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The Innocent and The Damned

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Gold-haired kids, raven-haired kids, kids with hair the color of carrots: all good looking kids, yet their pictures made Captain Maes Hughes’s coffee taste like bile. The photos pulled at his heart. Alicia, his newborn, would be a preteen eventually, and the idea of her suddenly going missing made his stomach roil.

He flipped through their bios in the manilla case file as he walked to his office, scanning through what little information the military police managed to dig up.

Why do I have to be assigned a case involving missing kids?

“Captain Hughes, you have an urgent message from Colonel Mustang,” said the grandmotherly regimental secretary, Nancy.

“Tell him that unless he’s offering to babysit his goddaughter, I have work to do,” Maes replied, his nose deep in the file as he swung his office door closed.

Maes sat down in his chair, and ran his fingers through his hair, staring continually down at the file. The typewritten documents and handwritten notes blurred in front of his eyes. There had to be some connection that the military police had missed. Preteens and teens usually wandered around by themselves throughout Central after school, so maybe a store owner saw one of them mid-afternoon buying penny candy or cakes? Or maybe someone saw one of them in a park, or wherever else kids hung out these days?

He reached over to flick on the desk lamp, but his hand hit a mysterious heavy paperweight made of leather. Maes furrowed his eyebrows and started to shake his hand to stop the throbbing. He didn't own a leather paperweight. He placed the file down on the grey enameled desktop and blinked. There was a pair of small moon boots resting on top of the outbox basket - and they were attached to a young gold-haired boy wearing a long red coat over a black shirt and work trousers common to farmers out east.

Maes’s eyes went wide and he briefly glanced down at the pictures in the open file before peering back up into the child’s strange whiskey eyes. The child looked like he had jumped straight from his file and came to life into the conference chair across his desk.

“What’s your name? Are you Captain Hughes? I’m Edward. The colonel said you’re going to train me,” said the boy in a high-pitched eastern brogue, curiosity twinkling in his gold eyes.

Maes continued to gape at the child, blinking, his head cocked to the side. Why wasn’t he in school? Was this Roy’s idea of a prank while he was in Central City?

“What?”

“I told you. I’m Edward. The colonel said you’re going to train me.”

Maes slammed the manila file shut before rapidly standing back up. “You, boy, stay, and don’t look at any of my papers, and get your feet off my desk.” He jogged out of his tiny office into the main room, weaving between the tables the enlisted and civilian employees worked from before standing before an elderly woman with a sour frown rapidly typing up official requests and reports.

Maes waved his hands in front of her cast-iron typewriter, trying to get her attention, before quietly spitting out, “Nancy! Is this Roy’s idea of a prank? Because I just got the Wittenau case, the big one involving missing kids, some of whom are around the age of that child, and it's not funny to stick a child the same age in my office.”

The elderly secretary peered up over her soda bottle glasses and pursed her wrinkled lips. “I’ve worked as a secretary for Central Command longer than you’ve been alive, for various departments, and what has always been my rule?”

He closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose, and pushed up his glasses. “That you never get involved in inter-regimental, inter-company, inter-unit, inter-, intra- anything pranks or traditions,” he quietly said through a stilted smile, as if he had never heard her lecture previously. Nancy always cut into inter-regimental fun, especially between him and Roy. They may be (barely) getting older, but their pranks had only been getting better since their academy days, dammit.

Her voice sprung like a trap. “Correct. I don’t do pranks. I’m not here to help with childish traditions. Weren’t you listening, you have an urgent message from the Colonel about a meeting.”

“A meeting?” Maes tried to give her his most charming smile.

She pointed down the room to the blonde wood door that led to the hall. “General Grand’s office. And you’re late.”

He cringed, gritting his teeth. Nancy always made him feel like a naughty schoolboy when he was caught not paying attention. “Thanks, Nancy,” He started to make his way between his subordinates’ and clerks’ desks that filled the large open room that Central Command - Counterintelligence and Investigations worked out of. “And make sure he keeps his feet off my desk!”