Struggles to protect lives and hopes aside, Sheska manages a quiet word with the Lady Trisha about Dante, Sloth and Envy.
Sheska looked at Edward. She wasn't sure if he was conscious of her or not -- he was transfixed by the sight on the table. She started cutting the bonds that bound him, praying that somehow his Alchemy could save his brother's life. As she worked, trying to ignore whatever Winry was doing, she saw a second pair of hands join her, shaking, but working steadily to free the Martian prince. Lady Trisha's face was white as a sheet, but Winry had freed her hands too, and she must have removed the gag.
"Ed," she said, softly.
"Mom?" His voice was so quiet Sheska could barely hear him, and still hoarse from screaming. Suddenly she felt like she shouldn't be listening to their conversation, even if her hands and tools were needed in order for Prince Alphonse to have any chance at all.
"I'm so proud of you and your brother," Lady Trisha said, sounding like she was about to cry. "I didn't want you to be involved, but..."
"But, Mom, Al's..."
"You need to help Winry now," Trisha said. "Don't blame yourself." She placed a hand on his shoulder.
Edward nodded. As Sheska cut the last bit free, he stood up, shakily, but with a fire in his eyes. "I won't let you down, Mom."
"You never let me down."
"Ed!" Winry yelled. "I'm losing him! Get over here!"
Ed flashed her a panicked look. "What do I do? Alchemy doesn't work on people that well. Do you need tools?"
"I don't know! Grandma's the doctor, not me. I just studied first aid and emergency response."
"This is an emergency!"
"Which is why I should be getting Al to a hospital, with an ambulance!"
Both of them were working as they argued, but Sheska could see that Alphonse already looked like a corpse. There was so much blood, she felt like she was going to throw up from just the smell without even looking at it. She was amazed that Edward and Winry were even able to function.
"I can't feel his heart beating any more!" Winry yelled.
"I can make a shock?" Edward's voice had more than an edge of terror to it.
"That won't work. Not if I can't stop the bleeding."
"Get clear anyway!" Winry practically jumped away and Sheska saw the body jerk as Edward touched its chest... his chest, dammit, with his hands.
"What about the android?" Lady Trisha said. "That woman copied Alphonse's mind over there."
"But Aunty Trisha, it's not the same thing at all," Winry said. "You're not Sloth, and that isn't Al."
Trisha shook her head. "That woman put in enough constraints in so Sloth couldn't act freely. If it were me, I'd be driven insane if she made me hurt my children. But... if you and Ed can disable her programming before the android wakes fully, then maybe..."
"We don't have a choice if we want to save Al," Winry said. "Do we?"
Edward looked up at his mother. His hands were covered in his brother's blood and his face looked like the end of the world. "We gotta save Al. If Mom thinks that this is the best way, then I'm going to do what I gotta do. Just..." he motioned to the still body that was once his brother. "Don't let him see that. He'll be sad enough that we couldn't save him... his body."
Lady Trisha nodded, taking the tarp that had covered the robot, and gently laying it over her son. "You're as smart as your father, and Winry is one of the best mechanics I know. You'll figure it out. The young lady and I will wait outside."
Sheska realized Lady Trisha meant her, and let her guide her away from the grisly scene, and the grim silence as Winry and Prince Edward set to work on the robot that had become the housing for Alphonse's mind. "Where are we going?" she asked.
"I needed to tell you what I learned about Dante," Lady Trisha said. "I don't want to put Edward in a position where he needs to chose between helping me with his father and stopping Dante, so you and Winry might have to go on alone."
"Where is the Technocrat?" Sheska asked. "Shouldn't he be..."
Lady Trisha shook her head. "I don't know. Dante attempted to use Sloth as bait for him, but I don't know if she found him and is holding him somewhere else, or if he escaped her and is in hiding somewhere, gathering resources to find us. Ed would be better at going through Dante's books than I would so we can get a hold of him."
Sheska nodded. "So it's up to us to stop Dante, as soon as Winry can be spared. Unless you can fly her ship."
Lady Trisha shook her head. "I can try to call Master Izumi, if you know where she is."
"Somewhere in the capital, but she didn't give us details. She just found somewhere on Mars to hide Ambassador Hughes and his family, and then took off to draw Dante's attention away from here." Sheska paused. "She has to know something happened to us, but I don't know how to call her."
"It'll be you and Winry, then." Lady Trisha looked grave. "I hate to ask you two children to take on this burden, but-"
"-we don't have a choice," Sheska finished. "At this point we know too much to live through Dante taking control."
Lady Trisha nodded. "If I had known that-" she paused. "No, I wouldn't have changed things."
"Dating Hohenheim. He spent some years on Earth, you know, when he was young. Attended university in Amestris at the same time I was there."
Sheska nodded. The story was heavily romanticized, but well known, especially if you knew anything about Mars. The son of the Martian Technocrat had gone to Earth, to a small town university, and met an Earthling -- a young woman attending school in the town she grew up in -- who he loved enough to offer his hand in marriage, tradition and protocol be damned.
"Maybe that makes me selfish, putting my sons in danger because I loved my husband too much," Lady Trisha said. "I could make a choice in becoming Lady Trisha. Ed and Al were born to their positions."
"Not at all. It's not your fault that politics is... political," Sheska replied. "Dante and the Isolationists were the ones who did this. Not you."
"Dante," Trisha repeated. "You know, before he left for school, she was considered to be the woman that Hohenheim would marry. They used to work together, and he told me that she was fond of him."
Sheska blinked, trying to imagine Dante being fond of anyone. She didn't know the woman well at all, but the amount of casual suffering she brought to others made it seem more likely that Phobos would fly out of orbit.
"He never told me what they worked on, but I wonder when her first android, that Envy, dates from?" Trisha asked.
"You mean, maybe Envy was created by both of them?"
"Just me wondering why Dante didn't include the loyalty circuits that she said Sloth had. Hohenheim wouldn't force anyone to be loyal to him. For a head of state, he's remarkably ambivalent about others following him. Sometimes I'd think he'd be happier if he was just left to his lab, and someone else ran the planet."
"Or the circuits and codes could just be new developments." Sheska frowned, filing the information away in case she needed it later.
"True. Perhaps I just want to find some good in people, even ones who are doing horrible things."
"She loved once, maybe. I don't know if she loves anything now, except her own power. Not even her cause or the other Isolationists." Lady Trisha shook her head. "I want her stopped, and I want to speak up for saving her life, but I can't, in good conscience. She's proven to be willing to hurt innocents to get what she wants, and is just too resourceful."
Sheska nodded, looking grim.
"As for Sloth..." Lady Trisha said, looking off into the middle distance. "I can't imagine she's sane any more, if she has any bit of my regard for my boys or my husband. I... you and Winry do what you have to. I know Winry, and she has good judgement and a good heart."
"Call me Trisha, or Missus Elric. It's been nearly two Earthly decades, and I'm still not a milady. If we all survive this, you'll have a friend in the Royal Family. Or more than one." Lady Trisha smiled at her. It wasn't a full smile, but had a glimmer of hope in it. She cocked her head to the side. "All this talk, and I realized I'm not sure of your name. You're Ambassador Hughes' assistant, though."
"Yes, mi- Missus Elric. Sheska Squires." She realized she had thought she had introduced herself, but it had been Sloth she had been talking to.
"It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Squires."
It was then that Winry walked up to them. "Ed and I think we have everything. Do you want to be there when Ed tu- wakes him up?"
Sheska decided to wait by herself while the Elrics and Winry had their reunion with Alphonse. After witnessing the scene with Dante and its aftermath, she worried about getting in the way of a family moment.
Time still bothered her. She knew Winry wouldn't leave until she was sure the Royal Family was all right, and that even if Dante knew how to work the Kepler Gate, it would take time for her to turn it on. She hoped.
There was just too much information she didn't have, and too much riding on this. And too much suffering -- Ambassador Hughes, Maria and now Prince Alphonse. She didn't even know what would happen to all the Earthlings and other offworlders that were on-planet if Dante won.
Winry motioned her over. Alphonse was sitting up, and he turned towards her. The body still had a disquieting stare, and Sheska wasn't sure where to look. "Thank you, Miss Squires," he said. His voice was mechanical, with a lack of defining characteristics, but it sounded layered in emotional tone, like it should. "I know you did what you could..."
"Quit apologizing, dummy," Edward said, putting a hand on his brother's shoulder. There were tears in his eyes.
"I'm not apologizing, Brother," Alphonse answered. "I just wanted to let Miss Squires know I appreciate it."
"Um... I hate to ask -- but can you two fill us in on everything you know about the Kepler Gate?" Sheska said. "If we have any chance against Dante, we'll need all the help we can get."
"I can go with you two, if you need that much help," Edward replied. "Dante and her androids are dangerous. Mom can take care of Al for me."
"Are you really in that kind of shape to go?" Winry asked. "You look awful."
"So do you," he replied. "We all look like a mess."
"Winry, how long will it take to get back to the cave?" Sheska asked. "Should we come up with a plan before we leave?"
"Depending on how much I push the engine and whether Phobos and Deimos are up," she replied. "I'm still a wanted woman."
Edward made a noise. "I can take care of that. It's not like we're hiding from Dante any more at this point."
"So, maybe an hour?" she said.
"Your High- Edward, can we come up with a plan to stop Dante in an hour?" Sheska asked.
"Probably. Let's get Winry's ship and go. I don't know how long we have." He turned to face his mother and brother. "Um... I'll try to be back soon?"
Trisha smiled at him. "Try not to be reckless." She hugged him. "And take care of yourself. Al and I will be fine here, for now. If we run into trouble, I'll call the nearest town to pick us up."
"I wish I could help," Alphonse said.
"Nah, you just focus on getting everything working again. And take care of Mom." Edward hugged his brother as well.
"Bye, Auntie Trisha. Bye, Al." Winry hugged them both as well.
As they headed out the door, and walked in borrowed shoes across the cold, windswept and frost-covered polar dunes to the /Wrench/, Winry looked back, towards the little station where they left Trisha and Alphonse. "Can we come up with a plan at all?"
"Sure we can," Sheska said.
"But you remember how I froze up when we went to get the Ambassador," Winry said. "Even if we can get in, I don't know how we can stop Dante and Sloth and Envy. Ed's all right in a fight, but I'll just freeze up again." They reached the /Wrench/'s airlock and she opened up the ship. "I'm going to need to change and wash before we take off. Ed, you are doing the same thing after I finish. I don't want the grime on the seats."
"Hey, Winry," Ed said, "don't walk off like that."
"Why not?" she asked.
"We didn't finish talking about that."
"Look, I can at least fly you and Sheska there. I'm good at those kind of things." Winry ducked back into the aft part of the /Wrench/. "And don't you come back here while I'm changing, Edward Elric. I'll leave out something clean for you to use."
Sheska looked at Edward. "I'll talk to her when you change," she said. "If that doesn't work, it's your turn."
He shrugged. "Sounds good. She's really something, you know. I don't think I could have saved Al without her."
Sheska nodded. "She is. Really something, I mean."
When Winry came out, hair still damp, but in a clean jumpsuit, Sheska had moved into the co-pilot's chair. "It shouldn't take Edward long to finish in the wash room," she said.
Winry snorted. "He'd be ready to go now if I would let him."
"So, I was thinking..." Sheska said.
"Yeah?" Winry leaned forward.
"Dante and her androids are really strong," Sheska said. "Edward could probably match one of them with his Alchemy, but neither of us can fight all that well." Winry nodded. "So," Sheska continued, "we shouldn't try to fight them at all."
"What? But I thought you said-"
"I mean, you're really good at machines, and Edward is an Alchemist, and I've got a good memory and we're all really smart people. Dante's probably smart, too, but Sloth is programmed to not act independently, and Envy doesn't seem to like Dante much. So maybe instead of fighting, we should try to out-think them."
Winry stared at her. "You have any ideas how?"
"Not yet, but I'll bet when Edward tells us what he knows, we'll figure out something."
It was then that Edward came in, a towel draped across his shoulders and his feet still bare. Winry and Sheska turned to him expectantly. "What?" he said.
"Strap in," Winry replied. "We're taking off, and on the way, you're telling us everything you know about the Kepler Gate."