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Sunday, February 19 1911, 11:26 – Central City – Southern District – Central Prison – Complex A
This, Roy reflected absently as he went about his brief morning workout, was how a dog went through life; in shades of grey. No matter where you went within the towering, fortified complex you ran – or rather shuffled – into nothing but grey floors, ditto tiled walls, ceilings, and even facilities. Obviously, the cells were intentionally kept vapid and spartan in terms of comfort and décor, and the communal cafeteria wasn’t supposed to remind any inmate of that chic gourmet restaurant on Sixth Avenue, whose fine dining was a vague recollection of better times compared to the protein-rich slop the prisoners got served for chow. But even the infirmary, the psych ward (the latest studies claimed you’d want to put some calming pastel tints there) and the courtyard – a cracked, bare slab of concrete – were void of any colour or plant life. Likewise similar to dogs, the dangerous criminals got walked around the yard once a day with the same efficiency as the inferior quadrupeds. The lucky fellows, those charged with lesser crimes, were even signed up for regular exercise in the onsite gym. Otherwise, there wasn’t much else to do but sleep or read. Provided you could get your hands on any kind of newspaper or literature; as former state rank alchemists it was assumed they would try to hide cipher in an old novel and code in the first best porn magazine. It wasn’t a completely outrageous assumption as Voyager had attempted the trick with a roll of toilet paper. Else, one might try-out for a crafts or clean-up ‘job’ and take the opportunity to mingle in cliques. On that last point Roy could admit that the differences between the politics of the army from whose ranks he had been dishonourably discharged not even three months prior and this Darwinesque environment didn’t deviate all that much.
1910 had been prophesised to be the year of great change, soothsayers and rag papers alike had made almost as much fuss as they had at the turn of the century. For once they hadn’t been far off the mark, though no true Armageddon came to pass. Führer King Bradley had been assassinated shortly into the New Year, during the annual Ishval Memorial Parade – a small, formal tradition installed in 1909 to appease the growing popular disquiet when news of the inhuman extermination campaign reached the home front uncensored. In hindsight, and in no small part due to information leaks from the lower ranks of the military regarding Order 3066, a hit job was bound to happen sooner or later.
The sudden execution of the man who was both Commander-in-Chief and Führer of the State was the start of country wide riots, instigated by terrorist cells who clamoured for the full reinstitution of Parliament’s authority, unbound by the military’s oppressive yoke. Pro-military state radio broadcasts aside, within months the vox populi – never the most supportive of the military regime, even at the height of economic prowess – shifted to support the insurgents, further crippling the army’s grip on the nation. Due to this state of inner turmoil – on par with Creta’s own permanent code red – the military’s border security came close to being overwhelmed; the manpower stretched too thin between threats of invasion at the borders and internal uprisings. Insulated from both the north and south by the encroaching threat of ever looming war with Drachma and with Aerugo spoiling for conflict to reap its benefits, the newly installed General from the old guard – former Lieutenant General Grumman – eventually had to concede proper legislative and judicial attorneyship back to Parliament. This move allowed Grumman’s men to focus solely on the border skirmishes as the majority of the national riots ceased and the regional police forces – now with the backing of the new government – got a bigger stick to swing around and deal with local crime more efficiently.
While the civilians might be happy about the changes in the short run, this shift of power caused further tension between, for example, the soldiers of Eastern Command and the local PD. Conflicts about jurisdiction sprouted like weeds as all waited for new laws to pass and shed some light on the matter, however, in a democracy, it takes ages to pass and then implement new legislation. Thus human trafficking, primarily from the East and South, grew into a more pressing concern. While local civilian police might have the legal right and blessing to deal with the issue, they simply lacked the means and experience MP would have used to suppress the problem. Illegal aliens settling into Amestris’ big cities became an irreversible common sight. In turn Central government and military leadership alike, especially the top brass whom were still sore over the concession of power, turned the heat further up on the districts to solve the situation. It was a mess. The police force of East City grudgingly turned to Brigadier-General Roy Mustang, commander of Eastern HQ for assistance, like his colleagues in North, South, West and Central City were pressed to. Unfortunately, Roy’s options to provide said demanded aid were limited. Until the government officially gave the military the ‘go ahead’ his hands were bound.
When winter set in and the time came at last to lend a hand thanks to the new amendments, Roy had other pressing matters to worry about. Rumours of a war crime tribunal had been festering for a while and the anticipation of retribution became the palpable, hulking elephant in the room. The Brigadier-General made plans to get his subordinates – the ones who had been there with him during the Ishval war – out of the tightening noose. The new contacts he and his men had gained lurking in the alleyways of blooming Xing Town were only too happy to help spirit people away for the right price. And the knowledge certain Aerugan immigrants possessed when it came to forged visas and other credentials were quite useful for such a getaway. As for his own hide, he had made his peace with facing whatever fate awaited him a long time ago.
The descent of the Sword of Damocles wasn’t necessarily as doom-saying as Roy had come to expect. Only the top brass were held responsible, them and the at-the-time enlisted State Alchemists. Willing or not, they had been the brains behind the operation and the force of mass destruction that had enabled Order 3066 in the most crucial ways, respectively. The new government insisted on in-depth individual trials though, a small mercy. Still, many attempted out outrun their fate, the majority were caught. The few, who escaped, such as Brigadier General Clemin and the Crystal Alchemist, were not heard from again. Whether they had made a successful getaway across one of the borders or met a mob in some dark alley while attempting the former remained anyone’s guess. The other accused, upon apprehension – a truly hazardous task when it came to resisting State Alchemists – were stripped of their rank and prestige, and deported post-haste to the only maximum security facility that could hope to contain such a large number of top alchemists: Central Prison.
In contrast to the regular former brass, who were unceremoniously cramped two to four men per cell due to the sudden influx of offenders from all five provinces, the alchemists got detained in individual cells, with security sweeps six times a day. It wasn’t any special treatment so much as cold logic and necessity. A regular con who got his hands on a shank formed a danger to perhaps a handful of people. However, if a former State Alchemist were to get his hands on something sharp enough to carve transmutation circles, then the whole building perimeter was at risk. Hence the precaution of stocks to shackle the alchemists’ hands and contain the threat they could pose. It wouldn’t do if they were to get creative. Likewise, even yard time for these big time security risks was individually scheduled so there would be no opportunity to gang up on the jailers, less risk of any contraband items being smuggled in and haggled over either, as was often the case in the collective ward.
Although the former State Alchemists weren’t granted the chance to interact up and personal, shouting matches between cells aside, their bets still ran high about those select few of their ranks would had so far eluded capture.
Today wasn’t a bad day, as monotonous routine went. His morning ‘walk’ had allowed him to feel some feeble sunshine on his skin and breathe in the crisp air of a clear day after the most recent light snowfall. Better yet, Riza was scheduled for a visit that afternoon, and she would bring him a wealth of knowledge on matters of the outside world. He needed to keep track of the current political climate, especially with his own trial coming up next April. It could go either way for him.
Grand had faced the firing squad with bravado, and the jury was still out on Comanche; however, Armstrong got off extremely light just last month with a community service project to help rebuild the Ishval province. The government probably saw it as a most lucrative solution: cost-effective and it incorporated their new philosophy of ‘what alchemy once destroyed, it can now rebuild’. There wasn’t a former soldier who doubted the Ishvalans would want to return to such an oblique power display of Amestris’ might - not to mention the Strong Arm’s sense of aesthetics wasn’t exactly mainstream. Just like no one doubted that the Armstrong family’s many connections had helped Alex escape early execution, as his trial had been one of the first and the masses were demanding blood to cleanse the country’s tarnished reputation.
Unexpected commotion drew Roy’s attention to the end of the corridor. He smirked humourlessly, that ruckus meant they’d apprehended another one. The prestigious status that alchemists of Amestris had claimed since day one had taken a deep-sea dive toward an all-time low. Anyone even suspected of anything but constructive alchemy faced severe charges these days, according to Breda’s latest intel. However, only the worst (and most skilled) violators got to experience the wonders of the level one facility here in Central. Probably another unfortunate washed out soul who’d got drunk on the beauty of alchemy, then crossed one too many lines and left incriminating evidence behind, or it could just be the next megalomaniac out for blood, due to a newly acquired god complex.
Roy was expecting the newcomer to be of the obsessive, twitchy type. An overworked, having long since lost touch with reality kind of researcher. The sort who ends up looking like a wreck due to lack of nourishment, because everything that isn’t the project just gets pushed to the backburner for as long as humanly possible, skin that hadn’t felt the light of day in so long that the melanin just went on permanent strike. He threw in a pair of glasses to complete the mental image: reading tiny script in a poorly lit environment will ruin your eyesight before long.
He abandoned his push-up session (not much else to do and he’d found out soon enough that doing no more than pacing drove him to distraction) and leaned against the cell bars, craning his neck to take in the view slowly progressing in his direction, prepared to make a tally of how many points he scored on his prediction. He wasn’t the only one. Fresh meat in their ‘department’ was a rare form of diversion from the usual rut.
The guard on duty – a buff middle aged man who could be reasoned with, but usually lacked in patience – approached his end of the corridor slowly. At first Roy thought he’d been mistaken after all. It looked like there was no one else. A new variation of the surprise inspections perhaps? But then he started to pick up on the first comments thrown at the man from his esteemed partners in crime. The ones who had already gotten a closer look.
“Hey, Badge, you’re dumping the minor in the wrong cesspool. Can’t the State hire people competent enough not to blotch up prisoner transfer orders?” As a post-Ishval deserter, who had hoped to walk when the military went through its upheaval, McDougal demonstrated his anti-patriotic feelings and disillusionment of the system vocally like usual.
Dissecting the man’s meaning, Roy directed his gaze down. And down. And – unbelievably – further down still.
Even Kimblee felt the need to add his two cenz it seemed. “Indeed, you must admit that child is barely out of his diapers.”
That got a first real reaction from the midget, who was all but drowning in the size S standard garb. “I’m already twelve, you asshole!” He might have sounded a lot tougher if his voice didn’t cling to the boy soprano of a preteen and the neckline of his shirt wouldn’t have slipped over his left shoulder as he turned to snarl. So young and younger looking still. Roy would have sooner pegged the boy at age nine.
Apparently, he wasn’t the only on to doubt. “Come now,” Crowley – their senior in done jail time, a slightly cracked, egocentric fellow – goaded, “surely your mother taught you not to fib.”
If it hadn’t been for the much taller guard actively restraining him, the runt might have actually flown at the bars separating him from the Silver Bullet Alchemist. Roy had to hand it to the little guy: he had spunk. And more temper than common sense. Screaming something about knocking teeth out and a future of liquid foods while brandishing tiny fists and… Was that automail? Roy blinked. It was. The kid had automail at that age. Then again – the clogs in Roy’s mind recovered from the slight shock – he was here at that age. Disturbing, certainly. But most interesting.
Saturday, March 31 1911, 14:38 – Central Prison – Complex A
Roy relaxed in the nowadays rare moment of silence. The midget, also referred to by the other occupants of their wing as Little Hellion, was being walked, thus granting them all a reprieve from his – admittedly incurred – rants and antics. No doubt the boy – Elric, according to the guards; first name Ed, or so claimed the kid himself – was using the opportunity to make new acquaintances with the most recent batch of illegal immigrants, squeezed into C Wing, who got their yard time simultaneously. How the aggravating brat managed it, Roy had yet to puzzle out.
Not that it mattered all that much in the larger scheme of things. Roy walked over to the bars as the guard on shift came to retrieve him for his weekly visitor. Breda was scheduled for today. Last week Falman had informed Roy that the Rook would come and work through as much of the evidence in his file as they could within the short timespan they had available to best prepare their strategy to use in court. It would become a recurring event, leading up to the day of the trial itself.
Therefore Roy was taken by surprise when his visitor was younger, slender yet much more voluptuous and not looking pleased to see him.
“Major General Armstrong, to what do I owe this rare pleasure?”
She gave the empty chair across the tiny table at which she was seated a nudge with her foot. Roy was sure she would have gone for a show of force and agitation, were it not for the fact that – as a precautionary measure – all chairs and tables were crafted as an extension of the floor. Not wanting to go through the trouble of bolting the furniture, the management had decided to bring in a certified, harmless alchemist. The quality of the floor wasn’t badly affected and no one needed to worry about anyone getting aggressive with the accommodations. Olivia looked about as happy to see him as he greeted a rainy morning without umbrella, but there was that flicker of cold calculation in her gaze. She wanted – no, needed – something from him or she wouldn’t have come here personally.
“Shove the meaningless pleasantries and sit down, Mustang.” You didn’t talk back to a woman like her. The Ice Queen was used to ordering people around and you obeyed her or she’d use her family heirloom to turn you into kebab.
The Major General swept her eyes across the room – a habit the military drilled into you that you just didn’t lose: always know enemy positions and possible exits. In a low voice that forced him to lean in to listen, she stated her business. “I’ve had my men speak with some of your former underlings.” She pursed her full lips. “You’ve trained them to be undyingly loyal, I’ll grant you that much.”
Roy nodded gravely. Even though he’d been fully aware of that fact, coming from the Northern Wall of Briggs it was a grand compliment indeed. She continued what came down to a debriefing. “You should know that my plan finds favour with your queen.”
His eyes widened as he understood the unspoken implication. “What did you blackmail her with then?”
She smiled, as clear and cutting as frostbite, voice dimming further. “Nothing as of yet. Truly, Mustang, the error was yours. Did you honestly think no one with half a brain would figure out that only the hawk’s eyes could have had a clear shot at the late Fuhrer?”
Outwardly Roy didn’t even blink. “The investigation was closed. The true culprit was apprehended and tried. He confessed verbally upon apprehension and later again in writing.”
She shrugged. “Fanatics. One suicidal person eager to go down in history by claiming responsibility for the assault is hardly conclusive proof, when all other evidence is conveniently lacking.”
He couldn’t help but tense. Olivia had been part of the memorial parade that day, as a high ranking officer already called to Central on an unrelated matter, and as such had been ordered to join the charade. There was no way she had gathered anything concrete on his team, was there?
Nevertheless, she had him by the balls and she knew it. “You are hardly the first person clever enough to gather intelligent followers, Mustang. You are going to be facing a firing squad and we both know it. Now, just in case you are okay with that or some other such bull, I needed to obtain some leverage, you see? Unless you want to drag your faithful dogs down with you to the slaughter. Such fatalistic nonsense. It used to be an ancient Drachman ritual: upon the master’s death, several of his slaves would lay down their lives to serve him in the Beyond.” She shrugged with apathy. “I expect stupidity from you, Mustang, but not barbarism.”
Cold sweat trailed down Roy’s back; as his quick mind envisioned different scenarios in which Olivia could possibly still use him. So this was what her surprise visit came down to. He awaited her terms with bated breath.
“I have a simple proposition for you. The government is anxiously putting a new project together, on trial basis. It ties into the new series of laws being passed, regarding the legal practise of alchemy. A whole new agency, if you will. Alchemical Crime Investigative Services. We’ll be calling it ACIS for short.”
Roy caught her use of plural address and raised an eyebrow. She waived a hand impatiently. “After that whole public fiasco with my little brother, I’m recommended to ‘put my leadership skills to another use.’”
His surprise was obvious. It had been no secret she had been aiming to claim the highest position within the military. To be waylaid now, with Central’s top brass out of the way and the proverbial throne right for the taking… Olivia ignored his blatant curiosity. “Lab 1 will be converted to suit our needs. The project will be up and running before the end of spring.”
He cleared his throat. “What can you tell me about the government’s plans for this agency? Afterwards, I’d like to hear your plans regarding it and my role in this matter. I will have some demands of my own.”
She looked like the cat that had killed the careless mouse. “I would expect no less from you.” Olivia Mira Armstrong only ever dealt in backhanded compliments, delivered with an attitude of faux indifference, occasionally tempered by flares of surprise attacks.