velvet mace


chapter 4. Cattle Car

Lieutenant Heyes ushered the new recruits onto the train.
"Hup hup hup, fellows, move in and sit down!" He saw the yellow pants and shirt
on one of them, and reached out a hand to snag the boy. "You, front row."

The alchemist. Damn, he hated when he bagged an alchemist.
You could never be sure they were fully disarmed. Who knew what they were capable
of. Maybe only fixing a broken vase, maybe exploding a building across the street.
This one looked harmless enough, baby faced innocent and effeminate, but you
could never tell. In fact, Heyes was pretty sure that this one would be more
trouble than most since his superiors were so pleased at his induction. At least
it was only the one this time.

The alchemist took a seat on the first bench and quickly
was joined by a pretty young thing with long blond hair and a rose print dress
poking out under her winter parka. The two cuddled together, arms around each

Aw, thought Heyes. Alchemist' gotta girlfriend. How precious.
They stared at him, her with outright defiance, and him with a calm you-can't-touch-me

The rest of the recruits took their seats, filling up
the entirety of the car. Forty-two fresh-faced conscripts ready for the mill.
Everything from snot nosed teens on up to young looking thirty somethings. Men
and women mixed in roughly equal numbers. Heyes waited until they had settled
down a bit before clapping his hands for their attention.

"Listen up recruits." What little talking quieted down.
"My name is Lieutanant Heyes, and I am here to welcome you into the Army. Right
now you are nothing but conscripts. I don't know your names, I don't WANT to
know your names. I don't care. When you get to the sorting center you will EARN
a right to have a name again, but for now, you are meat.

"I am not here to baby sit you. I am not here to hold
your hands in the dark. I don't care if your aunt needs you to milk the cow
in the morning, or your little sister is waiting for you to return home. Or
your wife is about to have a baby. I don't care. You fill my quota. That is
all I care about. If you displease me, or any of my people, you WILL be shot,
and at the next stop I'll simply pull someone else off the streets to replace


The recruits' eyes were wide now. There was some mumbled
reply, but most just looked scared.

"I am your GOD for this trip. I will tell you when to
eat, when to sleep. If I tell you to take a piss out the window, you will do
so." The last line wasn't an idle threat, the door to the head had gotten jammed
once and that was precisely what the recruits had had to do. It had been funny
really, especially watching the women try to do it.

He looked over to the alchemist and his girl. "And this
ride ain't no love cruise either. You two get too fresh with each other and
I'm hauling you back to the baggage car. You can put on a show for any of my
people that care to watch. Hope you take requests."

They abruptly separated and put their hands in their laps.

Heyes kept his eyes on the alchemist. "Someone up there
loves you, but that's not going to do you any good. If you even LOOK like you
are going to make an alchemy circle, I'm going to shoot HER." He nudged his
chin toward the girl.

For the first time that blank stare seemed to break, and
he saw a note of fear. Good.

He gazed over the conscripts and saw nothing but terror
in each. Leaning back on his heels he nodded, satisfied. The hard part was over.
This was gonna be a good trip.


Ed knew there was something wrong even before he arrived at Risembool. There
was a grim pall cast over the peaceful landscape. The train had passed by several
hastily built factories. From the look of them, they'd been created at least
partially through alchemy, as though someone didn't have the time to actually
construct buildings properly.

The station itself seemed less populated than one would
normally expect. Trains didn't stop in Risembool that often, and when they did
there was usually at least SOMEONE either waiting to get on or off, but when
he stepped onto the dusty platform he was alone.

Ed slung his heavy book satchel across his chest and grabbed
his suitcase and headed home. He hadn't expected Al to greet him. Al wouldn't
have known when he was coming in. He could almost hear Al's soft voice admonishing
him for not calling ahead of time. Still his heart was high. He was looking
forward to sharing his findings, and after a long comfortable conversation and
a good meal, being able to sleep in his own bed.

Ed turned the corner onto his own street, and his heart
immediately sank through his shoes. The front windows of the shop were boarded
up. Ed started forward then heard a voice from behind him.


Ed turned. He recognized one of his neighbors. "You are

"Yeah, but what's going on?"

"I don't know where to start... Where have you BEEN? Al
said you weren't coming back."

Oh God, had Al misunderstood? Had he tried to follow Ed
out to the West? "Where is Al?" asked Ed, grabbing the man's shoulder a bit
more roughly than he intended on.

The neighbor pulled away and backed off a few steps. "He's
gone. The army came for him almost a week ago."

Ed's face flushed with rage. GODDAMN the Army. Retroactively
refusing Ed's resignation was one thing, using Al as a hostage for his compliance
was... was... just LOW! Ed let the neighborhood know this in uncertain terms.
When he found his composure again the neighbor had fled and shutters had closed
in several nearby windows.

Thinking dark thoughts Ed dug his pocket for the key and
let himself into his own shop.

The front of the shop was intact, but the back room was
a mess. Upstairs was even worse, though there were signs that someone had tried
to push things back into place afterwards. Ed threw things back out onto the
floor, searching for what he imagined he wouldn't find. Sure enough, the books
he'd copied and his older research journals were gone, along with any shred
of correspondence he'd kept. Goddamn it, Mustang's letter of acceptance of his
resignation wasn't there either.

Ed staggered back and found his knees hitting the back
of his bed. He sat down suddenly as the gravity of the situation sunk in.

He didn't WANT to go back to the Army now. The Fuhrer's
lust for power seemed unfettered by internal conscience or external opposition.
He didn't want to become a pawn to that madman's ambition. Or worse, they could
follow up on their threat and put Ed in prison. God, he didn't want to go to

But he couldn't let Al suffer at their hands either.
Oh, hell, Al. I did it to you, again. Why do you always have to pay the price
for my mistakes? I never ever wanted you to suffer. Ed covered his face with
his metal hand, feeling the hardness of his fingers through the glove. I'll
never be forgiven for my sins, he thought. It was crazy of me to think that
I could ever live a happy life.

Ed let himself drop back onto the mattress, staring blankly
at the empty ceiling. How much will I have to atone? When will it ever be considered
equivalent? Huh, God? When will you just say, I've done enough. Let the man

The phone rang. Ed's heart slammed in his chest. They
already knew he was here. How could they already know? Who had ratted him out?

The phone rang. Ed continued to stare at the ceiling.
What would he say? Five years in prison is what that letter had threatened.
Five stupid wasted years. Five horrible boring years. He'd be almost 23 when
he got out. And what would Al do during all those years? Would he even be allowed
to visit? Would they let him write? Would they even allow him to keep his automail,
or would he be left a cripple the entire time?

The phone rang. But what would they do with Al if he didn't.
The country was so vast, how could Ed hope to find him without being caught?

The phone rang, and Ed jogged over to picked it up. "I'm
here," he said dully into the receiver.

"Ed, oh thank God, boy." It was Pinako. "I heard you had
come back to town.... You know then."

"Yeah, I'm back. The assholes took Al. I can't believe

"They took more than that, Ed," said Pinako. "They took
Winry as well... and a couple dozen others."

Ed's eyes widened, and his voice caught in his chest.
"Just because of me?"

"No, it's the conscriptors... Ed." Pinako's voice softened.
"I never thought I'd ask you to do this. You have always been such a strong
kid. You need to do something about this Fuhrer. Someone has to stop him, bring
some sanity back to this world."

"You are asking me to commit treason?"

There was a gasp. "No... no... I'm wrong. Forget what
I said. Ed, come up to the house. I've missed you. It's lonely up here with
Winry gone."

"I can't," said Ed after a moment. "It's good to hear
your voice, Aunty. You are right. I need to do something. I think I know what
I have to do. It may be a while before I can talk to you again." And he hung
up the phone before she could protest.

They could hold his body, but they couldn't hold
his spirit. They could take away his automail, but they couldn't take away his
mind. Even in jail, there might be something he could do to rectify the situation.
If he even stayed in jail. Yeah, try to keep him in. He'd broken out of worse

Maybe he'd even see Mustang there. The thought was curiously

And Al would be free. And Winry, too. Yeah he'd go back,
but it wouldn't be for free. If they wanted him without a fight, they
better be ready to put out, on HIS terms.


The MP ushered Al into the office with a not-so-gentle
shove between his shoulder blades. Al tried not to stagger, wishing he could
use his hands for balance, but they were firmly shackled, as were his legs.
Although Al's patience was close to breaking and his stomach burned, he kept
his face placid and expressionless. His eyes cased the room quickly, noted the
large heavily draped windows, the flag on it's long brass pole, the pen lying
casually on the desk. Then his eyes settled on the grey colorless eyes of the
Lt. Colonel Avery Dunn.

"Elric, yes?" Dunn said. "The younger one, who used to
wear the armor. I remember you."

Al vaguely regarded the other man, tall, neither fat nor
thin, graying brown hair, all in all a very non-descript appearance. "I don't
remember you," he said flatly.

"I've gained a few ranks since you last saw me. And I
admit that I probably didn't stand out much.

"However, you did." Dunn pushed a thick file folder into
the center of the desk. Al saw his own name on it. "You stood out quite prominently,
in fact. I used to wonder why you always wore the armor. Then I came across
this file. It all made sense."

Dunn suddenly shifted his eyes to the MP. "You may leave.
Wait outside until I summon you. If you hear any disturbance whatsoever come
back in."

The MP left, and Dunn nodded towards a chair in front
of his desk. "Have a seat."

Carefully, so as not to trip, Al made his way to the chair
and settled himself in it. He kept his face stony, but he began to wonder what
Dunn was up to.

"Human transmutation. You know the penalty for that."


"Yes. Actually up to now that's been something of an empty
threat. No one has ever been put on trial for backing out. The act itself exacts
its own price. True sometimes what's left of the Alchemist has to be put down,
but that's more mercy than punishment. But you and your brother did survive...
not once but twice, and with your sanity intact, that is... unprecedented. And
here you are. No longer armor." He leaned forward scanning Al's features. "So
this is what you really look like. Remarkable."

Al shifted uncomfortably under his scrutiny.

"This presents something of a conundrum for us," Dunn
continued. "Do we stay strictly to the law, or do we bend it? I personally believe
in bending laws that don't serve the State. How about you?"

Al felt relief. This guy didn't want him dead. "What do
you want? A hostage for my brother's cooperation?"

"Well I must admit that would make my life simpler. Do
you think it will work? Does he love you enough to bargain for you?"

Al was silent.

Dunn chuckled. "No. While that would be nice side benefit,
that isn't why you are here. Al... may I call you that?"

"I can't stop you."

"Al then, you passed the State Alchemist's written exam
when you were eleven."

"Did I?"

"Oh yes, flying colors, you even did better than your
brother. Also, you were as much a part of the human transmutations as your brother."

"But I didn't survive."

"That's disputable. And you were a partner to your brother
on most of his missions when he was in the Army. An unofficial partner but a
partner none the less. Your researching skills are well documented. As is your
ability to think your way out of sticky situations. And you were able to use
alchemy as well or better than most Alchemists. As armor."

Dunn tilted his head. "What makes you think that the Army
would only be interested in your brother? Do you really so undervalue yourself?"

Al's breath hitched in.

"I see. And actually, of the two of you, you have the
far more amenable temperament. This isn't to say I would turn away Fullmetal
if he were to walk through the door and give himself up. But I wouldn't consider
it a complete loss if he remains out in the wilderness."

"What do you want?"

"Your cooperation. Your brilliance. Your skills. Put to
the Army's aims. There is already a bid for your assignment."

"What is in this for me," said Al. "I could just decide
not to research or perform alchemy. I'm not much use to you then."

"Well, no you wouldn't be. I suppose I can put you on
the front lines like a normal conscript. You could be sent off to a training
camp and given the standard two weeks of indoctrination. They would show you
how to use a gun and a knife and teach you standard protocol. They would give
you the very basics in combat and strategy, nothing you probably don't already
know or couldn't figure out for yourself. Then you'd go off to fight. Maybe
you'd survive the first month, in fact I dare say, you might do quite well for
yourself out there. It is quite possible you could serve the Fuhrer admirably
in that regard. But it would be an utter waste of your abilities. A true shame."

"My abilities are mine to waste," Al said quietly. He
glanced at the pen left so enticingly out on the desk.

Dunn followed his gaze but made no move. "Maybe. Or maybe
instead I might throw you in the brig, and the person I send to the front will
be this person. He pulled out another file and laid it on the desk. This file
was very thin, almost non-existent. Al saw the name "Rockbell, Winry."

Al couldn't prevent the frown from forming on his face.

Dunn awarded Al a thin smile. "You are fond of her. She's
quite a talented Automail Engineer I hear. She could serve the Army quite well
here in Central. There is an excellent rehabilitation hospital not more than
six blocks from where you would be working. I imagine the two of you could see
each other quite often, your shifts allowing."

Al refused to give him any sign that his words might be
working, but his mind couldn't stop thinking about seeing Winry, even if just
a few hours here and there. Would working for the Army really be so different
than working in the shop? And with such a build up about his own abilities,
there was little doubt that the work would be a challenging intellectual exercise
at minimum.

Dunn continued, "Or perhaps she will get those two weeks
training and go to the front. She may make an excellent foot soldier as well.
Those arms of hers look quite strong, and she's fiery, I hear."

Al's ears burned. "So if I agree to use my abilities,
she will get assigned to a nearby hospital."


"I can trust you on that."

"You will be able to trust your own eyes. In fact you
agree to this, I'll have that MP take off your shackles and you can walk out
of here like any other volunteer."

"Very well then," said Al heavily. "So what now?"

Dunn slid over another paper. "You sign these enlistment
papers of your own free will."

Slowly Al put his hands on the desk. His fingers found
that pen that had lain there all that time. Dunn watched and they met eyes for
a moment, understanding the conflict going on in Al's mind.

Then Al signed his name on the line.