Categories > Anime/Manga > Full Metal Alchemist > Balance of Power

Mechanical Monsters and Unexpected Guests

by CrackbunnySyndrome 0 Reviews

He stumbled onto a harder surface as he called for his brother; a solid stream of gloss black under the rain beating upon the earth. A flash of lightning startled him, and the boy turned around sha...

Category: Full Metal Alchemist - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure - Characters: Alphonse Elric, Edward Elric, Maes Hughes - Warnings: [!!!] [V] - Published: 2006/03/26 - Updated: 2006/03/26 - 5766 words

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"Mechanical Monsters and Unexpected Guests"
Arc One; Chapter One
Balance of Power

April 23, 2006 - 10:57pm
Bartlesville, Oklahoma

It was one of those nights Mary Reilly lived for. Dark, stormy... exciting. It was her favorite time of the year --late spring-- when the world finally woke up and was filled with bright potential. That there was a tornado warning in the area and her electricity had just gone out only made it more enjoyable.

She'd been expecting this all day; felt a tightening in her belly as the atmosphere built up the energy to be released in a violent display of lightning, hail, and lashing winds. It was perfect weather for wonderful and unusual things to happen, and she was hoping that something would.

Of course, Reilly never made any claims to aspirations of normalcy, either.

She felt around the junk drawer for a flashlight, humming to herself as she did. Nearby, a big pot of gumbo simmered on the ancient gas stove, filling the small farmhouse with the rich aroma. The low flame below the pot helped warm the kitchen, but did little to chase away the darkness and the shadows.

Lightning flashed outside the kitchen window, just as the zaftig woman grasped something hard and cylindrical. She laughed maniacally, and pulled it free from the tangle of wires, string, and various other items that had long ago lost their identity. She spun, victorious, and pressed the switch. Glorious light erupted from one end, casting her in a semi-sinister light from underneath. The tangle of unruly, mousy-brown hair that had fallen in her face only added to the image of insanity.

An older man with a silver ponytail and always observing eyes was leaning casually against the door frame between the living room and kitchen, watching the display with mild amusement. Reilly pointed the light at him, and he raised a hand to block the glare.

"Hah! It's alive! It's aliiiive!" she cackled.

The next instant, the light sputtered, and went out. Reilly sagged and looked at it as though she'd been personally insulted. "Oh poo!"

The older man flicked his lighter and turned to head back in the main room. "You're nuts, you know that?" he said.

"I love you too, Tom," she called after him and went back to digging in the junk drawer. She was fairly certain she'd bought extra batteries for that light not too long ago. Or maybe she meant to. She couldn't remember. But at least she was hopeful and that was what mattered. That, and finding the batteries.

A moment later Tom returned wrapped in a warm glow. He set a small, round, glass bowl with a lit candle on the counter next to her. "You know, this would work just as well."

She huffed exaggeratedly. "Yeah, but it wouldn't be half as much fun."

Tom leaned back against the counter and regarded her a moment. "You should move back to civilization."

Reilly cocked a brow at him. "I live two miles outside the city limits, I'd hardly call that the sticks."

"You live two miles outside of Bartlesville. It's the sticks. Come back to Tulsa."

She stared out the kitchen window. "You know why I won't do that, Tom."

Tom looked down, and nodded. "Yeah." Then he faced her and smiled warmly. "But you could at least find someplace better than this..." He waved his hands about expansively. "...dump."

She balled her fists and jammed them into her hips. "Hey! It's not a dump! It's a fixer-upper. And I grew up here!" She wagged a finger under his nose and said, "Don't be dissin' on my childhood home, old man!"

He gave her a bemused look and shook his head. Lightning crashed noisily just outside the window, causing Reilly to jump and squeak. She dropped the flashlight in the sink and heard the unmistakable sound of glass breaking. "Shit! That was close," she said and stared out the window as the flickering of light faded slowly.

"I thought you liked spring stor-Ow!" Tom said.

Reilly was suddenly gripping his arm like a vise, shock and fear playing across her face. She was still facing the window, but her eyes were staring blindly. Tom waved a hand in front of her face, but she didn't even blink.

"Damn," he whispered, and gripped the shoulder furthest from him. He gently turned her to him and shook her lightly. "Reilly," he called softly.

She suddenly blinked, but the fear remained. "Tom, you have one of those fluorescent lights in your car, don't you?"

"Yeah." Concern knitted his brows. "What did you see?"

She swallowed. "There's someone in the back yard, and he's hurt."

0o0o0

11:12 pm
North Sedgwick County, Kansas


Rain was the first thing he felt as he came to. Sharp, torrential rain that beat against his cheek, which had gone chill from the elements.

The boy shook his head as he tried to stand up, sharp rocks biting both the palms of his hands and his knees as he got into a crouching position, one hand shoving back his bangs as he tried to get a feel for where he was.

The rain wasn't helping any in that regard.

Shakily, he stood up, trying to clear his vision enough so that he could find shelter. The rain didn't appear to be letting up anytime soon, and he felt drenched to the skin in addition to aching everywhere.

"Brother!" he called, voice hoarse with chill. It sounded drowned to his ears. "Brother! Where are you?"

He stumbled onto a harder surface as he called for his brother; a solid stream of gloss black under the rain beating upon the earth. A flash of lightning startled him, and the boy turned around sharply at the bright light...

...and saw two more lights heading straight for him.

He couldn't think. His legs seemed not to obey the order to 'run' and his body worked on another instinct. Hands came together in a sharp clap and knees too weak to stay unbent buckled, as he tried to get his hands to the ground to protect himself.

The bright blue light of the incomplete reaction matched another lightning bolt as the vehicle plowed into him.


0o0o0

11:17pm
Bartlesville, Oklahoma

Reilly's 'back yard' was approximately 20 acres of scrub, weeds and one lone pond that only supported mosquitoes in the summer. This meant that finding someone there would normally be an exercise in futility in this weather.

Not for Reilly.

Tom held onto the passenger-side door-handle for dear life as Reilly didn't so much drive, but aimed the battered old truck in a straight line toward one corner of the property. He'd long ago given up on trying to come to any logical explanation for the sporadic 'fits' his friend had. It was just the aura of strangeness that was Reilly. He wasn't sure if he held the same beliefs she did, but he couldn't deny what he'd seen happen around her. Thus he allowed himself to be frequently dragged along with her for bizarre reasons... like now.

She fish-tailed the truck to a sliding stop and Tom gripped the door-handle tighter. "Easy there! You don't want to kill your victim before you find him."

"Already found him," she said absently as she jumped out of the cab of the truck.

"That was quick," he mumbled. He powered up the light, gave a rueful look to the torrential rain, and followed her.

When he caught up, she was already kneeling down in a deepening puddle of chilly water and mud laying her fingers at the throat of a small, fine-boned male. Her clothes were already soaked through and clinging to her in the downpour; and they'd only gone 20 feet from the truck.

Tom couldn't tell how old the boy was; he appeared to be quite young with his delicate features and the long, blonde hair plastered to his face. He looked to be dressed a little too well for the weather and the area. White shirt, vest, jacket, and... gloves.

"Well, he's alive at least," Reilly said.

Even with the bright fluorescent light and the headlights, it was hard to tell if he had any serious injuries. Blood and mud looked the same in the uncertain light, and he was in a low spot which was rapidly filling with water. There wasn't time to leave him lay on the off-hand chance he had a back injury while they called an ambulance. They needed to take the risk and get him inside quickly.

Tom scooped the boy up and started to get back to his feet, but immediately came back down. "Damn," he said. "Kid's heavier than he looks."

"Need some help?"

Tom shook his head, and came back to his feet. "Just wasn't expecting it, is all."

0o0o0

Once back in the house, Tom laid the boy down on the floor, and started stripping off wet clothes as far as dignity would allow. Reilly had her back to them, trying to get a tone to call for help. Not for the first time, she cursed the dead-zone her house was in that kept her from getting a cellphone signal.

She knew it might be a mistake. Her gut told her calling the authorities, even an ambulance, would be a very bad idea. The boy was dressed wrong. Out of time. But she also wasn't about to let him die and she was afraid that he might be hurt worse than her quick once-over in the dark and pouring rain indicated.

Tom made a sudden choking noise, then gasped out, "Put down the phone, Reilly."

She spun to see the boy sitting up and his hand at Tom's throat... his metal hand. She noticed that the grip was loose, but ready to squeeze again just in case. The boy looked from her, then back to Tom. The older man slowly raised his hands with the palms spread. Then the boy's expression changed from aggressive, to fearful. He quickly dropped his hand and tried to scramble back. He uttered something in a foreign language that sounded vaguely familiar and Reilly said to Tom, "That sounded German."

Tom shook his head, but his eyes never left the boy. "Not any dialect I'm familiar with."

"So try anyway? He might understand."

Tom scowled and shot her a dirty look. "You know how rusty I am?"

She gave him a look that brooked no argument, and he sighed. "Alright, alright." He faced the boy again, and asked, "Wie heißen Sie?"

A small smile tugged at the corner of the boy's lips. "Ich heiße Edward Elric."

"I think we can safely say that he didn't bump his head too hard," Reilly said.

"Woher kamen Sie?" Tom asked.

Edward scowled, and tapped his forehead. Reilly couldn't tell if he was having trouble understanding what Tom had said, or if he couldn't remember where he was from.

Haltingly, he said, "I... Ich kann nicht mich erinnern."

Tom sighed, sat back on his heels and looked up at Reilly. She barely noticed, because she was trapped by the stricken look in the boy's lion-gold eyes. "What did he say?" she asked.

"I just asked him if he remembered where he came from, and he said he didn't," Tom said. "I think there's some trauma here, but I don't think it's physical."

"Should we get him to the hospital?"

Tom shook his head, a grim line setting his lips. "Something in my gut tells me no. Besides, he's not hurt that badly." He nodded toward the boy's metal hand. "I don't know about you, but I've never seen anything quite like that."

Reilly knelt on the boy's other side, and cautiously reached for his head. When he flinched and pulled back, she said to Tom, "Can you tell him I'm just checking for a head injury?"

Tom opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by the boy. "I speak Amestri-- /English/," he said with a scowl. He gave them an apologetic look, and added, "I was a little..." He paused like he was searching for the right word. "...disoriented. Sorry."

Then he faced Tom and smirked. "Your German is horrible."

Tom chuckled. "That's what I tried to tell her, but do you think she'd listen to me? Nooooo."

She snorted as she leaned forward to reach around the back of Edward's head. His eyes went wide and she felt him heating up. "Does this hurt?" she asked.

"Uh, Reilly?" Tom said.

As she felt for any bumps on the back of the boy's head, she cast a glance at her friend. The look he was giving her was somewhere between humor and embarrassment, and she cocked a brow at him.

"You might want to change into some dry clothes, there," he said, mildly.

She looked down at herself and felt her face heat up. The long cotton shift she wore was soaked through and clinging to her like a second skin. Her overly generous chest was also practically in the boy's face. She lurched back as though burned and stammered wordlessly.

The boy turned away and looked around at anything but her.

Reilly quickly scrambled to her feet. "You left some sweats here last time you stayed over," she said to Tom. "You don't mind sharing, do you?"

Tom shook his head and got to his own feet. "There should be a few other things, too."

"Yeah, I figure it's about half your wardrobe," she shot over her shoulder as she headed into the hallway. "You'd think you practically live here."

"Heaven forbid," he said.

At the questioning look Edward gave him, Tom said, "Reilly's scary."

"I heard that!" she called from the hallway.

0o0o0

11:50pm
Wichita, Kansas


"What's the patient's condition?"

He'd been lapsing in and out of complete consciousness for awhile now.

He'd awakened in the rain again, the pounding of the drops on his head echoing the painful rhythm inside his skull. His arm had felt like the inside was on fire, and the rough scrape of rock on rock heralded his attempts to move.

"Unconscious hit and run victim, found outside of town. Heartbeat's stable but fast. Concussion, scalp wound, broken left arm, various shrapnel injuries, possible puncture of the right ulnar artery; it was too dirty to see, but it's still bleeding. It also looks like he was in the elements for awhile; kid was entirely soaked when we found him, and had been for awhile."

His next complete thought came when he heard tires screeching on the pavement next to him; a difficult feat, with all the rain. Some woman had called to him, and he had tried to call back. She had held something to her ear, talking to no one as she checked him over. Tying a cloth around his arm (It was bleeding? Odd, he couldn't feel it), she had kept his head still, trying to elevate the top half of his body. He'd hissed, and gone to half-conscious reality once more.

"Get two units of blood in him, fast. We need to type him..."

He'd come awake again as he'd been shoved into the back of something, the scent of medical supplies and something synthetic hitting his nose as he heard doors shut. People in uniform hurried around him, trying to get him to talk as they checked him over, staunching wounds and trying to patch him up. He wasn't quite sure of the language, but it sounded familiar... It almost sounded like home...

The boy wavered in and out of lucidity as people hurried about him, yelling things like "CCs" and "trauma". One person drew what felt like a pen up his foot; he tried to jerk the offended member away with a not-entirely-audible mumbling of "tickles..."

"Patient's alert; try and talk to him." Someone else opened one of his eyes to shine a light in it, and he groaned quietly, the eye remaining open as she checked his other one.

"The pupils aren't equal. Definitely a concussion, looks to be Grade two."

The person speaking, a woman, leaned over him. "Can you tell me your name, kid?"

He winced. "W... wo?" he whispered, eyes closing against the bright light being shined in them.

"You're in the emergency room, kid. Park City Medical. What's your name?"

Even in his state, he was confused. Park City? He'd never heard of it. Where was he?

"Wo... where..."

The woman held his right hand carefully. "You're in Wichita, Kansas, kid. Who're your parents?"

The name made him panic. He wasn't anywhere near Germany anymore. The things around him started beeping faster, as though they could tell his heart was threatening to pound out of his chest.

"Shit, he's going into shock!"

"Calm down, kid! You need to stay awake for me!"

As the boy's eyes drifted shut again, slipping out of pain-hazed reality, he heard something from the corner of the room. "I'd never seen anything like that road, man... like it started melting up to protect him..."

0o0o0

April 24, 2006 - 12:01am
Bartlesville, Oklahoma

Ed sat on the side of the tub in the light of an oil lamp, working the towel into the creases and crevasses of his automail. In the privacy afforded him in the small, cluttered room, he attempted to take inventory and assess the current situation he was stuck in. From what he could ascertain so far, there were several 'Big Problems' he needed to deal with.

He had no idea where Al was. That was the first big problem. The last thing he remembered was his younger brother dragging him away from Wermier and saying the bomb was going to blow. Next thing he knew, he was chilled to the bone, soaking wet, and staring in the very unfamiliar face of an old man. Which led to the second big problem: where the hell was he?

Or perhaps when would be the better question.

He hung the towel on the bar on the wall, and his wet clothes over the shower rod. As he dressed, he suppressed the urge to grumble at the length of the sweatpants and the sleeves of the warm, fleece shirt. They were warm and dry, and very soft; and that was a damn sight better than being a drowned rat.

He could hear the couple talking through the walls and had been trying to listen in, but the voices were low and muffled. No information to be had by eavesdropping, then. And that was the third big problem. He had no idea if these people were dangerous or not. He had a feeling they weren't, but he had no idea just how far he could trust them either.

He took a moment to snoop around the small bathroom. Things he couldn't identify were plugged into the wall. That meant electricity; it was just out from the storm. At least they weren't living in the dark ages.

One object resting on the counter got his attention. It looked like a huge gun, but when he cautiously picked it up, it was made of a slick material he couldn't identify and was lightweight. The handle had ridges and valleys for the grip, and buttons. There were wires criss-crossing the opening, and it looked like it had a motor, but nothing, not even the writing on the side told him what it was. Except that it was 1500 watts.

He didn't care to contemplate what the fat, cylindrical object sitting next to the gun-shaped one was.

There was one pristine spot amid all the clutter, though. On a small shelf over the back of the toilet sat a small statue of a woman with many arms. His curiosity got the better of him and he looked closer. Several small sticks poked out of the bowl filled with fine gravel next to her; and from the smell coming from it, he guessed the sticks held incense of a sort. Of the statue, the details he could pick out in the uncertain light gave him the impression that this was a Goddess of a sort and she appeared to be Xingese.

The incense had a basis in logic; it was a bathroom after all. He wondered about the statue, though. Was it just for decoration, or was there a religious significance? And if religious, how does someone who is clearly Anglo-Saxon come to practice a Xing religion? The most important thing, in his mind, was the realization that this was just one more thing that seemed to transcend the boundaries of worlds. It might make for some interesting study if he ever decided to bother.

Ed sighed and opened the door. He figured he'd eventually find out and he couldn't stay hiding in the bathroom forever.

He froze when he heard the man say, "You still have that gun where you can get to it quick?"

"Well, yeah," the woman said, sarcastically.

"Is it loaded, though?"

"You worry too much, Tom."

"You don't worry enough, Reilly."

Okay, I at least have names, he thought. That's a start. And a gun is in the house. Can't blame them, though; it just means I need to be careful.

He attempted to tread softly on the wood floor, but the automail leg made a light step all but impossible. It didn't help when it also landed on a metal grate in the center of the hall floor, and made an audible clank.

He winced and glanced down. He could see the pale, barely-there blue glow of a pilot light. Furnace, he realized. Another tidbit of information that might tell him where and when he was. Unfortunately, it also alerted his benefactors to the fact he was no longer in the bathroom.

"Edward?" Reilly called curiously. "We're in the kitchen, hon."

Hon?

He heard the clatter of dishes being set on the counter, and the sound of a lid being taken off a pot as he crept through the main room. He watched his step as he wove around large furniture, books stacked all about, and a desk with what looked like a picture frame on a stand in the middle of it. It caught his attention not so much because of the odd place for it as what was in it... which was nothing. He looked around the room and wondered. There were prints and photographs covering the walls; so why would someone have a huge frame that dominated a desk and nothing in it?

He saw what looked like a typewriter in front of it, but it was flat and had no place to put any paper. It just had the keys crammed close together. At least he could recognize some of the keys, anyway.

"Gumbo's ready," Tom said.

Ed sniffed. The response of his stomach was instantaneous... and loud. Whatever gumbo was, it smelled wonderful.

He came around the corner and stopped short. Reilly was sitting at the table and her face was cast in a cold, unearthly glow unlike the warmth of the candles and oil lamps scattered around the place. She looked up, smiled, and closed the thin case she had open in front of her. As soon as it was shut the glow was gone.

"Ah, there you are. I was wondering if you got lost," she said.

"Wouldn't be hard in this mess," Tom said from the stove.

"Hush you," she said, then she turned back to Ed and waved a hand at the seat across from her at the table. "Hungry?"

"Yeah," he said softly as he pulled out his seat. "Thanks."

"Do you like Cajun?" Tom asked as he set the steaming bowl in front of Ed.

The boy looked at the mélange of sausages, shrimp, rice and vegetables, and had to swallow because his mouth started watering furiously. "Never had it," he said. "But it smells good."

A look passed between Tom and Reilly, and the man nodded. He grabbed a glass from the rack on the counter and then opened a huge black cabinet. The direction it opened blocked Ed's view, but the cold air that filtered out and tickled the toes of his flesh foot caused his eyes to go slightly wider. Electric refrigeration was just starting to find its way into private homes in Germany. This thing looked like it should be in a busy restaurant.

A moment later, Tom set a glass in front of him and Ed's face fell. Milk. He sighed, pushed it away and said, "Water will be fine, thank you."

When he glanced up, Reilly was watching him with an expression that was mildly disturbing; like she knew more than she was saying. "If you're not used to the heat in Cajun cooking, milk is the best way to go. Water only spreads the fire."

He scowled and said though clenched teeth, "I'm not drinking something excreted from a cow."

She snorted and said, "It's not cow's milk."

"What? Then it's from a goat? That's even worse," he said, just a little louder than before.

Reilly looked like she was finding this whole thing amusing, which only served to annoy him more. "Nope, not goat's milk, either. It's soy."

"What the hell is that?" he snapped.

Another look passed between her and Tom, and when she faced Ed again, there was something suspicious in her eyes. "Soy is a plant, Edward. Personally, I can't stand cow's milk either. And no one even bothers with goat's milk these days."

Uh-oh, he thought.

Tom set a glass of water in front of him and said, "Stop trying to torment the boy, Reilly."

Ed breathed a sigh of relief and scooped up a spoonful of the gumbo. It tasted as good as it smelled and he thought he could die happy right at that moment. He didn't realize just how hungry he really was until the flavors started to mingle in his mouth and his stomach protested impatiently.

He started shoveling the thick soup into his mouth as quickly as he could get the first bite down and so didn't notice the creeping heat until about the third heaping spoonful. At that point it was too late. His eyes started watering and his sinuses cleared in a rush. He gasped and waved his hand in front of his open mouth and looked around him in desperation. He snatched up the water and downed it in a few large gulps, but it wasn't helping. In fact it was making it worse, because now the burn was flooding down his throat and searing the lining from his stomach.

With a smirk, Reilly pushed the glass of soy milk toward him and he downed it without argument.

He coughed and sniffled, and wiped the tears from his eyes. After a long moment of that, he finally got himself under control and glared at Tom and Reilly. "Are you people trying to kill me?!"

Tom chuckled and strolled back to the stove. "She tried to warn you. There's quite a bit of cayenne in that." He ladled up another bowlful and set it in front of the woman. "Reilly likes it spicy."

"Take smaller bites, Edward. No one is going to take it from you," Reilly said, and slipped a spoonful into her own mouth.

The rest of the meal went quietly, without incident. There was bread, which also helped absorb the fire; and when Ed took his time, he realized Reilly was right. It didn't burn quite as bad that way. Needless to say, he decided that Cajun Gumbo was something he was going to add to his very long list of favorite foods.

He'd polished off the last spoonful of his third bowl, resisting the temptation to lick it clean, when Reilly gave him that knowing look again.

"So, what's on the other side of that gate?" she asked.

Edward started choking.

He felt Tom pound him on the back and laugh, "Damn Reilly, your timing is sadistic."

When he could breathe again, he stared at her with wide, frightened eyes. "G-gate?" he squeaked.

She leaned forward and propped her chin on her fist, then gave him an almost seductive smile. "You weren't just out for a stroll in the middle of BFE, Edward. Not during a tornado warning. I don't believe you'd be that stupid." She nodded toward his right hand, which was resting on top of the table. "Not with metal limbs."

He slid the automail hand off the table and laid it in his lap. Scared, scattered thoughts whirled around his head. How much did she know? What would happen to him if he told her the truth? How much danger was he in, and could he get away? For that matter, would they believe him, or would they bounce him out on his ass and write him off as insane?

He felt a hand rest on his shoulder, warm and comforting. He looked over at Tom. Even in the dim light of the candles, he could see concern and compassion in the older man's face. "We're not going to throw you to the Feds, kid. You're safe with us."

Reilly sighed and propped the other elbow on the table, lacing her fingers together. "Okay Edward, /quid pro quo/. I'll tell you what I know, and you can fill in the blanks. Fair enough?"

0o0o0

Long after Ed had been settled in the guest room, Reilly flopped down on the sofa next to Tom. She leaned back and closed her eyes. "His clothes are liable to be ruined," she said. "They're good wool."

"Do you buy his story?"

She opened one eye and looked at him. "Do you have a better explanation?"

"I'm sure there's a logical one somewhere," Tom said. He shrugged. "There always is. I just haven't found it yet."

Reilly leaned over a little and dug in her jeans pocket. She fished out a small wad of paper and tossed it on the table. The bills slowly unfolded, and Tom could see it wasn't US currency. He leaned forward and picked one bill up, then held it closer to the light from the oil lamp. "What the hell?"

"I found them in his pants pocket when I checked his clothes. It's a Reichmark," Reilly said. "And it doesn't look like it's been pilfered from some museum or anything."

"No shit," Tom breathed. "Damn thing looks brand new." He tossed it back on the table and leaned back. "Of course some enterprising soul might have thought it was a good idea to save a new one for posterity, too."

"All those bills are that new, Tom. And not a single one of them later than 1924."

"There's a logical explanation," Tom repeated in a mild tone.

"Skeptic."

"Freak."

"I love you too, you old fart."

0o0o0

4:36am
Wichita, Kansas


It was the strange noise that woke him up for good. The confusing almost-chirping noise that matched his heart and throbbing head, located somewhere above him on his right side. His body felt heavy, almost like someone had placed a lead blanket over him, and sluggish in a way he had only ever felt the first time he woke up in that armor. The sensation made him panic a little, the noises registering the slight acceleration of his heart.

Prying his eyelids open, Alphonse Elric blinked a little at his surroundings. It looked like he was in a very antiseptic room; all cream walls and bright lights which made him want to close his eyes against them. The strange beeping noise came from an odd machine at his side, black with a green line that moved with the sound.

His mind refused to deal with that strange thing at the moment, so he looked down at his body, trying to assess the damage. One arm had something resembling a tube attached to it, dripping a clear fluid into his arm through what felt like a needle hidden under the patch of gauze taped over the site. His other arm was in a black sleeve-like contraption, and he could feel the metal bars running through it. He could also see why they had wrapped his arm in that thing; the bruises mottling the skin of his forearm made it very obvious that he'd broken it. The patches of abrasions on his arm stung, and he could feel more of them all along his body. /Feels like I got dragged along shards of glass/, he thought.

Voices in the hallway startled him a bit, and he made it a point to close his eyes, trying to relax. Maybe listening in would give him an idea of just what was going on.

"--status hasn't changed yet?"

"No sir, sorry." The first solid voice he heard was a woman's, apparently slightly exasperated. "The kid's stable, but his brainwaves look like he's comatose at the moment; no reaction to outside stimuli. I'll be sure to send someone to get you when he regains consciousness, though."

"You'd better." The threat in the man's voice was veiled, but there, like the presence of venom in a snake. "This investigation can't continue until I talk to that boy."

"You don't have to threaten me, sir." The irritation was a bit more prominent now. "I'll send an orderly the instant he opens his eyes."

"You do that." The staccato sound of boots on tile rang through Al's ears, gradually fading and leaving him in a state of shock. What did that man want with him? Had something else happened when that thing hit him?

Remaining still and lax, he listened as the woman he'd heard stepped into his room, the sound of a pen on paper coming from above his head, next to that damn machine. "Huh, looks like you're starting to come to a bit. I hope you wake up soon; that man's getting on my nerves."

/She doesn't know I'm awake! /Al thought happily as he let her do her inspection, studying the bandages on his arm and, apparently, his head.

"I don't know what you did that got him so interested, kid, but that damn Fed hasn't left us alone since you came in. I wonder what happened to that road; Ernie said it looked like it melted up to protect you." Scratch, scratch went the pen. "Ah, well. Get better soon, kid."

Examination complete, the woman left him to his own devices, contemplating just what the hell to do about the situation, on his own, without his brother, in a place he knew nothing about.

I hope Brother's okay...







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