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I have loved the stars too fondly

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MI6 didn't have time to be chasing after people who were simply a bit unusual. Now, if you were unusual in the 'planning acts of terror' or 'committing international crime' sense, then of course the agency could make space for you on some secret list or another. However, many trails eventually had to be abandoned if they were deemed suspicious, but not particularly relevant to England's national security. Alan Blunt was reminded of a certain case where he'd sent field agents to investigate an older woman living in Bristol — she'd been selling embroidery that allegedly contained hints to the locations of a few of their safe-houses. He'd ended up purchasing a few in order to get a sense of whether or not his agents had been full of shit, and although he'd determined that it would take a great stretch of imagination to come to the conclusion that the stitching was a threat to England's privacy, he was surprised to find that one of the pieces predicted the score and winning team of various minor-league football matches. All the same, however, the embroidery found its way into the bottom of some case locker, and the old woman's case was abandoned.

What Blunt had to decide currently was what category of unusual Artemis Fowl II fell into. There were certain ways one ended up pinging the MI6's radar, one of which was by being born into families that had already been under scrutiny. Interpol's file on the Fowls stretched back for generations. The family was notoriously difficult to deal with, as they'd always been remarkably good at singling out who exactly they needed to pay off or blackmail in order to skirt the full force of the law being levied against them. When Blunt or his predecessors had brought up the Fowl problem with NSU, they'd merely shrugged. In Ireland, the Fowls were untouchable, and it would've been a bad look for England to attempt to prosecute them. The relations between the two nations was shaky enough as it was, and Blunt didn't think a single crime lord was worth burning a few very precarious bridges.

Even so, there was something about the Fowl heir that bothered him. It shouldn't have been possible to appear on three different continents in the span of one day. It was strange that he'd walked away from a business deal with Jon Spiro alive, and it was even odder that soon after, Spiro finally lost control of the empire he'd been building. There were various reports from Blunt's contacts in Russia that the Fowl heir was responsible for both shooting his father's leg off and then fishing him out of the freezing bay during a hostage negotiation. Artemis Fowl II was a series of improbabilities and unusually good luck, and Blunt wanted to know what made the mysteries Fowl had built up around himself work.

In this day and age, it wasn't right going around having so many secrets, Blunt pursed his lips. The internet should have done away with most of that business.

Toying with the call button on his desk telephone, he punched in a few numbers, waiting for the call to finish going through. Rider was always complaining about having to spend more time with MI6 than he did with his mates (not that he had any, Blunt always wanted to remind him when the teenaged spy was acting particularly uppity) — this assignment would kill two birds with one stone. Or perhaps only one bird, if it did come out that Fowl was a threat after all.


Alex stared at the file in Mrs. Jones' hand.

"What?"

She grimaced. "I've already talked to Blunt about it. I think he's overworked."

Making a face, he took the file and flipped through a few of the sources. "So, he's…the son of crime lord."

"Ex-crime lord, but yes."

"And he's also won a bunch of prizes for engineering contests. He's tipped Blunt off by what, having money and getting to go to great schools?" Alex raised an eyebrow, and Mrs. Jones looked at him with an expression akin to pity.

"There are other bits about him in the file," she tried, nodding encouragingly.

"This is a waste of our time," he said bluntly. "He wants an easy win after two agents got killed during the mission in Germany."

"Well, I'm not going to say you're wrong," she sighed. "But you're obligated all the same."

He frowned, acutely aware of the network of scars that latticed his body. "I know."

Mrs. Jones gave his arm a squeeze and pressed a mint in his hand. "There's a good fellow."


Drumming his tapered fingers against the table, Artemis Fowl II surveyed the room.

"It's impressive, isn't it?" his father whispered to him, voice a tad conspiratorial. Artemis tried not to look too dour.

"Yes."

Frowning, his father leaned back in his chair. "You're unhappy that I told Butler to stay back."

Swirling his glass so that the water formed tiny ripples, Artemis nearly smiled. Although neither he nor Butler had been pleased about his father wanting to differentiate tonight from his other fêtes by pointedly not having an armed bodyguard, it had been all too easy to work around that roadblock. Although he couldn't see him from the window that opened The Ivy up to the other restaurants, Artemis was sure that Butler was currently nursing a small glass of Rhône at the wine bar of the nearby Le Beaujolais.

"No," Artemis began, looking back up at his father. "Merely… concerned, I suppose."

Artemis Sr. broke into a grin at that. "You don't have to be! That's the point of tonight, Art. We're starting a new chapter."

Suppressing the urge to sigh, Artemis settled for simply pursing his lips. The idea of his father's old mob contacts deciding to leave him alone over an announcement that the Fowls were no longer going to commit crime was laughable.

"Alright, Father."

"Formal as ever," Artemis Senior noted ruefully, and declining to comment further, Artemis settled for taking a sip from his water.

"Champagne?"

At that, both father and son started.

Artemis Senior held up a hand. "I'm fine, thank you."

Their waiter nodded at that, but he remained stationed by the table. Artemis shot his father a glance, but Artemis Senior refused to look back. Turning back to look at the waiter, Artemis rested his hand discreetly on the phone he had concealed in his pocket. He wasn't about to allow his father's courtesy to put all the grief he'd gone through to rescue him from the Arctic to waste.

"Great party tonight," the waiter commented idly, looking appreciatively around the room.

"You think so?" Artemis Senior blinked, slightly taken aback.

"Of course. The host did a wonderful job. I don't think I've ever wait staffed an event where the people invited seemed so complimentary towards the food and drink," the young man explained, taking the response as an invitation for further conversation and setting his tray down on the table.

"Really?" Artemis Senior grinned. "Wonderful. That's wonderful!"

He nudged his son. "My son wasn't sure about tonight, you know. But I knew I had an opportunity to do some actual good in the world with the name I'd built for myself, and that it would be selfish to squander it."

The waiter's eyes widened slightly, but the move somehow missed the mark of being sincere. "So you're the Mr. Fowl I've heard so much about."

Not wanting this train of conversation to continue, Artemis gave the waiter a thin smile. "How much is 'so much'?" he asked, resting his chin upon his outstretched hand. Throughout the brief conversation, the waiter had been pointedly faced away from Artemis, but he now turned so that they were eye to eye. Artemis' eyes flicked down towards the waiter's name-tag. Felix.

Felix shrugged, and the motion was so strangely juvenile for a waiter at this sort of establishment that it made Artemis' eyes snap back towards his face. From a distance and certain angles, the slenderness of Felix's face had made him appear to be in his early twenties, but it was now apparent that he was younger than that.

Artemis narrowed his eyes. Felix could be no more than a year or two older than he was, that much was clear now. For a start, there was still a slight softness to Felix's face that conveyed the presence of a thin, stubborn layer of baby fat in his cheeks. Further, the slight darkening under Felix's eyes had the mark of being from sleep deprivation rather than the sort of bags that naturally formed from age.

Felix stared back, unblinking. "I've only heard good things, I promise."

Artemis forced himself to smile, but it didn't reach his eyes. "Of course."

For a moment, they regarded one another in silence. However, Felix picked his tray back up, and bowing his head slightly to Artemis Senior, he strode back into the bustle of the party.

"You really do have to start trying not to intimidate people like that," Artemis Senior sighed, leaning back in his chair. "The poor man was just trying to make a tip from small talk."

Still following Felix as he weaved in and out of the crowd, Artemis nodded in apology. Captivated by his task, Artemis nearly missed the movement to his right. Startled, he turned his head towards the motion. His father had risen from the table.

Artemis Senior clasped his son's shoulder. "I have to meet with Rupert about getting everyone's attention for the speech I'm giving before the first course."

Quickly shooting a glance back to where he'd last seen Felix, Artemis bit back disappointment at the fact it seemed as though the waiter had disappeared. He looked back at his father, rising as well, but Artemis Senior shook his head.

"I'll be able to handle the preparations myself, Artemis," Artemis Senior said firmly.

Ignoring the sinking feeling in his stomach, Artemis nodded curtly. "Alright, Father. However, please let me know if anything comes up and you need my help — my phone will remain off silent all night."

Artemis Senior grinned, finally turning to make his way over to Rupert's office. As he watched his father stride into the crowd, Artemis reached for his phone.

"Be ready to come at a moment's notice. - A," he typed, pressing send. Not even a full ten seconds later, his phone pinged. Opening the message, Artemis smiled sincerely for the first time that night.

"Let me know when. - B."


Alex Rider tucked his empty serving platter under his armpit, watching the men and women around him chatter aimlessly. Fowl had been exactly what he'd been expecting: calculating, astute, and slightly asocial. Artemis Fowl carried himself in a way that some of the older MI6 agents did, with a composure that implied having seen too much to be surprised by anything else that the world could muster up. In Artemis' world, of course waiters could have nefarious motives — Alex had seen the spark of interest in Artemis' eyes throughout his conversation with the other boy's father, yet the only reaction he seemed to have to the very real threat Alex represented was to seamlessly incorporate the information into his understanding of the party. No doubt a security officer employed solely under Artemis (Alex was having a hard time seeing any resemblance between the Artemis Senior he'd met tonight and the Artemis Senior he'd read about in the file on the family) had been notified.

Another two servers bustled past him, heading towards the kitchen. He shot them a confused look, but he received only blank stares in return. Alex glanced around the room, looking for any of the other wait staff members. He couldn't pick out a single person dressed up in the distinctive white shirt, black vest, and blue tie attire he'd thrown on in the staff men's room earlier. He shot a glance at his watch. It was nearly seven — the first course would be coming out soon.

Maneuvering cautiously towards the table he'd seen the Fowls at earlier, he bobbed between the various groups of people forming on the open floor. Finally, the crowd opened up to reveal the beautifully furnished tables, and Alex moved silently towards Artemis Fowl, who was seated exactly in the same spot where Alex had left him.

"I see you've been more successful plying the other tables with alcohol," Artemis noted lightly. Alex grinned, placing the empty tray upon the table, and he held his hands up as if sheepish.

Artemis smirked, a mirthless expression. "I didn't assume you were going to weaponize the tray."

"Congrats on assuming correctly, then," Alex shrugged, pulling a chair up to sit down.

"Would it be naïve of me to request that we drop the pretenses?" Artemis said suddenly, leaning forward. "We're both playing parts in a performance that is of no benefit to our purposes. I know you have ulterior motives — a waiter's outfit does not a waiter make," Artemis remarked coolly, cutting off Alex's rising protests.

"You think you're pretty damn smart, don't you?" Alex snorted after a moment.

Artemis took the statement in stride, nodding. "Is that a yes or a no to my proposition?"

Alex mulled his options over for a moment. "A yes."

With that, Alex fished around in his pocket, fingers grasping for a crumpled envelope. He pushed it across the table, gesturing for Artemis to read it. Gently prying the letter open, Artemis unfolded the paper that was inside, scanning over its contents. Looking back at Alex, he raised an eyebrow.

"I wasn't aware that MI6 employed adolescents," Artemis marveled, setting the note down on the table. "My, how Mr. Alan Blunt's department has changed."

"When they told me there was an employee lottery for a nice dress watch, I just couldn't wait for the regular application age," Alex quipped, and Artemis made a face, taken aback.

"What?"

"Nevermind," Alex sighed, sensing the joke had fallen flat.

"Well, anyway," Artemis continued, pushing the letter further towards Alex. "I'm afraid I must decline a meeting in your headquarters. Anything you wish to ask me, you may ask me now, but I refuse to go with you to a secondary location."

Alex exhaled, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "MI6 would prefer that you come in for questioning."

"I thought this was merely a job interview," Artemis tilted his head.

"It… is," Alex said haltingly. "MI6 just—"

"No, it's not," Artemis said bluntly. "I thought you agreed to be frank with me, Felix."

Alex suppressed the urge to make a face at the mention of his fake name. "I will be. Sorry."

"Thank you."

"So, Artemis, if we're being frank," Alex continued. "Would you mind explaining how you managed to show up to three different meetings on three separate continents, all in one day?"

Artemis didn't even blink at that. "Private jet."

"I thought we were being honest now. My mistake."

"Fine. I'll be frank in the admission that however I appeared in all of those locations, if the account you're describing is, in fact, accurate, I did not endanger England's nor my own country's national security. Nor do I plan to use such methods, if they are available to me, to plot acts of terror," Artemis disclosed, tone clipped.

"You should be a lawyer, do you know that?" Alex noted.

Artemis smiled, revealing several of his canines. "I do. In fact, that is precisely why I think I have a solution that will suit both of us."

Crossing his arms, Alex beckoned for Artemis to continue.

"Felix — now, I do know that is not your name, but for the sake of this, I shall need to refer to you by something," Artemis added absentmindedly, already having gone through the steps of whatever deal he'd concocted and no doubt trying to figure out how to best phrase it to Alex.

"Alex," Alex offered curtly.

"Alex, then," Artemis nodded his thanks. "Alex, I get the sense that you do not love your job."

Alex almost laughed at that. "No one loves risking their lives for an arsehole boss, Fowl. Doesn't mean I'm going to turn in my two weeks notice anytime soon."

Artemis waved him off. "I wasn't suggesting that you should quit. People who fit your profile within MI6 are usually tied to the agency in a way that makes it very difficult for them to ever leave."

Jaw clenching slightly, Alex refused to comment.

"However, Alex, I do think that we can come to an arrangement that will let us both walk away with a win."

"Will you be reporting your win to a boss?" Alex asked, noting the way Artemis shifted in his chair at the mention of an outside agency.

"No," Artemis said decisively. "However, on to the matter at hand — Alex, what if we both walked away from tonight with the understanding that although I will not admit to how I accomplished whatever feats your boss is accusing me of, I will admit to having accomplished them in the first place. Furthermore, I will promise MI6 that I shall not interfere with their business, that they have the executive power to notify me if my actions impede MI6's privacy, and that I shall owe MI6 a single favor, to be called in when they see fit."

Reeling from all the information that had been thrown at him, Alex shook his head as if shaking off water after emerging from the pool.

Artemis reached into his pocket, pulling out a pen. He scribbled some notes upon the letter that Alex had handed him, and then he pushed it back towards Alex.

"There. I've written down my terms, and you're welcome to pass them along to your boss. I think this is a far more productive solution than you dragging me off to some safehouse and torturing me until I confess to some contrived transgression," Artemis explained, and Alex's brain kicked back into function.

"We don't torture in safehouses anymore," he managed to finally get out, pocketing the letter again. "Now it's only on government property. New policy. You wouldn't have known about it, so don't feel too embarrassed."

"When I've had the misfortune of interacting with government employees, I've never spoken with ones that crack jokes quite as often as you do," Artemis remarked. "Is that new MI6 policy as well?"

"I'm one of a kind, I'm afraid," Alex brushed him off. Hopefully, he swallowed thickly, banishing thoughts of Point Blanc Academy from his mind. Talking about murderous clones so early into meeting someone was probably a faux-pas.

Artemis must have noticed his disconcertion because he chuckled. "If you say so."

They sat in silence for a moment. It wasn't… uncomfortable, Alex decided, trying to decide if it would be more or less awkward to break eye-contact with Artemis.

Clearing his throat to break the tension, Alex reached for his communicator device. Artemis regarded the object shrewdly, and it was only then that Alex considered that letting the other teen see MI6 technology might not be the best idea.

"I'm just going to check with Blunt," Alex confirmed, prodding a few buttons. "He might still want to go with the torture-based plan, after all."

"By all means, don't feel as though you have to leave out the lurid details of MI6's plans for me when talking to your boss on my account."

The dial tone on his communicator began to go through when it just as suddenly cut out. Alex scowled, flicking its screen. His petty antics were cut short by a cacophony of dull thuds sounding in quick succession all around him. Head immediately on a swivel, Alex appraised the room.

The Ivy had transformed into a sea of dozing socialites, with old men in bespoke suits slumped over the wine bar, young men and women crumpled into a pile of expensive dresses and slacks, and a few old women snoring away at the tables around him. No one seemed to be bleeding — in fact, many people seemed to be more at peace asleep than they had been when awake and engaging in conversation.

Suddenly, the smell hit him — nauseatingly sweet, like the way cheap perfume smells in its shoddy imitation of florals and fruity scents.

Trying not to gag, he whipped around to look for Artemis, who rose to his feet, albeit a tad shakily.

"Ether," Alex spat out, stumbling towards the windows. Cursing, he fumbled with the latches, trying to open one just a crack. He should have noticed the sudden lack of the outside breeze — Alex wracked his brain for a memory of when he last noticed the windows were open during his drink rounds, and he came up short. Finally, however, the window nearest to their table swung open, and Alex took greedy gulps of the fresh air. He felt Artemis stumble over towards him, joining him at the window.

"MI6's toxin microdosing program has improved, then," Artemis wheezed out, resting his hands upon his knees.

"I'm going to just assume that you're going to refuse to explain why you're still conscious," Alex shot him a look, and Artemis gave him a queasy smile.

"You're a fast learner."

Moving quietly, they worked their way around the room, undoing latches and throwing the windows open. Cool air began to flow into the open room, with some of the men and women on the ground stirring slightly. For the most part, however, those who were unconscious remained so.

It took a lot nowadays to rattle Alex. He'd seen some of the most grotesque displays of human potential for cruelty, and he had had the misfortune to experience some of them first hand, in fact. What got to him nowadays was unseen horror — the secluded atrocity, the lurking culprit, the crime scene he would have to turn the corner to uncover. There wasn't much one could do about danger that sprung up on you out of nowhere; it simply had to be faced. Danger that hid from you and tried to coax you into chasing it, however, wasn't something you could harden yourself against.

Alex shot a glance at the porthole to the kitchen, stomach sinking at the sight of it brightening once the figure that had been peering through quickly darted out of sight.

Artemis tugged on his arm. "Let's go, Alex."

Refusing to allow himself to be moved, Alex remained steadfast.

"You can go," he shrugged Artemis grip off. "Call Blunt. You'd have seen his number on the letter he left you, right? I'll catch up with you."

Artemis leaned closer, reaching for Alex again. "I'm not calling MI6. I haven't nearly enough confidence in their ability to constructively and intelligently deal with a problem. By the time your friends from work arrive on the scene with the proper paperwork and go-ahead from higher-ups, my father will be dead. You'd be soon to follow suit in that scenario, honestly, having gone in blindly and sans backup."

Artemis leaned away, releasing Alex's arm. "You're welcome to go through those kitchen doors and immediately get bludgeoned to death by the wait staff waiting for you behind them, though."

Alex felt the hairs on the back of his neck prick up. He resisted the urge to look back at the door to the kitchen. "And you're better than MI6 in this scenario?"

"Yes. I don't need Alan Blunt's approval. That automatically gives whatever plan I have more merit."

Artemis shot him a final glance, moving to exit the restaurant. Jogging to catch up with him, Alex didn't look behind him.


Artemis wasn't certain, but he had the horrible sense that he had experienced a 100% increase in the amount of time he spent gracelessly traversing through sewers after beginning to attempt being a better person. There was the break-in through the titanium foundation pipes at Koboi Laboratories and now… this.

He and Alex had ducked into an alley a block or so down from The Ivy, where Artemis had then enlisted Alex's help in removing the cover to a manhole. Artemis had quickly appraised their work, and after deciding that the radius of the entrance was too small for Butler to squeeze down, he declared that it was time for both he and Alex to begin their descent. Once they had gotten back within The Ivy, Artemis reasoned, he would have just enough time to alert Butler to the situation. After all, he would already be back within the fray — there would hardly be anything Butler could do about deterring Artemis' plan at that point. Swiftness and certainty of action were required now, and wasting time trying to find a safe plan would only give the people currently in control of The Ivy time to further steel themselves against any of Artemis' efforts.

Besides, Artemis mentally sighed as he ducked through another tunnel in the underground system, he was more than willing to gamble with his own life, but he refused to be responsible for Butler's death. Butler had likely used up every one of the strokes of luck he'd been awarded at birth, and even Holly's magic could bring him back from the brink only so many times. With this fellow from MI6, Artemis was reasonably certain he both understood the risks that they were undertaking and could also be expected to extricate himself from the situation, even if doing so required leaving Artemis behind, if their plan proved to be ill-begotten. As such, Artemis didn't feel too guilty at dragging Alex along for protection.

"How'd you even find out about this tunnel?" he heard Alex's voice echo from slightly behind him.

"My father had it made back in the early 80s by interfering with the planning for various renovations to the city's sewer system."

"Aren't you Irish?"

"…Yes?"

"Then why put all these tunnels in London?" Alex forged ahead, now side by side with Artemis. "Or does that fall under the header of information you're not inclined to share?"

Artemis laughed slightly at that. "The tunnels are an old embarrassment that I hardly think anyone in MI6 would be able to convince the English government to prosecute my father for. Frankly, it's easier for everyone to forget about them."

"So, why London, then?" Alex probed again.

"My mother was in London," Artemis hinted, and Alex started, stopping in his tracks.

"Wait."

"Yes?"

"So, it's the 80s, right? And your dad is at the height of his… crime business. But then he meets your mum—"

"At The Ivy, actually."

"— and has a bunch of tunnels built so that he can, what, romance her without worrying about getting bothered by his mob lackeys?"

Artemis regarded Alex with exasperation. "That's a vast oversimplification."

"But am I wrong?" Alex continued.

"Not… technically, no," Artemis conceded.

Alex whistled low, impressed. "He's definitely gotten less intense over the years then, if my impression of him tonight is anything to go off of."

Artemis gave him a strange look. "You have no idea." 

Turning to look down the tunnel, Artemis waved for Alex to follow.

"We're here," Artemis announced. They finally arrived at a concrete wall with a series of metal rungs attached that ascended upwards. The tunnel eventually narrowed into a slender opening that ostensibly led upwards towards a storage room in The Ivy. At the beginning of the rungs towards the floor, however, was a bronze plaque that appeared to be embossed with writing.

Alex narrowed his eyes, trying to peer through the gloom of the tunnel to read the plaque.

"Alex, we need to stop dallying."

"I'd prefer to go to my grave in a good mood, Artemis. At least let me read your dad's love tunnel writing," Alex dismissed him, crouching lower towards the plaque so that he could read it.

"Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; I have loved the stars too truly to be fearful of the night," he read off, voice stilted in the way that students read when called upon to read a passage aloud. He furrowed his brow. "Sarah Williams, The Old Astronomer to his Pupil. Huh. You know, I knew a bloke who got this line as a tattoo back home."

"Alex!"

"What? It's not an insult. It's a good turn of phrase. I mean, the lines about darkness are a bit on the nose for a tunnel inscription, but I'm not about to judge your dad for that."  

"Britain's school system is in shambles," Artemis said under his breath, turning to evaluate the shoddy ladder they would soon have to scale.

"Rude. But I wouldn't know," Alex shrugged. "MI6 doesn't really allow for the full scholarly experience, I'm afraid."

"Oh." Even in the darkness, Alex could see Artemis wince.

"Did you know this plaque was here?" Alex asked suddenly, curious. "I mean — has your father ever talked about this quote or anything? Given a reason why he'd choose specifically this line?"

Artemis shook his head. "No."

"That's too bad," Alex stared up at the tunnel that stretched upwards, looking deeply into the dark, cavernous hole in the ceiling it seemed to form.

"Not really. It just is, I suppose." Smiling dryly, Artemis gestured for Alex to begin his ascent. "Your neighbor had good taste."


The tunnel had eventually opened up into the storage room, if the bags of grains and crates of produce had been anything to go by. As they'd stalked quietly through the various set of rooms, they'd been expecting to see an odd employee or two patrolling the halls. Thankfully, the back of the restaurant seemed to be abandoned. The porthole that displayed the dining area had been unattended, as Alex had been quick to investigate. Again, no sign of anyone who could have been the figure he'd seen leering out. A quick peek through the window also had confirmed that the partygoers were still snoring away, undisturbed.

Finally, they had reached the staff locker-room. Alex motioned for Artemis to fall back, and Alex produced an electronic lockpick. First testing the knob gently, he confirmed that it was locked, and he inserted his device into the keyhole. It whirred diligently, making clicks and slotting noises as it found the correct orientation to lift all the pins within the lock. The device suddenly retracted like the tongue of a tape dispenser shooting back inside, and Alex put it back into his coat pocket.

Grasping the door so that it only swung open a crack, Alex peered inside. He withdrew as if burned, shutting the door immediately. Artemis scooted closer, peering over Alex's shoulder. Alex held a finger to his lips, and Artemis fixed him with a withering glance.

"I know," he mouthed, and Alex gently cracked the door open again.

Sitting inside were the employees. None of them made any indication that they'd noticed the light filtering in from the doorway, so entranced were they by the television that had been wheeled in and was playing at the back of the room. In horrified fascination, Alex couldn't help but feel a sense of deja vu — the scene before him almost seemed like a gross parody of the memories he had of primary school where they would have the old television wheeled in. All the adults in the room were sitting cross-legged and ramrod straight, and their mass blocked the television from being fully in view. What Alex could make out, however, was that whatever was playing seemed to be a video recording of a woman giving a speech on repeat. Try as he might, though, Alex could not make out any words in the audio that was accompanying the video other than a garbled, tinny whisper buzzing about the room.

Filing the information away, Alex moved to open the door an inch more so that he could get a better look at the broadcast on the screen. Before he could crane his neck, he felt Artemis tug him backward. Looking back at him, surprised, Alex was taken aback by the expression of worry on Artemis' face. Carefully, he shut the door.

"What?" he asked, voice low.

"They're… hypnotized," Artemis whispered back, struggling to get through the sentence. Alex must've seemed unconvinced, as Artemis tried again, urgent.

"That broadcast and audio is hypnotizing them, Alex. It's not safe for us to go in there and disrupt the television — they'd just attack us," he stressed, speaking slowly.

"I don't see what else there is for us to do," Alex retorted, frowning. "We've checked all the other rooms."

"I don't believe so. If we had, we would've either found my father or found him with the others in that room. No, there has to be another place we've yet to check."

Torn, Alex threw another glance back at the staff locker room. Still, he complied, leaving the door behind them as they crept back out into the hall, once more on the search for signs of life.

After searching the building for the better half of an hour, Alex and Artemis found themselves in the hallway leading to the cellar of the building. Neither of them moved, simply regarding the tall, wooden door that stood as a barrier between them and whatever lay further. It, strangely enough, lacked a lock, and Alex could feel a slight breeze seeping out from underneath the crack between the door and the ground.

Alex moved to gently slide the door open.

"Wait," Artemis ordered, voice soft. He took out his phone.

"I doubt it'll work," Alex surmised. "Mine stopped sending anything through once we stepped back within a few feet of the restaurant."

Artemis continued tapping away, hitting a final button and pocketing the device. "I'm afraid my phone has been outfitted with a bit more protective software than yours, Alex. I'm also sorry to tell you that I believe this is the end of the line for us."

"We're turning back?"

"No. I've called in a friend who shall be arriving shortly. He will take it from here."

Alex tried to process what he'd just been told. "You're telling me to leave?"

"You can stay out here if you wish," Artemis offered awkwardly, confused by Alex's reaction. "Er, you will need to step off of the property if you're going to contact your boss, though."

Refusing to budge, Alex made a face. "You're the civilian here, not me."

Artemis shook his head. "You were tasked with finding out whether or not I'm a terrorist," he remarked, his lips quirking upwards in amusement. "Not this. Civilian and agent distinctions are meaningless."

"Can't find out whether or not you're a terrorist if you die here," Alex reasoned, but Artemis placed a hand on his chest, stopping him from moving forward.

"Alex. My bodyguard will be here soon. I appreciate you getting me this far, but I can take it from here."

"What's in that basement that you don't want me to see?" Alex pressed, and the frown on Artemis' face deepened.

"That's not my business to share." 

"And that's why you won't let me go in with you?"

"Alex, please," Artemis objected. "I don't plan on dying here. The cellar of a restaurant isn't really a befitting end to the tale of Artemis Fowl, no?"

Resisting the urge to gnash his teeth, Alex settled for stony silence. The fact that your exit was undignified was never enough to get the cards you've been dealt swapped out for better ones. It was ridiculous to pretend otherwise.

"I'll give you a ten-minute head-start," Alex said bluntly, and Artemis thankfully didn't protest.

Descending the stairs, Artemis reached the cellar door and pulled it open. Alex half expected for it to creak open, but it glided open without any protest from the hinges. Alex was about to call down to Artemis to tell him to leave it open a crack, but it swung closed before he could.

All alone in the hallway, Alex pressed his back against one of the walls, waiting. He unlatched his watch from his wrist, letting the face lay topside up on his palm.

Five minutes passed by at a glacial pace. He was on full alert, and even the sound of his breathing soon seemed to be at an unbearably loud decibel.

Suddenly, his ears pricked up. He heard footsteps scuffling about on the floor above him. Then another pair. Then another pair. Soon the sound of footfalls began to blend into one another and each new pair of feet joined the commotion upstairs. As the noise began to migrate from above him to a new, lower angle, Alex shot the basement door a look.

Six minutes.

Still, he didn't want to discover if the roaming employees were still hypnotized, as Artemis had put it. Even if they weren't hypnotized, he'd seen what shock could do to people. As long as they were free, he was more than happy to let the EMTs handle the aftermath of this bizarre hostage situation.

Creeping down the stairs, Alex slipped through the door, taking caution not to let in too much light from the hallway. No sooner had he done so did he hear the sound of the door that opened to the basement hallway creak open, and the sound of muffled footsteps blunder towards the door he'd closed seconds ago. Eyes adjusting to the dim light, he scanned the area around him, finally finding a folding chair. He shoved it underneath the door, preventing it from being pried open, and moved stealthily deeper into the basement, ignoring the slaps and blows directed at the door behind him.

Alex could just about make out the sound of Artemis speaking in an aggravated tone, with his speech interspersed with that of a woman, similarly agitated.

"— you've lost, Opal. The LEP knows you're out of jail, Butler is already on his way, and you're hiding out in a basement after a shoddy attempt on my father's life. Stop running."

He heard the woman laugh. "How have I lost? You're the one trying to clumsily buy more time for your bodyguard to find you down here. I've planned for you scheming and attempting to move your little friends around in clever, little ways, and I win in each outcome."

It was Artemis' turn to sound incredulous. "Oh?"

The woman continued, her voice carrying a note of pride. "In my plan A, my mesmered humans were set to kill your father. Admittedly," she confessed, and Alex imagined the speaker shrugging. "That plan fell through. He's holed himself up in an office upstairs and I've lost interest. In my plan B, your affection for your poor father overrides your logic and you allow yourself to be herded down here. I think you can see that plan B has been a success."

"So you plan to kill me yourself, then. That seems so… messy," Artemis observed. "I appreciate the effort you've put in, though."

"Of course not," the woman sounded disgusted. "My mesmer—"

"Your mesmered humans, yes," Artemis sighed. "I'd gathered."

Turning around a series of boxes, Alex managed to make out where Artemis and the woman were standing. Or, more accurately, where Artemis was backed into a corner by a petite woman wielding a toy gun menacingly. 'Humans', Alex rolled his eyes. Megalomaniacs were the worst sort to deal with. 

Falling back behind the boxes to conceal himself, Alex reached for his gun, flipping off the safety. Peering back around the box, he waved it slightly, letting it catch the flickering light from overhead so that the gunmetal glinted. Staying crouched behind the boxes, Alex managed to make out the sight of Artemis quirking his head slightly towards the place where Alex's gun had just been. Artemis gave no other indication that he'd noticed Alex's presence, however, and Alex crossed his fingers that his sign had been enough. He'd have one shot — he couldn't waste bullets when the crowd behind the door could break it down before medics arrived to deescalate the situation. He felt a bead of sweat forming on his forehead. Getting trampled to death wasn't high up on his list of ways to go.

"How did you ever have enough… energy," Alex heard Artemis begin again. "To mesmer them all?"

"It's impressive, isn't it?"

"Fiendishly so," Artemis replied, voice clipped. The woman soldiered on, ignoring the sarcasm in Artemis' voice.

"Technology."

"Oh. How specific," Artemis commented.

"I know you saw them, Fowl. All those humans, sitting in rapt attention to learn what I need them to do. The television. The speaker system. I merely… borrowed from your kind. Have you ever watched corporate training videos? I saw a few on a documentary on human society that was lying around the library when I was in jail, and I must say, my horizons were broadened."

Alex tuned Artemis and the woman out, straining to hear over the sound of the struggle outside the door. He could just make out the sound of a voice over the footfalls and crashes — he jolted.

However this hypnotism business worked, it required her voice to be broadcasted over the intercom. Cut the voice and maybe, just maybe…

The Ivy was an old restaurant. It would've been difficult to wire perfectly to the city's electrical grid, and there was a high likelihood that if Alex could interfere with the generator, then he could knock out the power in the building.

Poking his head back around the boxes, he made eye contact with Artemis.

"Generator?" Alex mouthed.

Artemis gave a sharp nod of his head towards to his right, and Alex followed the motion until his eyes landed on a dark, rectangular mass of metal.

"What are you—"

Alex steadied his gun hand and took the shot. The crack of the gunshot was followed by the spitting, crackling sound of the generator sputtering out, and then finally by pitch-black silence. The banging at the door petered out, and Alex could make out the sound of confused shuffling in the other room.

A small light flickered on, and Artemis' face was illuminated by the phone flashlight he'd flicked on. Alex looked away for a moment, scanning the room for the woman with whom Artemis had been arguing, but she was nowhere to be found. It didn't take long to give a cursory glance to all the dim corners of the room, and so Alex soon found himself having to look back at Artemis.

"Are you alright?" Alex tried, shoving his gun back in its holster. Artemis nodded, slightly shell-shocked.

"No physical damage," he said, wiggling the fingers on his free hand as if that would somehow prove his claim. Alex snorted at that.

Artemis handed him over the phone, striding towards the door to swing it open. By now, the employees had already cleared out, likely spooked by returning to consciousness in the middle of what appeared to be a mob. Alex set the phone down on a shelf, letting it cast a general, hazy light over the room.

Artemis looked at him. "We ought to go tell my father and the owner of the restaurant that the excitement is over."

Alex moved to meet him in the doorway. "Can we wait a moment?"

"If you'd like," Artemis conceded, searching Alex's face in curiosity. The whites of his eyes flashed in the light cast by the flashlight.

Alex grasped Artemis hand in his, raising it to his lips as he rode the wave of adrenaline still coursing through his veins. "Ad astra," he tried, the words feeling awkward on his tongue. "'To the stars'.

Artemis watched him, waiting as Alex attempted to sort out the words bouncing around the inside of his head.

"My dad had the phrase put on a bracelet he gave my mum when I was younger," Alex explained carefully. "I figure — I guess that makes us even now. Your dad's phrase and mine."

"You're butchering the pronunciation," Artemis remarked lightly, curling his fingers around Alex's.

"Hey —I've physically attended only about two of my Latin lectures this year."

"A pity. I'd imagine that's one of the only of your school courses that's applicable to your career."

Alex sighed, letting go of Artemis' hand. "Okay, Artemis. Let's go get your dad."

Shooting him an unamused look, Artemis clasped their fingers together once more. "Ad astra," he enunciated, pronunciation lilting. After a moment's pause, he similarly raised their intertwined hands, briefly grazing Alex's knuckles with a kiss. Artemis looked at him expectantly, raising an eyebrow. Surprised, Alex laughed, a warm feeling curling around his chest.

"Are you…? I'm not giving you credit for copying my move, Artemis."

"You failed to execute your move. Hence, I appropriated it to see it to conclusion."

"Ugh," Alex wrinkled his nose. "You sound like one of the blokes I report into."

"However," Artemis stressed, holding up his free hand. "Unlike them, I am quite charming."

"I mean, I'll give you that you've got my boss beat in terms of tact."

"Thank you."

"Barely."

Artemis blinked. Alex winced, opening his mouth in preparation to backpedal. Before he could, however, Artemis broke into a wide grin. It was Alex's turn to be startled — Artemis met most things with various shades of aristocratic reservation. Messy earnestness wasn't a look Artemis wore often, and as such, he could only wear it in the way a child might: wholeheartedly, leaving no room to be mistaken as something else.

"Oh, so you think I'm funny, then?" Alex felt himself say.

"I'll make sure not to make a habit of doing so."

It was a lucky thing that he'd already been cocking his head — he'd gotten so used to posturing during the back and forth he did with his marks on missions that he was unsure of if he would be capable of not throwing in a head tilt or smirk after delivering a line he thought was half-decent — as otherwise he might've driven his forehead into Artemis'. Frankly, he thought dimly, he was lucky he hadn't broken both their noses.

"Could you please close your eyes?" Artemis said against Alex's lips. "I'm attempting to execute my 'move'."

The effect of talking in the middle of a kiss was a bit unwieldy. Nonetheless, Alex's eyes shuttered closed, and he tentatively placed his hands so that he could grasp the lapels of Artemis' now thoroughly worse-for-the-wear suit.

"'S a good new move," he mumbled. "Better than mine."

Leaning back, Artemis moved to smooth a few wrinkles out of his jacket and slacks. Alex loosened his hold on his lapel, the material sliding slightly past his fingertips, yet didn't relinquish his grasp completely.

"Ad astra," Alex tried again, haltingly.

Artemis exhaled, the sound soft and low.

Encouraged, Alex repeated the phrase, surer this time.

Nodding, Artemis moved to wipe a patch of dust from earlier that had streaked a line under Alex's right eye. Rubbing the grime away, Artemis' hands felt cool to the touch against Alex's cheek.

"That's the way," Artemis affirmed, and Alex wasn't sure whether he was referring to his pronunciation still.

"I thought you'd say I'd bungled the astra part again," Alex joked, and the side of Artemis' mouth quirked upwards.

"Perhaps you did. Perhaps you didn't," Artemis let his thumb linger on Alex's cheek. "You said it perfectly all the same."


The Old Astronomer to His Pupil, full poem:

"Reach me down my Tycho Brahe, I would know him when we meet,
When I share my later science, sitting humbly at his feet;
He may know the law of all things, yet be ignorant of how
We are working to completion, working on from then to now.

Pray remember that I leave you all my theory complete,
Lacking only certain data for your adding, as is meet,
And remember men will scorn it, 'tis original and true,
And the obloquy of newness may fall bitterly on you.

But, my pupil, as my pupil you have learned the worth of scorn,
You have laughed with me at pity, we have joyed to be forlorn,
What for us are all distractions of men's fellowship and smiles;
What for us the Goddess Pleasure with her meretricious smiles!

You may tell that German College that their honor comes too late,
But they must not waste repentance on the grizzly savant's fate.
Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night."

(note bien: The last line was used as an epitaph for an Astronomer-couple
buried at Alleghany Observatory)