Authors: Eoin Colfer
For Sophie, my friend and agent.
Thank you for the last four years, and the many more to come.
‘A dystopian thriller that reads like
Oliver Twist’ – The Times
‘A gripping page-turner. A highly recommended book in
which a difficult “science fiction” genre is dealt with in a
remarkably skilled and enjoyable way’ –
‘A headlong techno fantasy… As ever, Colfer’s story
rattles along at a tremendous pace with a cast of eccentric
and explosive characters’ –
‘Moves at a cracking pace, full of twists, turns, blind
alleys and literal dead ends’ –
‘The plot twists and turns so fast that at times it is hard
to keep up. Colfer’s ability to convey action merely in
dialogue is dazzling’ –
‘Brilliant fantasy’ –
‘Fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek, with some laugh-out-loud
jokes. Smart and page-turning’ –
‘It flashes with high-tech invention’ –
‘A funny, fast, cinematic adventure’ –
‘A fast and furious ride, jam-packed with wit, invention
and magic’ –
‘Brilliant fantasy’ –
‘A huge hit’ –
‘It reads like the fastest, punchiest comic strip you’ve
ever come across’ –
‘Colfer has done enormously, explosively well’ –
New York Times Book Review
‘Pacy, playful and very funny, an inventive mix of myth
and modernity, magic and crime’ –
‘Wickedly brilliant’ –
‘Fast, funny and very exciting’ –
‘Outrageous characters… reveal that fairies are basically
as bad as us – and fight even dirtier’ –
‘A hectic fusion of real, imaginary and fairy gadgetry.
From laser guns to mind-wipers, through battery-
poweredcraft and anti-radiation suits, they make the
work of James Bond’s Q look like child’s play’ –
‘The breathless pace and witty dialogue, together with a cast
of unforgettable characters… make this a hugely
enjoyable read’ –
‘Colfer… has the ability to make you laugh twice
over: first in sheer subversive joy at the inventiveness
of the writing, and again at the energy of the humour’ –
‘Boys of all ages will love it’ –
‘The reader cannot help but be swept along’ –
‘A winning combination of humour, action and ingenuity’ –
‘It grips like an electromagnet until the last word’ –
‘Hollywood-style action, comic henchmen and cunning
‘Full of action, weaponry, farting dwarves and
Chandleresque one-liners’ –
ARTEMIS FOWL: THE ARCTIC INCIDENT
ARTEMIS FOWL: THE ETERNITY CODE
THE ARTEMIS FOWL FILES
THE WISH LIST
THE LEGEND OF SPUD MURPHY
City. The City of the Future,
proclaimed the billboards. A metropolis completely controlled by the Myishi 9 Satellite hovering overhead like a floating man-of-war. An entire city custom-constructed for the third millennium. Everything the body wanted, and nothing the soul needed. Three hundred square miles of grey steel and automobiles.
Satellite City. A supercity of twenty-five million souls, each one with a story more heartbreaking than the last. If it’s happy ever afters you want, stay away from the city of the future.
Take Cosmo Hill, for example, a nice enough boy who never did anything wrong in his short existence. Unfortunately this was not enough to guarantee him a happy life, because Cosmo Hill did not have a sponsor.
And in Satellite City, if you didn’t have a sponsor, and they couldn’t trace your natural parents through public record DNA files, then you were sent to an orphanage until you reached adulthood. And by that time you were either dead or the orphanage had fabricated a criminal record for you so you could be sold to one of the private labour prisons.
Fourteen years before we take up the thread of this story, baby Cosmo was discovered swaddled in an insulated Cheery Pizza envelope on Cosmonaut Hill in Moscowtown. The state police swabbed him for DNA, searched for a match in the Satellite mainframe and came up blank. Nothing unusual about that, orphans turn up every day in the city. So the newly christened Cosmo Hill was dipped in a vaccine vat and sent on a tube to the Clarissa Frayne Institute for Parentally Challenged Boys. Freight class.
Satellite City was not part of any welfare state, so the institutions had to raise funds any way they could. Clarissa Frayne’s speciality was product testing. Whenever a new modified food or untested pharmaceutical product was being developed, the orphanage volunteered its charges as guinea pigs. It made perfect financial sense. The orphans got fed and cleaned, and the Frayne Institute got paid for the privilege.
Cosmo received his schooling from education software, his teeth were whiter than white and his hair was lustrous and flake-free, but his insides felt like they were
being scoured with a radioactive wire brush. Eventually Cosmo realized that the orphanage was slowly killing him. It was time to get out.
There were only three ways out of Clarissa Frayne: adoption, death or escape. There was zero chance that he’d actually be adopted, not at his age. Truculent teenagers were not very popular with the childless middle classes. For years, he had cherished the dream that someone would want him; now it was time to face facts.
Death was much easier to achieve. All he had to do was keep on doing what he was told, and his body would give up in a matter of years. The average life expectancy of an institutionalized orphan was fifteen years. Cosmo was fourteen. That left him with less than twelve months before the statistics said his time was up. Twelve months to plan for the final option. The only way he was getting out of Clarissa Frayne alive: escape.
At the Clarissa Frayne Institute for Parentally Challenged Boys, every day was basically the same. Toil by day, fitful sleep by night. There were no days off, no juvenile rights. Every day was a work day. The marshals worked the orphans so hard, that by eight p.m. most of the boys were asleep standing up, dreaming of their beds.
Cosmo Hill was the exception. He spent every moment of his waking life watching for that one chance. That split second when his freedom would beckon to him from outside an unlocked door or an unguarded
fence. He must be ready to seize that moment and run with it.
It wasn’t likely that his chance would come on this particular day. And even if it did, Cosmo didn’t think he would have the energy to run anywhere.
The no-sponsors had spent the afternoon testing a new series of antiperspirants. Their legs had been shaved and sectioned with rings of tape. The flesh between the bands was sprayed with five varieties of antiperspirant, and then the boys were set on treadmills and told to run. Sensors attached to their legs monitored their sweat glands, determining which spray was most effective. By the end of the day, Cosmo had run ten kilometres and the pores on his legs were inflamed and scalding. He was almost glad to be cuffed to a moving partner and begin the long walk back to the dormitory.
Marshal Redwood ushered the boys into the dorm. Redwood resembled a waxed gorilla, with the exception of a red quiff which he toyed with constantly.
‘Now, boys,’ said Redwood, unlocking one pair of cuffs at a time. ‘There’s a game on tonight that I am very interested in seeing. As a matter of fact, I bet a few dinars on the outcome. So if you know what’s good for you…’
Redwood didn’t have to finish his threat. The boys knew that the marshal had a hundred legal ways of making a no-sponsor’s life miserable. And a thousand illegal ones.
‘Sleep well, young princes,’ grinned the marshal,
keying his code into the dorm door. ‘Tomorrow, as usual, is a busy day. Jam-packed full of fun.’
The no-sponsors relaxed once Redwood had gone, and the silence of discipline was replaced by the groans and sobs of boys in pain. Cosmo touched his leg gingerly where a particularly acidic spray had actually burnt the skin.
‘Five minutes to lights-out,’ said Redwood’s voice over a network of speakers. ‘Climb the ladders, boys.’
Three hundred orphans turned immediately to the dozen or so steel ladders and began climbing. Nobody wanted to be stranded on the dorm floor once the ladders were retracted. If the marshals caught a no-sponsor on the ground after lights-out, a ten-kilometre run would seem like a Sunday stroll compared to the punishment they would dish out.
Each boy had a section in the dorm, where he ate, slept and passed whatever leisure time the no-sponsors had. These rooms were actually sections of cardboard utility pipe that had been sawed into six-foot lengths. The pipes were suspended on a network of wires almost fifty feet off the ground. Once the pipes were occupied by orphans, the entire contraption swayed like an ocean liner.
Cosmo climbed quickly, ignoring the pain in his leg muscles. His pipe was near the top. If the lights went out before he reached it, he could be stranded on the ladder. Each step brought fresh stabs of pain to his tendons, but
he climbed on, pressing against the boy ahead with his head, feeling the boy behind closing in.
After a few minutes’ feverish climbing, Cosmo reached his level. A narrow walkway, barely the width of his hand, serviced each pipe. Cosmo slid across carefully, gripping a rail on the underside of the walkway above him. His pipe was four columns across. Cosmo swung inside, landing on the foam rubber mattress. Ten seconds later, the lights went out.
A sick yellow glow lit the interior of each pipe. Dinner. The meal had been thrown in earlier by a marshal in a cherry picker. The meal-packs had been tested a few years previously by the no-sponsors for use by soldiers in the field. The trays and water bottles were luminous and also edible, which meant that the orphans could eat after lights-out, saving the management a few dinars. The tray was a rough unleavened crispbread, and the water bottle a semi-rigid gum. The army had discontinued use of the meal-packs following several lawsuits by soldiers, claiming that the luminous packs caused internal bleeding. The orphanage bought up the surplus and fed them to the orphans every single day.
Cosmo ate slowly, not bothering to wonder what was in the meal. Wondering about it would only add one more worry to his list. He had to believe that he would escape Clarissa Frayne before the meal-packs could do him any lasting damage.
Cosmo saved the water for last, using most of it to
wash down the crispbread tray. Then he turned the gum bottle inside out, laying it across his head like a flannel.
There must be a better life
, he thought glumly. Somewhere, at this very moment, people were talking openly. Surely people were laughing. Real laughter too, not just the spiteful kind that so often echoed around the orphanage halls.
Cosmo lay back, feeling the gum bottle’s moisture seeping into his forehead. He didn’t want to think tonight. He didn’t want to play the parent game, but the sleep that he had yearned for was proving elusive. His own parents. Who were they? Why had they abandoned him on Cosmonaut Hill? Maybe he was Russian. It was impossible to tell from his features. Brown curly hair, brown eyes, light skin freckled brown. He could be from anywhere.
Why had they abandoned him?
Cosmo transferred the gum bottle to a red strip on his leg.
, he told his brain.
Not tonight. No living in the past. Look to the future.
Someone knocked gently on the pipe above. It was Ziplock Murphy. The network was opening up. Cosmo answered the knock with one of his own, then pulled back his mattress signalling Fence in the pipe below. The no-sponsors had developed a system of communication that allowed them to converse without angering the marshals. Clarissa Frayne discouraged actual face-to-face communication between the boys on the grounds that
friendships might develop. And friendships could lead to unity, maybe even revolt.
Cosmo dug his nails into a seam in the cardboard pipe and pulled out two small tubes. Both had been fashioned from mashed gum bottle and crispbread, then baked on a window sill. Cosmo screwed one into a small hole in the base of his pipe, and the other into a hole overhead.
Ziplock’s voice wafted through from above. ‘Hey, Cosmo. How are your legs?’
‘Burning,’ grunted Cosmo. ‘I put my gum bottle on one, but it’s not helping.’
‘I tried that too,’ said Fence from below. ‘Antiperspirants. This is nearly as bad as the time they had us testing those Creeper slugs. I was throwing up for a week.’
Comments and suggestions snuck through the holes from all over the pipe construct. The fact that the pipes were all touching, along with the acoustics of the hall, meant that voices travelled amazing distances through the network. Cosmo could hear no-sponsors whispering a hundred metres away.
‘What does the Chemist say?’ asked Cosmo. ‘About our legs?’
The Chemist was the orphanage name for a boy three columns across. He loved to watch medical programmes on TV and was the closest the no-sponsors had to a consultant.
Word came back in under a minute. ‘The Chemist
says spit on your hands and rub it in. The spit has some kind of salve in it. Don’t lick your fingers though, or the antiperspirant will make you sicker than those Creeper slugs.’
The sound of boys spitting echoed through the hall. The entire lattice of pipes shook with their efforts. Cosmo followed the Chemist’s advice, then lay back, letting a hundred different conversations wash over him. Sometimes he would join in, or at least listen to one of Ziplock’s yarns. But tonight all he could think about was that moment when freedom would beckon to him. And being ready when it arrived.