Full Metal Bop
"I wish I could be hungry again," the childish voice rang out, echoing hollowly from the depths of the massive armor he "wore."
"I'm hungry enough for both of us," replied an older youth, barely into his mid-teens. He was inflicting severe damage upon a roast chicken, several bowls of rice and soup, and the few remaining scraps of bread left on the table. Money had been a bit short for a while, and until they had reached the small city of Istakar, they had been unable to buy enough food to keep Edward's hunger at bay.
Naturally, as he was one of the finest alchemists in the country, if not the world, he could have used his transmutation powers to change some of the prairie foliage into edible vegetation, there was still something terribly lacking about the taste whenever he did that. Luckily, his stipend as a State Alchemist had been steadily building in his bank account and he was able to buy more than enough food to calm his irascible gut.
Replete, Edward Elric reclined in his seat with a sigh of relief. "I hate going hungry."
"Yes, but you're a fantastic alchemist. You could have changed the trees and bushes in the prairie into food."
"Maybe, but the taste is funny," Ed replied, then he frowned. I've heard that argument somewhere before…
"Do you want to get a hotel room now?" the metal giant asked.
Ed nodded. "Sure, Al, we can do that. But we have to find one that can accommodate you."
Alphonse, the occupant of the enormous suit of armor, shifted positions so that he gave the impression of curiosity. "Why? I can fit in the stables."
"My brother does not sleep on hay, or with animals," Ed stated firmly, frowning into where Al's eyes would be were he actually in the armor.
"Gee, Ed, that's sweet of you," Al replied, and the tone of his voice indicated a blushing gratitude at this expression of filial love. "But it's only my soul in here, not my body, remember?"
Ed scowled deeper. "And that's exactly why you stay out of the stables. Your soul is what makes you my brother, not your…your body." Even after so many years, it was still hard for Ed to accept the fact that one of their earliest and most ambitions alchemical experiments had stripped his brother of his body and consigned his soul to residence within the suit of armor. All while it had failed to restore the body of our mother, Ed thought bitterly, resting his hand on the artificial leg that replaced the one lost in the same experiment.
"You okay, Ed?" Al asked gently.
"Fine," Ed mumbled. "Let's get going."
The two brothers left their payment with the cashier, added a suitable tip, and went off in search of lodging for the night. They had a long way yet to go, and they needed the rest.
The Bebop was lashed to a pier in Istakar's harbor and the three crewmembers were stretching their legs on solid ground. Jet Black, the owner and pilot, made sure to securely lock all the doors and any other means of ingress; once that smell of dead fish and rotten seaweed got into the Bebop, it would be nearly impossible to get out.
"So where is our contact here?" Faye Valentine asked, looking around as though he, she, or they would magically appear.
"We have an address," Jet replied, unfolding the paper he'd printed out aboard the ship.
The third member of the crew, Spike Spiegel, finished popping his stiff back. "But do we have a map so we can find it?"
"We will in a minute," Jet replied. "Just be a little more patient."
"I can't," Spike sighed. "I smell food, real food, and it's playing havoc with my patience factor."
"Enough noodles for one day?" Faye asked.
Spike grimaced. "For the rest of my life. I swear, the next time I see a cup of ramen, either it's going out the airlock or I am. And don't make me choose; I can't make up my mind which I'd prefer right now."
Jet spared a smile. "We have enough on us that I think we can spare you a quick trip to a hot dog stand."
"I wanted Italian," Faye chimed in.
"Too many noodles," Spike retorted. "Just find me meat and we'll call it fair."
Situating a large duffel bag on his shoulders, Jet led his partners into town. "You help me bag this bounty and you can have steak."
By the next morning, the Bebop's crew had managed to secure descriptions of their bounties and information on where to bring them on their capture. "You must be warned, though, that Mister Elric's hands are dangerous," their contact said. "He's not the world's most senior or talented alchemist, but he is incredibly gifted nonetheless."
Jet managed to spare a noncommittal "hm," then resumed his analysis of the pictures he'd been given. "I wouldn't worry too much, Mr. Durant. We try to avoid head-on conflicts wherever we can. If he's as dangerous as you say, we'll most likely take him by surprise, both him and his iron friend."
"But don't take his 'friend' as a pushover, either," Durant added. "He is almost as skillful as Edward."
Amazing what they program robots for, Spike mused, looking at the imposing image of Alphonse Elric.
"So an alchemist is some kind of magician?" Faye asked.
"A bit more than that, but yes," Durant replied. "An alchemist manipulates the elements themselves. Not the traditional 'earth, water, air, and fire' elements, but everything found on the periodic table. From gases to metals, an alchemist can change them from one form to another."
"The old 'lead into gold' routine," Jet asked.
"For the beginners, yes. Exceptionally skilled practitioners can even change gases into liquids, such as combining hydrogen and oxygen into water, for example."
"This will be tricky," Spike thought aloud. "But whatever his gimmicks are, we can take him if we're careful."
Durant rose and extended his hand. "I'm sure you can. You all came highly recommended."
In turn, the crew of the Bebop shook Durant's hand and took their leave of him. Once outside, Jet nodded to his left. "Well, Durant's informant said that Elric was in a hotel off that way last night. Let's see if we can find him."
"What's in the bag, Jet?" Faye asked.
The big man half-smiled. "A few magic tricks of my own."
After breakfast, Ed had begun to ponder his next step. As yet, there were no further assignments coming from the Amestris military's State Alchemist branch, which left Ed and Al free to pursue their own means for a while. I think Dante's still out and up to whatever trouble she can make, he thought, his chin in his hand as he pondered. Maybe Lust or Gluttony need to be found and accounted for.
"What are you up to, brother?" came Al's metallic-sounding voice from behind him.
"Trying to figure out if we should tie up some loose ends, or if there are any loose ends to tie up. Or if we're tied up looking for loose ends. Or if we should end our tying up and loosen up a bit."
"You lost me."
"Well, with no orders coming through, we're on our own. Still, there's no sense wasting time or sitting idle, is there? We can go hunt homunculi; I'm sure there are still a few unaccounted for. Or we can…well, something other than sit around."
Al shifted positions. "How about just going for a walk?"
"Isn't that how we got here? A lot of walking?"
"That's my point. How long has it been since we've just done something for sheer pleasure? You know, the whole smelling-of-the-roses thing."
Ed pondered that in its turn. "You might have a point. We've been so tense over the search for the Philosopher's Stone and everybody else either trying to kill us over it, get it before us, or make one of their own…it's been nuts." He stood to leave. "You're right. Let's just take a quick stroll."
Unseen inside the armor, Al smiled. "Good idea. I'm tired of thinking about that stone, too."
"So am I. And that little kid with the accent and those glasses going on about getting his own Philosopher's Stone. He was the worst! And what was up with that scar?"
Despite the fact that they were on Earth, Spike and Faye still found themselves rubbernecking; after the destruction of the moon and the subsequent meteor showers and tidal stresses, the old homeworld wasn't quite what it once was. Never having been on Earth, Spike found himself marveling at the quaint mixture of the neo-classical and futuristic, the technological and the antique. Faye, however, had come to the present via cryogenic freeze. To her, it was as if time had backed up to the mid 19th century and decided to take a left turn at Albuquerque. By way of Berlin. It unsettled her terribly, and she saw that she was forcing herself to look for Edward Elric because the sightseeing was threatening to break either her sanity or her heart.
Jet was glad to be back in his own solar system and away from the light of that blue dwarf under which he and his partners had hunted their last quarry. He stopped, bringing Faye and Spike to a halt when they crashed into his back. "I think that's them."
Spike squinted. "Not like there are many people walking around with pet robots, anyway, so why not?"
Irritably, Jet nudged him. "No, but there are a few walking around by themselves. And there's the man of the hour himself."
With a sigh, Faye shook her head. "I still don't like chasing after kids."
"A kid who has run afoul of the local authorities," Jet reminded her. "It doesn't matter what their age is or their crime. We bag 'em and hand 'em over to the appropriate facility, be it juvenile or adult. And it's time to bag and drag this one."
Ed and Al were headed away from the trio, which bought them just a few seconds more of peace and quiet. A shout from behind brought them both around with a spin, hands raised in defense.
"Edward Elric! Put your hands up and keep them where we can see them!" Jet bellowed, leveling his weapon at the youth. Rather than draw his pistol, he held a canister of pepper spray. Spike and Faye had their guns out but were covering the giant armored form of Alphonse.
"You can't be serious," Ed said in disbelief. "I'm a State Alchemist. What in the world do you think you're doing?"
"There's been a warrant for your arrest and now there's a bounty to collect if we bring you in," Jet answered. "One of my assistants will handcuff you, so just turn around slowly and keep your hands in plain sight."
Ed and Al looked at each other. "Who'd want to arrest us?" Al asked.
"Arrest, I can't say. Kill? Oh, there's a list," Ed answered. His youthful gaze turned back to Jet. "And unfortunately, you three are on neither of them. Now drop your guns or I drop you."
Faye snorted. Under her breath, she mumbled, "No weapons and he's going to stop us? This kid's got guts."
She had just enough time to see Ed's eyes flicker to the storefront beside her, then his hands clapped loudly as he dropped to his knees and touched the ground. Wood erupted from the store's supporting timbers and formed a fence of sorts between her and the boy. Startled, she shrieked and leaped back, accidentally firing a round from her Glock toward Alphonse.
The citizenry began to panic, fleeing the streets with screams and shouts, and Al eyed his upper right arm where the bullet had impacted. "Now that wasn't nice at all," Al said, frowning. At least he felt like he was frowning. Or he would have been if he had still had a face. But the faceplate of the armor conveyed a sense of displeasure. He reached into a pouch and withdrew a piece of chalk, wishing for the thousandth time there was a way for Ed to somehow graft a chalk dispenser into one of the armor's fingers.
Another clap of Ed's hands and a touch of the sidewalk changed the surface beneath Faye's feet—and Spike's and Jet's—to an ultra-fine silt, sending the trio off-balance and landing them on their backs. A third clap, and the silt flowed over the cowboys' ankles and solidified back into concrete. "The hell?" Faye yelped as Ed and Alphonse began to flee.
"They're getting away, that's 'the hell,'" Spike snapped, rising to a sitting position and bending his knees as much as he could. That brought him just a bit closer to the concrete binding him, but maybe just enough… Focus, breathe… The heel of his hand lashed out and smashed into the rocklike restraint on his right ankle and the concrete shattered. A similar strike against the other bond freed his left leg and he set about freeing Faye.
Jet, however, merely used the tremendous power of his artificial left arm to crush the offending material, freeing himself within seconds. "Now that was unexpected," he mused, helping his partners to their feet. "I thought he had to use a lab or something to change things, not just play patty-cake with the dirt. Going to have to keep my eye on that next time. You two all right?"
Spike holstered his gun, his gaze following the fleeing youth and his armored compatriot. "That was a neat trick. Not that I liked it, but so much for the head-on approach."
Faye angrily dusted silt and grit off her backside. "That little punk," she snarled, holstering her gun. "I'm going to change my mind about getting bounties on kids."
She was so irate that she didn't notice Spike's eyes as she put her weapon away; in her usual yellow top and pants combination, concealment of anything beyond flesh seemed out of the question, and he had been dying to find out just where she could stash her pistol. Unfortunately for him, she had secured it faster than he could see, leaving that particular mystery unsolved.
"I agree with both of you," Jet said, shouldering his duffel bag. "Come on. We should follow them, but not so closely that we risk another confrontation. Let's go."
"Good thing they didn't want to kill us," Spike noted.
"Too bad for them they didn't," Faye mumbled, much to Spike's concern.
"Do you think we can stop now?" Alphonse asked. It was not as though there was much choice: Ed was doubled over, gasping for air.
"I don't know," Al answered. "They said they wanted to arrest us, but who could put out arrest warrants for us? We're the good guys!"
Ed nodded, his lungs burning. "I know. I operate under the military's authority, and…hack…that means I've got the government's blessing, so who'd have the power to arrest me? Any arrest orders would have to come from headquarters and nobody's told me one word of anything, one way or the other."
Al reached down with one great metal hand and gently rested it on his elder brother's back. "Do you feel all right now? I can carry you if you need me to."
A shake of Ed's head, then, "I can move. But thanks. We need to find some way to get in touch with headquarters, find out who's doing what. Do you see any place with a telegraph or something?"
The armored head moved back and forth, as if Al were actually looking. Of course, as Alphonse's body was not in the armor, he had no need to move his head to look or listen, but human habits are hard to break. "I see wires a few blocks down," he said. "Come on."
In the end, Al pretty much ended up carrying Ed the last block or so, but as they made their way into the telegraph center, Jet saw them through his monocular. "Hm. Wonder what they're doing."
"Well, where are they going?" Spike asked. "That might give you a clue."
"Some kind of telecommunications complex," Jet replied, frowning as he looked through the eyepiece. "Dear Lord, this place is primitive. Exposed wires and everything. It's so 20th Century around here, I think I should be an archaeologist."
Faye slumped ever so slightly. Yeah. A lot like home, she thought ruefully. If only there were fast food places, car dealerships…even a theater or video arcade. But there was none of that to be had. New Hatay, Istakar's province, was one of the Earth provinces that never quite "forgave" its spacegoing brethren for "forsaking" them. During the rebuilding efforts after the moon's destruction, many of Earth's nations found themselves lacking the resources to restore themselves to their pre-cataclysmic glory. New Hatay was one of them, and in response to being left behind—their words—they and a number of European and near-Asian nations began to rebuild on their own with no aid from anyone else. They stubbornly refused to reach outside their borders for aid, instead rediscovering for themselves previously common technologies.
And it was taking them quite a while to do so, thus the prevalence of telegraphs, Old World fashions and buildings, and alchemy. There was no internet, no aviation to speak of, nor were there any medical facilities more advanced than what Spike called "glorified Band-Aid dispensers." It was what had necessitated the Bebop's berthing in a water port rather than an airfield.
None of this truly concerned Faye, however, as a feeling of most painful homesickness had impaled her directly through her burdened heart. A gentle hand touched her shoulder and she looked up into the questioning, concerned eyes of Spike. With a half-smile and a shake of her head, she brushed off the unspoken question as she squeezed his hand before removing it from her shoulder. No, concentrate on the bounty. Time enough to cry later. Time enough for all the tears that had been unshed for so long. Later.
However primitive Istakar's technological advances remained, they were sufficiently advanced to have discovered the bane of most civilizations: the line. Queued up throughout the entire entryway and occupying the entire floor, the city's residents were piled up almost on top of each other in the city's only telegraph station. Ed's face fell. It's going to take forever to get a message off. But there was nothing else to do for it but wait; he doubted that tying a message to a pigeon would work, although he was half-tempted to send Al outside to look for a pigeon anyway.
"Brother, don't you have some kind of special dispensation here? I mean, can't you say this is an emergency and get to the head of the line?"
Ed blinked. "Good idea. Hold my place in line, though."
"In case I don't have special privileges," he replied.
Outside the telegraph center, the three cowboys paused. "Well, that's making things much more complicated," Faye noted. "Not only can we not risk a face-to-face, we certainly can't do it with bystanders."
Jet nodded. "New plan. Guile. Patience. Underhandedness."
Spike looked thoughtfully at the outside of the building. "I have some underhandedness. Just be patient. Jet, would you take care of those wires?"
Jet obligingly reached into his bag and handed Spike a bundle of clothes while he kept out a few tools for himself. "Give me maybe five minutes. Odds are he's pushing for a quick way to call for backup or something and we can't allow that. Once you're in, a quick grab and immobilize those hands!"
"You just keep an eye on his pet Gundam for me," Spike said, slipping into a faded blue set of overalls. He put a stained baseball cap on his head and settled a pair of round-lensed glasses on his nose.
"I have him well covered," Jet replied, lifting a large metal sphere from the bag and hefting it like a softball.
"And what do I do during all this?" Faye asked.
"Be ready with the cuffs and stay sharp. I don't want to find out what else that kid can do."
As Ed was haggling loudly—and somewhat ineffectually—with the manager of the telegraph station, Al had little else to do but try to take up as little space as he could. Squeezed into a corner, he idly looked out the front window of the building and decided he didn't like what he saw. Oh, oh. There are two of those weirdoes who wanted to capture us.
A chorus of groans and curses sounded from those patrons at the fronts of their respective lines. Ed's voice was the loudest (and shrillest, Al noted with a muffled snicker) as he demanded to know what this latest problem was. As it turned out, all communications had simply cut off in mid-stream and there would be a delay until someone could fix whatever had happened.
Surprisingly quickly, a slim, dark-haired man in faded overalls and glasses sidled in. He offered a bashful smile and quick bows to everyone in greeting as he made his way to the counter. Quietly, he introduced himself to the manager as he stood beside Ed, who was too busy seething to pay attention to anything else. But Al noticed something odd: there were two outside, whereas there were three before. Where's the…oh. I see. But how to alert Ed without causing a stampede?
The slender man—the bounty hunter, Al corrected himself—was fiddling with some of the telegraph machines, but he was also watching Ed out of the corner of his eyes. With each "inspection" of the telegraph apparatus, the bounty hunter was edging closer to Edward.
"Brother!" Al shouted, beginning to stride through the disgruntled crowd.
As Ed turned to scowl at Alphonse, Spike made his move. From behind the alchemist, the bounty hunter grasped the youth's left wrist and pulled it up behind him. "Now stop resisting, kid, you're under arrest!"
Alphonse's cry coupled with Spike's flash of action and announcement of an arrest was apparently the catalyst the gathered customers needed to panic and begin charging toward the door. It was more of a hindrance to Al than to Spike, as the area around Spike was emptying out and giving him room to work. Al, however, found himself fighting against a tide of fleeing humanity, and for all that his armored body gave him superior strength, the sheer numbers of terrified customers gave him more than his share of trouble.
Outside, the flow of screaming people alerted Faye and Jet that things were happening inside. Faye readied her cuffs in their holder and set herself to draw a canister of pepper spray; she would not use her gun on someone so young unless it was a life-or-death issue. Humiliation aside, he hadn't posed that much of a threat yet.
Jet hefted the softball-sized object and pressed a few buttons on it, starting an array of lights flashing. "Come on, Spike," he mumbled. "Don't let me down."
One of the large plate glass windows in the front of the telegraph center shattered, sending glittering shards over the street. The instrument of the window's demise was a slim man in light blue coveralls, who landed with a gusty exhalation in the dirt of the street. He rolled a few times before fetching up against a railing on the opposite side of the street.
"Spike!" Faye ran to his side to check the extent of his injuries.
"The big guy's been softened up for you, Jet," Spike offered, struggling to catch his breath.
Alphonse pushed his way through the slightly too-small door as Jet set himself to throw his projectile. "Yeah, he looks quite tenderized." Pressing one last button, he lobbed the sphere at the approaching behemoth.
"What is that thing?" Faye screamed, drawing her gun and firing several shots at Al.
Before Jet could answer, a series of strobes flashed on the metal sphere and an intense burst of light flooded the street, a light of the same frequency and nearly the same intensity as an arc welder. As he'd expected, Jet felt his artificial arm go "dead" as its electrical impulses were disrupted.
"That's an EMP grenade," Jet replied, struggling to reinitialize his arm's circuits. "Electromagnetic pulse. Disrupts or destroys nearly all electronics in the area."
"Hope you can get your money back!" Spike shouted.
Alphonse was still coming. "I heard what you said," he growled. "There's nothing electronic in me, so all your cute little toys are absolutely worthless, and I am going to knock all three of you completely out of this city!"
"Al, get away from them!" came a cry from behind him. Edward had made his way to the street, his coat torn and hair disarrayed.
Alphonse paused and turned slightly back toward his brother. "No, not yet. You keep going. I can keep them busy for a while."
"You don't know what other weapons they have," Ed protested. "Now come on!"
"Get going, brother," Al ordered, turning back toward Jet. "I'll be along, and if worse comes to worst, you can come rescue me or something."
Ed's indecision played across his face, but he realized that his younger brother knew what he was doing. By splitting up, at least one of the bounty hunters would follow him, easing the pressure on Al—and himself—and increasing the odds they could find a way out of this mess. Add to that the fact that Ed didn't need to draw an alchemist's transmutation circle to work his craft and it made sense that he remove himself from the action, at least temporarily.
He paused just a heartbeat longer, then bolted down an alley. Spike found his legs and began to give chase.
Al turned to try to intercept Spike, but Faye's pistol sent several high-velocity rounds into his chest. The armored spirit turned back toward the woman, his bearing indicating extreme anger. "You are a mean old lady, you know that?"
"Old?" Faye demanded in shock, drawing a second magazine from somewhere on her outfit and readying herself to reload.
"Yeah, old," Al taunted. "How did you get here? Riding a broom? How come you don't have a black cat following you around?"
"Because she's following a 'Jet' Black," came a loud, strong voice from his side.
Jet had managed to get partial mobility back into his arm, but with the giant closing on Faye, he had no time for further repairs. He piled into Alphonse, still not understanding why the EMP grenade hadn't disabled him but determined to protect Faye and defeat both Al and his brother.
Faye seated her fresh magazine in her pistol and leaped clear of the fracas. A moment's hesitation and she dashed toward Jet's bag. Spike could handle the boy. It would take at least two people to immobilize whatever the hell this thing was. Rummaging about in the bag, she began a frantic search for whatever Jet had brought along. Maybe he brought a tank with him!
Hurtling recklessly through the streets, Edward was in a near-panic. He needed room to move, time to think, and there was precious little of either. Despite all the fracas on the street in front of the telegraph center, the neighboring streets were still relatively crowded and that maniac following him was far too close. Worse, Al was tied up with the other two crazies while Ed was in need of some serious…
…backup! Whoever these people were, it was highly doubtful that anyone had an arrest warrant out for him; otherwise the local police would have been trying to arrest him. It's not like having Al with me is inconspicuous! Now where do I go to get some police? For some odd reason, Istakar's finest were not responding to the reports of violence and mayhem that were surely reaching their ears by now. Thus, Ed had to find a way to make another report. But where do I call…yes! There! It even said "Police Call Box" on it, but as the beleaguered alchemist raced toward it, the light atop the blue booth began flashing and with a tortured electronic grinding noise, it faded from sight.
Ed skidded to a stop, his jaw dropping nearly to the ground. "The hell? The everloving unfair hell? This is so incredibly not right!"
"Tell me," the bounty hunter said, once more directly behind Ed. "You wouldn't believe the drama we've gone through to catch you."
Desperately, Ed tried to clap his hands together, but Spike's hands were between them. He didn't know what alchemical transformation he'd start once he made contact with whatever he could touch; he just wanted to get Spike away from him. But Ed couldn't clap his hands.
Spike had shifted gears from grappling to a trick he'd learned from a pekiti tersia master called "sticky hands." His hands stayed in contact with Ed's just enough to redirect them whenever they tried to come together. For that matter, they were touching Ed's hands no matter where they went. "What in the name of the Gate are you doing?" he screamed.
"Just keeping you under control for a few seconds," Spike replied. Keeping you busy until I can find and break your pattern of movements, and then handcuffing you, you little troublemaker.
Ed was a fair martial artist, however, and even as he tried to get out of Spike's trap, he was planning what he would do next. "So you want to dance, huh?"
"We can dance if you want to, if we can leave your friend behind," was Spike's answer.
Spike smiled slightly. "Your friend doesn't dance, and if he doesn't dance, then he's no friend of mine."
"You maladjusted, sociopathic…someone find me a word for 'psycho!'" The shorter Ed faded back slightly, pretending to try to pull away from Spike's hands. As Spike followed him, he caught Ed's rising foot in his groin.
Stupid, stupid, stupid! Spike cursed himself; he'd forgotten that with shorter limbs often came faster actions, but he couldn't hear his recriminations over the screaming agony between his legs.
And now Edward's hands were free.
With a sharp clap and an unyielding grip on Spike's clothes, the cloth reformed itself into heavy canvas straps, seamless and without buckles, drawn tightly around the bounty hunter's torso. His pants likewise formed themselves into bindings for Spike's legs, revealing a very nice, fashionable pair of boxers which were all that protected the cowboy's dignity.
"You sit there and suffer for a minute," Ed panted. "I'm going to go find my brother."
The street was clear except for the three brawlers. Jet continued to hammer away at the massive Alphonse as Faye tried to withdraw a grenade launcher from the duffel bag. "Haven't you got him disabled yet?" she screamed, wrestling with the weapon as it snagged on straps, zippers, and anything else it could catch.
"Does it look like it?" Jet bellowed. Amazingly, the non-robotic suit of armor was somehow programmed for martial arts and was giving Jet quite the run for his money. Already the cowboy had picked up several bruises and most likely some fractures on his ribs while Alphonse simply kept coming.
"I hate working like a dog for a bounty!" Faye complained, finally jerking the launcher free of the bag.
"Dog never had to work this hard!"
Faye loaded a round into the launcher. "Only looks like it because his show is edited so much! Now get clear!"
Jet had foreseen the possibility of the "robot" presenting difficulties and had brought an assortment of weapons specifically intended for overcoming those difficulties. One of them, the EMP grenade, was an unqualified failure, while the grenade launcher was a less certain, more haphazard method that he had hoped not to use. As Faye loaded and aimed it, he broke free of Alphonse's grip and dived into a building.
Confused, Al vacillated between pursuing Spike and dodging Faye. That half-second's indecision cost him dearly; Faye pulled the trigger and the thirty millimeter projectile blasted into Al's lower torso. Standing about fifteen meters away, Faye had been safe from the blast of the low-yield explosive, but Al caught the worst of it.
His left leg was lying in the street some distance away and his left arm was detached below the elbow. He hopped on his right leg as he tried to figure out what to do next. "I've had worse!" he yelled defiantly. "Come on, you pansies!"
Faye chambered and aimed a second round. "Either back off or get blown apart," she warned.
Get blown apart trying to save my brother or just let you blow me up anyway, Al thought. There was no contest; he had to give his brother time to flee. As best he could, he took one-legged leaps toward Faye. He had to take that weapon away from her; he had to take both these maniacs down; he had to save his brother…
The blast from the second grenade caught him center mass and sent him flying in several different directions. Jet came out of his hiding place and surveyed the damage Faye had wrought even as Faye herself gaped slack-jawed at the power of the small grenade. Alphonse's torso was several meters down the street, his head was still rolling around in circles near where he had stood, and limbs—or portions thereof—were lying smoking in the dirt.
Through his ringing ears, Jet tried to congratulate and thank his partner for coming to his aid, but even over the residual din in his hearing, he still caught an anguished scream of denial from across the street. Standing in an alleyway, Edward Elric had watched his brother Alphonse being blown into sundered scrap by a weapon he'd never seen before. The Blood Seal! Oh, God, if they've broken the seal…oh, God, oh, God…please, no!
Bile and fire boiled up in Edward's heart, a hatred so pure and primal that for a moment, he forgot who he was, why he was angry. All he knew was that the two murderers before him had to pay for what they'd done to his brother.
His hands slammed together and pounded into the ground. Had he been able to hear anything beyond the roar of blood in his ears, he would have heard the tortured rumble of earth being wrenched around in response to his alchemical energies. A battering ram of solid rock punched free of the road and lanced toward Faye, who just barely managed to leap aside. It grazed her hip and sent her sprawling.
Spittle flew from his mouth as he screamed again, and the Fullmetal Alchemist conjured another burst of arcane power, this time to tear the ground open and swallow the murdering bitch who had torn his brother's soul from its only remaining haven. Equivalent Exchange be damned. He would turn their bones to lead and their blood to acid before he was through with them, even if it cost him his own body. What use was it now that his brother was gone?
Liquid fire filled his eyes, causing him to lose his concentration as he began to claw at his face. "What the hell did you do to me? What is this?"
"Capsicum spray," Jet snapped, holstering the canister and grabbing his cuffs. "And it can always hurt more. Now stop fighting me and lie down!"
Another clap and Ed touched his hands to his face, changing the pepper spray into harmless water. However, despite the removal of the irritant, the pain remained and it was enough to blind Edward sufficiently that Jet could land atop him, knocking the wind out of the youth's lungs.
Jet snapped the cuffs onto Ed's wrists, which were yanked somewhat painfully up behind his back. Ed was limp; he had passed out due to the trauma of what he'd seen and the impact of the massive bounty hunter on his back.
"You all right, big man?" Faye asked, lifting Ed from the street.
"Yeah," he said. "You?"
Faye shrugged. "My hip hurts, but some aspirin or something should kill it. Want to go find Spike and turn this guy in?"
Jet relieved Faye of her burden. "Yeah. Gather up our toys and let's get a taxi."
As the residents of Istakar began to file cautiously back onto the streets, Alphonse's disembodied and disoriented spirit "came to" and began to speak. Had he still had a body, even his artificial one, he would have been shaking his head as any shell-shocked survivor would.
"Brother? Where are you? Edward?" He "looked" about and discovered the parts of his metal body lying over a wide area of the street.
He began entreating passers-by to assist him in getting himself together. "Excuse me, sir? Could you give me a hand, please? Well, just my hand, if you would. It's right over there. Hey, don't walk away! I'm not going to hurt you! I'm unarmed!" He "turned" to speak to others who were trying their best to avoid him.
"Ma'am, would you be so kind as to…hey, you kids! Don't kick that! It's my head! I need that!"
The horse-drawn taxi carriage pulled up in front of Durant's office and the three bounty hunters climbed out, Spike now dressed in spare coveralls that had been in the duffel bag as a spare disguise.
"Now keep an eye on him," Jet admonished. "I'm going to go get Durant."
"After you landed on him like that, I don't think he'll be moving for a while," Faye noted with satisfaction.
"Jets always land hard," the bald man smiled as he turned away.
Faye fell silent, looking hard at nothing. Spike reached out to touch her arm. "You okay?"
She nodded slightly. "Yeah. It's just that…the last time I was on Earth, it was my own home, my own time, you know? Seeing all this stuff reminds me of that trip I took to Europe when I was a girl, and…and knowing I can't go back, can't see my friends, my parents…"
It was the first time Spike had seen tears, however small, in Faye's eyes. He didn't know how to handle it. "Uh, Faye…hey. Don't cry. Jet and I are here. Don't cry." Mainly because I don't know what to do now.
"I'm sorry," she said, sniffing and wiping her eyes. "It's just hard, you know?"
"Yeah. I've never been on Earth until now, but…I know what it's like to lose things that mean the world to you. I can't imagine what it's like to lose the world that means everything to you."
Holding herself, Faye sighed. "I wish I couldn't. But here we are, regardless."
Spike looked away briefly, then back at her. More appropriately, at her feet. "Yeah. Here we are. You and me." He fumbled for words—right or wrong, he needed words, not awkward silence—and ended up stuffing his hands in his pockets.
Faye tilted her head at him. She had been feeling some faint emotions for her partner for a while now, emotions that extended well beyond professional courtesies. She couldn't be sure, but she was fairly certain that he felt similarly to some extent. But to what extent? Or did he even feel anything for her in the first place? Her fingertips touched his hand, hesitant and feather-soft.
Durant and Jet came barreling out of the building, the cowboy's contact bubbling with excitement. "You have him? You truly have the Fullmetal Alchemist in custody?"
"We do," Spike said, reluctant and eager to distance himself from his interaction with Faye. He turned and opened the carriage door. "He's right…oh, hell."
Where Ed had once reposed now sat a gigantic metal paper clip. The youth himself was gone. A single vein throbbed on Jet's forehead. "I thought I told you…"
"We did!" Faye protested. "We were right here! He couldn't have gotten away!"
"Yes, he could, because he did!" Jet growled.
Durant sighed and sagged against the carriage. "I warned you about his hands. How did you have him secured?"
"Handcuffs behind his back," Jet replied. "Same as with everyone else."
"And I told you he was unlike everyone else. I assume you saw how he initiated his alchemical changes, yes?"
At Jet's nod, Durant continued. "As you used standard police handcuffs, he had sufficient room to both touch his palms together then twist his wrists to touch your cuffs, thus…" He pointed at the giant paperclip.
"Why a paperclip?" Spike wondered.
Durant looked at him. "The law of Equivalent Exchange. Matter may only be transmuted into matter of the same or similar type, and of a different form if the alchemist desires."
"He picked a paper clip because it's the traditional means of picking cuff locks," Jet rumbled. "A final, fat 'screw you' on his way out the other side of the carriage."
Shame-faced, Spike looked into the carriage. "So he's gone, then."
"Yeah. Gone, detective," his bigger partner fumed.
"So I can kiss off the steak?"
Sunset saw a young man and a giant suit of armor walking southwest. They had picked no direction in particular; all they needed was a way out of Istakar. The giant armor with the voice of a boy spoke. "Thanks for putting me back together, brother," Alphonse said. "I wasn't sure how long I'd have to lay there."
"Neither was I," Edward answered. "But I'm glad you're not. I don't know what I'd do without…I mean, you mean a…" He sighed.
"So what are you saying, brother?"
Ed's mouth flapped for a second like a fish out of water. "I guess I'm not saying anything. I mean, you already know what I meant to tell you."
Alphonse's giant hand lightly descended onto his brother's shoulder. "Is it something like how terrified you were when it seemed my Blood Seal had been broken, how we'd never see each other again and how that would be worse than losing Mom, my body, and your leg put together?"
Ed nodded mutely.
"I know. It's what I thought for a second," Al said. "It was almost as intense as how I felt when I saw you alive, coming to get me."
"I didn't have much of a choice," Ed said softly. "You're my brother. For all intents and purposes, both our souls are tied up in that armor."
Al managed to squeeze his brother's shoulder. "People may tease you about your height, big brother, but don't let them. You've got the heart of a giant inside you."
The Bebop had broken Earth orbit en route to the hypergate. Jupiter's moons were full of much easier bounties, and Jet had already compiled a list of the easier catches he intended to pursue. He had filtered the list of open bounties by omitting those that had the keywords "alchemist," "revolver," "robot," and "plasma weapons in their arms."
The team had been paid for the apprehension, but reluctantly, in a smaller amount, and only in local currency. Istakar had its own money and there were no exchange rates for Woolong, thus resupply had to be done in Istakar and there were precious few supplies they could purchase with the pittance Durant had paid them.
Their too-brief interlude on Earth interrupted, Faye sat in the galley across from Spike, trying to think of a way to revive their conversation. Spike, for his part, morosely and unblinkingly eyed a large cup of instant noodles. With a heavy sigh, he slowly rose from his seat and picked up the cup, treading ponderously toward the door.
"Spike? Where are you going?"
"The nearest airlock."
Durant sat sweating in his office chair. He had been obliged to report the capture and subsequent release of the Fullmetal Alchemist to his superior, and now he awaited the storm of disapproval—and possibly pain—that was sure to follow.
"You were told to farm out the work of capturing or killing Edward Elric," the faint old voice said firmly. There was a hint of steel for all the seeming infirmity.
"I did," Durant said. "It wasn't my fault that they…"
"Yes, it was. You did not tell them what an alchemist was, or specifically how Edward and Alphonse operate. Thus, the way was left open for their failure. And their failure, Durant, is yours." A sleeve rustled and a sharp projectile hurtled across the room to bury itself in Durant's neck.
He gagged, choking on his own blood, struggled to pull the weapon from his throat, and fell behind the desk. His superior crossed the room to make sure Durant was dead. "The concept of hiring mercenaries like these 'cowboys' is a good one," Dante said, her old woman's voice contemplative. "It maximizes my own forces and minimizes my risk."
She picked up a list from Durant's desk. "Let us try the next names on the list…"
I don't own anything in the worlds of Cowboy Bebop, Fullmetal Alchemist, or any of the other things I've referenced here. I'm just having a hell of a time playing with them!
Edited on 9-5-11 to add section breaks for ease of reading. The story still sucks, but now it's easier to follow!
Show of hands: who caught all the references? Bruce Lee; Harry Potter; Doctor Who; Gundams; the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail; Men Without Hats' song "We Can Dance;" and Dog, the Bounty Hunter were all referenced, so if you caught them all, you win! No money or anything, but rest assured, I am jumping up and down and pointing at you while shouting, "!"