Title: Schrödinger's Zombie
Authors: FreudianCascade and WingedFlight
Warning: Heavy spoilers for The Last Guardian.
Summary: In the aftermath of the Great Techno-Crash, not everyone is there to pick up the pieces.
Author's Note: We can't stress this enough - heavy spoilers for TLG!
In the aftermath of what would later be known as the Great Techno-Crash, it took Artemis Fowl Sr three days to locate a working plane. The owner had been less than inclined to allow anyone into the sky; not only had all aircraft been grounded by common consensus but he was crippled by the fear of another equipment malfunction. At the same time, the knowledge was beginning to dawn on the man that goods were worth much more now that millions of dollars had been lost in bank system crashes and that he had better not let that plane out of his sight. It was to this growing realization that Artemis Sr appealed, offering what jewellery he and his wife had brought on their trip and promising more on the other end. The man made the rational decision; within twenty-four hours, the plane was in the sky.
The flight was as tense as the previous four days combined. Claustrophobia had descended upon the entire cabin as soon as the doors were sealed, fuelled by the very real fear that the jet would fall from the sky in mid-flight. There were seven other people crowded into the little plane, only those desperate and rich enough to risk travelling by air.
No one spoke. Angeline Fowl sat in the very back, alone but for her fears. Her husband had taken the role of co-pilot but she wished he was beside her now to remind her that Fowls are strong, Fowls survive.
The plane jerked and the entire cabin caught its breath. "Turbulence," spluttered the pilot over the intercom, "It's just turbulence."
Angeline gripped her armrests tight, closed her eyes, and prayed.
Any lingering hopes that Ireland had been spared dissipated when the black-scarred island came into sight. Although the fires themselves had been extinguished, smoke still rose from corners of Dublin and a long snake of abandoned cars stretched out into the countryside.
The problem arose when Dublin Airport came into sight. The burnt wrecks of multiple aircraft littered the runway, leaving no clear path for landing. Angeline pressed her forehead against the window, staring down in horror.
The plane banked sharply and passed over the runway. "Just a, uh, minor set-back," the pilot gulped, "I'm told there's a private airfield not far from here."
One of the other passengers whimpered. Angeline peered at the land below and tried to make out any individuals but Dublin had already passed behind.
The boys will be safe, she repeated to herself, They're intelligent, they're equipped, they're protected. The boys will be safe.
The plane was closing in on the ground. Angeline lifted her head from the window as the Manor passed in a blink. Something wasn't right - but although she bent to the glass again, it had already passed out of sight. And then the plane touched down and her forehead bounced against the window hard enough to leave a bruise and all she could hear was the roar of the engines. The plane taxied to the end and there was one horrified moment where it seemed like the plane would not stop at all - but then it did.
No one seemed to quite believe they had made it. One man started to laugh, another let out a ragged cheer. Angeline closed her eyes in relief and waited for her beating heart to slow. She could hear the others beginning to stir, opening the compartments to gather their luggage.
The boys would have seen the plane land, she thought. Artemis would doubtless come to investigate with Butler in tow. Would he have managed to convince his brothers to wait at the manor with Juliet?
But when she looked out across the field, past the shattered remains of their private hangar, she could see only one figure approaching. That's when she knew.
Butler waited at the end of the runway, eyes fierce and shoulders back, his posture doing nothing to hide the weight he carried. He was an old, worn soldier, a veteran of too many battles. He'd lost the one person he'd give his life to protect.
Despite all appearances, he was not alone. Most would not have noticed the slim shimmer in the air to his left. Angeline did, but she looked away.
"Butler," said Artemis Sr as he approached. His voice was tense as though he, too, had already guessed the truth. "Where are my sons?"
She didn't want to hear it - was not ready to hear it. Angeline turned away, back to the little group of passengers standing lost and alone over their baggage. There was a part of her that wanted to send them all away but she was a Fowl. She was stronger than that.
"It's late in the day," she said to them, "And we have room in our manor if you care to spend the night."
Only one man chose to carry on immediately, though he thanked her for the offer. Angeline did her best to help the group sort through their luggage until her husband appeared at her side. His eyes were bright and his face a mask but he did not argue when she told him of the offer. Instead, he asked Butler for assistance with the bags and, after lifting his own suitcase, began leading the way towards the manor.
It was harder to locate the shimmer without Butler at its side. Angeline squinted at the air and wondered if it was gone - or if, perhaps, she'd imagined it. But no, she saw it now beneath the nose of the plane.
No one had noticed yet that she had stayed behind. Angeline moved towards the shimmer and reached out hesitantly. "How?" she asked, and her voice cracked.
The shimmer melted into a tiny person barely higher than her waist, dressed in a suit and helmet that could have been pulled from a science fiction movie. The visor slid up to reveal the red eyes of Captain Holly Short. One of her irises was a familiar blue.
"I'm sorry," Holly said, and broke off.
The emptiness in her voice coupled with the sight of her son's eye only hardened Angeline's resolve. "How?" she demanded.
Holly shook her head bleakly, unable to find the words to explain.
Artemis Fowl the Second was not an optimist.
Magic permeated the earth above him, filling in hollow grooves and spirals, radiating upwards through the soil. It followed laws all its own, trailed off into infinite fractal patterns, and traced complex mathematical equations through the empty space between each particle of dirt. The energy ached to become something but it lacked any sort of drive. Left on its own, it would filter off in the coming months, dissipate out through the ground and drift away into nothingness.
Nothingness was not an option.
They need to know I am still here, he thought. Foaly will have figured it out, Holly will have told him, but they need to know I am still here.
It could have been a moment later, or it could have been several days before the dead teenager amended that thought. I need to know that I am still here.
He was never one for faith in the power of positive thinking. Karmic balancing was the sort of mumbo-jumbo sprouted by quack psychologists and moon-addled fairies. And so, it was perhaps for the first time in his life that Artemis Fowl the Second focused all his willpower upwards.
It was a private funeral, attended only by the Fowl and Butler families. They formed a half-circle on the crest of the hill, the wind beating at the grass around them as the coffin was lowered into the ground.
"We return you to the earth," intoned the priest.
Only Butler himself was not there, unable to accept that his charge was finally gone. Artemis never went into anything without a plan, he'd claimed, although events in recent years had rendered the statement untrue. Nevertheless, he clung to the belief out of desperation.
Butler was not there, but someone else was. Shielded from the eyes of the humans, Holly Short watched in silence.
She knew that somewhere far below ground, Foaly was struggling to find a sufficient power source for the chrysalis. Even now, an unread message from the centaur bobbed in the corner of her helmet's screen. Holly hadn't opened it yet. She wasn't sure she was ready to allow herself the hope.
The humans tossed handfuls of dirt into the grave, one by one, before turning away. Holly waited until she was sure there were none to see before approaching the grave. The dirt felt cool and gritty in her hand; she clenched it tight and stared down into the hole.
Goodbye, old friend, she thought, and let the dirt slip through her fingers.
Two months after his older brother's death, Beckett began insisting that Fowl Manor was haunted. It started out with small things. He would avoid certain parts of the grounds and, while Myles would play for hours in Artemis's empty study, he halted on the threshold and refused to step inside. Now he stood on the spot where Artemis had collapsed, and shivered.
Juliet Butler had slowly and reluctantly resumed her duties as bodyguard to the twins. This process had involved multiple counselling sessions, pleading from both of the twins' parents, and (most difficult to handle) several talkings-to from her older brother. She had finally agreed to a stroll about the grounds with the twins and they, overjoyed at the return of their favourite babysitter, had taken to an impromptu game of hide and seek.
By the time she caught up with them they were both crouched to examine something on the ground, the game abandoned.
"Juliet? This is odd. Beckett found it." Myles was nudging the soil with the toe of his loafer, his nose crinkled in dismay. "I did not realize we intended to plant roses this far from the flower beds."
Juliet slipped in-between them, examining the leaf that had drawn the twin's attention. She turned it upwards against the palm of her hand, examining the outline of the plant. "Probably a stray seed, Myles. I wouldn't worry about it." She stood, dusting off her pants. "Inside, boys. It's close to dinner time."
Voices filtered through the soil, carried by leaves, by roots, by currents of interconnecting magic. Familiar voices, voices that he had missed.
He was not an optimist, but Artemis Fowl permitted himself to hope.
Two weeks passed before Holly obtained permission to visit the surface again. She'd spent the time with the Haven relief effort, digging out the city and restoring order. The work was exhausting but it was just what she needed. It meant she only had enough energy to concentrate on the task at hand and she didn't remember her dreams.
Angeline was seated on the edge of her bed, unbraiding her hair, when Holly found her. She barely looked up when the elf materialized, though her fingers stilled.
"What Arty - what Artemis did," Holly began in a rush of words and emotion, "He saved so many people. What happened would have been so much worse if he hadn't. He saved countless lives. Your son, he - he was a hero." They were not the words she had planned to say. Holly bit down on her lower lip until there was blood in her mouth. The stutter hurt, too, and Holly spared a thought to wonder how Artemis would have tried to analyze such a lapse in speech. Probably would have babbled on about my subconscious, she decided, and quirked his eyebrow while making some sly reference to Freud.
It didn't help. If anything, it hurt more.
Angeline rose from the bed, hands falling to her side. "My son let you call him Arty?"
Holly shrugged, shifting her feet; they'd started to fall asleep from the way she was crouched on the windowsill. "Yeah, sometimes."
"If the stars aligned and he was in a good mood?" Angeline suggested, and the elf nodded. Angeline quirked an eyebrow; Holly, a half-smile.
The roses are a tad melodramatic for my tastes, he thought. I would wager, however, that their overall effect will be spectacular.
Later (though he could never accurately tell exactly how much time had passed) he decided that orange was an aesthetically pleasing colour for the flowers. The logic to get to this decision was more (or possibly far less) convoluted than the usual sort, and Artemis admitted to himself that it involved a large degree of personal preference. Red and white both struck him as tasteless, and pink could potentially give off the wrong impression. Most thistles of the Irish variety bloomed purple, so that entire wedge of the colour spectrum was automatically discarded. He refused to allow the roses to be anything but admired.
Orange will do nicely, Artemis reaffirmed. The magic uncoiled in approval.
The first bloom opened in the last week of May. Juliet mistook it for a weed and yanked the entire plant up by the roots.
Holly tapped out a pattern on the plastic cover of the chrysalis. Clumsily, the clone tapped back. Off-beat. Uncertain.
The elf sighed. Even in this state, Artemis Fowl completely lacked a sense of rhythm.
"Schrödinger's cat," the centaur mused from somewhere behind her. Holly swivelled her neck; she hadn't heard him enter.
The location they had found for the chrysalis had been half-buried in the rubble after the disaster, completely cut off from the outside world. Foaly had managed to dig up enough fuel cells to power the clone's life support systems, but little else - emergency strip lights set into the walls provided the only light. They were as safe from discovery as it was possible to be in Haven City.
"Mud Boy will get a kick out of that."
Neither alive nor dead, and so both simultaneously. Both, until somebody lifts the lid and one or the other is proven correct, Holly thought. Yes, Artemis would find some sort of poetry in the situation. Out loud, she murmured, "Is it even a good idea to open the box?"
The centaur shrugged, trotting across the floor to adjust the readout of the monitors. For the most part, the system was self-sufficient - if Koboi hadn't invented it, he would have liked to patent the device himself. As idiot-proof as possible, he had declared with a triumphant whinny. Insert DNA, set target age, and return six months later to collect your Frankenstein.
All the same, the clone rarely sat unattended for long. Holly haunted the room for an hour or two each night, keeping a silent vigil. Foaly had pulled her aside once to ask if she was certain this was a healthy habit. The elf had shaken her head in response and insisted she was keeping Artemis company. He couldn't bring himself to press further and dropped by at least once a week to be sure the cobbled-together system was still running at maximum efficiency. Even Mulch had visited once, though he had left several minutes later muttering that "the thing over there was creepy." Being a dwarf he would never admit as much, but for the first time in his life he was uncomfortable underground.
Artemis's room was both a hospital and a tomb.
"The box wasn't our idea at all," Foaly said, satisfied that the clone was growing on schedule. Perhaps even a little ahead of schedule. "It was his. And besides, it's the only idea we've got."
"I know," said Holly, drawing her hand back from the plastic. The clone's fingers fell still.
For perhaps the third time in his life, the centaur bit his tongue. He had been about to state that given Fowl's current condition they could hardly make the situation worse, but then he caught the look on Holly's face.
People were starting to notice the flowers.
Good, thought Artemis. One name in particular floated down to him: fairy roses. If the Irish juvenile genius had been in possession of teeth, he would have grinned.
Admittedly, "good" did not quite meet his usual cognitive standards. But then, as time passed and the roses blossomed, the magic that was holding him together was beginning to fray at the seams. He could feel it splintering, despite his best efforts. Occasionally a cockroach (or, heaven forbid, a cricket) would wander into a spark of the energy, shudder as any minor injuries on its carapace repaired themselves, and then continue on its way. Earthworms were even worse: they would fumble into tendrils of the magic that rested in the ground and follow them along, sometimes tying themselves into knots in an effort to continue their pursuit of the magic-infused soil.
Something about those worms reminded him of an old friend but Artemis couldn't quite call that friend's name to mind. It didn't seem to matter much.
He had never been one to operate on gut feelings, much preferring logic and percentages. It is nearly impossible for a ghost to be concerned with issues of rationality and intellect for any extended length of time, however, and as a result Artemis Fowl the Second decided to abandon his attempts at memory and focus solely on his roses.
They are magnificent now, he knew. Somehow, that was the only important thing left.
The chair was a custom-made masterpiece, part of a set crafted in the early 1920s that now graced the west sitting room of Fowl Manor. It was also much too large for an elf. Holly had tried many human chairs over the years but it was always a blow to the ego that her feet didn't quite touch the ground. Artemis had imported a chair of proper proportions from Haven City nearly a year before the Techno-Crash. She wondered if it was still in the corner of his study.
Angeline was waiting patiently in a look-alike chair, her hands clasped in her lap, her feet firmly planted on the floor. Holly took a breath, gathered her thoughts, and began to speak.
Neither woman would have been able to say just how these visits had become a routine. It had started with Holly's halting account of the last battle of Fowl Manor - minus the actual event of Artemis's death which, even now, she could not put into words. As Angeline had known only a patchwork of Koboi's history, Holly had then attempted to explain their other escapades with mixed results; she'd returned two weeks later with a sheaf of reports to fill in the blanks. When a set of unfinished academic papers was discovered in the wreckage of Dr. J. Argon's medical facilities, Holly obtained a copy and added a few more pieces to the puzzle. She'd shown up in the Fowl kitchen four days later with a transcript of a first-hand (albeit highly sarcastic) explanation of exactly what made the number four so terrifying.
It was hilarious, and she felt horrible for laughing until she cried.
Today, she was stumbling through an account of the Goblin Rebellion from the point of view of the LEP officers under lock-down during the siege. She'd just gotten to the part where Foaly had made contact with Artemis when Angeline cleared her throat.
"I'm sorry," she said, "But my son never fully explained - just how was it that you two met?"
In that moment, Holly understood completely how it felt to be a deer caught by the headlights of a rapidly approaching SUV. She stuttered something about an acorn before freezing entirely.
Angeline raised one eyebrow and waited.
"He was very clever," Holly tried again.
Angeline sighed. "What did he do?" Hero or not, she knew Artemis was never on the docket for sainthood.
Holly sent up a silent apology to her friend. Then, face red with embarrassment, she began to speak of an unfortunate incident in Hamburg and the resulting encounter with a troll.
The roses exhaled.
Petals slipped from the stems that held them and Artemis Fowl slipped upwards. Magic was just like that, he realized, a give and a take of energy. For everything that gives, something else must take.
At that moment, it seemed incredibly profound.
Time wore thin, about to snap clear through. Movement was dizzying and he wondered what had prompted it. With a faint pang of dismay, Artemis hoped the roses would continue to thrive without him.
And then there was no more time for rationalization. Everything was heavy.
Something, not the earth, was pressing on him and he felt his ribs crack beneath the weight. That's odd, he thought in a daze, somehow the earth never seemed to weigh anything at all.
Artemis was breathing and each particle of air was fire. Air on the surface of the earth. 70.084% nitrogen, 20.947% oxygen... he couldn't remember the rest, though he was positive flame was not part of the equation.
It was impossible to withstand it but in another moment he found that he could. After months of inertia, everything was changing so fast. For a moment, the splintered bones in his chest hurt a little bit and then everything hurt a whole lot. His heartbeat was so loud in his ears that he imagined he must be dying.
The last thread of magic holding him to the ground snapped, and Artemis Fowl's eyes fluttered open.
To come: Schrödinger's Zombie - Part 2.