Okay, chapter 2 is posted. Sorry it took so long; there was a lot of important things I wanted to cram into this one, and it took a lot of doing to get them all in and still stay focused on the story.
I've got some end-notes this time, because I'm trying to keep my headers short.
Firstly, I snuck in a whole bunch of references to various bits and pieces of pop culture that I enjoy. See if you can find them all; there is an answer key of sorts at the end.
Secondly, as I promised in my Metamorphosis story (which is surprisingly popular - go read it, if you like my work!), I offer a mathematical breakdown of the numbers behind requiring female fairies to go through that ritual every twenty years.
Finally, some of the material in this story is dark. I won't lie; while the story itself is fun, some of the subject matter is both thought-provoking and a little creepy. If you don't see it yet, that's fine - it will show itself more as the story progresses. But there are striking parallels between some of the covert operations that I am discussing, and the kinds being run by the United States government at the moment. While this story is not written as a critique of those operations, I do certainly support increased oversight of those kinds of things, as this story clearly illustrates.
But enough about politics. Enjoy the chapter!
Chapter 2 – Section Eight
Section Eight HQ, Haven City
Wing Commander Vinyáya leaned back in her chair. "All right, gentlemen," she said, "now that we're all here, we can get started. I don't have to tell any of you how serious this situation could potentially become, so we need to get to work right away. Specialist Foaly, Sweet Pea will show you some of the modifications we've made to your mind wipe devices, since we're going to need to do a lot of them, and quickly."
The centaur and the pixie exited the office, Foaly still shaking his head in disbelief. Sweet Pea's voice could be heard echoing down the hallway.
"okay big horsie let's go my lab is right down the hallway and I've got all kinds of stuff I really want to show you like the flashy thingy project and..."
Root chuckled. "He deserves that for all the hassle he's put me through."
Vinyáya nodded. "Geniuses are rather eccentric, aren't they?" She pushed the intercom button on her desk. "Sergeant, would you please have Major Kusaba to report to my office? And send up a pot of tea, if you would."
"Right away, ma'am."
"Major Kusaba," she explained, "is my Operations officer. He handles organizational aspects. We're going to start trying to come up with an idea for how to pull this one off. The Council wants a preliminary strategy by tomorrow's session."
Root looked at the elegant, gold-leaf timepiece on her office wall. It was going to be a long day. "Let me ask a few questions before your officer gets here," he said.
Vinyáya nodded. "Go ahead."
"You mentioned to Foaly that your people have made some modifications to the mind wipe gear. What sorts?"
"Well, we've managed to make the high-detail gear much more portable. You don't need to ship it around in a huge transport van anymore, although that won't matter much for this operation. We've also adapted one of Foaly's toys – the Retimager – to interface with our computers. Basically, we look for specific pictures, and have our computer generate a list of memories associated with those pictures. It speeds up the process dramatically, because the tech doesn't have to dig through the entire time period – just the flagged memories."
Root nodded. "Sounds useful."
"Definitely. And we're going to be needing it for this operation; if your Lieutenant ran his mouth as much as he's prone to do, we could be having to modify hundreds of memories."
Commander Root swallowed. "That's... a lot."
Vinyáya nodded. "It feels a little strange, doesn't it? Knowing that you're going to be slicing out chunks of memories and changing their lives without them ever knowing it, and all just to prevent something from happening that we don't even know would?"
"Yeah, it does."
"It's a dirty business. If the People found out some of the projects we've been involved with, there would be tremendous uproar. And yet, we've protected them from all manner of unpleasantries. Renegade Fairies, crooked L.E.P. officers, corrupt businessmen, even a few humans who have found out a good bit more than they should have."
Root's eyebrow had gone up at the mention of the L.E.P. "Are you saying... ?"
"Yes, Commander, I am. Not all of your officers that were killed in action were really killed in the kind of action everyone thinks they were. Obviously, I can't tell you who, but it has happened more than once."
"Well, Commander, you got lucky there. Captain Short pulled that one out of her hindquarters. We had him under surveillance, but he had too small of an operation. We weren't able to pick up on his move to Tern Mór in time."
Root shook his head, thinking of the memories of having to confront his own brother. "Part of me wishes you had been able to intervene. That was a messy clean-up. But I did get to have the satisfaction of sending him to prison, and knowing that I had collared him."
Vinyáya nodded. "I understand that urge for justice, Commander. But you have to understand something – here at Section Eight, sometimes we have to look at the bigger picture. Not what would benefit an individual fairy, or would bring another one to justice, but what is best for the People as a whole. If we'd bagged Turnball, he wouldn't have gone to jail. Not after we were done with him."
Root swallowed. "That's harsh, Wing Commander."
She shook her head. "That's necessity, Commander. We don't always have the luxury of seeing things in black and white. We have to take the best solution that we can come up with, and trust in our judgment that we've made the correct decision. The only reason why the Council lets us do that is because of how close we are. This isn't the first time that a Council member has been the head of Section Eight. There's always oversight and accountability, if that makes you feel any better. We have to prepare reports, both pre- and post-operation, on any major task we're going to engage in."
The door beeped, and an orderly entered, carrying a tea tray with a pot and all necessary accouterments.
"And speaking of, Commander, we need to get to work on our plan. Major Kusaba should be here shortly. Some tea?"
Wing Commander Vinyáya gracefully poured two cups of tea, passing one to Root.
"I understand your hesitation, Commander," she said. "This operation is going to be by the book – but not the book that you're used to. We really do have a set of rules that we have to follow."
"I know," Root replied. "It's just difficult to get used to thinking this way. I trust that we at least will be making an effort to keep collateral damage to a minimum?"
The door beeped, and a taller elf entered. His skin was a dark chocolate brown and his hair was cropped close, greying slightly at the temples. He wore Section Eight's matte black uniform, and stood straight as a ramrod, saluting his superior officer. "Major Kusaba, reporting, ma'am."
"At ease, Major," Vinyáya replied. She leaned over her desk and whispered to Root, "He's just a bit formal – just your type."
Root colored a bit and sipped at his tea, saying nothing.
"Major Kusaba, Commander Root. I believe you know of him, but have never met. Would like like some tea, Major?"
She poured, and passed him a cup, which he took and settled into a chair, still keeping his back straight and looking as military as possible.
"I assume you read the summary I had Communications send to you?"
"Good. Well, because of the number of L.E.P. Recon officers involved in this situation, he is going to be involved in the planning phase of our operation. Also, L.E.P. Recon's Technical Specialist will be helping."
"Very good, ma'am."
"So, to business. Gentlemen, we need to find an excuse to have a large chunk of the L.E.P. hospitalized for a few days. There are some humans involved as well, but I believe they will cooperate with our operation once we explain the gravity of the situation to them."
"You really think Fowl will go along with this?" Root grunted.
"I think so, Commander," Vinyáya responded. "He strikes me as being able to see the larger picture quite well. Also there is the matter of one dwarf..."
"Mulch," Root spat, grinding his teeth together in frustration.
"Yes, I know you are upset about his release. We'll see what we can do, Commander."
Root grunted again. "Do you think we could feed him to a troll instead?"
Vinyáya threw back her head and laughed.
"Wait a minute," Kusaba interrupted.
Root turned to look at him.
"Opal Koboi had a troll attack the L.E.P. headquarters building, did she not?"
"Yes, Major," Root responded, "she did. We're getting ready to start the repairs."
"What if another one showed up?" Kusaba asked. "What sorts of security measures do you have installed?"
"Well, we were debating some sort of sedative gas," Root said. "That was Foaly's suggestion."
Kusaba snapped his fingers. "Genius."
"Good thing he's not here to hear you say that," Vinyáya chuckled. "But do go on, Major."
"The sedative," he explained. "That's the key. If there was an attack, and the sedative was released, there would be no way to discriminate between L.E.P. officers and the troll, would there?"
Vinyáya tapped her fingers against her desk. "You know, I think I see where you're going with this... all we would need to do would be to fake a troll attack, and the gas would take care of the incapacitation for us."
"Yes, Wing Commander, but I don't think it could be faked. In order to be credible, some people not involved in the operation would have to see it enter the building. Combine that with the gas, which is a perfectly reasonable non-lethal security measure, and you have a believable story which gets them into the hospital – right where we want them."
Root grunted, and looked across the desk at Vinyáya. "He's right. It's completely believable. All we would have to do is to get the individuals there, and I can do that myself. Just have a welcome-back party for Captain Short, and make sure to invite all the people who Grub blabbed to."
Vinyáya slapped her palm down on the desk. "Perfect. I love it. We can get just about everybody in one fell swoop. The dwarf and the humans we can pick up earlier, and have them all there for the big event."
Kusaba assumed a thoughtful pose. "There's just one problem I can see. The L.E.P. headquarters building is pretty large. In order to take that sort of measure, it would have to be a bigger threat than just one troll. One troll could be contained with sheer numbers. I think we'll need more than one, Wing Commander."
Vinyáya blinked. "Yes, I believe you are correct." She chuckled. "Boy, the Procurement people are going to love this one. 'Hey, guys, get us a half a dozen trolls. And make it snappy!'"
Root couldn't hold it in any longer. He threw back his head and laughed.
"okay Foaly boss lady said to show you what we've done to your stuff so just follow me and I'll show you everything we've done and I'm sure you'll love it and did I mention that it's great to finally meet you and I've always wanted to and -"
Foaly let out an anguished sigh. "Please, Sweet Pea, try and relax?"
"but I am relaxed Foaly I haven't had any coffee in at least twenty minutes and I don't get all hyperactive when I meet new people and it's just that I'm very happy to meet you and show you all the fun stuff we've been doing and -"
"Okay, okay. So Vinyáya said you'd made some changes to my mind-wipe gear?"
"yeah boss lady said to tell you about that well basically what we did is take your Retimager and hook it up to our mainframe and then filter the images through a memory scan to flag images and associations for the tech to look through instead of having to scan the entire block of time which -"
Foaly stopped in his tracks, blinking. "Now that is an idea. Okay, Sweet Pea, I may have underestimated you. Go on."
Sweet Pea continued down the corridor. "thanks Foaly I thought you would appreciate that one since I know how long it can take to do a low-level mind wipe and boss lady said we're going to have to do a whole bunch of them and oh... we're here now follow me and don't touch anything..."
The pair had reached a large set of double doors, marked as "Research and Development". The pixie pressed his thumb into the door lock panel, and the doors opened.
They were immediately greeted with a bright flash of light and a roar of sound from one side of the room.
"LOOK OUT!" a voice shouted, and their eyes turned towards the sound to see an elf with a large set of wings strapped to his back coming towards them. Fast. The sound and light was coming from the back of the wings.
In the split second before he unceremoniously dove to the floor, Foaly could see that a large rocket thruster had been mounted on the center axis, behind the over-sized wings. The elf who was wearing them was wearing some sort of crash helmet, which was a very good thing, because he immediately flew over the prone centaur, and smashed into the corridor wall outside of the lab, at which point both he and the wings shut off, hopefully temporarily.
"... like I said don't touch anything Foaly some of this stuff is dangerous."
Sweet Pea took a few deep breaths while Foaly returned to his feet.
"What was that gadget?"
"oh that was the new firefly wing design it's for high speed chases but we're still working on the stability and I think the rocket is a bit too powerful and ooh you'll like this one..."
Sweet Pea walked over and picked up what looked like an over-sized neutrino blaster with an extra-wide bore and a shoulder stock.
"I know neutrino beams are great for stunning but sometimes they get too noisy and stuff and sometimes you need something a little quieter anyway I call this one the glomp gun but they want to call in the Liquid Restraint Projector or something anyway let me show you how this works..."
He pointed the gun at a scorched and battered target dummy in one corner of the lab, and braced the gun carefully.
"What's with the shoulder stock?" Foaly asked.
"well you know neutrino guns are nothing but massless particles so there's no recoil well this doesn't shoot neutrinos this shoots well let me just show you..."
Sweet Pea aimed and pulled trigger. In accordance with his preferred name for the device, it did in fact let out a soft GLOMP as a mass of some sort of material was ejected from the gun. The recoil could be seen, although there appeared to be some sort of gas braking mechanism to keep small fairy hands from being too overworked.
When the mass struck the target dummy, it turned from a liquidy blob into a mass of streaming tentacle-like projections, which wrapped around the helpless target in a hundred directions, crossing over each other front to back and to front again. With a quick puff of smoke, they fused together.
"like I said I call it the glomp gun that stuff is strong enough to hold a bull troll still until you use the dissolving spray and it's great for stopping somebody in their tracks without the flash of a gun and what do you think Foaly?"
Foaly walked over and plucked at the strands. They had already solidified, and were slightly elastic and very strong. A tentative tug on them produced no real give. "How many shots do you get from one of these things?"
"only four shots per clip but we have plenty of reloads"
"This has some use, I think. Now what about that 'flashy thingy' device the Wing Commander was talking about?"
"oh that yeah just a second here"
Sweet Pea reached down to his belt, which was decidedly non-uniform, and had hundreds of little gadgets and gizmos attached to it. He extracted a long, silver tube that looked similar to a case for a single cigar. With the press of a button, it extended somewhat to reveal a small control panel with a tiny readout screen, and a medium-sized optical projector on the opposite side.
"this is pretty simple actually we just took fairy mesmer energy the same way you do with warlock time stop energy and put it into a battery and all you have to do is point it at somebody adjust the strength and fire away oh but there is one thing you need to be wearing some sort of reflective eye wear otherwise you might accidentally hit yourself with it -"
"That sounds simple enough, but what would you use it for?"
"well nothing against you Foaly but you can't use a mesmer and neither can some of our other operatives who have broken fairy laws and entered human dwellings"
Foaly thought for a minute. "I hadn't thought of that. I remember when Julius sent Mulch into Fowl Manor to scout around a bit. If he had been able to use a mesmer on Butler, that might have worked out a lot cleaner for us..."
"All right," Wing Commander Vinyáya said. "So we've got a basic plan set. Major Kusaba, I liked your idea about installing small sedative collars on the trolls just in case they get out of hand. We don't want any risk of one of them running into an L.E.P. officer. I'll start working up a brief in a bit here. But first, we need to play the Blame Game."
"The Blame Game?" Root repeated. The capital letters were apparent from the way she had phrased it.
"Commander, you might not want to be involved in this part of the operation," Vinyáya mused. "It's probably going to offend your L.E.P. sensibilities."
"No, Wing Commander, I'd like to stay, if that's all right."
"Very well. Commander, the Blame Game is the fun part of operations planning. When we pull operations like this, there's no way to prevent word of the operation itself from becoming public. What we can do is to shift the blame for the operation onto some other party. And we have a list of individuals and groups that need to have something pinned on them."
Root sat up in his chair, a bit alarmed. "Are you saying you falsify evidence?"
"I did warn you, Commander. Yes, we do. Does it really surprise you all that much? How many fairies are you your own lists as being wanted for crimes, but you don't have enough evidence to guarantee a conviction?"
Vinyáya cut him off with a wave of her hand. "We have the same lists, and probably even longer ones than you do. Knowing what you do about our methods, it shouldn't surprise you that we sometimes pin made-up crimes on fairies who have committed others, but couldn't be nailed for them. It may sound strange to you, but it contributes to justice... it's the whole greater good thing."
Root shook his head. "That's... harsh."
"I understand your reluctance to accept it, Commander, but like I've told you, all our operations are subject to Council approval. We don't get to do anything like that without formal approval from a supermajority of Council members."
"I suppose..." Root mused, still not looking entirely convinced.
"Anyways," Vinyáya said, turning to Major Kusaba, "are there any obvious potentials for this operation?"
Kusaba thought for a moment. "Nothing comes to mind. Fallback, then?"
She nodded, and turned to Root.
"Who do you think has the biggest grudge against the L.E.P. right now?"
Root pondered the question. "Opal Koboi. We ruined her attempted coup and also shut down her attempt at blaming the Ardagh Chalice theft on Fowl."
Vinyáya smiled. "Score one for the Commander. In fact, in this sort of a case, the fallback is whichever individual has most recently had a brush with the organization in question. And in this case, the L.E.P. has not exactly endeared itself to Opal, has it?"
Root chuckled. "Not really."
"Well, all we have to do is pin this on her, then."
"But Wing Commander," Root said, "she's in L.E.P. custody right now. And last I heard, she was complaining about excessive headaches and fainting spells, and was under medical observation in the detention center."
"So? Surely she would have the connections to pull something like this off, even while in custody. Your security is good, Commander, but not perfect."
Root said nothing, and chewed on his lip a bit.
"Also, Commander, there's one thing you're forgetting. Do you remember how I told you that Section Eight is permitted to use memory-modification techniques on the People? Do you really think that we wouldn't be allowed to use that in order to convince the culprit that they had indeed performed the crime that we are going to pin on them? Nothing like a nice, public confession at a trial to deflect suspicion from our operation."
Root blinked and swallowed. Hard. "That... I can't..." He leaned back in his chair, face aghast. "You say all of this is done with Council approval?" he asked, tentatively.
"Supermajority, Commander. Sixty percent."
He shook his head. "I can see why you need to keep this sort of thing secret. Even thinking about it gives me a headache – you not only blame a crime on somebody, but you convince them that they really committed it."
Major Kusaba chimed in. "Commander, let me assure you that we do not assign blame indiscriminately. We typically blame corrupt politicians or other big targets, but if those fail, we can always pin something on a deserving goblin gang or other criminal that bit off more than they could chew. And while it might seem like this is a casual planning session, I can assure you that in my years of working with the Wing Commander, she does not take any of these matters lightly. We alwayswork for the good of the People, and the Council is aware of each and every operation that we undertake."
Root shook his head. "The L.E.P. could never get away with this, but I think I can see where there is a need."
Wing Commander Vinyáya nodded. "Indeed there is, Commander Root. Indeed there is." She reached down and pressed a button on her intercom. "Sergeant, connect me to the Generator please."
Root raised an eyebrow as a different voice answered.
"I need one word, please."
"Thank you." She pressed another button, ending the conversation, and pulled a pad of paper out from a drawer in her desk. "Major, we're done here for now. The Commander and I have to present this to the Council later today, but you are free to go."
Kusaba stood and saluted. "Yes, ma'am."
The major left the room, still keeping his military posture. Root shook his head, and turned back to Vinyáya, looking a bit puzzled. "Wishbone?" he asked.
She chuckled. "You've never been a part of one of our operations before. Every operation we undertake gets a code name, as do field agents for an individual mission. We have them chosen randomly from a computer dictionary by a staff member, who knows nothing about the operation. This provides us not only with a recognizable title, but also anonymity. If someone got a hold of Council minutes where it was mentioned that Operation Wishbone was discussed, it would tell them absolutely nothing."
Root nodded. "Makes sense."
"Security is the name of the game here, Commander. We take it very seriously. I have to write up this brief for the Council, but we don't really have long enough to get you back to L.E.P. headquarters and pick you up again. Do you mind staying here?"
"Not at all."
"Some more tea, perhaps?"
"Please, Wing Commander."
After pouring him a fresh cup, she settled back into her chair and pulled an ornate ink pen out from her desk. It was a work of art – made of cherry wood with a natural finish, lightly glossed and etched slightly with a leaf pattern, which had been painted in gold.
Root took a sip of tea. He was preparing to think about the situation and the ramifications of the extent to which Section Eight was prepared to go, but was struck by the beauty of the pen. "Where did you get that, Wing Commander?"
"Oh, the pen you mean?"
"Yes. It's beautiful."
She held it out to him, and he took it carefully, examining it in the light of her office.
"I didn't figure you the type to appreciate something like that, Commander."
Root looked down at the desktop, not making eye contact. "I used to have a pen like that. It was a gift from my mate, Vidalia. I lost it years ago." He handed the pen back.
"Oh... I'm sorry, Commander. I didn't mean to remind you of that." Vinyáya appeared genuinely sympathetic.
"It's okay. Go ahead and write up the presentation. I've got a lot to think about."
Chambers of the Council of the People, Haven City
"... and, in conclusion, we believe that this operation poses minimal risk to the individuals whose memory will be modified, as well as providing an excellent opportunity to shift the focus of the operation to an individual that the public will naturally expect to be involved in something of this nature."
Vinyáya took a breath and stood up straight, adjusting her notes. "Are there any questions, Council members?"
"How do you intend to lure the trolls into the L.E.P. headquarters building, Wing Commander?" one asked.
"We plan to have a device planted which releases a concentrated pheromone spray, and have it released in a gaseous form. This should ensure that the released trolls make a beeline for a specific location that we can thus easily designate."
"My concern, Wing Commander," Council member Smedley interjected, "is the human. Fowl. He hasn't exactly been cooperative in the past; what makes you think he would actually go along with this?"
"A good question, Council member," Vinyáya responded. "Commander Root, you know Artemis Fowl better than anyone else present. What say you?"
Root stepped forward. "Fowl is a realist. Despite his criminal tendencies, or maybe even because of them, he is capable of looking at the larger picture. I believe we can persuade him to cooperate. And if not, there's always Plan B." Root grinned, and patted the spot on his hip where his water-cooled, tri-barreled blaster would have been, had it not been forbidden in the Council Chambers.
"I still would rather simply subject Fowl to a blanket wipe," Smedley responded, "but the operation is sound. Motion to approve."
"All in favor?" said the Chairman.
All around the room, Council members pressed buttons on their electronic voting devices.
"Motion carries. Best of luck, Wing Commander Vinyáya."
Pop culture references:
The entire scene with Foaly and Sweet Pea is a send-up of 007's disastrous visits to Q labs.
The firefly model of wings is a tip of the hat to Joss Whedon's show.
The glomp gun is taken directly from Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, although he called it the loogie gun.
The "flashy thingy" is obviously a Neuralyzer from Men in Black.
Vinyáya asking for "one word" from the Generator is based on Admiral Greer's similar method of acquiring operation and agent names from Tom Clancy's The Hunt For Red October.
The math behind the Metamorphosis.
Fair warning, this is going to get a little intellectual.
Colfer has said that there are approximately 10,000 People living in Haven City. We'll assume that they are fairly evenly broken down between the species, and that inter-species breeding is not a problem (there was an off-hand mention of an elf-goblin mix in the first book). We'll also assume that fairies live to about 1,000 years as a "natural" lifespan. As with humans, some live shorter, some longer. We'll also assume that fairies are "fertile" for about the same percentage of their lives as humans. (Humans live to about 70, and are fertile from about 15 to 50, which makes for a nice, round 50.) And finally, we'll assume that the population is split evenly between male and female.
Still with me? Okay, good. Now let's take a look at what happens during one twenty-year period. Colfer has said that fairies can only reproduce once every twenty years.
We'll assume that the ages are spread out fairly evenly. This means that in that twenty-year period, fifty out of one thousand (1/20th) of the population will die of old age. That makes 500 people simply from natural causes. That takes care of the death rate.
Now for the birth rate. Let's say that each and every single fertile female conceives. If half of the population are fertile, and half of those are female, we are looking at 2,500 potential births. This is good, of course. You are looking at a substantial population increase, which would only compound itself over time. No risk of population decline there.
But let's be realistic. Does every fertile human female conceive every nine months? Hardly. In fact, according to the United Nations, the global birth rate is 20.3 births per 1,000 persons over five years. That equates to about 10 births per 500 females over a period of 6 2/3 gestation periods. For our purposes, this means that 0.3 of females conceive every gestation period.
For our sample of 2,500 fertile fairies, that amounts to 7.5 births every 20 years, if they had the same birth rate as humans. With this kind of birth rate, fairies would be extinct in a few centuries (no, I'm not working the exact length out - I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader).
Obviously that won't work. So let's go back to our original estimate, saying that every fertile female became pregnant. Even with the obvious impetus of species survival, this is still unrealistic from a social standpoint. Just to break even, 20 would have to become pregnant.
And the assumptions that I made? Well, those may not always work. The population may not be split evenly between races or genders. And while cross-species breeding may be possible, there might be social stigmas attached to it. Also, we didn't account for accidental deaths, which given the nature of the goblin/dwarf turf wars, might be substantial.
So we're looking at rather dire straights for the People here, assuming they want to stick around long enough to preserve themselves and the planet. S'Eleene Paris's idea of required conception neatly fits into this. If a fairy female is not just socially, but biologically required to conceive, all of a sudden social pressures and such aren't quite so important. And it also would raise the birth rate enough to hopefully counteract the shortcomings of the overly optimistic assumptions that I started with.
So having fairy females go through the Metamorphosis isn't necessarily required for their species to propagate, it does certainly help lend a realistic impetus to the need for a high birth rate with such a long period between potential pregnancies.
Of course, the whole cross-species thing might not be acceptable to the more conservative fairies. And breeding with humans... well.. that's what this story is all about!