The mastermind behind the impostor Lady Trisha and the embassy attack reveals herself, and Prince Edward leads a rescue mission for his missing mother.
"Who is it?"
"It's a noblewoman," Alphonse replied. "She said her name was Lady Dante of Noctis Labyrinthus."
"Dante… Dante…" Edward looked like he was trying to place the name. "Can't say I've heard of her." He straightened his tunic. "Let's do this. Push the button, Winry."
"Hang on for a second." Winry had a number of wires out from a panel, and a few of her devices. She reached up and tapped something and the screen lit up. The woman looked familiar to Sheska, and, with a start, she realized it was the noblewoman she had met next to the mural in at the palace yestersol. It seemed like a lifetime ago that she was merely the ambassador's assistant, rather than standing next to the heir to the Martian throne less than a mile from one of the most priceless and powerful archaeological finds in the history of the Solar System.
"Greetings, Your Highness." Dante's mouth was smiling, but her eyes looked more like a cat that had finally found the mouse it had been chasing. Her headpiece cast shadows over her face, adding to the creepy look. Sheska blinked, noticing the feathers were the same color and type that Envy had worn. In the background, she could hear water running faintly. "I trust your captors are treating you well? I assure you, Earth and the multilateralists will not get away with this."
"Cut the crap, Dante," Edward said. Sheska saw his brother roll his eyes. "We're here of our own free will. Now, either no one told you this, and you can rescind those warrants on Ambassador Hughes and Winry Rockbell and whoever else you've been chasing, or you knew damn well my brother and I weren't kidnapped and just wanted to grab whoever you thought might know where we were holed up."
Dante sighed, letting the smile drop from her face. "You couldn't make this simple, could you? Very well, then -- you've no doubt figured out that there is an impostor posing as your mother at the palace, telling people that your father is away. In truth, the impostor is working for me. I have custody of your parents in an undisclosed location. Now, you can either tell me where the Kepler Gate is, or I'll be forced to be a bit unreasonable towards them."
"I don't believe you," Edward said. "If you want anything more than a disconnect after a very detailed and scientific explanation where you can stick your impostor, I'm going to need proof."
"You're as much a scientist as your father, Prince Edward," Dante said. "Give me a moment." The screen went blank.
"Do you think she's telling the truth?" Alphonse asked.
"If she was, how could she capture two of the best-guarded people on Mars?" Sheska asked.
"Inside access." Edward was pacing the length of the cockpit now, which wasn't more than two steps. "As nobility, she'd have the ability to get into the palace, with a small staff of bodyguards. Go after Mom first – since she's from Earth, she doesn't know Alchemy. Then… somehow sneak her out -- still working on that -- and use the impostor to go after Dad, before he hears the news. Even an Alchemist can be surprised. Damn it all!" He slammed a hand against the bulkhead. "Why weren't we around to protect her? How could we let this happen? What-"
His beating of the Wrench's walls was interrupted not by Winry yelling at him, though Sheska noted that she was gripping a screwdriver in a threatening way, but by Master Izumi standing and placing her staff between him and the bulkhead. "Still your heart, Edward," she said. "What good is asking all of those questions? You assumed the security of the palace was enough to protect your mother, and Alchemy was enough to protect your father. You assumed incorrect, but that is in the past. What matters now is protecting your parents in the present, and the future."
Alphonse had stood as well. "She's right, Brother. We kind of screwed up, didn't we? But it's not too late to make things right."
"All right, but 'making things right' better not include beating my ship into scrap metal," Winry said. "If you must beat something up, there are plenty of rocks outside."
Edward nodded and turned back to face them, rubbing his hand. The screen beeped as the signal returned. Dante was standing with Lady Trisha Elric, who looked very frazzled, but not injured. Behind her, Sheska caught a glimpse of Envy with a photon rifle. "Mom?" Edward asked.
"Hello, boys," Trisha said. She was smiling, but even Sheska could see the worry in her eyes.
"Mom… Mom, do you remember when Alphonse and I were little and starting to learn Alchemy…" Edward asked, a glint of something in his eyes.
Trisha smiled. "You and your brother would always listen to my stories about Earth, and you two decided that I must miss it. So you made me a horse out of tinfoil, because the only things you had seen about Earth at the time were cowboy movies."
"That's… that's right." Both princes' faces were stoic, but Sheska caught the glimmer of tears in Alphonse's eyes.
"Satisfied?" Dante asked. "If you are willing to cooperate, fly back to Cyndonia by local sunset tomorrow and meet me in the palace. I look forward to seeing you then." The signal was cut off before anyone could respond.
"Doesn't look like we have much of a choice," Edward said. "If we knew where she was-"
Winry sighed. "She's in the Northern Hemisphere. I'd say within ten degrees of one-eighty longitude. She's got good scramblers."
"How…?" Edward looked surprised for a moment, then grinned. "Should have figured you'd be tracking things while we talked."
"That's pretty flat terrain," Sheska said. "Nothing but plains until you hit Elysium or the Tharsis bulge, or the polar cap. I heard a waterfall, though."
"She must be at one of the polar pumping stations!" Winry said. "They use the meltwater to make hydroelectric power, while channeling it down to the cities."
"Great… Al and I can go get Mom," Edward said. "It's too dangerous for you two. You've done enough."
"Not in my ship without me along!" Winry stood up.
"We have our own ship," Edward said. "As I said, you've done enough. We can take it from here."
"Knowing you two, you'll just end up rushing in, with no plan whatsoever?"
"Like that's any different from how you act." Edward crossed his arms.
"Hang on!" Sheska yelled, causing everyone, even Master Izumi, to look at her. "Prince Edward and Alphonse might be the best suited for this mission, but Winry and I can at least provide backup. I"ll check with the ambassador, but he'll probably want Denny with him and his family, and I can't speak for Master Izumi. Let's see what plan we can come up with before we write anyone off."
"Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink." Sheska eyed the ice cliff to the north, rosy-hued and sparkling in the low sun. All around her, the ground was bare of anything living, and covered in rippling sand dunes. There wasn't even the scraggly ground cover breaking up the monotony of Martian rocks. An open sky seemed to make the place even more desolate, even more remote. The pumping station looked like it was about to be crushed between sky and ice and stone and sand.
Alphonse glanced at the ship's chronometer. "Master Izumi should be in position now," he said. Master Izumi had volunteered to take the Princes' ship to Lady Dante's meeting point, to create a distraction, as she put it. She had offered to have Sheska come with her, but Sheska had declined, feeling more comfortable with Winry than the strange Alchemist. If she had been smart, she would have taken it -- it would be safer, probably. Of course, if she was really as smart as all that, she would have remained in the hidey-hole that Master Izumi had put the Hughes family and their guards in.
"Let's go, Brother." Alphonse clipped on a headset.
Edward did likewise. "Right."
"You two are lucky that I'm the only one who can work the controls," Winry said. "Otherwise, I'd be right there in with you."
"And I keep telling you, it's too dangerous," Edward replied. "This is our problem, not yours."
"And me nearly being arrested because I happen to know you doesn't make it my problem?" Winry replied. "Plus, Auntie Trisha is important to me too."
"It's not worth arguing over," Sheska quickly interjected, "since we have to stay here for support." In truth, she was kind of glad they were staying behind -- while running around on a rescue mission sounded exciting, she didn't think she'd do anything besides slow everyone else down. She waved as the two boys left the /Wrench/, sneaking along the ice cliff.
"They'll be all right, Winry," Sheska said, watching Winry watch them. "I'm sure Master Izumi's taught them well."
"I know, I know…" Winry turned back towards her controls. "It's just… well, we grew up together. They're the two annoying brothers I never had, and I was the little sister they never had. I would always tag along after them when we played. I think the only thing that stopped me from trying to follow them into Alchemy was that Granny started teaching me about mechanical things and piloting." She smiled, probably thinking of past days. "So, I worry about them."
Sheska nodded. "I'm an only child, myself. I mostly grew up reading." Seeing that Winry was still looking worriedly out the window, she added, "Why don't we play a game to pass the time? Do you know how to play chess?"
Winry nodded. "There's a magnetic board in the storage closet, and a table folds down over behind my shoulder."
Sheska got up, switching on the lights, and got the board. She set up the pieces, and they started to play. Neither of them was particularly good at it, but they were only down a rook and a couple of pawns each when the radio crackled to life.
"Winry? Do you copy?" Edward's voice sounded tinny and staticy through the receiver.
"I'm here, Ed," Winry said. "Have you found them yet?"
"Not yet… but we found out what Envy and not-Mom are -- Dante left the spare parts lying around. They're androids -- you know, humanoid robots. She had to have built them in her manor or somewhere, or someone would have noticed."
"Androids? Well, that would explain why knife wounds him didn't slow him down," Winry commented, still holding the queen she had been moving.
"We're going to try the next- we got company. Later, Winry."
"Ed! Wait just a second!" Winry frowned, dropping the queen. "Idiot…" She started tweaking the knobs on her radio. "I think I can get the background noise."
They heard the sounds of footsteps over the radio, and voices too indistinct to make out, occasionally punctuated with a crash. Winry sighed, and continued working. "Come on, you piece of junk… it would help if whoever Ed's fighting wouldn't make so much noise, so I could amplify the weak parts of the signal better…"
The radio hissed and popped, and suddenly the sound cut in. "…say that your brother… than you, Shorty… I took him out. . ." The voice was Envy, but was nearly drowned in static.
"What did you do to Al? I swear, if you've hurt him…" Edward's voice was much clearer and louder. He was still wearing the headset, apparently, even if he wasn't talking to Winry and Sheska.
"Of course I . . . would be stupid … you two alive to answer … really only needs one. . . going to surrender, Shorty?"
"It doesn't look like I have much of a choice." There was a trace of cockiness in Edward's voice, but it sounded strained. There was a loud crash, and the signal cut out. Winry swore under her breath as she tried to bring it back.
"Someone busted the transmitter. Ed, you idiot!" Winry stood up, knocking the chessboard over. The pieces stayed stuck to the board, mostly, but Sheska noticed that the edge of the table had caught her queen and two knights and sent them flying. "We have to go rescue them!"
"But," Sheska said, "they probably know that Prince Edward brought a ship. They'd be expecting us, or Master Izumi or someone. We can't just go through the front door, like they did."
"You're right," Winry said. "We need another way in. Sheska, can you swim?"
"Swim?" Sheska asked. "What does that have to do with anything?"