Chapter Forty-Eight: Flaxel Cusp
Disclaimer: Blah blah blah I don't own Artemis Fowl blah blah blah
Author's Note: I am so friggin' sorry for the time this has taken. My life has kind of been taken over by, well, life. Classes, work, family, friends, a confusing not-thing with a guy, clubs, rehearsals, learning to be a real person… Honestly, fanfiction is no longer one of my top priorities, but, as always, I have no plans of abandoning my stories. Updates will just take longer. Thank you for understanding.
"I wonder what unfortunate lackey got saddled with the job of reporting our every word, move, and bodily function to the Council while they sit in their cushy offices eating vole curry and drinking sim-coffee."
"You know, there are better, less species-ist metaphors you could use," said Foaly's voice in their earpieces. "I could send a list through to your helmet screen if you wa—"
"Shut up, Foaly," growled the commander. "Do you think I give an ass's ass about insulting you?"
"Apparently not," grumbled Foaly.
"Whoever they've sent," said Artemis, "I can't see it being someone who likes me very much."
"Well, that narrows it down," said Trouble sarcastically.
"Alright boys, behave yourselves," admonished Juliet. "Unless you want this mission shut down before it's even begun."
"Mud Girl, I still don't know why you're even on this mission, so you can keep your opinions to yourself."
"And you can speak to my sister in a different tone."
Six heads turned toward the speaker. Artemis could tell immediately why the Council had chosen this particular fairy to be their representative. He appeared to be an elf-gnome hybrid, which automatically put him into the "has something to prove" category. He was perhaps a decade and a half younger than Trouble and a good two centimeters taller, although Trouble was by no means a short elf. He was slimmer than any gnome Artemis had ever seen, but still bulky enough to be sufficiently intimidating. He had broad shoulders, a wide face (from the gnome side no doubt), chiseled cheekbones (definitely not from the gnome side), a square jaw, and sandy hair that matched Artemis's in its immaculacy. Every inch of his bearing proclaimed that this was his mission, and defied anyone to challenge his (and by proxy the entire Council's) claim to it. Both Artemis and Trouble took an immediate dislike to him.
"Flaxel Cusp," said the elf-gnome, "Personal Assistant to Council Chairman Lope."
"Great," muttered Trouble, "just what we need: a secretary."
"I think you will find my credentials more than qualify me for this mission, Commander," said Cusp in an overly-polite voice. "I did, after all, complete my training at the LEP Academy before accepting my current post. The Council values well-rounded employees."
Trouble grunted. "And the LEP values deeds over words, so I'll reserve my judgment for a time when I've been given something to judge."
Cusp stiffened slightly but, smiling a bit too widely, said, "Of course, Commander. Do we have everyone?" He added, scanning the group. This tone was amicable, but his gaze plainly stated his low opinion of the assembled party/
"Affirmative," said Artemis, who did not take kindly to being ignored.
"Ah," said Cusp, turning his muddy eyes (really, they were the elf-gnome's only decidedly unattractive feature, besides his personality of course) on Artemis. "Master Fowl, I presume."
"Obviously," said Artemis dryly.
"Are we ready to go?" said Butler. "Not all of us have several hundred years of our youth remaining to us."
"Of course," said Cusp, turning his fake smile on Butler. "There are just a few formalities that need to be taken care of first. You understand."
"Of course…" said Butler.
The elf-gnome produced a portable digi-screen from inside his briefcase. "I just need everyone to read and sign this, if you please," he said, proffering the screen and stylus with another toothy grin.
Artemis took it and speed-read its contents. Banal Council rules and regulations, as he had expected. He signed his name with a flourish and passed the tablet to Trouble, who also read and signed and then handed it wordlessly to Holly.
Trusting Artemis's and Trouble's judgment and not wanting to waste any more time dancing from the Council's strings, Holly focused her helmet cam at the screen long enough for Foaly to get a picture so that he could fill her in on the details later and then signed her name at the bottom underneath Artemis's.
This process was repeated twice more (minus the helmet cam) by Butler and Juliet, who then handed the device back to Cusp.
"Did you all read it?" asked Cusp, a hint of incredulity slipping into his genial voice.
"Yes," said Butler flatly, his tone daring the (comparatively) little fairy to contradict him.
Cusp swallowed audibly, but then the infuriating smile appeared once more on his handsome face. "All settled, then. He approached one of the larger shuttles parked in the bay and opened the door. "Ladies first, he said, flourishing a hand at the doorway.
Holly gritted her teeth but stepped forward into the shuttle, followed by Juliet. She had just settled herself into the pilot's chair when she felt a tap on her shoulder.
"Excuse me, Captain Short, but I will actually be piloting on this mission. Council's orders." Cusp flashed her a phony-apologetic grin. Holly didn't miss the way that his eyes lingered over the faint scars on her face.
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly through her nose. "Very well, Mister Cusp," she said, stressing the other fairy's lack of a title. "I would hate to deprive you of much needed practice." She rose from the pilot's chair and went to sit in between Artemis and Juliet.
"Well, this seems like it's going to be fun," said the human girl, looking from the smiling fairy in the cockpit to her scowling companions.
"Please," said Trouble. "One sarcastic human is already almost more than I can handle."
"Everybody buckled in?" said Cusp cheerfully. "Safety protocols are in place for a reason, you know." When nobody responded with anything but intensified glares, he continued, "Alright. Here we go, then," and shifted the shuttle into gear.
"Finally," muttered Holly to Artemis. The boy nodded. This was going to be a long shuttle ride.
"Well, here we are!" Cusp announced cheerfully several long hours later, landing the shuttle smoothly (but completely without fineness, thought Holly) in the South African brush. "We made good time, if I do say so myself."
"We would have made better time with me flying," muttered Holly as she got out of the shuttle and stretched her cramped muscles.
"At least the shuttle was built with beings of your dimensions in mind," said Butler, rolling his neck with an audible crack.
"So, what exactly is the plan here, Artemis?" said Juliet. "Artemis?"
The boy snapped back from the memories the location evoked, as well as the joy and relief of being on the surface again. "We need to set up a perimeter around the affected area and test for abnormalities in the air and soil. However, our first order of business is—"
"To build a bivouac," said Cusp.
Artemis, Holly, and Trouble looked at each other and groaned. Then Trouble realized what had happened and leapt into action to assist Cusp and Butler in constructing said bivouac.
"If you would kindly stand back," said Artemis testily, having almost stepped on the hybrid fairy for the fifth time in half an hour. "I find it impossible to work with you constantly hovering over, or more correctly, under my every move."
"I am required to make a full and detailed report of all proceedings to the Council," said Cusp, peering at the micro-chipped rod Artemis had just submerged into the patch of earth beneath their feet.
"You will have nothing to report to them if I am unable to complete my work," ground out Artemis. "Need I remind you that this is a time sensitive project?"
"Are you deaf? The boy said move!" said Trouble. "The last thing we need is for something in his plan to go wrong. Again."
Butler cleared his throat.
Reluctantly, Cusp backed up a few paces, rapidly typing something into his report as he did so.
"There," said Artemis, straightening up from the final rod marking the perimeter of the designated site.
"Now what?" asked Cusp, his fingers poised over his report.
"Now, Flaxy," said Juliet, "Artemis works, and we wait."
"Well?" snapped Trouble when Artemis finally straightened up from where he had been hunched over his laptop, his fingers flashing over the keys at a speed Trouble had only ever seen from Foaly.
The teen flashed his signature vampire smile. "It's all clear. No chemicals, no radiation, no malevolent magic, not so much as a high saline content. This patch of earth is as near to perfect as we're going to get."
Holly grinned and Juliet punched the air. "That's what I'm talking about!"
Artemis and Trouble rolled their eyes at the human girl's exclamation.
"Holly," said Artemis, turning to the female elf. "Are you ready?"
Holly nodded. "You have no idea." She held her hand out for the acorn.
Suddenly Flaxel Cusp was between them. "I'll take that."
"Excuse me?" said Artemis, snatching his hand, which had been about to deliver the green-brown seed to Holly's palm, back to the safety of his jacket pocket.
"To ensure that nothing goes amiss with the proceedings, the Council has decided that I will be the one to perform the Power Tree Ritual," said Cusp. "You understand, I'm sure."
"No," said Artemis testily. "I do not understand. And I do not agree. The course of action that the Council agreed to was for Captain Short to complete the Ritual. I will not have the Council or anyone else changing my plans at the last minute."
"Oh, I understand, Fowl," said Trouble, narrowing his eyes and the gnome-elf. "I understand perfectly. Now that it seems that the mission will actually succeed, the Council wants to take credit for the return of the Power Trees to Earth. That is low, sir, even for them. This was Fowl's plan, and Fowl's plan it shall remain, for good or for ill. Maybe in the future the Council will have enough sense to listen to the LEP before the last minute in matters such as this."
"Besides," said Holly. "I started this blasted Ritual, and nearly lost my life and my career over it; I am D'Arvting well going to be the one to finish it. The Tree might not like us cheating."
"You haven't seemed to have had such qualms in the past, Captain," said Cusp bitingly, at last dropping his smiley façade.
"Well," said Holly, "maybe I've learned my lesson." Artemis and Trouble exchanged a disbelieving look. "Artemis, the acorn if you please."
"Mud Man, if you give that acorn to Captain Short, I am going to have to report the lot of you for disobeying direct orders from the Council."
"My name," said Artemis, turning his cold, bi-color gaze on the hybrid fairy, "is Artemis Fowl. And I do not take orders from anyone. Holly, catch!" he tossed the acorn high and long over Cusp's head.
D'Arvit, Artemis, thought Holly as she went racing after the precious seed, this is not the time for theatrics! But, of course, for Artemis Fowl it was always the right time for theatrics, and Holly wasn't the best (if most unorthodox) Captain in Recon for nothing, even if her boyfriend couldn't have hit a target if it was painted on the broadside of an elephant.
Cusp started after her, but Juliet lunged forward and caught him around the waist. In less time than it took for Holly to return to the group with the acorn, the younger Butler had the shocked and spluttering fairy lashed firmly to the trunk of a young tree.
Holly surveyed the captive with satisfaction. "Good work, Juliet. That's definitely an improvement to this mission. And I think Foaly would approve of the use to which you have put his SmartCord technology. In fact, I think we should send him a picture." She snapped a photo with her helmet. Juliet grinned.
"The Council isn't going to like this!" shouted Cusp, glaring daggers at the assembled company and struggling futilely against his bonds.
"Oh, put a sock in it," said Trouble. "The Council probably doesn't like you much, or they wouldn't have sent you here with us in the first place. Fowl, Holly, is everything set?" Artemis nodded and Holly gave the Commander a thumbs up around the acorn clutched in her fist. "Then what are you waiting for? Christmas? Go bury that acorn!"
"Yes, sir!" said Holly.
Trouble shook his head at the captain's retreating back. "How is it that she always manages to sound the cheekiest when she's actually following orders?"
"I don't know," said Butler. "But I know exactly what you mean."
AN: Ugh, I don't know what to say here except that I hope to hear what you guys thought. Sorry for being so lame :P