Artemis Fowl had never been one to pass up a dramatic entrance. In fact, it seemed to him that if one was going to make an entrance, it would simply be a waste of a wonderful opportunity not to make it as grandiose as humanly possible. Whenever possible, the first glimpse you would catch of the young genius, you would catch filled with dread, fear, or whatever emotion it was that the boy wanted you to feel at the moment.
This particular occasion was no exception. Artemis smirked out through the screen, straightening his tie casually as he watched a bead of sweat trickle down the commander’s forehead. Impression successfully made, then. Although some of the nerves could obviously be accredited to the imminant underground crash, at least a portion of it was surely from seeing the last person in the world he wanted to see at that moment. Although, thought the Irish millionaire, his fear was not entirely warranted this time. Obviously, he would want something in return for his services, but if they could save the life of one of Recon’s most valuable agents, wasn’t it worth it in the commander’s book?
“Well?” Artemis said expectantly, “nothing? This is hardly the way to greet your savior.”
Kelp scoffed, and Artemis wrinkled his nose. Even in the dark, the screen’s definition was so clear that he could nearly smell the terrible breath that came along with it.
“You’re hardly our savior, and this is hardly the time,” the commander answered, his jaw now set to reflect what Artemis guessed was supposed to look like confidence. It came out looking more like a stubborn child.
“On the contrary, commander, I believe this is most definitely the appropriate time,” Artemis drawled, still draped casually (or as casually as the boy genius ever allowed himself to be) over the armchair in his study. The commander was silent for a moment, his eyes betraying conflicting emotions. Artemis decided to take this as permission to continue.
“It seems that the fairy race has found itself in a bit of a bind,” he said, feigning concern as best he could. “Such a bind, in fact, that my weak mud-man sensors were able to pick up the readings all the way up here.”
Kelp gave no verbal response to the obvious dig, instead balling his hand into a tight fist. Fowl could nearly see the thoughts racing through his head. Or rather, walking, he corrected himself. This was the commander he was talking about, after all.
“You have no idea what you’re talking about, boy,” came the checked response. Artemis grinned at his failed attempt to control the tremble in his voice, although whether it had been from fear for his officers or anger at himself, he could not know.
“Oh, don’t I?” he replied, waving a hand flippantly to the side. Butler, who had been standing at the side of the room watching the exchange with something between anxiety and admiration, nodded, and flipped the switch.
The screen flickered off for a moment, and Artemis knew that on the other end, numerous maps and readings of the underground chutes were flashing across Kelp’s screen, providing all the evidence he needed that he had, indeed, picked up on the problem. The boy folded his hands on his lap, waiting patiently for the return of the connection.
When it finally came, the commander’s face was flushed to a degree to rival that of his predecessor.
“Fowl,” he growled, now leaning forward threateningly in his seat, all traces of fear gone from his face. “I’m not an idiot. I know you wouldn’t be showing me this if you didn’t have a way to fix it. So fix it, or you’ll be spending the next ten years of your life miserable and locked up in your own cosy little cell in Atlantis.”
Artemis gave a dignified snort, a feat that only he could have pulled off, and replied dryly, “If, that is, there is anywhere left in your world by the end of the day in which to imprison me.”
That had hit home, he could tell. The commander was struck dumb, mouthing for words that never came, and the silence on his end was deafening. Artemis checked the clock mounted on the east wall. Three minutes remaining before the whole of the fairy world collapsed upon itself. Hurry now, commander, Artemis thought calmly to himself, get that poor little mind of yours to work while it still exists. At last, the words came.
“Alright, Fowl, what do you want?” came the defeated reply. Artemis opened his mouth to answer, but before he could speak, the commander interjected, “Don’t think I don’t know your game. You’ll help us, I’m sure of that, but you’ll want your price.”
The boy was silent, waiting for the inevitable continuation. He didn’t want to have to ask. He wanted the commander to come to him, begging on his knees. Sure enough, it came.
“I’ll meet your price,” Kelp aquiesced wearily, massaging his temple on the screen and shooting a glance to the wall where the clock would have been. “You’ll have what you want. Just save them. Now. And you won’t see an ounce of your reward until my officers are back here, safe and sound.”
Artemis knew when a deal was as good as it was likely to get. Grinning triumphantly, he motioned to Butler once again. This time, the man made his way across the dimly lit study, coming to stop in front of a large monitor that took up a large portion of the west wall.
“What you are about to see will not look good,” Artemis said calmly, flipping his wrist out in front of him with a flourish and tapping a button on the side of his watch. There was a short, high-pitched beep, and then the lights in the commander’s control room blinked back on. “But you must trust that I will not disappoint.”
Commander Kelp shot him a scrutinizing look, suddenly on edge once again. Fowl held back another smug grin. Was it really so impossible to trust him? He answered his own mental question. Yes. Yes, it was.
“What are you going to do, Fowl?” Kelp asked tensely, looking around him as if the Irish genius was about to materialize in the very room. “Tell me. If this is going to hurt anyone innocent, I swear to Frond, I’ll-”
“Pretty words, commander,” Artemis replied dully. “But please keep them to a minimum. I don’t think you’ll want to break my concentration for the next few minutes. Lives depend on it.”
Trouble opened his mouth as if in protest, but a scathing look from the boy genius silenced him. Slowly, he allowed himself to relax as much as was possible in a situation like this, and slumped back in his chair. His fingertips twitched nervously on the arm of his chair, and he was clearly not at ease in the least. But silent he was, and that was all Artemis needed.
Meanwhile, several hundred miles underground, Major Ash Vein was hyperventilating. One could hardly blame him under the circumstances. Most people in the world, when faced with the prospect of their terrible, fiery death, would experience a bit of quickening in the breath. In fact, for someone in his situation, the major was holding himself together valiantly, keeping up his facade of calm for the cameras so that control wouldn’t worry.
But now that the lines to control were gone, he was losing a bit of his nerve. As he held on for dear life, clinging to the controls in a last, desperate attempt to pull the shuttle out of its nosedive, he began to wonder if the commander had abandoned him. Surely, it couldn’t be. Commander Kelp had always cared for all of his subordinates, whether or not he had a good personal relationship with them. Leaving him to himself in his final moments would just have been cruel. No, it had to be over. That was it. These were his last few precious seconds in this world, and communications had cut off due to proximity to the radiation.
Finally letting go, Vein allowed himself a moment of despair, pitching forward onto the dashboard, burying his head in his hands and letting out a wrenching sob. He was a tough officer, it was true, but he had always feared the moment it would all end. There was so much he was leaving behind. Ivy would be devastated. He had never said goodbye to his little Rose. And the world… he would never again taste the sweet euphoria of looking up to the moon on a cloudless night, the rush of the breeze through his cropped hair…
“I love you…” he said thinly, to whatever he could think of. To his poor wife, to his daughter, to everything… and he closed his eyes, waiting for the end.
“I must say, that’s sweet of you,” said a sour voice from the overhead speaker. With a start, Vein looked up. Kelp’s control room had been replaced by one he had never seen before, a large, cavernous room with bookshelves lining the walls and an armchair positioned directly in front of the camera. And seated in the chair was a boy whose face not a fairy under the ground would not recognize. And it was smirking so its mouth was nearly stretched off its face.
“But I’m afraid we have more important things to deal with than your feelings.”