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Chapter 9 Turned Tables

chateau paradizoWhen Holly Short had opened the door of her makeshift basement cell, she found her helmet bouncing on the spot in front of her with a three-dimensional image of Foaly's face projected on to it.

'That is really creepy,' she said. 'Couldn't you just text me?'

Foaly had included a three-dimensional help program in Holly's helmet's computer. It came as no surprise to Holly that he had given the help module his own features.

'I've lost some weight since this model was constructed,' said Foaly's image. 'I've been jogging. Every evening.' 'Focus,' Holly ordered.

Holly dipped her chin and Foaly bounced the helmet on to her head. She sealed it tight.

'Where is the demon?'

'Straight up the stairs. Second on the left,' answered Foaly.

'Good. You've wiped our patterns from the security system?'

'Of course. The demon is invisible, and you can't be picked up no matter what kind of lens they use.'

Holly jumped up the human-sized steps. It would have been easier to fly, but she had left her wings outside, along with her suit computer. There had been no need to risk placing them in human hands, other than Artemis's. And even that took a little thinking about.

She hurried along the corridor, past the first door on the left and crept through the open doorway of the second, taking in the situation with a quick scan of the room.

The demon was secured on a chair, and the human girl was on the phone facing away from him. There was a large two-way mirror on the wall. Holly used her thermal scan to ascertain that the adjoining room had one occupant — a large male. He appeared to be talking on his mobile phone, not facing the demon's cell.

'Should I stun her?' asked Foaly hopefully. 'She knocked you out with sleeping gas?' He was quite enjoying play-ing with his new toy. It was like a first-person computer game.

'I wasn't actually unconscious,' said Holly, her words contained by the helmet's seal. 'I was holding my breath.

Artemis had told me that she would use gas. The first thing I did was vent the vehicle.'

'What about that Mud Man next door?' persisted Foaly. 'I can focus the laser through the glass. It's quite clever really.'

'Shut up or you will pay for it when I get home,' warned Holly. 'We only shoot in an emergency.'

Holly skirted Minerva, careful to avoid brushing against the Mud Girl or treading on a loose board. A single creak now could scupper all their plans. She squatted before the little demon, who did not seem too worried about his plight. What he was actually doing was listing off words, and having a little giggle after every one.

'Cornucopia, oh very good,' he said. And then, 'Sanitary. I like that one. Hee hee.'

Marvellous, thought Holly. This demon obviously lost a few brain cells in the transfer. She used voice command to type a text on her visor.

'Nod if you can read this,' the text read. To the demon, the words appeared floating in space before him.

'Nod if you can…' He mouthed, then stopped and began nodding furiously.

'Stop nodding!' sent Holly. 'I am an elf. One of the first family of fairies. I am here to rescue you. Do you under-stand?'

No response, so Holly sent a command. 'Nod once if you understand.'

A single nod from the demon.

'Good. All you need to do is stay very still and quiet.'

Another nod. The little demon was catching on.

Foaly had transferred his image to the inside of Holly's visor.

'Ready?' asked the centaur.

'Yep. You keep an eye on the Mud Man next door. If he turns round, then you can stun him.'

Holly wiggled her hand up her right sleeve, pincering a sheet of foil between her index and middle fingers. This is not as easy as it sounds when a fairy is shielded and vibrat-ing at speeds faster than the human eye can follow. It was made easier by the Section 8 suit, which reduced the amount of vibration necessary. Holly pulled out and unfolded a large square of cam foil that automatically projected a fair approximation of what should be behind it. Each bead on the cam foil was actually a fairy-made multifaceted diamond that could reflect accurately no matter what the viewing angle was.

She backed up close to No.1, then held up the sheet of foil. The foil was equipped with multi-sensor technology, so it was a simple matter for Foaly to wipe No.l from the projection. To Minerva it would seem that her demon captive had simply vanished. To No.l it would seem like nothing whatsoever was happening, and that this was the lamest rescue in the history of rescues.

Seconds later, Minerva turned quickly to face them.

No.l nodded hello, and was amazed to find that she could not see him.

'Where is he, Artemis?' the girl screamed into her phone. 'Where is my prize?'

No.l thought about saying I'm right here! but decided against it.

'You tricked me!' squealed Minerva. 'You allowed me to capture your demon!'

Finally the penny drops, thought Holly. Now go and search the chateau like a good girl.

Minerva obligingly stalked out of the room, yelling for her father. Next door, Papa Paradizo, hearing his daugh-ter's screams, closed his phone and began to turn…

Foaly activated the helmet laser and shot him in the chest. He tumbled to the floor and lay in a heap, his chest heaving with the slow breaths of the unconscious.

'Sweet,' crowed the centaur. 'Did you see that? Not so much as a smudge on the glass.'

'He was heading for the door!' objected Holly, drop-ping the cam foil.

'He was coming to the glass. I had to stun him.'

'We will talk about this later, Foaly. I do not like your new gung-ho attitude.'

'Caballine likes me to be masterful. She calls me her stallion.'

'Who? Listen, just stop talking!' hissed Holly, melting No.l's bonds with two sharp laser bursts.

'Free!' exclaimed the imp, jumping to his feet. 'Liberated. Unbound. Without restrictions.'

Holly shut off her shield, revealing herself to No.l.

'I hope that's a helmet,' said No.l.

Holly touched a button and her visor slid up. 'Yes. I am a fairy just like you. Just a different family.'

'An elf!' exclaimed No.l delightedly. 'An actual elf. I hear you cook your food and like music. Is that true?'

'Occasionally, when we're not trying to escape from murderous humans.'

'Oh, they're not murderous, pugnacious, homicidal, or even bellicose.'

'Maybe not the one you met. But there's a guy with funny hair in the basement. And believe me, when he wakes up he's going to be murderous and all those other things you mentioned.'

No.l remembered Billy Kong; he had no desire to meet him again.

'Very well, elf. What next?'

'Call me Holly.'

'I am Number One. So what next, Holly?'

'Next, we escape. There are friends waiting for us… eh… Number One.'

'Friends?' said No.l. He knew the word, of course, but never imagined it could apply to him. It was a warming notion, even in these dire straits.

'What do I do?'

Holly wrapped the cam foil round him like a shawl. 'Keep this on. It will cover most of you.' 'Amazing,' said No.l. 'A cloak of invisibility.' Foaly moaned in Holly's ear. 'A cloak of invisibility? That is a highly sensitive piece of field equipment. What does he think? Some warlock pulled it out of his armpit?'

Holly ignored the centaur, something that was becom-ing a habit.

'Hold the foil close with one hand. Hang on to my belt with the other. We need to get out of here quickly. I only have enough magic left for a few minutes' shielding. Ready?'

No.1 's anxious features peeped out from a shawl of invis-ibility.

'Hold the foil. Hang on to the belt. Got it.' 'Good. Foaly, watch our backs. Let's move out.' Holly shielded, then hurried out the open door, pulling No.l behind her. The corridor was lined with tall potted plants and lush oils, including a Matisse. Holly could hear the humans shouting in adjacent rooms. There was activ-ity all around them, and it could only be seconds before some Mud Men spilled into this corridor.

No.l struggled to keep up, his little legs stumbling along behind the super-fit elfin captain. It seemed impossible that they could escape. All around was the clatter of approach-ing footsteps. No.l, slightly distracted, snagged a toe on the cam foil and trampled it underfoot. The foil's electronics crackled and died. The demon was as visible as a blood-stain on a patch of snow.

'We lost the foil,' said Foaly.

Holly clenched her fingers. She missed her handgun.

'OK. Nothing to do but make a run for it. Foaly, you have free rein, if you'll pardon the horse analogy.'

'Finally,' whinnied the centaur. 'I added a game-pod joystick to my controls. A bit unorthodox, but very accu-rate. We've got hostiles converging from all sides. My advice is to take the direct route. Go to the end of the corridor and follow our friend Doodah's path out the window. Butler will cover you once you're in the open.'

'OK. Hold on, Number One, whatever happens, don't let go.'

The first threat came from ahead. Two security guards rounded the corner, guns extended.

Ex-police, Holly guessed. Covering the diagonals.

The men were shocked to see No.1. Obviously they were not in the need-to-know loop.

'What the hell?' said one.

The other kept his nerve. 'Hold it right there.'

Foaly hit them both in the chest with fat laser bursts. The energy sank through their clothes and they slid down the wall.

'Unconscious,' panted No.l. 'Comatose, cataleptic, out for the count.' He realized that this vocabulary-spouting was a good way to deal with stress.

'Stress. Pressure, strain and anxiety.'

Holly dragged No.l onwards, towards the still open window. More guards came from the side corridors, and Foaly dispatched them efficiently.

'I should get bonus points for this,' he said. 'Or at the very least a free life.'

There were two more guards in the sitting room, sneak-ing an espresso. Foaly dropped them where they stood.............

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