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Chapter Eight

"So did you talk to him?"

"Ya, It's about what we figured"

"So?... Did he tell you what they want?"

"They want him to go home, y'know... get himself iced?"

"Yes I know what you mean, I'm just confused why. What reason could they have for trying to get him to ice himself?"

"I dunno, he didn't say. I don't think he understands it himself really."

"Did he tell you that Greg?"

"Well... no."

"Let's not make assumptions then. I'm sure he has some kind of plan..."

Audio file .18674

Artemis found his curiosity piqued as he walked towards Col. Graff's office. He almost allowed himself to hope that the Colonel had heard about the bullying and was putting a stop to it but he quickly crushed that idea, no good would come from depending on someone else to solve Artemis' problems. After speaking to some kind of secretary, Artemis was shown into Graff's office.

"You may take a seat" Graff said calmly gesturing to a chair.

Artemis considered standing but decided accepting Graff's offer would probably be best, he didn't want to appear the student called to the principles office either though, so he sat comfortably in the chair as if it belonged to him trying his best to radiate the presence his father would have. Several images of small children of varying ages were displayed on Graff's desk, Artemis gestured towards them. "Who are they?"

Graff glanced down and his eyes seemed to pass over each of the images pausing at only one. "Children who have received the monitoring device"

"Candidates for battle school?" Artemis probed, trying to get a better look at the face of the boy that Graff had paused over.

"Yes, and more..." Graff replied cryptically before pressing a button and making the images vanish. "But that is not the reason I have called you here today Artemis, one of the trainees under your care seems to have run into some trouble and broken his leg."

Artemis' eyes opened slightly wider as if in interest "Who was it sir?"

"James Pinual, now due to the complexities of mending bones in space he will have to be kept in our infirmary for a few weeks, and will be missing all classes and training. I trust you can relay this on to your teachers and fellow trainees?" Artemis nodded "Good, you are dismissed."

"That is all sir?"

"That is all"

Artemis was vaguely aware of leaving Col. Graff's office, but didn't really realize he was moving until he was standing back outside of the sleeping area. Artemis walked through the doorway and glanced around the room. It was only about twenty minutes until free time ended and lights out began so most of the group was already back socializing. "Does anyone know where Boyd and DelaCruz are?" Artemis addressed the room.

"I think they said that they were going to have one final game before coming back" Bruno spoke up

"Can you go get them? Tell them we are going to have an unscheduled group meeting." Bruno nodded and jogged out of the room.

"Do we have scheduled group meetings?" Iris joked from her bed.

"Sure we do, you just never show up" Someone else shouted from the back of the room, inciting a fit of laughter as Iris threw a pillow at them.

Artemis did not join in the laughter, but sat down on his bunk waiting for the remaining boys to return. Something in Artemis' demeanor must have quieted the other boys as the pillow fight didn't last long and the whole room was silently staring at Artemis by the time Bruno returned with the other two. Once they too had quieted and sat down, Artemis stood and walked to the center of the room. "Let's begin..."

"Shouldn't we wait for James?" Someone interjected.

"He won't be coming" Artemis's reply sent chills through the group and he decided to clarify "He broke his leg today and will be in the infirmary until his leg has healed enough to join us once again." Some murmurs and several glances went through the group at this news. "Now as you all know one of the older groups of launchies has taken a liking to us recently..." a few of the boys snorted at this "... now I do not know if James' current state is a result of this or not, but we can probably assume that it is." Artemis saw several nods of agreement passing through the group. "And so I have decided that you all should probably know a little more of the situation." Some questioning looks, but not many... "Due to the fact that none of you have come to me with these issues leads me to believe that some, if not all of you suspect the truth. Which is the recent abuse from the older group has been targeted not at you but at me."

"So what do they want then?" Iris asked from her position, some shock displayed across her face from hearing the news.

"Their demands are simple" Artemis smiled at them all "If I leave the battle station the abuse will stop, if I stay it will continue."

"Well that's not fair is it?" Kurt spoke, several grunts of agreement rose from the group.

"Very little is fair when bigger children decide to pick on smaller children" Artemis retorted, his face like a stone.

"Well why don't we even the playing field then?" Bruno drew everyone's attention.

"How so?" Artemis was curious what the large and normally silent Latino had in mind.

"Challenge them to a battle in the battle room like the Armies do" He shrugged "I am twice the size of DelaCruz here, but he somehow manages to shoot me every time." He smiled at his small Filipino friend, who everyone knew was an excellent shot. "If we can convince them to leave us alone when we beat them..." He let his statement hang in the air allowing everyone else to imagine it themselves.

"You mean 'if we can beat them', don't forget they have several months of training that we have not received yet.

"Training doesn't mean much without experience" Iris' high voice pitched in "I have seen people with more training lose a fight against someone who can catch them off guard." Iris' point seemed to arouse the rest of the group to taking the idea seriously as several murmurs of agreement chorused in.

Artemis could see he was fighting s losing battle, but then again why not? What Iris said was true, they did stand a chance of winning against the older and larger boys in the battle room. Artemis had no idea how they would pull it off, and the plan had more holes in it than he liked but it was a better solution than doing nothing. So with some deliberation Artemis finally cleared his throat to summon the group's attention to himself. "Very well, we will try to convince the other group of launchies, but don't expect anything"

At his announcement a cheer went up from the group and Artemis had an odd moment of companionship as he sat there watching his group celebrate his decision and excitedly talking to each other. The depressing thoughts of James with his broken leg wiped from their minds, indeed Artemis later imagined that the celebrating would have gone on for much longer if the lights hadn't turned out at that moment causing a pause of silence followed by laughter and the sounds of everyone crawling into their beds.

It was not immediately that Artemis had an opportunity to speak with 'the opposition' as his group had begun calling them. He had been looking for a quiet opportunity to confront the boy one on one, but he always seemed to have a few of his team members with him, and almost appeared to be avoiding Artemis. Artemis briefly wondered if he felt guilty about what happened to James, but decided that it was unlikely. When he did finally confront the older boy he ended up doing it in the games room, risking that the dull roar of the games and boys would drown out their conversation."Can I have a word alone?" Artemis asked boldly striding up to him.

The boy gave a slight condescending smirk at Artemis and then nodded dismissing his group members who had stiffened as if waiting for a fight to begin; at the command from their leader they obediently walked a to a corner of the room though still in sight. "I hear one of your puppies suffered quite the fall" The older launchie said nonchalantly. Artemis recognized the bait but still had to suppress the flush of anger he felt.

"My group and I would like to challenge you and your group to a battle in the battle room." Artemis flatly stated, not caring for the chit chat that others called 'pleasantries'.

The boy barked out a laugh "You think your puppies can beat us?"

Well at least he wasn't outright rejecting the idea. "Yes, and if we do, you have to leave us alone" Artemis folded his arms.

"And what happens when we win?"

"If you win, I'll leave."

The boy nodded and stroked his chin as if he was weighing the options. "And what possible reason would I have to accept this battle of yours?"

Artemis felt a weight sink in his stomach, he had been afraid of this. He had of course come up with several responses, but none of them really had a guaranteed way of convincing the older launchie. He could say that his group would fight them regardless, but their opponents had 10-15 pounds on most of the boys in his group. He also somewhat doubted that he could appeal to the merciful side of the older boy. Luckily Artemis never needed to respond though, because an unfamiliar voice spoke up. "Because I like the idea."

The voice came from a tall boy who was leaning against one of the machines a few feet away from them, Artemis had no idea how he had missed him until now, he was almost five feet tall and stood out as a result. His face was rather pointed and his hair was a shade darker than Artemis' own. His eyes were a light blue that seemed to almost match the uniform he wore which was light blue, dark blue, and white. He had an amused grin on his face, and Artemis wondered how long he had been watching them.

The older launchie regarded the older boy coldly "Who are you? The Launchie police?" He was obviously annoyed by the older boy's intrusion and as if by some invisible signal a few of his team members appeared by his side to back their leader up.

The mysterious older boy's posture shifted slightly as he seemed to pull himself up to his full height and dropped his arms to his side. The overall change, though quick was very intimidating and had its effect as one of the launchies unconsciously took a step back. "You're right, I should introduce myself" The older boy grinned "My name is Aatos Jussila, and I am commander of the Tide Army" Aatos said with a flourish of his hand drawing attention to the large number of boys wearing the same uniforms in the room, a few of which were also watching them. "And I am sorry, I seem to have missed your names..." He asked looking first towards Artemis.

"Artemis Fowl" Artemis offered holding Aatos' gaze as the boy nodded and turned towards the other launchies.

"Dieter Friedrich" came the response from the launchie.

Aatos chuckled at their names "A God and a King huh?" It took Artemis a moment to get the joke, the Common translation of Dieter's name; "David" was of course a prophet-king in the Bible. "But I'm confused, aren't Gods supposed to tell Kings what to do, not the other way around?"

Dieter's cheeks flushed with a scarcely suppressed rage. "He ain't no god, I don't need to take orders from him" Artemis quietly noted that he didn't deny that he considered himself a king though. "And you ain't my commander so why should I take orders from you?"

The tall dark boy's smile became steely as his gaze bore down on Dieter "Because one day you will be part of an army, and even if it's not mine I will still know your commander, and I will still be able to spread the word of how insubordinate you are and how you should never be trusted with responsibility. You see Dieter here on the station you may be a King but I am the God, and I can make your life a Hell. Understood?"

Dieter held Aatos' gaze for a few seconds and then lowered his face in some submission of defeat. The older boy seeing this seemed to suddenly lose his steel as his posture loosened and his smile widened. "Think of it as tryouts if you will." He paused as if in thought. "We can hold it two weeks from now on the Friday during free time. How does that sound?" He paused as Artemis gave his consent, the day was the same as the one he himself had chosen so he had no qualms about it. He didn't bother looking at Dieter to see his response but guessed that it must have been in the affirmative. "Good. I will take the liberty of inviting some of the other army commanders" Aatos smiled "After all it wouldn't be much of a tryout without any judges now would it?"

Dieter's cheeks burned red again as his temper flared up, for a moment Artemis wondered if he was going to argue with this older intimidating boy again, but logic seemed to win out and Dieter signaled to his cronies and they left in a group casting quick glances at Aatos as the strode by. Some clearly nervous around the older boy while others had a mixed expression of respect and reverence. Artemis allowed the older launchies to pass between himself and Aatos, his eyes though were locked with the commander who seemed to tower over him, and whose gaze also rested upon Artemis. By his gentle face Artemis had no reason to think that he had anything to fear from the older boy, but by his steadfast gaze he knew that he was not yet dismissed from the youth's presence.

After the rest of the launchies had left and Aatos had held Artemis's gaze for a few additional moments, he turned and walked towards the door stopping just short of it to turn back and look once more at Artemis. Beckoning him. Artemis after a pause made to follow him, unsure whether it was the low gravity or the strange feeling in his stomach that caused his steps to be so large.

Had Aatos stepped into his life as a the loving God of the new testament? Or the furious destroyer of the Old?

End Chapter