Haven - Police Plaza
The newly refurbished council chamber was brimming with anticipation, the sound of intense conversation and nervous whispers reverberating around the room, creating an air that smelt of an impending event of monumental proportions, one that would decide the fates of countless lives.
Situated about the room were all of the LEP's top officers and advisers, including Commander Kelp, Captain Short and Foaly. Along with them were the higher ranking human personnel, though only a handful apart from Commander Ivankov, who had just recently arrived back at the city. The other humans present were without doubt the most renowned, being it that they were the two Butlers and the seemingly unstoppable Artemis Fowl. The three of them were seated by Quan and No1, as well as Holly, forming a group powerful figures. Mulch was, yet again, absent, though it was clear to everyone that he was up to something silly in nature.
Artemis sat in his seat with an air of disciplined relaxation. The genius looked much more at peace than he had been several hours before, something that surprised and comforted Butler to a great degree. He was certain that Holly had something to do with it, but he resigned himself to the fact that he'd probably never know for sure.
Trouble waited at the front of the chamber, standing by a holo-projector, by which Foaly was typing away as he always did. The elven commander looked over the room's occupants and, noting that everyone was present, turned to Foaly.
"Are those scans ready?"
The centaur waved a hand as though to signify that he'd been asked a needless question. "Of course. I formatted it into a more optimal design as soon as your brother sent me the readings." He pressed one more key on his keyboard. "Ready when you are."
Trouble nodded, taking a discrete deep breath as he turned to the waiting audience.
"You all know why we are gathered here today." He started, speaking with an authoritative tone. "We are here because, with the help Fowl, we recovered the ancient artifact required to unearth Opal's final move." He nodded to the boy with a surprising level of respect, though also a faint amount of unease with Holly right next to him, doing his best to avoid looking at the elf, the incident still fresh in his mind. "The artifact was subsequently analyzed by Quan and No1, who have managed to uncover the final piece of information that we need to finish this war."
He nodded to Foaly, who pressed a key instantly. The holo-projector flashed to life, casting a large three-dimensional image across the vacant half of the room. The blue holographic light displayed a detailed rendering of a colossal cavern, though it failed to penetrate the solid wall at the end of it, leaving them with just the cave's interior. Everything was perfectly detailed, from the stalactites and stalagmites to the jagged walls and magma pools.
Trouble waited a moment before continuing. "As per Quan's instructions, we sent a scout, and verified the location. It took us to a hidden magma chute, one that we never knew existed until now despite our thorough mapping of the earth's chute systems. At seven miles wide, fifteen high, and forty deep, this cave is the target of all of Opal's efforts, and she will no doubt bring everything she has in order to seize control of it. Therefore, we must form our own strategy for confronting her forces and stopping her advance on the Gate."
He looked around the room for a terse moment, assessing the faces of those before him. He found nothing but determination.
"But before we do this, we must know the magnitude of our own forces." He looked to General Winters and Commander Ivankov. The two of them had far more military assets than he currently possessed, mainly due to the fact that most of his had been lost during the battle.
Trouble thought for a moment. "Given that we will be engaging Opal within the chutes, our only option is to use aircraft. Haven's forces only consist now of a few dozen ships, and even then we are seriously low on certified pilots." He nodded to the other leaders. "Winters, Ivankov. What are you willing to bring to this fight?"
General Winters checked his data pad, his aged face wrinkling with contemplation as he reviewed his unit reports. As Ivankov did the same, the high ranking elf spoke.
"With Atlantis' squadrons as well as reserves from other settlements, I have exactly three hundred fighters currently awaiting deployment."
Kelp nodded, the looked to Borislav, who appeared more than ready to speak.
"Our forces took only minor casualties during the battle." The man stated. "I have already addressed this issue with my superiors, and have full clearance to offer everything I can." He glanced at his data pad. "Which adds up to eighty ships. We also have several reserve squadrons undergoing repairs, but it will take a few days to get them to full strength."
"Then that gives us about four hundred ships, give or take a few." Trouble said. "But the question then is, against how many?"
There was silence after Kelp's question. Nobody had any sure idea as to the size of Opal's forces, the lack of talk an obvious sign of that. After a few long seconds, Artemis took it as his cue.
"Though we clearly have no idea how large Koboi's forces are, I have, at the very least, a rough estimate. Given the magnitude of that which we've already faced, it is clear that she favors quantity more than anything, using sheer numbers to overwhelm, thus hinting that she again has such an advantage. Coupled with the predicted output of her production facilities, which I briefly saw during the rescue operation, it is safe to say that she had at least several thousand ships within her facility before it was destroyed." He paused in thought. "However, I doubt she could have saved all of her armies before the reactors imploded, thus she must have less than that."
"How many do you think that is?" Trouble inquired, slight tension visible upon his face.
Artemis cogitated the matter for only a fraction of a second. "I'd say one thousand, give or take a few hundred."
The tension in the air was palpable. Nobody liked hearing that they were, yet again, outnumbered.
General Winters scowled as he heard the estimate, looking very displeased. "Are these just the standard ships we faced before?"
Holly raised her hand to the question. "I doubt it." She said. "When we raided her facility, we encountered ships over twenty times the size of their regulars. One of them has a hundred times more firepower than their gunships, and is even more so durable."
"Great." Winters stated flatly. "We're going in outnumbered and outmatched."
"Indeed we are." Ivankov stated, not even trying to ease the truth. In times like these, one had to accept the way things were, no matter how horrible it seemed. The human commander looked to the holographic image of the cave. "However, we are not going to be taking them head on. We should instead plan to use their numbers against them." He paused. "A surprise attack is the best option in my opinion. Taking her off guard will very much even the playing field."
Trouble nodded. "Then it must be staged where she least expects it."
"And." Artemis interjected. "In a place where we know for certain she will pass through. Given such prerequisites, it is quite obvious." He motioned to the hologram. "We should place it in her absolute destination. If we try to intercept her forces elsewhere, we may very well fail to find her or be completely annihilated in the process. She does not know about the dagger, thus she has no indication that we know where she is going to move, meaning that if anything she will expect an assault on her way there, not when she arrives. Hopefully, once passing through the chutes unchallenged, she will believe us either ignorant to the Gate or incapable of predicting her movements, either or she will be much more susceptible to an attack when she believes herself to be home free." He paused, his face tightening with intense thought. "But even if that is the case, we should not assume her to be vulnerable at any time, even if we have an advantage in placing a hidden attack. She is far too dangerous to underestimate."
Commander Kelp didn't hide his appreciation for such input. "Indeed, that is probably the best approach. By placing our forces upon the battlefield ahead of hers, we gain an instant advantage in terrain and surprise, not to mention we can hit her when she least expects it." He looked back to the holographic image. "But how to we hide four hundred ships and manage to land a crushing blow before her forces can react?"
Quan rubbed his chin. "It is possible for No1 and I to obscure our forces from Opal's senses, which would otherwise pick up on such a gathering of ships. Along with the high levels of magical interference coming from the Gate, it should at least hide us from her. This, of course, does not help in terms of visual or electronic sighting. We need a way that will hide our forces physically as well."
As the everyone observed the hologram, Holly scrutinized it from her seat, her brow furrowed in calculation. Artemis noted her gaze and raised an eyebrow, curious as to where it was leading. Of course, his curiosity was very well directed; whenever Holly came up with a plan, it was always crazy.
After a few moments, the elf grinned to herself. Artemis and Butler were not at all surprised at her almost devious demeanor, rather they expected it. With the partially crazy look still plastered upon her visage, Holly raised her hand, eliciting Trouble's attention.
"Yes, Captain Short?" He asked, though his speech was afflicted by slight awkwardness.
Holly was all confidence. "I have a plan." She said simply, though her intonation indicated that the nature of her plan was anything but simplistic, or sane for that matter.
Kelp motioned for he to continue, not hiding his anticipation for what he knew would be a very interesting idea.
Holly looked to Foaly, who was all ears. "Foaly, what's the status on our drones and bio bombs?"
The centaur didn't bother to ask why. He looked just as excited. "I have about a thousand light assault drones left, and our remaining bio bomb stockpiles consist of mainly larger munitions, about a hundred currently on hand."
The elf grinned as she looked at the cave's stalactites. "Excellent. Then here's what I'm thinking."
Holly explained her plan in astonishing detail, and as she did, the faces of everyone within the chamber became immensely pleased. When she finished, Commander Ivankov looked to her, a very wide smile on his face.
"That may indeed work perfectly." He said, not hiding his own excitement. "It's crazy, unorthodox, and extremely risky...I love it."
Artemis gave his silent approval, a thin smile on his otherwise impassive face. Her plan was without doubt the best one he could imagine, and for once in his life, he hadn't thought of it.
Commander Kelp grinned, his previous awkwardness gone. "Now that's a strategy." He looked to everyone else gathered in the council chamber. "Does anyone else have something they'd like to add or object?" Not a soul even considered it, everyone had a sense of enormous veneration for the course of action that the Captain had suggested, even the usually disagreeable officials.
Trouble nodded with satisfaction. "Then our plan is settled." He turned to Foaly. "Foaly, get the necessary preparations underway immediately, we need to get everything in place as soon as possible." The centaur nodded wordlessly before making his way from the room. Kelp then looked to the human and LEP commanders. "We will commence the operation at once. Have your forces gather and make ready to travel to the Gate."
There was a flurry of activity as the numerous individuals in the council chamber made their way from the room, each with their own specific duties to carry out in preparation for the operation. Ivankov and General Winters gave mannerly nods to Commander Kelp before leaving, their subordinates following close behind them. In a matter of moments, the only individuals left were Trouble and Holly. The female elf was making her way to the door, but stopped as she heard the Commander approaching her. Turning around, she saw Trouble standing before her, regret written all over his face.
"Holly, about earlier." He began, his voice dripping with apology. "I just want to apologize. I know these circumstances are far from normal, thus I shouldn't have made such a big deal..." He paused, Holly waited. "I know you are far closer to Artemis than I ever can be, you are such close friends that I cannot think of a world where you aren't. I understand why you acted as you did, and judging by Artemis' change in demeanor, you helped him a great deal. So again, I apologize."
Holly smiled thinly, looking at Trouble with forgiving eyes. "There's nothing to be sorry for. If anyone was out of line, it was me." She grinned. "I know Julius wouldn't have taken such impudent behavior from me, I'd quickly have found myself doing desk work for a year."
They both laughed together, the previous tension gone. For the first time in many weeks, the two friends, who had known each other for most of their lives, truly acted as such. Gone was the formality that came with rank, the stiff conversation that a soldier had to uphold. They were speaking as life long friends.
"You most certainly would have." Trouble agreed, smiling now as he remembered the old elf.
He placed a strong hand upon Holly's shoulder, looking into her eyes with great esteem. "Julius was so very proud of you, more than anything else in the world. He saw you as family, and even in the hard times he never doubted you for a second." He smiled wider. "I too share that pride. You're the greatest officer I've ever seen Holly, far better than I am or could ever hope to be. I've always admired you, and such admiration grows every day." He paused. "I just want you to know that no matter what happens in the battle ahead, there is nothing ill between us."
Holly put her hand upon his shoulder as well, returning the look of kindness. "There's never been anything ill between us, most certainly not now." She squeezed his shoulder. "Julius would be proud of you too Trouble, you're becoming more like him every day, and I mean that in a good way. There's no one else he'd have as commander but you, and there's no one else I'd have as my superior either, remember that."
The complement hit Trouble like a brick wall, breaking any emotional walls he'd built as commanding officer. He never expected such from Holly, yet here it was, plain as day. He had always looked up to Julius, and had done his best to live up to his legacy, though he always felt that such was like trying to live up to a timeless legend. Holly had always been around in his life, an ever present force that refused to be stopped. To have such a fiery individual as her think of him as worthy of being Julius' successor was the most soul warming thing he'd ever felt. It was and always had been his dream and goal in life to live up to that, and she believed that he could. He blinked away a few grateful tears. "Thank you." He said softly. "You have no idea how much that means to me."
Holly never stopped smiling. "You deserve it Trouble, there's no need to thank a crazy recon jockey like me."
Kelp was silent for a long moment, looking at his good friend with immeasurable gratefulness. It was not an awkward silence, but rather one filled with feeling and understanding, a calm that swelled with emotion. After a minute, Trouble took his hand from Holly's shoulder, his eyes still brimming with happiness, but now also a confident fire.
"So now, after all these years, we're going up against Opal for the final time." He said, his voice filled with strength.
Holly nodded fiercely. "At long last we will end what she started, what Julius left us to persist against."
Trouble was filled with pride. "Then let us do this, together. Let's finish it, for Julius."
"For Julius." Holly repeated, iron determination flashing in her eyes.
Together, the two friends clasped hands, their grips firm and full of character. Nothing was going to stand in their way, not even a thousand suns. As they stood together within the council chamber, Artemis watched from the crack of the door, a smile upon his face. She had done so much for him, and now she was doing the same for Trouble, mending the wounds of the past whilst cementing impervious friendships that would brave the flames of dreadful tribulation with ease. It brought joy to his heart to see her and Trouble now clean, the tension between them gone like a weed pulled from the fertile earth. He'd never seen Trouble so happy, so at ease, so proud. Artemis smiled again as he left the door, walking away with a refreshed gait. He too had never felt so proud of her.
As he stepped into the main hall, Butler and Juliet took up stride alongside him, the two of them having been waiting patiently by the door. All around them officers ran to their stations, commanders bellowed orders, and the call to arms was blasted from the intercoms, creating an air of perfect precedence whilst the hundreds of soldiers worked with determined alacrity for the unavoidable conflict ahead.
The trio silently traversed the halls, speech being both unnecessary and impossible with the loud commotion that was everywhere. They were assaulted by a wash of warm air as they exited to station, the sound of engines and machinery blasting through the air. All around Haven, the fleets of drones and LEP ships made their way to the terminal, where an even greater cacophony reverberated from as hundreds of ships gathered for war. Artemis watched as they passed overhead, his face set in a solid look of determination. The board was set, the pieces were moving, their final action now unfolding towards a colossal battle that would be checkmate for one side or the other. There was no room for failure, no margin for error, everything was balanced on the sharpest of points. If Opal won, the world if not the universe would be lost, and all would be destroyed. Artemis didn't flinch as wind buffeted against him relentlessly, his mind set on the inevitable, preparing for what must come. It was an obvious fact that he wished was false, but knew was just around the corner. He watched silently as the sky filled with the weapons of conflict. War was at hand.