Butler was grateful that the warehouse roof was high. It was the one place that he could unfold himself and have a good stretch. And the height problem was only part of this torturous stakeout. He hadn't been outside the warehouse for a week now, relying on the LEP for the rather limited supply of food and on Holly and Foaly for information about Artemis's condition. The lighting was dim and depressing – the windows had been boarded up since Koboi's arrest after the goblin siege. Butler had begun tearing down the boards as soon as he had moved in, but the LEP requested that – to keep eager snoopers at bay – they be replaced. Butler had obliged, but had enjoyed giving a good scare to the little green-skinned sprite that had brought the order.
Butler was cooking his dinner – LEP field rations – in a small microwave that had been installed for his convenience (courtesy of Foaly), when a van pulled up. He heard it before he saw it, reckoned it to be one of the police vehicles which was low on gas and whose battery was just about dead, and identified the light, purposeful footsteps of his visitor. That would be Holly, with news about Artemis.
The moment she entered, he could tell that whatever news she had was not good.
"They didn't let you in," he guessed glumly, sitting down on the floor.
Holly shook her head, removing her helmet.
"So there's no news?" Butler ran his hand over his head, feeling a month's worth of stubble on his usually shaven crown. "What's going on? Aren't all those tests they're putting him through helping at all? I'm sorry, Holly, but I really think he might be better off going to a human psychiatrist. Someone who doesn't regard him as a freak."
"Butler," Holly came closer, and in the frugal lighting her skin looked pale as a ghost's. "I have to ask you some questions. If you want to help Artemis, you'll answer them quickly and truthfully."
"What are you talking about?" Butler demanded, feeling instantly uneasy. Artemis needed help? Why did Holly need to question him? "You know I'll do anything to help, but you have to tell me what's going on. What happened to Artemis?"
"That's what we're trying to find out," Holly's voice was strange, layered. Butler suddenly recognized what she was trying to do.
"Holly . . ." he began, feeling the mesmer already beginning its numbing effect on his brain.
"Just answer the questions, Butler, and then I'll explain what's going on." Her voice was beautiful, and Butler could suddenly understand why his principle had fallen so badly for this slim elf with her rich, textured voice.
"What happened to Artemis?"
"I'll tell you in a minute." The mesmer slipped for an instant as a sharp frustration pushed through, but Butler's brain only had a moment to surface for air before being submerged once again in the thick, blue haze of magic that was clouding the edges of his vision. "Now," Holly continued, "do you know where Artemis is?"
"The J. Argon Clinic, room #220B," Butler muttered blearily. Of course Artemis was there. Why wouldn't he be?
"When did you last talk to him?"
"Two weeks ago. He called my cell phone." His principle had sounded almost back to his usual, cynical self, his dry humorless witticisms almost up to par. The number five had wormed its way into the conversation a few times, but other than that . . .
"And what did you talk about?"
"The Plan," Butler said. "He was developing a new version of the Ice Cube. He said something about changing the substance of the wafers to something that will more closely resemble snow, just in case of scientific experimentation . . . I didn't understand half of his jargon."
"Did he say anything about leaving the clinic at any time?"
"He's always talking about leaving the clinic. I think it gets on his nerves, what with no dastardly deeds to execute. He says he's only allowed a local network computer, but he fixed that, he said." Butler remembered little of that particular part of the conversation. He had simply been relishing the familiar spouting of cold scientific facts and had not been concentrating on the facts themselves.
"Did he say anything about a new plan, something that involved Haven?"
Butler thought back obediently, trying to come up with something. Artemis had mentioned something . . . "He said he was worried about the funding for the Plan. Afraid that he'd have to come up with a way to get the People to uphold their pledged payments now that the illness had reduced his credibility."
"Did he mention escaping?"
The mesmer was withdrawn, leaving Butler's head feeling heavy, as though he had just woken up from a power nap. He blinked several times as Holly retreated to a corner to phone in Police Plaza. Butler listened absently to her harsh whisperings for a while before the seriousness of the situation punched through his post-mesmer daze. "Holly?"
Waving him to silence, the elf quickly finished her call-in, and then came over to Butler, looking at once shamefaced and deadly serious. "Sorry about the mesmer, old friend," she said. "It was necessary."
"Holly, will you please tell me what is going on."
Holly hesitated, glanced away, then squared her shoulders and met Butler's black gaze. "You're not going to like this . . ."
Holly told him. He didn't like it.