From far away, the KaibaCorp tower looked like nothing more than an upside-down blender. But Artemis sincerely doubted that any blender had ever been as heavily guarded as this building seemed to be. From where he stood, he could make out security cameras on every floor and armed guards at the front doors. And that was just what he could see from the street. Inside, he knew, the KaibaCorp building was protected by a horde of security guards, more cameras, and plenty of things that Artemis suspected didn’t show up on the blueprints of the building. Which were conspicuously missing.
Not that Artemis had looked, of course.
He glanced over at Butler, who was sitting behind the wheel of the classic black Bentley. “Did you find out what obstacles we may expect to encounter?”
“Just the basics.” Butler said dryly. “Infrared sensors, pressure sensors, air pressure sensors, motion detectors, 24 hour surveillance, former FBI agents as security guards…The lab is under 50 feet of solid rock, accessible only by people who own the correct ID card and who can pass a retina scan and thumbprint ID. The weight of all relevant personnel is recorded. Exceed that weight by anything more than the weight of a briefcase and the elevator won’t operate.”
Artemis sat for a moment, pondering that. “Hardly an insurmountable barrier…”
“And then there’s the more advanced security,” Butler interrupted. “The computers in the lab have an infinite encryption key that changes every day. Each computer has to be manually reset by Kaiba himself. Until he does so, there’s no output from any of the computers, not even from the monitors. The system is on a separate power grid from the rest of the building, so even if we were to knock out the main generators… Artemis, are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
A flash of irritation crossed Artemis’ face. “Of course I know what I’m doing, Butler.” He frowned. “You can have all the clever technology in the world and still fall prey to human weakness.”
“And Kaiba’s weakness?” Butler asked as they got out of the car and began to walk towards the front door.
Artemis smiled thinly. “He likes to play with his toys.”
And with those cryptic words, Artemis pushed open the doors and walked into the lobby of the KaibaCorp tower.
Holly frowned and adjusted her wings so that she drifted a little farther down the side of the KaibaCorp office building.
“This is where the reading is coming from, Trouble,” she said into her helmet mike, reaching out a shielded hand to touch the wall. She could feel the magic sparking through her fingers, radiating out from some point in the building.
“Yep, but I don’t know what could be making it.” Trouble’s wings hummed as he mirrored Holly’s downward movement. “Unless the Mud Men have mysteriously acquired magic.”
Holly shivered. “I hope not.” The idea of Mud Men with magic was almost too terrifying to contemplate. Magic combined with human greed would be a devastating weapon.
Trouble floated to the right. “I’m going to do a scan, see if I can get a clearer view of where the signal’s coming from.”
Holly nodded, but her eyes suddenly fell on a black car far below and the two Mud Men who were walking to the front door. There was a moment of dropped-jaw astonishment. Quickly followed by foreboding.
“D’Arvit!” Holly swore, punching the side of the building with her diminutive fist. It hurt, but it was better than diving to the ground and stunning everyone with her Neutrino.
“Holly!” Trouble’s voice was controlled, but she could hear a note of urgency underneath. “What is it?”
Holly took a deep breath. “Artemis Fowl just walked in the front door.”
There was a moment of silence. “D’Arvit.”
“Are you lost, little boy?” The receptionist was a very pretty young woman, with bleach-blonde hair and a nice tan. The blue dress she wore fitted her like a glove, accentuating her willowy waist and ample curves. She smiled, showing clean white teeth. Artemis disliked her immediately.
“I am here to meet with Mr. Kaiba, ma’am,” he said stiffly. “I have a four o’clock appointment.”
Instantly, the receptionist’s smile faded, to be replaced with something more akin to fear. Artemis watched her reaction with interest. Apparently, Kaiba had something of a reputation with his employees. “Of course,” she said, looking down at a list on her desk. “And what is your name, sir?”
“Artemis Fowl II.”
There was the sound of pages flipping, then the receptionist looked up. She smiled again, but it was a tight, strained smile. “Go on up. Mr. Kaiba is waiting for you. His office is on the…”
“Thank you,” Artemis said before she could go on. “I’m sure I can find it without an escort. I am, after all, fourteen.”
The receptionist stared at him, shocked, and Butler resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He only hoped that Artemis would restrain himself a little more in the presence of Seto Kaiba. Kaiba’s reputation was…impressive, to say in the least. The bodyguard strode after Artemis, eyes sweeping the lobby for any sign of a threat.
In the elevator, Artemis took the opportunity to straighten his tie again. A security camera hunched on the ceiling, regarding them with its beady eye.
Butler regarded his charge steadily. The boy did not look nervous, and he did not speak of his plans. Nevertheless, the bodyguard took comfort from the gun concealed inside his jacket. If anything went wrong, he would have to be ready.
“We’ve got a problem.”
Commander Root cursed. When Holly used that tone, it was a damn big problem. “What is it?”
He heard Holly hesitate. “We tracked the source of the signal to the KaibaCorp office building in Dublin. The problem is…Artemis Fowl just went inside.”
“D’Arvit.” A few moments followed of unprintable profanity. But Root quickly brought himself under control. “Have you pinpointed the source itself?”
“No, Commander,” Trouble interjected. “I was about to begin a scan when Fowl arrived.”
Root thought for a moment. “Continue the scan. Holly, see if you can find out why Fowl is there. You are not to contact him, understand?”
“But Commander, Artemis has been a great help…”
“In the past,” Root interjected. “I don’t trust him, and until we know why he’s there, there’s no need to alert him of our presence.”
“Commander, remember that Fowl was able to detect us before,” Trouble warned. “During the siege.”
Root winced. The memory of Fowl’s burly bodyguard taking out an entire Retrieval team still rankled, even two years later. “It’s highly unlikely that Fowl will have the goggles with him.” He hesitated. “Still,” he continued gruffly. “Proceed with caution.”
“Yes, Commander,” Trouble said, but Holly was unconvinced.
“Holly,” Root interrupted, his voice very firm. “I know you have developed an attachment to the Fowl boy, but do not let that prevent you from doing your job.”
“Yes, Commander,” she said reluctantly. Without another word, she cut the connection.
Root sighed and pulled out a cigar. “Foaly, pull up everything you can find on KaibaCorp.” He paused in the act of lighting it. “And while you’re at it, see if you can find a connection with Artemis Fowl.” He smirked as he shoved the cigar between his teeth. “If you can handle that.”
Foaly looked indignant. “Can a dwarf blow a hole in his pants?”
Root said nothing. Some questions just aren’t meant to be answered.
Everything went smoothly until the door guard asked Butler to wait outside.
“Bodyguards are not permitted in Mr. Kaiba’s office.” The man was burly, with a bulldog face and a perpetual snarl. He faced Butler with a cocky sneer.
Butler just stared at him. The man’s smirk slowly faded. Then, Butler smiled. It was without a doubt the most terrifying thing the door guard had ever seen. To his credit, the man didn’t run away screaming. He did, however, turn several shades of green.
“You can’t go in,” he repeated stubbornly, his hand drifting towards his gun. Apparently, his sense of duty outweighed his sense of self-preservation. Butler had just stepped forward to straighten the man’s priorities when the door opened.
“Is there a problem?” Seto Kaiba asked. Though his voice was soft, it gave off an unmistakable air of menace.
The guard straightened immediately and made an effort to look important. “Nothing I can’t handle, Mr. Kaiba, sir.”
Kaiba’s eyes passed over the guard as though he did not exist and came to rest on Artemis’ face. Artemis was struck by the coldness in that piercing gaze. But he did not look away.
Instead, he extended a hand. “Thank you for agreeing to see me, Mr. Kaiba,” he said smoothly.
Kaiba took it. His grip was hard and cool. His eyes never left Artemis’ face. “A pleasure.” He gestured towards his open door. “Come into my office.” Despite his pleasant tone, the words held an air of command. Artemis smiled; Kaiba was growing more and more intriguing by the second.
He stepped past Kaiba and entered the office. But when Butler made to follow him, Kaiba stepped into the bodyguard’s path. Artemis raised an eyebrow, mildly impressed. Though Kaiba was a tall man, he still had to tilt his head upward to look Butler in the face. Few people dared to do that much.
“You’ll have to wait outside,” Kaiba said curtly. “I wish to speak privately with Mr. Fowl.”
Butler glared at him. But apparently, Seto Kaiba was made of sterner stuff than his guard. He didn’t even flinch. In fact, Artemis was stunned to see the corners of his mouth twitch. Dismissively, as though he knew that Butler would obey him, Kaiba turned and strode into his office, closing the door in the bodyguard’s face.
“You are either a very brave or very foolish man, Mr. Kaiba,” Artemis said. “It is not generally considered a wise idea to anger Butler.”
“You’ll find it is an even worse idea to anger me,” Kaiba replied coolly, seating himself behind his desk.
Artemis took the opportunity to look around the office. It was bare, almost Spartan. A few decorations adorned the walls, but the clear centerpiece of the room was the desk and the lone computer that sat upon it. Behind the desk was a wall of windows, letting in the feeble Irish sunshine.
Kaiba leaned forward in his chair and steepled his hands together on the desk. “What can I do for you, Mr. Fowl?”
Artemis returned his gaze to his opponent’s face. “I am interested in purchasing shares in your company, Mr. Kaiba. But before I spend my money on KaibaCorp, I would like to see what I am buying.”
Kaiba’s expression didn’t change. “You have read the stock reports. KaibaCorp is thriving. Profits this year have exceeded forty billion dollars. And it is only September.” He paused. “But then again, you already knew that, I think.”
Artemis allowed himself a small smile. “True, KaibaCorp is flourishing, but this year has not been as successful as previous years. Why?”
“A legal problem arose with one of our stockholders. He has been dealt with.”
Artemis let his smile widen. “A problem, Mr. Kaiba? Hardly reassuring.”
“As I said, he has been dealt with.”
“Dealt with? How so?” Artemis asked, arching an eyebrow.
We defeated him in a duel using trading cards and Duel Disks. “I can assure you, Mr. Fowl, the proper procedures were observed.”
These cryptic words did nothing to assuage Artemis’ curiosity. On the contrary, he was even more intrigued.
“In all honesty, Mr. Kaiba,” he said, letting his smile fade and his face grow cold. He stepped forward and laid both hands flat on the desk, leaning in slightly. “I am concerned that your fixation on, - what do you call it? Duel Monsters? – will prevent this company from long-term success.”
“KaibaCorp does not produce solely Duel Monsters merchandise,” Kaiba answered steadily. “We are also responsible for revolutionary strides in holographic technology and computer software.” He eyed Artemis coolly. “Why are you really here, Mr. Fowl?”
Artemis treated him to his very best vampire smile. “I am exploring my investments, Mr. Kaiba.”
Kaiba smiled too. It reminded Artemis of a crocodile, smug at the certainty that its prey would not escape its jaws. “Of course.”
For no reason that he could see, Artemis felt suddenly uneasy. He forced the feeling down. “I would like to view the labs.”
Kaiba stood, once again wearing a perfect poker face. “I’m afraid that won’t be possible. There are several sensitive experiments being conducted at this time.” He gestured towards the door. “Good day, Mr. Fowl. I hope you will decide to invest in KaibaCorp.” Though his words were polite, Artemis could hear the challenge underneath. Kaiba’s blue eyes bored into his, asking, ‘What are you really up to, Fowl?’
Artemis ignored the question, returning Kaiba’s gaze fearlessly. His eyes held not a question, but a statement: ‘You cannot keep anything from me.’
He held Kaiba’s gaze just long enough to let him see it in his eyes. “Good day, Mr. Kaiba.” He turned and left, leaving Kaiba standing at his desk. He collected Butler, and entered the elevator in silence. The receptionist smiled at them in the lobby. And still, Artemis said nothing.
It was not until they were safely in the car and pulling away from the KaibaCorp building that Artemis turned to Butler and smiled. “The trap is set. And soon, I will have won.”
Butler nodded, but secretly, he worried. From what the bodyguard had learned, with Seto Kaiba, things were rarely so simple.
Seto Kaiba swiveled his chair around and stared out the window as Artemis’ black Bentley pulled leisurely away from the curb. His eyes narrowed.
You’re good, Fowl, he thought. Too bad I’m better. He turned his chair again and stared at the spot on the desk where Fowl had touched it. He smirked.
“I’m of half a mind to let you try,” he said out loud. Amateur. Suddenly, he sat up straight, his spine prickling. He could feel something in the room with him, something he had not noticed before. At the same time, he had the impression it had been there all along.
There is nothing there, he tried to tell himself. What did he have, after all, but a vague intuition? There was no logical reason for his unease. The interview with Fowl had been interesting, but hardly this unsettling.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, calming himself and heightening his senses. The feeling intensified. Opening his eyes, he looked around the office.
There, in the corner, a tiny glimmer, a shifting in the air. A heat wave where there was no heat. Anger flared. Had Fowl left something behind? Some sort of device? He felt a strange tightness in his throat, as though he was holding something back that wanted very much to be free. He clenched his fists below the surface of the desk. Yugi’s voice was ringing in his ears. “You cannot ignore your past, Kaiba.” Was that what he was feeling? Magic?
He shook his head roughly. There’s no such thing! he told himself firmly. That meeting must have just shaken me more than I thought. Shoving the feeling aside, he turned to his computer and pulled up KaibaCorp’s stock prices. He lost himself in the familiar numbers until the uneasy feeling faded to a manageable level. The tightness in his throat eased. Only then did he lean forward and pick up the phone.
“Miss Temple,” he barked into the mouthpiece. “Cancel the rest of my meetings for the day.” He had a sudden desire to be home. Artemis Fowl and the rest of it would keep.
“But Mr. Kaiba…”
Kaiba waited a moment until she realized who she was talking to. “Yes, sir.”
With the click of a few keys, he shut down his computer, checking that all the security programs were in place, grabbed his briefcase, and headed for the door. Before he had taken two steps, he turned back to his desk and pushed his framed picture of Mokuba over the spot that Fowl had touched. With a smile that no one else could see, he turned and left, striding briskly towards the elevator. A quick trip to the lab to shut off the computers and he could go home.
A quiet evening with Mokuba and a few hours extra sleep would do him good.
Holly stood frozen in her corner until Kaiba had left. She was fully shielded, invisible, undetectable. Yet Seto Kaiba had known she was there.
It had been a simple matter to slip inside the building. Only the lab had any real protection, and a quick call to the receptionist had been enough to gain her entrance. Kaiba’s office had been easy to find, and relatively easy to enter. She had listened to and recorded the conversation between Artemis and Kaiba, every word, and had waited until Artemis had gone.
And Kaiba had known she was there.
She could not say exactly how she knew this. He could have easily been glancing idly around his office. His anger could have easily come from remembering something Artemis had said, or even from the onset of a headache.
But it hadn’t. The magic that had roiled up from him as he gazed at her had been unmistakable. It sensed a threat. And it was stronger than anything she had ever seen.
She left the building, perturbed. Trouble was waiting for her, but Holly barely acknowledged him.
As impossible as it was to believe, Mud Men had discovered magic.