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Pawns

chapter 3. Jail

Roy Mustang didn't even know why he was still alive. Grace of God, perhaps,
though he was not that religious a person. Of course, this wasn't much of a
life, and what little it was could be removed from him at any point.

It had been almost a year since armed MPs had broken his
door in at 3 a.m. and had hauled him off to face judgment. His last moments
in his house were spent watching grim looking military thugs rifling through
his papers.

He hadn't been wearing his gloves to sleep. They had counted
on that. Soon they had removed the rest of his clothes, along with any shred
of dignity he had, and in their place they had given him a soft cotton long
sleeved shirt and pants of a similar material. Hideously bright orange.

"This clashes with my complexion," he complained to one
jailor, trying to keep things light.

But the other wouldn't even speak to him.

He was brought to a room in prison especially made for
"his type." The floor was made of a dense but somewhat spongy material, the
walls were the same. There were no hard corners anywhere, nothing he could injure
himself with and create a sufficient pool of blood to create an array. And the
material repelled water, so the arrays he'd tried using water from the tiny
sink had beaded up uselessly.

They allowed him no writing implements of any sort, nor
anything hard or pointed that could possibly use to scratch something with.
They did not want arrays cut into the floor or into his own flesh for that matter.

There were much worse places they could have taken him.
But in its own subtle way, the room was a true torture. With nothing to do,
no one to talk to, any stimulation, even the discomfort of a hard cold floor
would have been welcome. Sometimes he acted up just because punishment was better
than the endless nothingness that filled his day.

When they punished him, they were careful not to leave
a mark. Wet sheeting was the favorite torture. It involved stripping him naked,
which his jailors appeared to enjoy more than they should have, and tying him
spread eagle to a slab. Then sheets were dipped in ice-cold water and laid across
him. Between the chill of the sheets and the evaporation, Roy would be left
shivering painfully for hours. When the sheets dried, they would release him
and give him back his clothes. He was informed that they could maintain the
torture for days if he gave them a reason to. Roy hadn't given them a reason.

Every other week or so, the monotony of his existence
was punctuated by visitors. Always the same two—a tall ugly brick of man
who Roy called the Thug, and a thinner, shorter man who Roy called the Weasel.
They had never named themselves.

The Thug's job was to intimidate Roy into doing things.
Giving him information. Doing some alchemical jobs (under strict supervision).
Research. Although Roy was certain he was supposed to hate and fear this man,
he found himself curiously looking forward to his visits. The conversation was
always more interesting than that of his jailors. The jobs made life much more
bearable. Roy learned important things about the outside world during his own
interrogation.

The Weasel was supposed to have been Roy's motivation
to be a good boy, but Roy simply hated him. The Weasel never asked for anything
from Roy, instead he always sauntered in with a big toothy smile pretending
to be Roy's bosom buddy. "I carry good news, Roy, babe!" he'd say.

The Weasel told Roy that Riza Hawkeye was doing well in
her reassignment to the Northern Recruiting office. She was training the new
recruits with her gun techniques. The results pleased the Fuhrer immensely.
Armstrong was on the front lines, still going strong. He'd been injured in an
attack, but not badly, and he was already back with his regiment. Havoc, Feury
and all the others were doing similarly well.

"Could I write a letter to them?" Roy asked, knowing the
answer.

"Of course not."

And then there was the hitch that always came after news
of his friends. "Aren't you glad you agreed to help us. They all have good lives
now. Let's hope it stays that way."

Roy wanted to strangle the Weasel for reminding him that
his sacrifices weren't over, that his cooperation was STILL required to save
the lives of his people. But the small jobs the Thug had been bringing him hardly
seemed equivalent for what they had given Roy. There was something else coming.

Sure enough the Thug visited him the next day. "What do
you know about Edward Elric."

Roy didn't hesitate. "He's a brilliant researcher, and
he has quite decent combat skills. His alchemical abilities are unparalleled.
But he's also stubborn and a hot head. And retired. I doubt you will be able
to lure him back."

"He is AWOL."

Roy gasped. "He reenlisted?" He hadn't thought that possible.
What incentive could they have possibly offered him?

"Ah yes, you aren't up on the news are you. There have
been a few laws enacted since your incarceration. " The Thug smiled. "It has
come to the Fuhrer's attention that loose Alchemists can be very dangerous destabilizing
element to the State. Especially Alchemists of National Standard. While they
are in the Army their efforts can be directed towards proper projects. On there
own, well, you know as well as I, Alchemists can get themselves into trouble."

"So the Army just decided that he was reenlisted," said
Roy dourly.

"Technically, we refused his resignation. But that is
just temporary. There are more laws in the works as we speak. Soon all Alchemists
will be required to enlist. The enlistment may be on paper only, but it will
give the Army options should the alchemist become particularly troublesome or...
useful."

Roy swallowed. "Parliament would never approve such a
law."

"We are at war. A war we will LOSE if we allow valuable
resources such as alchemists to undermine the State. " The Thugs voice softened
and he leaned forward conspiratorially. "Also, some of those in Parliament who
rejected the idea out of hand have been going... missing lately. And some have
had tragic, unfortunate accidents."

Roy shuddered. "What do you want from me?"

"We need you to tell us where Elric has gone. Is there
some place in the West that he's particularly fond of? His employee didn't appear
to know."

Employee? That would be Al. Smart boy.

"I never sent him that direction. You have my files, you'd
know that."

The Thug sighed. "It was a hope. I have another matter
to talk to you about. A more long term project. The Fifth Lab has been rebuilt
and you will soon be given passes to go to work there."

"What will I be doing?"

"You will be doing your best at whatever we tell you to
do. Otherwise some of the sentencing for your friends may have to be reconsidered."

Roy looked away. The Fifth Lab of all places. Would it
be chimeras? Or possibly something worse.

Conscription

Ed sat in the train station. It had been over two months since he'd left his
brother and he missed the company dearly. October 5th had come and gone long
ago. His money had almost run out. The price of things had gotten outrageous;
inflation crept up daily. It was time to go home.

The wind was pretty bitter this November morning. He pulled
his hat down lower over his ears and shrugged his collar higher. It would be
good to go home at last, eat decent food and talk with someone. How he longed
to talk with someone. It was DAMN lonely without Al around.

A commotion at the end of the Station caught his attention.
He couldn't make out the words but then suddenly several youths and a girl started
running. They passed by Edward and disappeared over the edge of the platform,
fleeing off into the bushes and weeds on the other side of the tracks. "What
the hell?" Ed wondered, aloud.

He felt a hand on his shoulder and spun around in his
seat. He stopped with his palms less than an inch from each other. The man standing
behind him was frightened and concerned, not menacing. "Boy, you better go hide."

"What?" Ed looked around. "What's going on?"

"Conscriptors. They are looking for anyone able bodied
and young. They aren't picky, they just need to fill a quota. The war's had
a lot of losses lately, I hear."

"You are kidding. Since when does the State kidnap people
off the street to join the military?"

But the man had already moved on.

Ed saw uniforms on the end of the platform. If he ran
now they would just follow him and perhaps find the other kids.

Able bodied, huh.

Much as he hated to do it, he reached down and grabbed
his lower leg. Through the soft leather he found the latches and with expert
manipulation his leg came loose and shimmied to the ground. Ed quickly picked
it up and hid it behind his book satchel. He tucked the loose pant leg under
his knee and waited.

The men and women in uniform were hurrying over to his
position. They stopped in front of him "You," barked a woman with short hair
and a stern expression. "Stand up."

Ed struggled to his remaining foot, balancing awkwardly.
"He's no good," she said noticing the missing limb. "I saw others go this way."
And she and her men moved on.

Ed watched them disappear into the bushes. When he was
sure they were gone he reattached the leg. Pain shot through him like a knife
and he hissed. God, he hoped that this insanity wasn't going on in Risembool.

Alchemist

Al washed the front windows of the shop. Morning sunlight
spilled through, setting the skin of his face prickling. After all these months
he still loved the feel of sun on his skin, even the thin cold sun of late fall.

He missed Ed. The place was just too quiet without him.

He looked at the sign wavering in the wind. It no longer
said Elric Brothers. Not after the letter. It simply said Alchemist. Nice and
generic. No need to associate Al with his brother, not with what appeared to
be happening to the State.

At first it had been little things. Supplies he'd ordered
had come in late and opened. Prices were sky rocketing as surcharges and taxes
were added to every possible thing Al could think of. Then there was news about
new factories opening up in surrounding towns, all for the war effort. Ed refused
to pay attention to these things, but Al couldn't ignore them. They frightened
him. This was not the Army he'd been loosely attached to for four years. He
wasn't sure what it was, but it was something much bigger and more dangerous
than he'd ever conceived of.

With Ed gone, Al bought every paper he could get his hands
on, and what he read was worrisome, too. Although the stories were endlessly
optimistic, little troubling details slipped through. Such as the fact that
now a new neighbor was being demonized. Hell this country was on the other side
of the State. The Fuhrer couldn't possibly mean to open war on TWO fronts? Could
he?

And then there was the constant recruitment blitz by the
army. On radio, in posters, in the paper. Proud men and women in uniform proclaiming
how wonderful life was for them. If the war were going that well, there wouldn't
be this insatiable need for new recruits.

There had been other ads aimed at people just like him.
Alchemists wanted. No State Alchemy Test required. All levels of talent welcomed.
We will train.

Al shuddered. He considered removing the word "Alchemist"
from the sign as well.

Just then he noticed two vans pulling up outside the store.
Several uniformed men jumped out of the leading van. They made a beeline to
Al's store. Damn, were they after Ed again?

Al stepped out of the way as three rather burly men walked
in the store. "Can I help—" was all Al was able to get out before he felt
rough hands on his upper arms and himself being spun around and pressed against
the wet glass.

"Are you the Alchemist?" asked the man pinning him, pulling
his left arm painfully up behind his back.

"I'm not Edward Elric," gasped Al. "He doesn't work here
anymore."

"That's not what I asked you."

"Of course, he's the alchemist," said another, a lieutenant
by the stripes. Al strained his head to see what the military men were doing.
In the corner of his eye he saw the second one slipping behind the counter and
looking into the workroom. After a moment he looked back. "And if not, he's
still useful. He looks to be an extra small. Chambers run out and get a kit.
Martin, bring him in here."

Twisting Al's arm high behind his back the goon shoved
him roughly towards the back room. "I don't see any arrays left out. Good."
The one holding Al tossed him not so gently against a wall and stood between
him and the door.

"What do you want," gasped Al, tears beginning to form
in the corner of his eyes. He rubbed his left shoulder. "I haven't done anything."

"Of course not," said the lieutenant. "I want you to strip."

"What?" Al couldn't believe his ears. He felt his face
turn red.

"All off. Quickly. And nothing funny. Are there any arrays
on you?"

"No."

"No tattoos or jewelry?"

"No!"

"Well, we'll see for ourselves." The two of them cocked
their guns at Al to make their point clearer.

For the first time in his life Al wished he was still
armor. If he'd been armor he wouldn't have had to assert himself. He would have
faced these two down just by being. They wouldn't have been able to manhandle
him. He wouldn't have been afraid of the guns in their hands.

When he was Armor he'd been big and strong and darned
close to invincible.

Al realized why Ed had been so sensitive about his height,
because he never felt so helpless and small before. What would Ed do in this
situation? Be cocky, of course. Probably transmute his arm into a blade. Fight
his way out. Al couldn't do that. Without chalk and time he was nothing more
than the strength of his arms, and even though he had practiced and worked at
it, he was still nowhere near as good a fighter as his brother. Nowhere near
what he had once been. Nowhere near good enough to go against two physically
fit men, nearly twice his weight, and armed.

Al looked hopelessly at the guns. Then reluctantly pulled
off his shirt. The leader gestured for him to continue, and with his face red
with shame Al had stripped to his boxers, showing them that he had no arrays
tattooed on his skin. "Are you satisfied?" he asked.

"Shorts too."

Al gasped with exasperation. "What kind of pervert would
tattoo an array down there?" It was just the sort of thing Ed would have said
in the situation.

That got Martin snickering, but the lieutenant remained
stony faced. "I'm following orders. All off." So the shorts went too.

"So," said Al after a moment. "Can I put my clothes back
on?"

"No arrays. Good."

Chambers entered the back room with a small canvas bag.
He tossed it at Al who grabbed it. "You can put these on."

Inside were pants and a long sleeved shirt in bright yellow,
socks and sandals. Miserably inadequate for the weather. As if to make up for
that there was a blanket at the bottom. Al put them on quickly and draped the
blanket over his shoulders. "Why are you doing this?"

Martin grinned and recited an obviously well practiced
speech, "You have been selected to join the Army, congratulations recruit. You
will come with us immediately to the sorting center where you will be processed
and assigned to a training facility." Martin's hand was on Al's upper arm. "If
you prove your talents you may be assigned to a building division or alchemical
assembly line, or if you are good enough or even to research and development.
You may even be selected to take part in the State Alchemists Exam in spring.
If you choose not to demonstrate your talents you will be sent to the front
with the regular enlisted. Do you understand?"

Al's brain was barely working. They couldn't be kidnapping
him. It wasn't happening. And what of Ed, what would Ed do when he found out
Al was missing?

"Does anyone else work here?" asked Martin.

"No," choked Al. "It's just me. I need to make arrangements.
Who is going to take care of the shop?"

"We can give the key to the neighbors if you like." They
then pushed him out of the store and into the waiting van.

Automail Engineers

Pinako put down the phone. Her face was far more dour
than usual. "Winry we need to go into town at once. Something has happened to
Al."

Winry put her hand involuntarily to her chest. "Is he
hurt? What happened to him?"

"That was his neighbor. Some military Dogs came by and
took him this morning."

Winry's eyes opened wide. "They must have mistaken him
for Ed."

Pinako nodded. "We better go and see what we can sort
out of this situation."

It was days like this that Winry wished that they owned
a horse or some other vehicle. Though she longed to run full out, Pinako wouldn't
be able to keep up. So in the end she bit her lip and walked with straight-legged
determination into town. By the time she reached the shop she had formulated
all sorts of nasty words in her mind, ready to unleash them on the first person
in a uniform she encountered.

Despite what the neighbor had said about shutting up the
shop, the door was open when they arrived. From down in the shop proper, Pinako
and Winry could hear sounds of things being thrown about upstairs. Winry's heart
slammed in her chest and she raced up the stairs ahead of her grandmother.

She rounded the landing to catch two men in military uniforms
by surprise. Her eyes grew wide as she looked at the chaos around the room.
Every drawer had been emptied. Alchemical equipment, clothes, dishes, even food
was strewn around on the floor. "What are you DOING!" she screamed at them.

The one with brick red hair straightened up first, then
reached into the pocket of his overcoat and presented her a piece of paper.
"This house is Edward Elric's last known address. We have orders to search it
for evidence."

"Evidence of what!" said Pinako as she reached the top
of the stairs. "You folks are out of line. Where is Alphonse? What are you doing
with his belongings? He is not one of your dogs, you have no right to destroy
his house."

"Alphonse?" said the dark haired one. Winry caught sight
of an array on his belt when he stood up. "Alphonse Elric? So he isn't wearing
the armor anymore. Interesting. And we thought he was just an employee. That
makes things different."

Winry's heart skipped a beat. "What are you planning on
doing with him?"

"That really isn't your concern."

Tears sprang up in her eyes. "Yes it IS!" Her body vibrated
with emotion. "He is... family."

"I see, are you an alchemist then, too?" Winry didn't
like the dark man's smile. It was oily.

"We are automail engineers," said Pinako, proudly defiant.
"We are the folks that put your type back together when you get your parts blown
off. My sons BOTH died in service for you. We do not deserve this kind of disrespect."

The two military men met eyes briefly, exchanging a secret
smile. "The Army needs Automail Engineers as well."

Winry took a step back as they closed in on her.