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They moved in perfect formation. Ten ships, ten pilots. All that was left of the Resistance in their final stand against the the darkness.

As one they approached their target -- a massive black ship, large enough to mistake for a small moon if not for the array of weapons mounted around the central hull. Blaster cannons, a trademark of the dark forces, but larger than usual and powerful enough to destroy any obstacle in their path. Which included, of course, planets that had refused to submit to the Shadow Demon’s rule.

Gladiolus tightened his jaw as their formation closed in on the enemy ship. His own home planet had been one of the first to join the Resistance, back in the days when the Shadow’s reach had yet to engulf but a few outlying galaxies. Amicitia had been a symbol of hope, a rallying cry for the free peoples of the universe -- until it was wiped out by the demons in the name of their dark master. The planet -- and all those living upon it -- were lost.

Now, Gladio was not only the last of his race, but one of the last left to fight against total domination.

“They’re firing up the port blaster!” a voice shouted through the comm-link in his ear, immediately followed by a reply from the central ship.

“Maneuver S-12, on my signal.”

“Roger.” Gladio’s knuckles went white as he squeezed down on the twin shafts that controlled his ship. When his commander gave the order, he thrust both handles forward to send his ship careening into a dive in time with the others. Above them, the blaster cannon fired off a wave of light that barely missed the tail of the last ship.

“More targets sighted up ahead!”

This time they was no answering order. Gladio focused on the lightless space ahead of them until the small speeders of the demon fleet came into view. And his heart sank. There were dozens of them, sleek and black and shining in the light of the docking bay as more and more continued to pour out of the belly of the mothership. Each one piloted by a soulless, lifeless puppet -- a so-called “demon” of the Shadow.

“Knew this felt too easy,” Gladio snarled into his comm. “Request permission to engage!”

“Hold!” The order came quickly, Highwind’s voice tight in his ear. “Of all of us, you’re the one who needs to get inside that hunk of junk. Find a way around and leave the fighting to us.”

“Like hell I’m letting you guys have all the fun.”

“Gladiolus! This isn’t a game!” His commander slammed her fist so hard against her own console that he could hear it over the link. “You have to get in there! The prophecy spoke of you -- only you. You cannot fail.”

She was right, he knew that in his heart. But as he looked out at the wall of demon ships up ahead, their blasters already fixed on the approaching rebels, he couldn’t help but feel a wave of sickening guilt. How many? How many more would have to die for his destiny? Hadn’t an entire planet been enough?

“Guys…,” he started, unable to find the words to express the pain, the anger, the remorse he felt at their sacrifice. Thankfully for him, his commander had never been one for goodbyes.

“Get moving, soldier. Don’t fuck it up.”

He grinned, knowing she couldn’t see him, and as the other nine ships charged head-on into battle, Gladio banked to the right to find another way around.

Shots were fired from both sides, and he turned in time to watch three of his comrades’ ships disappear in a flare of light. Gladio shut his eyes against the sight, forced himself to focus on the way ahead even as he grit his teeth. Whatever it took, he would not let their deaths be in vain. Not anymore.

The docking bay was still open when Gladio came about face and angled his ship upwards. A few demon ships had followed him away from the formation and closed in around him, poised to engage, but they didn’t stand a chance against the Amicitian’s wrath. With a primal yell he thrust his ship forward and right into the enemy formation, powerful arms holding the course as steady as he crashed through them on his way to the open bay.

He lost a wing and half his thrusters, yet still he kept going.

In through the docking bay and right into the loading tunnel beyond, ignoring the way his ship skidded along the too-narrow walls and the warnings flashing red across the panel screens. His only goal was to reach the bridge, to confront the Shadow himself -- whether or not he made it back out was irrelevant.

Gladio pushed forward. He used the last of his dying ship’s energy to strengthen the front shields just as the tunnel came to an end, and let his momentum send him crashing straight through the wall. And the next. Floor after floor he plowed through metal and scrambling demons alike, until at last his shields broke away and his ship shattered to pieces under the force of the next impact. Gladio himself was thrown from the wreckage, landing with a sickening crack on the cold, hard floor.

He never did make it to the bridge.

 

It was sometime later, lying amidst the debris and rubble, that Gladio thought he could make out the sound of footsteps approaching. His body was broken; there was no use in trying to struggle away. The footfalls came louder, closer, and out of the corner of his vision he saw the black robes of the Shadow Demon himself sweeping over the floor. A deep voice chuckled as the dark master slowed to a halt at his side.

“You did well to come this far, Amicitian.”

“Bite me, ass-face.”

“Ah, and so eloquent, too.” The Shadow kneeled down next to Gladio’s immobile form. As always his head and visage were shrouded in a heavy black cowl, but he drew this back to reveal an almost human appearance -- rich, auburn hair falling in waves around a haggard face; round, piercing yellow eyes on either side of a hooked nose; his lips twisted in a tight smile. “I hardly think my face resembles an ass, but perhaps your people have different standards of beauty. Or,” he smiled again, leaning close enough for Gladio to make out the black energy pulsing in vein-like patterns beneath his skin. “Should I say, ‘had.’”

If Gladio could have moved, he would have broken the bastard’s neck right then. Yet while his limbs refused to obey, the pure hatred he felt for the Shadow in that moment was written plain across his features. “Remember my face well. Someday, I’ll be the one to make you pay for everything you’ve done.”

A shrug as the Shadow produced a small knife from inside of his robes. “I’m afraid you might find that difficult from beyond the grave, Amicitian.” He pressed the tip of the knife to Gladio’s throat almost tenderly as he spoke, dragging it down along his skin to where his vest fell open and his chest rose and fell in rapid breaths. The cold steel came to rest just above his heart. “The whole of the universe shall know and despair -- for their beloved Prophecy dies with you.”

The knife pierced his flesh, slow and purposeful, and Gladio was swallowed up in darkness.

Above the stilled body, the Shadow Demon rose to his feet. Several of his followers stepped forth, swathed in all black, and bowed low before their master. “Shall we burn him, Lord?”

“No.” Yellow eyes flashed. A smile played on his lips as a wicked idea began to take shape. “He was the last of his kind. A hero to the rebels and heretics of the wild galaxies. Deserving, I think, of a fate worse than death.”

“Lord?”

“Take his body to the cryochamber and decarbonize him. When I have need of a pet, I shall awaken him myself.”

The Shadow turned to leave. In his wake, Gladio’s lifeless body was hauled from the ground and carried off. Down the corridor and further into the belly of the ship, toward what would ultimately be a long and unforgivable punishment at the hands of the Darkness.

 

Over two thousand years passed. The Shadow Demon’s reach extended unchecked to every corner of what came to be known as the “Light Zone” -- an area of the universe consisting of 20,000 planets sharing laws, technology, and relative peace under the Shadow’s iron rule. Over time, the race of the Amicitians, as well as their prophecy, faded into history, then into legend. Few remembered the stories of their brave stand against the dark forces, and with the tales of heros, hope, too, passed out of memory.

Not dead, but merely dormant.

For the prophecy had been waiting for a new hero, the one who would reawaken the last of the Amicitia and challenge the Shadow Demon once and for all. An unassuming young man, born and raised on the Insomnia Cluster where the Shadow himself resided and bided his strength. A young man who, although merely a Security Guard Class 4 in the criminal docking wing, was about to change the history of the universe forever.

His name was Noctis Lucis Caelum, and he was once again late for work.

Chapter Text

 

Attention, attention. The time is now FIVE FIFTY SEVEN . Shift Zero begins in THREE minutes.”

The harsh computerized voice dragged Noctis unwillingly from his dreams as it filled the space of his capsule. Deep blue eyes slid open in annoyance as a single hand rose and pounded against the wall, blindly searching for the OFF switch.

Attention, attention. The time is now FIVE FIFTY EIGHT. Shift Zero begins in -- ”

“I know, I know ,” Noct whined as he slammed his face back into his pillow. Gods did he hate mornings.

“Attention, attention. Security Guard Class FOUR , name CAELUM, NOCTIS L. If you are late for work, you will receive three additional demerits.”

“Ughh, shuddap already.”

The voice continued despite his protests. “You currently have NINE HUNDRED NINETY EIGHT demerits accrued on your record. It is advised that you --

Noct’s fingers at last connected with the button to block all incoming communication. As the capsule fell silent, he let out a contented sigh and curled up once more under his cluster-issue blankets.

 ------

The manacles were cold, hard steel that bit at his flesh, tight even around wrists and ankles as skinny as his. At his back, a rusted slab held in vertical suspension by chains attached to the ceiling of the transport ship. He was one of a dozen other prisoners in the hold, each one lashed with identical bonds and headed toward an equally dismal fate. They were being taken to the Insomnia Cluster, that much they had been told, and everyone on this side of the universe knew that meant a death sentence.

“Ugh, Number 11 freeze dried again,” a voice said from somewhere near the front of the room. Prompto lifted his head and shifted as much as he could within his bonds to peer around the edge of the slab in front of him.

“Eh, we’ll toss it overboard before we dock. What’s one more dead prisoner anyway?”

A gruff laugh, then Prompto could make out the form of two men in black uniforms starting down the aisle. Guards from the looks of their sleek jackets and the blasters attached to their belts, and both of them looked mean.

“Oy, get a look at this one,” one of the men grinned as he stepped up to a prisoner just to Prompto’s right. It was a young woman, her dark hair cut short but her eyes feisty as she glared back at them, “What’s a little minx like you doing caught up with this lot?”

“I’m a warrior,” she growled, tugging on her bonds hard enough to make the metal creak. “I’ve killed hundreds of Shadow scum like you, and I’ll kill you, too, as soon as I get out of here!”

For the moment, the guards exchanged looks, then the one standing in front of the woman shot her a smile. “Good luck, little heretic. You’ll be nothing but rotting meat in the protein bank long before you break those chains.” Her response was a feral growl, and another creak of metal as she tried to lunge for him. Though the guard’s smirk didn’t falter, he did take a step backwards, and the two men quickened their pace as they moved on.

Right toward Prompto.

Though he tried to avert his eyes, the guards had not trouble picking him out from among the rabble. “Ahh, so here’s the MT!” one of them laughed, immediately sauntering over and catching a handful of bright yellow locks. “I heard the Niffs dumped one on our ship at the last minute. A rogue, mechanics gone screwy. Heh. Might as well’ve thrown it in the back with the rest of the scrap .”

Prompto bit his tongue to keep from spitting at the man’s face.

“Nah, waste o’ good protein. They might be soulless, but they’re still made of blood and guts like us.”

“I’m not soulless!” Prompto frowned, his alien blue eyes flashing in the light, taking both of the guards by surprise. “And get your hands off me.”

“It talks.”

“Rogue, my ass. It’s just broken.”

The hand in his hair clenched with sudden possessiveness, and the man closest to him leaned down until his nose was pressed to the light freckles spattering Prompto’s cheek. “Check out its eyes, they’re even creepier up close.”

“Lemme see, move it.” The second man forced his way in, gripping Prompto’s jaw tight in his fist as he examined his eyes. Bright blue swirled in iridescent, living patterns within his perfectly round irises, glowing with unnatural light. “Woah…. So that’s what Shadow magic looks like.” Prompto blinked, then squeezed his eyes shut against their cold stares.

Suddenly, a voice from over the ancient comm-link system announced that the ship would be docking momentarily. The guards exchanged glances, and without another word turned to head back to the bridge. In their wake, Prompto let out a slow breath as his chin fell to his chest, eyes still closed and heart pounding. It, they had called him. MT. Rogue. Shadow magic. Words he knew well, but which no longer held meaning for him. Once, perhaps, he had been trained as a puppet of the Niflheim Empire, the militaristic cult that followed and enforced the Shadow Demon’s law. Bred as an assassin but unable, unwilling, to kill, Prompto had been demoted over and over until at last he was told he had outlived his purpose. They could have killed him on the spot, but by some cruel joke his superiors had decided that donating his organs to the protein bank would make up for the wasted investment.

But death, he thought, would be a welcome release. Far better a fate than to spend the rest of his days serving Niflheim or the Shadow’s evil will. If Prompto had to kill in order to live, then he would rather not live at all.

Several long moments passed before the ship began to rock and shudder as it entered the cluster’s gravitational field. The sound of rattling chains filled the transport chamber, and all around him the prisoners started to panic. The end, the end , they sobbed, but only Prompto remained silent. Though he had no pride to speak of, he was determined to face his judgement with his head held high, confident that his suffering would soon be over forever.

------

“Shit, shit, shit!”

Noctis was still struggling with the laces of his left boot when he felt the comm-band on his wrist buzz to life. All incoming transmissions to his capsule had been cut off with his morning wake up call, but he already knew what the message would say before he even flipped open the screen of his band.

Attention, attention. Security Guard Class FOUR, name CAELUM, NOCTIS L. You are late for work. Three demerits have been added to your -- “

He groaned, slamming the comm-band face closed and tugging up his laces as tight as they would go. If he was lucky, he could still make it post before anyone noticed, and alter the records later to clear his name.

The door to his capsule slid open with a whoosh of air. As he began to climb down the ladder to the walkway, his wrist buzzed again. And again. Incessecent all the way down to the lower levels. And while Noct tried his best to ignore it, he couldn't hide the red flush to his cheeks or the panic tightening in his gut.

Three demerits, you gotta be kidding me. I'm not that late! he thought, fuming as he half-ran down the twisting corridors to his assigned post. As a Class 4 guard -- the lowest of the possible ranks -- he had put in charge of what was probably the most menial task on the entire cluster: opening and closing the docking bay doors. He spent his days sitting at a console, pushing either a red button or a blue one as ships arrived, and that was it. So mind numbing even the robots had refused to do it, and so Noctis had been stuck with the job.

Truth be told, he rather enjoyed the assignment, if only because it gave him time to daydream far away from the prying eyes of the other cluster workers. He could imagine himself leaving on one of the ships as they passed by, going out into space and travelling to new, exciting worlds. Meeting strange, exotic people, seeing places beyond his wildest imagination. Even if the dreams remained mere fantasy, they were a far better sight than the dull, dreary, grey-walled hive where he had spent his whole life.

Noctis longed for escape. And yet, on that morning, he wanted nothing more than to get to work.

So when he arrived at the docking bay and slid his ID card through the reader, only to have it denied, his panic spiraled into hyperdrive..

" Attention, you are attempting to use an invalid identification code. Be aware that you have only two remaining attempts. "

"The hell..?" He tried again, swiping his card carefully through the reader this time. A light on the console flashed red, and the computerized voice of the access comm sounded again.

" Warning. Access code for CAELUM, NOCTIS L has been deactivated. Return identification card to the nearest Class One officer immediately. "

Blue eyes widened, and Noct took a step back from the machine. "Deactivated?! Come on, I was only a little late! I'm here and ready to do my job, just let me in, you hunk of garbage!"

He didn't mean to kick it, not really. But the moment his boot collided with the side of the console, more red lights began to switch on, row after row of them until the entire docking bay was flashing like the inside of a prisoner transport vessel. Noctis swallowed and stumbled backwards for the door just as a holoframe opened above the flashing panels. From it, a stern face stared back at him.

“This is Command Center, Class three Lazarus responding to a security breach in the docking bay. Identify yourself and the situation.”

“Um…,” was the best Noctis could manage, until the man’s mouth twitched on the screen of the  holoframe and brought him out of his shock. “N-no situation here, everything is fine. Just, uh, the card reader on this console seems to be malfunctioning. Can you send someone down here to fix it?”

“My records indicate that machine passed routine inspection just yesterday. Are you certain there is a problem?”

Noctis could feel himself sweating down to his palms, but luckily that wasn’t something the officer could read through the screen. Heart rate, on the other hand…. “Well, uh, it told me that my, um, that one of our technician’s ID cards has been deactivated, but there has to be some mistake. He didn’t do anything wrong and -- “

“Name?”

“Hm?”

A long-suffering sigh. “The name. On the ID card. Who is it?”

“O-oh. Looks like, uh….” Doing his best to keep a straight face, Noct made a show of examining his own card. “A Class 4 Guard by the name of Noctis Ca...Ce… Caelum? Heh, unlucky guy to have a name like that, right?”

“Hm. He sounds like a completely incompetent blockhead” the holoframe agreed dully, and Noctis frowned. “Ah, here we are. Caelum, Noctis. Looks like...yes, he was scheduled for a triple organ donation this morning.”

“For... what?!”

“Organ donation. Standard procedure for those with records as bad as his. Wow,” the man chuckled. “Over one thousand demerits? This guy must have really been a loser.”

“R-right.” Shoulders drooping, Noctis had to clear a lump from his throat before he could continue. “So, um. What exactly does organ donation mean? Like, they don’t really take your organs or anything, do they?”

“Of course. Triples are the worst. They usually take an eyeball, maybe a kidney or a lung. One testicle. Sounds like this ‘Noctis’ guy really had a bad morning, huh?” The officer followed this with a laugh, one which Noct had a hard time stomaching. He suddenly recalled all the messages he’d received on his comm-band that morning, the ones he had so carelessly ignored, and began to feel more than a little light-headed.

“Hah. Ah. A-and if someone, y’know. Doesn’t show up?”

“You mean, like if they just skip a donation appointment? Well, that would be grounds for termination.”

At that, Noctis’ blood ran cold. Termination . As in, dead. Gone. Not coming back. He hadn’t meant to skip his appointment, honest! And yet, in that moment it was impossible to decide which fate would be worse.

Instinctively cupping a hand between his legs, he gave a half-assed salute to the officer on the holoframe before quickly switching  it off. Around him, the lights stopped flashing, but he hardly noticed. He was too busy wondering if he might still have time to turn himself in.

------ 

As soon as the transport ship had docked, Prompto and the prisoners were unloaded as quickly as if they were rotting cargo. All of the slabs -- and the poor souls attached to them -- were transferred to a rail that ran along the ceiling of the dock. The rail carried them one by one into an adjacent compartment, not quite large or welcoming enough to be considered an actual room, where each of them awaited judgement from a stern woman projected on a holoframe.

She was dressed as a judge in robes of flowing black, her thin hair pulled back in a severe bun and her steel eyes too piercing to be real. A program, then, one unable to be moved by her victims’ pleas.

Prompto was near the middle of the procession. He listened as each of the men and women before him was read the nature of their “crimes” -- heresy, conspiracy, unauthorized interplanetary travel -- and judged, every one of them, guilty under the Shadow’s law. Most of them were shuffled to the left, sobbing and pleading for their lives as the rail led them closer and closer to their deaths: a machine designed to cut the useable flesh from the bones, as painfully as possible with tiny saws and and scissors and rusted blades. The bloody remains would be sent directly to the cluster’s protein banks, while the bones would be jettisoned into space, a vacuous graveyard for the enemies of the Shadow Demon.

Prompto heard the screams as one by one the prisoners were hacked to pieces, kept his eyes averted from the gore even as his stomach flip-flopped beneath his simple, black prisoner's garb. He always had been so weak to the pain of others.

At last his own turn came. His slab rocked violently at it came to sudden halt in front of the holographic judge, who looked down severely in his general direction as a voice spoke from some unknown source.

" Prisoner name NOT FOUND. You have been charged with the crime of FAILURE TO PERFORM YOUR OCCUPATIONAL DUTIES and have been judged by this High Court of his Shadow to be GUILTY."

That was fast, he thought, rolling his eyes.

" As punishment for your heinous crimes, you will be REASSIGNED OCCUPATIONS."

This caught Prompto's attention at once -- hadn't they told him he'd be given the death sentence?!

" Your new position as A LOVE SLAVE will require processing in the recalibration chamber. Physical and mental transformation will prepare you for your duties of PROVIDING SEXUAL SERVICES TO PAYING CUSTOMERS on planet MELDACIO OF THE HUNTER CLUSTER. May you go in the darkness of his Shadow ."

"N-no, wait a second, hang on!" Prompto cried out, tugging helplessly at his chains. "There's been a mistake, I'm supposed to die! Please, please! Just kill me!" Despite his protests, the rail above him made a horrid sound -- metal grinding on metal -- as the track was switched and his slab began to move in a different direction. "Please, don't do this! I don't want to become a love slave!"

Too late. Already the flickering light of the judge's holographic form was fading from his peripheral vision as his slab was taken into a new, dimly lit room. In the center, a large mechanical device awaited him. It looked like it was rarely used, the array of gadgets and gizmos and lasers jutting from every surface, half-rusted and covered in dust. But as his slab moved forward, the room came to life -- a bright spotlight burst on from somewhere overhead, and the machine suddenly sputtered to life.

He called out in vain for help as he was tilted backwards and robotic arms clamped him in place. One of the lasers quickly flashed over him, red and tingling against his skin where it was left exposed, and within seconds the machine’s central processor was whirring with data. A holoframe appeared before his terrified eyes, not a face this time but a scan of a body -- his body -- from his toes to the top of his hair. More processing, and the shape of his body on the screen changed, grew longer and more willowy, rounder and sotter at the edges.

Prompto couldn’t understand what was happening, at least at first. But then the machine clunked and a multitude of bright lights flooded around him, blinding him to all else. There was a low thrumming noise that slowly built into a high-pitched whine and then --

Fire. All around him. White hot and burning at his flesh, his bones, his soul. He knew he was screaming but couldn’t hear it over the pounding in his ears, his body too rigid with pain even to writhe away from the lights. It felt like death, only worse than he had ever imagined possible -- burned alive by the heat of an exploding star, conscious as his being was rapidly melted away.

And then, as suddenly as it had begun, everything was over.

------

He flew through the corridors at breakneck speed, twisting and turning down the hallways of the cluster’s belly toward the officer’s quarters. It was a place he and the other low-rank workers tended to avoid, as nothing good ever came from standing out. But in Noct’s case — facing losing a few body parts or flat-out termination — it was a risk he had to take to save his life, for whatever that was worth.

Panting for breath, he turned the next corner and saw the gate to the officer’s quarters looming up ahead of him. He ignored the burn in his thighs as he lunged forward. According to the messages he'd (finally) checked on his comm-band, he had until exactly the end of Shift One to report to his superior and turn himself in. Which, if the clock on the last monitor he'd passed had been accurate, gave him less than twenty seconds.

The doors of the gate shuddered, groaned, and began to slide closed mere meters away.

Twenty seconds his ass!

“Wait! Stop!” he shouted, his voice strained from exertion. “I'm here to turn myself in! Don't shut the — !” But the last of his plea was drowned out as the doors slammed closed and his last chance slipped right out of his fingers. Noct skidded to a halt, his boots squeaking desperately along the waxed floor, and stared at the door with a look of pure disbelief.

He was too late.

He was going to be marked for termination and thrown in the protein bank.

This was without a doubt the shittiest day of his miserable life.

For several long moments, Noct couldn't move, couldn't think beyond the cold steel of the gate staring back at him and the pain in his legs. But then from behind him, he heard a voice buzz to life on the monitor.

Attention, all personnel. Fugitive wanted for immediate detainment. Alert the nearest Class One officer with information. " The announcement was repeated, but Noct had already stopped listening. Blood turning to ice in his veins, he watched as an all-too-familiar face was broadcast in stark clarity on the screen of the monitor. His face, under which was written the word "WANTED" in bold, red text.

The broadcast would be played all throughout the cluster, on every screen, holoframe, and comm-port in every facility. His face was on display for all to see -- and there was nowhere left for him to run.

And to top it all off, he could already hear heavy boots approaching from the other side of the gate.

Panic surged through him like an electric shock. It jump started his brain and sent him once more flying on his feet back down the hallway, as far from the officer's quarters as he could possibly get. He didn’t have a clue where he was heading, instead leaving the decision up to his legs as they carried him faster and faster away from the monitors with his own face plastered on their screens.

------ 

The repairs had taken longer than expected. On one hand, he was a fairly outdated Imprimus Gratia model and therefore required parts that were often no longer in production. Some things had been ordered from off-planet dealers -- his voice regulator, for instance, among other essentials -- and installed with unusual care. On the other hand, the young man in charge of handling said repairs had been a complete buffoon.

Androids were increasingly rare within the Insomnia cluster, and to IG-N.15 it was no small wonder why. Many of the humans who worked and lived there had no love for technology, saw it as the part of broader enemy that kept them oppressed, subverted, enslaved. And for the most part, they weren’t wrong.

IG-N.15, however, was hardly a threat. He had been programmed to help humans rather than hurt them -- filing paperwork, keeping detailed schedules, giving particularly breathtaking massages. Not unlike a secretary, which is why he had been brought to the Cluster in the first place. Meant to assist, to make life easier for those who served the Shadow.

Yet that hadn’t stopped a group of young, low-class officers from holding him down, beating him, and snapping his head right off his shoulders.

He shuddered as he stepped out of the Robotics Servicing Wing and let the door slide shut behind him. Though he didn’t quite experience pain, not in the same way he was told humans could, the terror of that night was still fresh in his memory banks. The feeling of being separated from his own body, of watching his limbs collapse helplessly to the ground as the men around him laughed and jeered….

He wondered, sometimes, if there were any humans out there worth the precious life they’d been gifted.

It was in this state, deep in thought and tracing long, delicate fingers over the fresh ring of sutures around his neck, that IG-N.15 rounded the corner and collided smack into a solid force.

“Woah!” he cried out, just as the object he’d hit was sent sprawling backwards in a tangle of limbs and panic.

“Shit!” it shouted with a gasp, and the android noticed for the first time that it was a man. A human man. And quite a beautiful one, at that. Black hair tumbled around his soft face in unkempt waves, his cheeks were pink with exertion under bright, sapphire eyes, and he stared up at IG-N.15 like a cluster lizard in headlights.

The android blinked, cleared his throat pipes several times -- out of shock from the impact, of course, and nothing silly like finding himself unable to look away from those deep blue orbs -- and bent down to offer his hand. “Apologies, sir. My programming requires me to ask if you’re all ri -- “

There he is! Move it!”

Both IG-N.15 and the frightened young man whirled to face the end of the bridge-like corridor to their right, where a procession of uniformed officers and a handful of MTs were filing onto the narrow walkway. Each of them carried a blaster clip attached to a pack at their waist, the glowing red barrels aimed forward, charged and ready to fire.

At his feet, the young man swore again and flashed a harrowed glance at IG-N.15. For a terrified moment he seemed to assess the tall, fair, bespectacled android, taking in the sight of him as cogs turned behind his eyes. Then, as if he’d come to a decision, he snatched up the offered hand and scrambled to his feet.

“Thanks,” he said hurriedly, “For saving my life.”

IG-N.15 raised a thinly-painted eyebrow as he managed to stammer out a confused, “But I haven’t done anything?”

Sapphire eyes flashed, thin hands reached up to grip he android’s shoulders like a vice, and the human made a low, pained sound in his throat. “Real sorry about this.”

And then IG-N.15 was being shoved backwards onto the walkway, stumbling over his own feet as he lost balance. The form of the beautiful young man shrank away as the distance between them grew. IG-N.15 reached out a hand towards him, eyes widening as in slow motion he fell back, back, back….

And collided with the first wave of guards. The impact flung them all into chaos in an instant as limbs and shouts and weapons were flung about in a haphazard array. IG-N.15 was grabbed, poked, scuffled over, but by the time he managed to turn his eyes back toward the corridor the young man was already gone. A blaster fired from somewhere near his ear -- red flashes of light and more shouting, yelling. One of the MTs snarled and returned fire on its comrade, and suddenly IG-N.15 noticed he was flying.

Why was he flying? He shouldn’t be flying, that didn’t make any sense. Everything was happening so fast. One second he was trying to pull himself away from the tangle of angry bodies, the next he was soaring through the air, looking down at the scene from above. Watching in confusion as his body was kicked aside and trampled.

Wait a second.

Why would his body be….

Oh.

OH.

“Damn it all,” he sighed as his head soared straight up and over the railing of the bridge, and plummeted into darkness below.

 ------

Prompto swallowed. The lights had begun to dim and the pain was fading, but he was terrified to open his eyes. Everything hurt, his whole body felt... different. Changed somehow. There was a prickling sensation all over his skin, as if it were brand new, fresh, still adjusting to the caress of the air against it.

But more than that, he ached . Not the ache of exertion or even of abuse, which he knew all too well. It was the ache of a sudden and unimaginable need, starting with a tightness in his gut to a slight trembling in his thighs. Between his legs he felt a throbbing sensation and was suddenly, acutely aware of every nerve of his cock alight with pulsing energy.

That was certainly... weird. As a clone, he’d been manufactured to look identical to his original host body, which naturally included all of the bits and pieces of the male human anatomy. Yet, as a soldier, he had never had the time or even the inclination to explore their full functions. He’d never even known what it felt like to want -- and yet now he could think of nothing but the urge to find a warm, wet mouth to slide himself into.

The moan that tumbled from his lips was unbidden, surprising him right out of his thoughts and back into the present. Blue eyes flew open wide. He was still in the recalibration chamber, still strapped to the metal slab that had carried him here, and still face to face with the strange machine with the whirring parts. Despite his discomfort, Prompto was of sound enough mind to be reminded of his terrible predicament.

“Now commencing mental recalibration,” a cheerful voice informed him, and the screen that had before displayed the scan of his body now changed to a solid, gentle pink. The color somehow made Prompto even more uncomfortable than he already was -- it made his head feel light, fuzzy, and though he tried to look away his eyes simply wouldn’t follow orders.

He was trapped, unable to fight back against the machine trying to take over his mind.

Stop , he thought, heart pounding desperately in his rib cage. Don’t do this…. Please….

Swirling, pulsing, the pink color of the screen grew wider, deeper until it was all he could see. Inside his head, voices seemed to speak to him -- Don't be afraid. It will feel so wonderful.

A sudden banging noise interrupted the machine. Prompto blinked, snapped back into himself with a gasp.

Again, clang, clang CLANG - growing louder, heavier, faster. Was it the machine? A malfunction? But it was coming not from straight ahead, rather from above. Following the source of the sound Prompto lifted his head and saw something falling toward him from the expansive opening above the room. Clang, clang it crashed down, bouncing off of walls and pipes and cables until it landed with an OOF! right on top of the lever holding Prompto’s slab in place.

It -- and Prompto -- were released backwards as the straps yanked open, and the blonde tumbled ass over head onto the cold floor.

Free.

In a rush he scrambled (slightly unbalanced) to his feet and whirled around. The thing that had fallen on the lever was tucked up against the base of the machine. Prompto gulped and took a wary step closer. It appeared to be -- to his utter horror -- a severed head, light brown hair and glasses broken and dangling from one ear. But there was no blood, and Prompto quickly realized that it was still moving and therefore couldn't possibly be human. An android, then? But what in Ifrit’s nuts was it doing here?!

A whirring from the machine caught his attention. The screen, still pink and pulsing angrily, seemed to be moving as it searched for its target. The recalibration process hadn't finished, luckily for Prompto, but the machine appeared unwilling to take "No" for an answer. It clanked, hummed, and finally turned its attention to the decapitated head lying on the ground.

Green eyes flashed up at Prompto just as the machine pulsed out a tangible wave of pink light. It overtook the room, filled the space between them, and though Prompto covered his eyes and looked away, he could hear the circuits of the android’s brain being fried. Human or not, Prompto’s heart broke for its pain.

When at last the pink light faded and the machine powered down with a clunk, the blonde’s first reaction was to scoop the android up off the ground and into his arms. He sighed. It's eyes were closed and it's face slack, soft pink lips parted in an unfinished plea. "Poor little guy," Prompto said softly. "Thanks for helping me out. I owe you one."

It felt wrong to leave the broken head behind, and so tucking it under one arm, Prompto turned on his heels and raced out of the room. With any luck, he could hop on board a transport ship and get the hell off this terrible planet.

From there… well… He'd have plenty of time to figure it out along the way.

------

Noctis felt like a total dick.

Sure, he'd been panicked and desperate for his life back there, but that didn't change what happened. It didn't change the fact that he'd probably gotten that poor android killed with that stupid impulsive move he'd pulled.

Still, the guards hadn't managed to catch up with him, and he'd made it all the way to the prisoner unloading bay without seeing another soul, so at least there was that. He forced the image of those confused, emerald eyes from his thoughts and turned his focus instead to the task at hand.

The docks nearest to him were all currently empty, so Noctis crept along the outer walkway until he came to the second, larger port on the other side. He was surprised to see that there were no transport vessels here, either, but that the port was instead taken up by a huge, all-black monstrosity of a ship which stretched from wall to wall and still seemed to be barely contained within.

A signia on the side of the ship told Noctis it was one of the Empire’s fleet. Figured. An unmanned transport vessel was one thing, but how was he supposed to sneak on board a Niflheim Cruiser -- and steal the thing -- without being spotted?

He couldn’t, was the short answer. But if he stayed where he was, nothing but death awaited him. The painful, drawn-out kind of death, the kind that made getting blasted to bits trying to pilfer a ship an infinitely more appealing option. So Noctis scanned the path before him right down to the ship’s hull, counted the number and position of the MTs on watch, and wondered just how the hell he was going to pull this off.

That’s when the sirens went off.

All around him the docking bay was plunged into sudden and total darkness. A blaring alert crackled over the comm-system as red, flashing strobes went off along the walls. “ Warning, warning, intruder detected in WING ZERO FIVE TWO. Apprehend threat immediately. Repeat. Intruder detected -- “

Noctis slapped a hand over his mouth and pressed himself as flat as he could to the wall behind him. Along the bridge, Magitek sentinels were already lurching into motion, running up and down the grated metal in their clanging boots in search of the threat. It was only a matter of time before they reached him, captured him, and then it would be bye-bye bright future.

But how in Shiva’s frozen tits had they even found him?!

Footfalls approached from back the way he’d come, and Noctis gulped. Any moment now he was going to be blaster fodder, just as soon as whatever was coming for him rounded that corner. He sucked in a breath….

And nearly choked on it when a streak of blonde flew past his vision. A man, human from the looks of him, and very obviously sporting a tattered prisoner uniform as he charged wildly toward the ship. Something appeared to be tucked in the crook of his arm, and a stolen blaster gun hung across his back.

Deep blue eyes blinked back confusion.

Could he be the intruder the MTs were after?!

More footsteps in the prisoner’s wake confirmed his suspicions a half-second later, and Noct suddenly recalled his own very precarious situation. “W-wait!” he called out before he could help himself, and scrambled after the strange blonde kid down the darkened path.

The MTs who had been guarding the ship’s entrance had all scattered once the sirens began. For a brief, miraculous window of time they had a clear shot at the gate, and neither Noctis nor the blonde kid in front of him were slowing down. They ran and ran, across the bridge and up the loading ramp, not stopping until they were inside the expansive Cruiser and staring face to face with an unnecessarily complicated panel of keys.

Noct skidded to a halt behind the blonde. “Looks like...you need...an entry code,” he wheezed, ignoring the startled way the kid whirled on him as if noticing him for the first time. “I might be able to figure it out, but those guards’ll be here any second.”

The blonde stared at him for a tense moment. Took in the sight of his cluster-issued uniform and the security badge clipped to his shirt, his disheveled hair and soft, sad eyes. He frowned, but gave a wary nod. “...I can try to hold them off.”

“You know how to use that thing?” Noct gestured to the blaster strapped to slender shoulders.

“Yeah. If I have to.” There was a darkness like a shadow that passed over the blonde’s otherwise gentle features, and Noct almost regretted his question.

Thankfully for the both of them, a third and unexpected voice broke the sudden silence. “No need for violence, my darling. I believe I may be able to assist you.”

The blonde shrieked and nearly dropped the object he was carrying in his arms. He fumbled and hastily flipped it around to reveal a face -- a talking face -- and then Noctis was shrieking, too, because Titan’s blessed pecs that had to be the same android he’d encountered back in the base!

“You’re alive!” the blonde gasped, breaking into a bright smile despite their impending doom. “I thought that machine fried your circuits for good.”

Emerald eyes seemed to twinkle as the android was hugged to his chest. “ Ah, sweet bosom. Not fried, my love, merely rewired, and programmed to shower your entire being with affection.”

“O-oh,” he smiled, caught between giggling and glowing a soft pink under dark freckles. “That’s very sweet of you.”

Noct barely refrained from rolling his eyes. “Yeah, really great. But do you think maybe we could continue this conversation inside the ship?”

Flushing, the blonde spun on his heels back towards the key panel, holding the android up for a better view. Emerald eyes flashed for a moment before the panel responded, various lights blinking on and off as he remote accessed the database. Seconds later, there was a chime, and then the doors to the ship’s main bridge were hissing open.

“Yes!”

Noctis half expected an army of Troopers to come marching out to greet them, such was his luck. But there was only the soft light of the room beyond, and the three (more like two and a half) companions rushed in while they had the chance.

The doors shut behind them as a collective sigh of relief filled the air.

They had made it. Somehow, it seemed, they were going to be alright.

At least so Noct had thought , until the android piped up to ask which of the two of them knew how to fly the bloody thing.