A/N: Please note this is an ARTEMIS FOWL story, and anyone who has been following my Harry Potter work and has found their way here by accident will be very confused. There are spoilers here for all five books. This story was written for the Criminality August-September challenge and is already finished, so there shouldn't be long gaps between upload - I'm just evil and greedy, so I'm going to stretch it out over a couple of weeks. Thanks go to Gus for the stellar (and supremely speedy) betaing effort.
Like most authors, I live on reviews, but I particularly love constructive criticism. Be cruel to be kind, please, I will listen to whatever you have to say and take it seriously.
Enjoy - and support the Orion Awards (see my user profile for more details).
Disclaimer: Not mine. Eoin Colfer's.
Artemis regained consciousness slowly, in stages.
The first thing that he noticed through the hazy half-stupor was that he was uncomfortable. His mouth felt dry and swollen and his head was throbbing in the same way it had the morning after he had decided to conduct some scientific research into the effects of intoxication via single-malt Irish whiskey. And while his notes had been extensive, and his conclusions had been groundbreaking, it was not an experiment he had been intending to repeat any time soon.
Strangely what felt worst were his arms – a tingling kind of ache that did not so much throb in time with his head as fade in and out as his other pains made themselves more or less difficult to ignore.
As he shook off the after-effects of the sedative a little more, he realised that the reason his arms were hurting was that they were supporting his entire body-weight, his body dangling limply by his bound wrists from the ceiling. Groggily remembering why he should be in such a situation, he came to himself enough to twist his head slightly, relief flooding him as he felt the ghostly remnant of pain, like a tiny bruise on the back of his neck, just above the hairline. Butler, acting under his instructions, had inserted a prototype of Artemis' latest invention under the skin there, where it would remain hidden. As long as that had been real, Artemis thought, he could put up with nearly anything.
Artemis' next realisation, although he hadn't yet opened his eyes, was that the room was apparently flooded with light. The light was clearly artificial, as it was so bright that his eyes stung painfully from exposure even through his closed lids. The ringing in his ears, too, appeared to be an externally generated noise – a constant mechanical whine designed to fill the room and his brain with white noise.
The light flicked off, for barely a fraction of a second, leaving a bright green afterimage on the insides of his eyelids, then it came back on again.
Just as Artemis became convinced the momentary loss of power had been his imagination, the light flicked off again for the briefest of instants, before returning to its original steady glow.
Barely a moment later it flicked again, then waited for almost eight seconds before flickering once more.
Off. On. Five seconds.
Off. On. Three seconds.
Designed to flicker at random intervals, then, he decided, to aggravate the prisoner and prevent him from concentrating or sleeping. Very efficient. If Artemis ever came up with a plan so crude as to require keeping a genius captive, he would have to remember this tactic – although, he was forced to admit to himself, by the time this was over he may well count himself lucky if he was able to forget.
Artemis cracked his eyes open a fraction, trying to catch a glimpse of something from beneath the shelter of his lashes. The light was coming from a spotlight shining directly in his eyes and he almost groaned – he should have known better than to tempt fate during his interrogation. The only thing bright enough for him to see was his own pale, naked chest, illuminated by the same light that stabbed at his eyes. The floor he could vaguely feel beneath his bare feet might as well have not been there; he could have been swimming in an ocean of darkness for all he could see beyond the brilliance of the spotlight.
It didn't really bother him that they had taken his clothes. His body was simply a shell to house his mind and, while an immaculate suit gave him an air of power he certainly lacked naked, whatever his captor did to him could only affect him if he let it. He did not intend to do so.
"Awake, I see."
The light flickered off, and then on again.
Artemis remained still, hoping that his captor was simply fishing for a response and resisting the almost unendurable urge to look around for the source of the voice. Besides the fact that his ability to see past the brilliance of the spotlight was almost nonexistent, there was an ever so slight metallic cast to the voice which informed him that the person speaking was not physically present in the room.
He knew exactly what his captor was trying to do, of course. Artemis had been intrigued by psychology from a very early age, and had extensively researched its particular application to captivity in preparation for his first contact with the fairies. His knowledge of the Book, however, had meant that he had not needed to go to too much trouble to extract either information or compliance. He had used some very basic tricks – time dilation and inducing guilt – in order to lower Captain Short's morale and hide the source of his –
The light flickered again, breaking his train of thought, and Artemis felt the beginnings of anxiety bubble in his chest.
"Well, Mud Boy?" said his captor impatiently.
That confirmed that he had given away his wakeful state. Artemis took the opportunity to shift his weight onto his feet, taking the strain off his shoulders, which burst into sudden agony as the blood began flowing a little more normally.
"This really isn't necessary," he said thickly, his tongue feeling twice its usual size in his mouth. "My loyalties are flexible."
"I'll bet they are," said the voice with a chuckle. "Tell me – how did you resist the mesmer?"
"Certain meditation exercises increase the resistance of the mind to outside influences," Artemis lied smoothly. If they weren't already, his lenses would soon be corroded beyond use, so he would have to avoid being mesmerised at all costs. "I started studying them as soon as I –"
The light flickered again and Artemis broke off, annoyingly disconcerted by it. "When I read about the mesmer in the Book," he finished, barely restraining a flinch when the light flicked again almost as soon as he'd fallen silent.
It was just so bright! It seemed to penetrate right through to the back of his skull and he couldn't possibly ignore the momentary relief of darkness when it came.
"Plausible, I suppose," agreed the voice. "Unfortunately for you, it means that I'm going to need you to swear a slave oath before I can trust you. I assume you know what that means."
He did. Holding humans in slavery was one of the fairy powers fully explained in the Book, although most modern-day fairies considered it barbaric. Human rights activists were pushing to have it illegalised in civil law, whether or not it was technically allowed by the Book.
The slave oath was much more ethically dubious than the mesmer because, while a mesmerised human could not be forced to do something entirely against their character, the enslavement of an oath was more complete. A human sworn into the service of a fairy could be asked to kill their own mother, or to stop breathing, and would be magically compelled to obey. It was also essentially permanent, dissolving only upon the death of one of the parties.
It did require a human's willing participation to be formed, but the definition of 'willing' seemed to be somewhat loose – while actions under the mesmer did not count, deception, bribery, and coercion all seemed to be quite valid methods of influencing a human to cooperate. Fortunately, according to rule fifty-six of the Book, physical torture was out of the question, unless his captor wanted to lose his magic. Artemis was exceedingly glad – he was certain he could not have withstood much pain for long.
There was an advantage, of course, to entering a fairy's service, making bribery a close second to deception as a method of encouraging cooperation. The human's natural life was indefinitely extended, the aging process entirely halted. Of course, upon the fairy's death, the human generally had less than twenty-four hours before their advanced age caught up with them, but more than one human had been lured into slavery by the promise of eternal youth. Reading the Book's version of the story of Tan Kabelle, the pixie who had collected dozens of human children for her amusement, had cast the cheery fairytale of boys who refused to grow up into quite another light.
Unfortunately, Artemis was yet to find a workaround, should he be forced to agree. To be realistic, he didn't even know where to start – he couldn't see any weak points to work on. No eye-contact was necessary, no exceptions were made, there were no convenient consciousness side notes, the power of the fairy over the human's mind seemed to be complete. As far as Artemis could tell, once an oath was sworn, its effects were inexorable and permanent. His first order would almost certainly be not to attempt escape. That would make his second order completely unavoidable – which was completely unacceptable – and there was still that twinge of hope at the back of his neck…
The light flashed again but, since his decision had never really been in question, it didn't bother him. It might have been more comfortable if he could feign compliance while he waited, but not at that cost.
"I won't do it," he croaked.
"Obviously not flexible enough, then," said the voice, and then there was silence except for the constant buzzing whine that seemed to fill up the entire room, setting Artemis' teeth on edge.
He controlled his breathing, taking and releasing deep breaths as he tried to meditate, tried to push his situation out of mind and focus on his way out, but he couldn't manage it. The constant white noise was impossible to block out and light burned into his retinas, random flickers distracting him and derailing each train of thought before it could really start.
Aware that, although he could see nothing, his captor would almost certainly have a camera trained on him at all times, Artemis tried to stretch his shoulders a little, smothering a rueful smile with a wince of pain.
All things being equal, he really did have to admire this set up.
Some Time Earlier…
Passing my son's room, I frowned as heard an unfamiliar buzzing. Arty's mobile phone ring tone was unmistakable. The fractally generated waterfall of sound had won him the Dublin Electronic Music award for the past three years running under a pseudonym, moving several of the judges to tears with the dual beauty of the code and the sound it produced.
This harsh vibrating buzz, however, did not sound like Arty. Either he had not yet reprogrammed the device to a more pleasing sound – which was unlikely, unless it was very new – or it was something beyond his ability to manipulate – which sounded even more unlikely. Most curious. The sound cut off with a soft beep and Arty spoke.
"I've got some ideas," he said. "The thief must have been a…"
"No time for that," snapped a woman's voice and I jumped. It sounded almost as clear as though she was in the room with him. "Sool's sent a team to pick you up. You're to be interrogated on suspicion of involvement in the theft."
"I wasn't involved. I have nothing to fear," said Arty, his voice completely even. My stomach sank – it was the complete lack of inflection in the tone that gave it away to those who knew him best. My son was definitely not as calm as he was pretending to be.
"Yes, you do," said the woman grimly. "They've kept it very quiet – only the Council ever knew – but apparently some ancient phlegm pot cleaner prophesied that you would open the box. Even if they find out you're not involved, Sool's pushing to have you executed to ensure you don't get involved. At the very least you'll be mind-wiped, and Retrieval's been ordered to pick up your parents too, so I suspect they're going to eliminate the whole family to be sure no one else can fit the prophecy either."
My stomach sank even deeper. Either this conversation was in code, or the situation was more alarmingly bizarre than I had imagined – and it sounded a little too coherent to be in code.
Arty was silent for a moment, obviously thinking. "This is madness," he said finally. "Bringing me in just doesn't make sense at this stage. At least they won't kill me until they find out for certain whether I know where the box is. How long do I have?"
"Not long. Sool's been hanging over Foaly's shoulder, so he couldn't get word to me – Retrieval One's already on the surface at Tara."
"I need to know this prophecy. Word for word."
"Hang on – Foaly sent it over. Here: 'Further Prophecies of Ohm, phlegm pot cleaner to –'"
"Skip ahead to the relevant part," Arty interrupted her. "We don't have time for this."
"Right. Blah, blah, blah… Ah! 'In these dark days I have seen another vision of the one, fowl by name and fowl by nature, who comes among us. Guard well the box of the king's beloved for only in his hands will it be opened once more, and from his hands, death and devastation will be unleashed on those fairies who oppose him.'"
There was a pause and then the woman's voice continued. "That's all that's about you, I think – the rest seems to be just gibberish about how to read the future in the phlegm."
"Thank you. I need to get moving."
"You do," she agreed. "Good luck."
There was a period of a few seconds silence, as though Arty wanted to say something else, but couldn't think what, before a soft beep signalled that he had simply closed the connection without another word.
Before I could decide whether to reveal myself or not, Arty turned the corner out of his room and caught sight of me. I've never been able to work out for certain whether my son actually does know everything, or whether he simply has the best poker face I've ever seen, but he didn't reveal the slightest hint of surprise, as though he had known I was there all along.
"I need you and Mother to stay inside, well away from the windows," Arty said, meeting my eyes seriously. "I can't explain. Intruders will be here shortly, you may not be able to see them, but you will be safe if you stay well inside the house."
He turned without waiting for a response and strode off down the corridor towards the security centre. I caught up with him within a few paces – at only a month and a half away from his fifteenth birthday, the boy had recently hit a growth spurt, but he was still eleven inches shorter than me, a fact in which I took great pride. I may not have been able to beat my son at crime, business, or chess, but by God I could still outrun him, even with a false leg and a cane.
"Tell me what's going on," I said, falling into step beside him. "It sounds to me as though whatever this scheme of yours is has endangered your mother and me, as well."
I kept my tone light; there would be time for recriminations later, when my son had explained himself.
"It's not that I don't want to tell you, Father," insisted Arty, "it is simply not my secret to tell. The main reason I am in trouble is that I know something that I shouldn't and the people involved are concerned that I will exploit their secrets – it won't help your case or mother's if you actually do know anything."
I was silent for a few moments as I mulled that over. As usual, my son's reasoning made a lot of sense – but there was no way I could stand by and let him face whatever this was on his own. "That's as may be, Arty," I said finally, "but I might be able to help if I know what's going on. Some of it, I've worked out already. Work with me here and we'll have a better chance!"
Arty bowed his head in thought as he walked and when he looked up again, his bright blue eyes were shining with something I couldn't quite recognise. "Would you believe me," he said, "if I told you I had discovered the existence of a magical and technologically advanced hidden civilisation – a people known as the fairies?"
I didn't flinch, but on the inside I was suddenly gibbering in terror. My son would not lie to me, not about something like this. And unfortunately, it seemed all too plausible, given some of the information I had managed to gather on Arty's antics while I was missing or incapacitated – he had executed an impossible rescue, filled vast vaults with untraceable gold, and one of his targets even swore he'd disappeared in front of the his very eyes!
The one thing I had been trying to teach my son since he was only a small boy was not to overreach himself. I had never succeeded, mostly because Arty had never actually managed to overreach himself – his abilities in whatever he approached seemed limitless. If the boy had indeed discovered the existence of such a race he would not have considered it something that was clearly best left alone – as every other rational person on earth would have. He would have considered it a challenge.
"Yes," I said eventually.
"Excellent," said Arty, looking relieved not to have to prove his claim. "I began my association with the fairies by kidnapping a police officer to extort gold."
I knew it!
"But," Arty continued, "I then went on to save their race three times – admittedly one of those times was my fault, but only one. Now someone's stolen a weapon of mass destruction that can only be used by a human and only against fairies – and some long-dead fairy prophesied that it would be me who used it. The most worrying thing is that his last prophecies about me came true. They're going to interrogate me and then execute me to ensure that I can never use it.
"I can't begin to explain how completely out of character this is for their race," he continued. "They are a gentle people who abandoned the surface to avoid war with us, despite the fact that they could have crushed us without even trying – they probably still could, for that matter. However, their police force – the LEP – has recently been taken over by a vindictive gnome without a conscience or any instinct for his work. Sool plays everything precisely by the rule book or according to his own personal agendas, which makes him completely ineffectual as either an investigator or an enforcer and prevents his subordinates from doing their jobs. Somehow he's decided that the safest way to play this situation is to eliminate me – along with every other Fowl."
We reached the security room then and pushed our way through the double-doors into the windowless chamber. Arty's bodyguard, and mine, were instantly paged with the instructions to make their way to our position. Angeline, however, presented more of a problem. She considered it vulgar to carry a pager or phone inside her own house and, while her bodyguard would have been able to tell us her exact location, Juliet Butler had left the Fowls' employ to tour the world wrestling scene and my wife was yet to find a suitable replacement. We would have to search for her the long way.
I went to one of the monitors and began scrolling through the closed circuit television feeds from cameras scattered around the manor, starting with the places where she was most likely to be.
"What are their strengths?" I asked as I searched, trying to reduce this situation to another game, another textbook situation against a known opponent.
"Invisibility. Flight. Mind control. Healing, of themselves and others. Long lives. Technology far beyond anything humans have ever seen, including weapons, surveillance, hacking, memory wiping, and time manipulation." Arty's tone was absent, the majority of his attention focussed on the monitor in front of him as he cycled through cameras searching for his mother.
I closed my eyes for a moment in horror, my heart beating loud and fast in my ears. When my son made enemies, he really made enemies. The urgency of the situation reasserting itself, I sped up my search and croaked, "Weaknesses?"
"Usually, an overwhelming compassion, especially for innocents, and they can be overly reliant on their own superiority. A slight shimmer in the air gives away the position of a shielded fairy. They cannot enter a human dwelling uninvited. They must obey our instructions once inside. They have a limited amount of magic and, when it runs out, must restore it in a ritual involving a full moon and an acorn. They are mostly of small physical size. We can resist mesmerisation through the use of mirrored sunglasses or contact lenses. We can escape their time field by drugging ourselves to sleep. Where IS she?" he demanded finally and I jumped.
Arty never raised his voice, any more than he called me 'Dad'. Things must be worse, even, than he was letting on.
I froze as my screen finally found a camera with Angeline in its view and swore out loud. Less than a second later, I knew that Arty had seen her too, because he let the tiniest sigh of air escape through his nose and then sank cross-legged to the floor to meditate. I didn't disturb him with questions or suggestions; whatever plan Arty came up with in the few minutes we had would be many times better than anything of mine.
I could only fix my eyes on the figure of my wife, where she conversed with a tiny figure in the garden, and hope that, whatever it was, it would be enough.
To be continued...