velvet mace


chapter 8. Animal Testing

Al picked the rat out of its cage and gently stroked its
shaved back. It squirmed and nuzzled the palm of his hand, then broke free and
tried to crawl up his arm. Laughing, Al reached up and caught the naughty rodent
as it crawled onto his shoulder.

Roy laughed. "Need a little help?"

Al shook his head. "No, no." He pulled at the creature,
but its tiny claws were caught in his hair. "Ouch, no." He gave the creature
a quick kiss on the head and then carried it to the workbench.

"You shouldn't get too attached, " warned Roy.

"Maybe if this works, do you think they'll let me keep
him as a pet?" Al gently placed the rat on the table and picked up the grease

"I'm sure they won't," said Roy. "I imagine they'll dissect
him, regardless of the outcome."

Al's stomach went sour and he hesitated. "I wish we didn't
have to use animals like this."

"Would you rather we started on people?" Roy's was the
gentle voice of reason, as always. It was impossible to argue with him. Pointless.

"I suppose I better get this right," sighed Al. "That
way we won't have to make too many suffer."

Roy stood next to him and put a hand over the rat, helping
pin it so that Al could draw the array on it's shaved back. Even with Roy's
help the rodent squirmed and it was difficult to control the line properly.

"Don't take on more guilt than you have to," said Roy.
"They were bred and trained for this purpose. If we don't use them, they will
simply be used in some other experiment. No matter the outcome, we will learn

Al finished and picked up the rat again, this time holding
it away from his body, not wanting to touch it more than he had to. Not even
wanting to look at it too much. It was easy to tell someone not to feel guilty,
but it was a lot harder to do. Roy was right, Ed was planning on using rabbits
in much the same way. It's the nature of the science.

At least they weren't people.

Al dropped the rat in the maze and watched it quickly
thread its way to its reward. Well trained indeed.

Roy cleared his voice twice. Al quickly looked over at
Roy's hands.

RB, the fingers quickly signed. Remember the bastards.
That was the point of this, to get back somehow. Al didn't know exactly what
Roy was planning on doing, but doing this project was apparently key. Which
was just as well, because the project wasn't exactly voluntary anyway.

Al bent his index finger twice quickly, and then made
the signs MF. Yes, my Fuhrer. It was a joke... sort of.

Roy smiled.

What the Bastards and Roy expected to get out of the project
he still didn't know, but he suspected that Roy, at least, wasn't interested
in battle fatigue. And that meant that Midnight might not really be after that
as well. And that lead to a line of speculation that Al just REALLY didn't want
to get intobecause his conscience was already twinging at the idea of experimenting
on rats.

E? Signed Al, desperate to derail his train of

A more complex sign, two fingers against the palm of his
hand in a quick hammer stroke. Working. Two more signs. Impatient.

Al signed yes again. When Roy was with Ed he cooperated
fine, but during the day when Roy was at work, apparently Ed was reverting to
his more petulant behavior. Roy was working on it.

Al stroked his right eyebrow. Tomorrow?

Roy held up two fingers, then wiggled them. Two more
days. Maybe.
Then two more rapid signs, Teach him tonight.

The rat had finished its kibble and was now nosing about
randomly in the maze, hoping for more perhaps. Al picked it up. With a single
finger he touched the array on its back, took a deep breath and focused. A brief
light signaled his success.

Roy put some more kibble at the end of the maze and then
Al put the rat back at the starting line.

The rat didn't move.

Al gently nudged the rat, but it still didn't move. Its
eyes blinked. It breathed, but it made no motion to follow the maze or even
explore its surroundings. Al picked it up and put it at the end of the maze
next to the kibble. It still didn't move. Its nose twitched a little but otherwise
it lay limp.

Al sighed. Remember the bastards. Remember the way he
was kidnapped and humiliated and cheated and manipulated. Remember all the other
conscripts out there in the same position or worse. Remember the senseless out
of control war being fought over ego and turf. Remember Winry. Remember Ed.
Remember Roy, and Armstrong, Hawkeye, Havoc, Feury, Breda and all the others.
Al was glad he hadn't named the rat, maybe he wouldn't have to remember it too.

Roy picked the animal up and placed it back in its container
and began to write up the findings. Al glanced over at the guard then averted
his eyes. "I'm taking a break," he said aloud. The guard got up to signal an
escort from outside. He didn't look. He didn't want them to see the tears threatening
to overflow his eyes.

Small Hours

Ed woke with a hand pressed tightly over his mouth. He
struggled furiously for a second, then, as the sleep fog lifted from his brain,
recognized Roy leaning over the head of the bed pushing him down. For a moment
he felt fury, then he remembered Roy's whispered promise that sometime in the
night they would finally talk.

"Shhhh, shhhh," Roy whispered. He let go of Ed's mouth
and settled back to kneeling at the head of Ed's bunk.

"What the hell," whispered Ed back. "What time is it?"

"Not sure. I'm guessing around 3 or 4 am. The guard just
checked us, I think we're good for an hour or so."

"Good for what?" said Ed louder.

"Shhhh," Roy put his hand back over Ed's mouth. "They
are still listening."

"You said they were gone," said Ed when Roy lifted his
hand again.

"Tape recorders. 24 hours. Noise activated likely. I've
noticed one in the wall near the desk. There might be more. Probably are more.
But from what I know, they can't pick up whispers effectively. Still quieter
the better."

"Are you going to tell me your plan now?" asked Ed as
softly as he could.

"Not quite. Not yet. I'm going to teach you how to use
coded signs to communicate. Al and I have been using them for a couple of weeks,
and the guards haven't picked up on it."

"Why do we have to do this at 3 am."

"The guards check less frequently this time of night.
It would look suspicious if they saw us whispering together. They might suspect
we were conspiring and separate us."

Ed suppressed a snicker. "You hate being alone."

"Very true, but beside the point. We should get started.
No, stay lying down, just scoot over a bit so I can sit next to you."

Grudgingly, Ed accommodated. The lighting was dimmer than
during waking hours, but still plenty sufficient for seeing Roy's hands especially
this close up.

"The alphabet first," whispered Roy. He made the sign,
mouthed the letter, then waited for Ed to repeat it. Now fully awake Ed threw
himself into the work. He quickly memorized the alphabet, and then started in
on the signs for common words. Roy had to make some adjustments for the fact
that Ed had only one hand, but with only a moments hesitation they were made.

Somewhere in there, Roy switched from whispering to signing,
spelling out the word with his fingers, then giving the gesture. Ed responded
in kind. Time passed by quickly without either realizing it.

You learn quick, Roy signed. Good.

"Took you this long to notice?" Ed whispered back not
knowing the right signs and too impatient to finger spell the whole thing.
You learn slow.

There was a sudden clank at the door. Ed froze with horror.

Roy suddenly lay down on top of him and pressed his lips
against Ed's. Ed tensed to the bone, keeping his mouth firmly shut.

"HEY, HEY THERE!" the guard shouted and pulled Roy off
before Ed could properly knee the bastard. "Back in your own bunk." With a look
of palpable disgust he looked over at Ed. "Was he bothering you?"

Roy spoke up, angrily, "Hey yourself! He wasn't saying

What the hell? thought Ed. Oh damn if Roy wasn't
trying to get the guard to believe they were, oh, hell.

"Was he bothering you?"

Ed looked over at Roy who signed say no.

Hell. "What I do in my own bed is my business," said Ed.
"Butt out."

Roy rolled his eyes and dropped his shoulders in relief.

The guard looked them over. "You both revolt me." He then

Roy sat on his own bed and covered his smirk with a hand.

Ed launched himself across the room and tackled Roy. "You
mind," he hissed. "Telling me what that was about? Now they think we are...
are..." Roy fell back into the mattress. Ed suddenly realized that their positions
were even more compromising than before. He climbed out of Roy's lap and backed
up a few feet.

Roy sat up laughing and gestured for him to come closer.
Very reluctantly Ed did.

"Would you rather he figure out what we were really doing?"
Roy whispered. "Or perhaps got the notion I was trying to strangle you in your
sleep? At least this way we will have an excuse to be close enough to whisper
things to each other, that is until you learn to sign your insults to me properly."

"You could have come up with something else," whispered

"Ok, I'm open to suggestions, what should I have done?"

Ed opened his mouth, then closed it.

"Yes. You see." Ed noticed a sudden gleam in Roy's eye,
"And while I admit I'm out of practice," Roy teased, "Was it truly that awful?"

"Gah," said Ed loudly and went back to his bed. "And he
expects me to trust him," he mumbled into the pillow.