“We’re reaching the coordinates of the power flux, Captain.” Breda said as he pulled up the readings on the screen. Before them the black expanse of space was lit by a pulsing arc of quantum energy. The blue-white glow sparked and flashed as quantum energy held a tear in space open. A ship was about to come through, but since this was a silent uninhabited part of the galaxy they were a little wary. Very few ships traveled through this quadrant of space, only the ones without jump-gate technology. And then, only the very desperate or the very foolish.
Someone was trying to hide or sneak about. Those were the only two conclusions as to why a jump-gate had been opened to these coordinates. Which was also the reason their own ship had been close enough for proximity radar to pick up on the energy surge. Then again Phoenix had a reason to be skulking about in the dark dredges of space. A ship full of outlaw mercenaries for hire needed a place to hide from any and all authorities this galaxy and any neighboring ones might send after them.
“Let’s see what comes out. Put the shields up just in case it’s a Homunculus vessel,” Roy said as he leaned forward in his seat. “The last thing we need right now is an attack.”
“Perhaps we shouldn’t be waiting to see what comes out the other end of this jump gate?” Breda asked from his own post. The man was a brilliant tactician, but he lacked the desire to put much effort towards anything physical. And he liked the idea of fighting a TGS battlecruiser or a Homunculus warship even less.
“Either we get a jump on a Homunculus ship or we are here to help someone in need,” Roy replied.
“And if they happen to be a Terran Galactic Senate ship?” Riza asked. As first mate it was her job to keep the crew in line and their captain in check. Sometimes she worried that the injuries he had incurred in his youth had caused brain damage. Then again, it was possible none of them possessed a healthy amount of sanity and they were all collectively a bit mentally skewed. It certainly would explain how they all managed to live in such a chaotic environment.
A ship with one or two outlaw crew members was a common thing these days. A ship made up entirely of outlaws of varying degree and crime was unusual. Mainly because not a one of them would be spared if the TGS ever got their grimy hands on them. And the so-called crimes continued if only because every single action they took was illegal now that all of them had bounties on their heads. By their own design their lives were chaotic and comprised of; hiding, doing a job, and getting into and out of all manner of trouble. There were days where Riza considered going back on her word if only for the sake of a quiet week spent not worrying about her crew. And yet, she doubted if she could ever leave them all to their own devices.
“We’ll know that by their ship before they can see us,” Roy replied calmly . He exuded confidence in moments like these, though more often then not he had no clue what he was doing. When he’d been unanimously voted captain by the crew he had agreed merely out of a gratefulness for their acceptance of him. Now he saw it as his duty to lead his crew and lead them well. Even if he had no idea where he was leading them, if he kept calm and confident then they would remain calm themselves. For the most part he thought he did alright. Sure he made mistakes, and there was the incident involving Hughes, but other than that no one had died or been apprehended. He’d take his victories, small though they might be, whenever he could.
“I hope so,” Riza said quietly.
Roy sighed as he looked at the screen, he was wearing the usual which meant a standard under shirt, lunar vest, indigo slacks, and the black thermal long coat he never went anywhere without. In contrast Riza wore a bright silvery lunar jacket, black cargo pants, an embroidered blouse, and two laser pistols on her hips.
The rest of the crew looked as haphazard as their names were. The pilot Havoc seemed half dressed for a date but not quite there. He was missing a jacket and a tie, and his bangs stuck out at all angles as though he’d slept face down in his pillow and then not combed it before coming to the bridge. But his blue eyes were keen always ready for danger and action. His experience in unique situations made him a valuable member.
Fuery was in sensible clothes that only helped make him look like the tenderhearted intellectual he was. His digital spectacles rested high on his nose. As their com operator he took it seriously and was always eager to do a good job. Today as with every day his station was cluttered with whichever project he was working on now.
Breda was in something comfy and by default, sloppy which suited their navigator just fine.
Falman was wearing a thick sweater with slacks. He stood ramrod as always going over the data the ship took in. The man was a brilliant negotiator and even better at remembering facts and info.
Other crew members weren’t around but if their first mate had to guess they all were similarly dressed. Each displaying their personalities in the outfits they chose to wear every day.
Roy looked the part of a captain even if he really had no clue what he was doing. Waiting for an unknown ship to come out of a jump-gate in a mostly reliable cruiser was proof enough. But what he lacked in experience he made up for in heart and attitude. Hell, Riza had hired this band of misfits but it was his natural swagger that had convinced them to stay on permanently.
Even if he was being foolish, the crew often went along to see what happened. Phoenix was always an interesting ship to be aboard because if they weren’t in the middle of an adventure someone was hard at work creating trouble or shenanigans.
Together they all found themselves a kind of family. A superbly dysfunctional, irrational, and often idiotic family. But a family nonetheless.
A silence fell over the ship as they waited. Finally, the pulsing energy exploded in light and a small cargo cruiser emerged from the gate. Roy smirked. Riza rolled her eyes as she watched. As the ship moved towards them it became apparent, the cargo ship had suffered some damage.
Once the ship left the gate Roy turned to Kain. “Open a scrambled channel.” Kain nodded when the communication line was ready. “I am Captain Roy Mustang of Phoenix. I can offer you assistance.”
There was a mumbled curse on the other side. “Shit, get that engine under control Winry! We’ve got company! What the hell do you want?”
Roy chuckled. “I’m offering to help you out. Looks like your ship has taken a beating. If you dock with us I can offer supplies and engineering help.”
“Why?” The shrill youthful voice demanded.
“Ever heard of the Black Phoenix?” Roy asked.
“Wait, the mercenary for hire?” A feminine voice asked.
“Got it in one, so you want my help or not?” Roy looked at Riza raising an eyebrow. It sounded like they were teens.
“Yeah whatever, but don’t think you can take advantage of us!”
Roy laughed outright. “I don’t think there’s anything you have you can offer me.” Roy shook his head and turned to head for the airlock. Might as well meet this kid at the door.
Riza followed behind always at his side and always watching his back. He stripped off his coat and tied it around his waist. Experience had taught him to be mindful of his appearance. A big black coat was often seen as ominous, regardless of how useful it was or how friendly he seemed.
“What if it’s a trap?” She asked as they hurried down the corridor. The fear that someone somewhere would come after them using their proclivity to help others against them was always in the back of her mind. Every job they took, every derelict ship they aided, every wrongfully titled outlaw they ferried, and every innocent waif who begged for help was a possible threat.
“Then I’ll deal with it the same way I always do,” he answered. That’s not what she wanted to hear and he knew it. But it was true, he didn’t know any other way to handle threats than to behave in the manner he was trained. And he wasn’t trained to be very discreet or merciful.
She grabbed his shoulder. “Roy you can’t keep putting yourself in danger like that. What if the Terran government finds you? The only reason they want you back is so they can dissect you. The ones that haven’t gone berserk or lost their powers are being collected so they can find out how to duplicate their successes.” Her voice was gentle but the words still cut deep. He paused, and the bravado deflated. He slumped his hands clenching into fists.
“If I could change what I am, then I would.” With that, he continued walking.
“I just worry about you,” Riza murmured. “I know what you went through and I don’t want you to go through it a second time.” Roy could hear the concern and the intimate understanding of his past in her voice. Sometimes he hated her for what she reminded him of, other times he was so very grateful to have her at his side. At the moment he couldn’t decide how he felt about her, he’d been feeling that way a lot lately. But he had business to attend so he really couldn’t dwell on it any longer.
“Let’s not worry about any of that. We have what I assume is a couple of teens in need of our help.” He stopped at the airlock replacing his facade with a confident smile.
‘Phoenix is docking with the cargo ship now.’ Kain’s voice echoed from the speakers on the wall. The ship shuddered as the smaller one attached to it groaning as metal ground together until it stopped abruptly. The airlock clanged and then hissed for several long minutes as atmosphere pumped into the corridor between the two ships. When the light on the panel finally turned green Roy keyed in the code and the door began to open. He was shocked to see not two teens but six.
One of which was wearing a janky looking battle class exoskeleton. Roy’s eyes darted to Riza who gave him an encouraging smile and an eyebrow raise. He focused on the group at the other end of the airlock.
Two blond boys one of which was in the exoskeleton and the other in a garish red jacket, a blonde girl in a coverall and shirt, two Xingese girls, the elder in black the younger in pink, and one Xingese boy in yellow pants and a black vest. “I am Captain Roy Mustang, welcome aboard Phoenix.” He made a welcoming gesture stepping aside to let them onto his ship.
They cautiously moved forward with wary eyes and hands hovering over the places they probably had weapons hidden on them. The boy in front glared at him as the others took in the much larger cruiser. The Xingese boy seemed more friendly outright, but it was obvious the one in charge was the boy in red. The one who was currently fixing Roy with a very appraising look. The older man smiled and pointed out Riza at his side. “This is my first mate Riza Hawkeye.”
Riza smiled at them, “Please let me know if there is anything you need.”
“I’m Edward Elric, this is my brother Alphonse, Winry Rockbell, Ling Yao, Mei Chang, and Lan Fan.” The blond boy with the still undeveloped voice introduced his crew. “Thanks, but we really just want to get our ship fixed and be gone.”
“Not a problem. I’ll send Kain and Vato to assist you.” Roy turned for a communication panel. “Kain, you and Vato are going to take a look at their engines. Go ahead and get started on that right away.”
‘Sure thing Captain.’
“Can I at least offer you a warm meal?” Roy asked turning back to the teens still standing nervously in front of the airlock.
They all shared a look and slowly nodded. “Yes please,” Alphonse said eagerly.
“We would be very glad for a nice meal,” Ling said as he nodded his thanks to Roy.
He and Riza led them to the galley not bothering to give them a tour. The teens stared when they realized Phoenix had a protein sequencer. “Jackpot!” Ed shouted rushing for the machine.
“Brother that’s bad manners!” Alphonse scolded as he tried to stop the other boy from taking too much food. But Ed was already punching in items with gusto. Seems these kids were in need of a good meal or two on top of the engine repairs.
“We’ll get to eat whatever we want,” Mei said excitedly. “I haven’t had food from my world in years.” She looked genuinely excited but something in her words subdued her enthusiasm.
“Please, eat whatever you like, as much as you like,” Roy chuckled as he sat down at the big table in the center of the room. He didn’t believe in people sitting apart from each other on his ship and insisted on having one big table everyone had to sit at together. Food was said to be a great way of connecting with others and Roy believed it.
Dinner was a messy, loud affair as six teens set into their food as though they hadn’t had real food in days. Judging by the age and state of their ship they probably hadn’t. Not to mention the way they watched Roy and Riza warily. These kids had been through something and Roy wanted to know what. He also knew they were never going to answer any outright questions, but maybe he could get a bit of the info to have an idea of what had happened to them.
“So who attacked your ship?” Roy started with a simple one.
“No one,” Ed replied eyeing the man. “Flew through a minefield.”
“Minefield?” Roy knew of only one in existence. It surrounded a research facility he had ravaged years ago. The memory made him a little sick. Riza twitched in his peripheral, obviously her mind had gone there too.
“Yeah just kind of went right through it, disturbed a couple of mines and just managed to open a jump gate before anymore went off.” Ed shrugged as though it were a common thing to run into a minefield. However, Roy recognized his tone and nonchalance as a manipulative tactic to lessen the intrigue of the event.
“We were quite fortunate to come across the fabled Phoenix. Again I extend my gratitude for your hospitality,” Ling shifted the focus from themselves to Mustang’s generosity yet another brilliant tactic. If Roy himself weren’t in the business of manipulation, he might not have recognized just how desperate they were to keep their own secrets. It would do him no good to push for info now, not when they didn’t fully trust him.
“Cargo ships like that usually don’t have good water pressure, if you’d like our showers and laundry facilities are yours during your repairs.” He changed his own method from curiosity to even more accommodating. If they didn’t trust him, perhaps he could make them like him.
“Oh yes, please!” Winry shouted in excitement. “I would love a good shower.”
“I’ll show you to them after dinner,” Riza said with a smile. Alphonse and Winry murmured about getting him clean without damaging the exoskeleton while Ling and Ed stared at Roy almost as if in warning.
“So which one of you is the captain of that vessel?” He asked.
“I am” Ed and Ling said in unison. They looked at each other like they might start a fight right there and then turned to look at Roy.
“We sort of share the responsibility,” Ling corrected quickly.
“Interesting,” Roy replied and he could almost feel the death glare from Ed. Good he had gotten under the kid’s skin. “I know you’ve heard something of my reputation, but are you familiar with my policies?” Everyone suddenly went silent and shook their heads. He smirked. “The most important one is that I am always willing to help anyone, however, if you lie about your circumstances and bring the Terran Galactic Senate down on my crew I will not be merciful. I have my own personal reasons for avoiding them and I will not tolerate my crew suffering their cruelty because of dishonesty.” With that he stood and left the mess.
Before the door slid shut behind him he heard a few murmurs. Riza stayed behind to look after them. She knew he was giving her a chance to observe them without him around. Riza wasn’t just a good shot she was very good at watching people and noticing subtle things about them. Her quiet demeanor usually fooled people into underestimating and trusting her subconsciously.
On the bridge Havoc gave Roy a quizzical look. “So what’s up with this cargo ship of teens?”
“I’m not sure but I don’t like what little I got out of them. They mentioned a minefield being responsible for the damage to their ship.”
“Uh-oh, I don’t like where this is going,” Havoc admitted in concern.
“Neither do I Havoc. Either they are running from a facility much like I did, or perhaps they are the bait of a magnificent trap,” he sighed.
“Well chief, you tell me what to do and I will. But if you think for one minute, those kids are bad news we’ll drop 'em at the nearest station,” he promised.
“I know Havoc, thank you.”
The next morning Vato and Kain hurried onto the cargo ship following Winry with their tool kits. Some of the teens, the ones who had any knowledge of engineering, were working on the engine. Meanwhile, Edward was snooping around Phoenix because Roy caught him outside of the storage bays. “Can I help you?”
The kid jumped then turned and glared at him. “What do you want?”
“I want to know what a guest I invited on my ship is doing snooping around our stores,” he replied calmly
“Hm, maybe you shouldn’t have invited that guest.”
“I could always throw you out the airlock,” Roy suggested with a mischievous grin.
“Like you would do that, either you really are trying to help us or you think we’re fugitives you plan on turning in,” Ed rejoined.
“That still doesn’t answer my question. What are you doing here?” He crossed his arms over his chest as he waited. Ed gave him a long thoughtful look. Something in his eyes changed, and he sighed.
“I just wanted to make sure you weren’t TGS. We don’t want any trouble either.” Ed looked at the wall to avoid making eye contact.
“I’m not, I hate the TGS more than most. There’s a lot wrong in this galaxy and they’re responsible for most of it. I just try to do what I can to help others.”
“Yeah, yeah I get it you’re a tender-hearted sap. You’re a little nice to be considered a mercenary though.”
“I don’t really care, besides it gives the cowards a reason to pause before attacking me. I’m just a wandering soul trying to find my place while helping to right the wrongs of this galaxy.”
Ed waved a hand as he walked away. “You can be whatever you want to. I’ll see you later Mustang.”
Roy shook his head then clenched a fist and looked at it. He needed to get more info out of these kids. He had a pretty bad feeling he knew what kind of circumstances they were coming from. They had a familiar wariness about them, especially the brothers and Mei. The type of wariness that came from years of not trusting the people around you for fear of what cruelties would come next. And if that were the case then stars help them all.
Riza and Alphonse had been talking for a while. The poor boy wore a pretty outdated exoskeleton, so she was trying to find some replacement parts in their stores to at least help. “So which colony were you born on?” Al asked, he’d just told her all about the Risembool Colony he and Ed had come from. It sounded like a nice quiet place in an agricultural colony where people didn’t have as much technology. It sounded like a place she’d like to visit someday.
Riza turned from the container she was digging in, “I was born on a space station, I didn’t set foot on a planet until I was grown.”
The boy’s face fell. “Oh, I’m sorry. I can’t imagine being cooped up in space your whole life.” Alphonse couldn’t fathom the idea of not running through grassy fields and rolling down soft hills. The idea of not growing up with such simple pleasures was so alien to him. It was obvious he viewed her different experience as a deficit.
In all honesty she did too, but she wasn’t going to tell a fourteen-year-old boy that. Not if it would only make him pity her. She’d decided she wasn’t going to let pity into her life a long time ago.
“Don’t apologize. I never gave it too much thought and when I did finally set foot on a planet, I had a greater appreciation for it as a whole.” She returned to rummaging through random parts.
“Why did your parents live on a space station?” Al asked meaning no harm.
Still, Riza stiffened and then shook her head, “I really don’t like talking about it. And I found what I was looking for anyway so we should probably get you taken care of.” There was no way she was going to discuss her childhood with him. At least not right now when they didn’t know if it was safe. And even then, if their suspicions about these kids were right, they might not take too kindly to her afterwards.
“Ed will fix the exoskeleton. He’s the only one who can make it work just right. So I’ll just take it to him.” The boy gave her a smile as he took the new knee joint from her. As he left, he took clanging hobbled steps. According to him he had been too close to an engine when it exploded and he’d been paralyzed. The exoskeleton was the only way right now that he could afford to walk. When Riza had asked about biotech replacements he had shrugged.
But something about his story didn’t feel right. There was a too long pause here and a nervous shrug there. She could tell he was trying to convince her, but if he couldn’t convince himself he would never make the lie feel true. Riza sighed because the more she talked to these kids the less answers she got. The one thing she did know for sure was that they were hiding something.
Ling looked at the protein sequencer and hummed in thought. He had no clue what he wanted. The machine was at least a decent cook when it came to food from his homeworld but he hadn’t had real Xingese cuisine in so long he had no clue what he wanted to eat next. As he stood there in thought a shimmering of light began behind him. The particles were silent as they formed into the silhouette of a man. Features grew more defined becoming short black hair, green eyes, rectangular spectacles, a hint of scruff, and a wide welcoming grin.
“Can I help you with that?” Maes asked.
Ling nearly jumped out of his skin turning to look at the man. “What the hell are you?” The young Xingese held an energy scimitar in his right hand and his stance was defensive.
Maes smiled apologetically, “Oops I forgot your species has the ability to sense the life essence of most creatures. I’m technically a hologram, I was a human, but I was mortally wounded. I agreed to have my consciousness downloaded into Phoenix’s hologram projector. I’m Maes Hughes.” He stuck out a hand to shake.
Ling stared at him before following the human custom and took his hand. “Weird, I can feel you physically but your really just a bunch of light particles with a human mind.”
“Yep. Kain did an excellent job of transferring me to the ship. Say wanna see my wife and daughter?” Maes asked waving a hand. New light particles appeared beside him in the form of a picture of a woman and a little girl both with red-brown hair. Ling’s brow furrowed even though his eyes were almost hidden by his squint. “I was married before I died. Elicia was three when it happened. I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving them.”
Ling nodded finally understanding. He finally picked a dish and punched into the machine ready to eat. “So you guys went through a minefield. That’s pretty crazy I’ve only seen one, and it wasn’t in a very nice place. You kids must have been somewhere bad,” Maes continued as Ling sat down to eat. The boy eyed him momentarily.
“We were in a dangerous part of the galaxy if that’s what you want to know. But our reasons for being there are ours.” Ling returned his focus on eating and Maes shrugged before dissipating. He had other places to be.
Like in the engineering bay where the blonde girl was gathering tools to borrow. “Wow you sure know your tools,” Maes stated announcing himself.
Winry turned quickly brandishing the rivet gun in her hand. “Who are you?”
“I’m Maes Hughes, and I manage all the boring stuff of the ship.”
“I’m Winry, I wasn’t stealing. Mr. Fuery said I could grab what I needed to borrow.” Winry assured.
“Never considered you were, just thought I might check on you. “ He smiled warmly.
“Ah well, as you can see I am getting along just fine.” Winry ignored him so he would go away so she could get back to fixing that hunk of junk they called a ship. Maybe if she could have the time and money to upgrade it, they would be able to get on by themselves. When Maes didn’t leave, she sighed and looked at him. “What do you want?”
“Just curious as to why you and your crew mates are so jumpy. Someone says hello and you all go for a weapon,” Maes said.
Winry’s ire turned to caution. “I guess it comes from being in space as long as we have. There aren’t a lot of people like Mustang in the galaxy, we’re used to having to defend ourselves is all.” Winry shrugged trying to look bored. Inside she willed him to leave her alone and forget his questions. They couldn’t tell anyone what they had seen, what they had done. No one would believe them or understand. They just wanted to be free and left alone without needing the help of nosy strangers.
“Ah, the real thing is the minefield story. You know hardly any of those exist in the world. You were pretty lucky to get out of one alive. We encountered one a few years ago, in a very wicked place. Of course that’s how we ended up with Mustang for a captain but that’s another story. Just remember that you shouldn’t go telling others that you went through a minefield. Come up with a better story to tell.”
Winry stared at him as he dissipated off to another part of the ship. She grabbed her tools and ran out terrified she had just met a ghost haunting Phoenix.
Finally Mustang grew tired of trying to win them over and decided a new tactic was needed. He was almost positive he knew what these kids had been through, at least a couple of them. The others must have banded together to get them out of the situation they had been in. In a sense it wasn’t as different as his own experience had been. That thought made him do something he never did.
“All of you, before we sit down to dinner I want to talk to you seriously.” Roy and Riza had stepped into the cargo ship and were blocking the entrance to Phoenix. The teens watched him again still wary of what he was about to do but Alphonse nodded his consent and the man took a deep breath. He was nervous and the kids could tell. Silently Riza put a hand on his shoulder to steady him.
“I know why you went through a minefield, because this very ship went through one once as well. Riza guided it to a human experimentation facility near the Ishvalan territory to get me out of said facility.” He waited tapping his foot. If he had this wrong then he might have just compromised himself and his crew.
Edward stood up and stepped closer. “Where’s your proof you were in one of these facilities?” The boy had turned from wary to forced disbelief. Because now they suspected he was the enemy sent to collect them.
Roy smirked and swept back his messy hair. On his right temple there was a small quarter-inch circle of grey polycarbonate. Ed stared in shock, Al gasped aloud. But it was Mei who seemed to understand. “Is that the installation point for biotech eye implants?”
Roy simply nodded and then lifted a hand and a flame erupted in the palm. They all stared in awe for a moment. They had never seen someone with that power before.
“So you’re an alchemist,” Ling observed with curiosity. “You wouldn’t happen to be one of the successful ones?”
“I’m one of the few who hasn’t gone completely berserk or lost my powers with age.” Roy rubbed the back of his neck. “How many of you are alchemists?”
“Al, Ed, and Mei,” Winry answered. “Ling and I used this ship to get them out.”
Edward turned to chide Winry for her honesty but Roy put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s ok. You’re safe with us. Riza was the daughter of one of the researchers at the facility I came from. I was an orphan who ended up in the facility and underwent the same painful experimentation you did. I even went blind due to the nature of my powers. They replaced my eyes with biotech.”
Ed and Ling shared a look as though they didn’t fully believe Roy’s story.
“You all came from a facility correct? Where is that facility and is it still operating? Are there other alchemists there we can save?” He needed to know, he had never suspected the TGS had more than one alchemist facility out there, but these kids must have come from another one.
“Why should we tell you? What do you plan to do with that information?” Ling asked. He was poised, ready to defend against an attack at a moment’s notice. It made Roy sad to think these children had been through so much in their lives that they behaved like trained soldiers in uncertain situations.
“I’m going to destroy it just like I destroyed the one I came from,” Roy growled.
“You what?” Winry asked.
“I destroyed it. I blew it up from inside. My power gives me the ability to manipulate the very air around us. I just escaped with my own life as it blew apart.”
“What about the other alchemists?” Mei asked in concern.
“They were being terminated. I was going to be sent to reeducation, again. If it didn’t work that time I might have been terminated as well. The other successful test subjects were already sent out for weaponization.” Roy clenched his fists. “I managed to save one other subject, one who was slated for termination due to an emotional malfunction.” He looked at his feet for a long moment in silence. When he looked up he turned to the Elric brothers. “I’ve told you my story now tell me yours.”
“Why should we?” Ed demanded.
“Because I can help you stay out of the TGS’s radar. You need someone who knows what you went through who can help you out. I’m guessing your brother’s inability to walk without an exoskeleton and the fact that two of your limbs are biotech stems from your own experimentation.”
“He’s right, Ed,” Alphonse murmured.
“Alright fine. We were really good at working matter. I can even force matter to change on a molecular level. Al is capable of the same. We were told we might have the ability to bring someone back from the dead. What they had really wanted were bodies they could put programmable plugs into. They tricked us into believing we could do it. So we tried it and it failed and we suffered these injuries because we pushed our bodies too hard. I lost two limbs and Al was paralyzed. Winry was the biotech engineer they called in to take care of me.”
“I came and learned what was going on, I had thought the Elric bothers were at a special school. The TGS told us that, and then they asked me to come help Ed after a terrible accident. They wanted me to become a biotech engineer for the military. They wanted me to make weaponized prosthetics. I was trying to figure out a way to save them when I met Ling who was looking for a way to get his sister out of the same place.”
“Mei and I are only half-siblings, one daughter and one son of the Emperor of the Xing home-world. I’m from the Yao colony and Mei is of the Chang colony. Lan Fan and I were trying to sneak into TGS territory to find Mei. I had managed to find out some rumors, and I was worried about her.”
“I was experimented on to become a healer, but I can move earth as well. When they came for us all I was going to be terminated. They said I was too small and kind for their plans. They wanted me to use my powers in reverse, to make people die instead of heal them. But I couldn’t do it.” Mei’s eyes began to water at the memory.
Silently Roy hugged the girl. He hadn’t meant to make these kids cry. She hugged back tightly. He was surprised by her reaction, and Riza smiled approvingly at him when he looked at her to see if he was doing this right.
“I know what you all went through, I can help you. But I need to know where that facility is. I need to make sure more children don’t get hurt because of it.”
“We’ll tell you,” Lan Fan said quietly. “But in return you help us get to the neutral colonies. We have to meet my grandfather there. This ship is his and we must return it to him.
Roy nodded. “Alright. You can all sleep on Phoenix if you would like. You give us the coordinates to this other facility and we’ll get you to safety,” Roy promised.
“Deal.” Ed shook his hand. It might not have been an ideal situation but at least they could stop lying to the people who had come to their aid. And maybe they could help a few others before watching that hellhole burn. Ed was more relieved than anything else to know that Mustang was like them. It eased his anxiety to know there were others who felt the same way.
The next few days were quiet. The repairs to the cargo ship moved slower than expected. It had taken quite a beating from the few mines it had come in contact with. The crews of both ships were always busy getting ready. Al’s exoskeleton was fixed up to almost like new, Ed and Lanfan’s biotech were given a once over, and they all ate heartily to build up their strength.
Plans for their attack were also made, because they couldn’t go into this blindly. Turns out Roy could detonate the mine field with his power from a safe distance. After that Ed would lead a strike team to get anyone they could out. The problem would be getting everyone out of there before TGS battle cruisers arrived. So Maes was going to scramble the communications from the facility. The beauty of having a crew member connected to the computer in the ship was that the ship’s functions became an extension of him. He would be able to scramble the call for help without even having to think about it.
Roy did not like the idea of going back to an alchemist facility. The night before they would head to it he couldn’t sleep. He sat at the empty mess table with a glass of stray dog whiskey. He was alone until Maes materialized across from him his own holographic drink in hand. “Want some company?”
“Hughes, am I doing the right thing? Did I do the right thing last time?” Roy was already well into his fourth round of stray dog and it showed in the fact that he didn't resist Maes’s company at first.
“Honestly, I don’t know. What I do know is that you have a chance to help more people this time. Those kids will save whoever they can and you will destroy the facility and hopefully that’s the last one. Winry has a program for me to send over when we arrive. It should leech all of their data and then I can sort through it.” Maes said. “This isn’t just an attack. We’re going to learn what other horrors the Terran Galactic Senate is up to. Because we all made a promise to stop the TGS as much as we can.”
Roy nodded. He envied how easily Hughes could simplify something so huge. This wasn’t the first secret facility Roy was going to destroy. And he had only gotten Alex Armstrong out of that one. Mainly because there weren’t any others left. The facility had been about to switch to a new program. Roy had no clue what, he had only heard whispers from those bastards. They never talked business near him.
Riza had managed to get out of the facility after her father died. Her father had been one of the main scientists and it was solely his work that was responsible for Roy’s terrifying power. The man had created one successful alchemist with a very wide range of power. Roy couldn’t just create fire from nothing. He could manipulate liquid or gas molecules with a thought. And the TGS wanted Berthold Hawkeye’s research. However, the knowledge was hidden in a sprawling Nano tattoo on Riza’s back that could only be viewed with a special lens. Of course the answers were also in Roy’s altered genetics.
Riza had then used her father’s stash of blood money to buy a Class B transport ship and a crew. A crew of the most unusual misfits imaginable. Then she’d brought them to the facility and managed Roy and Armstrong’s escape. While he made it out alive and free, it didn’t mean he nor Riza didn't suffer any lingering trauma.
So here Roy was drinking and avoiding his nightmares. It was better than waking up to find he had lit his quarters on fire again. “I guess that’s the best answer I am going to get.” Roy downed the rest of his drink and sighed.
“Hey, you helped those kids. That was the right thing to do. You can’t fix the galaxy in one night Roy. Stars, you can’t fix most of it in a lifetime. But you can leave it better than you found it. You can only do so much. The world can’t get better in one lifetime. That’s why we’re supposed to pass the good on to the next generation. That’s why I agreed to be a hologram. So I can keep teaching Elicia what’s important.”
“I know,” Roy murmured softly. He stood and dropped the glass into the dishwasher and headed for the door. “See you in the morning Hughes.” He stumbled down the hall towards his room.
Maes fizzled out of the mess only to reappear in his and Gracia’s suite. His wife stirred always aware when he was present. As though she could feel his trapped soul emanating from the particle's of light that made up his body. “Maes?” She murmured from under the covers.
“Sorry, I had to talk to Roy for a minute to clear his head. Poor guy still doesn’t think he can do good things sometimes.” He sat on the bed beside her. “Go back to sleep. I’ll stay here with you until the morning.”
Gracia just nodded and turned over getting comfortable again. Maes watched her fall asleep and sighed. He really wished he could sleep by her side just one more time, but holograms didn't have flesh bodies and they didn’t need sleep.
Roy was stopped by a soft voice whispering his name. He turned sure it was the alcohol and saw Riza’s concerned face. “I’m fine,” he assured.
“You aren’t, is it about the nightmares?” She asked gently taking a step forward. It was so obvious that she knew him too well.
“My whole life is a nightmare, you’ll have to be more specific.” Alcohol or not Roy could never delude himself about his own circumstances. He knew he was a monster, knew his life had been an ever changing set from a horror film. And yet here Riza was concerned about his trauma and his PTSD.
“You know what I mean,” she answered quietly.
Roy sighed. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. His eyes twitched, and she knew he had relived the night he lost his eyes. Roy had been connected to one of their diagnostic machines. They had been running the usual mental simulations and assessing his subconscious reaction as well as his conscious reaction. Except they had added a new scenario in which the subject had to face their worst fear. Roy had not done well at the time, then again at twelve he shouldn't have experienced what he did. When Roy panicked he unintentionally activated his powers and attacked the simulation machine. A machine that had been connected to his eyes. Roy had spent the next two years sightless. They had taken the opportunity to hone his powers while he was blind turning him into a frightening adversary who could track enemies without relying on his eyes.
And Riza had been witness to it all. Her father had planned to train her into a kind of handler capable of understanding the alchemist program’s code and power. But she had resented the horrors her father helped create and when he died, she renounced her father’s teachings and sought others who could help her destroy the evil her father had participated in. It was the only way for her to be free of the man.
There were no words between them. They did not need words to communicate anymore. She could see even through the cold biotech lenses, past his swagger, and false arrogance to see the terrified man. Terrified of himself more than anything else. Roy had never gone berserk. But less out of successful experimentation and mostly because Riza prevented him from going that far.
Alchemists had been designed as perfect bio-weapons. Capable of thought, able to adapt to changes, and safely hidden in an innocuous human body. The powers of an alchemist were governed by will and thus deeply connected to emotion. Fifty percent of test subjects went berserk due to an emotional break. When that happened an alchemist was more powerful than ever, capable of intense destruction and usually large numbers of casualties.
They put berserk alchemists down. It was the only way to stop them, a bullet through their head or a lethal injection. Whichever way worked. Roy was silent when Riza put a hand on his cheek. “I won’t let them have you back, not ever. I promised to protect you always, and I will.”
“You also promised you would end me if I ever go berserk. Will you keep that one as well?” He asked. Riza bit her lip wishing he had never asked that of her. But he had, and she had given her word.
“Yes, I will make sure to be the one who ends you if you go berserk.”
He deflated a little with relief and turned for his room. “Goodnight Hawkeye,” he said hiding his appreciation for her in unnecessary formality.
“Goodnight Captain,” she replied.
Even the comfort of knowing Riza would not allow him to go on as a monster could not keep the memories or the nightmares away. Roy used the sleep aid Riza gave him to at least get some rest. He put the dried herbs in a bowl and then lit them on fire. The smoke that curled out of it carried a pleasant heavy odor that allowed him to relax enough to sleep.
Still the masked faces of scientists stood above him as he thrashed against restraints. Needles tore holes through to his bones as his body spasmed violently, his vision stuttered then went black. He screamed convulsing violently only to sit up abruptly in his bed, sweat and tremors were the first thing he noticed. The second was Maes standing over his bed a look of concern causing his usually welcoming features to bear an unfamiliar seriousness.
“I hate to bother you so early in the morning, but Ed is having a panic attack, and he’s already broken one door lock.”
Roy sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. “Where is he?”
“The cargo bay,” Maes said. “And Roy, he’s not seeing things clearly, he tried to attack me. And he also tried to hurt Alphonse. I think he might be disassociating from reality.”
“Get me a tranquilizer and a blanket.” Roy pulled on his shirt and pants and hurried out.
The door to the cargo bay was sealed shut with the panel decimated. Roy saw the familiar signs of alchemy and rubbed his eyes in weariness. Of course this whole situation couldn’t be easy. “Maes can you get me in there?”
“He fused the lock together… I am sending Alphonse now.” The voice emanated from the nearest speaker and Roy felt a twinge of guilt for his friend. He would never admit it, but it killed Maes that while he had indeed survived, it came at the expense of a great deal of humanity. What Maes didn’t know was that Roy had saved and hidden a sample of his friend’s DNA because there were rumors that homunculi technology could create doll bodies from DNA. Bodies without a soul. It was a long shot but Roy had been trying to find a way to safely put a human soul into an empty body. If it was even possible. This scheme he kept to himself so as not to give anyone false hopes.
Alphonse’s clanging steps could be heard down the corner. Roy turned to wait for him. “Sorry Captain Mustang, I thought he would sleep with the tea Winry made him.”
“Don’t worry about it. I Just need the lock returned to normal so I can go in there and talk to him.”
“I dont know how good an idea that is. Sometimes he can be really violent when the nightmares hit.”
“I don’t think he can do much harm to me. Remember, I’m an alchemist just like you.”
Al nodded and clapped his hands, the door glowed and then slid open. Al offered him a blanket and a tranq. Roy nodded and prepared to deal with the kid.
Roy stepped in eyes scanning the room quickly. He heard a scuffling noise as the door shut and followed it behind a few crates of illegal explosives. He maybe should have put those in the smugglers hold when six unstable teens came aboard but he didn't have time. He just would have to be careful about what he did. No losing control of his powers and he had to steer Ed away if he lost control.
“Ed?” Roy asked the lump against the wall.
There was no response just the sound of strained breathing.
“Are you ok?” He sat down a few feet away. “Did you dream of the facility?”
Ed looked at him sharply but refused to speak. Roy sighed. “Ok. I know you don’t want to go back but, it's to prevent others from suffering like we did.”
Still no response, so Roy sighed and just sat there thinking. How had Riza helped him during those first months? They had been so young and naïve. Roy had never seen the universe outside and Riza had made friends with a band of miscreants she found at a bar. In the end it had all worked out, but now Roy needed to calm this kid down. They were lucky to have been so mature when they got out.
Ed gasped sharply and the familiar crackle of energy between them was the only warning he got before Ed lunged at him. Years of cruel training kicked in and Roy dodged stopping himself from activating his own powers in the last second. This wasn’t an enemy or a simulation. This was a teen boy who needed some help. Damn my battle conditioning. I can’t hurt this kid.
Ed lunged again and a portion of the floor morphed into a primitive hand that shot for Roy’s head. Again he dodged his eyes locking on the incoming attack. “Edward stop!” Roy ordered. But the kid didn’t seem to hear him.
“I won’t fight them anymore!” Ed shouted.
“Fight who?” Roy asked avoiding a third attack that blew out a panel behind him. Roy ground his teeth hoping to avoid having to forcibly subdue the boy.
Ed’s eyes narrowed. “The other test subjects. I won’t hurt them anymore!”
“No, you don’t have to hurt anyone,” Roy promised. “You are safe here.”
Ed paused. The man before him wasn’t that gold-toothed bastard. No, this was the Black Phoenix, Roy Mustang. Reality came back slowly as he just stood there limply. Ed stared in surprise. What had he done this time?
“I know what you’re going through,” Roy said gently.
“You dont know anything!” Ed snapped.
“I was just like you once. An orphan on a space station being picked apart and remade into a living weapon. I had to fight others just like you did. I had blood on my hands for hours some days. Others, I was punished for failure by being left to endure the pain of my injuries for hours at a time. I was turned into a monster by those bastards. And just like you I struggle with the memories. Now calm down and just think for a minute.”
Roy looked at Ed and noticed the kid was shaking. “Ed, no one is fighting anymore. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.” Roy rubbed his face.
He remembered this now. The nights he had flown out of his bed in a panic, the covers on fire, and memories seeping into his reality. Riza had always been gentle and kind. Telling him he was ok and safe and that he didn't have to do anything anymore. So that was how it must be done or at least a somewhat successful way to start. In truth he should have gone to therapy but that would have required spilling his guts and probably getting caught.
“You are safe Ed. No one will hurt you here. Breathe kid. Come on, like this.” Roy began to breathe more slowly forcing to take time on the exhale and inhale.
Ed shook his head, but he tried following the man’s lead and elongated his breaths. Finally, the boy slumped fully against Roy who silently held him up.
“Promise you won’t tell Al about me crying?” Ed whispered.
Roy nodded. “I can do that.”
Ed relaxed and sniffled. “After this I won't ever go back. I promised I never would, but if we can rescue the others we should.”
“That is the plan,” Roy chuckled.
Ed pulled away, but he just sat back down until he quit crying. Roy just stood there silently watching him until he was ready to return to bed.
Once Al was sure his big brother was okay, they scurried off to the room they were sharing.
Exhausted and feeling way too responsible for these kids Roy too went to his room to get some sleep. He crashed on the bed closing his eyes and waiting for the comfort of sleep. He didn't have to wait too long and soon he was snoring lightly. And for the last few hours of the night he slept without any dreams.
Riza sighed from her seat in the mess next to Maes. He had left the com open so they could observe the situation from a safe distance. Listening to all of that had been hard to do. It dredged up so many bad memories. Memories her own father had been the author of. In all honesty Riza blamed herself for Roy’s suffering. Not because she hadn't tried to stop it, but because Berthold used her compassion against her. She knew what made Roy tick. She also knew just what he had been made to be used for and how dangerous his powers were. Because her father passed that knowledge to her she inherited the burden of it as well. And what a burden indeed.
Hopefully, the next day would bring this part of their history to a close. And maybe they could move to other things.
Perhaps then she could find a way to absolve herself of her father's sins
The research facility was quiet. Of course having a mine field around you gave a pretty good sense of false security. With some very expensive black market cloaking devices they were able to sneak up on the station where it sat suspended in space. No patrol ships came up on radar, no distress signals were sent out, and not once were they hailed.
Until Roy snapped his fingers, Ed was skeptical the man could do it. And then the mines all went off in waves. When the last explosion died down the cargo ship swooped in. Ed and Al docked with the station easily and with a use of their powers the airlock was opened. Maes had forced the station to run the atmosphere transfer to the airlock. Winry was the only one to stay behind. She had no intention of fighting. Besides, they needed someone to protect the ship and direct any refugees who came aboard.
Mustang watched from his ship nervously. Ed and Ling both had communication devices on that connected to the one Roy was wearing. Maes monitored them from it as well. If anything started to go sideways, he would be able to offer help.
Ed smirked when the guards showed up. Ready for a fight and rejuvenated after the stay on Mustang’s ship he was fast and agile. Even Al moved with a liquid speed. Riza and Fuery had found as many replacement parts as they could for his exoskeleton and Ed had managed to give his brother a smoother operating prosthetic.
Ling, Mei, and Lan Fan headed the opposite direction of the long corridor to find the other survivors. Mei would be the best option to encourage them to come along. They stopped at every door and looked inside. To their displeasure most of the cells were empty. The first person they finally found was an angry Ishvalan man who was chained in such a way he couldn’t use his powers.
“Mr. Scar!” The tiny alchemist shouted in greeting. Ling and Lanfan tried to hold her back, but she just approached with a smile. “We came back for the rest but you are the first person we were able to find. Where is everyone else?”
Scar sighed heavily. “They are being prepared for reeducation. I was considered too volatile and left behind. Were those explosions caused by you?” His gruff voice sounded surprised.
“We met another alchemist on the outside. His name is Mustang, he destroyed the minefield,” Mei explained.
Scar’s eyes narrowed. “You mean that bastard is here?”
“Well, he’s in a separate ship, but he helped us fix our ship and he is going to destroy the facility.”
“Look we don’t have time for you to catch up. If you hurry down that corridor and head for the airlock our ship is waiting for you. Unless you’d rather die on board?” Ling said quickly.
Scar nodded. “I will go but only if I will be allowed to meet Mustang.”
“I’m sure we can arrange it later,” Lan Fan agreed.
Mei removed his shackles and he hurried to the airlock without a glance back. They continued to the next room.
“I don’t know if I trust that Ishvalan. He seemed to know Mustang,” Ling mused.
“He also called him a bastard. They could have originally been at the same facility. Scar could have been moved to this one at some point,” Lanfan said.
They stopped short of a barrier. “I can’t get it to shut down!” Mei shouted as she tried to shut the glowing laser wall down.
“Ling I can hack it,” Maes announced. “Just give me a second.”
“Our friends have it,” he promised his younger sister. A minute later it vanished allowing for them to continue. “For such an important place their isn’t much security,” Ling said.
“They don’t need a lot. They are protected by the TGS and that mine field shielded this place from any kind of scanning. They never expected an attack of this organization,” Mei explained.
Ed and Al looked at the unconscious guards. “We should load them into an escape pod.”
“Al are you crazy? Look what they did to us!” Ed shouted. “I don’t like the idea of letting them die anymore than you do. However, we have a limited amount of time and we need to get Marcoh out. If it weren’t for him we wouldn’t be out.”
“But we can’t let Mustang know. What if he worked at the other facility?”
“If Mustang singes even one hair on Marcoh, I will beat the living shit out of him.”
“But Hawkeye was the daughter of a scientist, maybe he will understand,” Al added. “I hope so.” Ed gestured for them to get moving. They couldn't waste anymore time discussing things. So back down the sterile white corridors they continued. Every now and again a pair of guards would make a futile attempt at stopping them. However, the very reason they had been turned into alchemists was for them to fight.
And could Ed and Al fight. They managed to get through a few checkpoints in no time. When they got close to the Tucker quarters, they both prepared themselves. They would either take both father and daughter or convince Shou to let them take Nina away from here.
“This whole situation is so messed up,” Al muttered.
After about ten minutes Roy looked at Riza and she saw it in his eyes. She shook her head. Roy squared his jaw, “I need to go and help.”
Riza closed her eyes and sighed. “Then I will come with you.”
Roy nodded as they headed to his private scout ship. “I thought you were going to stay away out of this one.”
Roy sighed. “I have to help those kids. I have no idea who or what is waiting for them. I promise I won't lose my head.”
“I know,” Riza replied in a steely voice.
They climbed in the ship and Havoc opened the bay. Winry came over the comm. “What are you guys doing?”
“We are going in. There is too much at stake,” Roy answered.
At this point Ed and Al came over the comm in shock. “What the hell Tucker? Where is Nina?”
“Winry who is Nina?” Riza asked.
“A little girl, the daughter of one of the scientists here. I dont think he works on alchemists though.”
Roy and Riza hurried to the facility. They docked with the station and hurried onboard. “Hughes can you show me where they are at?” He didn’t want to waste time going int he wrong direction.
The corner of Roy’s vision changed to a map showing the route the Elric brothers had taken. Roy started off quickly with Riza on his heels. He followed the mini-map in his vision running deeper into the labyrinth of corridors. Every few meters or so they would find unconscious guards or signs of the boys’s alchemy.
Riza was right on his tail watching him as he hurried. She could see his fingers twitching with nervous energy. After years of training he really was more weapon than man. And it hurt to recognize that in him. It was why he tried so hard to help people, to do good. Because for him it was the only way he could ever not see himself as a monster.
Finally, Roy slowed up. Ed was nearly screaming and his words were incoherent. They pushed the button and the door slid open revealing a startling sight.
Ed stood punching the shit out of a scientist. Al was trying to pry him off. And in the corner watching was a strange beast with eyes that glowed with human intelligence. It seemed upset and Roy noticed the very human hair sprouting from its head all the way down to its tail. His stomach dropped.
“She was your daughter! How could you turn her into that?!” Ed screamed.
“Brother no, you’ll kill him!” Al pried at his brother but even his exoskeleton was no match for Ed’s fury.
The man laughed maniacally. “I had no more test subjects. She was still young enough to be of use and I was running out of time. I needed one more success to achieve my quota. And I did! And now you see my last work before I am free.” The man pointed to the trembling canine in the corner. It looked at the people staring at it. And then it spoke in a jumbled voice. “Brother Ed? Big brother Ed?”
“Yes Nina,” Ed whispered. He dropped Tucker and looked at her. “I’m so sorry we were too late.” Ed was shaking. He had never planned on coming back. Then again, he never suspected Tucker would use his own daughter when there were always plenty of other kids to choose from. It made him sick to think he would have abandoned her to this fate forever. But then Tucker had been working on non-alchemist research and he had deluded himself into believing the man wasn't all bad. How selfish and foolish he had been.
Nina stepped over and hugged the boy as tears spilled from his eyes. Roy watched the sick pit in his stomach growing. He had a really bad feeling about this.
Maes’s voice came over the communication devices. “I just got into the chimera database. Shou Tucker is a scientist here working on the chimera project. It is another attempt to create super-soldiers and they do it by fusing humans with beasts. The process is painful and more often than not they die from the stress. Apparently the creature in front of you is his daughter Nina which he fused with their pet dog.”
Roy approached the scientist on impulse. “Is that your daughter?” Tucker nodded silently his face a map of bruises split by the bloody trail leaking from his nose. “You’re a sick bastard,” Roy growled.
“Big words from a monster like you. I read your files, how many scientists did you almost kill? They say you were slated for termination before you escaped. And that you killed several other alchemists on accident. How many times have you almost gone berserk?”
Roy stared a moment before his hands twitched, and Riza put a hand on his shoulder. “Captain allow me to take care of him.” Her voice was hard, clearly she was warning him to stand down. Roy sighed and nodded. “Ed, get Nina aboard your ship. I’ll find the rest of the test subjects and get them out.”
“Yeah okay. Al you help them gather everyone.” Ed looked at Nina, “Come on, lets get you out of here.” He rubbed her head with his flesh hand gently. Riza blocked Roy’s view of Tucker, there were others to take care of.
Roy looked at Al, “Where to?”
“There are a few areas we might find the other chimera.” Al said before leading him out.
Riza watched as Nina looked at her father curiously.
“Bye Daddy,” she said in a scared voice. “Ed can we go somewhere it doesn’t hurt?”
Ed took in a sharp breath. “I can try Nina,” he promised. He led her out to the corridor.
When they were gone Riza looked at Tucker. “Ah, Hawkeye’s daughter. I have many questions for you. But I don’t think you are here to give me answers.”
“No, I don’t have answers. I won’t take your life but I won’t help you escape either.”
“How merciful of you,” Tucker spat. “You’re as cold as your father.”
She narrowed her eyes telling herself it wasn’t worth the blood on her hands. She needed to make sure that Roy and those kids got out of here without anymore trouble. She was fully expecting to stay up all night tonight and deal with everyone’s nightmares. With her experience at least three of them would come to the kitchen to assuage their dreams and she knew for sure one of them would be her captain.
Riza walked out of the room and decided to go stand by the airlock. Roy wouldn’t take long to finish his mission here and then they would need to make a hasty escape.
Ed and Nina stepped into the cargo ship and Winry looked at them in surprise. That had been a lot faster than she expected. “Ed, are you guys already done?” Winry stared at Nina, “who is that?”
“Nina Tucker,” Ed whispered. His face was still a little red, and she decided to just nod and leave him be. Winry didn’t understand what went on in the labs, she just saw the results and tried not to get sick.
Ed took Nina to an actual room, he didn’t want anyone staring at her. When they were in the room alone, he sank to the floor. Nina nudged his hands and he held her tightly. “I promise Nina, I will figure out a way to fix you.”
“Okay,” She replied happily in her altered voice. She curled up on his lap and before long she was asleep as Ed sat there thinking about what he could do to fix her. Tucker had been teaching him a few things, mainly because he and his brother’s powers were unique compared to most. Ed knew there were ways to create an empty body and that possibly with Al’s power they could pull Nina’s soul from its prison and put her into a human body. But that took money and connections, maybe Mustang could at least point them in a direction. He hated to ask the man for help, but Nina was more important than his pride.
Ling and Lan Fan found the reeducation room. Mei and Scar were busy searching out other things.
The guards attacked the two of them instantly. There were seven of them. Lanfan jumped over two of them and bowled another over. Ling knocked one guard’s legs out from under them and dodged a stun gun blast. For the two it was a quick fight and the guards were left crumpled on the floor.
The room was full of people varying from about Mustang’s age to a year or so younger than Mei. They stood in neat militaristic rows in white uniforms. There was a huge computer in front of them and each of them were fitted with virtual scenario goggles.
“Everyone, if you want to get out of here now is the time!” Ling shouted.
None of them reacted.
They remained standing stock still as though they were robots awaiting a command.
Lan Fan approached the computer. “My prince, I believe we need to disable this.”
“Right, but we should be careful. I don’t want to hurt any of them.” Ling started looking at the bank of screens and buttons. “I have no clue how Terran technology works.”
Lan Fan sighed in agreement. With a shrug they both looked at each other and then started pushing buttons. They continued to do it until an alarm sounded. After a few moments the screens started flashing.
Shocked and startled gasps behind them let them know they had achieved their goal. The people in front of them began removing the goggles letting them drop to the floor. As they all stared at the two Xingese teens before them.
“We’ve planned to get you out of here,” Ling said quickly. “Follow us and you will be free.”
La Fan nodded. “Ed and Al secured a ship big enough to get you all out.”
That was all it took. They were soon running after Ling with Lan Fan watching the rear. The adults who were able picked up the younger ones and carried them. Not one of them was going to allow a single subject to get left behind. They all knew what kind of horrors they had been put through. Not a single one could imagine one of them being left to these horrors.
Scar and Mei opened the last of the doors to find a woman with her hair in box-braids. She turned to them defensively then relaxed when she realized they weren’t guards or scientists. “So it was you causing this ruckus. Mei, I thought you left with the boys?”
“We came back for you all. We met an alchemist named Mustang and he wants to destroy this place.”
The woman stared at her. “You’re what?”
“The Black Phoenix is going to destroy this place once all the subjects are safely in our cargo ship,” Mei explained.
“Izumi we need to go now,” The Ishvalan said urgently.
“Of course. What about the data and information here?” Izumi asked as she followed them out.
“Captain Mustang has a crew member who has been hacking into the system since we started our attack,” Mei answered.
“I have a feeling we will find more secrets than just the research they have been doing on us,” Izumi stated.
“There are a lot of files Mr. Hughes is downloading, maybe something is in all of that,” Mei agreed.
They led her back to the cargo ship catching up with Lan Fan easily. No one was lingering or being indecisive. Every single one the subjects here were desperate for freedom and willing to leave with whoever was ready to take them.
Roy and Al found the chimera holding rooms easily. There was a distinctly animal smell the minute the door slid open. Heads turned at their entrance. Eyes both human and animal stared at them curiously from behind barred cages. “Alphonse begin releasing them,” Roy ordered. Al clapped his hands and then pressed them to the floor opening all the cages at once. He didn’t have time to waste opening each one.
Some chimeras charged at them. Roy snapped his fingers and a blast of hot hair made them pause. “I am going to destroy this place, if you want to survive follow him out to safety.” Roy held his hands ready to snap. “If you would rather die here, then I can arrange that.” He had no time to be diplomatic about this. It was either accept their help or go down with the facility.
The men and women who had charged at them thought for a minute. “You will grant us our freedom?”
“I will ensure you are brought to a Colony in the neutral zone where you can rebuild your stolen lives,” Roy knew the only place they could go was away from the TGS and any other governments. No one would understand what they were, they needed to be allowed to live in a place where the questions were few and the opportunities were bountiful.
“Why should we trust an alchemist?” A woman with cat eyes and pointed ears demanded. She stalked forward her movements predatory.
“He came with Alphonse. We can trust the boy,” A man with scales on his arms said. He spoke in a rasping voice as if his lungs weren’t getting enough air. Roy noticed the hint of gills on his neck and his disgust for what was being done to undeserving people only grew.
“We don’t have much time before reinforcements show up. Make a decision now. Come and live or stay and die when I destroy this place,” Roy growled. He didn’t have time to wait for them to bicker about it. “I can get you out but you have to trust me.”
After a few seconds of silent thought the majority nodded at Al who led them back the way he had come. “Come on everyone keep up we have to hurry!” Al encouraged as he ran through the corridors his footsteps clanging out like a bell.
“Hughes let me know when the cargo ship is detached.” Roy turned to the few who remained. A couple of them looked much more animal than human. One of them just stared at Roy the same way a dog would. He sighed heavily as he put a hand on the chimera’s head. “Can you speak?” Roy asked gently.
“I know you offer freedom but I, am in too much pain. Let me die here alchemist. I have no life to return to and I can not live without the assistance of others,” It replied in a rasping voice. Roy simply nodded. He didn’t have time to try to change its mind.
“If you wish I can give you a painless death,” Roy murmured hating himself for what he was about to do.
“I would like to die without pain yes,” the dogman replied eagerly. Roy pulled a syringe from his coat.
“This is just an anesthetic, but I will give you a quiet end when you feel no more.”
As if he were a messiah the half dozen who had stayed lined up awaiting a painless death at their choosing. Their final choice was to die on their terms. Roy swallowed his emotions with a growl and began administering the drug. When they all lay unconscious at his feet, perhaps experiencing a dream of something better he changed the oxygen in their lungs to carbon monoxide. Slowly, without struggling they slipped away one by one. Roy left the room shaking as he tried to calm the pit in his stomach. Was he a savior or a monster? Did it really matter? He was an alchemist, there was no doubt he was an abomination.
Roy continued on to the main hub. “How’s the download coming Hughes?”
“I just finished it. There is a lot of encrypted data here. Might need you-know-who’s help.” Roy sighed because going to her was always expensive.
Madam Christmas had helped him get some identification and create a fake history. He had been old enough to remember his name when he was brought to the alchemist facility. But they had given him a number and the only person who used his name was Riza.
“The last of the chimera just climbed aboard. Their ship is at maximum capacity,” Maes added.
“Good. I’ll begin then. Tell them to dock with Phoenix and I will join them soon.” Roy snapped his fingers causing the mainframe in front of him to explode. He started back to the airlock snapping as he went. Each explosion shook the station as more of the hull and support frame buckled and broke under the barrage. The TGS wanted Mustang’s level of power desperately. Few alchemists were capable of administering such broad damage at this speed.
The sound of metal rupturing deafened him as a new alarm began to blare wildly. He managed to get back to the airlock where Riza was waiting for him before the station’s atmosphere began to fail. Now it was over. There was no rescuing the station now that the life support systems were gone. Also, Hughes had been instructed to not only copy every file from the facility but to destroy the originals. Roy didn’t want them to have any of it, though it was likely a few back-ups had survived. But now he had it. They had been incapable of stealing the info on his own facility, but they now had it all.
Once in his private ship they detached just as the station began to rupture. Explosions traveled through it blasting chunks off here and there. When it finally stopped all that was left were hunks of twisted metal floating in space.
“Whew that was a close one Roy,” Maes muttered as both smaller ships returned to Phoenix.
“Get us out of here now Havoc!” Roy ordered. The bits and pieces of the hull were likely to hit them, not to mention the fact that the TGS would probably be arriving soon. While the station might not have sent out any distress signals a Terran vessel was bound to show up sooner or later. And they were going to be long gone when that happened.
As they moved away they needed to decide what to do with the refugees. Roy dreaded having to deal with the survivors for long. He just didn’t have the patience. Also, he had other important business to attend. Like helping Ed fix that poor girl and going through the stolen files. And of course a trip to Christmas was going to be an expensive and long one. Caring for a bunch of recently freed test subjects had no place in his schedule.
“Everyone get ready to open a jump gate to the neutral zone. We can’t leave these people anywhere else,” Roy ordered once they were on the bridge. Izumi, Scar, a chimera man, and the teens had followed him.
“Which colony?” Havoc asked. “There are so many.”
“If I may,” Izumi asked stepping forward. Roy nodded to her, and she continued. “Why not the Dublith Colony? It is a reasonably quiet place. My husband is there so we will have connections.”
“Does anyone object?” Roy asked.
No one said anything. As much as returning to family or old lives seemed ideal, they all knew they needed a safe, quiet place without TGS interference. Roy nodded. “Dublith Colony, Havoc. We need to get these folks somewhere safe.”
“Opening the gate now, Captain.”
Phoenix jolted as the energy coils at her bow charged up. After a few moments a hole was punched open before them. Riza mused on the joys of quantum physics and the ability to manipulate spatial distortions. Jump gate technology was expensive and even more costly to repair. Few ships boasted possessing such a device. It was a blessing in times like these. They needed to be rid of their charges so they could focus on the new problems at hand.
Roy watched as the stars and wreckage of the alchemist facility were left behind. They emerged from the blue-white ring of energy into the neutral zone; an entire solar system set apart from the turbulent governments around. Once the fabled Xerxes system, an ancient race long since extinct, now new cities and ways of governing flourished in the small colonies that speckled the half dozen planets.
Dublith was on planet E and a large loud colony full of enough scoundrels, outlaws, and folks with secrets that a hundred refugees suddenly arriving wouldn't even be noticed. It was the kind of place where you minded your own business and left others to do the same. Dublith was a perfect place for escaped experiments to start fresh.
The affair of disembarking was quick. Most of the older alchemists and chimera already had ideas of what they needed to do. For most setting foot on ground solidified the fact that they were free. Most all of them shook Roy’s hand in thanks for not only releasing them but also for destroying their former hell. He kept a stony face at this. He was no hero, but he would let them believe he was.
When they were free of most of the refugees Izumi spoke to Roy and Ed. “I have a feeling you aren’t finished with the TGS,” she said.
Roy shook his head. “I want to know what other horrors they have been up to. I know someone who can decipher the encrypted files.”
“If you have need of a simple housewife, please don’t hesitate to call on me. My husband and I have a butcher shop here in Dublith. I can’t wait to see the look on his face when I return. ”
It was Roy’s turn to nod his thanks. “If any of them ever need help or answers. Or want to see their files please let me know. I don’t want to hold anything from them.”
Izumi turned to Ed who had been rather silent in all of this. At his side was Nina. Al had been pretty sure Tucker managed to get aboard their ship and had slunk off to god knew where. But they didn’t care too much. One of the refugees would be likely to kill him on sight purely on principle.
“Ed, do you want to take her with you?”
“Yeah. Al and I have some theories about reverse engineering what they did to us.”
“You intend to restore her?” Izumi asked.
“Either that or at least figure out a way to make her more human again.”
“If you need me you know where I am.” With that she left Phoenix to go find her husband.
Ling, Lan Fan, and Mei also left them. “We really should get back to my grandfather and let him know we are safe,” Lan Fan said.
“You are always welcome if you need any help in the future,” Roy replied.
“Thank you for your help,” Ling bowed to Roy who hastily returned the gesture unsure of what the custom was.
“Goodbye Alphonse,” Mei said sadly. She seemed quite close to the boy in the exoskeleton.
“Goodbye Mei, I promise we will come visit when we can,” Al said.
Ling and Ed bumped fists. “Try to stay out of trouble for once,” Ed said.
“You first,” Ling replied smiling.
The three Xingese teens then turned to Roy and Riza and bowed again. “Thank you for your help, perhaps in the future we can return the favor,” Ling said before they went to their cargo ship which was sitting on the dock pad next to them.
Roy looked at Ed. “You should stay, at least until we have the chimera research files unencrypted. We might find a way to help Nina,” he suggested.
Ed sighed heavily in relief, mostly because he hadn’t had to ask Roy for help. “Thank you.” He led her back towards the ship quietly. After everything he just wanted to go and rest. He hadn’t been prepared to see Nina turned into an experiment. Nor was he ready to absolve himself of the guilt he felt for leaving her to her father’s evil.
Roy and Riza watched them. “You’re going to have to talk to him,” Roy said.
“What do I have to offer him?” Riza asked.
“You were the daughter of a scientist involved in all of this. I think only you can remind Ed that it isn’t his fault. That the blame for Nina’s condition falls solely on Shou Tucker.”
“Yes, I see how I would be the only valid voice in such a conversation. I will see what I can do when he is ready to talk,” she promised. “What about you?”
“I probably won’t sleep for a few nights,” he admitted. “I had to end a few of the worse off chimera.”
Riza put a hand on his shoulder silently. “After seeing Nina, I had a feeling a few of them would rather choose death than living like that.”
“The problem with Nina is that she is too young to decide that. And we have time to try to fix her. Maybe if I can get my hands on the doll body technology, we can fix her and Hughes both.”
“Those are some very grand hopes,” Riza said her eyes brightening a bit. ..
“Hope is the only drug for fools like me. I figure either we can make it work or we’ll do something else for Nina. Ed thinks he might be able to at least restore a more human physiology.” Roy put his hands in his coat pockets and started to get back in the ship. “Come along first mate Hawkeye, we haven’t the time to dawdle.”
“Coming Captain,” Riza called as she followed him. She knew they weren’t even close to being done with the TGS and their wickedness. But for a moment she could genuinely hope that things were going to get better.