The room was dark, save for a subtle green glow. Large, cylindrical tanks sat in rows throughout the room, each in sets of five. The faint light seemed to be coming from the tanks, lit up from the bottom, illuminating their contents.
There were people in the tanks. Wires connected to their bodies and hooked up to monitors. The monitors in view showed the people all had steady heart rates.
“Are... are they alive?” Noctis asked, eyes darting between the tanks in front of him. He kept his focus on their faces, some appearing to be eerily similar to ones a few tanks down. It didn't help that every person was also completely nude.
Ignis stepped forward, fingers on his chin as he examined the monitor and the person inside. “It appears so,” he said, frowning. “In the strictest sense of the word, at least.”
“What's that mean?” Noctis stepped up to the tank in front of him, looking at the young man residing in it. His hair was light, though he couldn't tell what color it was thanks to the light.
“It means they are being kept alive by machines,” Ignis explained. “Not unlike life support.”
“What the hell is the Empire doing to them?” Gladio asked. “Hey, what's that?” He pointed to the young man Noctis was looking at, down at his right wrist. “A barcode?”
Ignis moved closer to the tank, bending down and adjusting his glasses. “Indeed. It might be what we need to get through the security doors in this facility.” He was silent for a few moments as Gladio and he searched around the room.
Noctis stayed in place, moving his hand to the cold glass.
The man couldn't have been older than Noctis himself. His body was being supported by hooks under his arms and he was thin, too thin in Noctis' opinion. Like he was being given just enough nutrients to survive. A quick look to the tank next to him revealed the same thing. All the people in the tanks were thin. He focused back on the man in front of him when Ignis spoke again.
“It seems this is the only tank ready to open.”
“Huh?” Noctis blinked, turning to face the taller man. He saw Ignis pointing at something to his right and followed the line of his arm.
A green light was light up on the panel. Most of the other panels in the room were red, and a few blues were dotted around. He had no idea what blue could mean but red and green were obvious.
Ignis gently pressed the button and a soft, feminine voice filled the room.
“Initializing final procedure.” All three men looked up at the voice “Unit number 05953234.”
“Look!” Gladio pointed to the tank as the liquid inside drained.
“I'll find some clothes for him,” Ignis said, leaving the two men standing there.
Noctis moved away from the tank, never looking away from the young man. “How could they do something like this?” he asked, disgusted with the Empire. “Creating people for-for... Gods, I don't even want to think of the reason.”
“I believe it is for the sole purpose of creating Magitek Soldiers,” Ignis replied.
Noctis felt his stomach drop as he looked to his adviser. He had what appeared to be a pair of hospital scrubs folded over his arms.
“The Empire doesn't have enough citizens as of late for them to have as many soldiers as they do,” he explained. “We had received intellegence that they were cloning a select citizen or citizens for the sole purpose of filling their ranks with expendible lives.”
“Expendible?!” Noctis shouted. “People aren't expendible!”
“I am aware, Highness,” Ignis said calmly. “Though it appears the Empire doesn't share our view on the matter.”
Noctis gritted his teeth and clenched his fists. He knew the Empire was shady but to clone people just so they could throw their lives away?
“Guys, it's opening.”
The two men jumped slightly when Gladio spoke, turning their attention back to the tank. The front raised open and Noctis stepped out of the way to avoid being hit by the glass. “Are we sure he's alive?” he asked, taking a cautious step closer.
The young man was still being supported by the hooks but all his weight had shifted and Noctis knew the metal supports had to have been uncomfortable. That is, if he could even feel anything.
Ignis gently pushed Noctis out of the way, stepping in front of him and draping the shirt over his shoulder. He carefully removed the wires stuck to his body, the lines on his monitor going still. “Gladio, help me get him dressed.”
Gladio nodded and moved to pick the young man up, lifting him off the hooks as Ignis slipped the pants onto his body. Noctis stood on his tiptoes to try and see over their shoulders.
“Set him on the floor.”
Noctis was, once again, pushed out of the way as Gladio laid the man down on the metal floor. Noctis shuddered for him, knowing the floor had to be ice cold. The whole facility was freezing.
Ignis crouched down next to the man, Gladio on the other side. He placed his fingers on the man's neck, nodded, and bent down, placing his ear near his mouth. “He has a heart beat but he doesn't seem to be breathing.”
“How is that possible?” Noctis asked, crouching next to Ignis.
“There may still be liquid in his lungs,” he stated. “Gladio, will you pump his chest while I give him mouth to mouth?”
Gladio gave him a nod, placing his hands over the man's chest. He started with thirty pumps, counting quietly, and looked to Ignis.
Ignis gently tilted the man's head back, pinching his nose, and breathing into his mouth once. He glanced down at the man's chest before giving him a second breath. Gladio repeated the process of thirty pumps.
Noctis carefully took the man's wrist in his hand, feeling a steady pulse. He didn't understand why he wasn't breathing if he had a pulse. Those two things should go hand in hand, right? He watched the other two men repeat the routine, Ignis breathing into his mouth and Gladio pumping his chest.
The man coughed on the fourth round, spitting up a thick liquid.
“Easy, easy,” Ignis cooed, helping him to his side as he continued to cough up the liquid. “You're alright.”
Gladio gently rubbed the man's back as he sat up, looking between the three men. “Are... are you my superior?” he asked Ignis, voice slightly shaky and hoarse.
“No, I'm not,” he replied. “None of us are.”
“Oh.” The man was silent for a moment, looking down to his lap. He glanced back up at him. “Will you be my superior?”
Ignis paused at the question, Noctis and Gladio watching him. “If that is what you want,” he finally said.
The man nodded.
“Lift your arms,” Ignis said softly. “Let's finish getting you dressed.” Another nod as the man raised his arms up. Ignis pulled the shirt over his head, straightening it out once it covered his chest. “Can you walk?”
“Yes.” He stood slowly and pulled his arms over his chest, shivering. “It's cold.”
“I'm afraid this was all I could find for you,” Ignis told him. “We can look in another room for something warmer. We should be moving, I don't know if waking you set off any alarms.”
The man nodded but didn't move his arms.
Gladio sighed and shrugged off his jacket, leaving himself in a tank top and dropping it over the man's trembling shoulders. The man looked up at him, eyes wide.
“Gladio, you'll freeze,” Ignis exclaimed, though he made no move to take the jacket from around the man's shoulders.
“I'll be fine,” he shrugged. “It's only 'til we find something better for...,” he paused, furrowing his brow at the man. “What's your name anyway?”
“Unit number 05953234,” he stated.
“How about we come up with a new name for you,” Noctis suggested. “Something that's not a number. Like, I'm Noctis. This is Gladio,” he pointed to the older man, “and this is Ignis.”
The man looked to Ignis, getting a short nod. “I... guess that's okay,” he said. “If my superior says it's okay.”
Ignis tensed at the words, knowing full well he brought it upon himself. “I do,” he said softly. “Is there anything you'd like to be called?”
The man shook his head.
“Very well, I will think of something,” Ignis smiled at him. “But it will have to wait. We need to get what we came for and get out of this facility.”
Noctis led the way out of the tank room, heading down a new hallway. Ignis was behind him with the young man between himself and Gladio.
Gladio smiled and shook his head when he saw how much his jacket swallowed the man's body, his fingertips just visible under the cuffs. He was still shivering, barefeet barely making a sound on the floor. They'd have to find him shoes before they left the building. He might have been a created person but he could still feel cold and there was a thick layer of snow on the ground outside.
“Hey, you think you can open this door?” Noctis asked, looking expectantly at the young man. They had stopped outside a large double door. Beside it was a control panel with a scanner.
The man glanced to Ignis for reassurance, getting a soft smile. “It's okay.”
“I can try,” he said, stepping over to the panel. His eyes scanned the screen on the panel. “This is the records room,” he informed them, hovering his forearm over the scanner. It beeped twice, the door sliding open.
He stuck to Ignis' side as they searched the room, mostly glancing around. He wondered what these people were even looking for, they seemed to be going for the records at random, stacking them up on a table after taking a quick look through them. He noticed they seemed to be putting them into two piles. A 'good' and 'bad' pile, he assumed.
The man called Gladio, who had given the young man his jacket, scooped up the smaller pile of files, giving the other two a nod. “This it?” he asked, counting seven folders.
“Yes, there doesn't seem to be much here on the MT units,” Ignis replied. “We should get these back to the king.”
“Maybe Cor had better luck,” Noctis hummed.
“Information on the MT units is stored in Gralea,” the man stated, shifting uncomfortably.
Gladio groaned. “I don't think even Cor could get into Gralea without being found out.”
“At any rate,” Ignis started, “let us leave this facility quickly and get back to Lucis.” The other two men gave him a nod as he turned and stepped close to the young man. “Would you like to come back with us? We can take care of you.” His voice was gentle, soothing the young man into relaxing.
“Yes,” was the reply he gave.
Ignis nodded, placing a hand on the young man's shoulder. “Let us go then.”
“Are we sure this is a good idea,” Noctis whispered. They had arrived at a hunter outpost nearly a days drive from the Imperial base. The snow was still falling around them, but it had tapered off to a light flurry.
The young man was over with Gladio, having a warmer outfit picked out for him. He still had Gladio's jacket wrapped around his shoulders.
“He seems to follow my instructions with no qualms, so I believe it's fine,” Ignis replied, looking over at the other two men. He detested ordering the young man around but he seemed to be lost without some sort of instruction so Ignis had swallowed his pride and became the young man's 'superior', as he requested.
He turned back to the weapon seller, browsing through the items on display while Noctis tested a sword. Reaching for a pair of gold trimmed daggers, he stopped, fingers inches from the blades. A pair of guns caught his eye, a sleek cursive writing telling him they were called 'quicksilver'. Ignis had been intending on getting the young man a weapon, something he might be familiar with, to protect himself on their trip back to Insomnia. A gun might be a good choice.
MTs were known to use guns among the variety of weapons they had seen them use. Mostly sniper rifles, but Ignis felt a smaller handgun would suit the young man better. It would keep him away from the thick of a fight but not so far as to were the others couldn't reach him if he was in need of help.
Noctis handed the sword back to the seller, shaking his head. “I'm gonna check on them, make sure Gladio doesn't get the poor kid a full leather outfit or something,” he said, patting Ignis on the back. “Though it would be kinda funny to see.”
“Please make sure he gets a proper jacket,” Ignis told him. “I'll be over in a moment.”
Noctis gave him a small salute, walking over to the shop.
“I'll take the daggers and one of the quicksilvers, please,” he said, grabbing out his wallet.
The man at the truck nodded. He grabbed the weapons and placed them in two boxes, sealing them before handing them over. Ignis held out the gil for the items. “Pleasure doing business with you.”
“Thank you,” he said, taking the boxes and placing them under his arm, wallet back in his pocket. He then headed over to the other three men in the shop, seeing only Noctis and Gladio when he entered. “Where is he?” he asked, touching Gladio on the arm. He noted that Noctis had a few items of clothing in his arms but none looked to have sleeves. More summer clothes than what he would need until they reached the port back to Lucis.
“In the changing room. Don't worry, there's no leather,” Gladio chuckled.
“That's not true, these boots are leather,” Noctis stated, holding out a pair of black boots.
Gladio merely shrugged. “He said he liked the look of them.”
There was the sound of a curtain opening and Ignis looked towards it, seeing the young man in a dark outfit. He looked uncomfortable but it seemed to be more because he was being watched than the outfit itself. He shifted on his feet, now clad in thick winter boots. The pants he wore had an animal print to it, large, dark hexagons just barely standing out on the black fabric. There was a black shirt underneath a dark, wool lined jacket.
“Is this okay?” he asked, holding his hands in front of him, thumbs sliding against each other as he looked between the men. He seemed to visibly relax when he spotted Ignis.
“It will do just fine,” Ignis told him, getting a nervous smile in return. “Let's remove the tags so we can pay for everything. Gladio, would you hold these?” he asked, holding out the two boxes.
Noctis called the shopkeeper over while Ignis began to carefully remove the tags from the clothes, making sure he didn't startle the young man. He handed over the tags and the woman headed back to the register to ring up their purchase.
It would be expensive, they hadn't planned on picking up a new companion who needed new clothes, but if they camped instead of using the motels and caravans once they were back in Lucis, they should have enough money to make it back to the city. Noctis would complain, but he would get over it.
He watched as Noctis pulled out his wallet, making a face at the price he was told before handing over the gil.
“Come, we need to catch the train,” he said softly, placing a hand on the young man's shoulder, leading him out of the shop. Gladio followed behind, still carrying the weapon boxes, with Noctis beside him, holding a paper bag with the new clothes.
“Where is Lucis?” the young man asked as they stepped outside, causing Ignis to stop for a second.
“It's a continent to the east,” he explained, leading them to the train station half a block away. “It will take a week to get to the port via the train, and then it's a two week journey on a ship to the continent.” He paused for a few seconds, watching the young man's face. “Are you sure you're okay with coming along with us?”
The young man nodded, looking up at him. “Yes.”
“Alright,” he replied. “I will need to get you a ticket for the train.”
The young man nodded again. He frowned after a few seconds, rubbing his stomach. “I'm hungry,” he murmured.
“Iggy, I'm hungry too,” Noctis chipped in, pouting his lip.
“We're all hungry, I'm sure,” Ignis said, shaking his head. “We can get something in the train's dining car. Wait here.”
Gladio and Noctis nodded, watching Ignis leave for the ticket booth. The young man tensed when he left, looking like he wanted to follow but knew he had received orders. “He'll be back in a minute,” Gladio told him, giving him a soft smile.
The young man relaxed at the words, returning the smile with his own, albeit much smaller smile.
Ignis returned a few minutes later, a small sheet of paper in his hand. He held it out towards the young man, who frowned down at it. “This is yours,” he said. “If you like, I could hold onto it for you?”
Ignis nodded. “Very well. Let's get on the train, it should be leaving shortly.”
Gladio led the way to the open door, stepping onto the train and turning left. “Let's find an empty sleeping compartment first,” he said, heading for the sleeping car.
“Good idea, I need a nap,” Noctis yawned, stretching his arms over his head.
“And wait for dinner?” Ignis smirked, knowing the prince would never turn down a meal.
Noctis sighed loudly, throwing his head back. “Fine, dinner first.”
“Found one!” Gladio called out, poking his head into a sleeping compartment. “Looks like no ones claimed it yet so let's get to claiming.”
Noctis and Ignis followed him in, Noctis immediately dropping the bag of clothes to a bottom bunk and climbing up the ladder to the upper bunk.
“Don't just stand in the hall,” Gladio said, calling the young man over with his hand. “Come in.” He had placed the boxes next to the clothing bag, sitting next to them.
The young man cautiously entered the cabin, looking at the four beds. “Do... do I get a bed, too?” he asked, looking up at Ignis.
“Of course. Would you prefer the top or bottom bunk?” Ignis asked.
He looked between the two unoccupied beds before speaking. “Bottom? If that's alright with you?”
Ignis nodded. “Oh, before I forget,” he started, grabbing the box with the gun, “this is for you. Our journey through Lucis can be dangerous, so it would be best if you had some sort of protection with you.” He held it out and the young man took it carefully. “And I've thought up a name for you. From now on you will be Prompto Argentum.”
“Prompto, huh?” Noctis hummed from his bunk, hanging off the edge to watch the other men. “I like it.”
“Yeah, sounds like a great name for you, kid,” Gladio grinned.
The young man, Prompto, nodded, trying out the name a few times before smiling. The other men were slightly stunned by the smile, not knowing he could look so happy and bright. Prompto opened the box in his hands, blinking up at Ignis when he saw the gun.
“Do you know how to use one?” Ignis asked.
“I... I don't know?” he replied, staring down at the weapon in his hands. “I have the data, but I've never had the practise.”
The compartment was quiet for a time as Prompto turned the gun over in his hands.
“Hey, can I ask what the numbers on your barcode mean?” Noctis asked suddenly, causing everyone to look at him, Ignis giving him a hard glare.
“Noctis, that's highly inappropriate,” he stated, rubbing his eyes under his glasses.
Noctis shrunk back on his bunk, ashamed.
“It's my production year,” Prompto said softly. He held his wrist up to show off the number.
Ignis leaned forward to get a closer look at the numbers. “So, you were born twenty years ago?” he asked, choosing the word 'born' in place of 'created'. Prompto nodded. “Do you know the date?”
“I believe it was the twenty fifth day of the tenth month,” he replied, pulling his arm back.
“Cool, you're only a few months younger than me,” Noctis said, smiling. He hopped down from his bunk with a grunt.
Prompto watched him for a few seconds before he spoke again.
“Let's go eat so I can get some sleep.”
Gladio noticed Ignis writing in his small notebook before he slipped it back into his jacket pocket, raising an eyebrow at the man.
“Noctis, you should put Prompto's new gun in the ether so he doesn't have to carry it everywhere,” Ignis suggested. He turned to Prompto and smiled. “You'll still be able to access it if and when you need it,” he explained. “All our weapons are held in the ether connected to Noctis' magic. After we rest up for a bit, I'll have Noct teach you how to access your new weapon.”
Prompto looked nervous about handing the gun over but he held it out after a few seconds. Noctis placed a hand on it before it disappeared into a flash of blue crystalline shards, causing the younger man to gasp in shock.
“You'll get used to it,” Noctis told him.