"Good morning, Major Short."

"Dr. Argon," the major said tersely, nodding a greeting. "I'm here to check up on Artemis."

"Oh, yes, well . . ." Argon picked at the gold adorning his hands as he squirmed under Holly's gaze. "I had to re-administer the treatment – it didn't take the last time. So I'm afraid he's still out of commission."

Holly folded her arms. "Dr. Argon, this is the fifth time I've come in without being able to see Artemis."

"Has it really been five times?"

"Yes, it has." Argon could tell the major was not amused. "People are beginning to worry. His bodyguard his nearly frantic."

"Ah, yes. Butler." The thought of a frantic eight-foot mud man did not seem to appeal to Argon. His face grew a more sallow shade of white. "I'm sorry to hear that."

"His mother called me and claims she can't even get a line on his communicator."

"Yes, well, we took that away from him," Argon said quickly, wringing his hands. "Unstable psyches are inclined to view even the most innocent of items as potential weapons with which to inflict personal harm in times of depression."

"Artemis is not suicidal," Holly declared, aghast. "Or at least, he wasn't . . . Is there something you're not telling me? Is he worse?"

"Well . . . I didn't want to alarm anyone unnecessarily. And the publicity, you understand. PPTV would be blasting his mental decline all over Haven and Atlantis . . ." But Argon was talking to the air. Holly had already pushed past him and was heading up the sterile white hallway.

The gnome hurried after her, and finally managed to get a hold of her arm and pull her to a stop. She turned on him, her coffee complexion flushed. "I can't believe this, Argon. How long were you going to let us go on thinking he was improving before telling us?" She dislodged his hand and took another step forward. "I'm going to see him. Maybe I can snap him out of it."

Argon grasped her elbow once again, laughing despite the sweat breaking out on his wide forehead. "You are obviously not familiar with psychiatric procedures, Major Short. You don't snap someone out of a suicidal depression. It must be treated, and that's what we're doing here. That is why he cannot be disturbed."

"We won't talk," Holly said. "I just want to check in. One look and then I'll leave."

"Do what you want, Major, but I can't be responsible for a relapse."

Holly hesitated, her shoulders rigid. "Fine," she said after a minute. "But tell him I came, and that I'm coming back as soon as it is advisable." She jabbed a finger at the cringing gnome. "You contact me."

"I will," breathed Argon, obviously relieved. "The moment it is advisable."

Once outside the clinic, Holly dropped the formal rigidity of her rank and let out a grunt of frustration. She had been suspecting something was wrong with Artemis. When he had first been hospitalized, they had communicated by phone and he had acted as consultant several times during her cases. But that was over a month ago, and the interaction had been on hold for several weeks now. Butler had refused to leave Haven, even when Juliet and Mrs. Fowl had taken a pod back to Ireland. The lack of communication with his principle plus the fact that his movements were restricted to an old Koboi warehouse to keep the citizens from panicking was driving him stir crazy. Holly was not looking forward to visiting him tonight to tell him that once again her efforts to see Artemis had been thwarted.

Suicidal?

The prospect was terrible. Holly simply couldn't imagine it. Even during the second phase of the Atlantis complex, Artemis's alter ego, Orion, had been (just barely) rational enough to retain the basic principle of self-preservation. She needed to talk to someone about this, someone with answers. As she crossed the parking lot to get to the LEP van she had taken from Police Plaza, she tapped into the communicator in her helmet.

"Hello, Foaly?" she said once the line had been established and the static had cleared.

"Holly!" The centaur greeted her over the buzz and bleeping of the thousand technologically innovative inventions the consultant surrounded himself with. "Well, what's up? How's our little criminal mastermind turned psychopath?"

"I didn't see him," Holly said as she climbed into the driver's seat and pulled out of the parking space. She tried concentrating on the road, and not on the queasiness in her stomach. Suicidal.

"Oh no," Foaly groaned into her headset. "Why not? Butler's going to kill you! You promised him you'd get in today. . ."

"I know what I promised him," Holly raised her voice and then immediately felt bad. Foaly had no idea. It wasn't his fault he couldn't see past the end of his long nose. "Sorry, friend. It's just that I got some bad news."

"He's not worse, is he?" There was real concern in the centaur's voice.

Holly gripped the joysticks, maneuvering the bulky vehicle along the magnetic strip. "Dr. Argon believes he may have developed a complication . . . Foaly, he might be suicidal."

"Gods above," breathed Foaly. "You don't mean it. You're joking!"

"I wish," Holly retorted, steering around a vole curry vendor's trolley that had been parked too close to the lane. The pixie vendor started spouting Gnomish curses at her, but when he saw the acorn insignia spray-painted on the side of the van, he fell back into a half-bow. If it had been any other day, Holly would have issued a ticket for lane-hopping and disrespecting an officer, but this was not any other day.

"Has he tried anything yet?" Foaly was asking her. "I mean, did he try to . . . you know . . ."

"I don't know," Holly groaned. "Argon would barely talk to me. It was like trying to pull a subterranean slug off a wall of tunnel debris."

There was the sound of clicking keys in Holly's ear. Foaly was the inventor of the revolutionary V-board, which allowed a typist to use an virtual keyboard, but the centaur preferred the old-school manual keyboards. He claimed he liked the professional-sounding clicks. "Hmm . . ." he grunted.

"What?"

"I just rescanned the information on Atlantis complex in my new Hexicon downloadable program. I know Wikipedia has an entry on the AC but you can rarely trust the info you get there – every wannabe Webster posts hypotheses and whatnot on Wiki. Now, with Hexicon, I've installed a filter that verifies every data download to validate its authenticity . . ."

"Foaly, can we sing the praises of your beloved Hexicon later? I want to hear that information. What about the Atlantis complex?"

"Well," Foaly said, torturously slowly, "It seems that suicidal tendencies are not listed under the complex's side effects."

"What?"

"Right here! It lists all the ones we are painfully familiar with: obsessive compulsive disorder, paranoia, dual personality . . . But no suicide. It even makes a point of saying that people with AC don't have suicidal tendencies, as intense bouts of depression which leads to such predispositions are averted by the constant interchanging of the ego with the alter ego. In other words, someone with AC doesn't have time to develop suicidal tendencies because he's always swapping personalities."

"So what are you saying? That he doesn't have AC?"

Foaly snorted. "Holly, the last time I communicated with Artemis, Orion was reading me an ode about the color of your eyes. As I recall it, they're 'the colors of earthen glory' . . ."

"Foaly," Holly said dangerously. She was glad the communicator was not on live viewing, because her mouth quirked as she tried to fight a grin. An embarrassed Artemis several times had apologized to her for the barrage of emotions Orion would express to her upon his surfacing. There was no doubt they were extremely annoying, but right now Holly would have been very glad to obligingly stand by the window so Orion could better see the contours of her lovely features if it could only mean that that was the extent of his illness.

"Anyway, he most certainly has AC," Foaly said, clearing his throat.

Holly snapped back to the present, realizing the implications of her friend's statement. "Then you think that Argon was lying."

"I think that's a possibility. He's stupid, even for a gnome, but he was smart enough to know that claiming a dangerous relapse as a result of your visitation would be enough to stop you from going into that room."

Holly's eyes widened as possible reasons for the doctor's secrecy flooded her brain. It was true that Argon had a history of losing patients. Hadn't Opal Koboi escaped from right under his nose? "Foaly, hack into the J. Argon Clinic security cameras and check in on room #220B."

Realizing that she might need to turn around if her suspicions were proven correct, she pulled off the main magnetic strip and parked in a side street while Foaly completed his scan. As the keys clicked and Foaly hummed odd snatches of a riverbend dirge, Holly closed her eyes and leaned back in the driver's seat. Please let him be there, she thought.

"Uh . . . Holly . . ."

It was bad news. She could tell instantly by his suddenly sober tone. "He's not there, is he?" she asked, already backing out of the side street and making a tight three-point turn to get back on the main road.

"No, he's not," Foaly said seriously. "I ran a thermal, just in case he's somewhere else in the building. No good, he's vanished."

"I should have suspected," muttered Holly, speeding up. "I should have known something was bothering Argon. Gods, why didn't he tell anyone? Why was he hiding it?"

"Probably he was afraid of more bad publicity. Everyone knows he let Opal Koboi out. If the media got a hold of the fact he lost our little Arty . . ."

Holly strangled the joysticks, wishing it were Argon's neck. As it soon would be, she promised herself. "Get Commander Kelp on the line."

"Will do." No more cracks now. The line went quiet as the transmission was switched to another outlet of Police Plaza, and Holly was suddenly left with her thoughts.

Ok, this doesn't have to be so bad, Holly told herself as she passed several large-bottomed country gnomes who were idling in the side lane. Artemis could have gotten out himself. The paranoia might have been too much, and he might have tried to escape from some hallucinated danger. Certainly, he could orchestrate a clean getaway, if anyone could.

The thought pacified her for the moment, and she hoped it was the real answer. If it wasn't, then it could only be one other thing.

The line buzzed with static, and Trouble Kelp's gruff voice filled her headset. "Major Short, Foaly just informed me we have a situation."

"Artemis is gone, he's not in his room," Holly blurted.

"So? Maybe he went to the toilet."

"Foaly ran a thermal, and his heat signature is nowhere in the building. He's gone, Trubs."

"It's not Trubs, it's . . ."

"I don't care!" shouted Holly. "I'm taking Argon back to Police Plaza for questioning."

"Calm down, Major," Kelp said coldly, in stark contrast with the heart-popping hollering of former commander Julius Root. "Argon's a doctor, and his patients need him. You can't just drag him away from his clinic for a random questioning."

"He knew Artemis was missing."

"You don't know that for sure."

"Yes, I do," Holly insisted. "Commander, he was lying to me, trying to keep me from finding out."

"Holly," Kelp lowered his voice, resorting to using a tone one would with a child throwing a tantrum. "Did it occur to you that maybe Artemis wanted this to happen? This is the perfect setup – everyone thinks he's ill so we cut him slack. He gets to stay in Haven – the hub of all his little technological and money-making dreams – under minimal watch. He could have been planning this from the beginning. Argon needs money to keep the clinic operational – what if Fowl made a deal with him?"

Holly gaped for several seconds, unable to comprehend what her commander was saying. Finally, she managed to get her words out. "You can't believe that," she spluttered.

"I'm not saying I believe it, I'm just saying it's a possibility."

"If Artemis did escape by himself, and if he's not in danger right now," Holly's tone was suddenly acidic, "then it was because of his paranoia, nothing more. I can't believe you still suspect him, after all he's done for the People."

"If he escaped for no reason other than that, then he'll most likely head for one of two places, the Plaza or his bodyguard's temporary bivouac. He's not here, and I'll wager he's not there, either, or we'd be getting a call from the manservant, asking what's going on. Unless of course he's in on it."

"How many times does the poor boy need to save the world before he rights the wrong you're holding against him?" Holly demanded, furious. "He's going on sixteen – it's been four years since the kidnapping thing. Why can't you just let it go?"

Kelp sighed, dragging it out long-sufferingly. "Because I am looking out for the welfare of the People in general and analyzing any possible threat that might risk their safety."

"Meaning I'm not, I take it?"

"Meaning . . . your priorities have changed," Kelp said hesitantly. "You're letting personal affiliations get in the way of your police sense."

"Commander, that's not fair . . ." Holly wanted to break something. Here she was, simply worried about a friend, and she was practically being accused of treason or, worse, incompetence.

"It's true, Short," Kelp said. "Think about it this way – if you received two distress calls, one from the People and one from your human friends, which one would you answer first?"

"The People every time," Holly declared hollowly. "You know that, Commander."

"Let's hope you know it, as well."

Holly was desperate to get off the topic of her allegiances. The prospect that she might not be certain about her priorities frightened her. And Major Holly Short was an elf who was rarely frightened. Why, she wondered, could she face down a pack of ravenous trolls and not her inner emotions? Maybe because there hadn't been a course for that at the Academy. "And what are we going to do about Artemis?"

"You are going to visit the Fowl boy's bodyguard and employ some of your mesmer to find out what he knows about this escape business."

"Butler's innocent, I'm sure of it."

"You find out. We'll stand by until you report back."

"Standing by won't help save Artemis."

"That's an order, Major."

"Yes, Commander." Holly signed out, then wrenched the joysticks around once again, pulling a dangerous U-turn in the center of the crowded street. A LEP traffic regulator who had been idling over a game pod began cruising toward her on a moped. She'd probably get a ticket for reckless driving. Oh, the irony.