There was a soft hum of sound, the reinforced covering over the windows’ front raising up slowly. And with it’s rise, sunlight began to flood into the room, Mara quickly blinking her eyes to adjust to the change. The covering finished it’s rise, allowing her a view of the nearby buildings. It wasn’t a particularly spectacular view, too many tall buildings in place. They were cluttered together, all concrete and metal, with little green to be seen for miles all around.
Mara did not care that the view was not so pretty. It certainly was better than anything she had ever seen on Doom, the planet a dismal world of browns and grays and pitch black night skies. This place could almost be a city on Doom, if not for the bright sun shining down on the buildings. That shattered any illusion she could have had, that she was among her own people, Mara reaching up to finger the opal that hung from a heavy chain around her neck. It was cool to the touch, a smooth, unsuspected accessory. There was nothing to even hint at the power in the stone. A power that even now, changed Mara’s appearance.
It had taken several days, but Mara was growing used to seeing a stranger in her mirror’s reflection. She saw the princess of Arus’ golden colored hair in place of her own inky black, had a peaches and cream complexion instead of the pale lavender she was used to. And she could get back her own appearance in an instant, all by taking off the necklace.
But Mara was no fool. Nowhere was private enough, not even in her own hotel room. Unlike the real princess of Arus, Mara knew that Zarkon always had spies with their eyes and equipment trained on Allura. Zarkon watched Allura ALMOST as much as Lotor had, and for a very different reason, the King wanting to destroy the princess. Many of the spies were trained in the art of killing, and should there come a time when the princess of Arus ever ventured out alone, well…she would have been made to regret it.
Mara did not shiver, though even she felt ill at the thought of the things that would be done to an unsuspecting Allura. Especially with Prince Lotor no longer around to run interference. With Lotor officially dead, Zarkon would take it as an excuse to do his worse. It wouldn’t be long before the assassination attempts started in earnest. Mara knew she had to be on top of her game. She was quick, she was smart, and she knew how to fight. In that regard, she considered herself more capable than Allura, Mara knowing that she was a survivor first and foremost.
Mara had even dabbled in her own killings, being a part time assassin when times called for it. She even had some military training, though she didn’t like to think of that time. The time spent in the Drule Military Academy, was nothing compared to the horrors being part of Zarkon’s own army. Now Mara really did shudder, refusing to let herself think of some of what she had endured. She instead tried to think of Lotor, and how he had helped her. A help she might never be able to repay, not even if she lost her life pretending to be the princess of Arus.
She abruptly stopped touching the opal on her necklace, Mara frowning. She didn’t WANT to die. She wanted Zarkon to pay, to end his tyranny over the people of Doom and even the galaxy at large. She wanted to live to see Lotor remake the Drule society into something they could all be proud of. The suffering of the people, both Drule and slaves had to end before any true healing could start. She knew that, but waiting for that moment was making her anxious.
Even more anxious than she was waiting for word from Keith. The young captain had been summoned by General Grants of Galaxy Garrison. Supposedly to discuss the details of releasing the dead Drule over to Doom. Mara wouldn’t be able to relax, not completely. Not until she knew Haggar had hold of the fake Lotor’s body. Once that body was disposed of, it would be one less thing to worry about.
General Grants didn’t want to hand over the dead to Doom. He especially didn’t want to hand over what he thought was Lotor’s body. It was as though he was claiming the prince as some sick war trophy, even at the risk of incurring King Zarkon’s wrath. He actually wanted to taunt the Drule, and though he hadn’t gone so far as to defile any of the bodies, he had refused to allow proper burial rites to be performed.
It was pure sacrilege what was being done, what was being denied. The bodies hadn’t even been embalmed, left to rot inside a nearby morgue. They hadn’t even allowed a Drule holy man to come say prayers over the bodies! Mara knew many of Doom would be praying for the dead soldiers. They had had friends, family, people who cared for them, people who depended on them. People who might suffer now that these men were dead and could no longer earn wages fighting Zarkon’s wars.
Mara had spent hours arguing in favor of giving over the dead Drule to the people who should take care of them. She hadn’t been able to argue as passionately as she would have liked, Mara having to pretend to be Allura. As the princess of Arus, she had tried approaching it from a political viewpoint. The truth had been stated, Mara knowing even if Zarkon did not give a damn about the dead Drules, he wouldn’t have allowed the insult of their bodies being kept to go unchallenged. Even now, the air space around planet Kirentya was crowded with an armada of Drule ships. No one was getting on or off the planet, not with the barricade Doom had set up.
Garrison had brought in ships to try and engage the Drules. But they weren’t having much success. Voltron might have been able to force an opening long enough for the remaining visitors to escape, but what would happen to Kirentya after they all left? The matter had to be resolved. As peacefully as Zarkon would allow. As Allura, Mara had brokered a deal, gaining a promise from Haggar that the Doom armada would leave once they got a hold of their dead. She didn’t expect Zarkon to honor such a thing. The tyrant might go away for a few days, but he would eventually come back. Especially if Arus fell to Doom’s conquering hand.
Garrison was spreading itself thin, maintaining a presence here on Kirentya and over on Arus. Zarkon was no fool to miss the opportunity to try and conquer Arus while Voltron was away. Arus, ever on the verge of invasion, was floundering closer to defeat. The Voltron Force had to return to Arus and soon. They’d get that chance, provided General Grants didn’t find a way to stop the exchanging of bodies.
Her lip actually curled, Mara scowling as she thought of that infuriating man. He was a nasty piece of work, not quite as bad as Zarkon but just as bigoted when it came to the other races. Mara was positive Grants would have found someone else to war with if not for the threat of the Doom Empire. And all because men like him were always hating, always spoiling for a fight.
General Grants had been the most vocally opposed to making any kind of deal with Doom. There had been others, but eventually they had been persuaded by Mara’s arguments. But not Grants. Mara wished someone would remove him from power, but such was his position that it wasn’t an easy feat to pull off. She supposed even if they assigned him elsewhere, he’d still be vocal about his anti Drule sentiments.
He wasn’t the only one that was so anti Drule. Gertrude, Allura’s nanny? The woman never missed a chance to make some hateful or derogatory comment about the Drules. Mara would almost think this Nanny was fearful that if she didn’t keep at it, people would forget what Doom had done, might even forgive the Drule. Mara had spent only a few days as Princess Allura, but she had had to spend extensive time with Nanny. Listening to her carry on, the woman acting as if the only good Drule was a dead one. With Prince Lotor dead, Nanny focused all her attentions on bad mouthing King Zarkon. On trying to scare her charge into believing the worse would happen. It would happen if and only if Zarkon got a hold of Allura, the fiend capable of anything. But Mara worried that Nanny had used the same scare tactic where Prince Lotor was concerned. If she had, it would be a miracle if Allura wasn’t terrified of Lotor.
Even now, Nanny was in the room with Mara. She had been since early morning, the woman bustling into the room before Mara had even fully awoke. Nanny seemed to have boundless energy, often times getting up before Mara did. Mara was an early riser, but even Nanny had her beat, leaving the Drule female to think the woman never slept.
Mara was sleeping more than she was used to, or at least pretending too. As a Drule she didn’t have as much need for sleep as a human would, and yet Nanny insisted on a strict time table for Allura’s schedule. She hustled the princess to bed early, and made frequent checks to ensure her charge was not up late reading or something. It was getting on Mara’s nerves, the woman already sick to death of having to stay in bed when she was not tired.
Mara moved away from the window, spying Nanny sitting on the room’s white leather couch. She had knitting needles in hand, though Mara could not yet figure out what it was Nanny was trying to make. Mara thought it might be something to pass the time, as though Nanny couldn’t sit still without keeping busy. If they had been on Arus, Nanny would have surely been running the maids ragged with tasks.
Beginning to pace, Mara wondered when they would make it back to planet Arus. She was hoping for a little more freedom once in Allura’s home, knowing Nanny wouldn’t be able to stick so close to her. Gertrude might be nanny to Allura, but she was also head of the household staff. And with that position came many responsibilities, Nanny having to oversee the work the maids had to do.
“You’re going to pace a path into the carpeting.” Nanny said without looking up.
“I’m just worried.” Mara began, but Nanny interrupted her.
“You shouldn’t waste your time on those Drules, or their dead!” She actually scowled as she knitted, Nanny shaking her head no. “We should be concentrating on a way to return to Arus.”
Mara wanted to scowl in return, but she maintained a neutral look. “Nanny…” She said in as patient a tone as she could manage. “They have a right to their dead…”
“They lost any rights when they set foot in that embassy! When they tried to kill everyone!” Nanny exclaimed.
“They paid the ultimate price. They died.” She pointed out.
“So did some of our people. Good men and women!”
Mara had to fight to point out Nanny didn’t know anything about the character of the dead Drule. How some of them could have been good people, only doing the work cause they had no other choice, no other way to earn money. “More people will die if we don’t resolve this issue peacefully.” Mara said out loud.
“As if the Drule even know the meaning of that word!” Nanny scoffed.
“Let’s say we don’t give them their dead.” Mara began in a reasonable tone. “Let’s say we use Voltron to force an opening through the armada’s barricade, allowing all the visiting world leaders a way off of Kirentya. What then? What of this planet and it’s people?”
Mara sighed. “Nanny, think! They will turn their wrath about Kirentya. And if they don’t kill ever last man, woman and child, they will surely enslave them. More people will die or be hurt, GOOD ones.” She shook her head. “That is unacceptable to me. I won’t be satisfied to go back to Arus until I know Kirentya is safe.”
“This planet, this galaxy will never be safe so long as Zarkon draws breath!”
That was something they both could agree on. “Someday that tyrant will fall. It won’t happen through denying his people their dead though.” Nanny looked as though she had more to say, but then a loud knocking was heard on the door. Together, both women looked that way, Mara feeling a surge of excitement go through her. That surely had to be Keith! Once again she was taken back by her strong response to the thought of seeing the handsome captain. The thought that he might be here to deliver bad news, was enough to sober her mood some.
The knock sounded again as Mara walked to the door. Nanny was watching her, a disapproving look on her face. She didn’t like the thought of Keith coming to the princess’ bedroom, thought it highly improper even with a suitable chaperone present. Mara tried to tell herself it didn’t bother her, that she was not intending to seduce the captain any time soon. She nearly gasped, and amended her thoughts to never seducing him even as her heart panged in protest.
She opened the door, and felt as though she melted to see the handsome captain’s smile. She was so distracted by the sight of him, Mara didn’t at first realize the significance of that grin.
“It’s still on.” He said, Mara stepping back to allow Keith to enter the room. He nodded at Nanny, then turned to keep his focus on Mara. She liked him looking at her, even if Keith was seeing Allura instead of Mara’s true appearance. “General Grants wasn’t able to convince the Alliance to stop the exchange.”
“That’s wonderful, Keith!” Mara exclaimed, clasping her hands together in an excited manner Allura had often done. She heard Nanny let out a disgruntled snort, the woman resuming her knitting. “How soon before the exchange?”
“It’ll take a wee bit of time to arrange. They have to get in touch with the old witch, and decide on how many soldiers they’ll allow to accompany her. Grants doesn’t want too many live Drules setting foot on Kirentya.” He frowned then. “For that matter, he’s just itching for Haggar to try something.”
“He wouldn’t be fool enough to try and take Haggar into custody?!” Mara gave a genuine gasp, aghast at the thought.
“General Grants is…” Keith hesitated, appearing as though he didn’t want to actually insult a member of Garrison. Especially one with as much power as the General had.
“I’m sure the good General just wants to make sure Haggar doesn’t kill any more innocent people.” Grumbled Nanny from over on the couch.
Her comment was ignored. Mara staying focused on Keith. He reached up to brush back his hair, a telling gesture that betrayed he was nervous or flustered about something. “What is it Keith?”
“Grants wants us there for the exchange.”
Nanny gasped. “NO! The princess will not be going anywhere near those Drules!”
“It would be in a soldier’s capacity.” Keith continued after Mara had shushed Nanny. “He’d have us piloting Voltron if Haggar would allow it.”
“Which she won’t.” Mara pointed out.
“Yeah.” Agreed Keith. “Still, he wants us there. Since the exchange will happen at the space port, he’s arranging to have it within running distance of the lions. If Haggar tries anything, we’re to bolt immediately for the lions and take her out.”
Mara knew Haggar wouldn’t try anything, but it still chilled her, the thought of trying to hurt the old witch. Hagger was powerful, but more than that, she was an important ally. To Mara and to Lotor. She had things to do, the least of which being disposing of the fake Lotor’s body. Mara knew Haggar had to start building a suitable army for Lotor, make the alliances that would gain him money, men, and the weapons and armor to outfit those soldiers with. It was a lot to do, and in a limited amount of time.
“Princess?” Keith was looking at her with a concerned look. Mara realized she had zoned out enough to miss something he had said.
“I’m fine.” She quickly said. “Just thinking.”
“About tomorrow’s exchange, right? Yeah, I don’t blame you for worrying. Anything could happen.”
“All the more reason why Princess Allura should not be present!” Nanny snapped.
“I’m going Nanny.” Mara said firmly. “If something DID happen, there’s no one else to pilot blue lion.” She felt a little apprehensive at those words. Mara had some piloting skill, but there existed no one in the Denubian Galaxy that could have taught her how to fight in and fly one of the legendary lions of Arus. Mara sincerely hoped she wouldn’t have to learn in the midst of a battle, for that would be headache inducing at best!
“Nanny no! I’ve made up my mind!” Mara said, this bit of forcefulness acceptable for Allura was known to be adamantly vocal about her choice to pilot blue lion. “Nothing you say or do can stop me from being part of this exchange.”
Nanny let out a huffing sound, her knitting motions become more violent. “You’re going to get yourself killed or worse one of these days.” She complained. “A princess shouldn’t place herself in danger. She should rule from afar, and let others handle the violent work.”
Mara knew from both experience, and from her studies of Allura, that Nanny would prefer the princess to get married and focus on making babies while her husband ruled in her stead. “You know I am a very hands on kind of person. I won’t hide away while others are in danger, nor will I close myself off to my duty and my people.” She then turned her back on Nanny, looking at Keith. The captain was making a serious effort not to be part of the conversation, as though he feared Nanny would come over and jab him with one of those needles should he voice support with Mara.
“Are the Drule still agreeing to break up the barricade?” Mara asked. He nodded, and she smiled. “So everyone will be allowed to leave? That they’ll be able to return to their worlds?!”
“As soon as we hand over the dead, the Drule will leave.” Keith confirmed. “It’s a pity we have to leave here before we could decide anything about the worlds that had wanted to join the Alliance.”
“Yes.” Mara forced out a sigh. “We can thank General Grants’ greed for that.”
“As long as those worlds are too poor to pay the Alliance’s membership fees, I don’t see any help coming their way.” Keith told her.
Mara hesitated, knowing what Allura would suggest. “We should help them ourselves.”
“Oh no!” Nanny threw down her needles, the leather couch creaking as she got up off it. “Arus doesn’t have the time for Voltron to keep going to all these worlds. We have to focus on keeping our own planet safe, before we can help anyone else!”
“She might be right about that.” Keith sounded apologetic. “Garrison won’t agree to guard Arus forever. Especially as Grants keeps reminding us, we owe several months worth of membership fees.”
“He’d overlook it if we gave him Voltron.” Mara grumbled, remembering how Grants had pestered her on several occasions to hand over the robot to Garrison’s scientists. “But Keith? So long as I draw breath, Grants we’ll never get his hands on Arus’ defender.”
“Right. The Voltron Force won’t give up the lions. Not to Grants, not to anyone!” Keith grinned at her, and Mara found herself smiling back. He really had a nice smile, especially when it reached his eyes. She then promptly told herself to stop noticing his good features, Mara knowing his smile might be her undoing if she let it. Especially if every time he smiled at her, she wanted to reach out and grab him. To hug him to her, to run her hands over his body, and kiss those sensual looking lips. A Drule couldn’t blush, but Mara felt embarrassed all the same by the thoughts she had just had. She was too aware of Keith, too affected by him and the attraction she felt. It was enough to make her worry, Mara trying to convince herself that it was only lust she felt and nothing more.