There was some point in time in my life when I had the distinction of being the "Dog of the Military" who sided with the people. I visited cities like this when I was younger. It's almost as if this world refuses to let those memories fade away from me; to remind me...
Chapter 53 – A Stranger's Face
Ed sat on his suitcase, simply staring out into the morning sun. His train had been delayed in the evening due more unexplained 'track problems'; which his train very nearly blew right through. The roadside he waited upon now veered down into the Tarnava valley of lush forests. It reminded him of the valley he played in as a child. While he sat there, day-dreaming about doing anything else other than waiting, he would find his 7-year-old self back in that valley. Edward watched silently as the sun crept up from beyond the forested hills that surrounded the city. Slowly, the weak sunlight breathed the resemblance of colour into the tops of the old buildings lining the roadways. The town had to wake up at some point in time, he figured, but it seemed 5am hour was still a proper time for the general inhabitants to remain out of sight and lost in bed.
Which helped Edward very little – he was lost.
Having been told the location of an Inn as his train rolled in at half past one in the morning, Ed had followed the provided directions. Wandering in the streets during the dead of night, he passed ancient house after ancient house, and they all seemed to look the same. He walked on, his pocket watch egging on time's progression. At some point he realized that this residential neighbourhood did not have any place for him to stay, and at this time of night, there was no one for him to intrude upon. Who knocks on someone's door in the middle of the night?
So, he had propped himself up against the suitcase at the corner of a house. Drifting in and out of a light sleep for the nighttime hours that remained – an experience which felt more like hallucinations than rest. His left hip was sore and his right shoulder ached as he slouched over for as long as he could. The sun's rise interfered with his impaired visions. Finally, when it was light enough, he picked himself up and staggered down the street in the washed out orange hue of the early morning. Occasionally, he'd wondered when it was he'd last had a decent night's sleep last. He came to a stop atop an embankment within the hilltop town and it showed him a scope of the town he was going to have to make progress through. At that point, Ed concluded more progress could be made by sitting tight and waiting for the city to wake. As he waited, hoping to hear the soothing sound of morning birds or country breeze, all Edward heard was nothing more than the pounding of the headache between his ears and the churning of his empty stomach.
"Young man, are you alright?" was something he did not hear at first, it wasn't loud enough.
"Boy?" A hand landed upon his shoulder cautiously. Edward startled violently; he jerked his head in the direction of his questioner, trying to stand up. His vision was slow to catch up with his movements and his balance easily gave out on him. Landing in a heap upon the ground, Ed groaned in displeasure.
"My lord," along with the sound of an elder voice, a hand reached out and grabbed him under his right arm. The figure paused a moment but finally took a firm hold of Edward's arm, straining to help him back to his feet, "I'd have sworn you were drunk, yet you smell like a musty old closet."
"I wasn't drinking," Edward pulled himself away from the gentleman, taking control of his own balance, figuring the old man's voice actually meant 'sweaty old train car'. His attention came into focus on the man before him; an elder gentleman, his aging hair a prominent silver colour, as opposed to dull grey. He stood strong and steadfast before Ed, his black overcoat hanging loosely around his rounded figure. The elder man adjusted his glasses as he leaned down to pick up his black leather bag resting next to Ed, "you're an unhealthy shade of white, child. You should come with me."
Ed's tired mind tried to understand how this man had appeared out of thin air. Yet, as he looked around he suddenly began to realize that at some point in time, as his eyes squinted in the low sunlight, life had begun to emerge from the sleeping village. The next thing he seemed to know was that he was toddling down the cobblestone roadway through the town; as if minutes had vanished from his life. The elder man, with no fear of giving orders, led the way for him.
Though he should have been grateful, Ed's cranky voice showed up, "So, who the hell are you and where are we going?"
"I'm the chief director of the medical centre you're accompanying me to," the man replied matter-of-factly.
Edward stopped in his tracks, "No thanks, I don't need to go to a hospital," and for that moment of realization, he felt quite awake.
The elder man looked back at him with the stern eyes of a father, "I know you don't live in this town because I know everyone from the eastern hills to western rise. You muttered something while you were daydreaming about traveling. When was the last time you ate a full meal? You can't remember can you?"
Edward searched his mind, trying to remember if he could recall what he'd muttered about traveling.
The elder man dropped his shoulder bag to the ground, creating a faint cloud of dust. He stepped up to the confused Elric and slapped his cheek with the back of his hand, "Your lips are dried out, your eyes have sunken in; you're dehydrated! You can't keep your balance; your eyes are unable to keep focus. You haven't had any decent sleep in far too long. I could grab you by the chin, give your head a shake and you'd drop like a fly. You haven't taken care of yourself properly on your journey, young man," turning away from Ed's dumbfounded expression, the medical director picked up his bag and glanced over his shoulder, "Of all of the injuries, diseases, and problems that have wandered through this town in recent years, yours will be something I can enjoy remedying for the sheer simplicity of it. Come along."
Alphonse cautiously pushed open the door from the room he and Klose found themselves in. Peering slowly out into the hallway he found it was shrouded in a dirty fog.
"Al," Klose's whisper entered the silence, "… I think its smoke."
Both of them looked back into the room as smoke begin to leak in from the crevice they had crawled in from. Klose put her hand to the open wounds on her right cheek, but quickly pulled her own touch away. Her fingertips stung the sore and scraped up flesh that had taken the impact of the earlier explosion. she wiped the faint blood residue in her hand off on her hip.
Al reached back and grabbed her by the wrist, giving Klose a tug as they both entered the hallway. Ceiling beams had snapped out of their fixtures as the pair stepped thru the broken glass and heavy debris. The pair made their way blindly through the darkened building, unsure which door would lead to the door that could free them from the dark. No matter how hard Klose kicked, nor how hard Al could throw his body, there were simply too many doors that refused to be opened; only two of them would budge. Those doors that did open were simply empty offices or supply rooms within the inner portion of the building; they did not lead to an exit for the complex. None of the doors on the one side of the hallway would open at all. The two continued to walk, growing more concerned as they felt the choking heat from the smoke as it slowly thickened. They had no idea where it was coming in from, though they figured it was probably from all around.
Al finally stopped behind Klose. He knelt down and placed his hands on the cool cement floor – wishing it were something he could scoop up and splash over his body. His right cheek had begun to sting from the earlier explosion, he knew his shoulder was bleeding from a gash, but he did not want to look at it. He could feel the stinging sensation of his right leg match his cheek. He was exhausted in a way he'd never felt before, but his adrenaline kept him running at an accelerated pace. To further the condition, no matter how deep a breath he would take, it did not relieve the burning he felt in his chest nor the faint stars that would come and go in his eyes.
"I don't feel good…" he finally murmured, putting his forehead down on the cool floor, causing Klose to stop several feet ahead of him.
"AL! Get up," she demanded, going back for him, "Al you can't stop." Grabbing him under his arms, Klose helped pull him to his feet. They took a moment together, slowly trying to take away the feelings of shortness of breath subside. Klose glanced over to Al, watching him as he examined the palm of his hand. The heat and moist alley had caused his hand to remain constantly damp as they'd walked and pulled on doors; the circle that was once in his hands was smudged up so badly he could not use it again. He concluded that Klose's bottle of ink had been ejected from his hand earlier when the explosion occurred or when he'd hit the wall.
The two moved again, they realized they had to keep moving and get out. Again they managed their way around debris in the hallway. They did not realize until it began to sting that the smoke was irritating their eyes and impeding their vision. Klose felt the sweat run down her neck as Al tried to brush the heat in his hair away.
The obstacle course of broken material made the hallway longer than it actually was and they had finally reached its end. Whatever door they needed to escape from did not exist in the lingering darkness that suffocated them. The pair stood side by side, bodies melting away as they felt their own weights bear down upon their shoulders. Looking up through heavy eyes at the unbroken, quarter window near the ceiling, nothing needed to be said – Al kicked off his shoes and he stepped up under the window. Klose picked up one of his runners and turned back to him. Al squatted slightly and cupped his hands together to help lift her up towards the window. Stepping into his handhold and with her chest and hands pressed against the wall to keep steady, she soon found herself awkwardly standing upon his shoulders. Klose gripped the left side of the window frame with one hand as Al struggled to remain balanced below her – his hands wrapped around her ankles while they crushed down on his exhausted shoulders. With all the might she had remaining, Klose slammed the heel of the shoe into the window again, and again, repeatedly… hearing nothing more than a rubber thud. Her hand gripped the frame so hard it sliced into her fingers – she did not let go or relent, continuing to slam the heel of the shoe into the window.
Al shook beneath her, struggling to maintain the dual body weight. He knew his trembling was not helping her stay steady in front of the window, but it had become something he could not control. The oxygen deprived muscles trembled violently in the smoke. He tried to remain focused on staying balanced. When he gave a moment's thought about breathing, he was reminded of the pain burning in his chest; so strained he could not breathe.
"Klose!" Al screamed out in frustration.
She hurled the shoe at the window with such force flew from her hand. Its rubber sole bouncing off the pane into the dark cloak of the hallway smoke. Momentarily staring off into the darkness, Klose clenched her teeth on her lip trying not to cry – her hands griping either end of the window frame. She turned her attention back to the window and suddenly could no longer see out. Al called to her again, his voice choking out half way through. Holding onto the window frame as if she thought she could tear it out of the wall, Klose screamed back at him in tears; slamming her forehead into the glass.
Al felt her weight collapse down upon him and his body gave out under the pressure. The two mangled bodies crashed into a heap as glass shards sprinkled down around them. Klose withered up next to Al, pawing at her forehead as she stumbled upon her knees and elbows trying to make the pain stop, unable to properly acknowledge how much it hurt to move her right arm. Upon his back, Al stared up at the oxygen hole that sucked out the endless smoke. He grit his teeth and reached out to his side, his hand firmly grasping a large shard of broken glass. Slowly getting to his hands and knees, Al slammed the shard into the wall. Holding the jagged piece of glass with both hands, he carved the basic circle he knew so well. His body so wrapped up in problems of a larger scale, he did not feel the glass cut into his hands each time he began a new line. Finally shutting his eyes to stop the burning smoke, Al placed his hands firmly upon the circle and forged another hole into the wall of the building.
He did not step out of the inviting escape route immediately. Al turned back into the room, reaching out for. Having no energy to form words and barely able to maintain balance upon his hands and knees, Al grabbed the back of Klose's dress collar and tried to pull her to their exit. Klose found something left of her own strength and, by Al's direction, the two found their way into the opening. Their strengths barely gave enough to crawl out of the building and their bodies fell upon the welcoming ground.
Unaware of much else, Klose came to learn that the roof of the several-storied building towering over them was burning. Lying on her back, she could see the distinctly angry orange colours through her clouded vision. Yet the fresh air that entered her body seemed like this moment was victory. She couldn't will herself to move any farther, neither of them could. The exhausted girl couldn't convince herself that she would die when the flames finally came crash down around her. Her head pounded while they lay in the street at the foot of the burning building. She thought of calling out for Al, but her voice had abandoned her. Slowly, Klose discovered that her eyelids had become too heavy to keep open.
As she drifted out, a cold pair of fingers pressured a tender part of her neck for a moment before her entire body slowly lifted off the ground.
"You are going to make yourself sick."
"I have an iron stomach!"
The doctor shook his head, "That's your fifth bowl of stew tonight. I hope it functions as well as your arm and leg do."
Ed paused in the middle of his food-shoveling to think about the comment, "No, I'm good."
"If you insist," bemused, the doctor shook his head and sat back down at his desk, desperately wishing he could find the interest to get through his paperwork. Though he leafed through the documents, his distracted mind only caught a few words per written sentence. The old man sighed and leaned back in his chair, "Your name is bothering me."
Edward put down his empty bowl and looked at back at the man, "A danno wae eh shood," forgetting any manners, Ed spoke as he chewed down on the last heaping mouthful.
The elder man shook his head and turned in his chair to face Edward, "I'm not sure what it is." He tapped the end of his pen on his desk with a frown, "You're keeping me from concentrating on my work young man!"
Edward adjusted himself in his seat at the adjacent table in the clean white office, "Sorry," he grinned sheepishly as he swallowed his final bites, "you did invite me here, though."
His memory was fuzzy, so the doctor had filled Ed in earlier about how he'd passed out on the nursing staff. The old man had been right; Ed hadn't eaten proper meals beyond whatever bits were sold at the stations and provided on the trains. Nor had he had a decent nights sleep for several days thanks in part to the uncomfortable station benches, rough train tracks and the sweltering heat; which was also a factor in his night-long delirium and dehydration. The Professor had awakened him before the sun fell again, figuring correctly that Edward didn't want, nor need, his internal clock to be messed up like that.
"Thanks for your hospitality though, but I should think about getting going," he scratched the back of his head sheepishly, "If I'm out of your way, you might get some work done."
The doctor laughed at that, "I highly doubt I could do such a thing right now. I mean my God, look at you. That arm and your leg! Who on earth thought up a technology like that? The principal behind it all is astonishing – to combine mechanical technology with limb replacement and then integrate that with the nervous system so it can function? I've never even heard of such a thing being attempted," the doctor's words flew about, "who out there knows enough about man's nervous system to dream this up? I can't believe you can even lift that arm to shoulder's height."
Ed laughed at that comment lightly, "Yeah, well, it's got a long way to go before its any good. I can't really move my fingers."
The old man shook his head at the comment, rolling his eyes in a bewildered state, "I simply cannot believe you view this as substandard."
"Well, I've had…" Ed stopped himself, "I guess, my Father and I have a vision that's greater than this burden I take around with me."
The doctor rested his elbow upon the desk, a sudden thought striking him, "And your Father is?"
Snapping his fingers the doctor tossed his pen to his desk in amusement, "Ah-hah. That's why your name is familiar. Professor Hohenheim-Elric. I should have remembered that. Such a prominent name from the Health and Sciences Division out of the University of Munich I'm ashamed to admit I'd forgotten it."
Suddenly puzzled, Edward's eyes examined the man. His father had never mentioned having any connections in Rumania or Transylvania, "Why would you know my father's name all the way out here?"
"Oh my daughter-in-law thought very highly of him when she visited the University of Munich with my son last year. She heard one of his lectures and has been somewhat intrigued by his philosophies ever since; in a casual sense anyways." The doctor laughed at the thought, "She thought about writing him once, but my son said that when they return to Munich he'll see who he could talk to so she could attend another lecture."
Ed laughed a bit, "I'm sure I can arrange for her to sit in on one of his lectures without a hassle," his characteristic grin plastered across his face, "In return for the hospitality, I don't see it as a problem."
The doctor grinned back to Ed, nodding his head, "Sounds like a fair trade. Thank you so much, I hope it's not an imposition."
"It's not…" Edward's voice responded slowly before shaking off the words, "what's her name?"
Ed felt slightly relieved, finally finding out the man's surname. He'd spent a while chatting with the elder doctor and while mention of Edward's own name came up, he had never been given an opportunity to ask the doctor for his name in return. Every staff member they met addressed the doctor with 'Professor' as if it were some title like 'King', where no surname was required.
"Well, thank you Professor Hummel, you've saved me from getting trampled on in the streets. But I have to see if I can find the people I came here for before the sun sets again," Edward rose from his seat.
"Make sure you don't let the heat get to you again," the doctor handed Edward his coat that hung on the rack, "and you're mistaken."
"About?" Ed blinked.
The Professor laughed at the thought, realizing he'd caught Edward in an innocently ignorant moment, "Tilly still uses her madden name. My name isn't Hummel."
"… Oh," Ed suddenly grinned like a sheepish fool, clenching his teeth in embarrassment, "I misunderstood. I should have asked."
"That's fine," the man passed Edward his briefcase, "I didn't introduce myself properly. The name is Oberth."
Edward's face fell sharply, "… Yeah, pardon?"
"Oh, careful," a pair of hands came over Al's cheeks as a violent cough woke him. Through a sensational fog he could feel a moist hand cloth touch his face. It was a faint comfort in the horrible feeling of overwhelming exhaustion he'd been fading in and out of.
"You should have something more to drink," the voice filtered into Al's slowly waking mind, "your fever went down, but your cough is persistent," from the corner of his mind's eye he heard water pouring into a glass, "come on, sit up a bit more."
It was a mothering tone of voice that any child would instinctively respond to – unabrasive, inviting and warm. Shifting awkwardly in his bed, Al did as he was told.
"There we go," his caretaker said, sitting down on the bed next to him. She rested the cold tip of the glass against his dried out lips. Trembling, Al's bandaged hands reached up and gripped the glass, the woman's hand continued to steady the glass at its base while he drank it down to the last drop. He could hear her laugh lightly to herself.
"You're a bit more awake this time," her light, whimsical laugh felt as warm as the sunlight that filtered in from around the curtains, "much better than before. You started to cough it up last time," she stood up, taking the glass from Al and setting it back down on the table. Glancing back towards his bed, she addressed him quietly again, "Your name is Alphonse Elric, correct?"
He nodded slowly in response to her, still trying to gain his bearings. As the words of the moment began to untangle in his mind Al suddenly became confused. His confused and disoriented gaze scanned the lady who stood before him. The woman looked back at him with hints of hesitation in her eyes; yet she stood prim and proper in a light peach dress shirt and faded jeans. Her smile for him soothed away the moment of concern.
"Your friend told one of the doctors what your name was," she brushed a short strand of brown hair from her face.
Slowly responding to valuable information, Al placed pieces of their short conversation together. Finally pushing his white sheets aside, Al tried to get out of the bed, "Is Klose all right? She got out all right, didn't she? I don't remember when we got away… it just…"
Al's voice trailed off into the troubled expression of the woman who'd come over to stop him from getting up. His body quickly reminding him he was still exhausted and tired. The sudden urge to crawl back under the covers hit Al, but the mystifying urge to see through the woman's gaze kept him frozen in place at the edge of the bed. Kneeling at the side of the bed, she met Al at eye level. The investigative blue eyes she looked at him with absorbed everything about him for just that moment – as if she had attempted to sponge up his entire existence. Those eyes inspected every aspect of his uncombed hair, scab-speckled cheek, baby soft skin and striking grey eyes. She reached out and cupped his cheek in her right hand – she could feel the warmth transfer into her hand as she pulled out a smile.
"You have lovely eyes," was all that was quietly said.
Al could feel his cheeks flush but did not seem to have the courage to say anything to her in response. He felt cautious about speaking, wondering why he thought she might cry.
The woman sharply pushed herself back to her feet. Though her body language was swift and precise, her tone remained soft, "Klose is fine; she's sleeping. You should rest more yourself. If you talk too much your throat will hurt," and she turned abruptly to exit the room.
Al brought his own hand up to touch his cheek. He stared with a child's wide eye ahead at the door that swung shut behind her. Slowly replaying the last few minutes in his mind, he wondered if he'd missed something.
On the other side of the closed door, beyond where Al could either hear or see, was the figure of the woman, leaning up against the backside of Al's closed door. She covered her face with her hands and sharply took a deep breath. She held it to a count of five and slowly exhaled hoping it would clear her mind.
Her arms dropped instantly to her side and she shot her line of sight down the hall, "What?" the moment to collect herself had been interrupted.
The unintentionally intrusive young man hesitated, but his warming look of concern seemed to ease the moment, "Are you okay?"
"Yes," She pushed herself away from the door, "I'm fine." After straightened her shirt, she brushed the fallen hair from her face, "Sergeant, can you relay a message for me please?"
He blinked, "Of course…"
"Can you tell the Lt. Colonel that he needs to place some phone calls? Some one should head into the city and try to find Ms. Curtis. We should have them moved from here as soon as possible, for security reasons."
The young blonde man blinked, "Shouldn't that be something you relay to him?"
"You can do it; you're a big boy aren't you? Besides, that's an order," folding her arms with a huff she turned on her heels, "I'm going for a walk."
"You don't want to go for a walk with me instead?" the Sergeant dared to ask with a sly undertone.
Slowly turning a deadpan stare back at him, an annoyed response emerged, "No. Sergeant, go…"
"If you're going off to find the meaning of life, it's good to have someone to discuss it with you," He gave her an oversized loyal-puppy grin.
"I was just saying. You look like you're going to go off and discover the meaning off life…"
"Sergeant Broche… if you DON'T…"
"I'm LEAVING, okay?" He turned away from her playfully, wandering away down the hall, all the while waving a hand back at her, "Happy?"
"Oh… my God," she shoved her hands in her pockets and spun on her heels. Before she could take two steps a young nurse stepped out from one of the rooms and into her path.
'I really want to go for this walk…' she glanced up to the woman, "Yes?"
"There's a telephone call for you."
'I should have known I wouldn't get to go on this walk, dammit.' Giving into the inevitable, the Lieutenant followed the nurse, "Alright, thank you."
"When did they leave?" the Professor looked on in surprise, "I had on my calendar that they were leaving next Thursday."
"No sir, I'm sorry, they departed last night."
The Professor frowned a bit, "I'm getting too old, I'm writing dates down wrong," he glanced down at Edward and raised a concerned eyebrow.
Ed sat on the wooden stairs that lead to the front doors of the younger Oberth's home. His left elbow upon his knee, chin in the palm of his hand, the right arm propped up on the good leg and a scowl of frustration scribbled across his face. He glared back out into the setting sun as it submitted to the night. Edward cursed at the flaming ball in the sky and he was certain it merely laughed at him in return.
Herman Oberth, the man he'd set out to find, struggled through days and nights to get to, was not here. To make matters worse, the man had gone to Munich, where Ed had started out many days ago. Turning his foul expression back towards the doctor and the housemaid, he grumbled, "So when does the train depart for Vienna?"
The middle-aged woman employed by the Oberth family as their maid, adorned in a very long and formal looking dress with a spotless white apron covering it, gave a displeased look back at him as she responded, "6am, every morning."
The Professor grabbed Edward by the shoulder and coaxed him back to his feet, "There's nothing you can do about it, don't spread you mood around to other people. My son use to lash out when he'd get frustrated, I use to slap him upside the head if he got out of line. Don't you give me cause to discipline you."
Edward gave the man an unimpressed glare as he rolled his shoulder away, brushing his jacket off as he did so, "Sir, I don't need to be 'disciplined', thank you."
"In this town, we know who the parents are, we know whose children are who's. It's a parent's job to keep children in line, to watch over them and guide them. No matter how old you are, you are still someone's child. As long as there's someone out there old enough to be your parent figure, he or she can take the initiative to make sure someone's inheritance stays in line," the old man lectured, "Don't you think for a moment because you don't belong to this town you can show disrespect to your elders, nor will we will treat you any differently from our own if you do," The stern father gripped Edward's arm and hauled him inside, "I think it's a good time for tea."
A speechless Edward, adorned with a scolded child's expression, stumbled inside behind the doctor.
The housemaid, entertained by the fearless elder, smiled to herself and she shut the door behind the pair. She followed them into the dining room, where Ed and the Professor had sat down at the tapestry covered wooden table. The room was quite quaint, obvious that a feminine touch had handled the setup. The room was white from the ceiling to the baseboards that lined the pale-brown hardwood floor. The walls, the cupboards, the dishes, the tea towels were all freshly polished and washed. Occasionally, a tiny flower decoration was etched into certain corners of the chairs and cupboard doors; each painted a different pastel colour. The sheer white curtains hung over the 4-pane window that allowed the fading evening light to enter the room. A faint smell of bleach lingered in the air.
Though very striking and beautifully kept, Edward felt like he was back in the hospital again.
"What type business did you want with my son, anyways?"
"Oh," Ed blinked to attention and looked across the table to the professor, "I've been following the works of a few scientists; Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Robert Goddard and your son's as well."
The old man relaxed in his chair as he flicked a match to light up his pipe, "Ah, that," he inhaled slowly, "I'd thought as much; I mean with your arm and leg, only another scientist would seek out my son."
Ed sat properly in his chair, for some odd reason still feeling like a scolded puppy, "I'd read his works, even his early works; I was impressed that a thirteen year old could come up with such complicated gravimetric computations for flight in space. Since I began reading up on space flight, I've found his writings to be the most reliable source of information. I wanted to see if he'd be willing to discuss ideas and calculations."
The Professor coughed a bit from his polished wooden pipe, "I'm sure he'd be delighted. He gets too much harsh criticism from his peers; I don't think he gets much praise beyond Tilly and Valerie. Most people in the scientific communities treat him like an outcast."
Edward did not continue on the conversation immediately, he sat for a moment trying to decode the faint bitter tone of voice the man's voice had. Unsure if the attitude was directed towards his own son for his line of work, or for the peers who looked down upon him, Ed raised an eyebrow cautiously, "You disapprove of what he does?"
Tapping his pipe into an ashtray he shook his head, "I'm a selfish old man, wanting my son to follow in my footsteps. He went out of his way to please me, he graduated from the University of Munich and became a doctor just like his old man, but I knew his first love was not medical science. It was mechanical science."
Ed paused a moment before finally breaking formation and resting his elbows on the table, "I think the most successful engineers have doctors for parents."
"Perhaps, but Val told me one day that perhaps the boy is living out my father's dream and I use to think that old man was a fool for it," leaning back in his seat the Professor sighed, "but, I'll let him do as he wishes, I'm sure he'll be successful in what ever he does," the elder Oberth shoved the pipe back into his mouth.
Too curious not to ask, Ed continued the conversation as the housemaid presented glasses of steaming hot chamomile tea to their table, "Your father's dream?"
"My Father's dream," the Professor placed his pipe aside; "the old man embarrassed the whole family by declaring that someday man would stand on that rising moon."
Again a musing thought gave Ed cause to smile, "It seems strong grandparents give grandchildren a variety of aspirations."
The old man rolled his eyes and shot a dismissing glance outside, "I was a child when that happened, but all of Hermannstadt has laughed about it ever since. Now, look at what that old man has gone and done, inspired kids like Hermann and you."
Ed laughed with a slight bit of nerves at that comment, "It's something like that I guess." He lifted the cup of tea to his lips and took a sip of the warm, age-old beverage. Slowly, lowering the cup to its dish, the distant gaze in his eyes reflected back at him as the drink settled. How come no one, from the heart of London to the middle of Transylvania, made tea that had any flavour?
In a low voice, a woman's asked her companion, "Are you sure you don't want to sit down?"
"I'm fine," the man replied as he adjusted himself in the corner of the wall, "I can wait."
Armstrong glanced over his shoulder as if to hush the two whisperers. Not that he had the power to do so, since he was considerably out ranked by one of them. The lumbering officer turned back to Klose who continued to look away and out the window.
"Miss. Klose, would you please-"
"I'm not talking to you!" she snapped her head back at the daunting man. After all she had been through in the last 24 hours, his raging muscles and impossible figure did not strike any sort of submissive fear into her heart, "you separated us, you won't tell me how he is, you won't let me go see him, you won't let me see my father and you won't let me call my father. Does anyone even know where I am? Does he think I'm dead!" she paused to take a deep breath, "You won't let me leave my room, you call the military in and you sit here interrogating me as if I've done something wrong! Why don't you ASK HIM yourself!" Klose stuck her nose in the air and went back to looking out the window.
Havoc rolled his chewed cigarette from one corner of his mouth to the other, glancing a 'what do we do?' look over to his superiors in the corner only to receive an annoyed eye twitch in response.
Armstrong tried again in a deep, pleading voice, "Klose, we simply-"
Klose's saving grace from Armstrong's forthcoming 'attempts of persuasion' came as everyone's attention turned to the room door as it slowly opened. Maria Ross pardoned herself and stepped into the room, gently shutting the door behind herself.
Armstrong looked back to her, "Lieutenant?"
She simply nodded in response to a question the Lt. Colonel did not have to ask. Movement from the corner came as the pair standing there stepped out. Lt. Ross stepped aside to allow them to pass by.
"Lieutenant Colonel Armstrong, if we could?"
"Of course," Armstrong stood up allowing the pair to sit down on the bench that had been brought into the room. He gave a momentary glance over to Maria Ross.
Wrinkling her face more, she adjusted her right arm within the sling it was cradled in.
"Young lady, my name is Roy Mustang, I am a Brigadier General here in Central City. Do you understand why a Brigadier General would be in your hospital room? " he waited a moment to see if she'd respond, but no response was forthcoming. Mustang decided to move simply to the point of his questioning, "Edward Elric was, at one time, my subordinate. And his younger brother, Alphonse, was greatly involved with the military and its operations as well."
"Good for you!" she retorted with typically stubborn teenage manners, "Then why don't you talk to him about this! I don't see what this has-"
"By his own choice, Edward Elric cut off contact with the military," he had grown weary of listening to her game and even more so unimpressed by her childish behaviour, "yet the child in that room upstairs, by your claims, is his younger brother. That is something I am finding very hard to believe."
Havoc looked away from the conversation, grinding his cigarette end in his teeth, 'isn't information Edward supposed to be classified?'
Klose continued to look away, yet the comments Mustang had just made ran through her mind, "Elric could be a very common name for all I know."
The resolution in his voice was clear and concise, "I have no intention of marching into a room upstairs when I have a little girl sitting in front of me who thinks she's being smart by adding little lies each time she repeats her story," hints of frustration began to mount in his tone, "and we are not leaving this room until you start cooperating. Have I made this situation clear to you?"
Lt. Ross smiled to herself, 'He's being very careful with that young boy upstairs.'
"Fine!" Klose turned in her bed to them and with an intolerable attitude not used since she last disobeyed her father, her voice shot back at Roy, "Look, I met him at the train station, I don't know where he was going. I asked him what his name was because I thought his voice sounded familiar. I was told his name was Alphonse Curtis. I decided his name was Alphonse Elric because he sounded like he should be called that. I told you that name by accident. I was tired. He can't be the Alphonse Elric I know, because that one is older than me and didn't look anything like that. Are you happy NOW? I'm sorry that my mistake in his name has caused so much trouble, Mister Important!" She finalized her statement by throwing her fist down into the sheets with a huff.
Trying to atone for what was said when she first arrived at the hospital had become increasingly difficult and she only managed to dig herself a deeper and deeper hole. When asked who the young boy was that came in with her, Klose gave the name Elric. She had also brought up Izumi's name when the doctors wanted someone to contact for him. But the moment Armstrong stepped into the room she remembered that Alphonse was traveling under the name Curtis, not Elric. Klose had been trying to backtrack ever since
Lt. Ross slipped out of the room.
Roy's eyes narrowed at her. He tapped his knee with a finger as his mind dissected her outburst. Slowly slouching over, he rested his chin in his hand and wondered about an alternative line of questioning that had also been bothering him, "what were you two doing in that building?"
Klose flung herself back onto her pillow, "I don't remember. I remember smoke, I remember gunshots, and I don't remember anything else. I don't even remember when I broke my shoulder. Okay? I'm sorry."
Armstrong rose up behind his superior officer, "You heard gunshots?"
"You were in that market?" Roy's tone perked with interest. They had not been found anywhere near the market crowds, but on the opposite block where they'd managed to escape.
Klose looked over at the pair of military men; the sudden change in questioning was far easier to share, "Yeah. We followed someone into an alley. We looked back and saw a lady out in the street get shot, so we ran," she put her hand to her forehead where a bandage was taped covering the stitches she'd received, "um, the building exploded and we ended up in the other building after that."
Armstrong folded his hefty arms, "Who did you follow into the alley? Did you see who shot the lady?"
Mustang did not toss an additional question in, thought suddenly he had a mounting list of them. He simply watched her facial expressions as she responded.
"No," Klose replied, feeling as thought she was letting someone down by not being able to help identify anyone, "the alley was dark and it was just something moving in there. Man shaped shadow I guess. The lady just fell to the ground. I think it was the first gunshot before all the noise. She was just a street vendor and didn't even see it coming."
Armstrong nodded slowly. Klose looked up at him but towering man's questioning seemed to of finished for the time being. He finally thanked her and stepped back towards the door, "Lieutenant?"
Havoc perked up and followed behind the group as they left the room.
Mustang and Hawkeye, who had yet to lend her voice to the situation, were left in the room. They were the only other two out of uniform beyond Lt. Ross. Mustang sat, dressed in black pants, a white dress shirt and a pale grey/blue sweater. Riza's arms rested folded across her white blouse and a dark brown jacket matching the knee-length skirt she wore lay folded in her lap. By their appearances, they looked out of place among the men, yet Roy's presence in the room had managed to orchestrate everyone's actions like a master puppeteer over the last hour – even when he'd said nothing. Klose knew it. She wished he would leave, but something told her it wouldn't happen.
Outside the room, Havoc sighed, leaning up against the wall across from the room where his superiors still remained. He looked over to Armstrong, concern flashing through his eyes, "It was consistent with what we've heard so far about what's happened, isn't it? Gunshots first, explosions... other people saw the gunmen duck into the alleys."
"When they were in the alley, they must have prevented someone from setting off the last set of explosives," Armstrong nodded slowly, his voice sounding powerful even if he toned it down in thought, "to think those children made it out of that disaster alive the way they did."
"Two saving graces for the government anyways," Havoc sighed and stared up to the ceiling. He chewed the end of his cigarette off in his teeth before spitting it out onto the floor, "didn't the bureaucrats disregard the rebel's threats as hot air? This is the third time in the last four months. We're not being taken seriously as a political state and the government is acting like none of this is happening. If they keep doing that-"
"Lieutenant," Armstrong interjected, his sobriety and composure he continually displayed ended the conversation. He looked down to the floor at the rolling cigarette, "This is a hospital, pick it up."
Once again, finding himself sitting upon his suitcase, Edward stared off into the pale grays and blues that began to emerge over the lush forest hills, signaling the beginning of sunrise. His thumb hooked through the clasp on his watch as he mindlessly twirled the chain-linked keepsake around at his side.
From the ancient second floor window of the elder Oberth's mediaeval styled home, the Professor's voice called out to Edward, "The sun isn't up yet, Vlad may be out. Watch your self."
"Huh?" Ed looked blankly over his shoulder up to the window, catching the watch cleanly in his hand. In the silence of the morning, he could hear the man descend the staircase within the house. Ed kept an eye on the door as the man took a moment to emerge, toting his leather bag of supplies.
"Who?" Ed asked again, straightening his vest as he stood up.
"Don't worry about it," the Professor laughed as the two began their early morning walk to the train station, "Simply a ghost story told to keep the children from playing in the streets all night long. It's teased about in Sunday school since the devil's house is so close to the church."
Scratching his cheek a little in confusion, Ed looked down at the stone path before them, walking to the beat of his counterpart's footsteps. He said nothing more. There was no way Ed could qualify the statement, he wasn't certain where it would head. His disinterest in religion haunted him wherever he went; it was a part of every day life on this side no matter what country in Europe he entered. It was something he had never encountered back home. Yes, there were religious groups, but for most people it wasn't part of daily life. Here though, no matter where he traveled to, religion and church was what many people based their lives off of. He was constantly reminded about people's sensitivity with the issue and always seemed to find people who believed that one religion or another was either superior or inferior. He could not understand why – they all sounded fundamentally the same to him. Over the last year he'd found his disinterest turn into a blanket of dislike of religious beliefs. This was certainly not helped by a speech given by the NASDAP Chairman earlier in April that he and his Father sat through. He'd learnt quite quickly after arriving in this world that it was simply safer to say nothing at all when the subject came up.
The two men walked in silence to the train station from the doctor's old home. Ed did not enjoy the walk he'd had the night before - from the hospital, over to one house and then to the next. It was as if the townspeople watched him from every angle and their gaze never let go. An unfamiliar face was quite uncommon and the war had put everyone on an edge where it was hard to feel safe; in a place where everyone seemed to know everyone else, no one knew him and therefore did not trust nor want his presence. It was somewhat of a relief that he had slept through the daylight hours. Oddly, doctor mentioned to him that from time to time he could tell Edward's first language was not German and that became another glowing label slapped on his forehead. He was thankful doctors were unprejudicial in nature. Though, language seemed to be something he picked up on quiet easily beyond the Gate and found he was quite skilled at learning. He'd never encountered a foreign language at home and had never heard of the majority of the ones beyond the Gate.
Approaching upon the train station that was now within shouting distance, the doctor stopped suddenly, "You're up so early!" he exclaimed in surprise.
Ed stopped as well, looking around to the young girl whom the doctor had just addressed.
"The cows have been so good in the mornings these last few days. Mother wants us to get everything we can from it," the tiny brown haired, hazel-eyed girl, who could not be more than 10 years old, sat her carton of glass milk bottles down onto the clay path.
"Your brother should be carrying those," the doctor's fathering tone returned to his voice, "what sort of young man lets a little girl carry things like this."
The girl suddenly waved her hands quickly, "No, no, I offered! I'm just taking these over to the store, did you want one Professor?" the girl held out a sealed bottle from the lot, but her attention turned to the on looking Edward. She hesitated, but finally offered, "or perhaps one for your friend?"
Ed raised his hands in defense sharply, "Oh no, no no… you should sell it at your store. It would be wasteful any other way," a guilt pain hit him having just finished lamenting over the unwelcoming nature of the town not long ago.
"The milk is best early in the morning," she smiled sweetly at him.
An uncomfortable sweatdrop ran down his cheek, "No… no, really, I had breakfast. I'm good for the day."
Folding his arms, the doctor shot a malicious look at Edward, "You should drink your milk – everyone knows that. It's good for your bones and will help you grow str-"
"I don't need to grow!" Ed's eye twitched unnaturally as a maddening look crossed his face, "I did that already! How come this never stops!" the circles under his eyes darkened as his eye twitched again, "Why is no one able to appreciate how getting this tall is the best things that has happened since I got here!" Ed slammed his foot down on the dry clay path causing a thin cloud of dust to arise at his feet, "that milk is not going to change the fact I came this close to 170 before it stopped. So, I'd like to see you find a bean this size!"
The doctor's blank look and the girl's dumbfounded expressions did not faze Edward as he lurched himself around and came nose to nose with the doctor.
The pair engaged in an unanswerable staring match between The Misunderstood and The Confused for a prolonged moment. Finally, glancing to the side momentarily, the doctor took a sharp step backwards, "Have a good trip, Edward Elric."
Broche leaned his chair back against the wall, balancing it on the two hind legs. He folded his arms across his chest and stared off into space.
"Don't let the chair slide out from under you," Lt. Ross came down the hall, the heels of her shoes echoing with each step she took.
Broche raised an eyebrow as he looked in her direction, "I'm a professional chair balancer, don't worry."
Shaking her head with a grin she leaned up against the wall next to him, "The Lt. Col. called out Mustang."
Broche rocked his chair back to four legs and looked up at his superior officer, "Isn't that what you wanted to happen when I delivered that message?"
"It was," her smile was distant as she relaxed a bit, "I thought he had the right to know what was going on. He may still be on leave, but he had many years of his life wrapped up with them. It would have been unfair any other way," Maria brushed her hair aside and stepped around the young Sergeant, "is he asleep?"
Stretching out his shoulders, Broche pulled himself to his feet, "Yeah I think so. I haven't heard a peep from him. Did you have a chance to talk with him much before you left?"
Shaking her head, the Lieutenant looked down at the door handle, "No, he seemed out of it. The doctors gave both of them some strong pain killers and the last thing he seemed to remember was that girl downstairs. He was really concerned for her. But…"
Broche frowned a touch, "Do you think that could be really him? I mean…"
Without hesitation Lt. Ross nodded firmly, "He is. It's just information isn't adding up," she glanced a puzzled look at the young officer, "Why does that girl insist he's traveling under Izumi's name? Where IS Izumi? Why would they not contact us if they were coming through Central? And where's Edward? Since when did those boys not travel together?"
Bringing his hand to his chin in thought, Broche frowned at the possibility, "Do you think Edward was caught in the explosions? That whole mess is still smoldering..."
"No," She rested her hand on the doorframe, "the first words out of his mouth would have been 'Where is my brother!' not 'How is Klose!' I don't understand. And that girl told you and the doctors a completely different story than the one she's telling now."
"I can't answer that one," Broche stretched out one more time and dropped himself back into the chair. From the corner of his eye he watched Lt. Ross pretending as though she did not want to go back into the room. He grinned to himself, "so why don't you ask him yourself? Alphonse has always been more honest with you than Edward ever was. You don't want him to disappear on you before you get a chance to chat some more. Right?"
Relenting easily she popped the door open, "I suppose you're right."
Cocking his head with a smirk, Broche quipped as she walked into the room, "Of course I-"
The panic in her voice threw him to his feet.
"Everyone probably thinks I'm dead," Klose groaned, cautiously rubbing the bandage on her forehead, "my head hurts still…"
Riza stood up a moment, grabbing the medical clipboard hanging off the end post of the bed, "I don't think they can give you anything else for another hour or two."
"And my shoulder hurts even more…" giving a long and emphatic whine for sympathy, Klose glanced over to Mustang hoping her complaining would give him cause to leave.
Riza gave Roy a similar, 'are we finished here?' glance as she re-attached the clipboard and sat down next to him again. He did not respond to either of their non verbal hints. Riza frowned.
"Sir?" she prompted him, "Should we inquire into the progress of the Lt. Colonel's investigation?"
Roy gave a reluctant sigh, "It would be prudent." Slowly he rose to his feet, rubbing his sore leg as he did so, wondering if it was ever going to heel properly. Gathering his coat, Roy paused a moment and stepped back over to Klose's bed. He slowly sat himself down at the foot of the bed looking over at her. Klose tried to avoid eye contact with him, fidgeting with her sheets to distract herself from him.
"Can you tell me…" he waited for her to look up at him before continuing on. If he could see how her eyes reacted to his questioning he could judge the truth in her statement. Luckily for his patience, Klose fell into his web, "Can you tell me how you got out from beneath that building and into the one we found you by?"
A knock came at the door; Riza glanced over but did nothing for it, she was intent to let the Brig. General finish.
"… I didn't get out from beneath a building…" she sat back slowly, confused by the question.
Roy frowned, "You had to have done that. You said you were next to a building that exploded," he adjusted himself at the end of the bed, "two of the three structures exploded outwards with enough force that the building walls entered the alleys. The floors collapsed down freely. An immense amount of debris was in the alleyways and streets."
Klose carefully ran that through her mind, "I don't understand… that's not what…"
"But the building Sergeant Broche found you two lying by was an office building the third structure toppled onto because one of the charges didn't go off. That was the building you came out of. The back alley was the separation between the two locations. It was filled with chunks of wall, flooring and general debris that would have been impossible to dig out of from below. Was there a pocket you two were in and how did you get out of it?"
Looking down into her lap, Klose tried to replay the moments in her mind.
"The explosion happened on your right hand side did it not?" Roy gestured to the obvious display of gashes, scabs, scrapes and bruises that centered heavily on the right side of her body, "You must have been in that back alley behind both buildings. If you had not made it that far, then when the building had exploded, you would have had no way to gain access to the area we found you in. You would have retreated to the market because of the debris. Now, if you were deep in the alley, near its other end, building two would have killed you before building three did."
Roy's matter-of-fact speech sent a chill into her spine, "We… turned a corner… and went another way."
"Fair answer. So, my question again was, 'how did you get out from under that pile of debris?'"
Klose sat there, her eyes in her lap, replaying the moment Al used the transmutation circle she'd drawn for him. She did not want to tell him that. Though, if what he was saying was correct, she could not dodge an honest answer. Her shoulders deflated, "I don't know."
A faint smirk crossed Roy's lips momentarily as he stood up, "I'll let you think on your answer. You've given yourself a high standard of deception, I expect you to do better than 'I don't know' later. I look forward to whatever story you concoct for me," the victory sarcasm dripped from his mouth, "I certainly hope it'll be as creative as the story you will give me for the 'unnatural hole in the wall' Sergeant Broche told us he found you two by."
Mustang threw his dark grey trench coat over his shoulders and let himself out of the room, followed closely behind by Hawkeye. Both of them stumbled to a halt when, immediately out of the door, they could move no further. Roy staggered back into the doorway, bumping Riza off balance. He looked back at her as the Lieutenant caught her balance, before the unnerved and suddenly annoyed Brigadier General glared down at what was deliberately blocked his path.
"Out of the way," he commanded in a tone interchangeable with 'Jump!'
Alphonse did no such thing. He stood before the pair in the washed out grey pants and white shirt the hospital had provided. His skin an unhealthy pale colour, his hair still a 'fresh out of bed' mess and the light circles under his eyes made his cross expression even more emphatic. In a similar commander's tone he replied, "Klose is in there and I want to talk to her."
The unmistakable voice, from an unfamiliar boy's face, shot into the hard shell of the normally steadfast man. For an urgent moment, a startled expression flooded into the Brig. General's good eye as it widened.
To Be Continued...
Please feed the plot bunny, R&R is loved all the time!
I did not know if Oberth's father went by the surname of Krasser or Oberth, I chose Oberth.
'Vlad' has nothing to do with religion - Ed simply has no idea what the old man is talking about.
Roy and Armstrong are very hard to write. Roy's constant composure makes it difficult to capture the wonderment that is Roy without doing a disservice to his character. And Armstrong because… he's just sooo much easier to have in silly scenes!
Incase You're Curious
Oberth is an interesting man to research. If you like FMA and want to avoid homework, I suggest it as good reading – it'll probably do you good when the movie comes out.
Schässburg (Schäßburg) is the German name for the city, its Romanian name is Sighişoara.
Hermannstadt is now called Sibiu.
Chapter 52 Feedback
:D I'm really glad people liked it.
Izumi's Husband Thing - Um... oops! (where's an emoticon when I need one) Hmm... I'll work that in somehow... hopefully.
Angewandte Chemie - I thought it was a (science?) periodical or magazine of some sort. The European database of periodicals and newspapers I found listed it as a per-volume publication running from 1887 to 1941. Beyond what the handy-dandy PDF told me I would not be any of the wiser :3;;
Weiner Zeitung - Weiner was how the the paper's website had it spelt, er :D;;; I can blame them?
Yay! I like feedback :D
2010-05-30: Fleshed it out like the last chapter and I hope the improvement is well received. It certainly didn't need the same kind of TLC that the prior chapter did. The original version remains in my Live Journal account. I may only do touch ups to these first two chapters unless I notice any outrageous errors at some point as I'm re-reading my story. Pre-edit word count was 9,664, post-edit is now 10,114.
Thank you and enjoy!