Disclaimer: No monetary profit is being drawn from this. In fact, I expect a mixture of good and bad karma to come my way, and I hope to make a good karma profit off that, but I'm not making any money. Gold is power, but it doesn't rule my life.

A/N:…I'm not even going to bother with an excuse, because there isn't a good one for…almost a year and a half of absence. Writer's block is not an excuse. Being busy is not an excuse. Not going to for six months is not an excuse. Reading reviews, making false promises, and feeling really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really bad about it is not an excuse.

Feeling really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really (you'd think, as a writer, I'd have better words than "really"), really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really sorry about it doesn't make up for it.

I really don't expect any of my original readers to pick up that I've updated, unless by some miracle their "favorite authors" thing has survived many upgrades. If any of you do read it, please, feel free to flame away. About my absence, that is. I hope you don't want to flame the chapter; I hope it's okay, even though it's shorter than my other chapters. My email account was censored by my parents, so if you sent me any email begging for more, I never got it, and I'm sorry, and if I'm overestimating my own importance, sorry for my arrogance. I apologize to everyone who's story I was reading at the time of my hiatus and hope that I will get a chance to finish them one day.

Okay, if I keep this up, my apologies will be longer than my chapter, and I HATE chapters like that (though those are usually thanks and review replies, not apologies). Please drop a review; maybe I'll be re-motivated. There's really not much more. I ought to finish this…but you don't want to hear my ramblings. Especially not if I give something away.

So, I hope you enjoy

Chapter 8

O'Bobble Residence, Ireland

Shorter? Foaly's instant message appeared on Artemis's laptop. Artemis replaced the earpiece. "You're kidding, right?"

He studied the top of Holly's head for a moment, watching the hiccups. "Shorter," he confirmed.

"Oh, gods."

"Any ideas?"

"Why is she shrinking?" Miles asked.

Butler and Artemis exchanged looks. "Must have been rather powerful hallucinogen."

"Oh gods, oh gods, oh gods," Foaly moaned, not quite loud enough to drown out Root's stream of unprintable words.

Within seconds, Holly was down to four and a half feet. Her dress was beginning to fall. Artemis took a deep breath to steady his stomach and said, "Could someone please fetch something suitable for a person who's three feet tall to wear? I believe she may need it."

Mona was quick to run back with a jumper. Mrs. O'Bobble followed. "Boys," she warned.

Obediently Miles, Bobby, Butler, and Artemis left for Bobby's room.

"Fowl, what's wrong with her?" Bobby asked, sitting on his bed.

"I don't know," Artemis replied. "The government is notorious for experimental technology."

"Right," Miles said, looking lost. "Will she still be pretty?"
"I don't know," the genius repeated. Butler shot his charge a worried look, but Artemis shrugged and stared at the wall, doing his best to think of nothing.

"Boys!" Mrs. O'Bobble called. "She wants to talk to you."

They exchanged looks: Bobby excited, Artemis slightly fearful, Butler protective, and Miles confused. Then they cautiously returned to the living room. Holly sat on the couch, returned to her normal three feet, wearing a jumper, and glaring at Artemis.

"You," she said.

He swallowed, eyeing her, wondering what she remembered. "Yes."

"I cannot believe you!"

"What did I do?" He suppressed a wince, realizing how that sounded to the others.

"You know exactly what you did!"

"Oh. That." Artemis opened his mouth, closed it, and found himself not struck speechless, but at a total and complete loss of what to say to remedy the situation. "Yes. Well. Perhaps it would be better if we spoke about that at a later date. At the moment, your commander wants an update on the situation."

"What did you DO, Fowl?" Root demanded in his ear.

"Where are we?" Holly demanded, ignoring Artemis. "Why are we here?"

"This is the O'Bobble's house," Juliet explained. "Bobby goes to school with Artemis and we came here after your commander was attacked."

"The commander was attacked?"

The Mud Men with knowledge of the People exchanged looks with the dwarf. "Holly," Mulch asked in alarm, "what's the last thing you remember?"

The LEP captain frowned, thinking. "Clicking and clacking, maybe? I fell asleep. There was some sort of meeting…I think…I…I remember falling asleep the first time, and there was a meeting, and then it gets fuzzy…then I fell asleep, and I don't remember anything after that." Suddenly she looked at Artemis again, suspicion clear in her gaze. "I remember you, though."

"Yes, we've established that," he said impatiently. "Root went to talk to Ruby Ohmson, a former classmate of Opal Koboi, and she used a prototype Mud Poison on him. You were already asleep at that point. Ohmson apparently wants to kill me before Koboi can, and Koboi wants revenge on all of us."

"Butler said we should get somewhere secure, and so we're here until we have permission to go to Haven," Juliet added.

"Our house is secure?" Katie asked.

Artemis laughed slightly; the redhead girl grinned. Holly shot him a glare. "You shouldn't laugh like that. It's childish and annoying."

Artemis sat straight up and shut his mouth. "You should watch what you say."

"Oh, why?" Her smile was sickly sweet.

"Because your commander is listening." Artemis winced as Root yelled again.

Her expression froze as he matched it for several long seconds, until Mulch muttered, "Somebody, say something. The sexual tension is just too much."

"There is no sexual tension!" Holly snapped.

"That was completely unnecessary," Artemis said at the same time.

They glared at each other again.

"Short, do I need to come up there?" Root asked in clipped tones, although she couldn't hear him.

"Will someone please tell me what's going on? Artemis?" Katie demanded. "Is she your girlfriend or something?"

"NO," they both said emphatically.

"Just a misunderstanding," Artemis continued.

"Misuse," Holly muttered.

"Well, we hardly knew what was going on in your head," he snapped.

"Will you two stop it?" Butler asked.

"So if she's not your girlfriend, what's your problem with me?" Katie said into the silence, as Holly and Artemis chose to direct their glares at Butler.

At the same time that this statement registered, Root's face appeared on Artemis's laptop. The next three people spoke simultaneously.

"I don't have a problem with you!"

"SHORT! REPORT!"

"So many pretty hotheads, so little time."

Everyone stared at Mulch, who grinned nervously and started inspecting his fingernails. "I hope you weren't referring to me, convict," Root said in a dangerous voice.

"You're not pretty, Julius," Foaly's voice came over the computer.

Katie, who still held the laptop, watched with interest as Root's face turned red, again. "You are a hothead, though."

"You must be Katie," Root said. "Fowl? Where's your camera? I want to see the situation."

"Sure you do," Juliet muttered as Artemis grabbed his laptop bag and started searching through it, suddenly aware his neck was burning. He pulled out the cables and camera and quickly plugged everything in, then purposefully set the camera atop the laptop, facing the center of the room. Then he took a deep breath. The situation was spinning out of control.

Holly looked equally out of sorts; but then again, she was studying Katie with an unfavorable glint in her eye. Artemis made a mental note to ask about jealousy. At a more appropriate time.

"All right," Root said in a very quiet but very dangerous voice. "If everyone would please leave the room, I need to speak to my captain."

Holly's out-of-sorts look turned into resignation mixed with fear. The O'Bobbles looked to Artemis, who nodded slowly and followed the rest of them out. His eyes met Holly's briefly: they exchanged an embarrassed look before he left her to her commander's wrath.

Holly was in for it and couldn't quite figure out why. She knew her behavior had, until recently, been less than exemplary, but that wasn't her fault. Exactly. Sort of. Come to think of it, she couldn't really remember…except for Artemis. She grimaced: that was all-too-clear.

"Captain?"

Holly went over to the laptop and quickly arranged it so she could see her commander and he caught a full view of her face. Foaly also came into the picture behind Root's shoulder, giving her a worried look. "Commander."

"Are you quite all right?"

These sympathetic words were so far from what she had been expecting that she giggled. This only seemed to reinforce Root's doubts about her sanity.

"Our esteemed technology director," he continued, glaring at Foaly for a moment, "has conferred with our director of biology and magic, and he thinks he knows what happened to you."

Foaly swallowed. "Our Mud Man concoction used concentrated bursts of magic to stimulate growth. It's possible that some of the magic misfired, if you will, and affected portions of your brain."

"So you think my head swelled?"

"That's only one theory," Foaly said defensively. "The other is that the magic didn't misfire and instead avoided your brain entirely. Your brain had to compensate for your body's increased size, and this caused you to lose certain functions, such as self-discipline, in favor of others, such as walking."

Holly considered this. "The first one sounds less insulting."

"But the second one, more likely." Foaly shrugged. "I said it was a prototype."

"Yes, well, your 'prototype' has possibly caused me to psychologically scar everyone around. For life."

"Speaking of, what's wrong with Fowl?" Root asked.

She considered the face on the screen in front of her, decided that he would never guess the truth, and shrugged. "I think that Katie girl's making him uncomfortable."

"Poor kid," Foaly snorted. "Now what?"

"Good question," Holly said. "Commander?"

Root absentmindedly lit a cigar. "As far as we can tell, neither Koboi nor Ohmson has set up a base of operations. It's hard to predict where they'll be or what they're doing. I think we can assume that Koboi's going to want to launch another assault against you or Fowl soon."

"But Ohmson would caution her against that path so as to ensure she could reach us before Koboi," said a casual voice, if Artemis ever spoke casually.

Holly was increasingly tired of glaring. "Who invited you?"
He shrugged. "You're dealing with criminal masterminds, correct?"

The suggestion in his statement was all-too-clear. Root sighed and exchanged a look with Foaly. "What do you suggest, Fowl?"

He paused, hands in his pockets, looking for all the world like a normal teenage school boy—except for the calculating glint in his blue eyes. Holly reined in a sigh.

"Send them a message," he said slowly, thinking. "Tell them you'll forgive Ruby and Opal if they'll bring you the Mud Poison and myself. Draw them out. Or at least enough to get Butler or myself into whatever they're calling their base of operations."

"And then what?" Root asked.

"You have a tracer on myself or Butler, correct?"

"Yes," Foaly answered, ignoring the look Root gave him.

"Well, then. Follow us down. Use us as the bait. Set a trap, however elaborate."

"I'm assuming you have one in mind?"

"A few suggestions," Artemis said modestly.

"I don't like it," Holly interrupted. "There's no assurance they won't shoot you on sight. We don't know where they are, and we don't know how dangerous the Mud Poison really is."

"I think we have an idea," Root said, rubbing his shoulder. "Besides, I'm assuming Fowl wants some sort of assurance in exchange for his help?"

"I'd rather keep my memories intact, thank you," the teenager said without blinking.

"Why? They better this time around?" Foaly sniggered.

"Foaly!" Holly snapped, seeing red, also aware she was probably blushing, and wanting nothing more than to reach through the screen and give the smug centaur a good thrashing.

Artemis blinked, opened his mouth, caught a glance of Holly's fury, and closed it again. Root looked suspiciously from his technology director to captain and back. "What are you hiding?"

"Nothing," Holly said through clenched teeth. "Foaly just needs something to do. His overactive imagination is clearly a sign of boredom. I think janitorial duty would solve that."

"So they are better this time around?" the centaur asked, smiling into her scowl.

"Foaly, please," Artemis said. "I'd rather keep Captain Short intact, capillaries and all."

"You can stuff it," she retorted, whirling around to face him. She was angry and embarrassed and very close to breaking something. Especially if Root started putting two and two together.

"Holly," Root said, "I don't know what's going on, and I don't know if I want to, but I'm giving you authorization to use Foaly and Fowl in your mission. Not formal, you realize, but they're your best bet for taking down both Ohmson and Koboi. Understand?"

Holly peered at her commander, anger lost in curiosity. "Is it just me, or is he being really soft-spoken?"

"Calfy's medicine does that to people," Foaly said with a shrug. "I think he helped develop Prozac, but there's no proof whatsoever."

"Calfy?" Artemis asked. Fowl, she reminded herself instantly. His name was Fowl. Not Artemis. And definitely not Arty. Oh Frond. She'd called him Arty.

Lost in her thoughts, Holly didn't realize Root was saying her name until Artemis put his hands on her shoulders and shook her. She'd been staring at him. Blushing again, she pulled away and snapped, "Don't touch me."

"All right," he said, straightening and nodding at the screen.

"Captain Short," Root said, "there's an estimated two days before Ohmson and/or Koboi pulls another stunt. I hope between the two of you something can be done—"

"Besides arguing," Foaly interrupted helpfully. "Or any other—"

Artemis reached over, said, "Goodbye," and cut the connection.

Holly watched him as he straightened again and returned her gaze. He was suddenly so much taller than she was. It wasn't fair. And his face was all impassive again.

She shook her head to clear it. "All impassive again"? Ugh, Valley Girl talk. She needed to get a grip. "So what's your plan?"

"Since everyone still thinks you're talking to your commander and I'm taking a walk to escape Katie, I thought we might—"

"Talk about what happened? Or didn't happen?"

His poker face was perfect, damn it all. "Something happened, Commander Short. If you wish to subject yourself to a field wipe and forget, I promise I will never bring it up again, and we can ensure the others will not either."

The mind wipe idea was tempting, but the idea of him having memories of her that were so…personal, even if she hadn't really been in her right mind, made her uneasy. "No thanks. But I really don't see what there is to talk about."

He raised an eyebrow and waited. And it really wasn't fair. They did need to talk. If only she hadn't been so stupid

"You heard what Foaly said?" she said finally.

"About the potion's interactions with your brain?"

She nodded. "So you know…"

"You weren't in anything resembling your right mind when you and I kissed."

"We made out." She suppressed a grin; he had barely squirmed.

"Whatever the technical term may be—please, no comments—the fact is that generally such actions are thought to be expressions of certain feelings on the part of one or more of the parties—"

"I'm aware of what goes on when people kiss under normal circumstances," she interrupted, not wanting him to start making a long speech. "Sexually, all I can say is you have potential. Emotionally…"

"…you had little knowledge of your actions, and anything you professed I can expect you to retract?"

She could remember their conversation well enough to say, "Look, Fowl, you've turned into a decent enough kid, but we're not dating or anything, I'm not in love with you, and I certainly don't want to hear you say you're in love with me."

"I'm not."

"Good." This released tensions she hadn't realized she'd held. As long as he could get over their little fling, she wouldn't have to feel too stupid about the whole affair.

"I will admit," he continued, tilting his head as he looked down at her, arms crossed, "that I would like to consider you a friend, as I do have a platonic care for your welfare."

She considered this. "So, we'll give in and call it friends, in a strictly professional sense?"

He nodded; they shook hands. As she released him and he started messing with the laptop, she couldn't resist saying, "I'm too old for you, anyway. Katie O'Bobble, on the other hand…"

Artemis raised an eyebrow. He was slightly disappointed by the way things turned out, but logically it was the best he could have hoped for. Besides, they worked well together. His hormones and more passionate emotions were distracting, anyway. Briefly he wondered if he could have absorbed some of the effects of the potion while—no time to think about that now. He'd been baited, and he had to respond.

"I thought we were going be professional," he said, closing the laptop and securing it under his arm.

"We are. I was just going to comment that she's pretty."

"An interest in my love life does not sound very professional, Commander," he stated, starting for the door.

She hopped off the couch and followed him. "Call it an interest in your well-being, which is vital to the success of any professional undertaking. She's cute, that's all, and I think she'd be okay."

"Until I'm old enough for you?"

She pinched her lips together, acknowledging the victory. "That's not what I meant."

"You sound vaguely like the ex-girlfriend giving her blessing," he commented neutrally.

"I thought we settled that. I was never your girlfriend."

He stopped at the door and looked back at her. Even though he now had to look far down at her, she was still very cute. He could remember she was dangerously cute, though, and he needed to focus. He couldn't afford to worry about the true level of veracity to his earlier words now, though, as he had a great deal of planning to do.

Again, however, he couldn't resist the parting shot. "You're the one who's acting like you were," he said, shrugging and going to find the others.

Holly waited until he was gone to bang her head against the wall. Then, confident she had rid herself of the last microliters of the Mud Girl potion, she hurried to catch up to the boy genius.

A/N II: Please review? puppy eyes Especially if you spot any inconsistencies. I wrote half of this over a year ago. And please tell me how I'm doing on my characterizations. And if anyone knows when the real Opal Deception hits the shelves, please tell me, because I haven't found anything, and if it hasn't come out I want to set the goal of finishing this before it does. So it can only benefit you! J