Those of you who know me, read on. If you don't, skip this part, and go directly to the story. If you like it, you'll come back and read this anyway. I like long intros, and this one is.

I must tell you I'm working on a really good story. So good, it's taking a long time. Bleh. Like Hitting Hard, it's a never been done before la de da. When I'm closer to finishing it, I'll reveal my secret. Maybe in a few chapters, I'll give you a hint. The few of you who already know— Don't you DARE tell anyone!

Anyway, for all the sweet people who reviewed my other stories, we'll try. I know everyone else who's tried this hasn't done so well, at least as far as reviews, and whatnot. This does happen six months after the Opal Deception… And I will not disappoint you like Colfer did. (with someone you love dying)

Disclaimer: I do not own anything except the things I own. The things I own are the things not owned by Colfer. Colfer owns everything except the things I own. The things Colfer own are the things I do not own. :) Try that one, all you people who think you're the next Artemis Fowl.

Commander Sool glanced at the door again. There usually wasn't anyone here this late, but it was always best to make sure. Well, there were officers here, but not civilians. Officers knocked. Civilians did not. And his secretary wasn't there to make them wait.

Satisfied no one would burst in on him, he opened a document, and began to add to the plan. His plan. A good plan, that would bring him even more money. Not directly. Everyone else thought he was middle-class, with a nice salary, and was a Council pet.

Or course, if you added the earnings of his false identities on the black market, Commander Sool was probably one of the richest people on, and in, Earth. And a very powerful one.

But there was, as always, the problem of more. For years, he had been working on a plan. One that others had tried in the past, and failed miserably at. He would not. He knew the secret to winning the power, and wealth, and position that he wanted. It was very simple, really, when you studied the mistakes made by others in the past.

Artemis Fowl, and Holly Short. An unstoppable combination. If he hadn't mistrusted Short so much, he would have left her alone. She was a good officer, and what she did well looked good for him too. But now, what she did was more limited. She had to battle through the police if she wanted to do anything. And she didn't have the law on her side.

The biggest problem, as everyone knew, was Artemis Fowl. Whenever he teamed with the fairies, they won. Whenever he went against them, he won. It was simple. And this time, Artemis Fowl would be helping Sool. Perhaps not willingly, but he would.

Holly studied the notes that Mulch had brought her. She could hardly read them, but at least she had them. She had been shocked when she learned about the places he'd been and the things he'd done to get them. Mulch was a good man, in a strange, smelly way. Loyal, though he would have died before admitting it. Loyal sounded too much like a sidekick. A word that was taboo in his hearing. If you said it…

Never mind the consequences.

It had happened again. This person— who ever so appropriately called themselves 'Alpha', had organized another break-in. One to occur tomorrow morning at two. Lately, she had begun to see a pattern in things. A pattern that she did not like, to say the least.

They were breaking into labs. Private, business, government. But always some kind of research facility. Destroying information. Holly had no doubt it was carefully photographed first, or recorded in some way.

Why, no one knew. But when someone was collecting information, they usually meant to do something with it.

It was a shame she couldn't talk to Artemis. Like Professor Moriarty, he would probably be able to solve it sitting on his bed. But Sool had found out about it, and had almost managed to arrest her on the charge that she was communicating information of national security matters with an enemy to state and using unlicensed LEP equipment. Foaly had warned her in time, she had told Fowl, and quickly destroyed the evidence.

Now, she was on her own. She could handle things, of course, but it was nice having a genius or two on your side. And Foaly was usually too busy to help.

Foaly. She might try him now.

After a few minutes of waiting, she finally got through to him. He'd given her the number that cut through all the transfers, but he liked to talk, and was usually on the phone with someone.

"Hello, Holly. How fares it in the world of civilians?"

Holly gritted her teeth, determined to pull his tail very hard, as soon as she got the chance. "Not so well, pony-boy. I need your inside knowledge. On labs. I want you to match something with a description, so I can figure out the target and whatnot."

There was a crunch, that could only mean carrots. "My feelings are hurt. But you need me. Typical unappreciated genius. What is it?"

One by one, she ticked of a list of steps for the break-in, pausing here and there to let Foaly take notes. When she was done, she waited, as Foaly assessed what the security would have to be for steps like that to be taken.

Finally, he snorted.

"What is it, Foaly?" Holly sat up eagerly, reaching for a pad of paper. "Come on. I'll buy you a crate of carrots sometime."

"For real?" asked Foaly slyly.

"Maybe. Now go on and tell me. It's important!"

Foaly laughed, amused by the notes in front of him. "There is no lab like that. Not even Koboi was that nuts. What kind of paranoid idiot would install… all of that? It's pretty useless, if your as determined as this guy obviously is, though I must say some of these inventions were quite clever. They sound like some of mine. Something I would think up. Being as clever as I am, you know. But he'll get in, if he doesn't mess up anything."

Holly sighed, and pushed the pad of paper away, dropping the pen. "Oh well. Thanks anyways, Foaly."

"Yep. Bye, Holly."

Slowly, she got to her feet, stretched, and left for home. Mulch was already gone. It was no use staying any longer. The cooler was safe, as was the stapler in her drawer.

At home, she ate, and took a long, late jog around the park a mile from her house. It was pretty safe. She knew the officer on the beat, and not many people cared to mess with Holly Short once they had felt her fists. It wasn't something you did twice.

After a while though, she was done running, and took off for home. It was really late tonight. Almost twelve. She hadn't been out this late for months. And she had to get up at five tomorrow morning. At the latest. She had a meeting with a potential client.

Holly played Foaly's words over in her head again. There had to be a lab like that. Somewhere. Mulch had never given her false information before, though she supposed there was always a first time.

Maybe though. She ought to question him again.

Slowly, she punched in his number on her cell phone, as she walked into her house. He would pay her back in the morning, but it was worth it. The break-in would happen in two hours.

"What do you want?" mumbled Mulch. Nothing would convince him that sleep and food weren't the most important things in the universe. That, and whatever you could swipe from someone else's back pocket.

"That information you gave me, Mulch. Are you sure it's all correct?"

"Why?" asked Mulch, in an injured tone. "Don't you trust me, officer? Of course it's correct!"

"Because Foaly said there was no lab like that. He said not even Koboi was that paranoid. He said most of the things sounded like something he'd do, and the lab was created by some kind of paranoid idiot, no doubt."

"Well, did you ever stop to ask him if it was his lab?" There was a rustling, and Holly could just picture Mulch getting out of bed, and padding to the cooler for something to eat. If he hadn't already cleaned it out earlier that evening. Which he probably had.

Then it struck her. Foaly's lab. Yes. It all made since. She could see someone breaking into it that way. And getting away with it… and—

"It's his lab!" she gasped. "You're right, it is!"

"That's nice. I hope they take all of his carrots."

"Listen to me!" Holly began to pick up the things she'd need. "If I get caught, Sool will have me arrested for something or other. And no one will believe me. Tell me how to get into the techie's area without getting caught. And hurry! Please!"

"So you're going to play the break and enter game too? Easy. Use Julius's old field card. The one I swiped from him, and I gave you a few months ago? I'll bet it still works."

Holly bit her lip, but smiled slightly. Julius wouldn't mind the swiping now. He couldn't. "Thanks Mulch. I'll make it up to you tomorrow. I've got to go. Bye, stinker."

Police Plaza was quiet, in the middle of the day— or night, depending on how you thought about it. Just the smaller shift, a few officers going in and out. Holly was careful to stay away from the cameras. She didn't want to be stopped.

Quickly, she made her way to the back of the building, using Julius's old field card to override the alarms and codes, and get inside. It scared her in a way. The quiet and darkness of the back halls. She hadn't been in here in a long time. She felt like there had been a blue rinse, and only she had survived. That she had been here yesterday, and nothing had happened.

She came to the door that led into the techies area, and started to pull out the card again. Then she stopped. It was already open. The break-in had started. Someone had gotten there before her. Who knew when?

Throwing caution to the faint of heart, Holly began to run, wincing at the sound her tennis shoes made against the title floor. But it didn't matter now. She had to stop whoever it was that Alpha had sent, before any of Foaly's information was destroyed. And maybe, just maybe, she would be able to find something out about what was going on.

Up ahead, she could hear voices. That was not good. Especially since she would likely be detained at the least. Most people's reaction, particularly that of a LEP officer, was to draw their gun and shoot whatever came flying at you. With a stun gun, certainly, but by then, it would be too late.

Holly had two seconds to think. Not a lot. Being in an impulsive mood, she drew her own gun, which was licensed, so the Sool wouldn't have her arrested, and flew around the corner.

In front of her were Trouble and Vein. Their turn to do the late night shift. Morning, actually. Like she'd thought, both of them reached for their guns without thinking.

Hoping she didn't hit anyone, Holly fired, sending Vein's gun spinning out of his hand. Trouble's burst barely missed her. Holly slammed into him, throwing him against the wall, and sprinted on, leaving behind a very confused pair.

She tumbled through the door of Foaly's lab a moment later, instinctively shooting the first thing that moved, and then the other. Two men out flat on the ground.

But she wasn't going to be done that quickly. She could hear Trouble and Vein running through the rooms behind her. Ah well. They'd be here any second. No use fighting with them. After all, she'd just shot at one of them, and body slammed the other.

Trouble's arms closed around her from behind, pinning her tightly against his chest, and Vein stepped around into view, grabbing her gun.

Now that the two men were down, Holly wasn't particularly worried. She gave him the gun without a word, and shut her mouth. She wasn't going to say anything. Sool would use it against her.

She leaned against Trouble, breathing heavily. He was too.

Finally, he spoke. "What the bloody hell do you think you're doing, Holly Short?"

Holly could hear other people coming. No doubt one of them had sounded an alarm. She nodded to the two on the floor. "One of my cases. Got tied into that. They were trying to break into Foaly's things. They would have taken a lot of information, and destroyed the rest. Sorry about that. They were almost ready to leave. I couldn't afford to lose any time. I hope I didn't hit you, Vein?"

Vein shook his head incredulously. "You didn't. I don't believe it. How in earth did you shoot that out from between my fingers going at that speed? No one could have—"

"Just a lucky shot." Holly shook her head. "Will you let go now, Trouble? Or must I wait?"

"You know the procedures," he muttered in her ear. "Live with them. I don't have a pair of cuffs, or anything else to restrain you with. And please don't be mad. You hit me hard enough to count for about ten other incidents."


Behind them, the door flew open again, and almost half the officers left in the building filled the room.

Most of them were more than a little surprised to see Holly. The older ones shook their heads, and gave each other looks. They might have known Short had something to do with it. Most things had, most things did, and most likely, most things would.

At five exactly, Holly was released. Council member Vinyáya signed the papers herself. Sool didn't get in until ten every morning, which was lucky for Holly. Otherwise, she would have probably been facing charges for assault of a LEP officer, and whatever else.

As it was, she was getting a large fine. But Vinyáya did give her back the gun. That was always a good thing. Holly had a feeling that things were going to get worse.

To her disappointment, she was not allowed to question the prisoners, and told she would not receive any information. She was no longer a LEP officer, and even if she had caught them, and even if she was working on the case, it was classified.

Holly gritted her teeth, smiled politely, and walked out, shutting the door carefully behind her.

Fine. If they didn't want to give it to her up front, she would get it the back way. There were plenty of people willing to give her information. Foaly, for starters. But there was more if she needed it.

Sool was not happy when he heard. On the outside, he was just angry. On the inside, he was worried. Short was on his case. That didn't look so good. Particularly the part in which she had found out enough information to actually stop the break-in.

The break-in was important. There was no other way to get that information. The pony would not give it, since it was technically not LEP research, and he funded it himself. He couldn't get into it without being charged for breaking in himself, and if someone entirely unaffiliated with him broke in, no one would connect it with him.

He need that information. Once he had it, he could get Fowl, and put things into action.

For a long time, he sat and thought. Then, he picked up his cell phone, went outside, and climbed into his car, pressing in a number he had memorized as he did so. There was only one way to solve a problem like this.

"How much?"

"I have a job I need done. Pay doesn't matter. I need it done tonight, and I need it done well."


"A woman named Holly Short. She went after you once on one of your murder raps."

"Yeah. And she's looking for me again. I'd be happy to take her out. You need it done tonight, you say? I don't suppose she's got your number too, now, does she?"

"Yeah. Tonight. She knows too much. Much too much. About everything. Got some of my best men arrested last night. She's sharp. I have no idea where she got the information, but wherever it was, it wasn't easy. She knows what she's doing, and that's a threat."

"She won't be tomorrow morning," drawled the man on the other end. "I promise."

Sool hung up, and went back inside. Good. He trusted Demon. Demon kept all his promises. And he'd never been near a jail once. He was a real professional. Holly Short would be gone in the morning. Why worry any longer? It wasn't a big deal.

Holly hesitated, forcing her eyes to remain open. Then she dialed Trouble's number.


"Hey Trouble? I was wondering if I could talk with you. If you've gotten some sleep."

"About four hours," grumbled Trouble. "With that commotion you made, I didn't get out until three hours later than normal. But oh well. Vinyáya gave me tomorrow off."

"So do you mind, or would you rather I called later?"

"Tell you what. Why don't you come over here around nine, and we'll talk? I know what you want to know, and there's going to be a lot of questions. It'll save money on the phone bill. Besides, Vein'll be at work, so no one will bother us."

"Thanks, Trouble."

"Don't mention it," muttered Trouble, and was almost asleep before he hung up.

Shortly before nine, Holly left the house, locking the door behind her, and jogged to Trouble's flat. The one he'd split with Vein. She'd taken to jogging or running everywhere. It kept her in shape, now that she wasn't working out regularly at the LEP gym. Other gyms cost a lot. She didn't have the money. Besides, most of them weren't that great.

Trouble was waiting for her, ushering her politely into the living room, and sitting down beside her on the couch. There was one other chair, but it was occupied with a stack of papers.

"Excuse the mess. I'm afraid I don't know how to clean very well. My mom always did that. And of course, Grant has the same excuse."

Holly looked at the bundle of papers on his lap, and then pulled out a notebook and pen. "Start at the beginning, and end at the very end, Trouble. And don't leave anything out."

It took four hours to write everything down, and satisfy all of Holly's questions. By then, they were both sleepy.

"Did you get any sleep today?" asked Trouble, leaning back.

"No," said Holly shortly. "I was held until five, and then I had a meeting with a client that lasted until after twelve. Then, I had an appointment with someone who does lab work for me, and I had to talk with them until sixish. I called you after I ate supper, and went for a run. Then, I yelled at Mulch for stealing my stapler again, and talked with him about next month's budget and drew up a rough sketch of financial things."


"Yeah, I know." Holly let her eyes shut, settling into the couch cushions. It was one of those times when she was warm, and comfortable, and too tired to move. So she didn't.

And she fell asleep.

She woke up sometime later, in the dark. Trouble had the light system that turned off or on according to you. It could tell when you were asleep. Right now, she was so sleepy, it stayed dark.

Beside her, Trouble stirred slightly, opening his eyes a crack. "What's the matter?"

"It's the middle of the night."

Blinking, he struggled upright, looking slightly guilty. "Sorry. You were so tired, I just decided to let you sleep for a few minutes, and then I feel asleep myself. I stayed up all night yesterday, and so yeah. I'm really tired too. I'm sorry. I should have woken you up."

Holly shut her eyes, and curled up in a ball on her side. "If you don't mind, I'm going to stay where I am. I don't think I'd make it home. I'm too tired. Goodnight."

"You cold?"

The question startled her. Holly opened her eyes. "If that was some kind of invitation, Trouble, you could do with some lessons in tact. The only thing worse is asking me outright."

Trouble flushed. "That's not what I meant! I hadn't even thought about it. I assumed, because we were friends, that that wasn't something we'd even be thinking about. Or at least, I think we're friends. I meant: Do you want a blanket or something?"

She shut her eyes with a nod. "Yes, that would be nice. It's gotten cold in here."

A few moments later, Trouble was back with a blanket. He spread it lightly over her, and sat back down where he'd been before, closing his eyes.

"Are you cold?"

"Hmm? Oh." Trouble sighed, and nodded. "Yeah, but I messed with the heat. Give it time."

Holly felt rather guilty now. He was cold, and he'd nicely asked if she was. So she had yelled at him, and then hadn't thanked him when he'd brought her the blanket. "Share the blanket with me then, Trouble. I don't mind."

"You sure?" He looked at her doubtfully, rubbing the back of his neck. "I'd think—"

Holly threw the bottom half of the blanket over him. "Go to sleep."

Her watch woke them both up, beeping in an infuriating way, until Holly shifted, and found her wrist to shut it off.

That's when she realized that Trouble had tipped over in his sleep, and was stretched out beside her, keeping her back warm. He hadn't realized it yet though. He was still half asleep. After all, Holly had been the one with the watch underneath her ear.

Not pleasant, for those of you wondering. The watch under her ear.

Trouble, she didn't mind. He would be properly embarrassed once he was fully awake, and wouldn't mention it to anyone. Which was how men should act. Unfortunately, most didn't now, wouldn't, and couldn't. All of the above. But Trouble was a gentleman. And a good friend. Or he had been. They hadn't talked for a while.

"Oh damn!" Trouble sat up with a jerk, pulling away from her. "I'm sorry, Holly! I didn't do it on purpose!"

"I know."

"Are you going to hit me?"

Holly had to smile at that line. First, he apologizes. Then, he asks if you're going to hit him. "It seems that I've already hit you. Last night. Hard enough to last ten times."


"Never mind. I know. You didn't do it on purpose. Forget it. You didn't do anything, and we're friends."

"Do you have work?"

With a sigh, Holly climbed to her feet. "Yeah, I do. And I ought to go home and change."

"Sorry," he repeated.

"It's not a big deal, Trouble. Get over it. And thanks for the information. That'll really help me a lot, and I promise not list my sources or drop any hints, okay?"

"Right, thanks. Sool would kill me."

Holly folded the blanket, thinking. "Foaly. Would he know anything you don't?"

"Probably." Trouble smiled, taking it from her as she finished. "You know that pony, Holly. He wants to know everything that's not his business. He'll have found out."

She snorted. "So what else is new?"

Foaly was happy to blab— for the promise of a few crates of carrots, and a few more cartons of beetle juice. At this rate, Holly thought, she was going to go broke. "Fine. You'll get them, pony-boy! I just saved all your junk; a lovely way to thank me, you know!"

"You're welcome."


Foaly snickered, and mumbled something that didn't sound like an apology at all.

"Just tell me about what those two idiots said!"

Thinking it best to have Holly on his side, in case of another break-in, Foaly proceeded to play the tape of the interrogation, even though it was against the law. Technically. But Foaly had found a way to justify himself, in case anyone found out. Not that they probably would. Unless they were reading his brain waves with an instrument that could pierce the protection of tinfoil hats.

When Holly had recorded the recording, and transferred the file to her computer, she made Foaly send her pictures of the two intruders. They weren't anyone she recognized. Foaly admitted not having anything on them in his files; something that made her smile. Foaly didn't like to admit he wasn't the all-powerful knower of things.

"Anything else I should know?"

There was a crunch. "Yeah. I want the carrots before six this evening. And the beetle juice."

Holly hung up on him, and turned back to her computer screen, activating the recording again, so that she could listen to the conversation. Trouble had known most of it, but she wanted to add something here and there in her notes.

In a pause, she thought she heard a door open.

Strange. People weren't allowed in and out of the interrogation room during a session.

Then she realized what she'd heard. It hadn't been on the tape. No. It had been here. In her own house. Her own door had been the one to open. And her alarm hadn't gone off.

Slowly, she touched the screen, turning the recording off.

She was getting a prickly feeling. A feeling like someone was standing behind her. Not a happy surprise kind of person either. More like someone with a really big knife.

Yeah. That kind of person.

For whoever accused me of cliffhangers in Hitting Hard— there you go. I'm to lazy to look up your name. Sorry. Annalise, I think.

Anyway and also: I have met ff people at my school, and am exceptionally happy. With all the moving I've done, it's kind of hard to believe I'd never met any, isn't it? I guess I never asked though. But anyway, I have, and now I know people. (you can't have their names. They'll reveal my secrets, because they're helping me with them.)

You who do not review: Your evils will condemn you on the day of judgment. :)