velvet mace


chapter 30. Close Call

Winry slipped the scalpel through the seam of her jacket.
One last time, she thought, poor baby. One last time and I'll never
have to do this to you again.

Five bottles this time, lined up on the desk. Chloroform.
Useful for minor surgery. Easily administered. Toxic in large doses, but large
doses weren't needed. Just speed and effectiveness, and silence.

No one had to die, Roy promised. And Winry was relieved
because despite what she asserted to Al, she wasn't sure she could pull
the trigger. She had no problems drugging people, though.

She pushed the first bottle into the lumpy insulation
of her jacket, manipulating it through the fabric until it rested on the far
side. She didn't want the bottles accidentally touching each other and clinking,
or worse breaking. That would be embarrassing. And deadly.

She pushed the second bottle in.

A hand flew past her arm and grabbed a bottle off her
desk. Winry let out a shriek and spun around.

"Winry," said Angie, her face contorted in dismay and
disgust. "YOU are the one? You are the person selling off our supplies?"

Winry grabbed Angie's hand. Angie pulled away and stepped
back towards the door. "No. This isn't—Angie, please. Just hold a moment
before you tell someone."

Angie's eyes narrowed and she shook her head as if to
negate the situation. "Winry we NEEDED those drugs. You know how people have

"I didn't take them," hissed Winry, hoping her earlier
cry wouldn't bring anyone else in. "You have to believe me. I've never stolen
a drop of morphine or antibiotic."

"So you say this is the first time?"

Should I lie? I'm not a good liar. "No, I took a bottle
of GHB."

"The date rape drug?" Angie looked at the bottle in her
hand. "Anesthetics? What are you up to?"

"Angie," said Winry pleading with her eyes as best she
could. "Give me one day. One day, that's all. This will never happen again.
I took Mr. Sugar off your hands. You owe me twenty-four measly hours. Please."

Angie held her breath a moment. "No, I'm not going to
rat you out. You are one of the good people here. Just please don't do this.
I don't want you thrown in jail. If you need money, talk to me about it, maybe
some of the other girls and I can do something."

Winry clutched her chest. "Thank you. Thank you." She
then held out her hand. "I need that, please."

Angie looked at the bottle. "Do I want to know what you
are up to?" she asked.

"No you really, really don't."

"Wipe my prints off," said Angie. She handed back the
bottle. Winry made a show of it, then pushed it into her coat.

Angie shook her head and walked away.

Winry hurried through the rest of her preparations and
sewed the seam of her coat crudely closed. Her hand was shaking too hard. Anyone
looking at her coat would see that cut. Oh god it was so obvious.

She nearly went through the roof when the MP walked into
her room. "I have a message for you, Rockbell." He saw her face, drained of
color. "Are you ok?"

"I'm fine," she mustered. She grabbed the message, her
heart hammering holes in her chest. She almost couldn't read the words.

It was from Ashfell: "Winry Rockbell's assistance is requested
at the 5th lab ASAP."

"You better go quickly," the MP suggested. "They aren't
the kind to piss off."

She nodded weakly.

Never did the six blocks seem so long. Her coat clinked
despite her efforts. She didn't know if stopping and re-adjusting was the way
to go, or if that would just make her look more suspicious. In the end she chose
to keep walking forward and pretend she didn't hear the ominous sound of glass
on glass.

She arrived at the gate feeling flustered and sweaty.
Here it goes.

"I have a note," she said weakly, handing out the phone
message to the rather sharp looking soldier. His gun, for once, was slung at
the ready, rather than laid casually in the corner of his hut. He looked over
the message, then called on his phone. His gun aimed in her general direction.

Winry imagined her coat clinked as she backed up involuntarily.
She fought the urge to stick her hands in her coat. That would be too threatening.
She left them out at her sides. No sudden moves.

"Yessir," the soldier said into the phone, then ushered
her forward with the gun. "Follow directions. Don't go anywhere you aren't specifically
told to." Winry turned to go, but then felt a hand on her arm. "You'll need
this," the soldier said, and gave her a bright green badge that said VISITOR.
"Wear this at all times."

One hurdle down. The next was only a few short steps away
through the heavy double doors, and at this point there was no avoiding it.
It was too late to run.

She grimly walked up to the security desk inside the lobby
of the building. She'd done this so many, many times, but never in all that
were there TWO guards manning that station.

She took off her coat and balled it up on the desk the
way she had every other time. She recognized the guards, but they looked different
this time. The lines of their faces were hard. Their eyes were sharp. One reached
and inspected the visitor's badge around her neck, flipping it over. The other...

The other went for her coat, lifting it up and putting
his hands in the pockets. Feeling around in the insulation.

Winry couldn't breathe. The first guard's hands on her
were hard and unyielding, pressing against her sides, under her breasts, down
her legs. She gritted her teeth and tried to keep her expression blank. He finished
patting her down and stepped back with a nod. "She's clean."

He noticed Winry's ragged breathing. "Didn't mean to get
you hot," he suddenly cracked.

Winry's breath stopped.

Oh my god... he's COMING ON TO ME! She couldn't
help herself; she let out an embarrassing whoop of a laugh. With every fiber
of her being she latched onto the act of this being a casual flirt. "That was
quite a pat down."

"I aim to please," he smirked.

The other soldier gave her coat one last squeeze, then
handed it back to her. "There you go, Private Rockbell. You are expected upstairs."

She took the jacket with complete disjointed astonishment.
The soldier MUST have felt the bottles in there. Yet his face was blank.

Arrayed. Had to be. Only possible explanation.

My god, this place was like a minefield. Who were on her
side and who weren't? The arrayed guard gave her absolutely no indication he
was in on the conspiracy. He led her past the heavy security doors and to the
elevators in an efficient manner, never once smiling or reassuring her in any
way. Not even a glimmer of connection in his eyes.

Maybe he had just missed the bottles—but HOW?

She let him press the button that lead to Al's floor.
She walked down the hall to his room by herself.

Al opened the door and she threw her hands around him.
After a moment, he pushed her back. "Are you sure you want to be here?" he said.
"There is still time..."

"I'm here," said Winry with more conviction than she felt.
"We are doing this together."

Al smiled and led her farther into the apartment.


Midnight ran his hands down the sides of his dress uniform,
smoothing out invisible wrinkles. It was a cold morning, but he felt uncomfortably
warm, and he hoped that he wasn't sweating visibly. The military train was late.
Why did that surprise him?

He looked at his pocket watch. Alchemical amplifier, phooey.
The only thing he'd ever used it for was to tell time, and while it did a good
enough job of that, so would any other watch. Was it worth it? For years his
name and position had been everything for him, but in the last couple of weeks
he found himself wishing people would just call him Andrew Gardener. His job,
which had been his pride and joy, had come to feel like a noose around his head.

After this is over, I'm requesting a vacation, he
thought. I'm not built to handle this kind of stress.

The Fuhrer wasn't going to make it any easier, either.
Midnight found himself remembering Bradley fondly. That Fuhrer had ignored him
except for friendly greetings in the halls. This Fuhrer just wouldn't let up.

Fuhrer Bradley also had the reputation for winning his
wars, and never biting off more in conflict than he had the manpower to win.
Goddard thought he could do Bradley one better. This miserable, unwinnable war
was pure hubris.

But no one dared say that to Goddard's face. Those who
opposed Goddard had an alarming tendency to change their minds fast or disappear.

Would it be unmanly to run away?

The train finally pulled into the station, filling the
air with steam and the smell of grease and soot. Midnight waved a hand in front
of his face to clear his vision, and then focused on the sea of uniforms that
spilled from the doorways. Most had passed him by when the doors to the officers
car opened up and the Fuhrer's entourage finally emerged. Four dour looking
men and a rather attractive woman exited, speaking somberly to each other. Two
wore military uniforms, ranking generals, the rest civilian clothes of the latest
and most expensive cut. Then the Fuhrer himself emerged, stiffly climbing down
onto the platform.

Fuhrer Goddard didn't smile when his eyes met Midnight's.
Midnight didn't expect him to, and was just as glad he didn't. The Fuhrer's
smiles usually came with unreasonable demands attached.

"Well there, Midnight," he said. "That train ride was
very long. Where are my drivers and security." He scanned about the platform.

"Over here, sir," said Midnight quickly and gestured towards
a line of stiff looking men.

Goddard scanned the row. "After a long ride, a man of
my position would like something easy to rest his eyes on, but I guess this
will have to do. What an ugly lot. Avery has no sense of aesthetics." He walked
the line and nitpicked the poor men. Boots were not shiny enough. A collar was
fractionally askew. Midnight knew it was all bullshit. There was not a hair
out of place on this lot. He felt a little guilty that he was glad this treatment
wasn't aimed at him.

That thought turned out to be premature. "You're letting
your hair get too long, Midnight," said the Fuhrer. "Some men can pull it off,
but not you. It looks sloppy."

There was no point in saying anything but, "Yes, sir."
The Fuhrer looked slightly disappointed when Midnight didn't defend himself,
but let it pass. "The car is this way."

It would take three cars to bring his entire entourage
to the fifth laboratory. The Fuhrer and the pretty woman and Midnight were slated
for one car. The other 4 of his group were placed in another car with a single
guard. The last vehicle was a larger truck where the rest of the security went.

The Fuhrer seemed only a bit put off when one of the vehicles
failed to arrive at the 5th lab. The four of the Fuhrer's entourage would be
stuck at the side of the road for a while. Midnight wished it could have been
the truck carrying security, but that would arouse too much suspicion.

Ashfell met them at the doors and ushered the Fuhrer and
his guest quickly past security.

The Fuhrer looked the place over. "Is this building structurally
sound?" he asked.

"Yes sir," Ashfell said. "It's passed inspection."

"That may be, but I'm not staying here any longer than
I have to."

"Yes sir."

Midnight's heart hammered. The idea had been to take the
Fuhrer to his apartment first. That is where the take down would happen... That's
where Ed, Roy, and Al were. That's where the arrayed security were positioned.
But if the Fuhrer wasn't going to be staying...

"Ashfell," continued the Fuhrer, "Look up the mechanic
who serviced that other car and send him to Avery for demotion and transferal.
He obviously has no skill."

"Yes, sir." Ashfell reached for the up button on the elevator,
but the Fuhrer put his hand on Ashfell's. "The prisoner is kept in the basement
is he not?"

"Yes, but, I figured you'd want to freshen up first."

"Don't assume things about me," said Goddard.

"I..." Ashfell suddenly nodded. "Of course. The basement
it is." He pressed the button going down.

Midnight was suddenly very aware of how many armed men
were pressed around him.

Plan B

Devers smiled at Winry. She was a good girl, a bit on
the young side, but pretty and smart. A little jumpy, but that was to be expected.

He felt calm enough, and that was a little surprising
considering what was going on. But that was the way the arrays worked, he supposed.
This was a take down, just the way last week had been a take down. Only this
one was a bit more complicated.

Winry took to her job like a natural, memorizing the communications
board quickly enough. She had the headphones hooked over one ear and off the
other so that she could hear him and still monitor the various microphones around
the building.

This was the heart of the building. Its inner sanctum.
Its most secure spot. This is where all the wires ultimately led. The two who
were scheduled to man the equipment had been arrayed and sent up to Al's room
to await the Fuhrer. Devers and Winry were alone. Under other circumstances...

Only one man had seen him bring Winry in, and that had
caused a hairy moment. The excuse that he was training Winry on the equipment
was a lame one. The unspoken implication that he was using it as a make out
spot during the Fuhrer's visit was even more out of character. The last thing
he needed was his own unarrayed men and women jumpy and on edge about his behavior,
but it couldn't be helped.

"Are you sure you want to be doing this, sir?" his underling
had asked in a very hesitant voice. "This is a really bad time..." The man recognized
Winry as Al's girlfriend. "And, if you excuse me, a bad choice."

"Don't worry about it. I take full responsibility for
my actions."

In the end loyalty won out over both propriety and good
sense, but only barely. Devers suspected if the man had ANY idea that the arrays
existed, he would have been pressing the panic button and everything would have
been lost. But thankfully even the notion of a slavery array was beyond this
soldier's imagination.

Winry's voice brought Devers back to the present. "Here
they are," she said, pointing to the outside camera. Devers saw the black car
pull up at the front gate. Midnight exited first and nodded at the camera. Then
came the Fuhrer and a woman.

Dever's leaned forward and spoke into the comm. "Big Fish
sited. Are we a-go?"

"Corridor, go," came one voice.

"Lobby, go," came another.

"We're good here," came Edward Elric's voice from the
Fuhrer's apartment.

The rest of the conspirators called in their readiness.

Devers watched the Fuhrer walk through the security down
to the elevator. Winry suddenly let out a gasp. "They are going DOWN not up."
She met Devers eyes.

Dever felt a moment of panic. They had a man down there
just in case, but one man against—Dever's counted—five security plus the
Fuhrer. Ashfell and Midnight would help, but, it was not a fair fight.

The rest of the security were heading to the stairs...

Not good. Not good.

Devers grabbed the comm. "Big fish going DOWN. Plan B.
Five on stairway."

His hands then jumped for the circuits.

Winry was right with him, tools and fingers in the wires.
"Alarms cut," she said.

Half a second later, Devers flipped the switches, for
the elevator and power for the fourth basement level. There was no camera in
the elevator itself, but one mounted at the top of the shaft registered the
elevator car shake and stop.

The camera mounted on the 4th floor corridor went dead;
the security door locked down.

They needed time and they would get it, but at a cost.

Any hope of surprise was lost.

When he allowed the elevator to open, it would disgorge
guards armed and ready to shoot. The only question left was how well sound traveled,
and if the bullets would bring the rest of his men down or not.

Devers' eyes met Winry's. Even with the array, Devers
was afraid.