The urge to yawn was upon her, Allura fighting and failing that expression of her tiredness. She quickly brought her hand to cover her mouth, but even then everyone knew what she had done. Her cheeks almost burned in embarrassment, Allura positive everyone was assuming the worst about her reasons for being so tired. She quickly looked down, not wanting to see looks she was sure would be knowing, even approving of what they assumed had happened.
It might have helped if she could understand the language. Then she could have been sure over whether or not the Drules were talking about her. Allura knew what they would suspect, what they would think had happened. She couldn’t blame them for that, since Allura herself had expected the same. She was immensely relived that it hadn’t gone down the way she had feared, but Allura was also shocked. To the point she could barely believe Prince Lotor HADN’T raped her.
She tried to avoid looking to the right of her. Prince Lotor was a towering presence besides her, the man leisurely enjoying the breakfast laid out on the table. It was all uncooked foods, cold cereal and fruits. Allura nervously nibbled on a pear, hungry but not really tasting it. She ate simply to fill herself, to take the energy she needed to keep going.
There was others present at the table. Most if not all the Drules that had stayed in the mansion sitting around her, laughing and talking as they ate. Not all of the conversation was in Drule, as though they were trying to encourage Allura to talk with them. But she couldn’t even think on what to say, too embarrassed over the thoughts she assumed they were having. And why wouldn’t they assume she had slept with Lotor?! They had seen them leave the barbecue together, Lotor keeping a secure grip on Allura’s hand. They knew they had shared a bedroom, and one of them had even laid out the slinky nightclothes Allura had had to wear. After Lotor had gone to great lengths to catch her, and bring her here, there was no way these people would believe he hadn’t touched her in a sexual manner. Especially when Allura could hardly believe it either!
It had been the strangest of nights, terrifying for a minute, and puzzling for the rest. She could look back on that night now, free of the overwhelming panic that had so consumed her. It just left Allura confused, the princess not understanding why Lotor had behaved himself. She wondered what he was waiting for, why he hadn’t turned into the rapacious monster every one claimed he could be. He wasn’t acting anything like the stories she had been told, practically a gentleman instead of some lustful fiend. In fact he was behaving better than the last Drule male she had gotten that close to, had.
Allura shivered then. But she wasn’t cold. With the rising of the sun, it had grown warm. To the point Allura had woken up to discover that either she or Lotor had kicked themselves free of the blankets. She had still been held in Lotor’s arms, half off, half on his lap as he lay upright against the pillows. He had been awake before her, Allura realizing Lotor had occupied and contented himself with staring at her. With petting her hair over and over again.
No, the real reason Allura shivered had to do with the memory of a wholly different encounter. A day on a war torn Arus, one that could be describe as chaotic as best. She didn’t like to think about that day, about what had almost happened. Most times she succeeded in blocking the memory out. But ever since she had been kidnapped and forced into close proximity to Lotor? The memories had stirred, seeming to grow stronger with every stolen touch and embrace Lotor forced on her. His attempts at forcing a closeness between them, it only served to frighten her, and with the memories rising in strength, no wonder she often panicked.
It didn’t matter that Lotor wasn’t the same Drule. She felt he had the same intent as the soldier of her memories. Lotor just went about it a different way, trying to lower her defense with a more gentle approach. It wouldn’t work, and when he realized that, Lotor would try other tactics. She was sure of it. He was the type used to getting what he wanted, and what Lotor wanted was Allura. Her body at any rate.
Again that urge to yawn, Allura quickly bringing up her hand. She hadn’t been able to get as much sleep as she would have liked the night before. Even once Lotor had made it clear he would not molest her, she hadn’t been able to relax. How long had Allura stayed stiff in his arms, her frantic thoughts tormenting her as she listened to the sound of Lotor’s breathing. She did not know, but eventually Allura had fallen asleep. But not for long enough, not enough to feel rested.
It was going to be a long day. Especially with no coffee available, the only drinks at hand being bottled juice and some warm wine. She stayed away from the wine, sipping her juice in between bites of her cereal. She’d feel Lotor’s eyes on her, a frequent enough occurrence that she chose to ignore. Every once in a while, he’d touch her, trailing fingers slowly up and down her arm, or placing a hand on her knee beneath the table. At one point, he had covered her hand with his, lacing their fingers together. Allura didn’t understand why he kept doing things like that. She just knew the first time his hand had found her knee, it had made her jump up startled in her seat. It had amused the Drules present, many smiling every time they noticed Lotor touching Allura in some way.
Lotor would even reach over to sweep back her hair, fingers lingering on the gold colored locks. Allura never tried to touch him back, but neither did she attempt to shrug off his touches. Instead she tried to ignore him, to pretend he wasn’t so thoroughly invading her personal space.
Vorlac was one of the Drules who wasn’t present at the table. She noticed his absence, since he was not only one of the Drules she knew by name, but a man she had spent extensive time with when Lotor was sick. She didn’t think anything of Vorlac’s absence, assuming he must be staying in one of the small cottages on the property. But then Tesla was speaking, Vorlac’s name being brought up in a conversation with Lotor.
The conversation was in basic, Tesla making no attempts to hide what was going on from Allura. “He should be back within the hour.” Tesla was saying as Lotor listened and nodded.
“Back?” Allura spoke up, the first real attempt she had made to be part of a conversation. “He went somewhere?”
“Not far.” Lotor told her. “He just had to pick up some supplies from the town.”
“The wiring is an unfortunate set back.” Tesla added with an exaggerated frown. “Not only are we out of power, but we are without the ability to store food for long periods of time. Among the things Vorlac has gone to purchase, are the foods needed for today’s lunch and dinner.”
“Will the Simestians have enough to spare for a group as large as this one?” Allura wondered out loud. “I mean…” A hesitation, Allura shrugging. “Drule males are known for their voracious appetites.”
“If there’s not enough to buy, there’s always hunting.” It was Ryder who spoke up. He grinned to show he liked the idea. “We’d have to get some permissions to hunt on the city’s land, but we have more than enough gold to sway the mayor into granting us those rights.”
“We won’t be a burden on the Simestians.” Lotor tried to reassure her. “Especially since we won’t be here that long.”
Allura frowned, understanding that Simestia was only a stop on the journey Lotor was trying to take her on. A journey that was being delayed by the fact that the mansion’s wiring had been so damaged. She was surprised no one had seen to purchasing some back up generators from the Simestians, but Allura wasn’t about to suggest something that would speed up the Drules’ schedule. Especially since they would need the power in order to work their computers to begin making the forgeries and paper trails for everyone’s new identities.
Allura would do just about anything to keep them from leaving Simesita. But only because she knew the next destination would be the next over galaxy, and then her difficulties in escaping would increase. It was already almost too hard here on this isolated world, she didn’t want to imagine what it would be like in a different galaxy!
“It won’t be like last time.” Added Tesla. “This time the Drules won’t drain the people of their resources. We will give as much as we take.”
“I see.” It was all she could say in the moment, Allura so unused to the Drules being anything but spoilers of planets.
“Vorlac’s also picking up that person from the temple.” Announced Lotor. “For your…confession.”
Allura tried not to act eager. “So that will be soon?” Inwardly she was pleased, and hoped it didn’t show. Especially with Ryder staring so hard at her. That man suspected something was up, she was sure of it. She’d have to tread even more carefully, lest her plan end up thwarted before she even got a chance to talk with this temple representative.
“Just as soon as Vorlac gets back from town.” Lotor confirmed.
“Did he go by himself?” Allura didn’t know what the Simestians were like, but after what Zarkon had done to the people of this world, it seemed dangerous for a Drule to walk among them alone.
“No, he took some of the men with him.” Ryder answered.
She processed this. “Are….the Simestians violent?”
“Er…I couldn’t say for sure.” Admitted Rider. “But we’d be pretty damn bold or foolish to go alone among the people who still remember what our Empire did to them.”
“Some wounds never heal.” Tesla said, and Allura saw how the woman’s eyes flickered in Lotor’s direction. But she didn’t get a chance to ask what that was about, Ryder speaking once more.
“Most wounds heal.” He seemed to be correcting Tesla. “It just takes time.”
“Have the Simestians had enough time then?” Allura wanted to know. The Drules all exchanged uncertain glances.
“It’s only been about fifty years, Allura.” Lotor finally said. “Not even enough time for the survivors of Zarkon’s invasion to have died out. I doubt they’d be ready to forgive, anymore than they could forget what happened. Especially with so many potent reminders of the Drule among them.”
“This mansion being one of them?” Allura asked.
He nodded. “There are others of course. The Drule have made their mark on the Simestians, rewriting many of their beliefs, their religion, even their language. Zarkon may have forgotten this world, but not before he thoroughly affected the people.”
“He seems to have that effect on every planet he turns his covetous gaze on.” Allura muttered dryly. But she was thinking, feeling hopeful. If the Simestians held a grudge over what the Drules had done, maybe they WOULD help her. Provided they didn’t let their fear stop them. The fear that Zarkon would turn his attention once more to this world and it’s people, and punish them for any rebellion or trouble they had attempted.
Allura then realized the Drules here would not be able to go to Zarkon. Not when they had abandoned their world, and faked their prince’s death. Allura could use the fact that they were operating outside Zarkon’s permission, to her advantage. She was sure of it!
“Well…I’m done.” Ryder was standing now, his plate empty.
“Leaving so soon?” Lotor asked, but his fingers were once against stroking along Allura’s arm. It was clear that at the moment, Lotor didn’t care if Ryder, if the rest of the people present all took their leave of them. Allura didn’t want to be alone with Lotor. Especially not so soon after spending a whole night locked in a room, held in his arms.
“Thought I’d get some work done.” Ryder explained.
“Work, what work?” Allura asked, curious. She didn’t think there was much to do, not with the wiring so damaged, canceling out all electronics and appliances. Nor did she see Ryder as the type to clean, especially the kind of heavy cleaning that the mansion still needed for most of it’s rooms.
“Oh, there’s just a few odds and ends to take care of.” Ryder said, in that frustratingly evasive manner of his. “Just because we have no power, doesn’t mean it’s a time I can relax.”
“Ryder’s the project head overseeing the creation of our new identities.” Lotor told her. “There’s no one I trust more with this task then him.”
Allura paused, looking at how Ryder beamed over Lotor’s praising words. “I thought you were a communications expert, not a forger.”
“Communications is just one of my many skills.” Ryder grinned, and Tesla seemed to roll her eyes in annoyance. “It’ll be a snap to create new identities for everyone here. Easy but time consuming.”
“Easy eh?” Allura asked, tone skeptical. “And will you be creating these life documents from scratch, or stealing identities from existing people?!”
“There are a lot of dead people out there princess.” Ryder answered. “People who no longer need those identities.”
“It’s still a crime what you’re going to do.” She pointed out.
Ryder gave an uncaring shrug. “Not that big a crime, since it hurts no one.”
“Typical Drule justification.” Allura said in a disgusted tone. Her words got the conversation to stop, everyone looking at her. Tesla’s eyes seemed to cross, the woman looking so angry in the moment. It wasn’t enough to stop Allura from talking, the girl almost glaring at Ryder. “You’re all a bunch of criminals. You’ve aided and abetted my kidnapping. Who knows what else you have done!”
“Do you want to school her, or should I?” demanded Tesla in a growling manner.
“Eh, I’ll let you do the honors.” Ryder replied. “I still have about an hour’s life on the battery of my portable. And the heavens know I’d much rather spent my time working on forgeries, then waste my breath arguing with someone stuck with so racist a mind set.”
“Racist?” Allura gasped. “I…I am not….”
“Aren’t you?” Ryder demanded, then nodded at Lotor. The prince had already stopped touching Allura, sitting stiff besides her. He radiated just as much stern disapproval as the rest of the gathered Drules, but Allura also sensed a disappointment in him. She glanced nervously at him, as Ryder began to leave the dining room.
“I am not racist.” Allura said, in a soft, uncertain voice. “I have just been a victim of Drule abuse for too long.”
“Victim?” hissed Tesla, the look on her face ugly. “Don’t speak to me as though you have any real understanding of abuse and of being victimized!”
“My planet has been in war with yours for something like twenty years! Longer than I have been alive! I spent sixteen years of my life running, hiding, even cowering from the sun lit sky. It’s only been these last two and a half years, that Arus has known any semblance of peace! And even then we still suffer, you Drules continuing to attack us countless times!”
“Most of us don’t even give a damn about your planet!” Tesla snapped. “We’d be happier if we never had heard of Arus. Do you know how many Drules have died in this war? How many families have been ruined, torn apart, of destroyed?! Whole lives in upheaval, poverty, and untold amounts of suffering happening?! Do you?!”
Allura flinched at the sound of Tesla’s voice, at the anger contained within those words. The green skinned female glared at Allura, continuing her tirade, voice raising in volume with every breath. “You don’t!” sneered Tesla. “You stay in your protected bubble, seeing, believing only what you want. The worst of my people.”
“The Drule have given me no reason to believe there’s any good about your kind.”
“No people are entirely evil!” Another Drule spoke up. He was trying not to glare, lips forming a frown. “Just as there is no entirely good race of people. Princess…have you ever taken the time to study those you view as your enemies? To learn about them beyond what you’ve experienced on Arus?”
“Obviously she has not.” Tesla snapped, hands on her hips. “She wouldn’t make such harsh judgments against us.”
“It’s not just Allura.” Lotor spoke up, but he sounded tired. “There’s few in the Denubian Galaxy who has bothered to see what the Drule are really about. Too many who would rather believe all the negative press about the Empire.”
“But it’s the truth.” Allura argued. “Your people do invade worlds. You do enslave people, even kill them. Drules do such horrible things, every day if not every hour!”
“Not ALL the Drules!” Lotor pounded a fist on the table, the action so sudden and violent, Allura jumped in her seat.
“Fine…” she said uneasily. “So some don’t do those things….but they damn well don’t try to stop the others….”
“How can we?” demanded Tesla. “How do you expect us to help others, when we can barely help ourselves?! We are just as much at the mercy of Zarkon as the rest of the galaxy. Only there is no Voltron to come save us!”
Allura went wide eyed at that for it was the last thing she had ever expected to hear one of them say. “What?”
“Who will rescue the Drule?” Tesla demanded. “Who will save us from Zarkon’s tyranny? From his cruelty?!” Besides Allura, Lotor shifted, seeming uncomfortable at what Tesla was asking. “You?” Tesla sneered at Allura. “The Galaxy Alliance? We have no one! No one to rely on!”
“Is that why you run?” Allura asked when she was able to speak. “Because you feel it’s hopeless?”
“As the situation stands now, it IS hopeless.” Scowled Tesla. “We have a madman on the throne, our people are suffering. Not only starving, but tortured for his amusement.”
“If you overthrow him….”
“Zarkon has the backing of most if not all the nobles.” Explained Lotor. “As long as he continues to bring in new worlds, riches and slaves, they don’t care much about what he does.”
“The noble rich grow fat while the rest of Doom suffers.” It was the nurse, Qualenn who spoke now. Her voice was soft, but no less upset than any one else at the table. “It’s not just the slaves that suffer. Our own people are hungry, sick and weak. They are unable to afford medicines, many dressed in rags, scrambling in the streets for enough money to buy something to ease their hunger for a moment.”
“The slaves fare better than most Drules.” It was the frowning man who spoke up, who practically spat on the floor in disgust.
Allura stared at him, and shook her head. “You don’t honestly expect me to believe that, do you? No one can be worse off then slaves!”
“How wrong you are!” He exclaimed. “The nobles see their slaves as investments. They feed them, clothe them, even give them medical care, provided it’s nothing too costly and serious.” He turned even more bitter. “With slaves, you don’t have to pay them an honest wage. Hell, you don’t even have to pay them at all. Just give them enough of necessities to keep them clinging to life, and you can work them till they drop.”
“Because Zarkon made Doom a world that relies so heavily on the free labor the slaves provide, many of our people cannot find work.” Explained Qualenn. Allura remembered hearing about this bit, about how many of the Drules had no choice but to become soldiers. “It’s either starve homeless in the streets, or join the Kings army, in the hope you will live long enough to earn money for your family.”
“Many die.” Added Lotor. “Especially since many can’t afford to attend the Drule Military Academy for more than a few weeks training. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you have all the training in the universe. Sometimes it’s just luck over whether you live or die.”
“The chance of living has gotten worse with the reintroduction of Voltron.” added Tesla. She was still angry, but she was no longer shouting. “Your team has single-handedly been responsible for the most lives lost. Not just with the soldiers manning the fleets, but with civilian casualties as your robot trampled on cities.”
Allura flinched again, knowing she and the others had not often if ever given thought to the homes they inadvertently destroyed in Drule settlements when fighting the invader’s robeasts.
“It’s horrible.” She finally said. “But Arus never set out to hurt anyone. We only wanted to protect our worlds, spread peace through the galaxy.” Her own eyes surely darkened. “Under Zarkon’s orders, the Drules come and do evil to the worlds they try to invade.” Tesla made an exasperated sound. “I can’t say I yet understand the difference between Zarkon’s evil, and the Drule’s. I mean…I have…heard things.” She shook her head then. “Not just heard, I’ve witness things first hand. Not all the soldiers are reluctant when doing your king’s bidding. They enjoyed too much what they did.”
“Money can be a key motivater.” Qualenn said sadly. “Those greedy fools would do anything for it, might even take pleasure in inflicting cruelties. We haven’t denied that there are some bad people among the Drule. Just as there are good ones, who are forced to become soldiers and do Zarkon’s bidding out of desperation and fear.”
“Fear.” Repeated Allura. She knew that some sovereigns ruled not with the love of the people, but through their fear. It was hard for Allura to understand why those people would allow themselves to be so cowed into submitting to a cruel tyrant. Why they wouldn’t rise up to overthrow him. Even with Zarkon’s power, if those soldiers took the weapons he gave them, they could turn on him and kill him with the very tools he had given to them.
“You don’t know half the things Zarkon is capable of.” Tesla said, sighing. “The cruel games, the endless torments, the sheer viciousness reality of him.”
Allura drew in a deep breath, wondering if she had the courage to ask. But how could she turn a blind eye to what they were hinting at? How could she not take the chance to find out if Zarkon was really as bad as they claimed he was. She didn’t think she would like what she would hear, but Allura knew this was something she had to know. Even as she hoped it was just an exaggeration on their part, Allura spoke out an urgent plea. “Tell me.”
A stir of unease from the gathered Drules. They looked surprised at her request, as though they hadn’t expected her to want to know. “Are you sure?” asked Qualenn. “It won’t be an easy telling…for you, or for us…”
“I have to know.” Allura insisted. Tesla nodded her agreement to that. “Please…”
Again that uncomfortable shifting of Lotor, the prince glancing at her with a frown. Allura wondered if he would try to stop the others from talking, but he merely bowed his head in an agreeing motion. A subtle relaxing of energy, the Drules seeming relieved to have permission from their prince. More wine would be brought out, some of the Drules seeming to want the drink in order to share the more horrific experiences.
They didn’t all speak at once. Almost as though they were unsure of where to start. Someone coughed, several of the Drule shifting nervous in response to that sound. Finally it was the nurse, Qualenn who broke the silence.
“It’s a mixed blessing to be in the medical field in the world of Doom.” She sighed. “I have the ability to help so many people, and yet my talents are often wasted. I’m not allowed to help those who can’t afford treatment. There are strict penalties involve, beatings for the first time, death for a repeat offense. Zarkon allows little money to flow into the cities. There’s hardly any funding, not for hospitals, schools. Charity programs would not even exist if not for Lotor’s benevolence.”
Qualenn sighed again, the pretty nurse lifting up her glass of warm wine. “I’ve not only had to turn away the sick, I’ve had the misfortune of seeing those who…caught Zarkon’s attention.”
“Attention? What does that mean?” Allura asked.
“His victims.” said one of the men. “It’s not just women he’s raped, it’s people he’s tortured. For fun, or to make an example out of.”
“The ones he wants to make an example of, are some of the worse cases I’ve seen.” Qualenn visibly shuddered. “There’s been people with nearly every bone in their bodies broken, ribs cracked and protruding through the skin. Zarkon shows no mercy, certainly not to men. Not even women and children are safe from him. The doctor has had to work on patients who were cut open, their intestines barely kept from spilling out. He’s had to push their insides back in, and sew them up. Keep them alive long enough for Zarkon to tire of them, and kill them.”
Allura was starting to shiver, and doing her best not to imagine such a sight. “It sounds like it would have been better if your Doctor let them die.”
“Oh he wanted to!” Qualenn exclaimed, more passionate than ever. “You can’t imagine how tempted time and time again he was. But we remember what happened to Doctor Oveious.” Allura wondered if she even wanted to know what this Oveious’ fate had been.
“Doctor Oveious is famous, even among Zarkon’s cruelties.” Tesla stated with a grim look in her eyes. “We don’t know if he failed to keep a torture victim alive on purpose, or if the damage was such that the woman died regardless of the doctor’s efforts. Either way, Zarkon was not pleased.” There was a long pause, Allura anxious, waiting for Tesla to finish. “He didn’t remove the doctor’s heart right away.” The woman continued. “He kept him alive long enough to be presented with a feast.”
“A feast?” Allura was surprised. “What…?”
“The doctor was given a chance you see…” Qualenn was closing her eyes, as though trying to block out some image. “If he would eat every last bite of the meal, he would be allowed to live. He’d be stripped of his license, his home, his life ruined. But he’d be alive.”
Nervous, Allura whispered a question. “What was the meal?”
“Allura…I don’t think you should hear this.” Lotor said firmly.
“What was the meal?!” She repeated, shrugging off the hand that touched her shoulder. She locked eyes with Tesla, instinctively knowing this woman would not hold back, might even relish Allura’s horrified reactions.
“It was the woman he failed to save.” Tesla revealed. “Cooked and seasoned, with her insides carved open.”
Allura started to heave, thinking she might throw up the breakfast she had just eaten. Tesla looked on unsympathetically, even as Lotor put an arm around Allura, trying to comfort her.
“Zarkon has a twisted sense of humor.” Added Tesla. “And you can damn well bet no one ever repeated Doctor’s Oveious’ mistake.” Allura was shaking, for once letting Lotor hold her without protest. Tesla continued to stare at Allura, blinking those exotic eyes of hers. “Shall I tell you about the games he plays? The things he does to pass the time? The bodies hanging in the town squares, the crowds the soldiers are turned against? Shall I tell you about Vorlac, whose whole family was imprisoned by Zarkon in order to ensure the man would do his best as the King’s dungeon master? Should I tell you how they died screaming, each death earned for a perceived failure of Vorlac’s?”
Allura was shaking her head no, too upset to be able to speak. Lotor was growling, shouting at Tesla. “That’s enough!”
“She hasn’t even heard half of it. What about the very soldiers she hates?! The things done to them? Lotor, you know being in the military is not proof against Zarkon’s perversions! Not even being part of his family can save you if Zarkon takes it in his head to torture you!”
“Tesla!” Never had Allura heard Lotor so angry before. She risked a look at his face, and the rage there frightened her. He looked like he was considering dropping Allura to lunge at Tesla in an attempt to quiet and control her.
Tesla drew up short, her face twisted with anger as she glared at Allura. It almost seemed as though she was going to keep quiet, but then Tesla bit out one more thing. “Zarkon would flay the likes of you alive! And while you are broken and bleeding, he’d toss you to the most wicked of his soldiers! Despicable men, who wouldn’t care about the mess of your injuries. Why’d they even get…”
She didn’t get to hear the rest of what Tesla would have said, for Allura had begun screaming. It was a loud, hysterical sound, Allura turning in Lotor’s arms. Burying her face against his chest in an attempt to muffle her voice. She could hear voices shouting all around her, but couldn’t make out the words. Her eyes had already turned wet, Allura red faced and sobbing. Someone ran into the room, and even more shouting was heard, seconds before Lotor scooped Allura up out of her chair. She had the faintest glimpse of a confused looking Vorlac standing near Tesla, before Allura fainted dead away.