Summary: When the fall is all that remains for Commander Trouble Kelp, the fall is all that matters.
Characters/Pairings: Trouble Kelp, Trouble/Holly, Holly/Artemis
Disclaimer: Trouble Kelp and other recognisable characters and situations belong to Eoin Colfer and his publishers and affiliates.
Thanks to: The White Lily, who helped me work out a sprite's wingspan to be about 3.75 metres, with comparison to the average bat's wingspan, as both sprites and bats are mammalian; we also worked out that goldfish should get the bends when moved around the Underground in different pressurisation levels, the average rates of copulation, and the probable numbers of under-60 minor fairies. Kitty Rainbow was the first to use the pre-Trouble name of 'Mulberry'; she also forgave me for the many other incidental references to her work which I didn't notice at the time. Chuthulupenguin helped me out with her fishy knowledge. Thanks to my stepmum, Heidi, for creativity and rolled eyes; the fish titles were her idea. The Toaster who pre-read the fic, and told me to shut up about it already. This help was invaluable.
The original plot and situation of this story was taken from Dim Aldebaran's Slipknot, (story id: 2791723/1/ on ff. net) as part of the Remix Redux challenge. Although this fic can be read on its own, the two stories are complimentary and knowledge of one helps understanding of the other. Also, Dim Aldebaran is brilliant in a vaguely intimidating way, so you should read her anyway. I'm incredibly glad to have been given this opportunity to utilise her story as my basis, and I loved every second of the writing.
Aquarium: The Breaking Heart in B Minor
When the fall is all there is, it matters.
The Lion in Winter
Trouble watches Holly: her hair is a vibrant red, set off by the brilliant emerald turtleneck she wears. A lurching echo of lust turns Trouble's stomach, and his feelings flutter like footsteps across his heart. Love is still new, and lust still prominent. Artificial light refracts through the water, and that refraction sparkles off the diamond upon her left hand. He watches his lover as she turns in slow spirals across the floor, orderly and beautiful and chaotic all at once. A psychotic bureaucracy of the heart, moving in parallel to the rainbow flashes.
Holly watches the swirling colour which dances across her vision. Tropical fish – reds and blues and vibrant greens – swim mindlessly through the water. Tails flutter like rippling nets sinking to the depths. The off-white beauty of a swarm of angelfish is like a patterning of whisping clouds across a clear dusk sky. Monotonous colour swims in circles behind observation glass.
The glass curves into a tunnel above their heads, so the everyday people of Haven can experience the water the same way the Atlanteans do. The weight of water is kept at bay by sheets of glass; the overhead burden of the Earth's crust slips from their minds as though there is something in the filtered air.
Holly presses her hand against the cool glass. A banded scalyfin swims close by. Its body is the same colour as Trouble's own skin – ripe dark mulberries, squashed underfoot. Glass separates nut-brown skin from deep dusk scales; a red-purple tail flicks against her unreachable palm, flinches at the transparent barriers, and is gone.
Trouble keeps his hands in his pockets, which is why he feels the shiver of his mobile phone against his leg. The ascending tone is drowned out by a crowd of school-age fairies who enter the glass tunnel from the other side, but the rhythm of the vibration identifies the call as having originated in Police Plaza.
"Commander Kelp," he answers. Holly turns to look questioningly at him; he waves away her attention. She wanders a few steps away, looking up at the deep grey belly of a shark. Perhaps she doesn't want to be reminded of the LEP, even now. Or maybe it is simply polite politics, as she can't yet tell the difference in his voice when a matter is confidential or mundane.
Trouble nods into his hand as the officer briefs him. The issues of command – the plague of swear toads in Swantunnel, the failing transportation system, the Retrieval budget of landside wings - are all pushed into an insignificant stream of reality at the back of his mind. His brother's face, his mother's hip problem, and the novel he's been reading all fade to nothing. "No problems with the extraction, Major?"
A single nod. His eyes still track Holly's form. Her skirt plays around her lower thighs, and when she turns to follow the path of a stingray he can see the dimple on her left knee. "I'll be in ASAP. I'll hold you responsible for his isolation and containment, Vein."
The mobile clicks shut. He taps the metal casing against his chin once, twice.
Holly jumps when Trouble's deeply coloured hand settles on her shoulder. Then she turns her head; the smile reaches her eyes, and crows feet make her perfect face more real.
"I'm going to have to zip into the Plaza, love. Only for a few hours, hopefully." The smile disappears from her lips, but the laugh isn't gone from her eyes; perhaps she sees the colours of the corals in her peripheral vision. "I hope you'll still have lunch with Máthair. She loves chatting with you."
Holly rolls those hazel eyes of hers, smirking. "Don't lie. I intimidate her, I'll bet."
He shrugs, brushing his knuckles against her smooth round cheek. "I'm not betting against you. That Diggums has been teaching you criminal secrets for years."
"Of course he hasn't been. That would be blatant corruption. We've just been playing at Mud Man card games when business is slow." He smiles in return, raising a sceptical eyebrow. Oh, you never used to smile like that, he thinks. I never saw that cheeky smile when you were in the LEP. Civilian life has agreed with you, even if you never admit it.
She leans in for a kiss. Chaste, but not quite quick. School girl pixies giggle. The teacher recognises them both, and her blush is the colour of damp moss.
"I'll see you tonight. Meet me at Dario."
She nods. Her hand gives his a squeeze before he leaves. It is still cool from the glass.
The suspect is calm and composed. Shells of serene tranquillity enfold him like the protective leaves of a forest, or the layers of fine silk which clothe him. Vein had told Trouble that Fowl – the suspect – ¬ had come quietly and helpfully, not insisting on bringing the Mountain Man down with him. He has been at the mercy/hospitality of the People before now, and thinks he knows what to expect.
The single door seals shut with a pneumatic hiss behind his departing escort, and the human is alone.
Do you think he knows what I'm doing? Trouble wonders to the Holly in his head, as he watches the Mud Man sit down on the stiff mattress as though it were a fine gilt chair.
"Artemis Julian Fowl the Second." Trouble leans forward, his dark lips brushing the microphone pad. Fowl doesn't move, even as the noise echoes – too loud, Trouble made sure – around the adjoining room.
"You have been arrested on charge of murder, the murder of Pip Cecil Squires, a citizen of the fey. In the time of the Great Schism, where humans and fey went their separate ways, the laws of human-fey interaction were created. We treat you in accordance with these laws. You will be held for twenty three Underground days, a time equal to twenty six surface days. During this time the forces of the Lower Elements Police will collect evidence against you. Following this you will face a trial of eight races, wherein Gnome, Elf, Pixie, Sprite, Dwarf, Centaur, and Goblin will be represented. These races will judge you, and their judgement shall be final. Do you have anything to say in your defence?"
"Commander Kelp," Fowl says, standing to look up at the mirrored wall. He speaks staring at the reflection of his own blue eyes. "I am not an inhumane Mud Man; give my condolences to the family of this fairy. But you have no cause to keep me here: I have murdered no fairies. You have no evidence against me, and will recover none that links me to this death."
Trouble's voice drops, losing the drone of rote learnt material. A spoken smile gleams like mother-of-pearl, sheathing his words in friendship. "Your history predisposes the Council to think--" Trouble pauses, a structured pause to show his distaste for this predicament, "--negatively about your actions. The circumstances are suspicious – the murder occurred in Meath, not 30 klicks from your Manor. But that is all. I'm sure this can all be cleared up before long."
Blue eyes stare into the mirror at Trouble's eyelevel. The mirror begins halfway up the investigation cell's wall; but it is twice the height of any other fairy room, and so the glass stretches floor to ceiling in the room Trouble occupies. "Commander, I will speak to Holly."
Trouble's teeth clench, but he nods his head in unseen consent.
He waits in the darkness of the observation room, waiting to see the fall.
"…Officer Short's depressed mental state after the Hamburg Affair. Through recommendation of Commander Root, in conjunction with evidence from myself, Professor Cumulus, Short was temporarily suspended rather than released from the LEP …"
It was effortless for Trouble to access the file on Holly; the Commander only had to raise small doubts concerning her assessment ability in relation to Fowl. He didn't have to repeat the past, and bring up the instances of Holly arriving back from upside jaunts days late with the smell of human on her flesh. He didn't have to voice the suspicions that hold him hostage every night as he lies in the dark; Holly curled at the other side of the bed. Captain McCauley had seen Holly's shaking hands when she left the Plaza, and could support Trouble's assessment of her emotional fragility in this case. It is easy to deal with elves.
"…During the Artemis Fowl incident Short developed what the Mud Men call 'Stockholm Syndrome', especially for the adolescent female, Juliet Butler. This syndrome is described as a hostage or kidnapped person developing loyalty for her captors, and so is appropriately applied in this situation. Her later development and dealings with Artemis Fowl indicate capture-bonding, as she appears to have developed an on-going emotional bond with Fowl. (Gunding, 4712 GS, pg 158). Her inability to resolve herself to the inevitability of the Blue Rinse shows questionable field usefulness, especially in relationship to Fowl and his associates. Commander Julius Root put forward that this reluctance had to do with 'damn emotional elves', and Root's assessment of her emotional state is valid conjecture as Short was later to refer to Root as her closest friend.
"This, in turn, reveals the obsession Short has for her occupation as a LEP officer. It is Dr Argon's professional opinion that Short's compulsive work ethic is a form of clinical obsession which…"
Cumulus doesn't believe in the security of electronic records, so the file is a heavy, solid weight in his hands. Trouble's mind feels light in comparison.
"…Her mental capacities under stressful circumstances are not ideal for a field officer. Under various circumstances throughout her employment in the LEP Short has demonstrated recklessness in the field. Emotional connections between Mud Man subjects and herself led to the situation topside concerning a rogue bull troll in Martina Franca; the illegal use of LEP technology and resources to rescue Artemis Fowl the Elder; and the improper use of healing magic in relation to Domovoi Luthen Butler…"
Trouble sips a take away coffee as he reads. His eyes scan the page slowly, so as not to miss anything pertinent. Viewpoints of Fowl's still body flicker across a plasma screen in rhythmic succession.
"…retirement from the LEP following Commander Root's death was a blessing for the LEP. Short's erratic and suspect actions compromised the security of the People throughout her career. "When Sool told us Short had shot ol' Beetroot and gone rogue it made sense. She's always been half-mad. That just seemed to prove it." (Corporal Theodore Wood, post Commander Julius Root's death.) The ease at which her fellow officers accuse her of betraying the People illustrates her instability. She does not feel significant allegiance to the LEP, the People, or their protection. This is seen by her subsequent deflection to working with the hostile Mud Man, Artemis Fowl the Younger, and her role in the restoration of memories legally taken from him.
"It is the recommendation of Professor Cumulus, in counsel with Dr J. Argon, that further employment of the civilian, Holly Short, not be considered."
The thin recycled pages flutter shut.
Trouble stares at it for long moments before calling Grub to take it back down to the archives. He hasn't learnt anything he didn't already know.
Cumulus will return from his LEP-paid surface holiday soon enough. Trouble awaits the questioning to come. He wishes for nets of satisfactory answers to be knitted from the aether; nets which will catch reason, and drag it down.
Trouble doubts his own sanity by the end of the first week. No progress has been made. Holly hasn't made a move, and Fowl has barely spoken to his captors. Instead they watch each other, eyes searching for contact between the mirrors; maybe Holly meets her own hazel eyes, as Fowl meets blue.
Fowl's cell is constantly bathed in brilliant white light. Holly stands in the dark, in the shadow of a half-silvered mirror.
Trouble waits by the door of the observation room for thirteen minutes before speaking to her. She hasn't noticed his presence yet; in the last week her observation skills have crumbled away, eroded by a pair of blue eyes which occasionally meet hers by chance.
"Holly?" he asks. She turns. Or, at least, her body turns towards him. Her eyes shift to somewhere in the vicinity of his face, but her mind is still watching Fowl. He can tell.
"Are you alright? Are you alright with all this?" He waves his hand in an expansive gesture towards the broad, one-way glass.
Holly shrugs, her eyes skittering back to the white room, with its white light and clean white occupant. She hasn't said more than a few words to Trouble all week.
Trouble's stomach twists at her inattention, even as he strengthens himself. This is what he wanted to know. He is in control. This is his experiment, and now he must wait for the hypothesis to be disproved. He is in control. "Talk to me, please."
Her response is terse, but it is a response. "I'm fine." He can hear a note of self-disgust overlaying her words; a twang of disgruntlement which gives him hope when he was starting to despair.
"—He won't speak to anyone else," he lies. "If you can't get a confession, we have nothing." He doesn't mention that the Council is already reviewing the cause and warrant for this arrest. He doesn't recall the look in Major Vein's eyes when cautions were given and went unreceived. He doesn't say: If you can't get a confession, I have nothing, as he will still have her.
She has already turned back to face the mirror, drawn like a strip of scrap metal to align itself to North. But compasses don't often work underground; magnetic fields are disturbed by the moving currents in the magma, and the furrowing flow of magic. The thought gives him hope.
"I'll start tomorrow," she says to the mirror.
"Okay," he says. His hands don't shake as he leaves the room, but only because he forces both hands deep into the pockets of his trousers, pushing them against his legs so hard that blue sparks dance across his mulberry skin to cleanse the bruises.
She is crying and stumbling and pulling against him as soon as she leaves the cell. She struggles against him, and it is as though she's already left him in her head, and is trying to fly back inside to beat against the mirrored glass with her love upon the other side, like a perverted butterfly.
He catches her, bringing her down even as her struggles lessen. Her breaths are fast and gasping; even Haven's precious air resists being used by her. She calms slowly; his arms curl around her, and she accepts it. She relaxes into his grip; she submits, falling into the net he has woven for them both.
She doesn't resist when he asks her to coffee. She has hot chocolate, a marshmallow floating on top. "Thank you," she says, and he knows she is thinking of the entrapment of his arms.
Trouble doesn't say anything, only smiling.
There are thirty seven million, fifty seven thousand, five hundred and thirteen souls registered on the Underground census. There are four million, three hundred and eight thousand, four hundred and seventeen fairies in Haven and the hinterland tunnels. Eight million, six hundred and sixteen thousand, eight hundred and thirty four lungs breathe in its purified, modified and controlled air. Two million, eight hundred ninety two thousand, one hundred and fifty eight married or de facto couples copulate on average point seven eight times per month.
There are many unexpected duties of a police commander. Most of them had taken Trouble by surprise when he was first promoted. The LEP organises how the two hundred and seventy three thousand, nine hundred and five minors under the age of sixty years who attend government supported education schemes (or will within the next eight years) get to school every morning. The LEP is the liaison between the hydroponic farmers and the scientists so that better suited genetically modified crops can be developed. Not only is the LEP responsible for security detail on inter-race dignitaries, and the traffic division he remembers from his first year, but the LEP also manages most areas of the public maintenance and infrastructure systems, and are heavily involved in the smooth running of Haven City.
This is a surprisingly logical progression as the LEP is one of the only efficient bodies of the Underground. It is the only government division which had access to all levels of society, and each individual within each class. It exists as an authority in all the Underground cities and tunnels, not only in Haven. It is no accident that six of the seven council members had, at some point in their career, been on the LEP payrolls.
The LEP is responsible for the air purification system in Haven, and the biannual water festival in Atlantis. It controls all above-ground visas, as well as most inter-city travel. Food and goods production is a carefully maintained balance of corporations and government regulatory bodies, all overseen by the LEP.
The princelings in control of the individual city-states all answer to Haven, and Haven answers to Trouble Kelp. The Council's whims can be safely ignored for the most part, while any larger measures are implemented as a result of excessive and successive parliamentary meetings of the Democracy, at which any member of fairy society over the age of 300 is allowed to speak.
The Council and the Democracy rule over the Booke, the theology, and the People's actions. But it is the LEP who control the air purification, the carefully balanced Haven ecology, the energy systems, and all means of essential production.
Fairies live in a cheerful state of totalitarian hegemony. And although the Commander is not the hegemon, he is the hegemony's right hand, or its lungs. Dispensable only at the risk of crippling the entire system.
Trouble has become used to power. Not the power of the Council, in their gilt chairs, but power over everyday lives; the power of comfort and necessities.
After rewatching the recording of Holly's first meeting with Fowl he orders the temperature of Fowl's observation cell to be dropped by ten degrees Celsius.
Trouble scrutinizes Fowl as he sleeps. He sleeps on his back, pure white fingers knitted together and resting on his chest. He is always calm, so the moment when resting with eyes fixed on the ceiling is replaced with sleep is not immediately evident except when viewed alongside Fowl's vital signs.
Trouble fantasies about Fowl's dreams; the criminal dream fascinates him even now, just as it did when he was a left-wing elf back in Crim Psych at Haven U.
Does he dream of you? Trouble asks the Holly who lives in his head and appears in his daydreams. No? But perhaps he dreams of the first time you met, and I came knocking at his Manor door, backlit by the surreal glow of the time stop.
It is more likely Fowl dreams of the cell he sleeps in, eight-feet by seven-foot-five; the slight difference being enough to aggravate any prisoner into having nightmares of the shorter wall creeping in towards him. Or perhaps he dreams of the luxuries denied him – water showers, clean clothes, and fresh meat. Perhaps his dreams are the product of cold, and he shivers in his sleep as he remembers the chill of shooting his own father in the Arctic. Perhaps he dreams of shame, and the indignity of squatting over a fairy-sized toilet while eyes watch from five recording viewpoints. And maybe he dreams of Christian Heaven, the constant white light being the ectoplasm of angels and the substance of clouds, rather than the product of sixteen halogen bulbs.
Trouble himself sleeps unsoundly. In his nightmares he sees the hydroponic fields of the Underground, with crops of maize and beanstalks growing under electric lights. Broken bodies of blue and brown feed the crops, until the plants break through their barriers into the sunlight of Above.
He wakes every hour to check that Holly is still by his side, even though she is a bed's width from him and curled upon herself so tightly that her knees brush the underside of her breasts. He wants to reach out and touch her, but doesn't dare in case his cold, shivering fingers wake her. His eyes take a long time to adjust to the gloom of his – their – bedroom, and through the darkness he studies his lover.
The urge to touch her is overwhelming, but she is still too far away – she is in dreams of green fields, with wind whipping past her wings. Or maybe she is swimming through the Aquarium, unable to hear her future mother-in-law through the pressure-proof glass, and over the roar of water swirling towards filtration.
Would you wake to Fowl's dreams? Trouble asks, because she never wakes to his sweat-filled nightmares. He knows of the People's dream magic – a magic of the mind, creating a unity of the spirit. His máthair always said she shared her dreams with his father. Trouble even shared dreams with his brother during childhood. But he has never dreamt with Holly; his teeth clench and his jaw aches at the thought of her dreaming Fowl's perverted dreams instead.
He watches her long after his breathing has slowed, and his fingertips have been warmed beneath the covers. Her fingers smooth across the sheets; her eyes skid behind her eyelids; her teeth can be seen though partially open lips. He smells her scent, a musky sweetness trapped in the blankets. Her sweat mixed with his, both spread across the unwashed linen. But she dreams of another scent.
Sometimes he dares himself to take his pillow and smother her in his smell until she can't breathe in anything else, but he never does.
The elder Kelp has always been captivated by captivity. As an elfish boy of fourteen he followed his máthair to her work at the Aquarium.
He dipped his fingers into a pool of purple sea urchins, and their prickles tickled his palm. He grinned up at Oscar the shark diver, and every time got a chunk of gifted chocolate, making his smile even broader. Blue magic sparkled across his forearm when a small octopus wrapped its seven remaining tentacles around him in a bid for freedom. From one side of thick glass he watched the fish as they swum – he envied their freedom in imprisonment, an ignorant rejoicing that he's never been able to emulate even though his prison cell is as wide as the world.
He loved the Aquarium in the way that other boys his age loved their toy Mud Men.
"Why do we keep the sharks and things in Haven, Mummy?" he asked one day, his dark hand tugging at his máthair's full skirts. "I think it'd be easy 'nuff for us fairies to visit the sharks when they're still in the sea, 'n then Oscar wouldn't have to feed 'em, 'n keep 'em from eating the other fishies. 'N, you know, stuff."
She looked down at him, scrubbing a smear of grime from his cheek with a calloused thumb. "Don't slouch, Mulberry." The boy straightened, puffing his chest out, an imperfect military expression upon his chubby face. His rounded child belly jutted forth as well, a globe of baby-soft flesh and a slither of skin poking from beneath an out-grown shirt. His máthair's belly was just as round, two years into her second pregnancy.
"But what about the sharks, Mummy?"
"We keep them here in the Aquarium so the scientists can look at them and find out everything about them."
He looked up at her with interested wide brown eyes. "Even their secrets?"
"Even their secrets, Berry." She smiled, her hand resting on top of the life growing within her.
"They're dangerous too, though. Not even Atlanteans can visit them in the Ocean, because they're too big for us." She took his hand and led him towards a high wide tank. "Look at Amaletz, Berry. Don't you think he's a little bit scary?" A huge Great White Shark moved through the tank with powerful movements of his tail, an unevolved beast of the water.
The boy stared up at the monstrous creature, an unstoppable predator one hundred times his own weight. His soft child jaw stiffened once more in defiance. "I'm not scared of him."
She sighed, reaching for her son's tiny hand. "I know you're not, Berry."
Trouble watches Fowl's fine white hands play across an imaginary grand piano. He watches what Holly watches; her eyes used to trace his steps across a room, and his stare used to follow her, but not anymore. The red light of the operating intercom system blinks in his peripheral vision, although by now he knows both so well that he could read their lips with ease.
"Remember the diamond?" he asks her, his blue eyes brightly dangerous. Trouble's thoughts fall to the diamond upon his lover's hand, but that is not the diamond they speak of.
"Remember the promise?" she asks her love. Trouble knows that she has already forgotten the promise she made to him, the promise enshrined in the overlooked diamond.
They watch each other; it is a sinuous dance of shifting gazes on a backdrop of black and white. They are as still as statues, bleached into distorted purity as they contemplate adultery.
Fowl moves first, his hands reaching out to play sweet nothings in the air. Her hands shake as she asks about the crime. He talks of blood and urine as he seduces her, smiling a belligerent smile, his head cocked to one side.
She agrees to have the vid off at their next meeting. Then she staggers away, her hand resting for a moment on the bright white wall.
Trouble continues to watch, long after Holly has left.
Major Valentine finds him, still standing in the dark with both hands pressed against the mirror. His joints have stiffened from the cold glass (the air in the cell is still below fairy normal). His knuckles are bleached mauve from the pressure.
He has been watching fingers waltz across mute keys. He has been captivated by the mythical sounds of Fowl's piano.
Fowl is like a sociopathic Beethoven, deaf and blind, trapped and tormented within his cell of reality. What he has composed is an inverted beauty – he has caught the invisible notes of Trouble's soul. His self, strung together in a make-believe melody of discords and arrested crescendos. It is the perfect accompaniment to a breaking heart.
Trouble does what Artemis has asked for, and turns off the recording equipment before he enters the observation cell. He switches off the lights, and enters the gloom; this is the first minute of darkness that Fowl has experienced in the last twenty days. Not even four hundred and eighty three hours of pure white light can cleanse his ivory hands.
"Holly?" he calls, turning in the shock of the dark.
Is this where you want him? Trouble thinks, watching the still human. Fairy eyes adjust more fluidly to dark than humans; magic helped them evolve to the midnight of Above, and the suffocating darkness below.
"You have opportunities, Fowl," he says.
"Of course I do. You have nothing which you can use to hold me, Commander Kelp. Nothing the Council will accept. I know your laws, fairy, better than you do."
"I am not talking about laws, human. You found our loopholes, but I know our loopholes as well. There were wars between humans and fairies, and armistices ended them but you did not surrender. You are a prisoner of war, if I care to say you are."
Fowl nods his head once, a concession he doesn't know Trouble can see. "So what do you plan to do to me, Commander?"
"I could arrange it so you never see the stars again." Trouble hisses. "I could keep you in this cell for the next hundred years, and then you would be gone."
"I am human," Artemis says, his voice calm and soft, "and we humans trail after the seven races of the fey. We are the duality of Aldebaran, following the seven sisters of the Pleiades across the sky every night, but never catching up. That is what I am. Blind me and bind me however you like, but I am already following the Pleiades; I am already following you." The pause lasts for a minor eternity, the space between two heart beats. "If this is my murder, it is also yours. And it was yours first."
Trouble's teeth grind together; Artemis can hear it in the darkness and smirks, white teeth flashing. "Whatever you try, you won't be able to stop me. It won't do any good."
"Don't think you can trick me, Fowl. I'm watching you." Trouble palms a remote control attached to his belt and the five red lights blink back on.
Artemis laughs; humour recorded from five viewpoints. "Is this the Underground's panopticon?" He waves a hand at the cameras, and the broad black mirror. "You watch me, Kelp, and maybe I'll behave? Don't you worry about Holly watching you?" His head cocks, another facet of his performance. "Or would you simply be glad to have her attention?"
Trouble turns to go. He presses a finger to the DNA pad. "Commander Kelp," the voice recognition software identifies him.
"A final question for you, Commander." Trouble stops and turns his head. Artificial light from the hall leaks around his silhouette to splash across Fowl's face. "Why do you wish to keep her, when she has found her own loophole?"
The Council holds sessions in the Dome. The chamber of the Dome is a perfect circle of seven wings radius – a historical measurement of an adult sprite's wingspan. Delicately wrought flying buttresses support the walls, climbing up to curving golden glass and lace-like iron supports. In the very centre of the domed glass is a single circular pane of clear glass; it casts a silhouette of pure light in the very centre of the chamber floor. Stalactites of interlaced quartz can be seen through the glass, columns of stone hanging far above.
Eight throne-like gilt chairs are equally spaced across the wide room. One is larger than the others, human-sized. In it sits decay and broken promises. The occupants of the seven fairy thrones sit so far from their neighbours that facial expressions are an unseen blur. Around these thrones cluster the bureaucrats and politicians of each Council member in turn; one chair is crowded in green, while the next is a cacophony of every shade of red, a rainbow circle of allegiance and speciation.
It is a formalised world inside the Dome. Rituals hold the Council steady through times of trouble and times of peace. Trouble stands behind Wing-Commander Vinyáya, the traditional position for any Commander of the LEP when not in the Council's focus.
The Council's attention is on Doctor J. Argon, who looks fumblingly small and insignificant in this world of refracted gold. Trouble pretends to stifle a yawn, as Vinyáya expects him to be bored at such formalities of governance, but in reality his eyes are covering the doctor with far more interest than he cares to admit.
"—professional opinion. The hostility the subject feels towards the People will increase with continuing imprisonment. If the subject were to make another move against the People, lethal force may have to be used, as it has already been seen that our mindwiping technology was insufficient." Argon paused, wiping spittle from the corner of his overlarge mouth.
"If we are ever to release the subject, we must do it quickly, when we have not passed our reasonable jurisdiction."
Seven noble heads nod sagely. "Thank you, Doctor," says Chairman Cahartez, and Argon is hurried away to an observation gallery overlooking the polished quartz-studded floor.
"Commander Kelp." Trouble steps forward, his skin gleaming a deep ocean green in the golden light. It takes almost a minute to walk as far as the circle of white light from which all witnesses must speak.
"Sirs, Ma'am," he makes a slow circle, bowing his head to each of the seven in turn.
"Commander," Vinyáya asks, "have you collected any evidence which ties Fowl to the murder of Squires?"
"The subject made what could be interpreted as a confession yesterday evening, in the presence of LEP recording equipment and private investigator Holly Short. However, the purpose of this confession is suspect, as is the nature of it. It is not a direct confession, and may be unreliable as evidence in a trial. Ground teams are yet to find any evidence of Fowl at the scene of the crime."
Heads nod from all around the room. Crimson and green, orange and blue, white and gold and royal purple.
"In light of this, what is your recommendation to this Council?"
Trouble swallows. He swallows his pride, his quaking gut, and his fear. But it erupts anyway, against his will. "Fowl should be returned to the surface. As quickly as we are able to do so. He should be isolated for the remaining time Underground – further interrogation will be fruitless, and only serve to prove to Fowl that we have no evidence to use against him."
His eyes close. For one blissful second that stretches to eternity he stares at the back of his own eyelids. "That is my recommendation, if this Council will accept it."
The seven members exchange significant looks, and politicians whisper into pointed ears.
"The Council accepts this recommendation of Commander Trouble Kelp. Let it be done."
Trouble lets out his captured breath.
Truth is not worth this pain. Nothing is worth this pain.
Great White Shark
Trouble rings his mother, first. The aquarium has just received a pair of threshing sharks, on loan from Atlantis, and Trouble suggests Grub be present to watch them settle in. Before he goes down to the cell he picks a mean-faced gnome at random from the crowd in the cafeteria, and asks him to bring his equally ugly twin.
Grub is on duty outside Fowl's door, picking at his fingernails with the clip of his badge. He smiles when he sees his brother approach; a broad smile which crinkles his eyes. The clean fingernails spring to his forehead in a salute so crisp it crackles.
"You're off, Corporal. The Aquarium asked for LEP assistance." Trouble winks, so the two gnomes can't see. It hurts his heart to do so; Grub's wide bright eyes stare at him for a moment, so hopeful and so blank, before he nods eagerly.
"See you later, Trub—" he catches himself, "--Commander."
"Run along, then, Corporal." Grub beams, almost skipping as he makes his way along the corridor.
And Trouble is free from his three-foot-two conscience. It was so simple, so incredibly easy.
He palms open the door, and Artemis stands to greet him. "Commander."
Trouble doesn't say anything at all, only gesturing to the two goonish gnomes. Within seconds they have the Mud Man pinned to the smooth floor, his luminescent white skin appearing translucent. He doesn't struggle or react at all – he knows his own weakness intimately, after twenty one days of captivity.
Instead he ignores the gnomes who have attached themselves to his body. He looks up at Trouble with deep blue, intelligent eyes which make Trouble want to scream. "Who was I brought here to test? Did you ever expect that my downfall would make Holly belong to you?"
Trouble shakes his head, his teeth grinding against each other audibly. His cheeks are flushed the red of squashed raspberries, the red of a lunar eclipse.
"No, I know the truth. You brought me here as a test for yourself, Commander." He cocks his young, perfect head to one side. White is framed by black, upon a background of white walls, blinding white. "Have you failed so quickly? Have the heavens reversed, and the Pleiades turned to chase Aldebaran?"
Fingernails leave crimson crescents in Trouble's palms. The pain is not enough to distract him from those pretty boy blue eyes, which sparkle like moonlight on ocean waves.
He uses his heavy military boot first. A sharp kick to the bottom of young ribs. There is a potent silence on the other side of that kick, where things could still turn. The moment pivots, as blue eyes meet his.
And then he is kicking and punching and screaming, all at once. Mulberry fists land on alabaster skin. Purple bruises will bloom in their place, across a perfect pale chest. His knuckles are already hurting, already bruising midnight blue, as the blue sparks of his magic tingle across the cuts on his palm.
Trouble is careful. None of the wounds will be visible to a casual observer. But Fowl's chest and back and thighs will be mottled the colour of Trouble's skin, until the marks fade to sickly yellow and greens.
With blue magic gleaming on his swollen fists Trouble looks down at his handiwork. Fowl's shirt has slipped to one side, and a single bruise the colour of his lover's love's eyes peeks forth. His satisfaction swells in the most base manner, and he doesn't care.
He leaves the observation cell with the two gnomes following. In the light of sixteen low-watt globes Fowl struggles to his feet to watch Trouble leave.
He sits on the other side of the mirror. He is shrouded in darkness, watching them glowing with light. The halogen bulbs soften the contrast of their skin tones – white and nut-brown, like a macadamia still trapped within its shell, one inside the other.
The bruises forming on Fowl's skin stand out in livid relief against translucent skin, like the blue veins of Fowl's wrist which Holly traces with swollen lips. Perhaps her lips are swollen with kisses she stole from the thief, or else they are bloated with the lies she spoke to him only hours ago.
Holly doesn't ask how the purple-blue bruises came to be, and magic doesn't leak from her fingertips to heal them. Do you not see them, my love? he asks, and wants to scream. Are you so blind you can't see any of the markings I have made upon this world?
Limbs curve over each other. Delicate white hands overwhelm minute brown wrists. Red lips press against Fowl's ear; the shiver passes from Fowl's body into Trouble's own, like a Chinese whisper of body memory. Brittle fingers of alabaster dig into her skin.
All he can think of is memory – the memory of purple and brown, and the blush of his ignorance the first time they made love.
His hand hovers above the electronics panel. With a slide of a bar he can reduce the light of their love to darkness. He can flood his own glass-sided box with brilliance. The mirror will reverse, the observed will be the observers, and from the vantage point of darkness they will see the pain they cause.
But he doesn't do it. He is too cowardly to face their voyeurism; they would see into his soul, finding it cold and empty because she is already gone.
Her scent drapes over their room like a heavy itchy blanket. Thick and cloying, the sweetness of perfumed soap blends with the stink of sex sweat. The smell attacks his mouth and nose and batters his sensibilities. And with reason so assaulted, he thinks maybe we can still work. Certainly his diamond still rests upon her finger. Her hands still curled about his shoulders when they made love, even if she didn't see him when she looked into his eyes. She is still here - close enough to touch with an outreached palm.
He drifts into troubled sleep. In Trouble's dream his brother asks him for truth, and all he can say (his voice rising and catching on every strained repetition) is: "she loves me, I love her, she loves me, I love her". Reality's rotting petals fall around his feet.
"But Trubs," his brother asks, his voice rising from Mummy's distended belly, "you've never lied to me before."
The stink of decay rises from the petals underfoot.
With a gasp of indrawn air he wakes, lies of love running circles through his head.
The bed is cold. And all that remains of Holly is her scent.
Trouble's life is now lived in this room. His office is a perfect cube of two by two by two. Two walls are windows, looking out over the streets of Haven – his streets, in his city. Out one window he can see the Dome of the Council Chambers in the middle distance, raised up on a plinth of dark, quartz-studded granite. Out the other he can see the edge of the zoology, an enclosed hydroponic landscape in which creatures of the surface can flourish.
He doesn't leave his office, anymore; he doesn't need to. Food arrives at his door. Orders leave. His memories play upon plasma screens. The images are already engraved into every synapse of his brain, and every cell of his body, but sometimes he needs the reality of a flashing red timelight beside what he sees to believe it. Turning bodies, white on brown. Her hand is in Fowl's before he leaves for the surface; perhaps, then, she didn't know she would follow. She didn't touch Trouble's hand before she left, but the body memory of Trouble's twitching fingers can recall the warmth of her flesh.
Trouble still watches her. He guards her, and follows her.
He is still in control. She left the Underground with a few short words whispered into her ear: duty, responsibility, and the Council's obligation. That was all it took for her betrayal to be complete. Is that it? He asks for the ninetieth time. Is a stolen moment of passion all it takes for you to forget ninety years of life with us?
He tracks her progress across Meath and Dublin with the safety camera in the standard issue civilian helmet. Darkened fields blur under her flashing body; the stars are static balls of colliding atoms far away and high above. You won't really leave me, Holly, my beloved. You and Fowl can try to trick me all you like, but I won't ever believe it.
There is a knock at his door. He grunts, flicking the plasma screen to the LEP logo.
crunchcrunchcrunchcrunch "Trouble?" An elongated horse-like face peaks around the door. "Got a minute?"
"No more budget issues, Foaly," Trouble sighs. "Not now."
Foaly clipclipclip moves into the office anyway.
"This is a Holly issue, actually," he says, letting a spray of crunchcrunchcrunch chewed carrot and memory disks fall upon Trouble's desk. Each disk is carefully disabled and expertly ruined. The moment freezes. Trouble hangs suspended above the fall, immobilised and imprisoned by his guilt. Foaly takes advantage to slip the last disk from the computer, and crush it underhoof.
Silence reigns; it has taken over the Commander's office, and leaves him gasping for noise.
"How? But. No. " Veracity comes undone, relative truths tumbling over each other in an effort to escape. Ensnared fact lies in pieces on his desk.
Lies have left him long ago, even if delusions have taken their place. "That was your evidence, Foaly. You just destroyed that which will bring me down in court, or in front of the Council. There won't be enough for a conviction, or even a dismissal."
Foaly shook his large head, his mane tossing in the homogenised stale air of the Underground. "You've already ruined yourself, Trubs."
In an instant of quiet clarity Trouble knows that the centaur is right. The silence (the desperate empty silence) is all that remains for either of them, now that Holly is gone.
The silence and the desperation. Trouble's thoughts fly away from the inevitable moment where centaur and elf will meet each other's eyes. You can still come back, he cries to her as she soars far, far above his head. I'll forgive you. Always and always, I'll forgive you. Not even the imagined stars twinkle a response.
But his self doesn't fly on a sprite's leathery wings, or a Condor's feathers; his mind has only the ineffective aerofoils of a flying fish, destined to crash back down after a moment of glorious air. And so Trouble's mind sinks back down into the depths of the Earth. It will be boiled away by magma and recast into granite spangled with glittering quartz. He is drawn away from the truth of the present, and encased in the glittering past.
Argon stands once more in the ellipse of white light. Crystals, rose and a clouded clear, sparkle in the granite floor below him. Seven fairy faces surround him, one from each of the seven species of fey; the distances between them seem wider than before, as unspoken denouncements echo in the emptiness between the thrones. High above him he can see stalactites through the golden Dome, the products of slow-dripping millennia.
"You requested information on Commander Kelp?" he asks. The emptiness steals his words. The lime-skinned sprite, Lope, inclines his head.
"I… I brought my notes on him." His hands grip his portable information screen; his knuckles are white. "I don't have access to all the information, I hope you understand. His records since becoming Commander are sealed, and it would be impossible to access his files without exposing the fact that he is being investigated." Cahartez smiles encouragingly. "Some aspects of my psychological profiling have therefore relied on supposition, as well as interviews with Corporal Kelp, the centaur Foaly, and Major Vein."
"We understand, Doctor," Vinyáya's red lips curve into the soft sounds of reassurance. "We are just asking for your professional opinion, given the available information."
Argon's dry presentation pushes golden light aside. His voice carries across the Dome - the acoustics were precisely engineered so that even a whisper would carry throughout the room, so long as the speaker was within the circle of white light (the direction of light and the projection of shadows is not a concern in the Underground). "The Commander may be mentally unstable. He has developed an obsession with his fiancée, Holly Short. During Artemis Fowl's incarceration the Commander turned his obsession to the Mud Man; he may have fabricated the situation that brought Fowl underground on the charge of murder. I suggest an internal LEP investigation into those circumstances be launched. I believe Fowl successfully manipulated Kelp on multiple occasions, although Kelp cleared or wiped the records of the time he spent in Fowl's cell. Kelp has developed a mild eating disorder, probably due to distraction, although I will not overlook an underlying psychological cause. He regularly suffers nightmares, which are affecting his abilities as an officer. According to his regular medical check up his magic is draining fast – the counterbalance to his exhaustion."
Crimson and green, orange and blue, white and gold and royal purple, each looking at the others. Cahartez speaks: "Mental instability is not an acceptable trait in a LEP Commander."
"Come now," Wing-Commander Vinyáya says, her golden acorns gleaming on her breast. "What about Sool? What about Root before him? Kelp is not the first, and not the worst."
"We've learnt from our mistakes, Araña."
And they had.
They welcome the bureaucrats back into their Dome. It is these fairies who will bring change.
The door slams behind.
Before him is the dark corridor of his childhood. A table in the hall, a vase of paper flowers, the hum of the refrigerator coming from the kitchen. He couldn't return to his own apartment, with its fashionable chairs and empty bed. Not now.
His military boots click against the linoleum. His keys click together as he sets them down upon the table. He flicks a switch; the hallway bulb flicks on, then disappears in a bright flash and a crackle of electricity.
D'Arvit, he thinks, but the word has no force at all.
In the darkness of the kitchen he sinks down into his old seat at the four chair table. Light flickers from the face of a digital clock, the dials of the oven, and the repetitive flash of standby lights; they highlight the darkness. When he looks away from green or orange or pale blue illumination it takes a half a second longer for his eyes to readjust to the gloom.
Latent anger takes him. Growling, he pushes away from the table and stalks the three steps to the opposite doorway. This time the light stays on, and the kitchen is swamped in artificial brilliance. Perfect white reflects from stainless steal, white tiles, a spoon left out, and the clean rim of the goldfish bowl.
From within the goldfish blinks up at him. Once, then twice, and its memory is gone. It swims around a model Police Plaza Trouble had made in school. Once, twice, its memory is gone. He gave a fish and the model to Grub on a birthday years ago. Once, twice, memory gone. Trouble doesn't remember how many fish have gone before this one who stares at him so obliviously.
gloup bubbles trickle to the surface of the water, where they pop.
gloup google eyes watching him, from inside the glass bowl.
gloup his hands closing tightly around the bowl. He lifts it high above his head.
SMASH the bowl shattering under the impact. Shards of glass splinter in all directions. Spiralling away across the kitchen. Spinning off when they hit the kickboard.
crunch wet glass shards under his boots. Walking on destruction.
gurgleflip the goldfish, drowning in air, gasping for water, flopping upon the shining white tiles.
Trouble gasps for air, his lungs straining against grief and loss, and the temptation to just stop. He listens to memory, the memory of the invisible melody the prisoner played on an invisible instrument. The broken anthem of a broken heart.