Disclaimer: Not my characters, not my world
Author's Notes: Set before The Eternity Code for anyone else who thinks Artemis Senior's new lease on life was a bit dubious
It wasn't a particularly convoluted scheme. Artemis was planing on using butchered fairy technology to create unparalleled electronic devices. However, that was more of a long term project. Until then, Artemis was amusing himself with some simple fraud. It involved moving a few small and rather insignificant numbers around in a few of the large banks' computer system. As far as criminal schemes went, this did not rank among Artemis' most brilliant. But it staved off the boredom for an afternoon and it required a certain level of software finesse.
Banks tended to provide tiny amounts of regular interest to their customers along the lines of point-zero something. These decimal amounts, when taken a across several hundred thousand customers, could be translated into quite a hefty sum. More importantly, such a sum was comprised of mere fractions of euros, pounds and dollars for each customer. It was unlikely to be noticed, let alone missed, if someone were to re-direct these trifling amounts elsewhere.
So Artemis amused himself by hacking into banks across several nations and redirecting these decimal amounts to a hidden account. He would then be able to discretely siphon off his 'earnings' from this account without anyone being able to trace the illegal endeavour back to him. The most amusing thing he found about the whole scheme was that his hidden account would in itself be earning small, unremarkable levels of interest.
Artemis was currently sitting in front of one of his customised computers and putting the final touches on the necessary program. It was not a simple task. Considering how absorbed he was, it was unsurprising that he failed to notice the intrusion into his study.
"Arty, I know what you're doing."
Artemis froze for a moment as he composed himself. Even with his father's perpetual good mood, Artemis still felt the habitual wariness. Not so long ago, Artemis would have admitted to a modicum of fear of disappointing his father. Deciding that an attempt to play innocent would fail badly, Artemis stood up and turned around without bothering to wipe the incriminating program off his computer.
"We've talked about this. I want the family, the whole family, to move away from dishonest practices," Artemis Senior explained in patient tones.
Artemis' eyes closed briefly at the use of the word 'family'.
"I know, father. I'm sorry."
His father smiled wryly. "I know you're certainly sorry that you got caught."
Artemis felt the irrational desire to avert his eyes from his father's gaze. He struggled to maintain eye contact, but elected to remain silent.
His father sighed. "I'm sorry, Arty. Perhaps if I had been there or tried to teach you about the really important things, you wouldn't feel the need to pursue illegal activities."
At this, Artemis felt compelled to explain himself. It was not a feeling that he was accustomed to. "It was not a particularly vicious crime. It was the removal of only the decimal value at the end of each bank client's account. They wouldn't even notice, but the sum would be more than worth the effort." He refrained from mentioning that it was a disproportionately difficult piece of software manipulation and that it was a significant intellectual feat. He doubted that was what his father wanted to hear, at least, not now.
"That's not the point." A cold expression crossed his father's face in the space of a heartbeat. Artemis felt his mouth go dry. The expression was the brooding, thunderous look that Artemis had associated with his father before his disappearance. It was an expression that made wise men tread carefully. But it was gone so quickly that Artemis would have missed it if he hadn't been making eye contact. It was so swift that a different individual might have doubted what they saw. Artemis, however, did not doubt himself.
His father's face had already resumed its sad smile. "The point is that it was dishonest and illegal. It was beneath you, Arty. You have such a brilliant mind that you could do so much good in this world."
Artemis nodded warily. He would have expected mind games from his father before the disappearance. It was a reasonable way to train him and keep him alert, but that brief expression was something else entirely.
"Would you like to do something together, perhaps visit a museum? I know that part of the reason you behave like this is due to boredom."
Artemis blinked. Even now, he was still getting used to his father's spontaneous overtures of friendship. It was a little disconcerting. It wasn't just that his father used to be too busy for such activities; it had been that he didn't think that they were a worthwhile way spend his time.
"Thank you, but no. I have other, lawful concerns that I should attend too."
Artemis Senior shook his head. "You really don't have to be so formal with me. Just let me know if you change your mind. I believe the gallery has a new Monet exhibit that they have on loan. It could be fun."
Artemis nodded. "I'll let you know," he said. At least his father wasn't suggesting a friendly game of father-son catch. He tensed slightly when his father gave him a companionate pat on the shoulder. That was another thing that had changed. While all these things took time to acclimatise to, a small but significant part of Artemis found these changes welcome. It was about 'family', he supposed.
Artemis shut down his program with a sigh when his father had left. He had a more puzzling phenomenon to ponder. The brief look that had crossed his father's face had been extremely disquieting because, if Artemis' observations were correct, it had been completely unconscious. His father hadn't even noticed the reversion. This warranted further exploration. Just how sincere was his uncharacteristic good mood?
Artemis watched his father closely over the next few days. He waited for slip ups, cracks in the mask. He was almost certain that this supposed new attitude was some sort of front. His mother's insistence that this was the man his father used to be was dismissed as rose-tinted nostalgia or love-induced blindness. There was no way for this good-humoured eco-warrior to be reconciled with the stern, ruthless businessman that Artemis had grown up with.
The most enlightening event that fit with Artemis' theory, occurred during dinner. These days, the Fowls did not sit around the long table in the dining room. According to Artemis' father it was too formal and the room had an annoying echo. Instead, they took their meals in the newly christened 'family room', seated around a smaller round table. There were five places, though only three were presently set. Artemis Senior would have liked to have Butler and Juliet sit with them, despite Butler's obvious reluctance. Butler objected silently and respectfully on the basis that it was unprofessional. Whenever Artemis Senior acceded to the bodyguard's unspoken request, Butler would retreat to the kitchen to enjoy a solitary meal and flip through his latest armaments magazine.
Tonight they were having rib eye steak on a bed of mashed potato and parsnip, served with a medley of seasonal vegetables including peas, baby carrot and squash. Artemis was finding his beef a little tougher than he was accustomed to. The cut may not have been aged correctly. He was also distracted by his covert observation of his father. The blade of his steak knife was also slightly loose in the handle. If Artemis had believed in fate, he would have deemed it to be conspiring against him because this combination of factors converged to produce a most distressing result. Artemis's knife slipped against his beef, jarring his fork, which in turn clattered to the plate and caused a few peas to be catapulted off his plate and hit his father on the cheek.
Good mood or not, Artemis was anxious. "I'm sorry, father. It was an accident, the knife, you see—"
Artemis Senior raised a hand to forestall further comment. Once again, there was a micro-second flash of something cold and ugly across his father's face. Artemis was the only person that noticed it and his mouth shut reflexively. The expression disappeared and his father's mouth quirked upward in a smile. His mother noticed that pleasant expression and lifted a hand to cover her mouth.
"Here, I thought your school decided sport was not your strong point. A shot like that had to be worth at least ten points," Artemis Senior chuckled.
Angeline gave a rather inelegant snort at that comment, before breaking into a light laugh. His father laughed along with her. Artemis made a conscious decision to join in the merriment and tried to make his laughter sound natural. In his ears it sounded a bit hollow, but no one else seemed to notice. Artemis' heart was still pounding his chest as wondering what his father would have said if he was feeling less cheerful and more himself.
It took almost a week of similar observation and further incidences before Artemis realised two things. One, his father seemed to be struggling between his old and new personality. Secondly, his father was completely unaware of the struggle. His cheerful attitude was too infections to be anything but genuine. No one was that good of an actor, not even a Fowl. The appropriate conclusion followed swiftly. As he had initially feared, it seemed that fairy magic had changed his father. It was the only logical explanation. Artemis Fowl Senior was not the man he used to be. Artemis needed to contact the People. They had had a deal and this was not part of it.
Holly was catching up with paperwork when Foaly contacted her. Considering her inherent distaste for the activity, she was grateful for the interruption.
"What is it, Foaly? Please tell me it's something besides paperwork."
Foaly chuckled. "You'll be pleased to hear that you're needed on the surface."
Holly blinked. "What?"
"I think it's Artemis."
Holly paled. "Don't say that."
While the People and Artemis had ended things on a relatively civilised note, anything involving the prodigy tended to be risky.
"Sorry, but the evidence points to him. You know the Sentinel system I have setup?"
"Yes, Foaly. Without your brilliant system there would be no way for us to sift through the huge piles of Mud Man telephone data and we might miss an important call."
"I choose to take that praise literally and ignore your sarcasm, which is the lowest form of humour anyway. The point is that Sentinel picked up a call laced with about as many key words as possible."
Holly went cold. "In that case, I almost hope it's Artemis. The alternative…"
"Yes, I know," Foaly continued, "another clued in Mud Man. That would be fun. No, I'm pretty sure it's Artemis. The call came from inside Ireland, not to far from the Fowl estate. The location is out of the way of any Mud Man habitation. There would be next to no chance of being compromised in such a location. It's almost ideal for a meeting."
"Still, that isn't a guarantee that it's Artemis," Holly pointed out.
"Mm, true, but it's the last line of the call that pretty much confirms it."
"What is it?" Holly asked.
"You can hear for yourself, if you want."
Holly shrugged. The feed crackled slightly over the connection. There was a string of fairy related words. The final phrase, however, made Holly grimace.
"Magic misused can destroy a mind. To destroy the mind is to destroy the person."
The centaur sighed. "I can only assume he's referring to the rescue of his father after the Opal incident. If something had gone wrong with his mother, he would have mentioned it by now. So chances are it is something to do with Fowl Senior." Foaly cleared his throat. "And possibly something to do with your healing."
Holly opened her mouth to speak but the centaur plunged on. "It could also be the mind wipe I used. Maybe." Holly could hear how much it pained Foaly to admit the possibility of a mistake or a technical fault on his part.
Holly sighed. "So it's our responsibility. Did you run this by Root?"
"Oh no, I went to a higher authority. Root would probably suggest either ignoring it or sending a team out to mind wipe him. It is protocol, after all."
"I see," Holly replied neutrally.
Foaly sighed. "I feel like I owe him, all right? I mean without him, my reputation would be circling the proverbial recycling chute. It's okay for you and Root because you two were on the ground when you rescued his father. My technical support is of course invaluable, but I wasn't risking life and limb the same way you recon officers were—and the way Artemis did."
Holly didn't press further. She could understand how much it would pain Foaly to be indebted to a Mud Man. There was also the suggestion of magic misuse. That sort of thing grated against Holly's core principles.
"So how did you convince them to send me?" she asked, changing the topic.
Foaly grasped the new subject eagerly. Holly could tell he was preening even through the audio feed. "Well, I do design the entire technological system and after the whole Opal fiasco, I think they've realised that it's in their best interest listen to the occasional suggestion from me."
"You lied, didn't you?"
There was a sigh. "I said you were the recon officer closest to the location of the breach and that time was of the essence if the threat was to be contained."
Holly grinned. "Thanks, Foaly. I'll contact you when I'm top-side."
While Holly was more than happy to be going to the surface, she dreaded the idea that her magic had somehow hurt someone. But more than that, she dreaded the possible fallout that would ensure if Artemis thought the People had wronged him or his family. They may have reached an understanding and something approaching friendship, but forgiving and understanding were not the sort of adjectives she would use to describe Artemis Fowl.
"I don't like this, Artemis."
Artemis paused in his scanning of the skies and turned to regard Butler. "I know, but I don't really have a choice. Until I have more data regarding the situation, I cannot make clear deductions. There are too many variables and I need to talk to someone who can give me information."
Despite the need for facts, Artemis was more than aware that data was not information, information was not knowledge and knowledge was not wisdom. He had an unshakable sense of foreboding that this matter would not be easily solved. It seemed that whenever he tangled with the People, things swiftly became complicated.
Butler was standing beside their vehicle. A hat partially concealed the fairy-technology enhanced goggles that he was wearing. At least, the hat would conceal them from anyone with a bird's eye view. His gaze panned steadily across the landscape. His movements were methodical and uninterrupted, even as he spoke.
"I know it needs to be a remote location, but that simply means that there wouldn't be witnesses to an ambush," Butler explained.
"I am quite certain that the danger is minimal. I also think that it would be advisable for you to remain inside the vehicle."
Butler's posture didn't change and he continued to scan the surroundings. However he somehow managed to convey an unspoken sense of 'yeah, right'. "I don't think that's advisable, Artemis."
Artemis refrained from sighing. While he valued Butler's input and was pleased with the tentative friendship he had established with the taciturn bodyguard, a part of him missed having his orders followed without question or comment.
"It's a security concern, yes?"
Of course it was.
Artemis pinched the bridge of his nose. "If they send anyone at all—which is a dubious prospect at best—it will be someone who is familiar with me. Also there is no danger of bodily harm. At worst this will end with us back at the estate with no memory of this series of events." Artemis paused for a moment as he considered the possibility that he had done all this before and had been subsequently mind wiped. He shook his head. There was no use dwelling on things like that. His paranoia was high enough as it was.
"Furthermore," the prodigy continued, "we may need to get away swiftly and having you inside would be conducive to that aim."
Butler still looked sceptical.
Artemis' blink lasted a second longer than average while he made the decision of giving the full truth. It was far from ideal, but it was a necessity. "Finally, I might not like the conclusions that arise from this exchange. I would like as few individuals as possible to know precisely what my father's condition is." He didn't add that a part of him would choose blissful ignorance. In his entire life the prospect had never appealed to Artemis in the slightest. Family complicated things. It was a confounding variable that even Artemis struggled to quantify.
Butler didn't press for details. Whether he understood exactly what Artemis wished was a mystery. But Artemis was grateful that he got into the driver's seat without further protest and beyond grateful that there was no hint of pity in his expression. Then again, the fairy goggles and hat obscured his features somewhat. Artemis berated himself for paranoia for the second time in as many minutes.
Artemis suppressed the desire to pace. He would have meditated, but he wasn't going to sit on the ground and risk dirtying his pants. Instead he toyed with the mobile phone in his hand. The item new and therefore it couldn't have been tagged or linked to Artemis in any way. Artemis was relatively certain that none of his existing communication devices would activate Foaly's security measures. He just hoped that his appeal would be recognised and taken seriously by the centaur.
Foaly directed Holly to a fairly remote location a few miles out from the main Fowl estate. Although she relished the feeling of flying in real sky and breathing unfiltered air, she still felt a little flare of resentment. The People were not at Artemis' beck and call. Her current presence in no way invalidated that point.
Holly assumed that Butler was waiting in the car and probably tracking her movements with fairy-technology enhanced devices. She wondered how Artemis had persuaded him to remain inside. She took a deep breath. A part of her still worried about the possibility of a trap, but she unshielded nonetheless.
"Alright, Artemis, why I am here?" she asked.
The pallid youth did not seem surprised by her sudden appearance and merely raised an eyebrow. "That's a rather existential question, don't you think? Although I am quite certain that you are referring to my entreaty."
"I didn't come up here for banter," Holly growled.
"Indeed. I called you here because my father is not the man he was. There is a high probability that this is a result of magic, possibly your magic. I have a few theories about how it occurred, but I would like an expert's opinion."
Holly's eyes narrowed. "Then call a warlock."
"I'm not going to bother to point out the futility of such a course of action. However, I will maintain that there's a reason that you're here rather than any of your peers."
"I've become an expert at dealing with you."
Artemis' lips twitched upward in the approximation of a smile. "You received my message and you're worried that I'm right."
Holly sighed and did not bother to deny Artemis' comment. "Foaly, what do you think?"
The centaur's voice echoed slightly in her helmet. Holly noticed that Artemis tilted his head in order to hear Foaly's contribution. "It's certainly possible. If there was any head trauma whatsoever, a few internal contusions or disrupted neurons… Well, it's possible that the magic would have fixed it. The only problem is that even we don't know the full story of consciousness, let alone Mud Men's minds. Random regrowth of neurons could cause almost anything to happen. You're just lucky that the frontal lobe took the most severe reshuffling. Hit the occipital lobe and he could be seeing anything or nothing at all, his memories seem fine and his balance and motor skills also appear unaltered. In the end, a minor personality shift should be the least of your concerns."
Artemis' expression tightened. "As much as I appreciate the engineer's point of view, personality is what defines the person. Balance and vision impairments would obviously be detrimental to my father, but at least he would still be the same person."
Holly was struck by an unsettling impression. Artemis was reminding her of an individual with actual emotions, or more specifically, a child who was worried about his father. Even the words of an irritated adult couldn't completely mask his tone.
"Look, Artemis," Holly began. Artemis glanced up. His expression was completely neutral and could have been carved from marble. So much for actual emotions. "What exactly is he like?" she asked.
Artemis let out a bitter chuckle. "Oh he's much better now. He jokes, he tries to make time for me and now he's scrupulously honest. He is no longer the cold, distant and calculated individual that I used to know."
Holly didn't bother to point out that this new personality sounded like an improvement. Artemis had deliberately set up his explanation to evoke those thoughts.
"Is it really that hard to understand?" Artemis asked. "It's not real. He is not actually my father. There are flashes, microsecond flashes, where I catch a glance of an old facial expression or he gives a single word an odd inflection in context. Can you imagine what that's like?"
"If I may interject," Foaly began. "Those flashes should stop completely over the next few months. I think they're echoes."
"Echoes?" Artemis did not sound convinced.
"Yes. It's hard to explain it, even to someone like you. Our neuroscience surpasses yours completely. You Mud Men are still fiddling with your fMRI and CT scans," Foaly snorted.
"It might be better to save the lecture for another time," Holly remarked with unexpected tact.
"What? Oh, very well," the centaur sighed. "Neuron alteration is not the only thing at work. The best way to explain it is that magic is a positive, life-associated power. Your father's old personality is fighting the effects, but if there's no intervention, the magic will win. The positive effects will iron out any residual—well, for lack of a better phrase—residual nastiness."
Holly winced. Artemis didn't frown at the slight, but he did not look pleased. His voice was calm and even when he spoke. "The most important question is whether or not you can reverse it."
Holly and Foaly shared an awkward silence. It was broken as the centaur began typing. "Well, theoretically it's possible. However, there's no guarantee that it's going to work. Yes, our neuroscience is much more advanced than yours, but the mind can still be a delicate and fragile thing."
Artemis did not miss the subtle inflection on 'possible'. "You don't think it's a good idea. Your reasoning also has nothing to do with any procedural risks." It was not a question.
There was another silence. Holly cleared her throat. "Look Artemis, are you absolutely sure about this? I mean, personalities evolve over time. Look at how you've changed during your exposure to the People. Perhaps it's a progression."
"This is not a natural 'progression'. The echoes are enough to suggest that. He used to be a brooding, dangerous man. He taught me my value system and shaped the person I am. This is not a shift in perspective, this is whole new personality. Only mind alteration could do that to a person. It takes away a part of who they are, or who they were, in this context."
In this case, would that be such a bad thing?
The words were carefully unspoken by all parties. Holly thought about the consequences of having Artemis' mentor stalking throughs society and rebuilding an empire. She thought of the chances of him discovering a piece of Artemis' fairy technology or somehow accessing his son's journal (Artemis the Second struck her as the sort of person to document things 'for posterity'). Even if he didn't manage to discover Haven or the People, the environmental damage, the likelihood of him striking bloody vengeance against the Russian mob and the sheer bad example that he would undoubtedly be, were all very good reasons to embrace the new and improved Fowl patriarch. Bedsides, Artemis was still a kid and he needed a father that would behave like one.
"Artemis," Holly began. She paused.
Artemis had met her gaze and just for a second, he dropped his impassive expression. Holly was absolutely certain that it was intentional. She realised there was no point in explaining any of the arguments. Artemis had already considered them and had likely created more of his own.
"I know," he said quietly.
Holly nodded and hoped Foaly would keep his mouth shut.
Artemis cleared his throat and addressed the centaur. "These 'echoes' will disappear?"
"It shouldn't take more than a few months, considering how long ago he was exposed to the magic. After that there won't be any more power struggles or dormant personalities or other problems like that."
Artemis nodded. "Purely physiologically speaking, what are the possible consequences of an attempt to restoring him?"
Holly didn't know whether she should be impressed or horrified that Artemis could refer to his father in such a cold and dispassionate manner.
"There's about a point seven percent chance of irreversible brain damage, full recovery gets a reasonable seventy-eight percent chance–"
Artemis closed his eyes for a moment before he cut Foaly off. "Well that settles it. I can't risk something like that."
"Ah, Artemis, surely you're aware that even the most common Mud Men surgeries have risk factors far greater than–" Foaly began.
Holly hissed a warning into her helmet. Of course Artemis knew that.
Artemis gave Holly a wry smile. "My father, in his current state, likes to talk about doing the right thing and being the hero. I had always thought the main problem would be whether or not I desired to do the right thing. I hadn't even considered the difficulty of identifying the right thing to do."
"You're the only one who can make this call, Artemis," said Holly.
Several days later Artemis entered his father's study. The door was open, but Artemis still felt the desire to knock. His father beamed when he saw his son. "Hi, Arty, what is it?"
"I think I'd like to see that Monet exhibit with you, father," said Artemis.
"That's great. I'll get my coat and meet you downstairs, okay?"
Artemis nodded. He hoped his smile didn't look too brittle. This was for the best. Perhaps with time and a bit of luck, this would become real enough.