Holly Short was dressed in a pair of Minerva Paradiso's workout shorts (never used) and a plaid shirt that fell in folds around her slight frame. Her sleeves were rolled up to her elbows and grease smudged her fatigued complexion, accentuating the shadows under her eyes. Her hair had grown out beyond its usual few centimeters and had obviously not been washed for a long time.

"You know you almost look like a human," Minerva noted, coming down the steps into the elaborate basement laboratory her father had built her for her thirteenth birthday.

"I feel disgusting," Holly snapped, glancing up from the table and throwing away the small soldering tool she had been working with. "And I still don't understand what I'm doing here."

Minerva gave a small "Why me?" sigh and came over to look over the elf's shoulder. "No, see, you're doing it wrong. That wire belongs on this side of the board."

Holly sat back in the swivel chair, dragging at her cheeks with filthy, burned, scratched fingers as a groan of aggravation escaped her lips. Minerva patted her on the shoulder hesitantly. "It's okay, Holly," she said in an attempted reassuring voice. "How many times do I have to impress upon you the fact that we are not on a deadline? The past will still be there a hundred years from now. There is no hurry."

"Oh, really?" Holly retorted, twitching away from the girl. "Then why not break out the champagne and fish eggs? Let's kick back and get some R&R because Artemis has only been rotting in the ground for three months." There was a long silence. When Minerva didn't answer, Holly bit her lip. "I didn't even go to the funeral."

"We were busy."

"It was cowardly," Holly murmured.

Minerva hoisted herself up on the table and sat down in front of the guilt-stricken fairy. "Listen to me, Holly. I know that we are not very similar. I am a child genius, you are a police officer. And I know that at one point I had you held hostage in my basement . . ."

"It's funny how often I find myself held hostage in the basements of child geniuses," Holly quipped dryly, but even that remark brought a fresh bout of misery to the surface. She had thought that over time the pain would get better, go away or at least grow dimmer. But it had been three months since Opal Koboi had murdered the great Artemis Fowl, and the blade of grief was still as sharp, easily cutting through her emotions every time she so much as broached a subject related to her dead friend.

". . . so if you want to talk to someone, please know that I will do my best to help you reason through your issues." Minerva had been talking this whole time, and Holly glanced up at her as she realized she had missed most of what she was sure was a wholehearted, albeit socially awkward attempt to extend the hand of friendship.

"Yeah, thanks," she said hastily. "But I'm fine. Really."

"No, you are not," Minerva insisted. "You are not speaking to anyone, except me and then only to argue or complain. By the way, your fairy friends have been trying to contact you."

"How do you know that?" Holly demanded, indignant. "I had my communicator self-destruct the day after I arrived in Nice."

"Ah," Minerva bit her lip guiltily. "It only took me a few minutes to deactivate the incineration device. I couldn't help it, the technology was too wonderful to resist."

Holly kneaded her forehead. "Just so long as you don't pawn it off over the internet."

"I would never do that!" Minerva insisted, although privately she thought about the patent she had already signed over to Apple. The iPhone6M would be substantially more state-of-the-art than the current model, but Holly did not need to know that.

As though to substantiate Minerva's previous statement, something buzzed gently in the girl's back pants pocket. She removed Holly's communicator and glanced at the screen. "It's the centaur."

"I don't want to talk to him."

"Then I will," Minerva made as though to receive the call. "He deserves to know what we are doing. Maybe he can help us."

Holly snatched the communicator from the human. "I already talked to Foaly about it. He thinks I'm barking mad. He tried to get me to go see Dr. Argon for counseling. I am not talking to him and neither are you." Switching the communicator off, the elf pocketed it and stalked to the staircase leading to the main level of the Paradiso manor.

"Where are you going?" Minerva demanded.

"I'm going to fly," Holly said decidedly. "I need a breath of air."

TBC