Duty 14

A loud trill of sound came from the data pad, the device being used to scan the bar code on the side of the large box Vorlac carried. Immediately information flooded the tiny screen panel of the device. Ryder quickly went over the information, processing it with a sort of absentmindedness that was not normal. Not for him. It didn’t stop him from directing Vorlac, Ryder announcing the box contained medicines that Doctor Orvan would hopefully not need to make use of any time soon.

Vorlac would nod, and hurry off to the room that had been cleaned up and transformed into a temporary infirmary. Ryder didn’t watch him go, his eyes back on the data pad. Almost on automatic, he would scan the next box brought to him, identifying the contents inside. Once identified, the box could be taken to the proper room, and there someone would unpack it.

They were settling in, making the mansion and the near by cottages livable. Lotor had not thought to question it, which was lucky in and of itself. Ryder knew the prince would be livid if he knew the Drules were intending to stay on this planet for weeks, maybe even months. And all because they had no real intention of leaving the Denubian Galaxy, in giving up on their home world.

It would be difficult to explain the delays. Lying about how long the paper work and forgeries would take, could only buy them so much time. Allura could be a distraction to the prince for only so long. Sooner or later Lotor would start to wonder. Ryder could only hope that eventuality would come after he had healed enough to realize how crazy an idea it was to run away.

Abandoning the people of Doom had never been the true intent. At least not of the Drules traveling with Lotor. There was no way they could leave the Drules of Doom to Zarkon’s cruel mercies and twisted rule. Just as there was no way possible to pack up an entire people and move them out of Zarkon’s reach. Even a group as small as the one that had traveled to Simestia was pushing it. There was simply too many Drules present to travel unnoticed, let alone successfully integrate them into new lives elsewhere.

Of course he hadn’t told Lotor that. None of them had. They were content to let Lotor believe what he needed to. It was a lie, but one that comforted Lotor. And all because the prince was not yet healed enough to take on his father for the throne. Even as Lotor’s body healed, his mind, his mental and emotional well being were still in danger. Lotor was fragile, made that way from years of abuse at his father’s hands. The abuse had driven him to the point Lotor would rather run, rather give up completely than stand and fight.

He was so different from the man Ryder had known in the Drule military academy. That Lotor had been full of confidence, thriving away from his father’s grasp. He had commanded respect, loyalty. But more than that, he had earned life lasting friendships. Ryder had seen the kind of man Lotor could be if Zarkon was out of the picture. And he was the kind of man the Doom Empire truly needed. A man who would be a caring, considerate leader. A man who would bring change to Doom, improve the situations the common people suffered through.

Boxes continued to be scanned, continued to be directed to the proper rooms. He barely noticed what he was doing, too deep in thought. For Lotor to save the people of Doom, he himself first needed to be saved. Needed to be healed. Ryder didn’t think any of the Drules could get through to Lotor. Maybe no one could. But Ryder didn’t want to think like that. Didn’t want to believe it was hopeless where Lotor’s healing was concerned.

He wasn’t much impressed with what he had seen of Allura, especially regarding her attitude towards the Drules. And yet he, along with so many other Drules, would pin their hopes on the princess. A hope that she could do what they could not. Maybe just being around Allura would be enough for Lotor to recover. Maybe getting a taste of happiness in her arms, would motivate him. Move Lotor to fight to retain what he had, what he and Allura could have together.

Or maybe Allura would challenge Lotor enough to get him thinking in new ways. In realizing running away, abandoning Doom was not the right course for him. She was already trying, though right now Allura was purely driven by selfish desire. She did not want to leave the Denubian Galaxy, did not want to go anywhere with Lotor. Allura wanted to return to Arus, to her home and her life there. But even she sensed how wrong it was of Lotor to turn his back on his crown and his people.

She had already tried to sway Lotor to give up on this scheme of his. Allura wasn’t yet ready to care about the Drules of Doom. That much was obvious. And yet she argued for them, tried to compel Lotor to return to Doom. She had even suggested he try to force Zarkon to step down. It was naive of her, Zarkon would never give up his power so long as he still drew breath. Someone would have to kill him first. That someone HAD to be Lotor. It would be disastrous otherwise.

Lotor was the rightful heir to the throne. But more than that, he might be the only one of noble blood who cared enough about the common folk to do something to improve their lives. Without Lotor, the throne would be up for grabs. The nobles would start a civil war, fighting for the right. The people would suffer, and continue to suffer even once a victor emerged. And all because most if not all nobles did not give a damn about those they deemed beneath them.

Allura might not have realized how right she was about the people of Doom needing their prince. It was something Lotor did not want to face, Ryder remembering how uncomfortable he had looked during that moment in the conversation. Lotor was a good man, and some part of him had to know that even with all the charities and trust funds he had set up, it wouldn’t be the same as having a ruler the Drules could rely on. A ruler who could bring change to the empire. Throwing money at a problem wasn’t a cure, at best it was a temporary fix.

Allura was saying the things Ryder and the other Drules had avoided speaking of. The harsh truths that Lotor did not want to face. Even if Allura didn’t care about the Drules, it still was impressive. She moved to save herself, and in the same breath tried to engineer a saving of the Drule people. It didn’t matter what her motives were, so long as it helped Lotor and the people of Doom.

And who knew. By the time this was all over, Allura might have come to embrace a new point of view where the Drules were concerned. She might even go gladly to Doom, might even want to become Prince Lotor’s in every way possible.

“And pigs will fly that day.” Ryder grumbled under his breath. His growl drew a few curious looks his way, but Ryder didn’t try to explain his unease. Instead he hooked the data pad onto the side of his belt, and did an idle gesture with his hand. “Everyone take a breather. No sense working us ragged in this heat.”

Immediately boxes were set down, the Drules moving to form groups. They began to talk, idle chit chat that Ryder wanted no part of. He had enough on his mind to not concern himself with whatever was passing for gossip among the group. Instead he headed towards the kitchen, which was a room large enough to accommodate the vast amounts of food that would have to be prepared in order to feed the Drules.

Unfortunately no cooking could be done yet. Not with the wires so badly damaged, cutting off much of the mansion’s power. The damaged wires were a mix blessing. They inconvenienced everyone, and yet they bought them more time. A week’s worth where Lotor would not expect them to be working on establishing a paper trail for their new lives.

He snorted, knowing even if it was possible, the amount of people with them would be a nightmare to create new identities for. It would involve a lot of hacking into computers to create the proper credentials for each person. Someone would be bound to notice identities being created for a group as large as this. Lotor’s plan might have worked if there was only a handful of people leaving for new lives.

But it was a moot point. Neither Ryder, nor any other Drule would actually create any type of new identity. They would create documents though, ones to show Lotor should the prince insist on seeing proof of how far the work had advanced. Still it wasn’t a pleasant prospect, to lie so thoroughly to his friend and lord.

Entering the kitchen, Ryder saw there was several portable coolers unpacked. They wouldn’t keep things cold indefinitely. Before the night was through, they would have to use up any meat and other cold related food stuffs, or risk it spoiling. Ryder knew the Drules were planning to have some kind of barbecue when it got dark. A small party to celebrate their successful journey.

He walked over to one of the coolers, opening the lid. The drinks inside were thankfully still cold. If there was one thing Ryder hated, it was warm beer. He popped open the tab, ready to gulp down the drink when a voice spoke from behind him.

“Toss one my way.”

“Sure.” Ryder reached for a new can. “But is it okay?” He turned, and threw the beer towards Lotor. “The doctor did say you should lay off the alcohol for a few days.”

Lotor easily caught the beer in his hands. “I’m fine.” He insisted. “Doctor Orvan just worries too much.”

“He has good reason to. We all do.” Ryder pointed out. “You nearly died on us.”

“But I didn’t.” Lotor retorted. “And I won’t. Not when I’m so close to getting a new life, a better life….”

“Still.. better not to take too many chances where your health is concerned.” It didn’t stop Lotor from popping open the can, and taking a long drink from it. Ryder held back a sigh, privately wondering what the harm could be. He tried to tell himself the doctor was just being overly cautious, but couldn’t forget the sight of Lotor sick in bed.

“My health is fine.” Lotor insisted.

“Yeah…I suppose it is…” Ryder agreed. He took another swallow of his beer. “So…future’s all but secured, health is fine…what about your love life? How goes things with the fair Allura of Arus?” Lotor’s expression soured at the question. Ryder nearly sighed. “That bad eh?”

“That bad.” Agreed Lotor. “She’s upset and confused.”

“Can’t really help you with the upset part. I suspect that’s something Allura will have to work through on her own.” Ryder said. “Don’t get me wrong. I can understand why she’s feeling that way. We did kidnap her after all.” Lotor said nothing to that, busying himself with his beer. Ryder hesitated a moment. “You could…explain things to her. Explain why you’re doing what you’re doing…”

“And risk having her pity me in the process?!” Lotor demanded sharply.

“You don’t know that she will.” Ryder retorted. “There’s a chance…”

“If Allura pitied me…I wouldn’t be able to stand it.” Lotor insisted. “Bad enough you and the others pity me…”

“Hey now, we don’t!” Ryder protested. Lotor gave him a bleak look. “We don’t!” Ryder insisted. “We’re ANGRY. We are outraged that Zarkon would treat his own flesh and blood this way. It makes us wish we could have done something more to help you.”

Lotor didn’t look entirely convinced. “You’ve done enough. After all, you’ve all agreed to come with me on this journey.”

“But we should have been able to do more!” Argued Ryder.

“You would have gotten killed for the attempts.” Lotor pointed out. “Zarkon would not tolerate any interference. He certainly wouldn’t appreciate others telling him how to handle his own son.” Lotor set down the beer “It’s fine, really it is. You’ve done more than enough After all…” A forced smile. “You’re coming on this journey with me.”

Ryder shifted, reminded now of the fact they were all deceiving Lotor. It made him more than a little uncomfortable. “Yeah. That we are.” He agreed.

“I’m grateful.” Lotor continued. “You’re all helping me so much. Its a favor I intend to repay. Somehow, some way.”

“Forget about it.” Ryder told him. “You owe me…us nothing.” Lotor seemed ready to protest, which Ryder didn’t want. So he tried to deflect the conversation from the topic of Lotor’s gratitude. “So how come you’re here with me, rather than with the lovely Allura? Wouldn’t think much of anything would keep you away from her for long.”

“She needed time to be by herself.” Lotor answered. “Time to think…to come to accept that her future lies with me.”

“Hmmm…” Somehow Ryder doubted Allura would use that time away from Lotor to come to terms with what was happening. But he didn’t say that out loud. “Would be easier if she knew even part of the truth. Nothing to make her pity you!” He hastily added. “Just….Allura had a point. If we’re going to uproot her entire life, doesn’t she deserve to know why?”

Lotor was silent a moment. “I told her what’s at stake. Told her that if I left without her, how she would be in danger from Zarkon. How he would kill her if she’s lucky, torture her if she’s not.”

“How’d she take hearing that?”

“It didn’t seem to matter. She was scared, but Allura said it changes nothing. That she has to stay, and fight for what she believes in, even if it ends in misery and death for her.” Lotor sighed. “She’s far too self sacrificing for her own good. Especially when her enemy is a man as twisted and evil as Zarkon is…”

“Zarkon brings new definition to the word evil.” Ryder agreed. “Pity about the princess. But I suppose she won’t make things easy for you. She’ll make you fight to win her, to win her acceptance and love.” Ryder was positive even if Allura fell in love with Lotor, the princess would never want to just abandon the Denubian Galaxy to a tyrant like Zarkon.

“That’s a fight I intend to win.”

“Any idea how?” A curious Ryder asked.

Lotor sighed. “Not a one.”

Ryder was surprised. “You’re usually so confidant about winning her. I thought for sure you’d have some ideas….”

“I’ve been so consumed with just getting her here…I haven’t had time to come up with a plan.” Lotor admitted. “Plus I was unprepared for just how deep her fear of me runs…Ryder, she’s scared. So scared she overreacts to nearly everything I do. She acts as though I am as bad as Zarkon, as though I would truly hurt her.”

“So you have to show her you won’t. Prove to her that the fear she feels is unfounded.”

“Easier said then done.” Grumbled Lotor. “It kills me…not to be able to hold Allura without her fearing what I will do next. That my very touch causes her to panic, and forget how to breathe.”

“That’s bad.” Agreed Ryder.

“And a reaction I’ve hardly earned.” Lotor added. “I just want to love her. To worship her, to put her up on a pedestal to be admired.”

“Er….no offense, but don’t tell her all that” advised Ryder. “It’ll only make Allura think she can manipulate you, boss you around. A bossy princess is the last thing you want to deal with.”

Lotor couldn’t even crack a smile. “What would you do if you were me?”

“Ah….” Ryder paused, trying to imagine pursuing some prissy human female. It was difficult, and all because Ryder didn’t think he could tolerate a woman like Allura, one who was so bigoted against his own kind. No matter how lovely the female, he felt it wasn’t worth dealing with her fear and hatred of his own kind. But that was not something Lotor would want to hear. “I wouldn’t let her walk all over me.” He finally said. “Just because you’re in love, you shouldn’t have to change who you are. I’ve seen men, ones who have been turned inside out by a woman. I don’t want that to happen to you…”

“Allura’s not that kind of girl!” Lotor protested. Ryder wisely kept silent about his feelings in regard to that. “She’s kind, and caring. Perfect.”

“Now hold up!” Snapped Ryder, slamming his beer down on a nearby counter. “That’s the kind of talk we have to prevent. Telling a woman she’s perfect, hell even thinking it, is only an invitation to disaster. No woman is perfect, and any one that believes she is, well there’s something wrong with her!”

Lotor was left staring at Ryder. The Drule turned flustered, a bit embarrassed about his outburst. “Why do I get the feeling you speak from experience?” Lotor wondered out loud.

“I’m no saint.” Ryder told him. “Like you, I’ve had my fair share of women.” But that was all he would say about that. “Just be careful your highness.” Ryder continued. “I don’t want to see you get hurt by Allura.” He didn’t want to see Lotor get hurt by anyone, but he’d settle for saving him from being burned by the princess of Arus.

“I’ll be careful.” Promised Lotor. “And Ryder? Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it.” Ryder said, and picked up his beer. “Well, I guess I better go and make everyone get back to work. Those boxes won’t unpack themselves.”

“Anything I can do to help?” Lotor asked.

“Don’t be absurd!” Ryder told him. “With your body still healing, your back still torn up? No. You just sit back and relax. Read a book or something.” But Lotor was following Ryder out of the kitchen. “Or better yet, think about how you’re going to win over Allura. Plan your courtship strategy.”

“I’d do that if I knew where to start…” Lotor sighed.

“Well, you better think of it fast…” Ryder said, walking through the mansions’ hallways. They were nearing the stair case, several Drules including Vorlac sitting on the lower steps. Those Drules were laughing as they talked, totally at ease in the moment. They’d still be grinning when footsteps sounded on the stairs, the Drules glancing up at the newcomer. They’d quickly scramble to their feet, an appreciative look in their eyes.

Princess Allura of Arus was stalking down the stair case, a determined look in her eyes. She was out of the maid’s uniform, having changed into one of the many new outfits that had been given to her. She was wearing a summer sun dress, predominately white, with lilac lacing and a pattern of tiny gold and purple flowers on the bodice. The skirt was trimmed with ribbons, and cut short above the knees. Her arms were bare, only thin straps holding up the front of her dress. It was more skin than Ryder have ever seen the princess of Arus reveal. No wonder the other Drule males were all but salivating over her.

Ryder had stopped when he realized Allura was approaching. Lotor had drawn up short besides him, his golden gaze focused on Allura. She had a moment of indecision when she saw Lotor, and then her eyes narrowed. Ryder had time to think whatever Allura was about to say and do, it could not be good. He even had the unsettling feeling that she was about to cause trouble, though Ryder never dreamed it would be a trouble that would inconvenience him personally.

“Allura…” Lotor somehow managed a smile, even in the face of Allura’s fierce look. “You look lovely…beautiful….”

Self-consciously she touched her skirt with one hand, then locked eyes with Lotor. “I have a request.”

“A request, huh?” Ryder was instantly wary, wondering what Allura would ask for. A pity Lotor did not show that same wariness, the prince moving to take the princess’ hands in his.

“Anything. Ask and it shall be granted.”

“Within reason.” Interjected Ryder, shooting Lotor an urgent look. But Lotor wasn’t looking at anyone but Allura, and could not see the warnings Ryder tried to give him. Allura could ask for anything. It was foolish to agree to a request before one knew what she wanted, and even more disastrous to appear so eager to please.

“Don’t worry Ryder.” Allura said, seeming resigned to Lotor’s hand holding for the moment. “It’s nothing too burdensome. I know none of you will return me to my home.”

“You’re going to have a new home, Allura.” Lotor said. “A safe and happy one with me…”

“That remains to be seen.” Allura was haughty for a moment. “But I didn’t come to argue with you about our future…”

“Then why did you come?” Ryder asked, curious.

“I…want…need to have confession.”

“Confession?” Both Drules were confused, not having expected that as a request.

“Yes. I go to confession once a week…and I will not have this kidnapping interrupt my religion if at all possible!” Allura exclaimed.

“What could you possibly confess to?” Ryder wanted to know. She shot him a dark look.

“That is private! It’s to be between me and the Gods, and an agent of theirs.”

Ryder and Lotor exchanged looks. The Drules didn’t have confession the way some of the other popular religions did. Their communion with the Gods was done in private, prayers offered up to absolve them of any sins. There was no holy person as an intermediary for confession. Nor had they brought a holy person with them when they had traveled to Simestia. It had seemed unnecessary.

“Will you deny me this?” Allura asked, looking at Lotor. “Will you deny me the chance to be absolved of my sins?”

“No! Of course not!” Lotor immediately assured her. “It’ll just take some time to get someone to come up to the house.”

“We probably won’t be able to get anyone until tomorrow.” Agreed Ryder. “I’ll send someone to go make inquiries in the village.”

“Thank you!” Allura said it with real gratitude. It was surprising, and instantly made Ryder suspicious. Lotor was oblivious, smiling at Allura, ready to lead her off on a tour of the mansion.

“Leave it all to me.” Ryder said, dismissing them. “I’ll handle all the preparations.” And he would. If Allura was planning something beyond confessing her sins, she was about to get a nasty surprise. And all because Ryder would not allow himself or his prince to be played for a fool.

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