A/N: Hello readers and welcome to my humble tale of Mud Men and fairies. This story is set almost immediately after Time Paradox ends and will certainly spoil a few key things about TP if you haven't read it before.
Right then, if that hasn't stopped you, then we'll move on to the disclaimer:
Artemis Fowl is the creation of Eoin Colfer (God bless the Irish for giving the world this wonderful man) and not me, something I am not at all unhappy about.
Anyway, now that that's done, onwards to the story!
Artemis Fowl: The Book of Ages
Quakes and Queries
Who forces time is pushed back by time; who yields to time finds time on his side. -the Talmud
Police Plaza, Haven City
The once-again captain, Holly Short, stared at the sign in front of her.
Commander Trouble Kelp, Lower Elements Police
Holly blinked and her face tried to come up with an appropriate expression, but failed after a few seconds. She ended up somewhere between a grimace, a sad smile, and a stoic look of indifference. She had served under four commanders in a span of six years. Even if she had only been under Ark Sool for the briefest amount of time, and under Briar Cudgeon without her knowledge at the time, it still counted.
Considering how long fairies usually kept their jobs- that was a lot of different commanders.
The captain knew that as soon as she went into the office, she would get some sort of reprimand or other. The elf wondered why it was that she never could avoid that for long no matter who her boss was.
Holly sighed and knocked twice on the wooden surface of the door.
"Come in," called a tired voice from inside.
The elf gulped. That sounded almost like Julius and for a second, and she imagined opening the door, just to be greeted by the perpetually red visage of the old Commander.
She pushed open the door and stepped inside the office.
"Holly, have a seat," came the hard-edged, yet smooth tone of, alas, Commander Kelp.
"Good morning Trouble," greeted Holly neutrally, consciously controlling her expression. It had been a few months since she had returned from Limbo and a few days since her return to the present, but she was still mildly surprised whenever she looked at her old friend. She could have sworn that was a fleck of grey hair near the commander's temple.
'Must be the stress,' Holly thought glumly, shelving away the image as another of the constant and vivid reminders of the time she had missed while those she knew went on with their lives.
Trouble put down the datapad he had been working with and rested his chin on his palm, looking at the captain from a slightly skewed angle, as if studying her.
"Holly, you've said 'good morning' to me three times today- and it's only nine!" he exclaimed in an odd tone.
The female officer stared at him for a moment, unsure of how to respond. He was right, now that she thought about it. Somewhere in the back of her mind though, she knew why.
These days, she always wanted to say something to all the people who she had missed- Trouble included- but words always seemed to elude her. It was like she was dropped into a parallel world where everything was the same, yet everyone seemed subtly different. It had bothered her since her return from Hybras. She didn't know what to say, and so she said good morning.
"Sorry, I guess it's a habit," she answered feebly.
The commander quirked an eyebrow, but then quickly leaned back into the chair and spread his arms in a gesture of surrender.
"Well anyway, you know why you're here."
Though she was tempted to turn away from his gaze, Holly instead looked straight back at him.
"Trouble, you know I had no choice- the risk of a Spelltropy reintroduction was too high, I had to do something!" she preempted strongly, her fists curling up at the tension she felt running through her body.
"I know, I know. And with the whole thing about Opal getting insane powers-" he paused and almost cracked a smile at his choice of words, "you did what you had to."
He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, his hands folding and unfolding, as if unsure of what to do with themselves.
"But the issue was that you had no knowledge of Opal's actions, and the Spelltropy could have probably been contained easily by quarantine. Time travel was and is a forbidden method of solving our problems."
The elfin captain frowned. Technically, Trouble was right on all points, but at the time, she thought that she had owed it to Artemis to help him for something she believed she had caused. Even now, when the truth was known it was neither her nor the Mud Boy who had caused the disease in his mother, Holly didn't doubt that she would do the same thing again.
"Well," she countered, "it worked out didn't it?"
"You see, that's just it," said Trouble with an exasperated sigh, "yes- you're right, it did. But that doesn't excuse your actions."
Holly opened her mouth to argue, but didn't get the chance to.
A deep, growling rumble seemed to emit from the earth below them. It was a bass-like sound that seemed almost to sound like someone's loudspeakers going haywire.
Then the ground began to shake.
Both LEP officers immediately deferred to their training and dropped onto the ground, covering their heads with their arms. The various items on the ancient oak desk between them rattled with a sound that reminded Holly of chattering teeth, and suddenly, she found herself trying to stop her own teeth from doing just that the in the vibrations.
Pens, folders, and what looked like a ream of neatly stacked police reports fell and landed near the two. Holly could see Trouble reaching out a hand, trying to brace himself against the desk.
But as soon as he touched the wood, as if by some unexplained burst of magic, the shaking stopped.
"What the heck was that?" asked Holly in a slightly panicked voice.
Now Haven City was not, by any means, nature proof. In fact, it was a very good thing it wasn't. Being several thousand meters below the surface of Europe, the subterranean location allowed for the Earth's own geothermal energy to power essentially everything the metropolis could need or want to be powered- from radar-shielding and blast doors, to movie theaters and hot showers.
But the place where Haven was situated did not have earthquakes. Well, not since the city was founded anyway- but that was thousands of years ago.
But now, apparently, it did.
Trouble merely shook his head, obviously confused by the situation. Then he immediately got back into his seat and punched a few buttons on the desk as Holly turned around and opened the door, taking a peek around the hallway for signs of damage.
"Foaly!" the Commander yelled into the screen that had popped up on the desk.
The image of the LEP's technical mastermind appeared on the tiny crystal display. Foaly still wore his usual tin-foil hat, but it looked like it had been roughly pressed against his head and now appeared more like a crumpled ball than a hat. Laser disks and various advanced computer components that Trouble couldn't even begin to name appeared in a jumbled mess behind the centaur. The commander couldn't help but wonder if that was the natural state of Ops Booth lately, or if it was induced by the quake.
"Ah, eh… Commander!" greeted the centaur in nervous mock-surprise, "I know what you're probably thinking, but I swear, I didn't have even the tiniest idea that there was going to be a little tremor."
"And how, if you would so enlighten me, did this 'little tremor' slip by you?" asked Trouble hotly.
At the other end of the transmission, Foaly started to get a bad feeling. It was sort of like the stomach-plummeting feeling that most people got when they were extremely worried, only it wasn't that which was falling in the centaur's mind. It was actually a number. In his mind, Trouble's face gave a single image to the centaur.
A knife- a knife slashing clean through his lovely funding.
"Well, ah, you see Trouble- I mean, Commander- I didn't get any readings from any of the geo-sensors." He turned the camera so that it pointed towards one of the many screens in Ops Booth. A lattice of blinking green lights overlaying the European continent came into view.
"See," said Foaly nervously, "not a single blip- all green."
Immediately, the centaur could feel the Commander's glare boring into him and could have sworn that the screen heated up just a little.
"Ah- what I mean is…" Foaly's genius mind churned as he thought of the right way to explain what was going on, "… the computers have no idea what happened…" he paused again, "…and neither do I."
The Commander cursed loudly and then gulped.
"Trouble, someone's here to see you," called Holly from the door.
A figure strolled in with as much controlled motion as it could muster.
Well, maybe strolled wasn't the right word. Qweffor the demon- the only member of his race with both magic and a fully developed demon body- rather stomped loudly in. It was a warped demon thing- subtlety was never their forte.
"Commander," he greeted quickly with a voice that sounded too cultured for a body that appeared to be built for more brutish activities. "We have trouble-" he began, then quickly caught himself "er- problems."
"I know Qweffor, I felt the quake too. Foaly's on it, we'll have warnings before the aftershocks get here." The commander glanced quickly back at the crystal screen, glad to see that the centaur was indeed doing what at least looked like something useful on his computers. "In the meantime, I was just about to issue a citywide advisory."
"That's not what I meant. People are disappearing Commander." Qweffor said.
"Dwarves are vanishing." The demon responded quickly, his rough facial features gaining a look as worried as one like his could manage. "You see, I was having a nice little breakfast at the nearby café- you know, the one with those delicious crepes made of-"
The dark look that the commander shot him was enough to knock him off that particular tangent.
"Well, anyway," he continued without missing a beat. To his credit, he recovered quickly. "Dwarves started to vanish- just like that! Poof!" He made a small explosion-like motion with his hands to emphasize his point. "With a bit of a boom I mean, but without the smoke- they just… vanished."
"D'Arvit," swore Trouble as he began to rub his temples with his fingers. Just when he had the whole Commander thing working so well, things like this had to happen.
"Trouble, maybe I should go round up some help…" suggested Holly, walking up to the walnut desk and her stressed boss.
It was interesting now, that this was the precise moment when another voice joined the conversation.
"Captain Short! Holly, can you read me?" called an urgent, but slightly garbled voice from the Captain's pocket.
Immediately, the elf had two pairs of inquiring eyes and two raised eyebrows directed at her.
A blush crept up her child-like face, stopping just below mismatched eyes as Holly fumbled to pull out a small plastic device that was mostly covered even by her tiny hand.
"Fowl," she hissed, "now is not the time."
"Earthquakes, energy fluctuations- mean anything to you?" came the boy's voice again.
"How did you- wait, did you say energy fluctuations? We didn't have those."
"Then you had an earthquake?"
"Now wait just a second here Holly," said Trouble with a clearly flustered expression, "I'm going to assume that that's Artemis Fowl and for just a moment, I'll ignore the fact that whatever you have in your hand is blatantly against regulations- but what in blue blazes is going on and how does he know about it?"
"Major Kelp, I presume?" asked Artemis from miles above the fairies.
"Commander," corrected Trouble, still in a slightly stunned tone.
"Yes, Commander, my mistake. I need to speak to Foaly now, Holly, so if you don't mind…"
"Hold on Fowl, you can't just go ordering my people around like that!" cried an undignified Commander.
"Commander," the boy's tone became harsh and almost ice-like, evident even through the tiny speaker. "I'm trying to prevent some very nasty things from happening, but I need to know exactly what is happening, and like it or not, your Captain is involved."
The color from Holly's face drained and she could feel a bit of sweat developing on the hand holding the communicator.
"Now I really do need to speak with Foaly."
By the time the Mud Boy said those words, the Captain was already sprinting down the hall.
Ops Booth was, at the moment, a complete mess. It was very possibly the most high-tech mess on or under the planet, and one that was only really decipherable by a single person.
The person in question was currently looking between several computer readouts with almost eye-popping speed. On two were seismograph readings from the last ten minutes and on another was a full diagnostic program running on his Earth sensors. He should have been able to see them coming! His computers were flawless and he'd checked the sensors not a week before Hybras landed!
But no, somehow, the Earth had eluded his machines. Somehow.
The door behind the centaur swooshed open with a pneumatic hiss, causing all four of his hooves to jump up at the same time in fright.
Foaly turned around to see one Captain Short rushing into the room, brandishing a small object in front of her as if it was the world's tiniest battering ram. In truth, her fist was larger than whatever she was holding.
Before the LEP technician could say anything or even finish a surprised whinny, Holly had brushed by him and jammed the device into one of the mainframes.
A new window popped up on one of the unused screens to show the face of a pale, black-haired youth tapping away furiously at an unseen keyboard in front of him.
"Fowl!" called Foaly in confusion, "Look- not that it's not nice to see you or anything- but this is not the time to be using up any of my computers' processors, we have a slight problem right now that really does need my attention."
"I know," replied Artemis as calmly as he could, "you just had an earthquake, power problems and several miniature sonic booms in Haven."
"What- how- sonic booms?" asked the centaur.
"Mud Boy's right," said Trouble Kelp as he and Qweffor entered the room. "Techies just confirmed power outages in ten percent of the city, and booms were heard when a group of dwarves disappeared."
Holly turned a worried pair of eyes towards the screen.
"Artemis, explain- what's going on and how am I involved?" she questioned rapidly.
"Actually," responded the boy genius, "not just you, but I as well."
When he saw on his own monitor aboveground that the last comment only drew more incredulous looks, Artemis decided to elaborate.
"Holly, you and I have inadvertently created a paradox in our trips back in time."
"But I thought you said that that was impossible!" cried the elf.
"That's what the thought was. But apparently it's possible to create a paradox, just not to sustain the world that results."
"Fowl," came the gruff voice of Qweffor next to Trouble, "we may all be very well educated fairies standing right here, but I think you're still going to need to explain it in little words to us."
Artemis sighed through the video connection and stopped his typing. His hands folded up and it looked like he was trying to compose himself and find the right words to explain at the same time.
"What I mean is, gentlemen- and lady," he quickly added when he saw Holly's glare, "the world that we are in right now is the result of a paradox- something that Nature does not allow. Nature is resetting the timeline. The world as you know it, is about to be erased."
A/N: Edited 12/28/09. I am still slightly mortified at the mistakes I found here. Oh well, it was a long time ago.