"Balance of Power"
Central City, Amestris - 1915
He froze. It was a stupid mistake. He knew it instantly. He knew that wasn't Gracia. He'd seen what that homunculus was capable of doing when it posed as Ross. Knew the arrogance of the creature when it flaunted its ability to change shape right in front of him.
But he cut its throat and thought it was dead.
Then he heard Gracia's voice behind him and he spun. And he froze.
He felt the searing pain in his right side before he heard the retort. He cursed himself for freezing as his chest grew tight and his breathing became strained. He felt the blood burble up and cling, hot and bitter, to his tongue; his lips, with each labored gasp. His world went black before he hit the ground.
He never even had the chance to say good-bye to his girls.
Flashes. Snapshots of moments; jumbled and out of focus. They know my wife and daughter. The sense of being cradled in his father's arms when he was so very small. Held close while the rest of the world shook and pounded. They're targets now. My girls are targets. The burn in the back of his throat and the exquisite pain in his side when he retched. A pool of black splattering the sea of blue that wavered in his brief view. "I'm dead, Major. I'm dead." Surrounded by white. The smell of antiseptic. Urgent voices shouting in his ears. A sense of drowning. Black, warm, silence.
When Maes Hughes knew anything again, nearly a week had passed with him in a civilian hospital. Major Armstrong had found him near death by the phonebooth and literally carried him in his arms to the closest hospital. He almost didn't make it in time.
The giant alchemist was loyal to a fault. When Hughes told him he was dead, the Major made sure the rest of the world at large knew he was dead. He hated making the man do that. He imagined the big, soft-hearted man had cried at his funeral and anyone who saw him would think it was open, honest grief. Hughes knew it would be honest emotion, but not that. He knew Armstrong hated what he'd been ordered to do, and felt the pain of the people attending who believed the body of a beloved comrade, lover, friend, husband, father was inside.
He hated the idea of not kissing his daughter good night, or holding his wife again.
He had no choice.
A cancer had grown through the military and if he was still alive now... with what he knew... Gracia and Elysia would be targets.
But being dead did have its advantages...
...Most people don't believe in ghosts, after all.
Germany - 1925
The research labs were in shambles. Most of the equipment was now either unrecognizable, or just completely useless. Fortunately, no one was killed in the gleeful destruction of the data and the buildings. The majority of the people were civilian scientists and not trained to fight. It was much easier to just drop everything and run when the two young alchemists charged in. Especially when they caught a glimpse of the older one's eyes.
Edward Elric could do psychotic very well.
It often came in handy for clearing non-combatants out of a room in a hurry, but the younger brother occasionally wondered just where it came from. Alphonse figured that it was better he didn't know.
Ed skidded to a stop at a junction in the maze of corridors, and slammed back against a wall. As Al caught up, the older Elric cautiously peeked around the corner to see if it was clear. "Which way?" he asked.
"To the left."
As soon as they were certain it was safe, they turned left, and continued running. There was one last thing they needed to do before they could call it good. "Time?" Ed called over his shoulder.
"Thirty seconds, Brother," Al said, the slight waver in his voice betraying just how scared he was.
The research for the uranium bomb was destroyed. Set back at least fifteen years, and hopefully longer than that. But there was a complete ordinance to be tested. If they didn't stop that, it would have all been in vain.
Al didn't argue the necessity of destroying the research. And learning that Father was wrong about how alchemy was powered on this side certainly made the mission so much simpler. But, damnit! Did Brother have to go to such extremes? It wasted precious time that could have been better spent getting themselves across the enormous compound to the test site. Now they only had thirty seconds... correction. "Twenty-five seconds," Al called out.
They'd reached the end of the corridor. Ed didn't bother to see if the doors were locked. He just landed a solid, automail kick to the latch and charged in...
...To find the barrel of a gun pointed directly at his head.
Instead of being afraid, Ed was pissed. He lunged at the assailant and shouted, "Are you out of your goddamned mind?"
The sound of several guns being primed to fire surrounded the brothers. Four more soldiers had been waiting.
Ed looked around, appalled. "You people are insane! That bomb is about to go off, and we'll all be dead."
Alphonse recognized the first gunman. Dr. Otto Wermier, the head of the research on this uranium bomb. He'd only seen the man a couple of times in the newspaper, and had always thought him cold and scary-looking. The Doctor smiled down at Edward, and Alphonse shivered.
"Yes, we'll die here. But the data from that bomb will be useful, and the development will continue. A few minor deaths are worth it," Wermier said.
"F-fifteen seconds, B-brother," Al said, as his eyes shifted from one gunman to another.
Edward growled. "I don't have time for this!"
He clapped, and brushed his hand across automail. In an instant four of the five had their guns neatly sliced off at the base of the barrels, and felt the impact of an automail fist or foot immediately after.
Unfortunately, Wermier had anticipated Ed's action and lurched out of the way. Quickly, Ed came up and swung a foot at the Doctor's gun hand. There was a sickening crunch of shattered bone, and the gun fell to the floor. Alphonse took the distraction and dashed past to the bomb sitting in the center of a makeshift platform.
In the struggle between the Doctor and his brother, Al was slammed into and sent sailing across the platform. He rolled into the bomb and sent it spinning away from him. He scrambled on hands and knees across the platform trying desperately to catch the sphere-shaped object, but it continued to elude his grip.
It stopped spinning right at the edge of the platform, and tottered. Alphonse's eyes went wide, and his breath hitched in his throat as he cautiously crept closer to the sphere; silently praying that nothing else jostled the platform and send the bomb careening to the floor.
Time, time... how much time is left? Al couldn't remember.
He reached for it; had it almost within his grasp, when he felt the platform shake. With a wordless shout, he gave up on caution, and lunged for the bomb.
Got it! He thought as he hugged it close to his chest. It amazed him that something so small would be able to cause so much devastation. And weigh so damn much! He could barely drag it away from the edge of the platform as he dug the hand-drawn array from his pocket and get it placed on the platform one-handed. Getting the bomb on top of the array without scrunching up the paper was a different matter altogether, and Al was silently cursing the inability to just clap his hands and do what he needed to.
He laid his hands on the case, and took a deep breath. He mentally went through the process of decay for the isotope U-235. He mentally flipped through his notes for information. Transmute U-235 to U-238/, he thought. /It's like changing water to heavier water. Transmute again to Radon-222. A noble gas. Not as deadly. Radon decays faster. Have to take it down in stages, or it'll blow anyway.
The platform was hit again. Al was unbalanced and fell into the bomb, slamming his teeth hard into his tongue. "Damnit, Brother," he snapped; nervous, scared, and irritated. "Quit playing with him, and immobilize him already!"
He got back up on his knees, and made sure the bomb was sitting stable on the base, and laid his hands on the case again. In his mind's eye, he could see the alchemic reaction as the isotope shifted from Uranium-235, to the more stable Uranium-238. Under his hands, he could feel the case surrounding the isotope shift as well. A barely noticeable change came over the case, as it shivered, and buckled.
But the case continued to hold. Alphonse didn't have time to worry about the particulars. U-238 was still a dangerous element. He needed to transmute it again. Accelerate the decay of the U-238 to Radon.
He added more energy to the transmutation, to speed the decay. There was no time left before the trigger sparked the chain reaction of splitting atoms.
As he concentrated, he felt a snap. A weakening of the case walls. A crack forming at the base...
...Where the heavy noble gas would settle.
His eyes snapped open, and he was instantly in motion. He leapt off the platform and snagged his brother by the collar as he dashed past.
"It's gunna blow!" Al said, and dragged Ed with him. There was nothing to be done about Dr. Wermier, now. They had to get away from that bomb before they were killed.
They made it as far as the doors when they were hit in the back by the shockwave and the sound of an explosion that was so loud it couldn't be heard.
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