Artemis Fowl

Тема

Eoin Colfer

Prologue

How does one describe Artemis Fowl? Various psychiatrists have tried and failed. The main problem is Artemis's own intelligence. He bamboozles every test thrown at him. He has puzzled the greatest medical minds and sent many of them gibbering to their own hospitals.

There is no doubt that Artemis is a child prodigy. But why does someone of such brilliance dedicate himself to criminal activities? This is a question that can be answered by only one person. And he delights in not talking.

Perhaps the best way to create an accurate picture of Artemis is to tell the by now famous account of his first villainous venture. I have put together this report from first-hand interviews with the victims, and as the tale unfolds you will realize that this was not easy.

The story began several years ago, at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Artemis Fowl had devised a plan to restore his family's fortune. A plan that could topple civilizations and plunge the planet into a cross-species war.

He was twelve years old at the time-

Chapter 1: The Book

Ho Chi Minh City in the summer. Sweltering by anyone's standards. Needless to say, Artemis Fowl would not have been willing to put up with such discomfort if something extremely important had not been at stake. Important to the plan.

Sun did not suit Artemis. He did not look well in it. Long hours indoors in front of the monitor had bleached the glow from his skin.

He was white as a vampire and almost as testy in the light of day.

'I hope this isn't another wild-goose chase, Butler,' he said, his voice soft and clipped. 'Especially after Cairo.'

It was a gentle rebuke. They had travelled to Egypt on the word of Butler's informant.

'No, sir. I'm certain this time. Nguyen is a good man.'

'Hmm,' droned Artemis, unconvinced. Passers-by would have been amazed to hear the large Eurasian refer to the boy as sir. This was, after all, the third millennium. But this was no ordinary relationship, and these were no ordinary tourists.

They were sitting outside a kerbside cafe on Dong Khai Street, watching the local teenagers circle the square on mopeds.

Nguyen was late, and the pathetic patch of shade provided by the umbrella was doing little to improve Artemis's mood. But this was just his daily pessimism. Beneath the sulk was a spark of hope. Could this trip actually yield results? Would they find the Book? It was too much to hope for.

A waiter scurried to their table.

'More tea, sirs?' he asked, head bobbing furiously.

Artemis sighed.

'Spare me the theatrics and sit down.'

The waiter turned instinctively to Butler, who was, after all, the adult.

'But, sir, I am the waiter.'

Artemis tapped the table for attention.

'You are wearing handmade loafers, a silk shirt and three gold signet rings. Your English has a tinge of Oxford about it and your nails have the soft sheen of the recently manicured. You are not a waiter. You are our contact, Nguyen Xuan, and you have adopted this pathetic disguise to discreetly check for weaponry.'

Nguyen's shoulders sagged.

'It is true. Amazing.'

'Hardly. A ragged apron does not a waiter make.'

Nguyen sat, pouring some mint tea into a tiny china cup.

'Let me fill you in on the weapons status,' continued Artemis. 'I am unarmed. But Butler here, my…ah…butler, has a Sig Sauer in his shoulder holster, two shrike throwing knives in his boots, a derringer two-shot up his sleeve, garrotte wire in his watch and three stun grenades concealed in various pockets. Anything else, Butler?'

'The cosh, sir.'

'Oh yes. A good old ball-bearing cosh stuffed down his shirt.'

Nguyen brought the cup trembling to his lips.

'Don't be alarmed, Mister Xuan,' smiled Artemis. 'The weapons will not be used on you.'

Nguyen didn't seem reassured.

'No,' continued Artemis. 'Butler could kill you a hundred different ways without the use of his armoury. Though I'm sure one would be quite sufficient.'

Nguyen was by now thoroughly spooked. Artemis generally had that effect on people. A pale adolescent speaking with the authority and vocabulary of a powerful adult. Nguyen had heard the name Fowl before — who hadn't in the international underworld? — but he'd assumed he'd be dealing with Artemis Senior, not this boy. Though the word 'boy' hardly seemed to do this gaunt individual justice. And the giant, Butler. It was obvious that he could snap a man's backbone like a twig with those mammoth hands. Nguyen was starting to think that no amount of money was worth another minute in this strange company.

'And now to business,' said Artemis, placing a micro recorder on the table. 'You answered our web advertisement.'

Nguyen nodded, suddenly praying his information was accurate.

'Yes, Mister-Master Fowl. What you're looking for-I know where it is.'

'Really? And am I supposed to take your word for this? You could be walking me straight into an ambush. My family is not without enemies.'

Butler snatched a mosquito out of the air beside his employer's ear.

'No, no,' said Nguyen, reaching for his wallet. 'Here, look.'

Artemis studied the Polaroid. He willed his heart to maintain a calm beat. It seemed promising, but anything could be faked these days with a PC and flatbed scanner. The picture showed a hand reaching from layered shadows. A mottled green hand.

'Hmm,' he murmured. 'Explain.'

'This woman. She is a healer, near Tu Do Street. She works in exchange for rice wine. All the time, drunk.'

Artemis nodded. It made sense. The drinking. One of the few consistent facts his research had unearthed. He stood, smoothing the creases from his white polo shirt.

'Very well. Lead on, Mister Nguyen.'

Nguyen wiped the sweat from his stringy moustache.

'Information only. That was the agreement. I don't want any curses on my head.'

Butler expertly gripped the informant behind the neck.

'I'm sorry, Mister Nguyen, but the time when you had a choice in matters is long past.'

Butler steered the protesting Vietnamese to a rented four-wheel drive that was hardly necessary on the flat streets of Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as the locals still called it, but Artemis preferred to be as insulated from civilians as possible.

The jeep inched forward at a painfully slow rate, made all the more excruciating by the anticipation building in Artemis's chest. He could suppress it no longer. Could they at last be at the end of their quest? After six false alarms across three continents, could this wine-sodden healer be the gold at the end of the rainbow? Artemis almost chuckled. Gold at the end of the rainbow. He'd made a joke. Now there's something that didn't happen every day.

The mopeds parted like fish in a giant shoal. There seemed to be no end to the crowds. Even the alleyways were full to bursting with vendors and hagglers. Cooks dropped fish heads into woks of hissing oil, and urchins threaded their way underfoot, searching for unguarded valuables. Others sat in the shade, wearing out their thumbs on Gameboys.

Nguyen was sweating right through his khaki top. It wasn't the humidity, he was used to that. It was this whole cursed situation. He should have known better than to mix magic and crime. He made a silent promise that if he got out of this, he would change his ways. No more answering shady Internet requests, and certainly no more consorting with the sons of European crime lords.

The jeep could go only so far. Eventually the side streets grew too narrow for the four-wheel drive. Artemis turned to Nguyen.

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