velvet mace

Ward of the State

Al squirmed a bit in the hard train seat. He looked down at his bare hands, then up again at the bleak Siberian landscape. Then, finally, he looked at the only other person in the private compartment.

The man looked like Shou Tucker—the human man, not the chimera he'd become. He spoke in the same soft tones, and he had the same innocent eyes. But he wasn't Tucker. Just as none of the other doppelgangers had really been the people they resembled in Al's world.

"Are you hungry?" asked Dr. Mendel, in that eerily familiar gentle tone. "Fourteen-year-old geniuses should eat."

"I wish you'd let me call my brother," said Al. "He'll be worried about me. Let me tell him I'm not dead in a ditch somewhere."

The scientist seemed not to hear him. He merely pushed his wire rimmed glasses up his nose and looked down at the train's menu. "You are a growing boy, Alphonse Elric. Let me buy you a sandwich from the dining car."

"I'm not going to work on rockets for the Russians," said Al firmly. "Your government can take me into the wasteland, but they can't make me invent. You might as well let me go. I'm worthless to you."

Dr. Mendel patted Al's shoulder in a kindly way. "Ah but you won't be working for the Russian Government, you will be working for the People of the Soviet Union." The big man tilted his head. "Don't tell me you were so attached to Germany. It's not like you grew up there. And except for your brother you have no family ties, and few friends."

Al frowned hard, but it was true.

"We did our research on you. You scored perfectly on the university's entrance exam and you are top of your class in both Physics and Chemistry, yet your fellow students shun you because of your age. You worked for a bakery, where you intimidate your coworkers with your intelligence. Don't tell me you'll miss that life, Alphonse."

Al said nothing.

"Why not work for us instead, Alphonse? We have many bright, interesting scientists at the Institute. I'm sure you will soon have many friends."

"You took me against my will," Al muttered. He slouched deeper in his seat as the weight of hopelessness pressed heavier on his soul. "You drugged me and shoved me in the trunk of a car. I said 'no,' but you made me board the train anyway."

Dr. Mendel shook his head, as thought Al had said something ridiculous. "Alphonse, you are underage, an orphan with no legal guardian, and there is no proof that Edward Elric is even related to you. I have papers right here that say you are a citizen of the Soviet Union. No court on Earth will dispute my country's claim to you." He reached into his briefcase and showed Al the birth certificate again.

Al shuddered and looked away. "You put a gun against my back and you bruised my arm."

Dr. Mendel sighed. "Fourteen-year-olds are so dramatic." He smiled that falsely gentle grin again—the same one that Tucker had so often used on his daughter. "Really, a genius like you should know—one cannot kidnap one's own legal ward."