A/N: I got big into FMP! after seeing the first episode. Any series that has a character like Shinji instantly wraps me up and draws me in. Otaku rule in anime, but Shinji is EXACTLY like I was when I was a lot younger. I too had Jane's identification guides that I read for fun. Now I'm older, I've seen the entire series, and I'm no longer a military otaku, but I can still remember so much of it. I was born in '82, so I don't really remember the Cold War, but I studied it intensely.

There's a lot of FMP! fic out there. It's hard to compete. But one thing I've noticed about the fanfic: it deals with Sosuke and Kaname. Nobody has yet speculated onto how a modern world has had the Soviet Union, DVD-RW drives (How else could Gauron have gotten that research data?), and Arm Slaves came to coexist.

I've toyed with the idea of a historical fanfic for FMP! before, but I've never felt competent enough to try it. It's taken me a while to really think about the backstory and how things came to be in that parallel world. This is my attempt at that project. I apologize to cultnirvana, Anysia, Lakewood, and especially Teriyaki Chicken; of all the fanfic writers out there, I respect you all very much. I can only hope to aspire to 1/4th of your talents on a good day.

All terms, country names, installations, and localities are completely accurate and either did or do exist as far as I can research them. Any original exceptions to this will be clarified in after-chapter A/Ns.

Reviews and comments are welcome! I appreciate all criticism, positive, constructive, or just ranting. My real passion is Comic Party fanfic, so this is a whole new venture for me.

I hope this doesn't fall behind in terms of updates, but I also hope I can make this work. Every character is original, I do not own Full Metal Panic! and I accept no profits for my work. That said, sit back, relax, and enjoy.

Opening: "The Hollow Men" by T.S. Eliot, first canto

"We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us -- if at all -- not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men."

The Hollow Men

Prologue: Shape Without Form, Shade Without Color

June 14th, 1964
Arzamas-16 Laboratory/All-Russian Scientific and Research Institute of Experimental Physics
Approximately 400km east of Moscow, Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic
3:47 PM

The "clean room" was as hermetically sealed as physics could allow. Triple airlocks purged the air, chemically sterilized the remaining vacuum, purged the sterilizing agents, and bombarded the entryway with reactive neutrons in each chamber, which then were soaked up by the heavy lead walls and floor. Fortunately for the scientists working there, the reactive neutrons were introduced only after they had left the airlocks. Unfortunately for anything else besides the scientists, the isotope of cesium that was used had a tendency to instantly attack the DNA structures of inorganic and organic matter on a molecular level. Literally, no living molecule left inside would survive for long.

The airlocks then led into the oxygen-free clean room complex with absolutely no air ventilation or emergency systems. A near-space suit was the required fashion in the clean room; everyone carried a nine-hour supply of nitrox; pure oxygen having fallen out of favor for its expense and bulk. Moreover, the rather polluted air of the Nizhny Novgorod region had the scientists wanting to spend too much time in the pure air of the suits.

Indeed, the space-like environment led Gregor Hayamovich Rachenkov to think back to his last job.

Baikonur had better food supplies, the physicist sighed. He wanted desperately for the visor of his pressure suit to fog up, but the regulated temperature and no-fog lens kept him clearly focused on the silicon board in front of him on a work table. Better food supplies and steady electricity. Those damnable cosmonauts get the royal treatment in our wonderfully equal society. Sometimes I miss even just the assembling and programming of rocket gyroscopes.

Most of the scientists struggled with the soldering iron through the insulated gloves of their pressure suits, adopting an awkward two-handed grasp on the tool. This forced the scientists to work in teams, one holding down the thin, flat circuit solder plates and transistors and one performing the actual soldering. They didn't fear grasping the hot iron, thanks to their suits, but the process was greatly inefficient. Rachenkov, though, wielded the soldering iron like an extension of his arm, deftly working with the dual-transistor chips on the printed circuit board.

"Rachenkov, board 14-27, section A, complete," he pulled the new microphone down from an overhead arm and brought it to the front of his visor to speak. In front of him, a hissing noise emerged from a metal hatch as the receiving system went through its own triple airlock. The hatch flipped down cleanly, having none of the perpetual squeaks and unpolished edges that marked the pinnacles of Soviet engineering. A plastic tray emerged, and Rachenkov placed the circuit board gingerly onto the tray. Automatically, the tray slid back into the hatch, which slid closed behind it.

"Moving to assembly area," Rachenkov again spoke into the microphone, returning the soldering iron to its cradle and flipping a small red switch on the nearest wall. The switch killed all power to the room; the need to install electrical outlets caused an unacceptable introduction of electromagnetic radiation and dust hazards. Every single device in the room was hardwired directly into the wall. Normally, a scientist would use each device's individual switch, but this Radio Shack soldering iron was obtained at great difficulty from the West. It was far more effective than the irons made at whichever massive central factory manufactured them for the Soviet Union and export. It had no such switch, since those were very prone to failure.

"Comrade Rachenkov cleared to assembly area," a voice yelled as loud as it could through a pressure suit. The lab supervisor, Valery Borisovich Solov, had just come through the entry airlock. Rachenkov stepped through the plastic sheets that separated his work area from the rest of the lab, passing through the auxiliary board fabrication facility on his way to the central assembly area.

"Fantastic work, comrade," Solov clapped Rachenkov on the shoulder. "Boris Georgievich told me about how you had 10-27 done not only four hours ago."

"It was nothing, comrade Solov," Rachenkov shook his head, trying to mask his scratchy voice. It grew worse every day, a minor shame of his from his younger years in places far less clean than Arzamas-16. "Just a matter of proper dedication."

"Proper dedication is not merely working through your lunch break every day, Gregor Hayamovich," Solov made a tut-tut-tut motion with his finger. "You didn't show up in the cafeteria."

Stop calling me that.

"I wasn't very hungry. The layout required a lot of focus and it was just a matter of concentration. By the time I was finished, I noticed that lunch was over."

"Gregor Hayamovich," Solov walked with Rachenkov through the sparse white halls of the facility. "The rodina has invested a great deal in you. Please, keep up your health. It is a necessity to maintain your well-being. Keep in mind that many collective farmers have toiled and grown their crops with their own sweat, keeping it healthy and robust for our country. Would you deny them their selfless efforts in the advancement of the goals of socialism?"

How dare you invoke my father's name. "Gregor Hayamovich," indeed. His name was not some bastardized Russification, you apparatchik fool.

"Of course not, comrade Solov," Rachenkov shook his head, clearing his throat. "I would never pass up the beets in our cafeteria voluntarily. They are only now just becoming sweeter than even this winter's crop."

"Indeed they are, comrade. Indeed they are." Solov raised a hand to a similarly pressure-suited guard, whose bulk and imposing glare seemed comically hidden under the protective gear. "Solov, A-14-W2, and..." he tossed his head towards Rachenkov.

"Rachenkov, D-21-A7."

"Entering assembly lab," Solov finished with a nod.

"Solov, A-14-W2 and Rachenkov, D-21-A7, entering at 1550 hours, exiting 1555 hours," the guard pronounced into a microphone similar to Rachenkov's. The guard held up a plastic card with a series of holes punched into it; Solov held up a similar card. They each walked to opposite ends of the hall, skewed apart by a few feet's length. Simultaneously, they inserted and removed the key cards. An alarm bell tolled three harsh rings, and a pair of white metal doors slowly motored open, noiselessly and smoothly.

Welcome to the Dollhouse, Rachenkov bit his lower lip. Entering here was always a torturous process. Exiting always required him to leave something deep within him behind.

The doors led to a darkened room, with portable red lights illuminating objects that would obstruct one's path. Wrenches with half-meter long arms, screwdrivers with heads that even Rachenkov didn't recognize, and hammers that looked like an Olympic weightlifter would have trouble hefting littered the floor, amongst other unrecognizable tools and devices. A squeaking sound—un-oiled caster wheels—echoed along with an agonizingly steady drip... drip... drip... drip sound.

This would be worse than Chinese water torture to endure for long, Rachenkov thought as he and Solov went forward through the macabre tool box. It seemed to go on forever, with walls that couldn't be seen by the two men and had no illumination from the lights. There were constant fumbles and small collisions as they negotiated the tricky path.

"We're one crucial step closer to completion with the board you just completed," Solov attempted to make conversation with the older engineer. "The programming should be done even as we speak."

"Indeed? I had thought that the Alignment Section still needed to fabricate the rings and bearingless motors."

"Already done. We have little means to power them, and we'll have to conclude our assembly and testing at the new Chernobyl nuclear facility, still under construction. Even so, we'll be conducting a very brief experiment of the entire system next week."

The entire thing? So soon?

"Are we that far along?"

"Like I said, comrade, the rodina has invested much in you and your comrades here and elsewhere."

"Amazing." How much of that 'investment' could feed children, buy grain from the West? Even I know that those damn sickly things we eat in the cafeteria are the best that can be offered during this drought. Yet Krushchev still won't buy foreign wheat even if it's offered...

"Here we are," Solov remarked as the squeaking and dripping grew more present. "You should be proud of all your progress, comrade."

"I serve the rodina," Rachenkov replied almost robotically, choking back the rising nausea he always felt upon entering the room.

The source of the squeaking was a series of carts holding more strange tools, wireless soldering irons, a small welding kit, and all the sundry supplies needed to keep work going. Manipulating them was a girl with thin, almond-shaped eyes that flitted about constantly as she reached for tools, gear, and circuit boards.

She moved like lightning, supported by the unknown chemicals and nutrients that fed into an IV tube in her upper right arm. There were no bags supplying the IV, merely tubes that fed in right from the ceiling and were mounted on tracks to move about the ceiling of the assembly area. Clad only in a thin, sterile hospital gown, Rachenkov could easily see the outline of her ribcage as the slitted sides of the garment fell open. He had to constantly alter his gaze to avoid any undue glimpses at her breasts; she never made a move to cover herself or shrink further into the gown.

I am surprised they even considered you human enough to clothe with that, dear Natalya.

"Natalya" was only the name given to the girl by the science staff. Nobody knew who she really was, but the tone of her skin and the distinct shape of her eyes clearly marked her of Asian descent. Her deft, quick movements were carried on without her even pulling her gaze from the complex mass of circuitry, wires, and electronic devices contained in a large, awkward-looking steel box in front of her.

"There, comrade!" Solov exclaimed loudly as a hissing noise emanated from the wall. "There is your contribution, just before our eyes." He didn't bother to lower her voice, nor did Natalya bother to notice them.

"A wonder, these Shepatavshiy," Rachenkov commented rather bluntly, not bothering to hide the grit from his voice. He cleared his throat once again.

The hissing faded, punctuated by a momentarily invisible hatch opening in the wall. Working a screwdriver with her left hand, Natalya simply reached over and grabbed the circuit board from the hatch tray. She plugged it into a component in the box, still turning the screw in her left hand, reaching for a red-hot soldering iron with her right.

The hisssss of burning flesh caused both Rachenkov and Solov to flinch a little. Neither of the men could tell if there was any smoke from the burn or any reaction from the girl; she flipped the iron around, grasping it like a dagger, and jammed it into the depths of the box. The harsh, animal-like movements caused Rachenkov to bite his lower lip again; not out of nausea, but out of fear that she would damage some vital component.

The girl—the "Shepatavshiy"—flipped the iron back around, placing it back in its stand, then focused both her hands onto wielding two screwdrivers. Tirelessly, she twisted and turned the box, receiving another circuit board a moment later from the hissing hatch.

"She's been like this for the past eight weeks," Solov remarked, patting Rachenkov on the back and turning him around. "Come, comrade, our time here is almost up. We would not want to have comrade Druzov out there come in after us. He is far from gentle in dealing with breaches."

Eight weeks, he thought. This poor thing has been drugged and fed intravenously for the past eight weeks. Such talents and intelligence turned into such a robot. What has become of her parents? Has she no lover, have there been no worries? Are we to assume that the rodina has made her into such a tool for its own purposes? To think that she is being wasted away like this...

Arzamas-16 Residential Facility
11:30 PM

Despite the early summer, it was still frigid outside of the laboratory dorms. Most of the scientists, workers, soldiers, and administrators were inside, sleeping or huddled together over homebrew vodka. Guards were on duty at the access roads and guard towers, but other than that, the facility was largely secure for the night.

Rachenkov was outside, coughing over a cigarette. He hated the things; normally, he wouldn't touch them unless his life depended on it, yet outside of the clean room, he always had an open pack of cigarettes within easy reach.

If only this throat of mine could have been from cancer, Rachenkov pretended to take a drag and coughed as the smoke billowed up in his cheeks. The quality of the tobacco had dropped off; even less-casual smokers noted that the finer Cuban tobacco had been replaced with garbage grown in the Baltics.

Rachenkov rubbed his throat, feeling the scar where a German bayonet had grazed him so many years ago. He felt himself fortunate to be liberated from Theresienstadt with only a bayonet to the throat, the last desperate hostage attempt of an SS trooper. He remembered the moments as the Soviet soldiers shouted at him, blaring Russian at a man who spoke none of it.

"Back off!" the SS soldier had yelled in German. "Back off or I will slaughter him right now!"

The crack of a rifle had silenced the man, whose backward fall had cut far enough into Rachenkov's voice box to permanently affect his speech. The fortunate actions of corpsmen had saved his life, but not his speaking. Unfortunately, nothing could save him from being on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.

"A cold night, isn't it?"

Rachenkov didn't flinch from the sudden voice behind him, speaking literate Russian with an accent of Leningrad. "It was worse in Terezin," he replied.

"Do you still have family there?"

"Taken to Auschwitz."

The Soviets still think they went to Bergen-Belsen. No, they did not go to labor. They went to die.

"I had family in Holland when they came," the voice broke off from the code pattern. Rachenkov pretended to re-light his cigarette, flicking his lighter at waist level. This would make it difficult for any guards to see the hand slipping into his pocket. "I am thankful for the liberation, but there is much left to be ascribed."

"I have seen what they did to other Jews," Gregor Hayamovich Rachenkov—formerly Gregor Rachenberg, son of Chaim Rachenberg—rubbed the tattoo on his wrist, the number 37424, with a Star of David crudely preceding it. "I was lucky." He coughed violently, doubling over as the man beside him patted him on the back.

"Are you all right?"

"I couldn't be all right even if I wanted to."

"What made you miss the last rendezvous?"

"Acceleration to the program. They're putting us in on a new gyroscope design for future mass-production."

"A gyroscope?"

"You might have heard of that miserable failure, the Shagohod. That was only semi-walking, and horribly impractical. This gyroscope is smaller, but it requires lots of power to operate and align. Theoretically, it can balance a truly walking tank, and when the power sources can be properly miniaturized, it can be reduced in size from a colossus to a much smaller, more portable design."

"So they're going tactical..."

"You'll see everything when you get back."

"Do you need anything?"

Rachenkov thought for a moment. "When you come back... bring me a proper dress."

"A what?"

"A dress. Something that would look good on an Asian girl."

The voice fell silent for a moment.

"I saw her again today."

"That girl..."

"He said she was a 'Shepatavshiy.'"

"'Whispered?'" the unknown man asked in English.

"Da. When she still spoke, Solov said that she spoke of voices whispering to her, telling her how to build the machines that we now work towards. The entire effort is her child. She wears nothing but a hospital gown. I think she deserves a proper dress." Rachenkov stepped on the cigarette.

"You're quite the gentleman."

"She is little more than skin and bones, and she will never grow back after what they have done to her. Let her at least live out in dignity."

There was no response. Rachenkov turned, but the man was already gone.

June 17th, 1964
Haneda International Airport Tokyo, Japan
9:45 AM

The tall, trim Asian man never got tired of the diplomatic passport that he had been issued. The airport, not even five years old at this point, still sparkled like a new car, but its luster was dulled by the flock of gray and navy-blue suits that walked through the halls of the terminal. Like Moses' staff, the passport parted the flocks of salarymen at the check-in. He didn't have any baggage to check, just the leather attaché case handcuffed to his arm. Nobody could legally touch him, but if they did, the forced opening of the case would immediately trigger a powerful explosive charge, incinerating the contents of the case. Anyone nearby would easily feel the effects, but the information inside the case was often considered more important than the lives of the carrier or any innocent bystanders.

"We hope you enjoyed your trip, Mr. Chan," a ticket agent at the Qantas gate bowed to him.

"My pleasure," Chan bowed back, keeping his Australian accent under control, as always.

"Mr. Chan's" flight to Sydney lifted off right on schedule. He sipped at a chardonnay from a Queensland winery as he sat back in his first-class seat. The scent of cigarette smoke drifting in from the smoking section of the plane jogged his memory back to the Minox film he had developed not hours ago, and the smoking man who had given it to him.

The photos contained an image that "Mr. Chan" found profoundly disturbing. Aside from the covertly-obtained pictures of documentation and a strange device that looked like the lower half of a robot from a late-50s sci-fi film, he remembered the frightening image.

"She is little more than skin and bones, and she will never grow back after what they have done to her. Let her at least live out in dignity."

"'Shepatavshiy,'" "Mr. Chan" said out loud to the empty seat near him, not really expecting a response. "'Whispered.'"

To be continued...

A/N and cultural notes: Rodina means "motherland" in Russian. I preserved the name for period integrity.

The Russian naming system has casual acquaintances and friends referring to each other (in the case of men) by their given name and their father's name. "Mikhail Borisovich" would be "Michael, son of Boris." Women have the same thing with the mother's name.

I hope the MGS3 reference doesn't go unnoticed.