at the end of the tunnel.
Each one the size of a football stadium. They were constructed of hexagonal
panels welded together along the seams.
Some panels were opaque, others were transparent.
Each panel was roughly the dimensions of a small house.
Before the hemispheres was a huge arch, with strips of tattered gold
leaf hanging from its frame. A sign hung from the arch, emblazoned with
six-foot-high Gnommish letters.
“The Eleven Wonders of the Human World,” declared Opal theatrically.
“Ten thousand years of civilization, and you only manage to produce
eleven so-called wonders.”
Artemis tested his cuffs. They were tightly fastened. “You know of
course that there are only seven wonders on the official list.”
94
“I know that,” said Opal testily. “But humans are so narrow-minded.
Fairy scholars studied video footage and decided to include the Abu Simbel
Temple in Egypt, the Moai Statues in Rapa Nui, the Borobudur Temple in
Indonesia, and the Throne Hall of Persepolis in Iran.”
“If humans are so narrow-minded,” commented Holly. “I’m surprised
that you want to be one of them.”
Opal passed through the arch. “Well, I would prefer to be a pixie, no
offense Artemis, but the Fairy People are shortly to be wiped out. I shall be
seeing to that personally as soon as I have dropped you off in your new
home. In ten minutes I’ll be on my way to the island, watching you two get
torn apart on the shuttle monitors.”
They proceeded through the theme park, past the first hemisphere,
which contained a two-thirds scale model of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Several of the hexagonal panels had been ripped out and Artemis could see
the remains of the model through the gaps. It was an impressive sight, made
even more so by the scores of shaggy creatures scrambling across the pyramid’s
slopes.
“Trolls,” explained Opal. “They have taken over the exhibits. But don’t
worry, they are extremely territorial and won’t attack unless you approach
the pyramid.”
Artemis was beyond amazement at this point, but even so, the sight of
these magnificent carnivores preying on one another was enough to speed
his heart up a few beats. He paused to study the nearest specimen. It was a
terrifying creature: at least eight feet tall, with grimy dreadlocks swinging
about its massive head. The troll’s fur-matted arms swung below its knees,
and two curved serrated tusks jutted from its lower jaw. The beast watched
them pass, night eyes glowing red in their sockets.
The group arrived at the second exhibit. The Temple of Artemis at
Ephesus. The hologram by the entrance displayed a revolving image of the
Turkish building.
Opal read the history panel. “Interesting,” she said. “Now, why do you
suppose someone would name a male child after a female goddess?”
“It’s my father’s name,” said Artemis wearily, having explained this a
hundred times. “It can be used for girls or boys, and means the hunter.
Rather apt, don’t you think? It may interest you to know that your chosen
human name, Belinda, means beautiful snake. Also rather fitting. Half of it,
at any rate.”
Opal pointed a tiny finger at Artemis’s nose. “You are a very annoying
creature, Fowl. I do hope all humans are not like you.”
She nodded at Scant.
“Spray them,” she ordered.
Scant took a small atomizer from his pocket and doused Holly and Artemis
liberally with the contents.
The liquid was yellow and foul smelling.
95
“Troll pheromones,” said Scant, almost apologetically. “These trolls will
take one whiff of you and go absolutely crazy. To them you smell like females
in heat. When they find out you’re not, they’ll tear you into a thousand
little bits, then chew on the pieces. We’ve had all of the broken panels
repaired, so there’s no escape. You can jump in the river if you like; the
scent should wash off in about a thousand years. And, Captain Short, I have
removed the wings from your suit and shorted out the cam-foil. I did leave
the heating coils. After all, one deserves a sporting chance.”
A lot of use heating coils will be against trolls, thought Holly glumly.
Merv was checking the entrance through one of the transparent panels.
“Okay. We’re clear.”
The pixie opened the main entrance by remote.
Distant howls resonated from inside the exhibit.
Artemis could see several trolls brawling on the steps of the replica
temple. He and Holly would be torn apart.
The Brill brothers propelled them into the hemisphere.
“Best of luck,” said Opal, as the door slid shut. “Remember, you’re not
alone. We’ll be watching you on the cameras.”
The door clanged shut ominously. Seconds later the electronic locking
panel began to fizzle, as one of the Brill brothers melted it from the outside.
Artemis and Holly were locked in with a bunch of amorous trolls and
smelled irresistible to them.
The Temple of Artemis exhibit was a scale model that had been constructed
with painstaking accuracy, complete with animatronic humans going
about their daily business as they would have been in B.c. Most of the
human models had been stripped to the wires by the trolls, but some
moved jerkily along their tracks, bringing their gifts to the goddess. Any robot
whose path brought them too close to a pack of trolls was pounced on
and torn to shreds. It was a grim preview of Artemis and Holly’s own fate.
There was only one food supply. The trolls themselves. Cubs and
stragglers were picked off by the bulls and butchered with teeth, claws, and
tusks.
The pack leader took the lion’s share, then tossed the carcass to the
baying pack. If the trolls were confined here much longer, they would wipe
themselves out.
Holly shouldered Artemis roughly to the ground. “Quickly,” she said.
“Roll in the mud. Cover yourself, smother the scent.”
Artemis did as he was told, scooping mud over himself with his manacled
hands. Any spots he missed were quickly slathered by Holly. He did
the same for her. In moments the pair were almost unrecognizable.
Artemis was feeling something he could not remember having felt before:
absolute fear. His hands shook, rattling the chains. There was no room
in his brain for analytical thought. I can’t, he thought. I can’t do anything.
96
Holly took charge, dragging him to his feet and propelling him to a
cluster of fake merchants’ tents beside a fast-flowing river. They crouched
behind the ragged canvas, peering at the trolls through long claw rents in
the material. Two animatronic merchants sat on mats before the tents, their
baskets brimming with gold and ivory statuettes of the goddess Artemis.
Neither model had a head. One of the heads lay in the dust several feet
away, its artificial brain poking out through a bite hole.
“We need to get the cuffs off,” said Holly urgently.
“What?” mumbled Artemis.
Holly shook her manacles in his face. “We need to get these off now!
The mud will protect us for a minute, then the trolls will be on our trail.
We have to get in the water, and with cuffs on we’ll drown in the current.”
Artemis’s eyes had lost their focus. “The current?”
“Snap out of it, Artemis,” Holly hissed into his face. “Remember your
gold? You can’t collect it if you’re dead. The great Artemis Fowl, collapsing
at the first sign of trouble.
We’ve been in worse scrapes than this before.” Not exactly true, but
the Mud Boy couldn’t remember, could he?
Artemis composed himself. There was no time for a calming meditation;
he would simply have to repress the emotions he was experiencing.
Very unhealthy, psychologically speaking, but better than being reduced to
chunks of meat between a troll’s teeth.
He studied the cuffs. Some form of ultralight plastic polymer. There
was a digit pad in the center, positioned so the wearer could not reach the
digits.
“How many numbers?” he said.
“What?”
“In the code for the cuffs. You are a police officer. Surely you know
how many numbers in the code for handcuffs.”
“Three,” replied Holly. “But there are so many possibilities.”
“Possibilities but not probabilities,” said Artemis, irritating even when
his life was in danger. “Statistically, thirty-eight percent of humans don’t
bother changing the factory code on digital locks. We can only hope that
fairies are equally negligent.”
Holly frowned. “Opal is anything but negligent.”
“Perhaps. But her two little henchfairies might not be as attentive to
detail.”
Artemis held out his cuffs to Holly. “Try three zeroes.”
Holly did so, using a thumb. The red light stayed red.
“Nines. Three nines.”
Again the light stayed red.
Holly quickly tried all ten digits three times. None had any effect.
Artemis sighed. “Very well. Triple digits was a bit too obvious, I suppose.
97
Are there any other three-digit numbers that are burned into fairy consciousness?
Something all fairies would know, and wouldn’t be likely to forget?”
Holly racked her brain. “Nine five one. The Haven area code.”
“Try it.”
She did. No good.
“Nine five eight. The Atlantis code.”
Again no good.
“Those numbers are too regional,” snapped Artemis. “What is the one
number that every male, female, and infant knows?”
Holly’s eyes widened. “Of course. Of course. Nine zero nine. The police
emergency number. It’s on the corner of every billboard under the
world.”
Artemis noticed something. The howling had stopped.
The trolls had ceased fighting and were sniffing the air.
The pheromones were in the breeze, drawing the beasts like puppets
on strings. In eerie unison, their heads turned toward Holly and Artemis’s
hiding place.
Artemis shook his manacles. “Try it quickly.”
Holly did. The light winked green, and the cuffs popped open.
“Good. Excellent. Now let me do yours.”
Artemis’s fingers paused over the keyboard.
“I don’t read the fairy language or numerals.”
“You do. In fact, you are the only human who does,” said Holly. “You
just don’t remember.
The pad is standard layout. Zero to nine. Left to right.”
“Nine zero nine,” muttered Artemis, pressing the appropriate keys.
Holly’s cuffs popped on the first try, which was fortunate because there
would be no time for a second.
The trolls were coming, loping from the temple’s steps with frightening
speed and coordination. They used the weight of their shaggy arms to
swing forward, while simultaneously straightening muscular legs. This
launch method could take them up to twenty feet in a single bound. The
animals landed on their knuckles, swinging their legs underneath for the
next jump.
It was an almost petrifying sight. A score of crazed carnivores, jostling
their way down a shallow sandy incline. The larger males took the easy way
down, charging right through the ravine.
Adolescents and older males stuck to the slopes, wary of casual bites
and scything tusks. The trolls crashed through mannequins and scenery,
heading straight for the tent. Dreadlocks swung with every step, and eyes
glowed red in the half light. They held their heads back so their highest
point was their nose.
98
Noses that were leading them directly to Holly and Artemis. And
what was worse, Holly and Artemis could smell the trolls, too.
Holly stuck both pairs of cuffs into her belt. They had charge packs
and could be adapted for heat or even weapons, if Holly lived long enough
to use them.
“Okay, Mud Boy. Into the water.”
Artemis did not argue or question; there was no time for that. He
could only assume that, like many animals, trolls were not water lovers. He
ran toward the river, feeling the ground below his feet vibrate with a hundred
feet and fists. The howling had started again too, but it had a more
reckless tone, mindless and brutal, as if whatever self-control the trolls had
was now gone.
Artemis hustled to catch up to Holly. She was ahead of him, lithe and
limber, bending low to scoop up one of the fake plastic logs from a campfire.
Artemis did the same, tucking it under his arm. They could be in the
water for a long time.
Holly dived in, gracefully arcing through the air before entering the
water with barely a splash. Artemis stumbled after her. All this running for
one’s life was not what he was built for. His brain was big, but his limbs
were slight, which was exactly the opposite of what you needed when trolls
were at your heels.
The water was lukewarm, yet the mouthful Artemis inadvertently
swallowed tasted remarkably sweet.
No pollutants, he supposed, with that small portion of his brain that
was still thinking rationally. Something tagged his ankle, slicing through sock
and flesh. Then he kicked into the river, and he was clear. A trail of hot
blood lingered for a moment, before being whipped away by the current.
Holly was treading water in the center of the river.
Her auburn hair stood up in slick spikes, and her suit crackled to
match the background where the mud had been washed off.
“Are you hurt?” she asked.
Artemis shook his head. No breath for words.
Holly noticed his ankle, which was trailing behind him.
“Blood, and I don’t have a drop of magic left to heal you. That blood is
almost as bad as pheromones. We have to get out of here.”
On the bank the trolls were literally hopping mad. They head-butted
the earth repeatedly, drumming their fists in complex rhythms.
“Mating ritual,” explained Holly. “I think they like us.”
The current was strong out in the center of the river, and drew the
pair quickly downstream. The trolls followed along, some hurling small missiles
into the water. One clipped Holly’s plastic log, almost dislodging her.
She spat out a mouthful of water. “We need a plan, Artemis. That’s
your department. I got us this far.”
99
“Oh yes, well done, you,” said Artemis, having apparently recovered his
sense of sarcasm.
He raked wet strands of hair from his eyes and cast around, beyond the
melee on the waterline. The temple was huge, throwing an elongated multipronged
shadow across the desert area. The interior was wide open, with
no obvious shelter from the trolls. The only deserted spot was the temple
roof.
“Can trolls climb?” he spluttered.
Holly followed his gaze. “Yes, if they have to, like big monkeys. But
only if they have to.”
Artemis frowned. “If only I could remember,” he said. “If only I knew
what I know.”
Holly kicked over to him, grasping his collar.
They swirled in the white water, bubbles and froth squeezing between
their logs.
“If only is no good, Mud Boy. We need a plan before the filter.”
“The filter?”
“This is an artificial river. It’s filtered through a central tank.”
A bulb went on in Artemis’s brain. “A central tank. That’s our way
out.”
“We’ll be killed! I have no idea how long we’ll be underwater.”
Artemis took one last look around, measuring, calculating. “Given the
present circumstances, there is no other option.”
Up ahead, the currents began to circle, pulling in any rubbish picked
up from the banks. A small whirlpool formed in the middle of the river.
The sight of it seemed to calm the trolls. They gave up on the butting and
banging, and settled down to watch. Some moved along the bank; these
would later prove to be the clever ones.
“We follow the current,” shouted Artemis over the hiss. “We follow it
and hope.”
“That’s it? That’s your brilliant plan?”
Holly’s suit crackled as the water wormed its way into the circuits.
“It’s not so much a plan as a lifesaving strategy,” retorted Artemis. He
would have said more but the river interrupted him, snatching him away
from his elfin companion into the whirlpool.
He felt about as significant as a twig in the face of such power. If he
tried to resist the water, it would slap the air from his lungs like a bully
slapping his victim. Artemis’s chest was compressed; even when his gasping
mouth was above water, he could not force adequate amounts of air into
his lungs. His brain was starved of oxygen. He couldn’t think straight. Everything
was curved. The swirl of his body, the sweep of the water. White circles
on blue ones on green ones. His feet dancing little Mobius strip patterns
below his body.
Riverdance. Ha-ha.
100
Holly was before him, pinioning the two logs between them. A makeshift
raft. She shouted something, but it was lost. There was only water
now.
Water and confusion.
She held up three fingers. Three seconds.
Then they were going under. Artemis breathed as deeply as his constricted
chest would allow. Two fingers now.
Then one.
Artemis and Holly let go of their logs and the current sucked them
under like spiders down a drain.
Artemis fought to hold on to his air, but the buffeting water squeezed
it from between his lips.
Bubbles spiraled behind them, racing for the surface.
The water was not so deep or dark. But it was fast and would not allow
many images to stand still long enough to be identified. Holly’s face
flashed past Artemis, but all he could make out were big hazel eyes.
The whirlpool’s funnel grew narrower, forcing Holly and Artemis together.
They were swept diagonally down in a flurry of bumping torsos and
flapping limbs. They pressed their foreheads together, finding some comfort
in each other’s eyes. But it was short lived. Their progress was brutally cut
short by a metal grille covering the drainage pipe. They slammed into it,
feeling the sharp wire leave indents on their skin.
Holly slapped at the grille, then wormed her fingers through the holes.
The grille was shiny and new.
Fresh weld marks dotted its rim. This was new and everything else was
old. Koboi!
Something nudged Holly’s arm. An aqua-pod.
It was anchored to the grille by a plastic tie.
Opal’s face filled the small screen sealed inside, and her grin filled most
of her face. She was saying something again and again on a short loop. The
words were inaudible over the din of sluice and bubble, but the meaning
was clear: still beat you again.
Holly grabbed the aqua-pod, ripping it from its tether. The effort
threw her from the slipstream into the relatively calm surrounding waters.
Her strength was gone, and she had no option but to go where the river led
her. Artemis dragged himself from the flat face of the grille, using the last of
his oxygen to kick his legs, just twice.
He was free of the whirlpool, floating along after Holly toward a dark
mound farther down the river.
Air, he thought with keen desperation, I need to breathe. Not soon.
Now. If not now, never.
Artemis broke the surface mouth first. His throat was sucking down
air before the water cleared. The first breath came back up, laced with
101
fluid, but the second was clear, and the third. Artemis felt the strength flow
back into his limbs like mercury in his veins.
Holly was safe. Lying on a dark island in the river. Her chest heaved
like a bellows and the aqua-pod lay beneath her splayed fingers.
“Uh-uh,” said Opal Koboi on-screen.
“So-o-o predictable.” She said it over and over, until Artemis struggled
from the shallow water, climbed on the mound, and found the MUTE button.
“I am really starting to dislike her,” he panted.
“She may come to regret little touches like the underwater television,
because it’s things like this that give me the motivation to get out of here.”
Holly sat up, looking around. They were sitting on a mound of rubbish.
Artemis guessed that since Opal had welded the grille across the filter
pipe, the current had swept everything that the trolls discarded to this shallow
spot. A small island of junk in the river bend. There were disembodied
robot heads on the heap, along with battered statues and troll remains. Troll
skulls with the thick wedge of forehead bone and rotting pelts.
At least those particular trolls could not eat them.
The dangerous trolls that had followed them were working themselves
up into a lather again along the banks on both sides. But there was at least
twenty feet of six-inch-deep water separating them from the land. They
were safe, for the moment.
Artemis felt memories attempting to break through to the surface. He
was on the verge of remembering everything, he was certain of it. He sat
completely still, willing it to happen. Unconnected images flashed behind
his eyes: a mountain of gold, green scaly creatures snorting fireballs, Butler
packed in ice. But the images slid from his consciousness like drops of water
off a windshield.
Holly sat up. “Anything?”
“Maybe,” said Artemis. “Something. I’m not sure. Everything is happening
so fast. I need time to meditate.”
“We’re out of time,” said Holly, climbing to the top of the junk pile.
Skulls cracked beneath her feet. “Look.”
Artemis turned toward the left bank.
One of the trolls had picked up a large rock and raised it over his head.
Artemis tried to make himself small. If that rock hit, they would both be
gravely injured, at the very least.
The troll grunted like a tennis pro serving, spinning the rock into the
river. It barely missed the pile, landing with a huge splash in the shallow
waters.
“A poor shot,” said Holly.
Artemis frowned. “I doubt it.”
A second troll grabbed a missile, and a third. Soon all the brutes were
hurling rocks, robot parts, sticks, or whatever they could get their hands on
102
toward the rubbish heap. Not one hit the shivering pair huddled on the pile.
“They keep missing,” said Holly. “Every one of them.” Artemis’s bones ached
from cold, fear, and sustained tension.
“They’re not trying to hit us,” he said. “They’re building a bridge.”
Tara, Ireland ; Dawn
The fairy shuttleport in Tara was the biggest in Europe. More than
eight thousand tourists a year passed through its X-ray arches. Thirty thousand
cubic feet of terminal concealed beneath an overgrown hillock in the
middle of the McGraney farm. It was a marvel of subterranean architecture.
Mulch Diggums, fugitive kleptomaniac dwarf, was pretty marvelous
himself, in the subterranean area. Butler drove the Fowl Bentley north from
the manor, and on Mulch’s instructions, slowed the luxury car down five
hundred yards from the shuttleport’s camouflaged entrance. This allowed
Mulch to dive from the rear door straight into the earth. He quickly submerged
below a layer of rich Irish soil. The best in the world.
Mulch knew the shuttleport layout well.
He had once broken his cousin Nord out of police custody here, when
the LEP had arrested him on industrial pollution charges. A vein of clay ran
right up to the shuttleport wall, and if you knew where to look, there was a
sheet of metal casing that had been worn thin by years of Irish damp. But
on this particular occasion, Mulch was not interested in evading the LEP;
quite the opposite.
Mulch surfaced inside the holographic bush that hid the shuttleport’s
service entrance. He climbed from his tunnel, shook the clay from his behind,
got all the tunnel wind out of his system a bit more noisily than was
absolutely necessary, and waited.
Five seconds later, the entrance hatch slid across, and four grabbing
hands reached out, yanking Mulch into the shuttleport’s interior. Mulch did
not resist, allowing himself to be bundled along a dark corridor and into an
interview room. He was plonked onto an uncomfortable chair, handcuffed,
and left on his own to stew.
Mulch did not have time to stew. Every second he spent sitting here
picking the insects from his beard hair was another second that Artemis and
Holly had to spend running from trolls.
The dwarf rose from the chair and slapped his palms against the twoway
mirror inset in the interview room wall.
“ChixVerbil” he shouted. “I know you’re watching me. We need to
talk. It’s about Holly Short.”
Mulch kept right on banging on the glass, until the cell door swung
open and ChixVerbil entered the room. Chix was the LEP’S fairy on the
surface. Chix had been the first LEP casualty in the B’wa Kell goblin revolu103
tion a year previously, and had it not been for Holly Short, he would have
been its first fatality. As it turned out, he got a medal from the Committee,
a series of high-profile interviews on network television, and a cushy surface
job in El.
Chix entered suspiciously, his sprite wings folded behind him. The
strap was off his Neutrino holster.
“Mulch Diggums, isn’t it? Are you surrendering?”
Mulch snorted. “What do you think? I go to all the trouble of breaking
out, just to surrender to a sprite.
I think not, lamebrain.”
Chix bristled, his wings fanning out behind him.
“Hey, listen, dwarf. You’re in no position to be making cracks. You’re
in my custody, in case you hadn’t noticed, there are six security fairies surrounding
this room.”
“Security fairies. Don’t make me laugh. They couldn’t secure an apple
in an orchard. I escaped from a sub- shuttle under a couple of miles of water.
I can see at least six ways out of here without breaking a sweat.”
Chix hovered nervously. “I’d like to see you try. I’d have two charges in
your behind before you could unhinge that jaw of yours.”
Mulch winced. Dwarfs don’t like behind jokes.
“Okay, easy there, Mister Gung Ho.
Let’s talk about your wing. How’s it healing up?”
“How do you know about that?”
“It was big news. You were all over the TV for a while, even on pirate
satellite. I was watching your ugly face in Chicago not so long ago.”
Chix preened. “ Chicago ?”
“That’s right. You were saying, if I remember properly, how Holly
Short saved your life, and how sprites never forget a debt, and whenever she
needed you, you were there, whatever it took.”
Chix coughed nervously. “A lot of that was scripted. And anyway, that
was before…”
“Before one of the most decorated officers in the LEP decided to suddenly
go crazy and shoot her own commander?”
“Yes. Before that.”
Mulch looked Verbil straight in his green face. “You don’t believe that,
do you?”
Chix hovered even higher for a long moment, his wings whipping the
air into currents. Then he settled back down to earth and sat in the room’s
second chair. “No. I don’t believe it. Not for a second. Julius Root was like a
father to Holly.
To all of us.” He covered his face with his hands, afraid to hear the answer
to his next question. “So, Diggums. Why are you here?”
Mulch leaned in close. “Is this being recorded?”
“Of course. Standard operating procedure.”
104
“Can you switch off the mike?”
“I suppose. Why should I?”
“Because I’m going to tell you something important for the People’s
survival. But I’ll only tell you if the mikes are off.”
Chix’s wings began to flap once more. “This better be really good. I
better really like this, dwarf.”
Mulch shrugged. “Oh, you’re not going to like it. But it is really good.”
Chix’s green fingers tapped a code into a keyboard on the table. “Okay,
Diggums. We can talk freely.”
Mulch leaned forward across the desk. “The thing is, Opal Koboi is
back.”
Chix did not respond verbally, but the color drained from his face. Instead
of its usual robust emerald, the sprite’s complexion was now pasty
lime green.
“Opal has escaped, somehow, and she has set this big revenge thing in
motion. First General Scalene, then Commander Root, and now Holly and
Artemis Fowl.”
“O… Opal?” stammered Chix, his wounded wing suddenly throbbing.
“She’s taking out anyone who had a hand in her imprisonment. Which,
if memory serves, includes you.”
“I didn’t do anything,” squeaked Verbil, as though protesting his innocence
to Mulch could help him.
Mulch sat back. “Hey, there’s no point telling me. I’m not out to get
you. If I remember correctly, you were on all the chat shows spouting how
you personally were the first member of the LEP to come into contact with
the goblin smugglers.”
“Maybe she didn’t see that,” said Chix hopefully. “She was in a coma.”
“I’m sure someone taped it for her.”
Verbil thought about it, absently grooming his wings.
“So what do you want from me?”
“I need you to get a message to Foaly.
Tell him what I said about Opal.” Mulch covered his mouth with a
hand to fox any lip-readers who might review the tape. “And I want the
LEP shuttle. I know where it’s parked. I just need the starter chip and the
ignition code.”
“What? Ridiculous. I’d go to jail.”
Mulch shook his head. “No, no. Without sound, all Police Plaza are going
to see is another ingenious Mulch Diggums’s escape. I knock you out,
steal your chip, and tunnel out through the pipe behind that water dispenser.”
Chix frowned. “Go back to the “knock me out” part again.”
Mulch slammed one palm down on the table.
“Listen, Verbil, Holly is in mortal danger right now. She may already
be dead.”
105
“That’s what I heard,” interjected Chix.
“Well, she will definitely be dead if I don’t get down there right now.”
“Why don’t I just call this in?”
Mulch sighed dramatically. “Because, moron, by the time Police Plaza
Retrieval team gets here, it will be too late. You know the rules: no LEP officer
can act on the information of a convicted felon unless the information
has been verified by another source.”
“No one pays any attention to that rule, and calling me moron isn’t
helping.”
Mulch rose to his feet. “You are a sprite, for heaven’s sake. You are
supposed to have this ancient code of chivalry. A female saved your life and
now hers is in danger. You are honor bound, as a sprite, to do whatever it
takes.”
Chix held Mulch’s gaze. “Is all of this true? Tell me, Mulch, because
this will have repercussions. This isn’t some little jewelry heist.”
“It’s true,” said Mulch. “You have my word.”
Chix almost laughed. “Oh, whoopee. Mulch Diggums’s word. I can
take that to the bank.” He took several deep breaths and closed his eyes.
“The chip is in my pocket. The code is written on the tab. Try not to
break anything.”
“Don’t worry, I’m an excellent driver.”
Chix winced in anticipation. “I don’t mean the shuttle, stupid. I mean
my face. The ladies like me the way I am.”
Mulch drew back one gnarled fist. “Well, I’d hate to disappoint the ladies,”
he said, and knocked Chix Verbil from his chair.
Mulch expertly rifled through Chix’s pockets.
The sprite was not actually unconscious, but he was pretending.
A wise move. In seconds, Mulch had removed the starter chip and
stuffed it into his beard.
A clump of beard hair wrapped itself tightly around the chip, forming
a waterproof cocoon. He also relieved Verbil of his Neutrino, though that
was not part of the deal. Mulch crossed the room in two strides and
jammed a chair under the door handle. That should buy me a couple of
seconds, he thought. He wrapped an arm around the water dispenser while
simultaneously unbuttoning his bum-flap.
Speed was vital now because whoever had been watching the interview
through the two-way mirror was already hammering on the door.
Mulch saw a black burn dot appear on the door; they were burning their
way in.
He ripped the dispenser from the wall, allowing several gallons of
cooled water to flood the interview room.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” moaned Chix from the floor. “It takes forever
to dry these wings.”
“Shut up. You’re supposed to be unconscious.”
106
As soon as the water had drained from the supply pipe, Mulch dived
into the pipe. He followed it to the first joint, then kicked it loose. Clumps
of clay fell through, blocking the pipe. Mulch unhinged his jaw. He was
back in the earth. No one could catch him now.
The shuttlebay was on the lower level, closest to the chute itself.
Mulch angled himself downward, guided by his infallible dwarf internal
compass.
He had been in this terminal before, and the layout was burned into
his memory, as was the layout of every building that he’d ever been in.
Sixty seconds of chewing earth, stripping it of minerals, and ejecting waste
at the other end brought Mulch face-to-face with an air duct. This particular
duct led straight to the shuttlebay; the dwarf could even feel the vibration
of the engines through his beard hair.
Generally he would burn through the duct’s metal paneling with a few
drops of dwarf rock polish, but prison guards tended to confiscate items like
that, so instead Mulch blasted a panel with a concentrated burst from the
stolen handgun. The panel melted like a sheet of ice in front of a bar heater.
He gave the molten metal a minute to solidify and cool, then slithered
into the duct itself. Two left turns later, his face was pressed to the grille
overlooking the shuttlebay itself. Red alarm lights were revolving over every
door, and a harsh Klaxon made sure that everyone knew that there was
some sort of emergency. The shuttlebay workers were gathered in front of
the intranet screen, waiting for news.
Mulch dropped to the ground with more grace than his frame suggested
was possible and creeped across to the LEP shuttle. The shuttle was
suspended nose-up over a vertical supply tunnel.
Mulch crept aboard, opening the passenger door with ChixVerbil’s
chip. The controls were hugely complicated, but Mulch had a theory about
vehicle controls:
Ignore everything except the wheel and the pedals, and you’ll be fine.
So far in his career, he had stolen more than fifty types of transportation,
and his theory hadn’t let him down yet.
The dwarf thrust the starter chip into its socket, ignoring the computer’s
advice that he run a systems’ check, and hit the release button.
Eight tons of LEP shuttle dropped like a stone into the chute, spinning
like an ice skater. The earth’s gravity grabbed hold of it, reeling it in toward
the earth’s core.
Mulch’s foot jabbed the thruster pedal just enough to halt the drop.
The radio on the dash started talking to him. “You in the shuttle.
You’d better come back here right now. I’m not kidding! In twenty seconds
I personally am going to press the self-destruct button.”
Mulch spat a wad of dwarf spittle onto the speaker, muffling the irate
voice. He gargled up another wad in his throat and deposited it on a circuit
107
box below the radio. The circuits sparked and fizzled. So much for the selfdestruct.
The controls were a bit heavier than Mulch was used to. Nevertheless,
he managed to tame the machine after a few scrapes along the chute wall. If
the LEP ever recovered the craft, it would need a fresh coat of paint, and
perhaps a new starboard fender.
A bolt of sizzling laser energy flashed past the porthole.
That was his warning shot. One across the bows before they let the
computer do the aiming. Time to be gone. Mulch kicked off his boots,
wrapped his double-jointed toes around the pedals, and sped down the
chute toward the rendezvous point.
Butler parked the Bentley fifteen miles northeast of Tara, near a cluster
of rocks shaped like a clenched fist. The index finger rock was hollow, just
as Mulch had told him it would be. However, the dwarf had neglected to
mention that the opening would be cluttered with potato crisp bags and
chewing-gum patties left over from a thousand teenagers’ picnics. Butler
picked his way through the rubbish to discover two boys huddled at the
rear, smoking secret cigarettes. A Labrador pup was asleep at their feet.
Obviously these two had volunteered to walk the dog so they could sneak
some cigarettes. Butler did not like smoking.
The boys looked up at the enormous figure looming above them, their
jaded teenage expressions freezing on their faces.
Butler pointed at the cigarettes. “Those things will seriously damage
your health,” he growled. “And if they don’t, I might.”
The teenagers stubbed out their cigarettes and scurried from the cave,
which was exactly what Butler wanted them to do. He pushed aside a wizened
scrub cluster at the rear of the cave to discover a mud wall.
“Punch right through the mud,” Mulch had told him. “Generally I eat
through and patch it up afterward, but you might not want to do that.”
Butler jabbed four rigid fingers at the center of the mud wall, where
cracks were beginning to spread, and sure enough the wall was only inches
thick and crumbled easily under the pressure. The bodyguard pulled away
chunks until there was sufficient space to squeeze through to the tunnel
beyond.
To say there was sufficient space is perhaps a slight exaggeration;
barely enough is probably more accurate. Butler’s bulky frame was compressed
on all sides by uneven walls of black clay. Occasionally a jagged rock
poked through, tearing a gash in his designer suit. That was two suits ruined
in as many days. One in Munich, and now the second belowground in Ireland.
Still, suits were the least of his worries. If Mulch was right, then Artemis
was running around the Lower Elements right now with a group of
bloodthirsty trolls on his trail. Butler had fought a troll once, and the battle
108
had very nearly killed him. He couldn’t even imagine fighting an entire
group.
Butler dug his fingers into the earth, pulling himself forward through
the tunnel. This particular tunnel, Mulch had informed him, was one of
many illicit back doors into the Lower Elements chute system chewed out
by fugitive dwarfs over the centuries. Mulch himself had excavated this one
almost three hundred years ago, when he had needed to sneak back to Haven
for his cousin’s birthday bash. Butler tried not to think about the
dwarf’s recycling process as he went.
After several feet the tunnel widened into a bulb- shaped chamber.
The walls glowed a gentle green. Mulch had explained that too. The walls
were coated with dwarf spittle, which hardened on prolonged contact with
air, and also glowed. Amazing. Drinking pores, living hairs, and now luminous
saliva.
What next? Explosive phlegm? He wouldn’t be a bit surprised. Who
knew what secrets the dwarfs were hiding up their sleeves?
Or in other places?
Butler kicked aside a pile of rabbit bones, the remains of previous
dwarf snacks, and sat down to wait.
He checked the luminous face of his Omega wristwatch. He had
dropped Mulch at Tara almost thirty minutes ago; the little man should be
here by now. The bodyguard would have paced the chamber, but there was
barely enough space for him to stand up, never mind pace. The bodyguard
crossed his legs, settling down for a power nap. He hadn’t slept since the
missile attack in Germany, and he wasn’t as young as he used to be. His
heart rate and breathing slowed until eventually his chest barely moved at
all.
Eight minutes later, the small chamber began to shake violently.
Chunks of brittle spittle cracked from the wall, shattering on the floor. The
ground beneath his feet glowed red, and a stream of insects and worms
flowed away from the hot spot. Butler stood to one side, calmly brushing
himself down. Moments later a cylindrical section of earth dropped cleanly
out of the floor, leaving a steaming hole.
Mulch’s voice drifted through the hole, borne on the waves of the stolen
shuttle’s amplification system.
“Let’s go, Mud Man. Move yourself. We have people to save, and the
LEP are on my tail.”
On Mulch Diggums’s tail, thought Butler, shuddering. Not a nice place
to be.
Nevertheless, the bodyguard lowered himself into the hole and
through the open roof hatch of the hovering LEP shuttle. Police shuttles
were cramped, even for fairies, but Butler could not even sit up straight in a
chair, even if there had been a chair wide enough for him. He had to content
himself with kneeling behind the command seat.
109
“All set?” he inquired.
Mulch picked a beetle from Butler’s shoulder.
He shoved it into his beard, where the unfortunate insect was immediately
cocooned by hair.
“For later,” he explained. “Unless you want it?”
Butler smiled, but it was an effort. “Thanks.
I already ate.”
“Oh, really? Well whatever you ate, hold on to it, because we are in a
hurry, so I may have to break a few speed limits.”
The dwarf cracked every joint in his fingers and toes, then sent the
craft into a steep spiraling dive. Butler slid to the rear of the craft, and had
to hook three seat belts together to prevent further jostling.
“Is this really necessary?” he grunted through rippling cheeks.
“Look behind you,” replied Mulch.
Butler struggled to his knees, directing his gaze through the rear window.
They were being pursued by a trio of what looked like fireflies, but
what were actually smaller shuttles. The crafts matched their every spiral
and jink exactly. One fired a small sparking torpedo that sent a shock wave
sparking through the hull. Butler felt the pores in his shaven head tingle.
“LEP uni-pods,” explained Mulch. “They just took out our communications
mast, in case we have accomplices in the chutes somewhere. Those
pods have got a lock on our navigation’s system. Their own computers will
follow us forever, unless.”
“Unless what?”
“Unless we can outrun them. Get out of their range.”
Butler tightened the belts across his torso. “And can we?”
Mulch flexed his fingers and toes. “Let’s find out,” he said, flicking the
throttle wide.
The Eleven Wonders, Temple of Artemis Exhibit,
The Lower Elements
Holly and Artemis huddled together on the small island of rotting carcasses,
waiting for the trolls to finish their bridge. The creatures were frantic
now, hurling rock after rock into the shallow water.
Some even braved placing a toe in the currents, but quickly drew
them out again with horrified howls.
Holly wiped water from her eyes. “Okay,” she said. “I have a plan. I
stay here and fight them. You go back in the river.”
Artemis shook his head curtly. “I appreciate it. But no. It would be suicide
for both of us. The trolls would devour you in a second, then simply
wait for the current to sweep me right back here. There must be another
way.”
110
Holly threw a troll skull at the nearest creature. The brute caught it
deftly in his talons, crushing it to shards.- “I’m listening, Artemis.”
Artemis rubbed a knuckle against his forehead, willing the memory
block to dissolve.
“If I could remember. Then maybe…”
“Don’t you remember anything?”
“Images. Something. Nothing coherent. Just nightmare pictures. This
could all be a hallucination. That is the most likely explanation.
Perhaps I should just relax and wait to wake up.”
“Think of it as a challenge. If this were a role-playing game, how would
the character escape?”
“If this were a war game, I would need to know the other side’s weaknesses.
Water is one…”
“And light,” blurted Holly. “Trolls hate light. It burns their retinas.”
The creatures were venturing onto their makeshift bridge now, testing
each step carefully. The stink of their unwashed fur and fetid breath drifted
across to the little island.
“Light,” repeated Artemis. “That’s why they like it here. Hardly any
light.”
“Yes. The Glo-Strips are on emergency power, and the fake sun is on
minimum.”
Artemis glanced upward. Holographic clouds scudded across an imitation
sky, and right in the center, poised dramatically above the temple’s
roof, was a crystal sun, with barely a flicker of power in its belly.
An idea blossomed in his mind. “There is scaffolding on the near corner
of the temple. If we could climb up and get to the sun, could you use
the power cells from our cuffs to light up the sun?”
Holly frowned. “Yes, I suppose. But how do we get past the trolls?”
Artemis picked up the waterproof pod that had been playing Opal’s
video message.
“We distract them with a little television.”
Holly fiddled with the pod’s on-screen controls until she found brightness.
She flicked the setting to maximum. Opal’s image was whited out by a
block of glaring light.
“Hurry,” advised Artemis, tugging Holly’s sleeve. The first troll was
halfway across the bridge, followed by the rest of the precariously balanced
bunch. The world’s shaggiest conga line.
Holly wrapped her arms around the tele-pod.
“This is probably not going to work,” she said.
Artemis moved behind her. “I know, but there is no other option.”
“Okay. But if we don’t make it, I’m sorry you don’t remember. It’s
good to be with a friend at a time like this.”
Artemis squeezed her shoulder. “If we make it through this, we will be
friends. Bonded by trauma.”
111
Their little island was shaking now. Skulls were dislodged from their
perches, rolling into the water. The trolls were almost upon them, picking
their way across the precarious walkway, squealing at every drop of water
that landed on their fur. Any trolls still on the shoreline were hammering
the earth with their knuckles, long ropes of drool swinging from their jaws.
Holly waited until the last moment for maximum effect. The telepod’s
screen was pressed into the rubbish heap, so the approaching animals
would not have a clue as to what was coming.
“Holly?” said Artemis urgently.
“Wait,” whispered Holly. “Just a few seconds more.” The first troll in
the line reached their island. This was obviously the pack leader. He reared
up to a height of almost ten feet, shaking his shaggy head and howling at the
artificial sky. Then he appeared to notice that Artemis and Holly were not
in fact female trolls, and a savage rage took hold of his tiny brain. Dribbles
of venom dropped from his tusks, and he inverted his talons for an upward
slash. Trolls’ preferred kill strike was under the ribs. This popped the heart
quickly and did not give the meat time to toughen.
More trolls crowded onto the tiny island, eager for a share in the kill or
a shot at a new mate.
Holly chose that moment to act. She swung the tele-pod upward,
pointing the buzzing screen directly at the nearest troll. The creature reared
back, clawing at the hated light as though it were a solid enemy. The light
blasted the troll’s retinas, sending him staggering backward into his companions.
A group of the animals tumbled into the river. Panic spread back along
the line like a virus. The creatures reacted to water as though it were acid
dappling their fur and backpedaled furiously toward the shore. This was no
orderly retreat. Anything in the way got scythed or bitten. Gouts of venom
and blood flew through the air, and the water bubbled as though it were
boiling. The troll’s howls of bloodlust changed to keening screams of pain
and terror.
This can’t be real, thought a stunned Artemis Fowl. I must be hallucinating.
Perhaps I am in a coma, following the fall from the hotel window.
And because his brain provided this possible explanation, his memories
stayed under lock and key.
“Grab my belt,” ordered Holly, advancing across the makeshift bridge.
Artemis obeyed instantly. This was not the time to argue about leadership.
In any case, if there were the slightest possibility that this was actually
happening, then Captain Short was better qualified to handle these creatures.
Holly wielded the tele-pod like a portable laser cannon, advancing
step-by-step across the makeshift bridge. Artemis tried to concentrate on
keeping his balance on the treacherous ground. They stepped from rock to
rock, wobbling like novice tightrope walkers. Holly swung the tele-pod in
smooth arcs, blasting trolls from every angle.
112
Too many, thought Artemis. There are too many.
We can never make it.
But there was no future in giving up. So they kept going, taking two
steps forward and one step back.
A crafty bull ducked low, avoiding Holly’s first sweep. He reached out
one talon, cracking the pod’s waterproof casing. Holly stumbled backward,
knocking over Artemis. The pair keeled over into the river, landing with a
solid thump in the shallow water.
Artemis felt the air shoot from his lungs, and took an instinctive
breath. Unfortunately he took in water rather than air. Holly kept her elbows
locked, so the ruptured casing stayed out of the river.
Some splash drops crept into the crack, and sparks began to play across
the screen.
Holly struggled to her feet, simultaneously aiming the screen at the
bull troll. Artemis came up behind her, coughing water from his lungs.
“The screen’s damaged,” panted Holly. “I don’t know how much time
we have.”
Artemis wiped strands of hair from his eyes.
“Go,” he spluttered. “Go.”
They trudged through the water, stepping around thrashing trolls.
Holly chose a clear spot on the bank to climb ashore. It was a relief to be on
dry land again, but at bar least the water had been on their side, as it were;
now they were truly in troll territory.
The remaining animals encircled them at a safe distance. Whenever
one came too close, Holly swung the tele-pod in its direction, and the creature
skipped back as though stung.
Artemis fought the cold and the fatigue and the shock in his system.
His ankle was scalded where the troll had snagged him.
“We need to go straight for the temple,” he said through chattering
teeth. “Up the scaffolding.”
“Okay. Hold on.”
Holly took several deep breaths, building up her strength. Her arms
were sore from holding the tele-pod, but she would not let the fatigue show
in her face, or the fear. She looked those trolls straight in their red eyes and
let them know they were dealing with a formidable enemy.
“Ready?”
“Ready,” replied Artemis, although he was no such thing.
Holly took one final breath, then charged. The trolls were not expecting
this tactic. After all, what kind of creature would attack a troll? They
broke ranks in the face of the arc of white light, and their disconcertion
lasted just long enough for Artemis and Holly to charge through the hole in
the line.
They hurried up the incline toward the temple.
113
Holly made no attempt to avoid the trolls, running straight at them.
When they lashed out in temporary blindness, they only caused more confusion
among themselves. A dozen vicious squabbles erupted in Holly and
Artemis’s wake, as the animals accidentally sliced each other with razorsharp
talons. Some of the cannier trolls used the opportunity to settle old
scores. The squabbles chain-reacted across the plain until the entire area
was a mass of writhing animals and dust.
Artemis grunted and puffed his way up the ravine, his fingers wrapped
around Holly’s belt.
Captain Short’s breathing had settled into a steady rhythm of quick
bursts.
I am not physically fit, thought Artemis. And it may cost me dearly. I
need to exercise more than my brain in the future. If I have a future.
The temple loomed above them, a scale model, but still over fifty feet
high. Dozens of identical columns rose into the holographic clouds, supporting
a triangular roof decorated with intricate plaster moldings. The columns’
lower regions were scarred by a thousand claw marks where younger trolls
had scampered out of harm’s way. Artemis and Holly clambered up the
twenty or so steps to the columns themselves.
Fortunately there were no trolls o
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Chapter 8: Some Intelligent Conversation



Mulch had left the stolen LEP shuttle at the theme park gate. It had
been a simple matter for Butler to disable the park’s cameras and remove a
half-rotted section from the hemisphere’s roof in order to effect the rescue.
When they got back to the shuttle, Holly powered up the engines and
ran a systems check.
“What on earth were you doing, Mulch?” she asked, amazed by the
readings the computer was displaying. “The computer says you came all the
way down here in first gear.”
“There are gears?” said the dwarf. “I thought this crate was automatic.”
“Some jockeys prefer gears. Old-fashioned, I know, but more control
around the bends. And another thing, you didn’t have to do that gas thing
on the rope. There are plenty of stun grenades in the weapons locker.”
“This thing has a locker too? Gears and lockers. Well, I never.”
Butler was giving Artemis a field physical.
“You seem all right,” he said, placing a massive palm over Artemis’s
chest. “Holly fixed up your ribs, I see.”
Artemis was in a bit of a daze. Now that he was out of immediate
danger, the day’s events were catching up to him. How many times could
one person cheat death in twenty-four hours? Surely his odds were getting
shorter.
“Tell me, Butler,” he whispered so the others wouldn’t hear, “is it all
true? Or is it a hallucination?” Even as the words left his lips, Artemis realized
that it was an impossible question. If this was all a hallucination, then
his bodyguard was a dream, too.
“I turned down gold, Butler,” continued Artemis, still unable to accept
his own grand gesture.
“Me. I turned down gold.”
Butler smiled, much more the smile of a friend than a bodyguard.
“That doesn’t surprise me one bit. You were becoming quite charitable before
the mind wipe.”
Artemis frowned. “Of course you would say that, if you were part of
the hallucination.”
Mulch was eavesdropping on the conversation and couldn’t resist a
comment. “Didn’t you smell what I shot those trolls with? You think you
could hallucinate that, Mud Boy?”
Holly started the engines. “Hold on back there,” she called over her
shoulder. “It’s time to go.
122
The sensors picked up some shuttles sweeping local chutes. The authorities
are looking for us.
I need to get us somewhere off the charts.”
Holly teased the throttle and lifted them smoothly from the ground. If
the shuttle had not had portholes, the passengers might not have noticed
the takeoff.
Butler elbowed Mulch. “Did you see that?
That’s a takeoff. I hope you learned something.”
The dwarf was highly offended. “What do I have to do to get a bit of
respect around here? You are all alive because of me, and all I get is abuse.”
Butler laughed. “Okay, little friend. I apologize. We owe you our lives,
and I, for one, will never forget it.”
Artemis followed this interaction curiously. “I would deduce that you
remember everything, Butler.
If, for a moment, I accept this situation as reality, then your memory
must have been stimulated. Did I, perhaps, leave something behind?”
Butler pulled the laser disk from his pocket.
“Oh yes, Artemis. There was a message on this disk for me. You left
yourself a message, too.”
Artemis took the disk. “At last,” he said.
“Some intelligent conversation.”
Artemis found a small bathroom at the rear of the shuttle. The in-door
toilet itself was only to be used in an emergency, and the seat was made
from a spongy material which Mulch had assured him would break down
any waste as it passed through. Artemis decided he would test the filter at
another time, and sat on a small ledge by the porthole.
There was a plasma screen on the wall, presumably for in-restroom entertainment.
All he had to do was slip the computer disk into the drive below
the screen, and his fairy memories would be returned to him. A whole
new world. An old one.
Artemis spun the disk between his thumb and forefinger.
Psychologically speaking, if he loaded this disk it meant that some part
of him accepted the truth of all this. Putting the disk in the slot could
plunge him deeper into some kind of psychotic episode. Not putting it in
could condemn the world to a war between species. The fairy and human
worlds would collide.
What would father do?
Artemis asked himself.
He loaded the disk.
Two files appeared on the desktop, marked with animated 3-D GIF’S,
something the fairy system had obviously added on. Both were tagged with
the file names in English and the fairy language.
123
Artemis selected his own file by touching the plasma screen’s transparent
covering. The file glowed orange, then expanded to fill this e screen. Artemis
saw himself in Fowl Manor, sitting at his desk in the study.
“Greetings,” said the screen Artemis. “How nice for you to see me.
Doubtless, this will be the first intelligent conversation you have had for
some time.”
The real Artemis smiled. “Correct,” he replied.
“I paused for a second there,” continued the screen Artemis. “To give
you a chance to respond, thus qualifying this as a conversation. There will
be no more pausing, as time is limited. Captain Holly Short is downstairs
being distracted by Juliet, but doubtless she will check on me soon.
We depart for Chicago presently to deal with Mr.
Jon Spiro, who has stolen something from me. The price of fairy assistance
in this matter is a mind wipe. All memories of the People will be
erased forever, unless I leave a message for my future self, thus prompting
recall. This is that message. The following video footage contains specific
details of my involvement with the Fairy People. I hope this information
will get those brain cell pathways sparking again.”
Artemis rubbed his forehead. The vague mysterious flashes persisted.
It seemed as though his brain was ready to rebuild those pathways. All he
needed was the right stimulus.
“In conclusion,” said the screen Artemis. “I would like to wish you, myself,
the best of luck. And welcome back.”
The next hour passed in a blur. Images flashed from the screen, adhering
to empty spaces in Artemis’s brain. Each memory felt right the instant
Artemis processed it.
Of course, he thought. This explains everything. I had the mirrored
contact lenses made so I could lie to the fairies and hide the existence of
this journal. I fixed Mulch Diggums’s search warrant so that he could return
the disk to me.
Butler looks older because he is older; the fairy healing in London
saved his life, but cost him fifteen years.
The memories were not all proud ones. I kidnapped Captain Short. I
imprisoned Holly. How could I have done that?
He could not deny it any longer. This was all true. Everything that his
eyes had seen was real. The fairies existed and his life had been intertwined
with theirs for more than two years. A million images sprouted in his consciousness,
rebuilding electric bridges in his brain. They strobed behind his
eyes in a confusing display of color and wonder. A lesser mind than Artemis’s
could have been utterly exhausted, but the Irish boy was exhilarated.
I know it all now, he thought. I beat Koboi before, and I will do it
again. This determination was fuelled by sadness. Commander Root is gone.
Koboi took him from his People.
Artemis had known this earlier, but now it meant something.
124
There was one other thought, more persistent than the rest.
It crashed into his mind like a tsunami.
I have friends? thought Artemis Fowl the Second.
I have friends.
Artemis emerged from the bathroom a different person. Physically, he
was still battered, bruised, and exhausted, but emotionally he felt prepared
for everything that lay ahead. If a body language analyst had studied him at
that moment, they would have observed his relaxed shoulders and open
palms, and would have concluded that this was, psychologically speaking, a
more welcoming and trustworthy individual than the one who had entered
the bathroom an hour since.
The shuttle was parked in a secondary chute off the beaten track, and
the occupants were at the mess table. A selection of LEP field ration packs
had been torn open and devoured. The biggest pile of foil packs was stacked
in front of Mulch Diggums.
Mulch glanced at Artemis and noticed the change immediately.
“About time you got your head in order,” grunted Mulch, struggling from
his chair.
“I need to get into that bathroom urgently.”
“Nice to see you too, Mulch,” said Artemis, stepping aside to allow the
dwarf past.
Holly froze, a sachet of juice halfway to her mouth. “You remember
him?”
Artemis smiled. “Of course, Holly. We have known each other for
more than two years.”
Holly jumped from her chair and clasped Artemis by the shoulders.
“Artemis. It’s great to see the real you. The gods know we need Artemis
Fowl right now.”
“Well, he’s here and ready for duty, Captain.”
“Do you remember everything?”
“Yes. I do. And first of all, let me apologize for that consultant business.
That was very rude. Please forgive me.”
“But what made you remember?” asked the elf.
“Don’t tell me a visit to the bathroom jogged your memory.”
“Not exactly.” Artemis held up the computer disk. “I gave this to
Mulch. It is my video diary. He was supposed to return it to me upon his
release from prison.”
Holly shook her head. “That’s not possible.
Mulch was searched by experts. The only thing you gave him was the
gold medallion.”
Artemis angled the disk so it caught the light.
“Of course” groaned Holly, slapping her forehead. “You passed off that
disk as the gold medallion. Very clever.”
125
Artemis shrugged. “Genius, actually. It seems merely clever in hindsight,
but the original idea was pure genius,”
Holly cocked her head. “Genius. Of course. Believe it or not I actually
missed that smug grin.”
Artemis took a breath. “I am so sorry about Julius. I know our relationship
was a rocky one, but I had nothing but respect and admiration for the
commander.”
Holly wiped her eyes with the heels of her hands.
She said nothing, just nodded. If Artemis needed another reason to go
after Opal Koboi, the sight of the elfin captain so disturbed was it.
Butler ate the contents of a field ration pack in one mouthful. “Now
that we’re all reacquainted, we should try to track Opal Koboi down. It’s a
big world.”
Artemis waved his fingers dismissively. “No need. I know exactly
where our would-be murderer is. Like all megalomaniacs, she has a tendency
to show off.” He crossed to a plastic computer keyboard on the wall
and called up a map of Europe.
“I see your Gnommish has come back to you,” sniffed Holly.
“Of course,” said Artemis, enlarging part of the map. “Opal revealed a
little bit more of her plan than she knew. She let two words slip, though
one would have been sufficient. She said that her human name was to be
Belinda Zito. Now, if you wished to lead the humans to the Fairy People,
who better to have adopt you than the renowned billionaire environmentalist
Giovanni Zito?”
Holly crossed the shuttle deck to the screen.
“And where would we find Dr. Zito?”
Artemis tapped a few keys, zooming in on Sicily. “At his world-famous
Earth Ranch. Right there in the Messina province,” he said.
Mulch stuck his head out of the bathroom. The rest was mercifully
hidden behind the door.
“Did I hear you talking about a Mud Man named Zito?”
Holly turned toward the dwarf, then kept right on turning. “Yes. So
what? And for heaven’s sake close the door.”
Mulch pulled the door so only a crack remained. “I was just watching a
bit of human television in here, as you do. Well there’s a Zito person on
CNN. Do you think it’s the same person?”
Holly grabbed a remote control from the desktop. “I really hope not,”
she said. “But I’d bet my life it is.”
A group of scientists appeared on the screen.
They were gathered in what looked like a prefabricated laboratory,
and each wore a white coat. One stood out from the rest. He was in his
mid-forties, with tanned skin, strong handsome features, and long, dark hair
curling over his collar. He wore rimless glasses and a lab coat. A striped
Versace shirt protruded from beneath his white lapels.
126
“Giovanni Zito,” said Artemis.
“It is incredible, really,” Zito was telling a reporter in slightly accented
English. “We have sent crafts to other planets, and yet we have no idea what
lies beneath our feet. Scientists can tell us the chemical makeup of Saturn’s
rings, but we don’t honestly know what lies at the center of our own
planet.”
“But probes have been sent down before,” said the reporter, trying to
pretend he hadn’t just picked up this knowledge from his earpiece.
“Yes,” agreed Zito. “But only to a depth of about nine miles. We need
to get through to the outer core itself, almost two thousand miles down.
Imagine if the currents of liquid metal in the outer core could be harnessed.
There’s enough free energy in that metal to power mankind’s machines forever.”
The reporter was skeptical. At least, the real scientist speaking in his
earpiece told him to be skeptical. “But this is all speculation, Dr. Zito. Surely
a voyage to the center of the earth is nothing but a fantasy? Possible only in
the pages of science fiction.”
A brief flash of annoyance clouded Giovanni Zito’s features. “This is no
fantasy, sir, I assure you. This is no fantastical voyage. We are sending an
unmanned probe, bristling with sensors. Whatever is down there. We will
find it.”
The reporter’s eyes widened in panic as a particularly technical question
came over his earpiece. He listened for several seconds, mouthing the
words as he heard them.
“Dr. Zito, eh… This probe you are sending down, I believe it will be
encased in one hundred million tons of molten iron at about five and a half
thousand degrees Celsius. Is that correct?”
“Absolutely,” confirmed Zito.
The reporter looked relieved. “Yes. I knew that. Anyway, my point is,
it would take several years to gather so much iron. So why did you ask us
here today?”
Zito clapped his hands excitedly. “This is the wonderful part. As you
know the core probe was a long-term project. I had planned to accumulate
the iron over the next ten years. But now, laser drilling has revealed a deep
orebody of hematite, iron ore, on the bottom edge of the crust right here in
Sicily. It’s incredibly rich, perhaps eighty- five percent iron. All we need to
do is detonate several charges inside that deposit and we have our molten
iron. I have already secured the mining permits from the government.”
The reporter asked the next question all on his own.
“So, Dr. Zito, when do you detonate?”
Giovanni Zito removed two thick cigars from his lab coat pocket. “We
detonate today,” he said, passing a cigar to the reporter. “Ten years early.
This is a historic moment.” Zito opened the office curtains, revealing a
fenced-off area of scrubland below the window. A metallic section of pip127
ing protruded from the earth in the center of the three-foot-square enclosure.
As they watched, a crew of workmen clambered from the piping,
moving hurriedly away from the opening.
Wisps of gaseous coolant spiraled from the pipe. The men climbed
into a golf trolley and exited the compound. They took shelter in a concrete
bunker at the perimeter.
“There are several megatons of TNT buried at strategic points inside
the orebody,” explained Zito. “If this was detonated on the surface, it would
cause an earthquake measuring seven on the Richter scale.”
The reporter swallowed nervously. “Really?”
Zito laughed. “Don’t worry. The charges are shaped. The blast is focused
down and in. The iron will be liquefied and begin its descent to the
earth’s core, carrying the probe with it. We will feel nothing.”
“Down and in ??? all you’re sure about that?”
“Positive,” said Zito. “We are perfectly safe here.”
On the wall behind the Italian doctor, a speaker squawked three times.
“Dottore Zito,” said a gruff voice. “All clear.
All clear.”
Zito picked a black remote detonator from the desk.
“The time has come,” he said dreamily. He looked straight into the
camera. “My darling Belinda, this is for you.”
Zito pressed the button and waited, wide eyed. The room’s other occupants,
the dozen or so scientists and technicians, turned anxiously to various
readout panels and monitors.
“We have detonation,” announced one.
Sixteen yards belowground, forty-two shaped charges exploded, simultaneously
liquefying one hundred and eighteen million tons of iron. The
rock content was pulverized and absorbed by the metal.
A pillar of smoke blew out of the cylindrical opening, but there was
no detectable vibration.
“The probe is functioning at one hundred percent,” said a technician.
Zito breathed out. “That was our big worry.
Even though the probe is designed for exactly these conditions, the
world has never seen this kind of explosion before.” He turned to another
lab worker.
“Any movement?”
The man hesitated before answering. “Yes, Dr. Zito. We have vertical
movement. Sixteen feet per second. Exactly as you hypothesized.”
Below the earth’s crust, a behemoth of iron and rock began its painstaking
descent toward the earth’s core. It chugged and churned, bubbling
and hissing, prying apart the mantle below it. Inside the molten mass, a
grapefruit- sized probe continued to broadcast data.
Spontaneous euphoria erupted in the laboratory. Men and women
hugged each other.
128
Cigars were lit and champagne corks popped.
Someone even pulled out a violin.
“We are on our way,” shouted a jubilant Zito, lighting the reporter’s cigar.
“Man is going to the center of the earth. Look out below!”
In the stolen LEP shuttle, Holly froze the picture. Zito’s triumphant
features were spread across the screen.
“Look out below,” she repeated glumly. “Man is coming to the center
of the earth.”
The moods in the shuttle ranged from glum to desolate. Holly was taking
it especially hard. The entire fairy civilization was under threat yet again,
and this time Commander Root wasn’t around to meet the challenge. Not
only that, but since the LEP pursuit pods had blown out their communications,
there was no way to warn Foaly about the probe.
“I have no doubt he already knows,” said Artemis.
“That centaur monitors all the human news channels.”
“But he doesn’t know that Opal Koboi is giving Zito the benefit of her
fairy knowledge.” She pointed at Giovanni’s image on the screen.
“Look at his eyes. The poor man has been mesmerized so many times
that his pupils are actually ragged.”
Artemis stroked his chin thoughtfully. “If I know Foaly, he’s been
monitoring this project since its initiation. He probably already has a contingency
plan.”
“I’m sure he has. A contingency plan for a crackpot scheme in ten
years’ time that will probably never work.”
“Of course,” agreed Artemis. “As opposed to a scientifically viable
scheme, right now, that has every chance of succeeding.”
Holly headed for the cockpit. “I have to turn myself in, even if I am a
murder suspect.
There is more at stake here than my future.”
“Steady on,” objected Mulch. “I broke out of prison for you. I have no
desire to be shoved back in again.”
Artemis stepped in front of her. “Wait a minute, Holly. Think about
what will happen if you do turn yourself in.”
“Artemis is right,” added Butler. “You should think about this. If the
LEP is anything like human police forces, fugitives are not exactly welcomed
with open arms. Open cell doors, maybe.”
Holly forced herself to stop and think, but it was difficult. Every second
she waited was another second for the giant iron slug to eat its way
through the mantle.
“If I give myself up to Internal Affairs, I will be taken into custody. As
an LEP officer, I can be held for seventy- two hours without counsel. As a
murder suspect I can be held for up to a week. Even if someone did believe
that I was completely innocent, and that Opal Koboi was behind all this, it
would still take at least eight hours to get clearance for an operation. But in
129
all likelihood, my claims would be dismissed as the standard protests of the
guilty. Especially with you three backing up my story. No offense.”
“None taken,” said Mulch.
Holly sat down, cradling her head in her hands. “My world is utterly
gone. I keep thinking there will be a way back, but things just keep spinning
farther and farther out of control.”
Artemis placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Courage, Captain. Ask yourself, what would the commander do?”
backslash Holly took three deep breaths, then sprang from her seat, back
stiff with determination. “Don’t you try to manipulate me, Artemis Fowl. I
make my own decisions. Even so, Julius would take care of Opal Koboi
himself. So that’s what we’re going to do.”
“Excellent,” said Artemis. “In that case, we will need a strategy.”
“Right. I’ll fly the shuttle; you put that brain of yours to work and
come up with a plan.”
“Each to his own,” said the boy. He sat in one of the shuttle’s chairs,
gently massaged his temples with his fingertips, and began to think.
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Chapter 9: Daddy's Girl


The Zito Earth Farm; The Messina Province, Sicily

Opal’s plan to bring the human and fairy worlds together was one of
simplicity in its execution, but genius in its conception. She simply had
made it easier for a human to do what he was already thinking of doing.
Almost every major energy company in the world had a core probe file, but
their ideas were all hypothetical, considering the amount of explosives
needed to blast through the crust, and the iron necessary to get the probe
through the mantle.
Opal picked Giovanni Zito from her list of prospective puppets because
of two things: Zito had a large fortune, and land directly above a huge
high-grade hematite orebody.
Giovanni Zito was a Sicilian engineer and a pioneer in the field of alternative
power sources. A committed environmentalist, Zito developed
ways of generating electricity without stripping the land or destroying the
environment. The invention that had made his fortune was the Zito solarmill.
A windmill with solar panels for blades, making it many times more
efficient than conventional mills.
Six weeks earlier, Zito had returned from an environmental summit in
Geneva, where he had delivered the keynote address to ministers of the
European Union. By the time he reached his villa on the shores of the Strait
of Messina, the sunset was dropping orange blobs in the water, and Giovanni
was exhausted. Talking to politicians was difficult. Even the ones who
were genuinely interested in the environment were hamstrung by the ones
in the pockets of big business. The polluticians, as the media had nicknamed
them.
Giovanni ran himself a bath. The water was heated by solar panels on
his roof. In fact, the entire villa was self- sufficient when it came to power.
There was enough juice in the solar batteries to keep the house hot and lit
for six months. All with zero emissions.
After his bath, Zito wrapped himself in a dressing gown and poured a
glass of Bordeaux, settling into his favorite armchair.
Giovanni took a long draft of wine, willing the day’s I tension to
evaporate. He cast his eyes over the familiar row of framed photographs on
his wall. Most were magazine covers celebrating his technological innovations,
but his favorite one, the one that made him famous, was the Time
magazine cover that showed a younger Giovanni Zito astride a humpback
131
whale, with a whaling ship looming over them both. The unfortunate creature
had strayed into shallow waters and could not dive. So Zito had leaped
from a conservationists’ dinghy onto the creature’s back, thus shielding it
from the whalers’ harpoons. Someone on the dinghy had snapped a photo,
and that photo had become one of the most famous media images of the
last century.
Zito smiled. Heady days. He was about to close his eyes for a quick
nap before dinner, when something moved in the shadows in the corner of
the room. Something small, barely the height of the table.
Zito sat straight up in his chair. “What’s that? Is somebody there?”
A lamp flicked on to reveal a small girl perched on a log stool. She
held the lamp cord in her hand and seemed not in the least afraid or upset
in any way. In fact the girl was calm and composed, regarding Zito as if he
were the intruder.
Giovanni stood. “Who are you, little one? Why are you here?”
The girl fixed him with the most incredible eyes.
Deep brown eyes. Deep as a vat of chocolate.
“I am here for you, Giovanni,” she said in a voice as beautiful as her
eyes. In fact, everything about the girl was beautiful. Her porcelain features.
And those eyes. They would not let him go.
Zito fought her spell. “For me? What do you mean? Is your mother
nearby?”
The girl smiled. “Not nearby, no. You are my family now.”
Giovanni tried to make sense of this simple sentence, but he could not.
Was it really important?
Those eyes, and that voice. So melodic. Layers of crystal tinkling.
Humans react differently to the fairy mesmer.
Most fall immediately under its hypnotic spell, but there are those
with strong minds who need to be pushed a little. And the more they are
pushed, the greater the risk of brain damage.
“I am your family now?” said Zito slowly, as though he were searching
each word for meaning.
“Yes, human,” snapped Opal impatiently, pushing harder. “My family. I
am your daughter, Belinda. You adopted me last month, secretly. The papers
are in your bureau.”
Giovanni’s eyes lost their focus.
“Adopted? Bureau?”
Opal drummed her tiny fingers on the base of the lamp. She had forgotten
how dull some humans could be, especially under the mesmer.
And this one was supposed to be a genius.
“Yes. Adopted. Bureau. You love me more than life, remember? You
would do absolutely anything for your darling Belinda.”
A tear pooled on Zito’s eyelid.
“Belinda. My little girl. I’d do anything for you, dear, anything.”
132
“Yes, yes, yes,” said Opal impatiently.
“Of course. I said that. Just because you’re mesmerized doesn’t mean
you have to repeat everything I say. That is so tiresome.”
Zito noticed two small creatures in the corner. Creatures with pointed
ears. This fact penetrated the mesmer’s fugue.
“I see. Over there. Are they human?”
Opal glowered at the Brill brothers. They were supposed to stay out of
sight.
Mesmerizing a strong mind such as Zito’s was a delicate enough operation
without distractions.
She added another layer to her voice. “You cannot see those figures.
You will never see them again.”
Zito was relieved. “Of course. Good. Nothing at all. Mind playing
tricks.”
Opal scowled. What was it about humans and grammar? At the first
sign of stress, it went out the window. Mind playing tricks. Really.
“Now, Giovanni, Daddy. I think we need to talk about your next project.”
“The water-powered car?”
“No, idiot. Not the water-powered car.
The core probe.
I know you have designed one. Quite a good design for a human,
though I will be making changes.”
“The core probe. Impossible. Can’t get through crust. Don’t have
enough iron.”
“We can’t get through the crust.
We don’t have enough iron. Speak properly, for heaven’s sake. It’s trying
enough speaking Mud Man without listening to your gibberish. Honestly,
you human geniuses are not all you’re cracked up to be.”
Zito’s beleaguered brain made the effort. “I am sorry, dearest Belinda. I
simply mean that the core probe project is long term. It will have to wait
until we can find a practical way to gather the iron, and cut through the
earth’s crust.”
Opal looked at the dazed Sicilian.
“Poor dear stupid Daddy. You developed a super laser to cut through
the crust. Don’t you remember?”
A dewdrop of sweat rolled down Zito’s cheek. “A super laser? Now
that you mention it…”
“And can you guess what you’ll find when you do cut through?”
Zito could guess. Part of his intellect was still his own. “A hematite
orebody? It would have to be massive. Of very high grade.”
Opal led him to the window. In the distance, the wind farm’s blades
flashed in the starlight.
“And where do you think we should dig?”
133
“I think we should dig under the wind farm,” said Zito, resting his forehead
against the cool glass.
“Very good, Daddy. If you dig there I will be ever so happy.”
Zito patted the pixie’s hair. “Ever so happy,” he said sleepily. “Belinda,
my little girl. Papers are in bureau.”
“The papers are in the bureau,” corrected Opal. “If you persist with this
baby talk I will have to punish you.”
She wasn’t joking.
E7, Below the Mediterranean
Holly had to stay out of the major chutes on her way to the surface.
Foaly had sensors monitoring all traffic through commercial and LEP routes.
This meant navigating unlit meandering secondary chutes, but the alternative
was being picked up by the centaur’s bugs and hauled back to Police
Plaza before the job was done.
Holly negotiated stalactites the size of skyscrapers, and skirted vast craters
teeming with bioluminescent insect life. But instinct was doing the
driving. Holly’s thoughts were a thousand miles away, reflecting on the
events of the past twenty-four hours. It seemed as though her heart was finally
catching up with her body.
All her previous adventures with Artemis were almost like comic
book escapades compared to their current situation. It had always been
happy ever after before. There had been a few close calls, but everyone had
made it out alive. Holly studied her trigger finger. A faint scar circled the
base where it had been severed during the Arctic incident. She could have
healed the scar or covered it with a ring, but she preferred to keep it where
she could see it. The scar was part of her. The commander had been a part
of her too.
Her superior, her friend.
Sadness emptied her out, then filled her up again. For a while,
thoughts of revenge had fuelled her. But now, even the thoughts of dumping
Opal Koboi into a cold cell could not light a spark of vengeful joy in her
heart. She would keep going to ensure that the People were safe from humans.
Maybe when that task was done, it would be time to take a look at
her life. Maybe there were a few things that needed changing.
Artemis summoned everyone to the passenger area as soon as he had
finished work on the computer. His new-old memories were giving him
immense pleasure. As his fingers skimmed the Gnommish keyboard, he
marveled at the ease with which he navigated the fairy platform. He marveled
too at the technology itself, even though he was no stranger to it
anymore.
134
The Irish boy felt the same thrill of rediscovery that a small child feels
when he has chanced upon a lost favorite toy.
For the past hour, rediscovery had been a major theme in his life. Having
a major theme for an hour doesn’t seem like much, but Artemis had a
catalog of memories all clamoring to be acknowledged. The memories
themselves were startling enough: boarding a radioactive train near Murmansk,
or flying across the ocean concealed beneath LEP cam-foil. But it
was the cumulative effect of these memories that interested Artemis.
He could literally feel himself becoming a different person. Not exactly
the way he used to be, but closer to that individual. Before the fairies
had mind-wiped him as part of the Jon Spiro deal, his personality had been
undergoing what could be seen as positive change. So much so that he had
decided to go completely legitimate and donate ninety percent of Spiro’s
massive fortune to Amnesty International. Since his mind wipe, he had reverted
to his old ways, indulging his passion for criminal acts. Now he was
somewhere in the middle.
He had no desire to hurt or steal from the innocent, but he was having
difficulty giving up his criminal ways. Some people just needed to be stolen
from.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the desire he felt to help his fairy
friends, and the real sadness he felt at the loss of Julius Root. Artemis was
no stranger to loss; at one time or another, he had lost and found everyone
close to him. Julius’s death cut him just as deeply as any of these. His drive
to avenge the commander and stop Opal Koboi was more powerful than
any criminal urge he had ever felt.
Artemis smiled to himself. It seemed as though good was a more powerful
motivation than bad. Who would have thought it?
The rest of the group gathered around the central holographic projector.
Holly had parked the shuttle on the floor of a secondary chute close to
the surface.
Butler was forced to squat on his hunkers in the fairy- sized ship.
“Well, Artemis, what did you find out?” asked the bodyguard, trying to
fold his massive arms without knocking someone smaller over.
Artemis activated a holographic animation, which rotated slowly in
the middle of the chamber. The animation showed a cutaway of the earth
from crust to core. Artemis switched on a laser pointer and began his briefing.
“As you can see, there is a distance of approximately one thousand
eight hundred miles from the earth’s surface to the outer core.”
The projection’s liquid outer core swirled and bubbled with molten
magma.
“However, mankind has never managed to penetrate more than nine
miles through the crust. To go any deeper would necessitate the use of nuclear
warheads, or huge amounts of dynamite. An explosion of this magni135
tude could possibly generate huge shifts in the earth’s tectonic plates, causing
earthquakes and tidal waves around the globe.”
Mulch was, as usual, eating something. Nobody knew what, as he had
emptied the food locker over an hour since. Nobody really wanted to ask
either. “That doesn’t sound like a good thing.”
“No, it isn’t,” agreed Artemis. “Which is why the ironclad probe theory
has never been put into practice, until now. The original idea belongs to a
New Zealander, Professor David Stevenson. It is quite brilliant, actually, if
impractical. Encase a reinforced probe in a hundred million tons of molten
iron. The iron will sink through the crack generated by the explosive, even
closing the crack behind it. Within a week the probe will reach the core.
The iron will be consumed by the outer core, and the probe will gradually
disintegrate. The entire process is even environmentally sound.”
The projection put Artemis’s words into pictures.
“How come the iron doesn’t un-melt?” asked Mulch.
Artemis raised a long thin eyebrow.
“Un-melt? The orebody’s sheer size stops it from solidifying.”
Holly stood, stepping into the projection itself and studying the orebody.
“Foaly must know all about this.
Humans couldn’t keep something so big a secret.”
“Indeed,” said Artemis, opening a second holographic projection. “I ran
a search on the onboard database and found this: Foaly ran several computer
simulations over eighty years ago.
He concluded that the best way to deal with the threat was to simply
broadcast misinformation to whatever probe was being sent down. As far as
the humans were concerned, their probe would simply sink through a couple
hundred miles of various low-grade ore, and then the orebody would
solidify. A resounding and very expensive failure.”
The computer simulation showed the information being broadcasted
from Haven to the metal-encased probe.
Aboveground, cartoon human scientists scratched their heads and tore
up their notes.
“Most amusing,” said Artemis.
Butler was studying the hologram. “I’ve been on enough campaigns to
know that there is a big hole in that strategy, Artemis,” he said.
“Yes?”
Butler struggled to his knees and traced the probe’s path with a finger.
“Well, what if the probe’s journey brought it into contact with one of the
People’s chutes? Once that metal punctures that chute, it’s on an express
ride to Haven.”
Artemis was delighted at his bodyguard’s astuteness. “Yes. Of course.
Which is why there is a supersonic attack shuttle on standby twenty-four
hours a day, to divert the molten mass if the need arises. All human probe
136
projects are monitored, and if any are judged to pose a threat, they are quietly
sabotaged.
If that doesn’t work, the LEP geological unit drills in under the molten
mass and diverts it with some shaped charges. The orebody follows the new
path blown for it, and Haven is safe. Of course, the mining shuttle has never
been used.”
“There’s another problem,” added Holly. “We have to factor in Opal’s
involvement. She obviously has helped Giovanni Zito drill through the
crust, possibly with a fairy laser. We can presume she has upgraded the
probe itself so that Foaly’s false signals will not be accepted. So her plan
must be to bring that probe into contact with the People.
But how?”
Artemis launched a third holographic animation, shutting down the
first two. This 3-D rendering portrayed Zito’s Earth Farm and the underlying
crust and mantle.
“This is what I think,” he said. “Zito, with Opal’s help, liquefies his orebody
here. It begins to sink at a rate of sixteen feet per second toward the
earth’s core, taking accurate readings, thanks to Koboi’s upgrades.
Meanwhile, Foaly thinks his plan is working perfectly. Now, at a depth
of one hundred and six miles, the metal mass comes within three miles of
this major chute, E7, which emerges in southern Italy. They run parallel for
one hundred and eighty-six miles, then diverge again.
If Opal were to blow a crack between these two tunnels, the iron
would follow the path of least resistance and flow into the chute.”
Holly felt the strength leave her limbs. “Into the chute, and straight
down to Haven.”
“Exactly,” said Artemis. “This particular chute runs in a jagged westerly
diagonal for twelve hundred miles, coming within five hundred yards of the
city itself. With the speed the orebody will build up in free fall, it will slice
off a good half of the city. Everything that’s left will be broadcasting signals
for the world to hear.”
“But we have blast walls,” objected Holly.
Artemis shrugged. “Holly, there isn’t a force on earth powerful enough
to stop a hundred million tons of molten hematite in free fall.
Anything that gets in the way will be obliterated.
Most of the iron will curve around and follow the tunnel, but enough
will continue straight down to cut right through the blast walls.”
The shuttle’s occupants watched Artemis’s computer simulation in
which the molten orebody smashed through Haven City’s defenses, allowing
all the fairy electronic signals to be picked up by the probe.
“We are looking at a fifty-eight percent casualty rate,” said Artemis.
“Possibly more.”
“How can Opal do this without Foaly’s sensors picking her up?”
137
“Simple,” replied Artemis. “She merely plants a shaped charge in E7 at
a depth of one hundred and five miles, detonating it at the last minute. That
way, by the time Foaly detects the explosion, it will be too late to either
disarm it or do anything about it.”
“So we need to remove that charge.”
Artemis smiled. If only it were that simple.
“Opal will not take any chances with the charge. If she left it on the
chute wall for any amount of time, a tremor could shake it free, or one of
Foaly’s sensors could pick it up. I’m sure the device is well shielded, but one
leak in the plating could have it broadcasting like a satellite. No, Opal will
not position the charge until the last minute.”
Holly nodded. “Okay. So we wait until she plants it, then we disarm
it.”
“No. If we wait in the chute, then Foaly will pick us up. If that happens,
Opal will not even venture down the chute.”
“That’s good, isn’t it?”
“Not really. We may delay her for a few hours, but remember, Opal
has a two-hundred-mile window to plant the charge. She can wait for the
LEP to arrest us and still have ample time to complete her mission.”
Holly knuckled her eyes. “I don’t understand this. Surely everyone
must know by now that Opal has escaped. Surely Foaly can put this all together.”
Artemis closed his fist. “There’s the rub. That single point is the essence
of this entire situation.
Foaly obviously doesn’t know that Opal has escaped. She would be the
first person checked after the goblin general’s escape.”
“She was checked. I was there. When Scalene escaped, Opal was still
catatonic. There’s no way she could have planned it.”
“And yet, she did,” mused Artemis. “Could that Opal have been a double?”
“Not possible. They run DNA checks every day.”
“So the Opal under surveillance had Koboi’s DNA, but little or no
brain activity.”
“Exactly. She’s been that way for a year.”
Artemis thought silently for over a minute. “I wonder how far cloning
technology has developed underground?”
He crossed briskly to the main computer terminal and called up LEP
files on the subject.
““The mature clone is identical to the original in every way, except
that its brain functions are limited to life support,”“ he read. ““In greenhouse
conditions, it takes one to two years to grow a clone to adulthood.”’
8Artemis stepped away from the computer, clapping his hands.
“That’s it. That’s how she did it. She induced that coma so that her replacement
would not be noticed. This is impressive stuff.”
138
Holly pounded a fist into her palm. “So even if we did survive the attempts
on our lives, all talk of Opal’s escape would be seen as the ravings of
the guilty.”
“I told Chix Verbil that Opal was back,” said Mulch. “That’s okay
though, because he already thinks I’m raving.”
“With Opal on the loose,” continued the Irish youth, “the entire LEP
would be on the lookout for a plot of some kind. But with Opal still deep
in her coma…”
“There is no cause for alarm. And this probe is simply a surprise, and
not an emergency.”
Artemis shut down the holographic projection. “So we’re on our own.
We need to steal that final charge and detonate harmlessly above the parallel
stretch. Not only that, but we need to expose Opal so she cannot simply
put her plan into action all over again. Obviously to do this we need to find
Opal’s shuttle.”
Mulch was suddenly uncomfortable. “You’re going after Koboi? Again?
Well, best of luck. You can just drop me off at the next corner.”
Holly ignored him. “How long do we have?”
There was a calculator on the plasma screen, but Artemis didn’t need
it. “The orebody is sinking at a rate of sixteen feet per second.
That’s eleven miles per hour. At that speed it would take approximately
nine and a half hours to reach the parallel stretch.”
“Nine hours from now?”
“No,” corrected Artemis. “From detonation, which was almost two
hours ago.”
Holly walked rapidly into the cockpit and strapped herself into the pilot’s
chair. “Seven and a half hours to save the world. Isn’t there some law
that says we get at least twenty-four?”
Artemis strapped himself into the copilot’s chair.
“I don’t think Opal bothers with laws,” he said. “Now, can you talk
while you fly?
There are a few things I need to know about shuttles and charges.”
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Chapter 10: Horse Sense


Police Plaza, Haven City, The Lower Elements

Everybody in Police Plaza was all talk about the Zito probe. In truth it
was a bit of a distraction from recent events. The LEP didn’t lose many officers
in the field. And now two in the same shift. Foaly was taking it hard,
especially the loss of Holly Short. It was one thing to lose a friend in the line
of duty, but for that friend to be falsely accused of murder was unbearable.
Foaly could not stand the idea that the People would forever remember
Holly as a cold-blooded killer. Captain Short was innocent. What’s more,
she was a decorated hero, and deserved to be remembered as such.
A corn screen flickered into life on his wall. One of his technical assistants
in the outer office appeared. The elf’s pointed ears were quivering
with excitement.
“The probe is down to sixty-five miles. I can’t believe the humans have
gotten this far.”
Foaly opened a screen on his wall. He couldn’t believe it either. In theory,
it should have been decades before humans developed a laser sophisticated
enough to puncture the crust without frying half a continent. Obviously,
Giovanni Zito went right ahead and developed the laser without
worrying about Foaly’s projections for his species.
Foaly almost regretted having to shut Zito’s project down. The Sicilian
was one of the brightest hopes for the human race. His plan to harness the
power of the outer core was a good one, but the cost was fairy exposure,
and that was too high a price to pay.
“Keep a close eye on it,” he said, trying to sound interested. “Especially
when it runs parallel to E7. I don’t anticipate any trouble, but eyes peeled
just in case.”
“Yes, sir. Oh, and we have Captain Verbil on line two, from the surface.”
A tiny spark of interest lit the centaur’s eyes. Verbil. The sprite had allowed
Mulch Diggums to steal an LEP shuttle. Mulch escaped a few hours
after his friends on the force had been killed. Coincidence? Perhaps. Perhaps
not.
Foaly opened a window to the surface.
In it he could see Verbil’s chest.
Foaly sighed. “Chix! You’re hovering. Come down where I can see
you.”
140
“Sorry,” said Chix, alighting on the floor.
“I’m a bit emotional. Trouble Kelp gave me a real grilling.”
“What do you want, Chix? A hug and a kiss?
I have things on my mind here.”
Verbil’s wings flared up behind him. It was a real effort to stay on the
ground. “I have a message for you, from Mulch Diggums.”
Foaly fought the urge to whinny. No doubt Mulch would have some
choice words for him.
“Go on, then. Tell me what our foul-mouthed friend thinks of me.”
“This is between us, right? I don’t want to be pensioned off on the
grounds that I’m unstable.”
“Yes, Chix, it’s between us. Everyone has a right to be temporarily unstable.
Today of all days.”
“It’s ridiculous, really. I don’t believe it for a minute.” Chix attempted a
confident chuckle.
Foaly snapped. “What’s ridiculous? What don’t you believe!” Tell me,
Chix, or I’ll reach down this com link and drag it out of you.”
“Are we secure?”
“Yes!” the centaur screeched. “We’re secure. Tell me. Give me Mulch’s
message.”
Chix took a deep breath, saying the words as he let it out. “Opal Koboi
is back.”
Foaly’s laughter started somewhere around his hooves and grew in volume
and intensity until it burst out of his mouth. “Opal is back! Koboi is
back!
I get it now. Mulch conned you into letting him steal the shuttle. He
played on your fear of Opal waking up, and you bought it. Opal is back;
don’t make me laugh.”
“That’s what he said,” Chix mumbled sulkily.
“There’s no need to laugh so hard. You’re spitting on the screen. I have
feelings, you know.”
Foaly’s laughter petered out. It wasn’t real laughter anyway, it was just
an outburst of emotion.
Mostly sadness, with some frustration mixed in.
“Okay, Chix. It’s not your fault. Mulch has fooled smarter sprites than
you.”
It took Chix a moment to realize that he was being insulted.
“It could be true” he said, miffed. “You could be wrong. It is possible,
you know. Maybe Opal Koboi conned you.”
Foaly opened another window on his wall.
“No, Verbil, it is not possible. Opal could not be back, because I’m
looking at her right now.”
Live feed from the Argon Clinic confirmed that Opal was indeed still
suspended in her coma harness.
141
She’d had her DNA swab minutes beforehand.
Chix’s petulance crumbled. “I can’t believe it,” he muttered. “Mulch
seemed so sincere. I actually thought Holly was in danger.”
Foaly’s tail twitched. “What? Mulch said Holly was in danger? But
Holly is gone. She died.”
“Yes,” said Chix morosely. “Mulch was shoveling more horse dung, I
suppose. No offense.”
Of course. Opal would set Holly up to take the blame for Julius. That
little cruel touch would be just like Opal. If she wasn’t right there, in her
harness. DNA never lies.
Chix rapped the screen surround at his end, to get Foaly’s attention.
“Listen, Foaly, remember what you promised. This is between us. No need
for anyone else to know I got duped by a dwarf. I’ll end up scraping vole
curry off the sidewalk after crunchball matches.”
Foaly absently shut the window. “Yes, whatever. Between us. Right.”
Opal was still secure. No doubt about it.
Surely she couldn’t have escaped. If she had, then maybe this probe
was more sinister than it seemed. She couldn’t have escaped. It wasn’t possible.
But Foaly’s paranoid streak couldn’t let it go. Just to be sure, there
were a few little tests he could perform. He really should get authorization,
but if he was wrong, nobody had to know. And if he was right, nobody
would care about a few hours of computer time.
The centaur ran a quick search on the surveillance database and selected
the footage from the chute access tunnel where Julius had died.
There was something he wanted to check.
Uncharted Chute, Three Miles Below Southern Italy The stolen shuttle
made good time to the surface.
Holly flew as fast as she could without burning the gearbox or smashing
them into a chute wall.
Time may have been of the essence, but the motley crew would be of
little use to anyone if they had to be scraped off the wall like so much
crunchy pate.
“These old rigs are mainly for watch changes,” explained Holly. “The
LEP got this one secondhand at a criminal assets auction. It’s souped up to
avoid customs ships. It used to belong to a curry smuggler.”
Artemis sniffed. A faint yellow odor still lingered in the cockpit. “Why
would anyone smuggle curry?”
“Extra-hot curry is illegal in Haven.
Living underground, we have to be careful of emissions, if you catch
my drift.”
Artemis caught her drift and decided not to pursue the subject.
“We need to locate Opal’s shuttle before we venture aboveground and
give our position away.”
142
Holly pulled over next to a small lake of black oil, the shuttle’s downdraft
rippling the surface.
“Artemis, I think I mentioned that it’s a stealth shuttle. Nothing can
detect her. We don’t have sensors sophisticated enough to spot her. Opal
and her pixie sidekicks could be sitting in their craft just around the next
bend, and our computers wouldn’t pick them up.”
Artemis leaned in over the dashboard readouts.
“You’re approaching this the wrong way, Holly.
We need to find out where the shuttle is not.”
Artemis launched various scans, searching for traces of certain gases
within a hundred-mile radius. “I think we can assume that the stealth shuttle
is very close to E7, perhaps right at the mouth; but that still leaves us
with a lot of ground to cover, especially if our eyes are all we have to rely
on.”
“That’s what I’ve been saying. But do go on;
I’m sure you have a point.”
“So I’m using this shuttle’s limited sensor dishes to scan from here right
up the chute to the surface and down about thirty miles.”
“Scanning for what?” said Holly in exasperation.
“A hole in the air?”
Artemis grinned. “Exactly. You see, normal space is made up of various
gases: oxygen, hydrogen, and so on, but the stealth shuttle would prevent
any of these from being detected inside the ship’s hull. So if we find a small
patch of space without the usual ambient gasses…”
“Then we’ve found the stealth shuttle,” said Holly.
“Exactly.”
The computer completed its scan quickly, building an on-screen model
of the surrounding area. The gases were displayed in various whirling hues.
Artemis instructed the computer to search for anomalies. It found
three: one with an abnormally high saturation of carbon monoxide.
“That’s probably an airport. A lot of exhaust fumes.”
The second anomaly was a large area with only trace elements of any
gas.
“A vacuum, probably a computer plant,” surmised Artemis.
The third anomaly was a small area just outside the lip of E7 that appeared
to contain no gas of any kind.
“That’s her. The volume is exactly right.
She’s on the north side of the chute entrance.”
“Well done,” said Holly, punching him lightly on the shoulder. “Let’s
get up there.”
“You know, of course, that as soon as we put our nose into the main
chute system, Foaly will pick us up.”
143
Holly gave the engines a few seconds to warm up. “It’s too late to
worry about that. Haven is more than six hundred miles away. By the time
anyone gets here, we’ll either be heroes or outlaws.”
“We’re already outlaws,” said Artemis.
“True,” agreed Holly. “But soon we could be outlaws with no one chasing
us.”
Police Plaza, The Lower Elements
Opal Koboi was back. Could it be possible?
The thought niggled at Foaly’s ordered mind, unraveling any chain of
thought that he tried to compose.
He would not find any peace until he found out for certain. One way
or the other.
The first place to check was the video footage from E37. If one began
with the assumption that Koboi was indeed alive, then a number of details
could be explained. Firstly, the strange haze that had appeared on all the
tapes was not simply interference, but manufactured to hide something.
The loss of audio signal, too, could have been orchestrated by Koboi to
cover whatever had passed between Holly and Julius in the tunnel.
And the calamitous explosion could have been Koboi’s doing and not
Holly’s. The possibility brought tremendous peace to Foaly, but he contained
it. He hadn’t proven anything yet.
Foaly ran the tape through a few filters without result. The strange
blurred section refused to be sharpened, cloned, or shifted. That in itself
was unusual. If the blurred spot was just computer glitchery, Foaly should
have been able to do something about it. But the indistinct patch stood its
ground, repelling everything Foaly threw at it.
You may have the hi-tech ground covered, thought the centaur, but
what about good old lo-tech?
Foaly zoomed the footage to moments before the explosion. The
blurred patch had transferred itself to Julius’s chest, and indeed at times, the
commander appeared to be looking at it. Was there an explosive device under
there? If so, then it must have been remotely detonated. The jammer
signal was probably sent from the same remote. The detonation command
would override all other signals, including the jammer. This meant that for
perhaps a thousandth of a second before detonation, whatever was on
Julius’s chest would become visible. Not long enough for the fairy eye to
capture, but a camera would see it just fine.
Foaly fast-forwarded to the explosion and then began to work his way
backward, frame by frame. It was agonizing work, watching his friend being
reassembled by the reversed film. The centaur tried to ignore it and concentrate
on the work. The flames shrank from orange plumes to white shards,
144
eventually containing themselves inside an orange minisun. Then, for a single
frame, something appeared. Foaly flicked past it, then returned. There!
On Julius’s chest, right where the blur used to be. A device of some kind.
Foaly’s fingers jabbed the enlarge tool. There was a square foot metal
panel secured to Julius’s chest with octo-bonds. It had been picked up by
the camera for a single frame. Less than one thousandth of a second, which
was why it had been missed by the investigators. On the face of the panel
was a plasma screen. Someone had been communicating with the commander
before he died. That someone had not wanted to be overheard,
hence the audio jammer. Unfortunately, the screen was now blank, as the
detonation signal which disrupted the jammer would also have disrupted
the video.
But I know who it is, thought Foaly. It’s Opal Koboi, back from limbo.
But he needed proof. The centaur’s word was worth about as much to
Ark Sool as a dwarf’s denial that he had passed wind.
Foaly glared at the live feed from the Argon Institute. There she was.
Opal Koboi, still deep in her coma. Apparently.
How did you do it? Foaly wondered. How could you swap places with
another fairy?
Plastic surgery wouldn’t do it. Surgery couldn’t change DNA. Foaly
opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a piece of equipment that resembled
two miniature kitchen plungers.
There was only one way to find out what was going on here. He would
have to ask Opal directly.
When Foaly arrived at the institute, Dr. Argon was reluctant to allow
him into Opal’s room.
“Miss Koboi is in a deep state of catatonia,” said the gnome peevishly.
“Who knows what effect your devices will have on her psyche. It’s difficult,
nigh impossible, to explain to a layfairy what damage intrusive stimuli may
have on the recovering mind.”
Foaly whinnied. “You had no trouble letting the TV networks in. I
suppose they pay better than the LEP. I do hope you are not beginning to
view Opal as your personal possession, Doctor. She is a state prisoner, and I
can have her moved to a state facility any time I like.”
“Maybe just five minutes,” said Jerbal Argon, tapping in the door’s security
code.
Foaly clopped past him and plonked his briefcase on the table. Opal
swung gently in the draft from the doorway. And it did seem to be Opal.
Even this close, with every feature in focus, Foaly would have sworn that
this was his old adversary.
The same Opal who had competed with him for every prize at college.
The same Opal who had very nearly succeeded in having him blamed for
the goblin uprising.
“Get her down from there,” he ordered.
145
Argon positioned a bunk below the harness, complaining with every
step. “I shouldn’t be doing physical labor” he moaned. “It’s my hip. No one
knows the pain I’m in. No one. The warlocks can’t do a thing for me.”
“Don’t you have staff to do this sort of thing?”
“Normally, yes,” said Argon, lowering the harness.
“But my janitors are on leave. Both at the same time. Normally I
wouldn’t allow it, but good pixie workers are hard to find.”
Foaly’s ears pricked up. “Pixies? Your janitors are pixies?”
“Yes. We’re quite proud of them around here, minor celebrities, you
know. The pixie twins. And of course they have the highest respect for
me.”
Foaly’s hands shook as he unpacked his equipment. It all seemed to be
coming together. First Chix, then the strange device on Julius’s chest, now
pixie janitors who were on leave. He just needed one more piece of the
puzzle.
“What is it you have there?” asked Argon anxiously. “Nothing that
could cause any damage.”
Foaly tilted the unconscious pixie’s head backward. “Don’t worry, Argon.
It’s just a Retimager. I’m not going in any farther than the eyeballs.”
He held open the pixie’s eyes one at a time, sealing the plunger like
cups around the sockets.
“Every image is recorded on the retinas. This leaves a trail of microscratches
that can be enhanced and read.”
“I know what a Retimager is,” snapped Argon. “I do read science journals
occasionally, you know. So you can tell what the last thing Opal saw
was. What good will that do?”
Foaly connected the eyepieces to a wall computer. “We shall see,” he
said, endeavoring to sound cryptic rather than desperate.
He opened the Retimager’s program on the plasma screen, and two
dark images appeared.
“Left and right eyes,” explained Foaly, toggling a key until the two images
overlapped.
The image was obviously a head from a side angle, but it was too dark
to identify.
“Ooh, such brilliance,” gushed Argon sarcastically. “Shall I call the networks?
Or should I just faint in awe?”
Foaly ignored him. “Lighten and enhance,” he said to the computer.
A computer-generated paintbrush swabbed the screen, leaving a
brighter and sharper picture behind it.
“It’s a pixie,” muttered Foaly. “But still not enough detail.” He scratched
his chin. “Computer, match this picture with patient Koboi, Opal.”
A picture of Opal flashed up on a separate window. It resized itself
and revolved until the new picture was at the same angle as the original.
Red arrows flashed between the pictures, connecting identical points. After
146
a few moments the space between the two pictures was completely blitzed
with red lines.
“Are these two pictures of the same person?” asked Foaly.
“Affirmative,” said the computer. “Though there is a point zero five
percent possibility of error.”
Foaly jabbed the print button. “I’ll take those odds.”
Argon stepped closer to the screen, as though in a daze. His face was
pale, and growing paler as he realized the implications of the picture.
“She saw herself from the side,” he whispered. “That means…”
“There were two Opal Kobois,” completed Foaly. “The real one, that
you let escape. And this shell here, which can only be…”
“A clone.”
“Precisely,” said Foaly, plucking the hard copy from the printer. “She
had herself cloned, and then your janitors waltzed her right out of here under
your nose.”
“Oh dear.”
“Oh dear hardly covers it. Maybe now would be a good time to call the
networks, or faint in awe.”
Argon took the second option, collapsing to the floor in a limp heap.
The sudden evaporation of his dreams of fame and fortune was too much to
handle all at once.
Foaly stepped over him and galloped all the way to Police Plaza.
E7, Southern Italy
Opal Koboi was having a hard time being patient. She had used up
every last drop of her patience in the Argon Clinic. And now she wanted
things to happen on her command. Unfortunately, a hundred million tons of
hematite will only sink through the earth at sixteen feet per second, and
there isn’t a lot anybody can do about it. Opal decided to pass the time by
watching Holly Short die. That cretinous captain. Who did she think she
was, with her crew cut and cute bow lips?
Opal glanced at herself in a reflective surface. Now, there was real
beauty. There was a face that deserved its own currency, and it was quite
possible that she would soon have it.
“Mervall,” she snapped. “Bring me the Eleven Wonders disk. I need
something to cheer me up.”
“Right away, Miss Koboi,” said Merv.
“Would you like me to finish preparing the meal first, or bring you the
disk directly.”
Opal rolled her eyes at her reflection.
“What did I just say?”
“You said to bring you the disk.”
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“So what do you think you should do, my dearest Mervall?”
“I think I should bring you the disk,” said Merv.
“Genius, Mervall. Pure genius.”
Merv left the shuttle’s kitchenette and ejected a disk from the recorder.
The computer would have the film on its hard drive, but Miss Koboi
liked to have her personal favorites on disk so she could be cheered up
wherever she happened to be.
Highlights from the past included her father’s nervous breakdown, the
attack on Police Plaza, and Foaly bawling his eyes out in the LEP operation’s
booth.
Merv handed the disk to Opal.
“And?” said the tiny pixie.
Merv was stumped for a moment, then he remembered.
One of Opal’s new commandments was that the Brill brothers should
bow when they approached their leader. He swallowed his pride and
bowed low from the waist.
“Better. Now, weren’t you supposed to be preparing dinner?”
Merv retreated, still bowing. There was a lot of pride- swallowing going
on around here in the last few hours. Opal was unhappy with the level
of service and respect provided by the Brill brothers, and so she had drawn
up a list of rules. These directives included the aforementioned bowing,
never looking Opal in the eyes, going outside the shuttle to pass wind, and
not thinking too loudly within ten feet of their employer.
“Because I know what you are thinking,” Opal had said, in a low
tremulous voice. “I can see your thoughts swirling was around your head.
Right now, you’re marveling at how beautiful I am.”
“Uncanny,” gasped Merv, while traitorously wondering if there was a
cuckoo flitting about her head at that very moment. Opal was going seriously
off the rails with all this changing her species and world domination.
Scant and himself would have deserted her by now, if she hadn’t U promised
that they could have Barbados when she was Queen of the Earth. That
and the fact that if they deserted her now, Opal would add the Brill brothers
to her vengeance list.
Merv retreated to the kitchen and continued with his efforts to prepare
Miss Koboi’s food without actually touching it. Another new rule.
Meanwhile, Scant was in the cargo bay checking the detonator relays
on the last two shaped charges. One for the job, and one for backup. The
charges were about the size of melons, but would make a much bigger mess
if they exploded. He checked that the magnetic relay pods were secure on
the casings. The relays were standard mining sparker units that would accept
the signal from the remote detonator and send a neutron charge into
the bellies of the charges.
Scant winked at his brother through the kitchen doorway.
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Merv pursed his lips in silent imitation of a cuckoo. Scant nodded wearily.
They were both getting tired of Opal’s outrageous behavior.
Only the thought of drinking pina coladas on the beach in Barbados
kept them going.
Opal, oblivious to all the discontent in her camp, popped the video
disk into the multidrive. To watch one’s enemies die in glorious color and
surround sound was surely one of the greatest advantages of technology.
Several video windows opened on the screen. Each one represented the
view from one of the hemisphere’s cameras.
Opal watched delightedly as Holly and Artemis were driven into the
river by a pack of slobbering trolls. She oohed and aahed as they took refuge
on the tiny island of corpses. Her tiny heart beat faster as they scaled the
temple scaffolding. She was about to instruct Mervall to fetch her some
chocolate truffles from the booty box to go with the movie, when the cameras
blacked out.
“Mervall,” she squealed, wringing her delicate fingers. “Descant! Get in
here.”
The Brill brothers rushed into the lounge, handguns drawn.
“Yes, Miss Koboi?” said Scant, laying the shaped charges down on a
fur-covered lounger.
Opal covered her face. “Don’t look at me!” she ordered.
Scant lowered his eyes. “Sorry. No eye contact. I forgot.”
“And stop thinking that.”
“Yes, Miss Koboi. Sorry, Miss Koboi.” Scant had no idea what he was
supposed to be thinking, so he tried to blank out everything.
Opal crossed her arms and tapped her fingers on her forearms until
both brothers were bowed before her.
“Something has gone wrong,” she said, her voice trembling slightly.
“Our Temple of Artemis cameras seem to have malfunctioned.”
Merv backed the footage up to the last image.
In it the trolls were advancing on Artemis and Holly across the temple
roof.
“It looks like they were done for anyway, Miss Koboi.”
“Yep,” agreed Scant. “No way out of that one.”
Opal cleared her throat. “Firstly, yep is not a word, and I will not be
spoken to in slang.
New rule. Secondly, I assumed that Artemis Fowl was dead once before,
and I spent a year in a coma as a result. We must proceed as though
Fowl and Short have survived and are on our trail.”
“With respect, Miss Koboi,” said Merv, directing the words at his own
toes. “This is a stealth shuttle; we didn’t leave a trail.”
“Moron,” said Opal casually. “Our trail is on every television screen
aboveground, and doubtless below it. Even if Artemis Fowl were not a genius,
he would guess that I am behind the Zito probe.
We need to plant the final charge now. How deep is the probe?”
Scant consulted a computer readout. “One hundred miles. We have
ninety minutes to go to the optimum blast point.”
Opal paced the deck for a few moments. “We have not picked up any
communication with Police Plaza, so if they are alive they are alone.
Best not to risk it. We will plant the charge now and guard it. Descant,
check the casings again.
Mervall, run a system’s check on the shuttle.
I don’t want a single ion escaping through the hull.”
The pixie twins stepped backward, bowing as they went. They would
do as they were told, but surely the boss was being a bit paranoid.
“I heard that thought,” screeched Opal. “I am not paranoid!”
Merv stepped behind a steel partition to shield his brain waves. Had
Miss Koboi really intercepted the thought? Or was it just the paranoia
again? After all, paranoid people usually believe that everyone thinks they
are paranoid.
Merv poked his head out from behind the partition and beamed a
thought at Opal, just to be sure.
Holly Short is prettier than you, he thought as loudly as he could. A
treasonous thought, to be sure. One Opal could hardly fail to pick up on if
she could indeed read minds.
Opal stared at him. “Mervall?”
“Yes, Miss Koboi?”
“You’re looking directly at me. That’s very bad for my skin.”
“Sorry, Miss Koboi,” said Merv, averting his eyes. His eyes happened to
glance through the cockpit windshield, toward the mouth of the chute.
He was just in time to see an LEP shuttle rise through the holographic
rock outcrop that covered the shuttlebay door. “Em, Miss Koboi, we have a
problem.” He pointed out the windshield.
The shuttle had risen to thirty feet and was hovering above the Italian
landscape, obviously searching for something.
“They’ve found us,” said Opal in a horrified whisper. Then she quelled
her panic, quickly analyzing the situation.
“That is a transport shuttle, not a pursuit vehicle,” she noted, walking
quickly into the cockpit, closely followed by the twins. “We must assume
that Artemis Fowl and Captain Short are aboard. They have no weapons
and only basic scanners. In this poor light we are virtually invisible to the
naked eye.
They are blind.”
“Should we blast them from the skies?” asked the younger Brill brother
eagerly. At last some of the action he had been promised.
“No,” replied Opal. “A plasma burst would give our position to human
and fairy police satellites. We go silent. Turn off everything.
Even life support. I don’t know how they got this close, but the only
way they’re going to find out our exact location is to run into us. And if that
happens, their sad little shuttle will crumple like cardboard.”
The Brills obeyed promptly, switching off all of the shuttle’s systems.
“Good,” whispered Opal, placing a slim finger over her lips. They
watched the shuttle for several minutes until Opal decided to break the silence.
“Whoever is passing wind, please stop it, or I will devise a fitting punishment.”
“It wasn’t me,” mouthed the Brill brothers simultaneously. Neither was
anxious to find out what the fitting punishment for passing wind was.
E7, Ten Minutes Earlier
Holly eased the LEP shuttle through a particularly tricky secondary
shaft and into E7. Almost immediately two red lights began pulsing on the
console.
“The clock is ticking,” she announced. “We just triggered two of Foaly’s
sensors. They’re going to put the shuttle together with the probe and come
running.”
“How long?” asked Artemis.
Holly calculated in her head. “If they come supersonic in the attack
shuttle, less than half an hour.”
“Perfect,” said Artemis, pleased.
“I’m glad you think so,” moaned Mulch.
“Supersonic LEP officers are never a welcome sight among burglars. As
a general rule we prefer our police officers subsonic.”
Holly clamped the shuttle to a rocky outcrop on the chute wall. “Are
you backing out, Mulch?
Or is just the usual moaning?”
The dwarf rotated his jaw, warming it up for the work ahead. “I think
I’m entitled to a little moan.
Why do these plans always involve me putting myself in harm’s way,
while you three get to wait it out in the shuttle?”
Artemis handed him a cooler sack from the galley. “Because you are
the only one who can do this, Mulch. You alone can foil Koboi’s plan.”
Mulch was not impressed. “I’m not impressed,” he said. “I’d better get a
medal for this. Real gold, too. No more gold-plated computer disks.”
Holly hustled him to the starboard hatch.
“Mulch, if they don’t lock me in prison for the rest of my life, I will
start the campaign to give you the biggest medal in the LEP cabinet.”
“And amnesty for any past and future crimes?”
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Holly opened the hatch. “Past, maybe. Future, not a chance. But no
guarantees. I’m not exactly flavor of the month at Police Plaza.”
Mulch tucked the sack inside his shirt.
“Okay. Possible big medal and probable amnesty. I’ll take it.” He put
one foot outside onto the flat surface of the rock.
Tunnel wind sucked at his leg, threatening to tumble him into the
abyss. “We meet back here in twenty minutes.”
Artemis handed the dwarf a small walkie-talkie from the LEP locker.
“Remember the plan,” shouted Artemis over the roar of the wind.
“Don’t forget to leave the communicator. Only steal what you are supposed
to. Nothing else.”
“Nothing else,” echoed Mulch, looking none too pleased. After all, who
knew what valuables Opal may have lying about up there. “Unless something
really jumps out at me.”
“Nothing,” insisted Artemis. “Now, are you sure you can get in?”
Mulch’s grin revealed rows of rectangular teeth. “I can get in. You just
make sure their power is off and they’re looking the other way.”
Butler hefted the bag of tricks that he had brought with him from
Fowl Manor. “Don’t worry, Mulch. They’ll be looking the other way. I guarantee
it.”
Police Plaza, The Lower Elements All the brass were in the Operations
Room, watching live television updates on the probe’s progress when Foaly
burst in.
“We need to talk,” blurted the centaur to the general assembly.
“Quiet,” hissed Council Chairman Cahartez. “Have a bowl of curry.”
Chairman Cahartez ran a fleet of curry vans in Haven City. Vole curry
was his specialty. Obviously he was catering this little viewing session.
Foaly ignored the buffet table. He snatched a remote control from a
chair armrest and muted the master volume.
“We have big trouble, ladies and gentlemen.
Opal Koboi is loose, and I think she’s behind the Zito probe.”
A high-back swivel chair swung around. Ark Sool was lounging in it.
“Opal Koboi? Amazing. And she’s doing all this psychically, I suppose.”
“No. What are you doing in that chair? That’s the commander’s chair.
The real commander, not Internal Affairs.”
Sool tapped the golden acorns on his lapel.
“I’ve been promoted.”
Foaly blanched. “You’re the new Recon commander?”
Sool’s smile could have illuminated a dark room. “Yes. The Council
felt that Recon had been getting a bit out of hand lately. They felt, and I
must say I agree, that Recon needs a firm hand. Of course I will stay on at
Internal Affairs until a suitable replacement can be found.”
Foaly scowled. There was no time for this. Not now.
He had to get clearance for a supersonic launch immediately.
152
“Okay, Sool, Commander. I can lodge my objection later. Right now
we have an emergency on our hands.”
Everyone was listening now. But none with much enthusiasm, except
Commander Vinyaya who had always been a staunch supporter of Julius
Root, and would certainly have not voted for Sool.
Vinyaya was all ears.
“What’s the emergency, Foaly?” she asked.
Foaly slipped a computer disk into the room’s multidrive. “That thing
in the Argon Clinic is not Opal Koboi; it’s a clone.”
“Evidence?” demanded Sool.
Foaly highlighted a window on the screen. “I scanned her retinas and
found that the last image the clone saw was Opal Koboi herself. Obviously
during her escape.”
Sool was not convinced. “I’ve never trusted your gadgets, Foaly. Your
Retimager is not accepted as actual evidence in a courtroom.”
“We’re not in a courtroom, Sool,” said Foaly through ground teeth. “If
we accept that Opal could be loose, then the events of the past twenty-four
hours take on a whole new significance. A pattern begins to emerge. Scalene
is dead, pixies are missing from the clinic, Julius is murdered, and Holly is
blamed. Then within hours of this a probe is sent down a decade ahead of
schedule. Koboi is behind all of this. That probe is on its way here and
we’re sitting around watching it on PPTV… eating stinking vole curry!”
“I object to the disparaging curry remark,” said Cahartez, wounded.
“But otherwise I get your point.”
Sool jumped from his chair. “What point?
Foaly is connecting dots that don’t exist. All he is trying to do is exonerate
his late friend, Captain Short.”
“Holly may be alive!” snapped Foaly.
“And trying to do something about Opal Koboi.”
Sool rolled his eyes. “But her vitals flatlined, centaur. We remotedestructed
her helmet. I was there, remember?”
A head poked into the room. One of Foaly’s lab apprentices. “I got that
case, sir,” he panted. “Quick as I could.”
“Well done, Roob,” said Foaly, snatching the case from the apprentice’s
hand. He spun the case around. “I issued Holly and Julius with new suits.
Prototypes. They both have bio-sensors and trackers. They are not linked
with the LEP mainframe. I never thought to check them earlier. Holly’s
helmet may be out of action, but her suit is still functioning.”
“What do the suit’s sensors tell us, Foaly?” asked Vinyaya.
Foaly was almost afraid to look. If the suit sensors were flatlining, it
would be like losing Holly again. He counted to three, then consulted the
small screen in the case. There were two readouts on the screen. One was
flat. Julius. But the other was active in all areas.
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“Holly is alive!” shouted the centaur, kissing Commander Vinyaya
soundly on the cheek.
“Alive and reasonably well, apart from elevated blood pressure and
next to zero magic in her tank.”
“And where is she?” asked Vinyaya, smiling.
Foaly enlarged the locator section of the screen.
“On her way up E7, in the shuttle that was stolen by Mulch Diggums,
if I’m not mistaken.”
Sool was delighted. “Let me get this straight. Murder suspect Holly
Short is in a stolen chute next to the Zito probe.”
“That’s right.”
“That would make her the prime suspect in any irregularities concerning
the probe.”
Foaly was very tempted to actually trample Sool, but he held his temper
in check, for Holly’s sake. “All I’m asking, Sool, is that you give me a
green light to send the supersonic shuttle to investigate. If I’m right, then
your first act as Commander will be to avert a calamity.”
“And if you’re wrong? Which you probably are.”
“If I’m wrong, then you get to bring in public enemy number one,
Captain Holly Short.”
Sool stroked his goatee. It was a win-win situation. “Very well. Send
the shuttle. How long will it take to prep?”
Foaly pulled a phone from his pocket and hit a number on the speed
dial.
“Major Kelp,” he said into the mouthpiece.
“Green light. G.” Foaly smiled at Ark Sool. “I briefed Major Kelp on
my way over. I felt sure you’d see it my way.
Commanders generally do.”
Sool scowled. “Don’t get familiar with me, ponyboy. This is not the
start of a beautiful relationship. I’m sending the shuttle because it is the only
option. If you are somehow manipulating me, or bending the truth, I will
bury you in tribunal hearings for the next five years. Then I will fire you.”
Foaly ignored him. There would be plenty of time for trading threats
later. He needed to concentrate on the shuttle’s progress. He had gone
through the shock of Holly’s death once before; he did not intend to go
through it again.
E7
Mulch Diggums could have been an athlete. He had the jaw and recycling
equipment for sprint digging, or even cross-country. Plenty of natural
ability, but no dedication.
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He tried it for a couple of months in college, but the strict regime of
training and diet did not suit him. Mulch could still remember his college
tunneling coach giving him a pep talk after training one night.
“You got the jaw, Diggums,” the old dwarf admitted. “And you sure
got the behind. I ain’t never seen no one who could pump out the bubbles
like you do. But you ain’t got the heart, and that’s what’s important.”
Maybe the old dwarf was right: Mulch never did have the heart for
selfless activity. Tunneling was a lonely job, and there wasn’t much money
in it either.
And because it was an ethnic sport, the TV networks were not interested.
No advertising meant no big pay deals for the athletes. Mulch decided
his digging prowess could be more profitably utilized on the shady side of
the law. Maybe if he had some gold, then female dwarfs would be more
likely to return his calls.
And now here he was, breaking all his rules, preparing to break into a
craft that was bristling with fairy sensors and occupied by armed hostiles.
Just to help someone else.
Of all the vehicles on the planet or under it, Artemis just had to get
into the most technologically advanced shuttle in existence. Every square
inch of the stealth shuttle’s plating would be alarmed with lasers, motion
sensors, static sheets, and who knew what else. Still, alarms were no good if
they weren’t activated, and that was what Mulch was counting on.
Mulch waved good-bye in the general direction of the shuttle, just in
case anyone was still watching him, and traversed the rocky outcrop to the
safety of the chute wall. Dwarfs do not like heights, and being technically
below sea level was not helping his vertigo.
The dwarf sank his fingers into a vein of soft clay sprouting through
the rock wall. Home. Anywhere on earth was home to a dwarf, as long as
there was clay. Mulch felt calm settle over him. He was safe now, for the
time being, at any rate.
The dwarf unhinged his jaw with twin cracks that would make any
other sentient species wince. He popped the snaps on his bum-flap and
launched himself into the clay. His gnashing teeth scooped buckets of clay
from the chute wall, creating an instant tunnel. Mulch crawled into the
space, sealing the cavity behind him with recycled clay from his rear end.
After half a dozen mouthfuls, the sonar filaments in his hair detected a
shelf of rock ahead, so he adjusted his course accordingly. The stealth shuttle
would not be set down on rock because it was top of the range, and as
such would have a battery rod. The rods telescoped from the belly of the
ship, drilling fifty feet below the ground and recharging the shuttle’s batteries
with the power of the earth. The cleanest of energies.
The battery rod vibrated slightly as it harvested, and it was this vibration
that Mulch homed in on now. It took him just over five minutes of
steady munching to clear the rock shelf and reach the tip of the battery rod.
155
The vibrations had already loosened the earth, and it was a simple matter
for Mulch to clear himself a little cave. He spread saliva on the walls and
waited.
Holly piloted the LEP craft through the small shuttleport, overriding
the shuttle doors with her Recon access code. Police Plaza hadn’t bothered
to change her code, because as far as they were concerned, she was dead.
A sheet of black rain clouds was spreading shadows across the Italian
countryside as they cleared the holographic outcrop that shielded the shuttleport.
A light frost coated the reddish clay, and a southerly wind lifted the
shuttle’s tail.
“We can’t stay out here for long,” said Holly, throttling back to a hover.
“This transporter doesn’t have defenses.”
“We won’t need long,” said Artemis. “Fly in a grid search pattern, as
though we’re not certain where exactly the stealth shuttle is.”
Holly punched some coordinates into the flight computer. “You’re the
genius.”
Artemis turned to Butler, who was cross-legged in the aisle. “Now, old
friend, can you make certain that Opal is looking this way?”
“Can do,” said Butler, crawling to the port side exit. He knuckled the
access button and the door slid back. The shuttle bucked slightly as the
cabin pressure equalized then settled.
Butler opened his bag of weaponry and selected a handful of metal
spheres, roughly the size of tennis balls. He flicked back the safety cap on
one, then depressed the button below with his thumb. The button began to
rise to its original position.
“Ten seconds until the button is flush with the surface. Then it makes
a connection.”
“Thank you for the lecture,” said Artemis dryly. “Though now is hardly
the time.”
Butler smiled, tossing the metal sphere into the air. Five seconds later
it exploded, blowing a small crater in the earth below. Scorch lines emanated
from the crater, giving it the appearance of a black flower.
“I bet Opal is looking now,” said Butler, priming the next grenade.
“I’m sure others will be looking soon.
Explosions don’t tend to go unnoticed for long.
We are relatively isolated here. The nearest village is approximately
ten miles away. If we are lucky, that gives us a ten-minute window. Next
grid square, please, Holly. But not too close; we don’t want to scare them
off.”
Fifty feet below the ground, Mulch Diggums waited in his little DIY
cave, watching the tip of the battery rod. As soon as it stopped vibrating, he
began working his way upward through the loose clay. The telescopic rod
was warm to the touch, heated by the energy it conducted to the shuttle’s
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batteries. Mulch used it to help him on his journey, pulling himself upward,
hand over hand.
The clay he consumed was broken and aerated from the rod’s drilling
action, and Mulch was glad for that extra air. He converted it to wind, using
it to boost himself upward.
Mulch increased his pace, pumping the air and clay through his recycling
passages. Opal would only be distracted by the shuttle for so long before
it occurred to her that it was a diversion. The rod thickened as he went
along, until he arrived at a rubber seal in the belly of the shuttle itself,
which was raised on three retractable legs two feet off the ground.
When the shuttle was in flight, this seal would be covered by a metal
panel; but the shuttle was not in flight at the moment, and the sensors were
turned off.
Mulch climbed from his tunnel and rehinged his jaw.
This was precision work and he needed fine control of his teeth. Rubber
was not a recommended part of a dwarf’s diet, and so could not be
swallowed. Half-digested rubber could seal up his insides as effectively as a
barrel of glue.
It was an awkward bite. Difficult to get a grip. Mulch flattened his
cheek against the battery rod, worming upward until his incisors could get
some purchase on the seal. He bore down on the heavy rubber, rotating his
jaw in small circles until his upper tooth broke through. Then he ground his
teeth, enlarging the rent until there was a six-inch tear in the rubber. Now
Mulch could get one side of his mouth into the gap. He tore off large
chunks, careful to spit them out immediately.
In less than a minute Mulch had torn a foot-square hole. Just enough
for him to squeeze through.
Anyone unfamiliar with dwarfs would have bet money that Mulch
would never squeeze his well-fed bulk through such a narrow aperture, but
they would have lost their cash.
Dwarfs have spent millennia escaping from cave-ins, and have developed
the ability to squeeze through tighter holes than this one.
Mulch sucked in his gut and wiggled through the torn seal, headfirst.
He was glad to be out of the faint, morning sunlight. Sun was another thing
dwarfs did not like. After mere minutes in direct sunlight, a dwarf’s skin
would be redder than a boiled lobster’s. He shinned along the battery rod
into the shuttle’s engine compartment. Most of the small space was taken
up with flat batteries and a hydrogen generator. There was an access hatch
overhead that led into the cargo bay. Light ropes ran the length of the compartment,
giving off pale green light. Any radiation leak from the generator
would show up purple.
The reason that the light ropes were still working without power was
that illumination was supplied by specially cultivated decaying algae. Not
that Mulch knew any of this; he just knew that the light was very similar to
157
the luminescence from dwarf spittle, and the familiarity made him relax.
He relaxed a bit too much, as it happened, allowing a small squib of tunnel
gas to escape through his bum-flap. Hopefully nobody would notice that…
Maybe half a minute later, he heard Opal’s voice from outside.
“Now, whoever is passing wind, please stop it, or I will devise a fitting
punishment.”
Oops, thought Mulch guiltily. In dwarf circles it is considered almost
criminal to allow someone else to be blamed for your air bubbles. Through
sheer force of habit, Mulch almost raised his hand and confessed, but luckily
his instinct for self-preservation was stronger than his conscience.
Moments later the signal came. It was hard to miss. The explosion
rocked the entire shuttle twenty degrees off center. It was time to make his
move and trust Artemis when he said that it was almost impossible not to
watch an explosion.
Mulch nudged the hatch open a crack with the crown of his head. The
dwarf half expected someone to stamp on the hatch, but the cargo bay was
empty. Mulch folded the hatch back and crept all the way into the small
chamber. There was a lot here to interest him.
Crates of ingots, Perspex boxes of human currency, and antique jewelry
hanging from mannequins. Obviously Opal did not intend on being
poor in her new role as a human. Mulch snagged a single diamond earring
from a nearby bust. So Artemis had told him not to take anything. So what?
One earring wouldn’t slow him down.
Mulch popped the pigeon’s egg-size diamond into his mouth and swallowed.
He could pass that later when he was on his own. Until then it could
lodge in his stomach wall, and it would come out shinier than it went in.
Another explosion bucked the floor beneath his feet, reminding Mulch
to move on. He crossed to the bay door, which was slightly ajar. The next
chamber was the passenger area, and it was just as plush as Holly had described.
Mulch’s lips rippled at the sight of fur-covered chairs. Repulsive.
Beyond the passenger area was the cockpit. Opal and her two friends
were clearly visible, staring intently out of the front windshield. They were
making not a sound, and saying not a word. Just as Artemis had said.
Mulch dropped to his knees and crawled across the lounge’s carpet. He
was now completely exposed.
If one of the pixies decided to turn around, he would be stranded in
the center of the lounge with nothing but a smile to hide behind.
Just keep going and don’t think about that, Mulch told himself.
If Opal catches you, pretend you’re lost or have amnesia, or just came
out of a coma. Maybe she’ll sympathize, give you some gold, and send you
on your way. Yeah, right.
Something creaked slightly beneath Mulch’s knee.
The dwarf froze, but the pixies didn’t react to the sound. Presumably
that was the lid of the booty box.
158
Opal’s little hidey hole. Mulch crawled around the box. If there was
one thing he didn’t need, it was more creaks.
Two shaped charges lay on a chair, level with Mulch’s nose. He
couldn’t believe it. Right there, less than a yard away. This was the one part
of the plan that relied on luck. If one of the Brill brothers had the charge
tucked under his arm or if there were more charges than he could carry,
then they would have to ram the shuttle and hope to disable her. But here
it was, almost begging to be stolen.
When he was committing a robbery, Mulch often gave voices to the
objects he was about to steal. This, he knew, would sound a little crazy to
the rest of the world, but he spent a lot of time on his own and he needed
someone to talk to.
Come on, Mister Handsome Dwarf, said one of the charges in a
breathy falsetto.
I’m waiting. I don’t like it here you know. Please rescue me.
Very well, Madame, said Mulch silently, taking the bag from inside his
shirt.
I’ll take you, but we’re not going very Jar.
Me, too, said the other charge. still want to go, too.
Don’t worry, ladies. Where you’re going, there’s plenty of room for
both of you.
When Mulch Diggums crept out through the torn seal a minute later,
the charges were no longer on the chair. In their place was a small handheld
communicator.
The three pixies sat quietly in the stealth shuttle’s cockpit One was
concentrating on the transport craft hovering two hundred yards off their
bows. The other two were concentrating on not passing wind, and not
thinking about not passing wind.
The transport shuttle’s side entrance opened, and something winked in
the morning light as it tumbled earthward. Seconds later the something exploded,
rocking the stealth shuttle on its suspension bags.
The Brill brothers gasped, and Opal cuffed them both on the ear.
Opal was not worried. They were searching. Shooting in the dark, or
very close to it. Maybe in thirty minutes there would be enough light to see
the ship with the naked eye, but until then they were blending very nicely
with the surrounding countryside, thanks to a hull made from stealth ore
and cam-foil. Fowl must have guessed where they were because of this
chute’s proximity to the probe. But all he had was an approximation. Of
course it would be delightful to blast them out of the air, but plasma bursts
would light up Foaly’s satellite scanners and paint a bull’s- eye on their hull.
She plucked a digi-pad and pen from the dash and scrawled a message
on it.
Stay quiet and calm. Even if one of those charges hits us, it will not
penetrate the hull.
159
Mervall took the pad.
Maybe we should leave. Mud Men will be coming.
Opal wrote a response.
Dear Mervall, please don’t start thinking; you will hurt your head. We
wait until they leave. At this close range, they could actually hear our engines
starting.
Another explosion rocked the stealth shuttle.
Opal felt a bead of sweat roll down her forehead. This was ridiculous:
she didn’t perspire, certainly not in front of the help. In five minutes the
humans would come to investigate.
It was their nature. So she would wait five minutes, then try to slip
past the LEP shuttle, and if she couldn’t slip past, then she would blast
them out of the sky and take her chances with the supersonic shuttle that
would no doubt come to investigate.
More grenades dropped from the LEP craft, but they were farther
away now, and the shock waves barely caused a shudder in the stealth shuttle.
This went on for two or three minutes without the remotest danger to
Opal or the Brills, then suddenly the transport shuttle sealed its door and
peeled off back down the chute.
“Hmm,” said Opal. “Surprising.”
“Maybe they ran out of ammunition,” offered Merv, though he knew
that Opal would punish him for offering an opinion.
“Is that what you think, Mervall? They ran out of explosives and so
they decided just to let us go? Do you really imagine that to be true, you
imbecilic excuse for a sentient being? Don’t you have any frontal lobes?”
“I was just playing devil’s advocate,” mumbled Merv weakly.
Opal rose from her seat, waving a hand at each Brill brother. “Just shut
up. I need to talk to myself for a minute.” She paced the narrow cockpit.
“What’s going on here? They track us to the chute, then put on a big
fireworks display, then leave.
Just like that. Why? Why?”
She rubbed both temples with a knuckle.
“Think.” Suddenly Opal remembered something.
“Last night. A shuttle was stolen in E1. We heard about it on the police
band. Who stole it?”
Scant shrugged. “I dunno. Some dwarf. Is it important?”
“That’s right. A dwarf. And wasn’t there a dwarf involved in the Artemis
Fowl siege? And weren’t there rumors of the same dwarf helping Julius
to break into Koboi labs?”
“Rumors. No actual evidence.”
Opal turned on Scant. “Maybe that’s because, unlike you, this dwarf is
smart. Maybe he doesn’t want to be caught.” The pixie took a moment to
connect the dots. “So they have a dwarf burglar, a shuttle, and explosives.
160
Holly must know that those pathetic grenades can’t penetrate our hull, so
why drop them? Unless…”
The truth hit her like a physical blow in the stomach. “Oh no,” she
gasped. “Distraction.
We sat here like fools watching the pretty lights.
And all the time…”
She heaved Scant aside, rushing past him to the lounge.
“The charges,” she shrieked. “Where are they?”
Scant went straight to the chair. “Don’t worry, Miss Koboi, they’re
right-was He stopped, the sentence’s final word stuck in his throat.
“I, ah, they were right there. In the chair.”
Opal picked up the small handheld radio.
“They’re toying with me. Tell me you put the backup somewhere
safe.”
“No,” said Scant miserably. “They were together.”
Merv pushed past him into the cargo bay. “The engine compartment is
open.” He stuck his head through the hatch. His voice wafted up, muffled
by the floor panels. “The battery rod seal has been ripped apart. And there
are footprints. Someone came through here.”
Opal threw back her head and screamed. She held it for a long time for
such a small individual.
Finally her breath ran out. “Follow the shuttle,” she gasped when her
wind returned. “I modified those charges myself and they cannot be disarmed.
We can still detonate. At the very least we will destroy my enemies.”
“Yes, Miss Koboi,” said Merv and Scant together.
“Don’t look at me,” howled Opal.
The Brill brothers fled to the cockpit, trying to simultaneously bow,
look at their feet, not think anything dangerous, and above all, not pass
wind.
Mulch was waiting at the rendezvous site when the LEP shuttle arrived.
Butler opened the door and hauled the dwarf in by the collar.
“Did you get it?” asked Artemis anxiously.
Mulch passed him the bulging bag. “Right here.
And before you ask, I left the radio.”
“So everything went according to plan?”
“Completely,” replied Mulch, neglecting to mention the diamond nestled
in his stomach wall.
“Excellent,” said Artemis, striding past the dwarf to the cockpit.
“Go,” he shouted, thumping Holly’s headrest.
Holly already had the shuttle ticking over, and was holding it with the
brake.
“We’re gone,” she said, releasing the brake and flooring the throttle.
The LEP craft bolted from the rocky outcrop like a pebble from a catapult.
Artemis’s legs were dragged from the floor, flapping behind him like
windsocks. The rest of him would have followed if he hadn’t held on to the
headrest.
“How much time do we have?” asked Holly, through lips rippled by
G-force.
Artemis pulled himself into the passenger seat.
“Minutes. The orebody will hit a depth of one hundred and five miles
in precisely one quarter of an hour. Opal will be after us any second.”
Holly shadowed the chute wall, spinning between two towers of rock.
The lower portion of E7 was quite straight, but this stretch corkscrewed
through the crust, following the cracks in the plates.
“Is this going to work, Artemis?” said Holly.
Artemis pondered the question. “I considered eight plans, and this was
the best one. Even so, we have a sixty- four percent chance of success. The
key is to keep Opal distracted so she doesn’t discover the truth. That’s up to
you, Holly. Can you do it?”
Holly wrapped her fingers around the wheel.
“Don’t worry. It’s not often I get a chance to do some fancy flying.
Opal will be so busy trying to catch us that she won’t have time to consider
anything else.”
Artemis looked out of the windshield. They were pointing straight
down toward the center of the earth.
Gravity fluctuated at this depth and speed, so they were alternately
pinned to their chairs and straining to be free of their seat belts. The chute’s
blackness enveloped them like tar, except for the cone of light from the
shuttle’s headlamps. Gigantic rock formations darted in and out of the cone
heading straight for their nose. Somehow Holly steered them through,
without once tapping the brake.
On the plasma dash, the icon representing the gaseous anomaly that
was Opal’s ship inched across the screen.
“They’re on to us,” said Holly, catching the movement from the corner
of one eye.
Artemis’s stomach was knotted from flight nausea anxiety, fatigue, and
exhilaration. “Very well,” he said, almost to himself. “The chase is on.”
At the mouth of E7, Merv was at the wheel of the stealth shuttle.
Scant was on instruments, and Opal was in charge of giving orders and general
ranting.
“Do we have a signal from the charge?” she screeched from her chair.
Her voice is really getting annoying, thought Scant, but not too loudly.
“No,” he replied.
“Nothing. Which means it must be in the other shuttle.
Their shields must be blocking the charge’s signal.
We need to get closer, or I could send the detonation signal anyway;
we might get lucky.”
162
Opal’s screech grew more strident. “No!
We must not detonate before that shuttle reaches one hundred and
five miles. If we do, the orebody will not change course. What about this
stupid communicator? Anything from that?”
“Negative,” said Scant. “If there’s another one, it must be switched off.”
“We could always return to Zito’s compound,” said Merv. “We have a
dozen more charges there.”
Opal leaned forward in her seat, punching Merv’s shoulders with her
tiny fists. “Idiot. Moron.
Half-wit. Are you in some kind of stupidity competition? Is that it? If
we return to Zito’s, the orebody will be too deep by the time we return.
Not to mention the fact that Captain Short will present the LEP with her
version of events and they will have to investigate, at the very least. We
must get closer and we must detonate. Even if we miss the probe window,
at least we destroy any witnesses against me.”
The stealth shuttle had proximity sensors linked into the navigating
software, which meant that Opal and company did not have to worry about
colliding with the chute wall or stalactites.
“How long before we’re in detonation range?”
Opal barked. To be honest, it was more of a yip.
Merv did some quick calculations. “Three minutes. No more.”
“How deep will they be at that point?”
A few more sums. “One hundred and fifty-five miles.”
Opal pinched her nose. “It could work.
Presuming they have both charges, the resulting explosion, even if not
directed as we planned, may be enough to blow a crack in the wall. It’s our
only option. If it fails, at least we have time to regroup. As soon as they hit
one hundred and five, send the detonate signal. Send it continuously. We
may get lucky.”
Merv flipped a plastic safety cover off the DETONATE button. Only
minutes to go.
Artemis’s insides were trying to force their way out his throat. “This
heap needs new gyroscopes,” he said.
Holly barely nodded, too busy concentrating on a particularly tricky
series of jinks and loops in the chute.
Artemis consulted the dashboard’s readout.
“We’
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“We’re at a depth of one hundred and five now.
Opal will be trying to detonate. She’s closing fast.”
Mulch stuck his head through from the passenger section.
“Is all this jiggling about really necessary? I’ve had a lot to eat recently.”
“Nearly there,” said Artemis. “The ride is just about over. Tell Butler to
open the bag.”
“Okay. Are you sure Opal will do what she’s supposed to?”
163
Artemis smiled reassuringly. “Of course I am. It’s human nature, and
Opal is a human now, remember? Now, Holly. Pull over.”
Mervall tapped the readout. “You’re not going to believe this, Op…
Miss Koboi.”
The merest hint of a smile flickered across Opal’s lips. “Don’t tell me.
They have stopped.”
Merv shook his head, astounded. “Yes, they are hovering at one hundred
and twenty-five. Why would they do that?”
“There’s no point trying to explain it, Mervall. Just keep sending the
detonation signal, but slow us down. I don’t want to be too close when we
get a connection.”
She drummed her nails on the handheld communicator left behind by
the dwarf. Any second now.
A red call light flashed on the communicator, accompanied by a slight
vibration. Opal smiled, flipping open the walkie-talkie’s screen.
Artemis’s pale face filled the tiny screen.
He was trying to smile, but it was obviously forced.
“Opal, I am giving you one chance to surrender.
We have disarmed your charges and the LEP is on its way. It would be
better for you to turn yourself over to Captain Short than shoot it out with
an armed LEP ship.”
Opal clapped her hands. “Bravo, Master Fowl, what a wonderful fiction.
Now, why don’t I tell you the real truth. You have realized that the
charges cannot be disarmed. The mere fact that I can receive your communication’s
signal means that my detonation signal will soon penetrate your
shields. You cannot simply jettison the explosives, or I will set them off in
the chute, exactly as I had originally planned. Then I will simply fire a few
heat seekers at your craft. And if you attempt further flight, then I will follow
and penetrate your shields before you clear the parallel stretch. You are
not in communication with the LEP. If you were, we would have picked up
your broadcast. So your only alternative is this pathetic bluff. And it is pathetic.
You are obviously attempting to stall me until the orebody passes
your depth.”
“So you refuse to surrender?”
Opal pretended to think about it, tapping her chin with a manicured
nail. “Why, yes. I think I will fight on, against all odds. And by the way,
please don’t look directly at the screen: it’s bad for my skin.”
Artemis sighed dramatically. “Well, if we have to go, at least we’ll go
on full stomachs.”
This was an unusually cavalier comment to make with seconds to live,
even for a human. “Full stomachs?”
“Yes,” said Artemis. “Mulch took something else from your shuttle.”
He picked up a small chocolate-covered ball and wiggled it before the
screen.
164
“My truffles?” gasped Opal. “You took them. That’s just mean.”
Artemis popped the treat into his mouth and chewed slowly. “They
really are divine. I can see why you missed them in the institute. We’re
really going to have to work hard to eat all we took before you blow us to
smithereens.”
Opal hissed, catlike. “Killing you will be so easy.” She turned to Merv.
“Do we have a signal yet?”
“Nothing, Miss Koboi. But soon. If we have communications, it can’t
be long now.”
Holly squeezed her head into the viewfinder. One cheek was swollen
with truffles.
“They really melt in the mouth, Opal. The condemned crew’s final
meal.”
Opal actually poked the screen with her nail.
“You survived twice, Short. You won’t do it again, I guarantee it.”
Holly laughed. “You should see Mulch. He’s shoveling those truffles
down his gullet.”
Opal was livid. “Any signal?” Even now, with certain I destruction only
moments away, they were still mocking her.
“Not yet. Soon.”
“Keep trying. Keep your finger on that button.”
Opal unstrapped herself and strode through to the lounge. The dwarf
couldn’t have carried all the truffles and the explosives. Surely not. She had
been so looking forward to a handful of the heavenly chocolate once Haven
was destroyed.
She knelt on the carpet, worming her hand underneath the seam to the
hidden catch. It popped beneath her fingers, and the booty box’s lid slid up
and back.
There was not a single truffle left in the box.
Instead there were two shaped charges. For a moment Opal could not
understand what she was seeing. Then it became terrifyingly clear. Artemis
had not stolen the charges; he had simply told the dwarf to move them.
Once in the booty box they could not be detected or detonated, as long as
the lid was sealed. She had opened the box herself. Artemis had goaded her
into sealing her own fate.
The blood drained from Opal’s face.
“Mervall,” she screamed. “The detonation signal!”
“Don’t worry, Miss Koboi,” the pixie shouted from the cockpit. “We
just got contact.
Nothing can stop it now.”
Green countdown clocks activated on both charges and began counting
back from twenty. A standard mining fuse.
Opal lurched into the cockpit. She had been tricked.
165
Duped. Now the charges would detonate uselessly at seventy-five
miles, well above the parallel stretch. Of course her own shuttle would be
destroyed and she would be left stranded, ready to be scooped up by the
LEP. At least that was the theory.
But Opal Koboi never left herself without options.
She strapped herself into a seat in the cockpit.
“I advise you to strap in,” she said curtly to the Brill brothers. “You
have failed me. Enjoy prison.”
Merv and Scant barely had time to buckle up before Opal activated
the ejector gel-pods under their seats. They were immediately immersed in
a bubble of amber impact-gel and ejected through panels that had opened
in the hull.
The impact-gel bubbles had no power source and relied on the initial
gas propulsion to get them out of harm’s way. The gel was fireproof, blast
resistant, and contained enough oxygen for thirty minutes of shallow
breathing. Merv and Scant were catapulted through black space until they
came into contact with the chute wall. The gel stuck to the rocky surface,
leaving the Brill brothers stranded thousands of miles from home.
Opal, meanwhile, was rapidly keying codes into the shuttle’s computer.
She had less than ten seconds left to complete her final act of aggression.
Artemis Fowl may have beaten her this time, but he wouldn’t live to
gloat about it.
Opal expertly activated and launched two heat-seeking plasma rockets
from the nose tubes, then launched her own escape pod. No plasma-gel for
Opal Koboi. She had, of course, included a luxury pod in the ship’s design.
Just one, though; no need for the help to travel in comfort. In fact, Opal
didn’t care much what happened to the Brill brothers, one way or the other.
They were of no further use to her.
She opened the throttles wide, ignoring safety regulations. After all,
who cared if she scorched the shuttle’s hull. It was about to get a lot more
than just scorched. The pod streaked toward the surface at over five hundred
miles per hour.
Pretty fast, but not fast enough to completely escape the shock wave
from the two shaped charges.
The stealth shuttle exploded in a flash of multicolored light. Holly
pulled the LEP shuttle close to the wall to avoid falling debris. After the
shock waves had passed, the shuttle’s occupants waited in silence for the
computer to run a scan on the stretch of chute above them. Eventually
three red dots appeared on the 3-D representation of the chute. Two were
static, the other was moving rapidly toward the surface.
“They made it,” sighed Artemis. “I have no doubt that the moving dot
is Opal. We should pick her up.”
“We should,” said Holly, not looking as happy as one would expect.
“But we won’t.”
166
Artemis picked up on Holly’s tone. “Why not? What’s wrong?”
“That’s wrong,” said Holly, pointing to the screen. Two more dots had
appeared on the screen and were moving toward them at extreme speed.
The computer identified the dots as missiles, and quickly ran a match in its
database.
“Heat-seeking plasma rockets. Locked on to our engines.”
Mulch shook his head. “That Koboi is a bitter little pixie. She couldn’t
let it go.”
Artemis stared at the screen as if he could destroy the missiles through
concentration. “I should have anticipated this.”
Butler poked his massive head past his charge’s shoulders. “Do you
have any hot waffle to draw the missiles away?”
“This is a transport shuttle,” replied Holly. “We were lucky to have
shields.”
“The missiles are coming after our heat signature?”
“Yes,” said Holly, hoping there was an idea on the way.
“Is there any way to significantly alter that signature?”
An option occurred to Holly then. It was so extreme that she didn’t
bother running it past the shuttle’s other occupants.
“There is one way,” she said, and turned off the engines.
The shuttle dropped like a rock through the chute.
Holly tried to maneuver using the flaps, but without propulsion it was
like trying to steer an anchor.
There was no time for fear or panic. There was only time to hang on
to something and try to keep her last meal inside her body.
Holly gritted her teeth, swallowing the panic that was trying to claw
its way out, and fought the steering wheel. If she could keep the flaps centered,
then they shouldn’t collide with the chute walls.
At least this way, they had a chance.
She flicked her eyes toward the readouts. The core temperature was
dropping, but would it be quickly enough? This section of the chute was
reasonably straight, but there was a kink coming up in thirty-one miles, and
they would crash into it like a fly hitting an elephant.
Butler crawled upward toward the rear of the ship.
On the way he snagged two fire extinguishers and popped their pins.
He tossed the extinguishers into the engine room and closed the door.
Through the hatch, he could see the extinguishers cartwheeling, covering
the engine with freezing foam.
The engine temperature dropped another notch.
The missiles were closer now, and gaining.
Holly opened all the vents wide, flooding the shuttle with cool air.
Another notch toward green on the temperature readout.
“Come on,” she said through rippling lips. “A few more degrees.”
They hurtled down and down, spinning into blackness.
167
Little by little the ship was drifting to starboard. Soon it would smash
into the kink that rose to meet them.
Holly’s finger hovered over the ignition. She would wait until the last
possible moment.
The engines cooled even further. They were efficient energy-saving
units. When they were not in use, they quickly funneled excess heat to the
life-support batteries. But still the missiles held their course.
The kink in the chute wall appeared in their headlights. It was bigger
than an average mountain and composed of hard, unforgiving rock. If the
shuttle crashed, it would crumple like a tin can.
Artemis squeezed words from between his lips. “Not working. Engines.”
“Wait,” Holly replied.
The flaps were vibrating now, and the shuttle went into a tumble.
They could see the heat seekers roaring up behind them, then in front of
them, then behind them again.
They were close to the rock now. Too close.
If Holly delayed even one more second, she would not have sufficient
room to maneuver. She punched the ignition, veering to port at the last millisecond.
The bow plates sent up an arc of sparks as they scraped along the
rocky outcrop. Then they were free, zooming into the black void. That is, if
you can count being pursued by two heat seekers as being free.
The engine temperature was still dropping and would be for maybe
half a minute while the turbines heated up. Would it be enough? Holly
punched the rear camera view up on the front screen. The rockets were still
coming. Unrelenting. Purple fuel burning in their wake. Three seconds to
impact.
Then two.
Then they lost contact, veering away from their target. One went over
the top, the other under the keel.
“It worked,” sighed Artemis, releasing a breath he didn’t realize he’d
been holding.
“Well done, soldier,” grinned Butler, ruffling Holly’s hair.
Mulch poked his head through from the passenger area.
His face was slightly green. “I had a little accident,” he said. No one inquired
further.
“Let’s not celebrate just yet,” said Holly, checking her instruments.
“Those missiles should have detonated against the chute wall, but they
didn’t.
I can only think of one reason why they wouldn’t keep traveling in a
straight line.”
“If they acquired another target,” offered Butler.
A red dot appeared on the plasma screen. The two missiles were
headed directly for it.
168
“Exactly. That’s an LEP supersonic attack shuttle, and as far as they’re
concerned, we’ve just opened fire on them.”
Major Trouble Kelp was behind the wheel of the LEP attack shuttle.
The craft was traveling at more than three times the speed of sound, booming
along the chute like a silver needle. Supersonic flights were very rarely
cleared as they could cause cave-ins and, in rare cases, be detected by human
seismographic equipment.
The shuttle’s interior was filled with impact-gel to dampen the otherwise
bone-breaking vibration. Major Kelp was suspended in the gel in a
modified pilot’s suit. The ship’s controls were connected directly to his
gloves, and the video ran in to his helmet.
Foaly was in constant contact from Police Plaza.
“Be advised that the stolen shuttle is back in the chute,” he informed
Trouble. “It’s hovering at one hundred and twenty-five miles.”
“I have it,” said Trouble, locating the dot on his radar. He felt his heart
race. There was a chance that Holly was alive and aboard that shuttle. And
if that were true, he would do whatever it took to bring her home safely.
A sunburst of white, yellow, and orange flared on his scopes.
“We have an explosion of some kind. Was it the stolen shuttle?”
“No, Trouble. It came from nowhere. There was nothing there. Watch
out for debris.”
The screen was streaked with dozens of jagged yellow lines, as hot
metal shards plummeted toward the center of the earth. Trouble activated
the nose lasers, ready for anything that might head his way. It was unlikely
that his vessel would be threatened; the chute was wider than the average
city at this depth. The debris from the explosion would not spread more
than half a mile. He had plenty of time to steer himself out of harm’s way.
Unless some of the debris followed him. Two of the yellow streaks
were veering unnaturally in his direction. The onboard computer ran a scan.
Both items had propulsion and guidance systems.
Missiles.
“I am under fire,” he said into his microphone. “Two missiles incoming.”
Had Holly fired on him? Was it true what Sool said? Had she really
gone bad?
Trouble reached into the air and tapped a virtual screen. He touched
the representations for both missiles, targeting them for destruction. As
soon as they came into range, the computer would hit them with a beam of
laser fire. Trouble steered into the middle of the chute so that the lasers
would have the longest possible line of fire. Lasers were only any good in a
straight line.
Three minutes later, the missiles powered around the bend in the
chute. Trouble barely spared them a glance, and the computer loosed two
169
quick bursts, dispatching the missiles efficiently. Major Kelp flew straight
through the shock wave, insulated by layers of impact-gel.
Another screen opened in his visor. It was the newly promoted Commander
Ark Sool. “Major, you are authorized to return fire. Use all necessary
force.”
Trouble scowled. “But, Commander, Holly may be on board.”
Sool raised a hand, silencing all objections.
“Captain Short has made her allegiances clear. Fire at will.”
Foaly could not remain silent. “Hold your fire, Trouble. You know
Holly isn’t behind all of this. Somehow Opal Koboi fired those missiles.”
Sool pounded the desk. “How can you be so blind to the truth, donkey
boy? What does Short have to do to convince you she’s a traitor? Send you
an e-mail? She has murdered her commander, allied herself with a felon,
and fired on an LEP shuttle.
Blast her out of the air.”
“No!” insisted Foaly. “It sounds bad, I grant you. But there must be another
explanation. Just give Holly a chance to tell us what it is.”
Sool was apoplectic. “Shut up, Foaly!
What are you doing giving tactical orders? ??? are a civilian, now get
off the line.”
“Trouble, listen to me,” began Foaly, but that was all he managed to
say before Sool cut him off.
“Now,” said the commander, calming himself. “You have your orders.
Fire on that shuttle.”
The stolen shuttle was actually in view now.
Trouble magnified its image in his visor and immediately noticed three
things. First, the shuttle’s communications mast was missing. Second, this
was a transport shuttle and not rigged for missiles, and third, he could actually
see Holly Short in the cockpit, her face drawn and defiant.
“Commander Sool,” he said. “I think we have some extenuating circumstances
here.”
“I said fire!” screeched Sool. “You will obey me.”
“Yes, sir,” said Trouble, and fired.
Holly had watched the radar screen, following Opal’s missiles through
unblinking eyes. Her fingers had gripped the steering wheel until the rubber
squeaked. She did not relax until the needle-like attack shuttle destroyed
the missiles and coasted through the wreckage.
“No problem,” she said, smiling bright eyed at the rest of the crew.
“Not for him,” said Artemis. “But perhaps for us.”
The attack shuttle hovered off their port bow, sleek and deadly, bathing
them with a dozen spotlights. Holly squinted into the pale light, trying
to see who was in the captain’s chair. A tube opened and a metallic cone
nosed out.
“That’s not good,” said Mulch. “They’re going to fire at us.”
170
But strangely, Holly smiled. It is good, she thought. Someone down
there likes me.
The communications spike traveled the short distance between the
two shuttles, burying itself in the stolen craft’s hull. A quick-drying sealant
erupted from nozzles at the base of the spike, sealing the breach, and the
nose cone unscrewed itself and dropped to the floor with a clang. Underneath
was a conical speaker.
Trouble Kelp’s voice filled the room.
“Captain Short, I have orders to blow you out of the air. Orders that
I’d just as soon disobey. So start talking, and give me enough information to
save both our careers.”
So Holly talked. She gave Trouble the condensed version. How this
entire affair was orchestrated by Opal, and how they would pick her up if
they searched the chute.
“That’s enough to keep you alive, for now,” said Trouble. “Though, officially,
you and any other shuttle occupants are under arrest until we find
Opal Koboi.”
Artemis cleared his throat. “Excuse me. I don’t believe you have any
jurisdiction over humans. It would be illegal to arrest me or my associate.”
Trouble sighed. Over the speaker it sounded like a rasp of sandpaper.
“Let me guess:
Artemis Fowl, right? I should have known. You people are becoming
quite the team. Well, let’s say you are a guest of the LEP, if that makes you
any happier.
Now, a Retrieval squad is in the chute. They will take care of Opal and
her associates. You follow me back to Haven.”
Holly wanted to object. She wanted to catch Opal herself. She wanted
the personal pleasure of tossing the poisonous pixie into an actual jail cell.
And then throw away the key. But their position was precarious
enough as it was, so for once she decided to follow orders.
E7, Haven City
Once they reached Haven, a squad of LEP foot soldiers boarded the
shuttle to secure the prisoners. The police swaggered on board, barking orders.
Then they saw Butler, and their cockiness evaporated like rainwater
from a hot highway. They had been told that the human was big. But this
was more than big. This was monstrous. Mountainous.
Butler smiled apologetically. “Don’t worry, little fairies. I have this effect
on most humans too.”
The police breathed a collective sigh of relief when Butler agreed to go
quietly. They could possibly have subdued him if he had put up a fight, but
then the massive Mud Man might have fallen on someone.
171
The detainees were housed in the shuttleport’s executive lounge,
evicting several grumbling lawyers and business fairies. It was all very civil:
good food, clean clothes (not for Butler ), and entertainment centers. But
they were under guard, nevertheless.
Half an hour later, Foaly burst in to the lounge.
“Holly!” he said, wrapping a hairy arm around the elf. “I am so happy
that you’re alive.”
“Me too, Foaly.” Holly grinned.
“A little hello wouldn’t hurt,” said Mulch sulkily.” “How are you,
Mulch? Long time no see, Mulch. Here’s your medal, Mulch.”“
“Oh, all right,” said Foaly, wrapping the other hairy arm around the
equally hairy dwarf. “Nice to see you too, Mulch, even if you did sink one
of my subs. And no, no medal.”
“Because of the sub,” argued Mulch. “If I hadn’t done it, your bones
would be buried under a hundred million tons of molten iron right now.”
“Good point,” noted the centaur. “I’ll mention it at your hearing.” He
turned to Artemis. “I see you managed to cheat the mind wipe, Artemis.”
Artemis smiled. “A good thing for all of us.”
“Indeed. I’ll never make the mistake of trying to wipe you again.” He
took Artemis’s hand and shook it warmly. “You’ve been a friend to the
People.
You too, Butler.”
The bodyguard was hunched on a sofa, elbows on knees. “You can repay
me by building a room I can stand up in.”
“I’m sorry about this,” said Foaly apologetically. “We don’t have rooms
for people your size. Sool wants you all kept here until your story can be
verified.”
“How are things going?” asked Holly.
Foaly pulled a file from inside his shirt.
“I’m not actually supposed to be here, but I thought you’d like an update.”
They crowded around a table while Foaly laid out the reports.
“We found the Brill brothers on the chute wall. They’re singing like
stinkworms-so much for loyalty to your employer. Forensics have collected
enough pieces of the stealth shuttle to prove its existence.”
Holly clapped her hands. “That’s it, then.”
“It’s not airtight,” corrected Artemis.
“Without Opal, we could still be responsible for everything. The Brills
could be lying to protect us.
Do you have her?”
Foaly clenched his fists. “Well, yes and no.
Her escape pod was ruptured from the blast, so we could trace it. But
by the time we reached the crash-down site on the surface, she had disappeared.
We ran a thermal on the area and isolated Opal’s footprints. We fol172
lowed them to a small rustic homestead in the wine region near Bari. We
can actually see her on satellite, but an insertion is going to take time to organize.
She’s ours, and we will get her. But it may take a week.”
Holly’s face was dark with rage. “She’d better enjoy that week, because
it will be the best of the rest of her life.”
Near Bari, Italy
Opal Koboi’s craft limped to the surface, leaking plasma gouts through
its cracked generator.
Opal was well aware that this plasma was as good as a trail of arrows
for Foaly. She must ditch the craft as soon as possible and find somewhere
to lay low until she could access some of her funds.
She cleared the shuttleport and made it nearly ten miles across country
before her engines seized, utterly forcing her to ditch in a vineyard. When
she clambered from the pod, Opal found a tall tanned woman of perhaps
forty waiting for her with a shovel and a furious expression on her face.
“These are my vines,” said the woman in Italian. “The vines are my life.
Who are you to crash here in your little airplane and destroy everything I
have?”
Opal thought fast. “Where is your family?” she asked. “Your husband?”
The woman blew a strand of hair from her eye.
“No family. No husband. I work the vines alone. I’m the last in the line.
These vines mean more to me than my life, and certainly more to me than
yours.”
“You’re not alone,” said Opal, turning on the hypnotic fairy mesmer.
“You have me now. I am your daughter Belinda.”
Why not? she reasoned. If it worked once…
“Belinda,” said the woman slowly. “I have a daughter?”
“That’s right,” agreed Opal. “Belinda.
Remember? We work these vines together. I help make the wine.”
“You help me?”
Opal scowled. Humans never got anything the first time.
“Yes,” she said, barely concealing her impatience. “I help you. I work
beside you.”
The woman’s eyes cleared suddenly. “Belinda.
What are you doing standing there? Get a shovel and clean up this
mess. When you finish here you must prepare dinner.”
Opal’s heart skipped a beat. Manual labor? Not likely. Other people
did that sort of thing.
“On second thought,” she said, pushing the mesmer as hard as she
could, “I am your pampered daughter Belinda. You never allow me to do
any work in case it roughens my hands. You’re saving me for a rich hus173
band.” That should take care of it. She would hide out with this woman for
a few hours, and then escape to the city.
But a surprise was coming Opal’s way. “That’s my Belinda,” said the
woman. “Always dreaming. Now take this shovel, girl, or you’ll go to bed
hungry.”
Opal’s cheeks flushed red. “Didn’t you hear me, crone?
I do not do physical work. You will serve me. That is your purpose in
life.”
The Italian lady advanced on her tiny daughter. “Now, listen here,
Belinda. I’m trying not to hear these poisonous words coming out of your
mouth, but it is difficult. We both work the vines; that is the way it has always
been. Now, take the shovel, or I will lock you in your room with a
hundred potatoes to peel and none to eat.”
Opal was dumbstruck. She could not understand what was happening.
Even strong-minded humans were putty before the mesmer.
What was happening here?
The simple truth was that Opal had been too clever for her own good.
By placing a human pituitary gland in her own skull, she had effectively
humanized herself. Gradually the human growth hormone was overpowering
the magic in her system. It was Opal’s bad fortune that she had used her
last drop of magic to convince this woman that she was her daughter. Now
she was without magic, and a virtual prisoner in the Italian lady’s vineyard.
And what’s more, she was being forced to work, and that was even worse
than being in a coma.
“Hurry!” shouted the woman. “There is rain in the forecast, and we
have a lot to do.”
Opal took the shovel, resting the blade on the dry earth. It was taller
than she was, and its handle was pitted and worn.
“What should I do with this shovel?”
“Crack the earth with the blade, then dig an irrigation trench between
these two frames. And after dinner, I need you to hand wash some of the
laundry that I have taken in this week. It’s Carmine’s, and you know what
his washing is like.” The lady grimaced, leaving Opal in no doubt as to the
state of this person Carmine’s clothing.
The Italian lady picked up a second shovel and began to dig beside
Opal.
“Don’t frown so, Belinda. Work is good for the character. After a few
more years, you will see that.”
Opal swung the shovel, dealing the earth a pathetic blow that barely
raised a sliver of clay.
Already her hands were sore from holding the tool. In an hour she
would be a mass of aches and blisters.
Maybe the LEP would come and take her away.
174
Her wish was to be granted, but not until a week later, by which time
her nails were cracked and brown, and her skin was rough with welts. She
had peeled countless potatoes and waited on her new mother, hand and
foot. Opal was also horrified to discover that her adopted parent kept pigs,
and that cleaning out the sty was another one of her seemingly endless duties.
By the time the LEP Retrieval team came for her, she was almost
happy to see them.
E7, Haven City
Julius Root’s recycling ceremony was held the day after Artemis and
Holly arrived in Haven City. All the brass turned up to the commitment
ceremony. All the brass, but not Captain Holly Short. Commander Sool refused
to allow her to attend the commitment, even under armed guard. The
Tribunal investigating the case had not made its decision yet, and until it
did, Holly was a suspect in a murder investigation.
So Holly sat in the executive lounge watching the commitment ceremony
on the big screen. Of all the things Sool had done to her, this was the
worst. Julius Root had been her closest friend, and here she was watching
his recycling on a screen while all the higher-ups attended, looking sad for
the cameras.
She covered her face with her hands when they lowered an empty
casket into the ornate decomposition vat. After six months, his bone and
tissue would have been completely broken down and his remains would be
used to nourish the earth.
Tears leaked out between Holly’s fingers, flowing over her hands.
Artemis sat beside her, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Julius
would have been proud of you.
Haven is here today because of what you did.”
Holly sniffed. “Maybe. Maybe if I had been a little smarter, Julius
would be here today, too.”
“Maybe, but I don’t think so. I have been thinking about it and there
was no way out of that chute. Not without prior knowledge.”
Holly lowered her hands. “Thanks, Artemis.
That’s a nice thing to say. You’re not going soft, are you?”
Artemis was genuinely puzzled. “I honestly don’t know. Half of me
wants to be a criminal, and the other half wants to be a normal teenager. I
feel like I have two conflicting personalities and a head full of memories
that aren’t really mine yet. It’s a strange feeling, not to know who you are
exactly.”
“Don’t worry, Mud Boy,” said Holly.
“I’ll keep a close eye on you to make sure you stay on the straight and
narrow.”
175
“I have two parents and a bodyguard already trying to do that.”
“Well then, maybe it’s time to let them.”
The lounge’s doors slid open, and Foaly clopped in excitedly, followed
by Commander Sool and a couple of flunkies. Sool was obviously not as
thrilled to be in the room as the centaur, and had brought the extra officers
along just in case Butler got agitated.
Foaly grabbed Holly by the shoulders. “You’re clear.” He beamed. “The
Tribunal voted seven to one in your favor.”
Holly scowled at Sool. “Let me guess who was the “one.“”
Sool bristled. “I am still your superior officer, Short. I want to see that
reflected in your attitude. You may have escaped this charge, but I will be
watching you like a hawk from now on.”
Mulch clicked his fingers in front of Foaly’s face. “Hey, ponyboy. Over
here. What about me? Am I a free dwarf?”
“Well, the Tribunal decided to go after you for the grand theft auto.”
“What?” spluttered Mulch. “After I saved the entire city!”
“But,” continued Foaly, “considering the time already served for an illegal
search, they’re prepared to call it even. No medal, I’m sorry to say.”
Mulch slapped the centaur’s haunch. “You couldn’t just say that, could
you, you had to draw it out.”
Holly had not stopped scowling at Sool.
“Let me tell you what Julius told me shortly before he died,” she said.
“Please do,” said Sool, his words dripping with sarcasm. “I find everything
you say fascinating.”
“Julius told me, more or less, that my job was to serve the People, and
that I should do that any way I could.”
“Smart fairy. I do hope you intend to honor those words.”
Holly ripped the LEP badge from her shoulder.
“I do. With you looking over my shoulder on every shift, I won’t be
able to help anyone, so I’ve decided to go it alone.” She tossed the badge on
the table. “I quit.”
Sool chuckled. “If this is a bluff it won’t work. I’ll be glad to see the
back of you.”
“Holly, don’t do this,” pleaded Foaly. “The force needs you. I need you.”
Holly patted his flank. “They accused me of murdering Julius. How
can I stay? Don’t worry, old friend. I won’t be far away.” She nodded at
Mulch. “Are you coming?”
“What, me?”
Holly grinned. “You’re a free dwarf now, and every private detective
needs a partner. Someone with underworld connections.”
Mulch’s chest swelled. “Mulch Diggums, private detective. I like that.
Hey, I’m not a sidekick, am I? Because the sidekick always gets it.”
“No. You’re a full-fledged partner. Whatever we make, we split.”
Holly turned to Artemis next.
176
“We did it again, Mud Boy. We saved the world, or at least stopped
two worlds colliding.”
Artemis nodded. “It doesn’t get any easier. Maybe someone else should
take a turn.”
Holly punched him playfully in the arm. “Who else has our style?”
Then she leaned in and whispered, “I’ll be in touch. Maybe you might be
interested in some consultancy work?”
Artemis cocked one brow and gave a slight nod. It was all the answer
she needed.
Butler usually stood to say good-bye, but in this instance, he had to
make do with kneeling.
Holly was barely visible inside his hug.
“Until the next crisis,” she said.
“Or maybe you could just visit,” he replied.
“Getting a visa will be more difficult now that I’m a civilian.”
“You’re sure about this?”
Holly frowned. “No. I’m torn.” She nodded at Artemis. “But who isn’t?”
Artemis treated Sool to his most scornful gaze. “Congratulations, Commander,
you have managed to alienate the LEP’S finest officer.”
“Listen here, human,” began Sool, but Butler growled and the words
withered in the commander’s throat. The gnome stepped quickly behind
the larger of his officers. “Send them home. Now.”
The officers drew their sidearms, aimed, and fired. A tranquilizer pellet
stuck to Artemis’s neck, dissolving instantly. The officers hit Butler with
four, not taking any chances.
Artemis could hear Holly protesting as his vision blurred like an Impressionist
painting. Like The Fairy Thief.
“There’s no need for that, Sool,” she said, catching Artemis’s elbow.
“They’ve seen the chute already. You could have returned them conscious.”
Sool’s voice sounded as though he were speaking from the bottom of a
well. “I’m not taking any chances, Captain, I mean, Miss Short. Humans are
violent creatures by nature, especially when they are being transported.”
Artemis felt Holly’s hand on his chest. Under his jacket, she slipped
something into his pocket.
But he couldn’t ask what, because his tongue would not obey him. All
he could do with his mouth was breathe.
He heard a thump behind him.
Butler’s gone, he concluded. Just me left.
And then he was gone too.
Fowl Manor Artemis came to gradually. He felt well and rested, and all
his memories were in place. Then again, maybe they weren’t. How would
he know?
He opened his eyes and saw the fresco on the ceiling above. He was
back in his own room.
177
Artemis did not move for several moments. It wasn’t that he couldn’t
move, it was just that lying here like this seemed utterly luxurious. There
were no pixies after him, or trolls homing in on his scent, or fairy tribunals
judging him. He could lie here and simply think. His favorite occupation.
Artemis Fowl had a big decision to make: which way would his life go
from here? The decision was his.
He could not blame circumstances or peer pressure. He was his own
person, and intelligent enough to realize it.
The solitary life of crime no longer appealed to him as completely as it
had. He had no desire to create victims. Yet there was still something about
the thrill of executing a brilliant plan that attracted him. Maybe there was a
way to combine his criminal genius with his newfound morals.
Some people deserved to be stolen from. He could be like a modernday
Robin Hood: steal from the rich and give to the poor. Well, maybe just
steal from the rich. One step at a time.
Something vibrated in his jacket pocket.
Artemis reached in and pulled out a fairy communicator. One of the
pair they had planted in Opal Koboi’s shuttle. Artemis had a vague memory
of Holly sliding something into his pocket just before he passed out. She
obviously wanted to stay in touch.
Artemis stood, opening the device, and Holly’s smiling face appeared
on the screen.
“You got home safely, then. Sorry about the sedatives. Sool is a pig.”
“Forget about it. No harm done.”
“You have changed. Once upon a time, Artemis Fowl would have
vowed revenge.”
“Once upon a time.”
Holly glanced around her. “Listen, I can’t stay on long. I had to bolt on
a pirate booster to this thing just to get a signal. This call is costing me a fortune.
I need a favor.”
Artemis groaned. “No one ever calls me just to say hello.”
“Next time. I promise.”
“I’ll hold you to it. What’s the favor?”
“Mulch and I have our first client. He’s an art dealer who’s had a picture
stolen. Frankly, I’m flummoxed, so I thought I’d ask an expert.”
Artemis smiled. “I suppose I do have some expertise in the area of stolen
art. Tell me what happened.”
“The thing is, there’s no way in or out of this exhibit without detection.
The painting is just gone. Not even warlocks have that kind of magic.”
Artemis heard footsteps on the stairs.
“Hang on a second, Holly. Someone’s coming.”
Butler burst in the door, pistol drawn. “I just woke up,” he said. “Are
you all right?”
“Fine,” said Artemis. “You can put that away.”
178
“I was half hoping Sool was still here so I could scare him a little.” Butler
crossed to the window and pulled aside the net curtains. “There’s a car
coming up the avenue. It’s your parents back from the spa in Westmeath.
We’d better get our stories straight. Why did we come home from Germany
?”
Artemis thought quickly. “Let’s just say I felt homesick. I missed being
my parents’ son. That’s true enough.”
Butler smiled. “I like that excuse. I hope you won’t need to use it
again.”
“I don’t intend to.”
Butler held out a rolled-up canvas. “And what about this? Have you
decided what you should do with it?”
Artemis took The Fairy Thief and spread it on the bed before him. It
really was beautiful. “Yes, old friend. I have decided to do what I should do.
Now, can you stall my parents at the door; I need to take this call.”
Butler nodded, running down the stairs three at a time.
Artemis returned to the communicator. “Now, Holly, about your little
problem. Have you considered the fact that the picture you seek may still
be in the room, and our thief may have simply moved it?”
“That’s the first thing I thought of. Come on, Artemis, you’re supposed
to be a genius. Use your brain.”
Artemis scratched his chin. He was finding it difficult to concentrate.
He heard tires crunching on the drive, and then his mother’s voice laughing
as she climbed from the, car.
“Arty?” she called. “Come down. We need to see you.”
“Come down, Arty boy,” shouted his father.
“Welcome us home.”
Artemis found that he was smiling. “Holly, can you call me back later?
I’m busy right now.”
Holly tried to scowl. “Okay. Five hours, and you’d better have some
suggestions for me too “
“Don’t worry, I will. And also my consultant’s bill.”
“Some things never change,” said Holly, and closed the link.
Artemis quickly locked the communicator in his room safe, then ran
to the stairs.
His mother was at the bottom of the steps, and her arms were open
wide.
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Epilogue


An Article from The Irish Times, by Eugene Driscoll, Culture Correspondent
Last week the art world was left reeling following the discovery of
a lost painting by Pascal Herve, the French Impressionist master. The rumored
recovery of The Fairy Thief (oil on canvas) was confirmed when the
painting was sent to the Louvre Museum in Paris. Someone, presumably an
art lover, actually used the regular mail service to post the priceless masterpiece
to the curator. The authenticity of the work has been confirmed by
six independent experts. A spokesman for the Louvre has stated that the
picture will be exhibited within the next month. So, for the first time in
almost a century, everyday art lovers will be able to enjoy Herve’s masterpiece.
But perhaps the most tantalizing part of this whole affair is the typed
note that came with The Fairy Thief.
The note read simply “More to follow.”
Is someone out there reclaiming lost or stolen masters for the people?
If so, collectors beware. No secret vault is safe. This correspondent waits
with bated breath.
More to follow.
Art lovers all over the world certainly hope so!
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