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Chapter 8 Sudden Impact

INSIDE the chateau paradizo

No.1 was having a lovely dream. In the dream, his mother was holding a surprise party for him, in honour of his graduation from warlock college. The food was scrump-tious. The dishes were cooked and most of the meat was already dead.

He was reaching for a beautifully presented basted pheas-ant in a basket of woven herb bread ropes, just like the one described in Chapter Three of Lady Heatherington Smythe's Hedgerow, when suddenly the vision retreated into the far distance, as though reality itself was being stretched.

No.l tried to follow the feast but it drew further and further away, and now his legs wouldn't work and No.l couldn't understand why. He looked down and saw to his horror that everything from his armpits down had turned to stone. The stone virus was spreading upwards across his chest and along his neck. No.l felt the urge to scream. He was suddenly terrified that his mouth would turn to stone before he could scream. To be petrified forever and hold that scream inside would be the ulti-mate horror.

No.l opened his mouth and screamed.

Billy Kong, who had been lounging on a chair watch-ing, snapped his fingers at a camera on the ceiling.

'The ugly one is awake,' he said. 'And I think it wants its mother.'

No.l stopped screaming when his breath ran out. It was a bit of an anticlimax really, starting out with a lusty howl and petering off to a reedy whine.

OK, thought No.l. / am alive and in the land of men. Time to open my eyes andjind out just how deep in the pig dung I actually am.

No.l cracked his eyes open warily, as though he might see something big and hard heading for his face at high speed. What he did see was that he was in a small bare room. There were rectangular lights on the ceiling that threw out the light of a thousand candles, and most of one wall was taken up by a mirror. There was a human, possi-bly a child, perhaps a female, with a ridiculous mane of blonde curls and an extra finger on each hand. The crea-ture was wearing a ludicrously impractical toga-type arrangement and spongy-soled shoes, with lightning bolts 170

embossed on the sides. There was another person in the room. A slouching, leering, thin man, who tapped a stac-cato rhythm on his leg. No.l 's eyes were drawn to the second human's hair. There were at least half a dozen colours in there. The man was a peacock.

No.l decided that perhaps he should raise his empty hands, to show that he wasn't carrying a weapon, but it's difficult to do that when you are tied to a chair.

'I'm tied to a chair,' he said apologetically, as though it was his fault. Unfortunately he said this in Gnommish and in the demon dialect. To the humans it sounded like he was trying to dislodge a particularly annoying blockage from his throat.

No.l resolved not to talk again. Doubtless he would say the wrong thing and the humans would have to ritually execute him. Thankfully the female seemed eager to chat.

'Hello, I am Minerva Paradizo and this man is Mister Kong,' she said. 'Can you understand me?'

It was all gibberish to No.l. Not a single recognizable word from the text of Lady Heatherington Smythe's Hedgerow.

He smiled encouragingly, to show he appreciated the effort.

'Do you speak French?' asked the blonde girl, then switched languages. 'How about English?'

No.l sat up. That last bit was familiar. Strange inflections, surely, but the words themselves were from the book.

'English?' he repeated.

This was the language of Lady Heatherington Smythe. Learned at her mother's knee. Explored in the lecture halls of Oxford. Used to profess her undying love for Professor Rupert Smythe. No.l loved the book. He sometimes believed that he was the only one who did. Even Abbot didn't seem to appreciate the romantic bits.

'Yes,' said Minerva. 'English. The last one spoke it well enough. French too.'

Manners must be appreciated somewhere outside a book, No.l had always thought, so he decided to give them a go.

He growled, which was the polite demon way of asking to speak in front of your betters. This must not be how humans interpreted it because the skinny human jumped to his feet, pulling out a knife.

'No, kind sir,' said No.l, hurriedly cobbling together a couple of sentences from Lady Heatherington. 'Prithee sheath thine weapon. I bring joyous tidings only.'

The skinny human was confounded. He spoke English as well as the next American, but this little runt was spout-ing some kind of medieval nonsense.

Kong straddled No.l, holding the knife to his throat.

'Talk straight, ugly,' said the man, deciding to give Taiwanese a go.

'I wish I could understand,' said No.l, shaking. Unfortunately he said this in Gnommish. 'What I… eh… meanest to say is…"

It was no good. Quotes from Lady Heatherington that he could generally shoehorn into any occasion just weren't coming under pressure.

'Talk straight or die!' shrieked the human into his face.

No.l shrieked right back at him. 'How can I talk straight, you son of a three-legged dog? I don't speak Taiwanese!'

All of this was said in perfect Taiwanese. No.l was stunned. The gift of tongues was not one demons possessed. Except the warlocks. More proof.

He intended to ponder this development for a few moments, now that the knife-wielding human had backed off, but suddenly the beauty of language exploded inside his brain. Even his own tongue, Gnommish, had been severely culled by the demons. There were thousands of words that had dropped from regular use on the basis that they did not relate to killing things or eating them, and not necessarily in that order.

'Cappuccino!' shouted No.l, surprising everyone.

'Excuse me?' said Minerva.

'What a lovely word. And manoeuvre. And balloon.'

The skinny man pocketed his knife. 'Now he's talking. If he's anything like the videos you showed me of the other one, we'll never get him to shut up.'

'Pink!' exclaimed No.l delightedly. 'We don't have a word for that colour in the demon commonspeak. Pink is considered undemonlike, so we ignore it. It's such a relief to be able to say pink!'

'Pink,' said Minerva. 'Fabulous.'

'Tell me,' said No.l. 'What is a candyfloss? I know the words, and it sounds… scrumptious… but the picture in my head cannot be accurate.'

The girl seemed pleased that No.l could talk, but slightly miffed that he had forgotten his situation.

'We can talk about candyfloss later, little demon. There are more important things to discuss.'

'Yes,' agreed Kong. 'The demon invasion, for example.'

No.l rolled the sentence round in his head. 'Sorry, my gifts must not be fully developed. The only meaning I have for invasion is a hostile entry of an armed force into a terri-tory.'

'That's the one I mean, you little toad.'

'Again, I'm a little confused. My new vocabulary is telling me that a toad is a froglike creature…' No.1 's face fell. 'Oh, I see — you're insulting me.'

Kong scowled at Minerva. 'I think I preferred him when he spoke like an old movie.'

'I was quoting scripture,' explained No.l, enjoying the shape of these new words in his mouth. 'From the sacred book: Lady Heatherington Smythe's Hedgerow.'

Minerva frowned, looking at the ceiling as she thought back in time. 'Lady Heatherington Smythe. Why is that familiar?'

'Lady Heatherington Smythe's Hedgerow is the source of all our human knowledge. Lord Abbot brought it back to us.' No.l bit his lip, shutting off his own babbling. He had said too much already. These humans were the enemy, and he had given them the blueprint to Abbot's plans. Blueprint. Nice word.

Minerva clapped her hands once, sharply. She had found the memory she was looking for.

'Lady Heatherington Smythe. My goodness, that ridicu-lous romance! Remember, Mister Kong?'

Kong shrugged. 'I don't read fiction. Manuals, mostly.'

'No, remember the video footage of the other demon. We let him have a book, he carried it around like a secur-ity blanket.'

'Ah, yes. I remember that. Stupid little goat. Always toting around that stupid book.'

'You know, you're repeating yourself,' said No.l, witter-ing nervously. 'There are other words for stupid. Dim, dense, slow, thick. Just to name a few. I can do Taiwanese if you prefer.'

A knife appeared in Kong's hand as if from nowhere.

'Wow,' said No.l. 'That's a real talent. A bravura in fact.'

Kong ignored the compliment, flipping the knife so he was holding the blade.

'Just shut up, creature. Or this goes between your eyes. I don't care how valuable you are to Miss Paradizo. To me, you and your kind are simply something to be wiped off the face of the Earth.'

Minerva folded her arms.

'I will thank you, Mister Kong, not to threaten our guest.

You work for my father, and you will do what my father tells you to do. And I am pretty sure my father told you to keep a civil tongue in your head.'

Minerva Paradizo may have been a precocious talent in many areas, but because of her age, she had limited ex-perience. From her studies, she knew how to read body language, but she did not know that a skilled martial artist can train himself to control his body, so that his real feel-ings are hidden. A true disciple of the discipline would have noted the subtle tightening of the tendons in Billy Kong's neck. This was a man holding himself in check.

Not yet, his stance said. Not yet.

Minerva returned her attention to No.1.

'Lady Heatherington Smythe's Hedgerow, you say?'

No.l nodded. He was afraid to speak in case his runaway mouth leaked any more information than it already had.

Minerva spoke now to the large mirror. 'You remem-ber that one, Papa? The most ridiculous fluffy romance you are ever likely to avoid like the plague. I loved it when I was six. It's all about a nineteenth-century English aristo-crat. Oh, who's the author… Carter Cooper Harbison. The Canadian girl. She was eighteen when she wrote it. Did absolutely no research. She had nineteenth-century nobles speaking like they were from the fifteen hundreds. Absolute tosh, so obviously a worldwide hit. Well, it seems our old friend Abbot brought it home with him. The cheeky devil has managed to sell it as gospel truth. It seems he has the rest of the demons spouting Cooper Harbison as though she were an evangelist.'

No.l broke his no-speaking vow. 'Abbot? Abbot was here?'

'Mais oui,' said Minerva. 'How do you think we knew where to find you. Abbot told us everything.'

A voice boomed through a wall-mounted speaker. 'Not everything. His figures were flawed. But my young genius Minerva figured it out. I'll get you a pony for this, darling. Whatever colour you like.'

Minerva waved at the mirror. 'Thank you, Papa. You should know by now that I don't like ponies. Or ballet.'

The speaker laughed. 'That's my little girl. What about a trip to Disneyland, Paris? You could dress as a princess.'

'Perhaps after the selection committee,' said Minerva with a smile. The smile was slightly forced, though. She did not have time for Disney dreams at the moment. 'After I am sure of the Nobel nomination. We have less than a week to question our subjects and organize secure travel to the Royal Academy in Stockholm.'

No.l had another important question. 'And Lady Heatherington Smythe's Hedgerow? It's not true?'

Minerva laughed delightedly. 'True? My dear little fellow. Nothing could be further from the truth. That book is a cringeworthy testament to teenage hormonal fabrication.'

No.l was stunned. 'But I studied that book. For hours.

I acted out scenes. I made costumes. Are you telling me that there is no Heatherington Hall?'

'No Heatherington Hall.'

'And no evil Prince Karloz?'

'Fiction.'

No.l remembered something. 'But Abbot came back with a crossbow, just like in the book. That's evidence.'

Kong joined the discussion; after all, this was his area of expertise. 'Crossbows? Ancient history, toad. We use things like these now.' Billy Kong drew a black ceramic handgun from a holster tucked in his armpit. 'This little beauty shoots fire and death. We've got much bigger ones too. We fly round the world in our metal birds and rain down exploding eggs on our enemies.'

No.l snorted. 'That little thing shoots fire and death? Flying metal birds? And I suppose you eat lead and blow golden bubbles too.'

Kong did not respond well to cynicism, especially from a little reptilian creature. In one fluid motion, he flicked the safety off his weapon and fired three shots, blowing apart the headrest of No.l 's seat. The imp's face was show-ered with sparks and splinters, and the sound of the shots echoed like thunder in the confined space.

Minerva was furious. She began screaming long before anyone could hear her.

'Get out of here, Kong. Out!'

She kept screaming this, or words to that effect, until their ears stopped ringing. When Minerva realized that Billy Kong was ignoring her commands, she switched to Taiwanese.

'I told my father not to employ you. You are an impul-sive and violent man. We are conducting a scientific experi-ment here. This demon is of no use to me if he is dead; do you understand, you reckless man? I need to communicate with our guest, so you must leave, because you obviously terrify him. Go now, I warn you, or your contract will be terminated.'

Kong rubbed the bridge of his nose. It was taking every shred of patience he had not to dispose of this whingeing infant right now and take his chances with her security. But it would be foolhardy to risk everything because he could not hold his temper for a few more hours. For now, he would have to content himself with some more insolence.

Kong took a small mirror from his trouser pocket and plucked at the gelled strands of his hair.

'I will go now, little girl, but be careful how you speak to me. You may come to regret it.'

Minerva split the fingers of her right hand into a W.

'Whatever,' she said in English.

Kong pocketed his mirror, winked at No.l and left. No.l did not feel comforted by that wink. In the demon world, you winked at your opponent in pitched battle to make clear your intention to kill him next. No.l got the distinct impres-sion that this spiky-haired human had that same intention.

Minerva sighed, took a moment to compose herself, then resumed her interview with the prisoner.

'Let's start at the beginning. What is your name?'

No.l supposed that was a safe question to answer. 'I have no real name, because I never warped. I used to worry about that, but now I seem to have a lot more to worry about.'

Minerva realized that her questions would have to be quite specific.

'What do people call you?'

'You mean human people? Or other demons?'

'Demons.'

'Oh… right. They call me Number One.'

'Number One?'

'That's right. It's not much of a name, but it's all I have. And I console myself with the fact that it's better than Number Two.'

'I see. Well then, Number One, I suppose you would like to know what's going on here.'

No.l's eyes were wide and pleading. 'Yes, please.'

'OK then,' Minerva began, as she sat facing her pris-oner. 'Two years ago one of your pride materialized here. Just popped up in the middle of the night on the statue of D'Artagnan in the courtyard. He was lucky not to be killed actually. D'Artagnan's sword actually pierced one of his arms. The tip broke off inside.'

'Was the sword silver?' asked No.l.

'Yes. Yes it was. Of course we realized later that the silver anchored him to this dimension, otherwise he would have been attracted to his own space and time. The demon was, of course, Abbot. My parents wanted to call the gendarmes, but I persuaded them to bring the poor half-dead beast inside. Papa has a small surgery here that he uses for his more paranoid patients. He treated Abbot's burns, but we missed the silver tip until a few weeks later when the wound became infected and Papa did an X-ray. Abbot was quite fascinating to observe. Initially, and for many days, he flew into a psychotic rage whenever a human approached him. He tried to kill us all and vowed that his army was coming to exterminate humankind from the face of the Earth. He conducted long arguments with himself. It was more than split personality. It was as if there were two people in one body. A warrior and a scientist. The warrior would rage and thrash, then the scientist would write calculations on the wall. I knew that I was on to something important here. Something revolutionary. I had discovered a new species, or rather rediscovered an old one. And if Abbot really was to bring a demon army, then it was up to me to save lives. Human and demon. But of course, I am merely a child so no one would listen to me. But if I could record this and present it to the Nobel Committee in Stockholm, I could win the Physics prize and establish demons as a protected species. Saving a species would give me a certain satisfaction, and no child has ever won the prize before, not even the great Artemis Fowl.'

Something had been puzzling No.l. 'Aren't you a little young to be studying other species? And you're a girl too. That pony offer made by the magic voice box sounded pretty good.'

Minerva had obviously come across this attitude before. 'Times are changing, demon,' she snapped. 'Children are a lot smarter than they used to be. We're writing books, mastering computers, tearing apart scientific myths. Did you know that most scientists won't even acknowledge the existence of magic? Once you add magic into the energy equation, nearly all the current laws of physics are shown to be seriously flawed.'

'I see,' said No.l, not convincing anyone.

'I am exactly the right age for this project,' added Minerva. 'I am young enough to believe in magic and old enough to understand how it works. When I present you in Stockholm, and we put forward our thesis on time travel and magic as elemental energy, it will be a historic moment. The world will have to take magic seriously, and make ready for the invasion!'

'There is no invasion,' protested No.l.

Minerva smiled as a kindergarten teacher would at a fibbing child. 'I know all about it. Once Abbot's warrior personality became dominant, he told us about the Battle of Taillte and how the demons would return and wage a terrible war with the Mud Men, as he called us. There was a lot of blood and hacking of limbs involved.'

No.l nodded. That sounded like Abbot.

'That's what Abbot believed, but things have changed.'

'I explained that to him. I explained that he had been flitting through time and space for ten thousand years, and that we had come a long way since then. There are more of us than there used to be, and we didn't use crossbows any more.'

'You didn't? You don't?'

'You saw Mister Kong's gun. That's only a tiny example of the kind of weaponry we have. Even if your entire pride of demons arrived all together, armed to the teeth, it would take about ten minutes to have you all locked up.'

'Is that what you're going to do? Lock us up?'

'That was the plan, yes,' admitted Minerva. 'As soon as Abbot realized that the demons could never beat us, he changed his tactics. He voluntarily explained the mechanics of the time tunnel to me and in return I gave him books to read and old weapons to examine. After a few days' reading, he asked to be called Abbot, after General Leon Abbot in the book. I knew that once I presented Leon Abbot in Stockholm, it would be easy to get funding for an international task force. Whenever a demon popped up, we could tag him with silver and house him in an artificial demon community for study. Central Park Zoo was my preferred location.'

No.l ran the word zoo through his new lexicon. 'Aren't zoos for animals?'

Minerva gazed at her feet. 'Yes. I am rethinking that, especially having met you. You seem quite civilized, not like that Abbot creature. He was an animal. When he arrived, we tended his wounds, nursed him back to health, and all he could do was try to eat us. We had no choice but to restrain him.'

'So, you're not going to lock us up in a zoo any more?'

'Actually, I don't have a choice. Judging by my calcula-tions, the time tunnel is unravelling at both ends and deteri-orating along the shaft. Soon, any calculations will be unreliable and it will be impossible to predict where or when demons will materialize. I'm afraid, Number One, that your pride doesn't have long left before it disappears altogether.'

No.l was stunned. This was more information than anyone could absorb in one day. For some reason the demoness with the red markings flashed into his mind. 'Isn't there any way to help? We are intelligent beings, you know. Not animals.'

Minerva stood and paced, stretching one of her corkscrew curls.

'I have been giving this some thought. There's nothing that can be done without magic, and Abbot told me the warlocks all died in the transition.'

'It's true,' said No.l. He did not mention that he might be a warlock himself. Something told him that this was valuable information and it was not a good idea to reveal too much valuable information to a person who had tied you to a chair. He had said too much already.

'Maybe if Abbot had known about the time spell, he wouldn't have been so eager to get back to Hybras,' mused Minerva. 'Papa told him that there was a silver chip in his arm, and that very night he dug it out with his nails and disappeared. We have the whole thing on tape. I have wondered every day if he managed to make it home.'

'He made it,' said No.l. 'The time spell took him right back to the beginning. He never said anything about this place. Just turned up with the book and the crossbow, claiming to be our saviour. It was all lies.'

'Well then,' sighed Minerva, and she seemed genuinely sorry. 'I don't have a single idea about how to save the pride. Maybe your little friend in the next room can help when she wakes up.'

'What little friend?' asked No.l, puzzled.

'The one who knocked out Bobo, my brother. The little creature we captured trying to rescue you,' explained Minerva. 'Or, more accurately, trying to rescue an empty golf bag. She looks like a magical creature. Maybe she can help.'

Who would want to rescue a golf bag? wondered No.1.

The door opened a crack, and Juan Soto's head appeared in the gap.

'Minerva?'

'Not now,' snapped Minerva, waving at the man to go away.

'There's a call for you.'

'I'm not available. Take a number.'

The security guard persisted; he stepped into the room, one hand cupped over the mouthpiece of a cordless phone.

'I think you might want to talk to this person. He says his name is Artemis Fowl.'

Minerva gave So to her full attention.

'I'll take it,' she said, reaching for the phone.

The LEP recon field helmet is an amazing piece of equip-ment. The Section 8 field helmet, on the other hand, is a miracle of modern science. To compare the two would be akin to comparing a flintlock to a laser-sighted sniper rifle.

Foaly had taken full advantage of his almost unlimited budget to indulge his every tech-head fantasy and stuff the helmet with every piece of diagnostic, surveillance, defence and just plain cool equipment he could cram in there.

The centaur was vocally proud of the entire package. But if forced to pick just one add-on to brag about, he would go for the bouncing bags every time.

Bouncing bags in themselves were not a recent addition. Even civilian helmets had gel bags in between their outer and inner shells, which provided a bit of extra buffering in case of a crash. But Foaly had replaced the helmet's rigid outer shell with a more yielding polymer and then swapped the electro-sensitive gel for tiny electro-sensitive beads. The beads could be controlled with electronic pulses to expand, contract, roll or group, providing the helmet with a simple but highly effective propulsion system.

This little marvel can't fly but it can bounce wherever you want it to, Foaly had said earlier, when Holly was signing out her equipment. Only commanders get the flying helmets. I wouldn't recommend them though, the engine's field has been known to straighten perms. Not that I'm saying you have a perm. Or need one for that matter.

While No.l was being interrogated by Minerva, Foaly was flexing his fingers over the remote controls for Holly's Section 8 helmet. At the moment, the helmet was locked in a wire mesh strongbox at the rear of the security office.

Foaly liked to sing a little ditty while he worked. In this instance the song was the Riverbend classic: 'If It Looks Like a Dwarf and Smells Like a Dwarf, Then It's Probably a Dwarf (or a Latrine Wearing Dungarees)'. This was a rela-tively short title for a Riverbend song, which was the fairy equivalent of human country and western.

'When I got an itch I can't scratch,

When there's a slug in my vole stew,

When I got sunburn on my bald patch,

That's when I remember you…'

Foaly had considerately switched off his mike, so Artemis would not have the chance to object to his singing. In fact he was using an extremely old hard-wired antenna to send his signal, in the hope that no one in Police Plaza would pick up on his transmission. Haven City was in lockdown, and that meant no communications with the surface. Foaly was knowingly disobeying Commander Ark Sool's orders, and he was quite enjoying himself doing it.

The centaur donned a set of v-goggles through which he could see everything in the helmet's vista. Not only that, but the goggles' PIP facility gave him rear and side views from the helmet's cameras. Foaly already had control of the chateau's security systems; now he wanted to have a little peek through their computer files — something he could not do from Section 8 HQ, especially not with the LEP waiting to pounce on any signal coming out of the city.

The helmet was naturally equipped with wireless omni-sensor capabilities, but the closer he could get to an actual hard drive, the quicker the job could be completed.

Foaly pressed a combination key command on his v-keyboard. To anyone watching, it would have seemed like the centaur was playing an invisible piano, but in fact the v-goggles interpreted the movements as key strokes. A small laser pencil popped out of a hidden compartment just above the right ear-cushion of Holly's helmet.

Foaly targeted the wire mesh box's locking mechanism.

'One second burst. Fire.' Nothing happened, so Foaly swore briefly, turned on his microphone, and tried it again.

'One second burst. Fire.'

This time, a red beam pulsed from the pencil's tip, and the lock melted into metallic mush.

Always good to have the equipment switched on, thought Foaly, glad that no one had witnessed his mistake, especially not Artemis Fowl.

Foaly targeted a desktop computer at the far side of the office with a glare and three blinks.

'Compute bounce,' he ordered the helmet, and almost immediately an animated dotted arrow appeared on the screen, dipping once to the floor and then rising to the computer desk.

'Execute bounce,' said Foaly and............

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