(Disclaimer: This entire fic takes place following the events of The Last Guardian, and so carries suitable spoiler warnings!)

-x-

EPISODE 1.01: A SINGLE GOLD COIN

An in-and-out surveillance job becomes something much bigger when it turns out Becquerel Jones knows about the People. In response, the LEP takes a massive risk.

-x-

"Why am I inclined to doubt that this is going to be as simple as you say?"

"Bit late for second thoughts now, Fowl. You went over the data with me, remember? We need a human face on the ground. No other way to go about this - you saw the files. Now shut up, ring the doorbell, and - for Frond's sake - slouch a little bit more. You're in America, after all."

"Holly, can you remind the centaur that this is not the first time I've gone undercover?"

The question was met with a snort on the other end of the line. "Arty, I'm only here in case the universe remembers how much bad karma you've got. Never thought I'd say this, but Foaly's right - shut up and ring the doorbell."

"Why, thank you, Holly." From his seat in the communications booth belowground, Foaly sounded appropriately smug. Artemis could easily visualize Holly's exasperated face, and the image made him grin as he shut up and rang the doorbell.

To say there was something unnerving about Artemis Fowl's grin would be an understatement. It would be closer to the truth to acknowledge that there was something unnerving about Artemis Fowl II. A pale young man with blue eyes hidden behind mirrored sunglasses and an oversized pair of headphones perched atop his raven hair, Artemis had reluctantly agreed to trade his typical tailored suit for a baggy hoodie and blue jeans. A pair of brand new and expertly aged sneakers were already making his feet ache, the six toes on his right foot crammed into a space intended for five. The only remaining piece of his usual attire hung around his neck: a gold coin with a perfect hole in the center, neatly strung on a sturdy cord.

Needless to say, Artemis Fowl would not be willing to put up with such discomfort if something incredibly important had not been at stake. Important to a friend.

He'd gotten the call a week ago.

During a routine scan of human communications, a teenager by the name of Becquerel Jones had set off a startling number of flags in Foaly's surveillance systems. The cause itself had been benign, yet Foaly trusted his operating systems, and it had been enough to get the paranoid part of his brain ticking. A year following the near discovery of the People in the aftermath of the Great Techno-Crash, the Lower Elements Police were operating under strict orders: no human contact was to be instigated for any reason. It simply presented too much danger. Foaly had a hunch, however, and his attempts to direct further LEP resources towards surveillance of the Jones's residence had been met with talk of budget cuts and unacceptable risks. Simply put, the centaur needed more information.

It had been Holly to suggest reaching out to Artemis. After all, resurrecting an old contact did not count as defying orders - at least, not while operating under any standard definition of "instigation." She always had been good at finding loopholes.

Even more conspicuous than his altered wardrobe was the absence of Butler, Artemis's bodyguard and oldest friend. Upon receiving Foaly's request, the Irish genius had made an executive decision: He had given his friends and family enough to worry about, over the last year, to last them through several lifetimes. By blaring loud classical music in his study and setting up a looped surveillance tape, he intended to be home before he was missed. It was not out of habit for him to spend days at a time absorbed in some project or other, and he typically did not tolerate disruption while in such a state. The odds were excellent that he would be back on Irish soil before anybody worked up the courage to pry open his study door.

After all, from Dublin to Denver was typically a ten hour flight. Artemis made it in six. He had departed as dusk was falling over Ireland, and upon touching down in a neglected airstrip he'd had to adjust his course to avoid being blinded by the late-afternoon Colorado sun.

Now Holly whispered into the line, his headphones serving a dual purpose. A tad conspicuous for his tastes but they had been Foaly's idea. "Okay, Artemis. We're going silent now. You remember the signals, right? If you need help, I'm ten minutes away. Which means you need to call before you need me, not after. Get in, plant the bugs, get out. Be careful."

"Of course," Artemis murmured, his lips not moving.

She didn't reply. A second later, Becquerel Jones opened the door. While no images had been available online of the American teen, the boy was the correct age. It was confirmed when he spoke, his voice matching the one on the other end of their phone conversation several hours before. "Hey, it's Alex, right? From the paper, that interview thing? Talking to local teenagers about the new school they're opening up, or something?"

"That's right."

"Sweet, man. Come right in."

Becquerel Jones was the sort of teenager who spent a lot of time trying to look effortlessly cool. Today he had dressed in a t-shirt that loudly proclaimed the name of some band, a relaxed pair of blue jeans held up around his hips with a knotted leather cord, a battered pair of trainers, and a single solid black bracelet wrapped around his right wrist. His auburn hair was tied back in a low ponytail, and Artemis noted that one shoelace was untied.

Artemis stepped over the threshold, eyes darting across the hallway to linger on any important features of architecture, any potential surveillance points, entrances and exits. Back in the communications booth, Foaly grumbled over the tint his sunglasses passed on to the iris cam image.

"Sweet set-up you've got here. That some kinda sound system?" He gestured upwards to the camera mount. Becquerel's eyes followed his pointing finger, and Artemis took the opportunity. His other hand pressed a tiny microphone - no larger than the head of a pin - onto the doorframe.

"Of course. And you don't have to call yourself Alex, y'know. It's fine." A deliberate pause. "Artemis Fowl the Second. I understand."

Holly blanched. "D'Arvit - !"

"Wait," Foaly shot back. "We send you in, the entire situation is blown. A whole retrieval team will need to clean this up. Let's see if Mud Boy talks his way out of this."

Holly folded her arms across her chest, ignoring the desire to shut off the link with Foaly and activate her wings, listening instead as the situation developed. For a moment, Artemis's signal was blocked out by static as the genius removed his headphones to leave them slung around his neck. No distractions. When the line cleared once more, Becquerel was speaking again.

"Look, dude. Don't play dumb. It's insulting to both of us. There are only so many kids in the world who've got our brains. You thought I wouldn't have gone down the list, sussed out the competition? Please. Give me some credit."

Artemis lifted his head, rolled his shoulders back, straightened out his spine. Dropped the act. When he spoke once more, his voice was layered with ice. Even from that distance, it sent shivers down Holly's spine. "Fair enough."

"At least tell me you did your homework, too?"

"Of course. Becquerel Jones. The youngest of two children, the only one in your family to exhibit such an abnormally high IQ. Born solidly middle-class, you proved yourself such an adept at predicting the stock market that you were arrested at nine years of age under suspicion of fraud. The charges were cleared two weeks later and your family kept the money. And then, nothing. You dropped off the map completely. So, Becquerel, you tell me: Exactly what have you been up to?"

"In all that reading, you see anything about Elizabeth?"

"Your sister? Yes, I read about that. My sympathies. If now were an appropriate time to inquire about her health, rest assured I would." Artemis narrowed his eyes, inadvertently causing the iris cam to spark. A tear sprung to his eye, and he spared a thought to be grateful that his sunglasses hid it.

"Then you know what I've been up to, because I think you're tangled up in it, too." Becquerel grinned. "The magic."

A pin could have dropped. Holly swore once more under her breath, rising to her feet and activating her wings.

"Holly -" Foaly warned. She ignored him, leaping to the sky to let the wings carry her forward.

Artemis was talking again. "I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Oh, please, Art - is it okay if I call you Art? - Like I said, don't play dumb. You came in here disguised, fair enough, I might've tried the same thing. But now that it's clear we understand each other, man, trust me: honesty is really the best policy. Don't screw with me, and I won't screw with you. Respect's got to run on both sides. Not often I get to talk to somebody who can keep up, you know. I think we can really help each other out. The magic. You know it exists."

"As I said," repeated Artemis in his darkest voice, "I'm sure I have no idea."

"Let's go over what I know about you, then, shall we? The only child in an extraordinarily wealthy family, father went AWOL, mother went around the bend, fortune went down the tube, and then what?" Bec snapped his fingers. "Suddenly, poof. It all got better."

"I assure you there was nothing magical about -"

"Even if there wasn't, you can't tell me you don't have a bit of a habit of dropping off the face of the earth for months at a time? Even years?" Bec shrugged. "That wouldn't have aroused much suspicion by itself. I mean, let's face it, your family isn't exactly going to win any citizen of the year awards. But then you came back, didn't look a day older, and nobody bothered to ask where you went? Fishy, Art. Very, very fishy."

"I understand why you are delusional," said Artemis. "You are clinging to any hope of a cure for your sister's condition. A sprinkling of fairy dust, perhaps, and suddenly she will walk again? Admirable, yet deluded."

"Cut the act. You and I both know you're here because you found out what I've got and you're crapping your drawers. Probably aiming for some kind of Nobel Prize or something, thinking you can prove the existence of the People. Biggest discovery of the century. Came here to see what's up."

"Highly unlikely. However, if a word of what you said were true, how would you recommend I proceed in this scenario?"

Becquerel grinned once more, confident. "Your call. Turn around and go home, and I won't mind. Hell, won't even call you on bringing surveillance equipment and recording devices into my house without permission."

"The alternative?"

"You take off those headphones, shut down whatever camera you've got hidden in your pocket, and see how far the rabbit hole goes. I could care less about the prizes, it's not like there's a finder's fee on this stuff. Would even be willing to split the recognition, if you could let me know I'm on the right track." He paused. "Assuming you got that rabbit reference, man. I'm sure somebody of your ambition may consider fiction to be a waste of time, in which case I totally apologize."

Artemis paused, seeming to consider the offer. Finally, he wound the headset cord around his thumb and forefinger in a loop to keep it tidy. "Alice in Wonderland. Carroll, 1865. And I suppose I've really got no option here, have I? If you have followed in the footsteps of many historical genii and allowed your intellect to drive you insane, as I suspect, then I can't in good conscience leave. And if there is even a grain of truth to your statements, it's worth my time to stay." As he pressed a button to kill the audio surveillance, he tapped the device two times. Stay put. The sound echoed.

Holly grit her teeth as she adjusted her altitude, the exact opposite of reassured. "Removed his wire. Awesome. Great. Exactly what we told him not to do. Of course."

"Holly -" began Foaly once more, his hooves drumming a staccato pattern on the tile floor of the communications booth. Anxious.

"No, no. It's fine. Just, when he gets out of there, I'm going to kill him."

-x-

Becquerel's laboratory was located down the hall, through a security-laden door, and up two flights of stairs. It was a bright and spacious room, with slanting ceilings and skylights that allowed the sun to shine through. There were posters tacked to the walls of various bands Artemis had never heard of - nor had he ever wanted to. A counter was built along the far wall, holding a collection of computer monitors, tablets, and other electronic devices. Along another wall was a steel-framed cabinet containing all manner of scientific apparati. Two desks stood side by side in the centre of the room, their surfaces covered with the innards of several disassembled hard drives.

Thus far the only alarming feature of the laboratory was its unkempt condition. Becquerel Jones clearly worked best in a state of controlled chaos, and it was enough to make the Irish genius's skin crawl. It was impossible to examine everything, so Artemis did not allow his gaze to linger on any particular feature, knowing the iris recording would be reviewed at a later time in great detail. An insignificant piece of evidence, one that required the connection to the People to be read into it, might easily have been left out in the open. Instead, Bec crossed the room to a small, black safe in the corner, blocking the door with his body as he keyed in a combination. The laptop he retrieved was sleek and silver, and potentially very dangerous.

He had to push away a mess of wires to make space for the laptop on the desk, and swiftly typed in a password before gesturing for Artemis to draw near. The background, Artemis noted as he moved to the young genius's side, was an illustration from Carroll's book. Rather than gravitating towards Tenniel's more popular illustrations, Becquerel apparently preferred the sketches created by Carroll's own hand to accompany the first draft of Alice in Wonderland - images which had never seen mass publication. Interesting. And then Bec had opened a new window and rows of numbers flooded the screen.

He stepped back, eyebrows raised, one hand stretched in an unconsciously dramatic manner to the laptop. Artemis stepped closer, bending down to examine the data while doing his best to feign disinterest. "Numbers," he said crisply, "You think numbers prove the existence of fairies?"

Bec wasn't fazed. "Go ahead, man. Take your time. Surely the great Artemis Fowl can figure out a spreadsheet."

The great Artemis Fowl already had an inkling, and the mere possibility was enough to worry him. "Satellite data," he admitted.

Bec typed a command into the keyboard; the screen split to display a second set of data. "And yet," he said, turning the screen back to his guest, "The numbers don't correlate with known records. Something is different. They've been hidden."

"Government agencies hide satellites all the time. This is nothing new."

"But these are not government satellites! Man, look, I've run the numbers a hundred times. They don't belong to any government - not that we know of - not human. The data signatures are way out of whack."

It was evidence - cold, clear, factual evidence that any intelligent mind could interpret. Artemis could easily leave now and tell Holly to break in that night to destroy the information, but that was no assurance. He had to learn where Becquerel had found this data and ensure there would be no possible method of reproducing it. If Foaly's shields had been breached, the leak needed to be found. Above all else this had to be done properly, or it would come back to haunt them all.

"An interesting hypothesis," he finally acknowledged. "Quite the leap of logic, to take some odd numbers and infer the existence of magic. In the interest of complete honesty, where did you come up with this data?"

Bec raised a hand. "Information goes both ways, Art. Your turn. What do you have to share with me?"

Artemis was suddenly acutely aware of the coin - fairy gold - that had slipped from his shirt when bending over the laptop. He hadn't even noticed it, should have noticed it. In addition, his eye still stung from the iris cam hidden behind his sunglasses, and the wire in his headphones could easily be discovered.

"Rumours," he said at last, "That's all I've ever heard. Frankly, I wasted too much time on this search in my younger years. As you so kindly reminded me, my mother was ill. I became too caught up in a hope that did not exist, looking for an answer that simply was not there. My research was conclusive on that point: conspiracy theories, nothing more."

Bec stared hard at him. "I'd have an easier time of believing you if you took those glasses off."

"Excuse me?"

Bec paced to the end of the desk before turning to face Artemis. "Take off those sunglasses and tell me this data doesn't point towards the existence of another race."

"I do not appreciate the hostility."

"Nor do I," said Bec coldly.

Artemis reminded himself that the iris cam was invisible to any who weren't looking for it and reached up to remove the glasses from his face. With overt formality, he took his time folding the arms together before tucking the glasses into the pocket of his shirt.

"Your data is a dead end," he said flatly. "There is nothing there but make-believe and wishes. I suggest a return to reality if you wish to help her, Becquerel. My father's worked with excellent physical therapists, and I'm positive they could be persuaded to assist you."

He stared hard at the teen, doing his best to believe his own words in order to convince the other boy of their truth. Bec's expression was still but his eyes searching Artemis's face for any sign of the lie. It was Bec who looked away first, his eyes flickering down to the desk for an instant. It was enough.

"Are we done here?" Artemis asked.

Bec shrugged. "Sure thing, Art. Show yourself out."

Artemis stared at him a moment longer before turning away. There were still questions but at this point, it would be more productive for Holly to put the genius under a mesmer and follow up with a mind-wipe. He had more than enough information to justify any action Foaly proposed; now, it was simply a matter of reaching the rendezvous point to deliver the iris cam to Holly.

Behind him, a drawer scraped open. Something metallic clicked, and Artemis froze.

"That's fairy gold around your neck."

"You really have gone mad," Artemis said. It was as though he'd learned nothing about the ill effects of taunting those pointing a gun to his head despite the surprisingly large number of times he had, at one point or another, had a gun to his head. "You don't really expect to -"

The tranq dart hit him in the neck.

That hasn't happened in a while, he thought, and then the world went black.

-x-

Outside, Holly perched on the neighbor's mailbox and waited.

"Oh no," said Foaly.

"Patch me in, I need visuals. What's going on?" Every instinct she had was telling her to just enter the damn house already; her years of training forced her to wait.

"Oh no," Foaly repeated. "Mud Boy's a good shot."

"No, Artemis is an awful shot," Holly corrected automatically. A moment later her brain caught up, and her stomach dropped. "Oh, no."

"And we've lost visual," the centaur proclaimed.

-x-

Becquerel hadn't expected Artemis to go down so fast. Nor had he expected him to be quite so heavy, given the Irish genius's slender frame. It took more effort than expected to roll him on his back so Bec could retrieve the coin - obviously fairy gold, confirmed by Artemis's reaction to his accusation. Next were the pockets, empty save for the mirrored sunglasses and the cord to the headphones. There was a module in the right earpiece that Bec didn't have the time to dissect; he set it aside on the corner of his desk.

Artemis's eyes were still fluttering. Bec was ready to conclude that he'd found the only bugs when he noticed something about the left eye. Carefully, he lifted the eyelid to see that a contact lens had slipped to reveal the blue iris underneath. Only one eye. Odd.

Upon examination, the underside of the lens was coated with an incredibly fine layer of circuitry, too advanced for him to untangle with the naked eye, too delicate to be created by human hands. He turned back to his bench, hunting through another drawer for a vial of saline solution. Kept on-hand to flush dust from delicate hardware, it would do a decent job of preserving the lens.

Behind him, Artemis Fowl groaned into the floor. Further examination would have to wait.

Thankfully, maneuvering Artemis down the stairs was easy enough once gravity took over. Becquerel even muttered an apology for the bruises the sedated genius would likely discover upon waking, cringing as Artemis's head hit the last step with a particularly sharp thunk. Luckily for them both, the sedative held.

-x-

The maroon minivan peeled from the garage like a horse out of the gate, skidding as it turned from the front drive to meet the main road. Torn between worry and resignation, Holly kicked off from the mailbox to follow it. "You're sure Artemis is in the van?"

"I'm sure," Foaly neighed. A keyboard clicked in Holly's ear, and she could hear his hooves through the mike again as they beat a nervous tattoo on the floor. "Definitely two warm bodies in that vehicle. Fowl's alive, though his vitals are a bit wonky. Just be careful, Holly. This could be a trap."

"For who?" Holly asked dryly, "I'm invisible, right? You said the only thing Jones had was numbers."

"Satellite data," Foaly corrected. "Hidden satellites. Our hidden satellites. If he can find those, he can find you."

"I've got my shield."

"You've also got fairy tech."

"But he's got Artemis, so there we go."

"Remind me again how you two haven't managed to get each other killed yet?" Foaly complained.

She was silent, and Foaly remembered.

"Admittedly, that was a poor choice of words. Fine. Go get our Mud Boy out of there."

-x-

A groan came from the back as Artemis stirred. Bec raised his eyes to the rear view mirror to see a hand reaching up, clutching at the leather for a grip as Artemis tried to pull himself up. "The trunk?" he groaned, "You - put me - in the - ?"

For an instant, Becquerel Jones wondered if his life had somehow become a zombie film. The top of a head showed over the seat, raven hair askew. Startled, Bec slammed his foot down on the brake. Artemis was thrown forward, bouncing off the seat and rebounding into the trunk door before sinking once more out of sight.

Bec whirled around, straining for any sign of Artemis. He was hidden behind the seat again and no longer making sounds.

I've killed him. No. No - he'd been knocked unconscious and would at worst suffer a concussion in addition to the effects of the tranq. Unless the tranq's killed him - he's probably allergic - no, no. He's got to be okay. Right?

And then the sound of retching started. For the first, last, and only time in his life, Becquerel was relieved to hear it.

It also gave him an idea, and as he merged onto the freeway he reached for his cell phone. "Hello, police? I'd like to report a disturbance."

-x-

The omnitool buzzed, and Artemis groaned from his spot on a cot. He hadn't moved since being placed in the precinct drunk tank, an exasperated pair of police officers assuming he needed to sleep off a particularly excessive binge. The only indication that Artemis was at all conscious came every time footsteps echoed through the hall - a wince, and an attempt to curl up a little bit more tightly. He hadn't even looked up when she called his name as loudly as she dared. Definitely not good.

It had been a long wait for the surveillance feed to be hacked and for the hallway to clear. This wait had been made even longer by having to listen to Foaly, who was in a state of blind panic.

"Butler's going to kill us," he whinnied for the sixth time in as many minutes.

"Yes, I know," she hissed, unshielding long enough to jam the sensor a little bit more fiercely against the lock. "I got that the first time you said it. Besides, you're safe in the communications booth. I'm the one who's got to deal with this mess, so just make sure the security loop stays steady. Last thing we need is an interspecies crisis because your weapons scanners failed to pick up a tranq dart."

"No, this is Butler we're talking about. I am definitely not safe in the communications booth!"

Holly didn't dignify that with a response. The mechanism finally clicked; the cell door rattled open. Artemis flinched at the sound, finally twisting his neck in a feeble attempt to see what was happening. Even under the buzzing fluorescent lights, she knew he shouldn't be so green.

"Easy, Arty," she said, dropping her voice into a lower register in an attempt to be soothing. It didn't seem to matter much - Artemis's eyes crossed from trying to focus, and he gave up. Turned back to the wall, set his head back down with an apathetic mumble.

Clone immune systems, Holly knew. Foaly, after all, had frantically explained it several times over. Months ago, they had saved their friend's life. By using a strand of Artemis's DNA to clone him following his early demise, Holly and Foaly had been able to transplant his soul into the new body, effectively bringing him back from the dead. While infinitely better than the alternative, the process still had drawbacks. For instance, a clone grown over the course of six months in a lab lacked the usual chemical tolerances. Artemis never stood a chance - of course a typically harmless dose of sedative had made him violently ill.

"Too bad," she muttered to herself, knowing he was far from listening. "We've gotta get out of here anyways."

"Huh?"

Artemis Fowl, reduced to monosyllables. Fantastic. Foaly's right - Butler really is going to kill us when he finds out. "I said, we're getting you out of here. Already wiped your prints from the system. Can you sit up?"

"Oh."

To his credit, Artemis tried. His arms wobbled, though, and the room spun in time with the pounding in his head. She darted in, swearing under her breath, to catch him by the shoulder before he could tumble to the floor.

This was going to be a very, very long night.

-x-

Artemis swam through the muddled spiral of thoughts, slowly pulling himself towards consciousness. Even in this state, he recognized the cause as a heavy dose of tranquilizer - and what did that say about his life? He really needed to stop putting himself in these situations, if only because the customary post-tranquilizer headache interfered with his ability to properly think his way back towards coherence.

No, that's not quite true, he corrected. The customary post-tranquilizer headache is nowhere near this severe.

When he concentrated, he could hear the movements of others in the room. Breathing to his right, a rustle of fabric near his feet, a cough on the left. He waited, but no more information was forthcoming; finally Artemis cracked open one eye and took in the unfamiliar white ceiling.

And then Holly's face appeared in his line of vision. Even in his bleary state, he noted the hallmarks of exhaustion. "Good, you're awake. I should kill you."

Artemis frowned, squeezed his eye shut again, and wondered for one instant whether he'd actually woken up. "What… did I do this time?"

She shook her head in exasperation. On the left, Foaly piped up, a tinny quality to the centaur's voice belying an unstable video connection. "You've got quite the knockout cocktail in your blood," he began. "Not to mention, you were sporting a fantastic concussion for an hour or so back there."

Artemis let his mind wander back to his last memories before waking up. "Of course," he said, "The dart. He actually shot me."

He attempted to sit up, only to meet resistance at Holly's hands. "Yes, we noticed. And careful. Stay put for now, we don't need you toppling over. We've got time."

It was rather humiliating, he reflected, to be confined to bed rest after a mere tranquilizer dose, when in the past he'd shaken off similar effects in the midst of crises involving trolls and time travel. Artemis waited until the elf had moved away before struggling into a sitting position. It took more out of him than expected, confirmation that the clone body was no more resistant to a knockout drug than it was to the common cold. Still, he managed to prop himself up against the pillows, staring about the room.

He recognized it, now that he was able to see more than the ceiling. While this was his first stay, Artemis could place the set-up as the minimalist approach to decorating employed by all cheap motel rooms. On his left, the television displayed Foaly's face against the backdrop of his booth. And, at the other end of the room was the other person he had sensed upon regaining consciousness. Commander Kelp himself, seated at the desk and reading through a file on his hologram screen.

"Commander," Artemis said in surprise.

Kelp shut off his screen and turned in his chair to face the bed. "Fowl," he acknowledged.

The commander's tone of voice was foreboding. Artemis wondered whether he should begin putting together a defence - only he wasn't exactly clear on the accusation. There wasn't much sense in delaying, though. "I doubt you are here out of concern."

"You made a mess in there, Fowl," Kelp agreed. "We were lucky to get you out with minimal losses."

Artemis sat up straight. "Losses?"

"My surveillance equipment," Foaly bemoaned from the screen. "He even caught the iris cam! Luckily, I'd made sure every piece I gave you had the self-destruct enabled."

"Luckily," Kelp echoed.

Artemis was horrified. "Self-destruct? But that was in my eye!" And then, "How long before you activated the self-destruct? Did Jones have a chance to examine the equipment?"

The pause was not reassuring. It was Holly who answered at last. "We lost contact with you for a while before you were finally… escorted from the property. The moment it was clear the equipment was no longer in your possession, we activated the self-destruct, but there was a chunk of unaccounted time."

Artemis stared down at his hands, thinking hard. The others knew better than to interrupt. At last, he looked up again. "I expect you want a full debriefing, Commander?"

Kelp rose from his chair. "Actually, no. Holly, Foaly, if we could have a minute alone?"

Oh no.

Foaly huffed a sigh and the screen cut to black. The room was stifling with apprehension as Holly rounded the bed on her way out of the room. She turned to flash a quick, reassuring smile before closing the door behind her; it did not fill Artemis with confidence.

Nor did Kelp's next words: "The Council has become aware of the situation, Fowl."

They know, Artemis thought numbly, They've figured out that I'm a clone. Cloning is illegal and despite my past actions - or possibly because of them - the Council is going to - Only, he couldn't actually figure out just what the Council would do. He rather doubted they would kill him, and Foaly was too important to the LEP to place in jail. Or so he hoped.

Kelp was still talking. "Fowl, I'm going to be blunt. Last time you were involved in anything even remotely tangential to LEP business, half the world blew up."

"I thought it was decided that I was not at fault?"

"Oh, it was. But this sort of thing happens around you a lot, and let me tell you, we've got rooms full of sprites dealing with the resulting paperwork. A bureaucratic nightmare, Fowl. Hundreds of man-hours. Thousands of them. Enough to make a troll sob for his mommy."

"I thought trolls ate their mothers?"

"Oh, they do. So no, Fowl, this isn't a job offer. It's a demand." Kelp threw down a single acorn badge onto the blanket that covered Artemis's legs. "Foaly's got a security breach, we need it found, and we need to keep an eye on you. Frankly, I doubt you'll stop being involved in LEP affairs any time soon, so you may as well fall under some kind of jurisdiction." More carefully, he lifted a bundle that had been sitting on the desk, pulling away the cloth to reveal a small, silver neutrino. "Unfortunately, this comes with the territory, too. Standard issue, even for consultants."

Artemis side-eyed the gun, his head still spinning. "And what, exactly, am I supposed to do with that?"

"I don't care what the hell you do. Hopefully this won't need to be a lasting arrangement. Find the security breach, make sure it doesn't happen again, and above all else..." Kelp heaved a sigh. "Just do your own damn paperwork next time."

-x-

Upon re-entering the room, Holly did not bother asking what had been discussed. She merely saw the Neutrino in Artemis's lap, registered the potential disaster, and took action. In one swift movement the weapon was pried from Artemis's loose grip, the charge packs removed, and the body of the gun tucked against her belt for safekeeping.

"Excuse me!"

She quirked an eyebrow in a manner that reminded Artemis strongly of himself. "Do you really want to have this discussion now, Fowl? Because we can. I've had a long night. Let's have this discussion now." She bared her teeth.

"There's nothing to discuss - that was mine!" he protested. Not the most eloquent argument, but he supposed he could be excused, given the circumstances.

It cut no ice with the elf, who promptly shot a glare across the room. "Commander, can you explain what's going on here?"

"Yeah, I'm a bit worried, too," piped up Foaly, who had reappeared on the screen. "Who thought it was a good idea to arm the civilian Mud Boy?"

"Not a civilian any more," Trouble explained. "Foaly, you dropped the ball on this one. We made the executive call - until this mess is straightened out, Fowl's a consultant for the LEP. He'll be going over every inch of your system with a fine-toothed comb until we sort out where those satellite numbers came from."

"You're going to give him free reign?" Holly yelped. "Doesn't that strike you as a bit...I don't know, irresponsible?"

"Well, I could tell you my solution to that problem, but you won't like it."

"Tell me anyways," Holly said.

Trouble told her. She didn't like it.

Neither did Artemis. "I don't need to be babysat, especially not by Holly. I am not a child," he said indignantly, turning his coldest glare on the room.

"You don't get a vote." The other three voices in the room spoke as one.

"Though for the record, I agree with Artemis," Holly said, her arms folded across her chest. "As usual, he's right: I don't need to be babysitting him."

A thud sounded from the hall. Artemis glanced to the door. "You couldn't have found a quieter motel?"

"I was more preoccupied with getting us out of sight," Holly responded sharply.

Another thud, closer this time. Artemis had heard the sound before. "Holly -"

The next time, the sound was close enough to make out. It was surprisingly distinct, the crack of a heavy boot coming into contact with a door that wasn't all too keen on staying closed. In an instant, Holly and Kelp had both drawn their weapons and leveled them to the door.

"Arty, get down," Holly warned.

The door crashed open. There, towering in the space, was a mountain - or rather, a man shaped like a mountain.

With a click, Foaly disappeared from the screen in the corner.

"Butler!" Artemis exclaimed as guiltily as if he had been caught sneaking out in the middle of the night. Which, technically speaking, he had.

The bodyguard had frozen, his firearm still raised as he took in the scene. Neither of the fairies had lowered their neutrinos, unwilling to give in until they were sure the Mud Man meant them no harm.

His eyes centred on Artemis, still weak and bleary-eyed, dressed in a graphic t-shirt, his hair limp and sticking to his forehead. "I know you're not going to believe me," he said with an anxious glance to the empty screen in the corner, "But this was undeniably Foaly's fault."

"Absolutely," Holly seconded.

"As Commander, I can confirm these statements," added Kelp. "Definitely the centaur's fault."

Butler stared wide-eyed between the three of them, chest heaving as he processed the situation. Then, at last, he lowered his gun. "I presume," he said forcibly, "That means as soon as you explain exactly what's going on here, someone's cutting his budget?"

-x-

Next Time:

EPISODE 1.02: CULTURE SHOCK - The Foul Team is established and receives its first real job.

-x-

Author's Notes:

So it turns out that Foaly was right after all: he is not safe in the communications booth! And Holly was right, too: the universe hasn't forgotten exactly how much bad karma Artemis is carrying. Not yet, at least. (Though if it's any reassurance, we promise Arty won't be so helpless all the time!)

I suppose this is the place to warn you: This fic is going to be long. To give you some idea, our outline currently sits at 20K and sketches out the course of twenty-one episodes. This is only the first one, so that should give you some idea of the scope we're aiming for!

As far as division of labour goes, this episode was a fairly even split. Most of it was written in collaboration, though the scene where Artemis wakes up in the motel room was all Winged, and I was responsible for the introduction of Becquerel Jones. Winged also did the majority of the fact-checking, though if the time zones are wrong that is entirely my own fault.

Thank you so much for reading - we hope to have more posted for you soon! -Freud

Freud's referring to "episodes" because originally, we started out with a rough outline of a television show - three seasons long - following the characters after the events of the books. It's a series we'd both love to watch so, failing that, we're writing it instead and sticking (as best we can) to the format.

Also, if you enjoy this you may like to take a look at our other AF collab, Schrödinger's Zombie. It's our attempt at expanding the last chapter of the final book in the series. We're considering SZ as a part of the same 'verse as Foul Team, with elements such as the clone immune system originating there.

One last thing - you can't imagine the number of texts we've sent to each other over this. The sheer number! Point of the matter being we really, really hope you enjoy reading this as much as we enjoy creating it.

Cheers! - Winged