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velvet mace

Pawns

chapter 22. Distraction

"Oh my GOD!" came a squeal from the elevator at the far
end of the hall. A wonderful, high pitched feminine squeal that promised to
belong to someone young and nubile. And it did. A pretty, slim, young blond
exited the elevator, clutching at her clothes playfully. "Wait until we are
upstairs, Al," she continued, giggling.

"What the?" said Bolton, putting down his magazine to
look at the other MP on duty.

"Elric," muttered Foster, as if it explained everything.
Elric was some sort of genius. He was also a complete horn dog. Keeping Elric
happy was important to the Military, so he got to frolic in the halls with his
girlfriend if he wanted to. Nice life, Bolton thought.

The two walked down the hall towards the station. Damn.
Bolton knew they had no shame, but this was beyond the pale. She was ALMOST
wearing her uniform. The jacket was off, tucked over her arm. Her dress shirt
was half way unbuttoned and freed of the pants, and Bolton wasn't sure if Al
could crawl any higher up her blouse, without tripping or popping the remaining
buttons. He could catch a glimpse of the half moon of flesh rising up over the
lace of her white bra.

Damn lucky kid.

"Happy birthday to me," Elric was saying. "Happy birthday
to me!" He suddenly seemed to notice Bolton and Foster. "Hey, I wanna take my
girl to the best restaurant within walking distance. Where would that be?"

Bolton blinked.

"How much are you willing to pay?"

"Money's no object," squealed the girl. Elric's smile
looked slightly strained.

Bolton snickered, and rattled off the name of a decent
but not exactly five star restaurant a few blocks away.

While he and Foster explained where the restaurant was,
Midnight exited the elevator leading a group of three uniformed men. One was
very short and slim with long blond hair and Bolton had to look twice to make
sure it WAS a man. Midnight gave a quick nod. Bolton saluted and buzzed them
through to the buildings lobby.

Then he went back to watching Elric molest his girlfriend.
"Is it really your birthday?"

"I'm seventeen today." He looked younger, but then that
was probably because he was short. Didn't girls prefer the taller types? At
seventeen, Bolton was lucky to get a kiss, and never mind what the girl looked
like. Elric's girlfriend was HOT. Life wasn't fair.

He buzzed them out the door with a salute and a wink.
And when they were through, he and Foster laughed until they almost fell on
the floor.

Lost

I think I must be sick, Carr thought. It was the only explanation as
to why he would be walking outside of the fifth lab, long before his shift ended,
in the company of four men and a woman, who he vaguely knew, but whose names
for some reason he couldn't put his finger on. The world had simply stopped
making sense. He must be sick.

But he wasn't afraid. He had been for a bit back in the
lab but then a warm voice told him not to be and he wasn't anymore. Instead
he felt confused and a bit worried and more than a little like he'd been drugged.

He should go home and sleep whatever this was off, but
when he took a step in that direction, a hand touched his shoulder and a voice
that seemed to go right through his brain to his soul said "Stop. Wait." And
so he did.

He watched traffic. He thought about cars. He ignored
the people with him.

He wondered why he was standing at the street corner with
someone's hand on his shoulder. He knew there was something more he should be
doing, but he couldn't remember what. He hated this feeling.

They were talking around him, but for the life of him
he couldn't seem to follow what they were saying. It was just as well, since
he wasn't supposed to eavesdrop on his charges. He was just there to do his
duty, not spy on the people he was with. He also knew he wasn't supposed to
pay attention to what they were doing either, and this made less sense, since
usually he was SUPPOSED to watch the people he was assigned to. But orders were
orders, it wasn't his place to question them. He was just supposed to stay close
and wait to be told what to do. It should have made perfect sense, but it didn't.

They were moving again. "Carr, come," the voice said,
and he followed them. He wondered where they were going.

After a while they stopped again. Not long after that
a car pulled up in front of them. He was directed to sit up front with the driver.
He did, scooting in so that the man with the voice could sit next to him.

"Are you feeling ok," the driver asked. Carr blinked.
Unlike the rest of the people he was with, for some reason the driver was in
perfect focus and his words were clear as a bell.

"I'm not sure," he said honestly.

"Carr is a bit off today," said the voice smoothly. "He'll
be fine."

That summed it up pretty well. I'm off, but I'll be
fine.
So he nodded.

"Where to?" the driver asked. Someone said something,
and the driver responded. "Ok, boss. It's a bit weird, but ok."

They drove somewhere. The driver got out and the young
woman took his place. They started driving again. Carr wished they would find
some spot and drop him off as well, but it didn't happen. He was aware that
the people around him seemed to be angry, and he had the feeling that it was
about him. He wished he knew what he was doing wrong but he couldn't listen
in, even though he wanted to.

Then the man with the voice talked to him, telling him
what he should do. He was going to help take someone down. There might be people
with this man, and he'd have to restrain them. Fight them. At all costs he needed
to protect everyone else in the car. He was their bodyguard after all.

Carr felt relieved. This was something he knew how to
do. It almost made what was going on feel normal.

"Do you have any questions?" the dark eyed man asked him.

As mission briefings went, it was petty clear. "No, sir,"
he said.

"Then don't worry about a thing. Just relax and let the
world go by until we reach our destination." The hand patted his shoulder twice,
reassuringly.

Carr felt his emotions evaporate. He slouched in his seat
and stared, aimlessly and almost thoughtlessly out the windows.

Ambush

Ashfell put down the phone and turned apologetically to Lt. Colonel Dunn. "Well,
it seems I can't even take a day off these days without someone doing something
stupid."

Dunn sipped his brandy and looked sadly at the go
board. "I suppose you have to leave." Ashfell had actually been losing. His
game was off today.

"I'm afraid so. They are sending a car for me."

"I don't suppose you can tell me what is up."

Ashfell considered. Most of what he did was strictly secret,
but Dunn knew enough about his charges that he could talk in broad terms about
them. "Midnight decided to award Fullmetal with his arm back. Without consulting
me."

"Oh my." Dunn touched the collar of his shirt uncomfortably.
"I thought he still had a few months before he was to be released. I don't suppose
jail has tamed him much has it?"

Ashfell considered it. "Perhaps a bit." It had been about
a month since Ed had acted up, and honestly even then it hadn't been much. Calling
Midnight insults. Insubordination. He hadn't shown any actual violent tendencies
after the first week. It was, in fact, quite possible that he would arrive back
at the 5th lab to find it absolutely normal.

But that didn't mean that Ed could keep the arm. Not in
jail. It would be too much of a temptation to break out.

The array was in its final stages at this point. Perhaps
it would be best to move the schedule of a few things up. Mustang would have
to wait for the Fuhrer to arrive, but Al and Ed could have their minds wiped
of the experiment at any point now. Then they could be released to go on more
typical missions.

Midnight and Mustang could handle the fine tuning by themselves.
The Flame alchemist had a rather vested interest in making sure it worked correctly.
He doubted the man would like to suffer brain damage on top of losing his will.

"I need to make a few calls," Ashfell said. "It took six
men to take down Fullmetal the first time. I want to make sure I have at least
that many with me when I get that arm back off of him."

He was midway through the call when he heard the bell
to the front door. Dunn rose to get it. A moment later he returned with a somewhat
familiar looking young man. "He says he's from the lab, " Dunn said.

The man saluted sharply at Ashfell. "Sir, I've been ordered
to escort you back to the lab."

"I just heard," Ashfell said, well that was quick. "Have
there been any problems? Will we need to call in reinforcements?"

"I haven't heard of any damage, sir." Ashfell searched
to remember the soldier's name. He was sure he'd seen him before around the
5th lab, but it wasn't a person he worked with frequently. "We have a car waiting
for you, sir."

Carr. That was it. Ashfell frowned. Low level security.
If they were sending him out to escort Ashfell that meant that others must be
tied up at the lab. Not good. Not good at all.

Ashfell gave Dunn a final salute and grabbed his jacket
from the coat closet. "I'll give you a call when things settle out a bit. I
have a feeling that Fullmetal is giving my men something of a problem."

"I wonder why Midnight would do such a thing."

Ashfell shook his head. "He's naïve." But it did
bother him. Midnight wasn't stupid. This made no sense.

They walked out to the car, Carr staying a respectful
step behind him, stepping ahead only when they got close enough for him to open
the door. Ashfell slid onto the seat and scooted over to let Carr sit beside
him.

Ashfell glanced at Carr. The man was doing his best to
imitate a mannequin. "You can relax soldier."

Carr just continued to stare blankly ahead.

The car moved out, and Ashfell pondered the situation.
Midnight had bucked his authority before, but giving Fullmetal back his arm
seemed strange even for him. Even without his arm, Fullmetal was a handful—
quite capable of making arrays that could do quite a bit of damage. It took
a delicate combination of threats and incentives to keep him in line. Adding
the arm back in the mix was like lighting a cigarette around gasoline. Midnight
couldn't be so colossally stupid to not realize that.

The car took an odd turn, and Ashfell suddenly came back
to his situation. Instead of getting on the road back into town, they had turned
off on a country lane headed OUT of Central. Ashfell's heart began to hammer.
He took in his position.

He gave his driver a close look for the first time. Long
pretty blond hair tied in a neat uniform-acceptable twist. She was not one of
his usual drivers.

"Soldier," he spoke up. "You've taking a wrong turn there.
Are you not familiar with the route?" He put his hand to his gun, releasing
the catch and loosening it from it's holster.

"I'm sorry, sir," she said back. "I'll turn us around
over here." She pulled into a long gravel driveway, and rode in past the gates
to an area where tall hedges lined the way. She then inexplicably stopped.

This was an ambush.

Ashfell ducked down for cover reaching his arm up to place
the gun to the back of her head. The girl jumped and shook, turning her head
enough to see for certain what it was pressing against her. He recognized her
vaguely, but couldn't quite place her face.

"Soldier, you will back us up at once, or I will blow
your brains out." If they moved back, he could take the advantage again by forcing
his enemy to come out of cover or risk shooting their compatriot.

Several things happened simultaneously at that point.
The first was that Carr had come to life and was grabbing his hand hard pulling
it down. The gun went off, through the seat back to put a starred hole in the
windshield. The driver screamed and ducked down. At the same time the entire
roof of the car mysteriously twisted and ripped away.

Ashfell looked up to see a small lithe form leaping into
the car onto his lap.

The shock and sudden weight made him freeze, and for a
moment he could only look into Fullmetal's wide golden eyes. The young man awarded
him with an insane grin and pressed a blade against his throat.

"I suggest you surrender," came a familiar, smooth voice
from the bushes. Ashfell looked over to see Roy Mustang walk out.

Ashfell swallowed. Pieces fell into place. They'd used
the array. On Carr for sure. Maybe on others. Who knew how many of his people
at the lab were compromised.

He needed to get to a phone. An assault team was needed.
Anyone who didn't immediately surrender would be shot. What a mess, what a mess.
How had this happened? The prisoners were being specifically watched to prevent
this from happening. The array hadn't even gone to human trials yet. Someone
must have gotten sloppy.

Ashfell pushed up suddenly, and by sheer strength prized
his arm away from Carr and threw Fullmetal off his lap and into Carr's . The
kid had a lot of wild energy, but he still weighed almost nothing. For a moment
the two of them were tangled enough for Ashfell to raise his gun again and fire
a round at Fullmetal.

There was a clank as the bullet hit automail and ricocheted
into the car door.

Then the seat at his back undulated around him and wound
him around the chest and arms in leather coils. Ashfell looked back and saw
Al perched on the trunk of the car with a piece of chalk in his hand. "Drop
that gun or I'll squeeze you." He touched his hand down on his impromptu array
and the coils tightened, threatening to cut off Ashfells breath.

This was out of control.

"Are you ok, Brother?"

Fullmetal rubbed his automail arm. "I seem to be. I think."

"Listen, there is no way the three of you can fight off
the entire army. They know what is up. Surrender or you will be hunted down
and shot."

The coils tightened more and Ashfell couldn't speak. The
gun dropped out of his hand and fell on the floor.

"Carr, get that," Mustang said. Carr retreaved the gun
and held it on Ashfell. "Al, loosen up, I think he's turning blue."

Ashfell gasped for breath when the leather loosened.

Wait. Wait. Wait for the slip up. They didn't want him
dead, or they would have killed him by now. They wanted something from him.

"You should have run while you could, Mustang. Is this
revenge coming after me?"

"Hardly. You are here because you are useful."

A fourth figure stepped out of the bushes. Midnight. "We
need your help," he said.

"Midnight, are you stupid or psychotic?" Or arrayed, thought
Ashfell with a sudden lurch. Oh god, he was arrayed. It all made sense. And
that would mean that they meant to...

Ashfell fought against the straps hard. "If you think
I'll sit still while you draw your blasted array on me, you have another thing
coming. I'd rather die."

Ed crawled back into his lap, his automail arm shifted
back into shape. "Where should I put it?"

"Wherever you can," Roy said. "Somewhere where it won't
be readily seen."

Ed considered. "Well, Al's got him tied up pretty good,
so I don't want to mess with that. Hmmm. Winry, you better climb out." The blond
driver scrambled quickly out of the car and Ed clapped his hands and pressed
it to the seat in front of them. The driver's seat jerked a couple of feet forward
along with the entire front half of the car. The part they were in suddenly
fell downward a foot to rest on the gravel.

Ashfell struggled again, but each time he did the straps
tightened just a bit more.

Ed capered down his legs and crouched on the gravel near
his feet. "How about here."

Ashfell kicked him. Hard. But Ed's reaction time was uncanny.
The kid pulled his head just a fraction of an inch out of range, and the only
thing Ashfell's shoe connected with was the fringe of blond hair on the side
of his face.

Midnight and Carr soon flanked Ed, each holding down one
of Ashfell's legs. Ed jerked the laces of his left shoe undone, and while Ashfell's
eyes widened pulled the shoe off entirely. The grey sock followed.

"This wont hurt," Ed said. "I don't think." He clapped
his hands again and placed them on the sole of his foot.

Oh god, it didn't hurt but it felt weird. Like something
twisting under his flesh. Ashfell let out a scream, not out of pain but rather
to alert anyone to his presence.

"Just turning a bit of your skin into graphite."

"Make it deep, " said Al. "The feet shed pretty regularly.
We don't want this wearing off."

Ashfell wanted to kill Al. He could imagine the sound
the kids twig thin neck would make when he snapped the vertebrae.

"Done," Ed said.

"I'm going to kill you all," Ashfell growled.

Al slid down into the seat vacated by Carr, and smiled
sweetly at him. "You shouldn't threaten people on their birthday." Ed and Midnight
bent Ashfell's foot up across his knee. "Especially not people who can do this."
Al reached over with the tip of one finger and touched.

Ashfell screamed one last time.