Breakfast had finally ended, the many different Drules drifting off to other parts of the mansion. Or even outside, the Drules wanting to escape the hot, muggy air that was circulating throughout the mansion. Allura couldn’t blame those who did, the princess almost regretting her choice to skip the ride with Lotor. She imagined it would have been cooler, to ride from a mount’s back. If they went fast enough, a breeze would have stirred, enough for her hair to blow back and Allura to be cooled.
But she hadn’t wanted to pass up the opportunity to be alone. There was a freedom in getting away from Lotor, especially after all the time she had spent at his side. Ever since they had arrived on Simestia, Lotor had been a constant presence besides her. As much as Allura wanted to work on convincing him to stand up and fight against his father, she also relished this time alone. It was time she could use to explore. To actively plot, and come up with new plans. Ones that if successful would have her returned to Arus in a few day’s time.
Unfortunately nothing promising had revealed itself to Allura in her wanderings. With the power gone from the mansion, there wasn’t any way to send out messages. They couldn’t even contact each other from room to room, never mind establish a connection a dozen worlds over to reach Arus. She refused to get her spirits down about this. If she couldn’t send a message, she could work on one of her other options. Her only option, given the windows were barred, and the Drule were carefully watching her comings and goings inside the mansion. Allura knew if she tried to leave now, they would stop her. They might appear relaxed, but they were all too alert to Allura’s attempts to escape.
There was no helping it. She’d have to work on the Drules themselves. She wasn’t quite sure where to begin. Lotor didn’t seem to respond to her direct way of urging him to do the right thing. He was so damn resistant to the idea of returning to Doom, of facing his father. She assumed the rest of the Drules on Simestia were of a similar thought. Allura didn’t think preaching to a group of them would work. She’d have to establish some kind of connection with the individuals, talk to them and try to persuade them to do what was right for the galaxy.
Allura was unsure of many things, but she was confidant enough to think Qualenn would be a good first choice for this attempt. The nurse had extend an offer for Allura to come talk to her, at any time at all. Allura wasn’t ready to tell anyone the truth about what had happened in her past, but she thought she could use some of it as an opening to get to know Qualenn better. And through her, work Qualenn into seeing the Drule’s choice to run away was the wrong one.
With Qualenn as her ally, the two of them could work to persuade the others. Slowly but surely winning them over to doing the right thing for the Denubian Galaxy. Allura wouldn’t quite smile, knowing this plot of hers was a time consuming affair. She had to get to know the Drules, to try and cultivate friendships with them so that they would become comfortable enough to talk with and listen to Allura.
This was going to be a time consuming endeavor. Allura wondered if she even had the time to accomplish anything this way. But it was better than doing nothing, Allura walking determinedly through the halls. Only, she wasn’t sure where she was going, Allura only knowing the infirmary was somewhere on the first floor of the mansion. She’d walk past the open doors, peering into the rooms inside. Some were clean and restored, made livable once more. Others were still dusty and dirty, the furniture covered by sheets. Sometimes there was Drules inside the dirty rooms, working to clean them.
She’d smile and nod hellos at the Drules who glanced up at her as Allura walked by. They didn’t seem interested in deviating from their work, pausing only long enough to return her greetings. She was getting used to being all but ignored, when a voice called out to her.
“Princess…May I speak with you a moment?”
Her back was to the woman who was approaching. It was the only reason Tesla did not see the dismayed look that crossed Allura’s face. By the time she turned to face the green skinned Drule, her expression was composed. She couldn’t quite smile at Tesla, though she managed not to grimace. “Yes?” Allura asked, polite interest in her tone. She was uneasy, not sure she wanted to hear anything this woman had to say.
“I…I wanted to apologize.” The shocking effect Tesla’s words had was apparent, Allura staring flabbergasted at her. Tesla shifted her weight from foot to foot, looking uncertain. Allura continued to do nothing more than stare, the woman giving an uncertain chuckle. “Is it really that surprising?”
“Forgive me…” Allura said when she had recovered enough to speak. “But yes.” A Drules’ coloring didn’t allow a blush to appear, but Tesla seemed embarrassed all the same. “Why now? Why even bother with an apology?”
“I was wrong to speak to you that way.” Tesla said simply. “I took a vicious, malicious joy from telling you about Zarkon’s evil.”
“It was something I needed to hear.” Allura pointed out.
“Yes, it was.” Tesla agreed. “But I could have done it differently. You didn’t deserve my own brand of cruelty. And for that, I am sorry…”
Allura couldn’t tell if the apology was sincere, staring searchingly into Tesla’s eyes. They were unblinking, so alien in the moment. They told her nothing, showed no true regret over what had occurred at breakfast just a mere day ago.
“If you truly mean it, then I will accept you at your word.” Allura told her. She raised her hand, Tesla eyeing it with some suspicion. She’d continue to wear that look, even as Allura too hold of Tesla’s hand. “Consider what happened forgiven. But not forgotten.” Tesla looked ready to protest. “The things Zarkon has done…they’ve made impression on us all. It is the kind of abuse, the kind of evil the rest of the galaxy has to be made aware of. To remind us who the true enemy is, and the reason why we are fighting.”
Tesla was staring at her, hand limp in Allura’s grip. “Is it that easy for you?” At her question, Allura tilted her head to the side. “You are presented with a side you haven’t considered, and suddenly you are ready to forget your fear and animosity of us Drule?”
“It’s not an easy realization for me.” Allura admitted. “I’ve feared your people for a long time. But the more I hear, the more I believe in all of your sincerity. Zarkon has hurt you, as much as he has the other people of the Denubian Galaxy. He’ll continue to torment everyone, if allowed to run free.”
“That is something we can agree to.” Tesla told her. “But forgive me if I am not so quick to believe a lifetime of fear, even of hatred, could be pushed aside in just a day’s time. Princess, I saw first hand how you reacted to us. The way you treated us, the disdain you showed. Can such feelings really go away in so short a time? Gods, can they ever go away completely?”
“I don’t know.” Allura admitted, slowly releasing the Drule female’s hand. “Gods know I struggle. There are things from my past, things I remember. Things I experienced. I know not all the Drule have wanted to do those things, but I also remember my encoutners with soldiers who took pleasure in doing Zarkon’s evil. I am trying. Honestly I am. But it is not always easy to correct my way of thinking. The best I can do is to work on keeping my more ignorant feelings and beliefs at bay.”
“I sincerely wish you all the luck with that.” Tesla said. “As do I thank you for being honest with me. I cannot trust in this new attitude of yours, not yet. But I want to believe. Not just in your acceptance, but in the idea that others in the galaxy will follow suit and forgive the Drule for the crimes Zarkon has committed.”
“It’s not really crimes you should shoulder the burden for.” Allura pointed out. “If I understood correctly, many have no choice. They do what they can to earn money so they can go on living, so they can support their family.”
“That they do.” Tesla nodded, her purple colored hair bobbing with the motion. “The way Zarkon has set up his Empire, jobs are scarce. Why hire someone you have to pay, when you could easily get a slave to do the work for free? Everyone suffers on Doom. Some just feel it more than others.”
Tesla’s eyes had taken on a dark look, Allura wondering what she was remembering in the moment. It was upsetting, judging by the Drule’s expression. Allura realized that though Tesla was quick to share others’ misfortunes, the female had yet to speak of her own tragedies. It made Allura curious, though she dare not pry. Not when she had so tentative a relationship with Tesla. Maybe there would come a time when they could confide in each other, but right now they weren’t even friends. Allura knew it was partly her own fault, the princess having made the wrong impression on Tesla. And unlike many of the other Drules, Tesla had held a grudge, always so quick and hostile in her reactions.
Allura truly hoped this was the beginning of a mending of relationships. She never felt in danger from Tesla, but the words this woman could speak had held the power to hurt and traumatize Allura. She was vocal, and clearly opinionated. And just as defensive of Lotor and the Drule race. Allura found herself curious about this woman, wondering what kind of job if any she had held. She almost reminded Allura of a lawyer, the princess recalling how Tesla had been in charge of the documents that had allowed them to pass through the security at the Kirentya space port.
“Everyone suffers when Zarkon turns his attention to their world.” Allura finally said.
“That I can agree too.” Tesla nodded, actually grimacing. The conversation seemed pretty much at an end, awkward pauses extending longer and longer between them. Tesla didn’t seem eager to rush away though, and Allura took the chance to touch her hand again.
“For what it is worth I want to say I am sorry for how I first behaved. It was stupid of me. I took out my fear on everyone. Not just on Lotor.”
Now Tesla looked surprised, as though the female had not been expecting such an apology. She didn’t speak, just nodding her head, a gruff look appearing on her face. Was it a grudging acceptance of what Allura had said? But the Drule female was good at hiding her true feelings, leaving Allura to do nothing more than guess and hope for the best.
She stepped back, feeling unsure. No good-byes were being said, leaving Allura unsure if she should just continue on her way. Tesla seemed just as uncertain, as though she wasn’t sure what to do now that she had said her apologies.
“Princess…” Tesla’s low murmur stopped Allura from turning away.
“Do try to give the prince a chance.” Tesla urged, much to Allura’s discomfort. “He’s been through so much. Things you can’t possibly imagine. But his love is real….it has to be, after all he’s sacrificed.”
“Sacrificed?” Allura echoed. “What?”
But Tesla merely bowed, stiff and formal as she showed Allura a respect she hadn’t before. And then she turned, and walked away, leaving Allura to blink after her in confusion.
Allura didn’t understand what exactly Lotor had sacrificed. She wished Tesla had remained, even as Allura understood that the woman probably wouldn’t have given her the answers she sought. It was just one more piece to a troubling puzzle, Allura’s curiosity roused as she wondered to what extent Lotor had suffered. So far, what little she knew hinted about the things done to him as a child, along with some kind of punishment for things Zarkon considered a failure. Lotor had even had to watch others be tormented, and that was an abuse of an another kind.
Sighing, Allura would resume her search for the infirmary. Her troubled expression didn’t leave her face, to the point several of the Drules she passed asked if there was something they could do to help her. Her mind wasn’t working clearly, Allura missing the obvious the first two times she was asked that. Finally the third time, with a woman who was overly concerned, Allura asked just where the infirmary was.
She was directed past the kitchens, towards a stretch of rooms that were used predominately for storage. There were crates of fruits, and many boxes of the grains and cereals they had been enjoying for breakfast. There was even a walk in freezer, though with climate control it wasn’t cold at the moment. It was empty too, for anything stored in the now hot room would simply rot.
The storage rooms weren’t all for food. She’d find Qualenn in a room next to the one with the excess medical supplies. The pretty Drule female had a portable on the desk in front of her, her eyes intent on the screen. Allura was surprised to realize it was on, not having realized anyone had enough life left in their batteries to use such a device. Excitement would bubble up, Allura wondering if there was a chance she could get her hands on the nurse’s computer.
She was still just standing in the doorway, when Qualeen glanced up. She wore a smile, though the look in her eyes was surprised. “Princess Allura…” She greeted her, expression turning critical as she looked Allura over. “Are you feeling unwell?”
“No.” Allura said, then hastily amended. “Not exactly.” She didn’t have to fake her uncertainty, Allura shifting uneasy. She had come here with a purpose, wanting to talk to Qualenn. But now a bigger prize had presented itself before her. Allura had to fight not to keep looking at the computer, instead staring at the floor. Qualenn didn’t pressure her, waiting patiently for Allura to find the courage, the words to express why she had come.
“This is not easy for me.” Allura finally said, her words ringing of the truth. “But…you’re right. I…I can’t always keep things bottled up inside me. Especially not that.”
The click clack of Qualenn’s typing had stopped, drawing Allura’s attention to the nurse. The woman wore a kind expression, Qualenn gesturing for Allura to step inside the room. Allura would close the door behind her, slowly walking towards Qualenn.
“Please….” She patted one of the chairs next to her. “Have a seat.”
Allura took it, the chair not as comfortable as those in the dining room. She continued to be uneasy, not sure where to begin. She really didn’t want to talk about her encounter with one of Zarkon’s soldiers. Or at least, she didn’t want to go into detail about it. Just thinking about the small details was enough to start a panic attack, and Allura couldn’t afford one now. Not when she had a chance to maybe use Qualenn’s computer!
“Where is the doctor?” Allura finally asked.
“Oh, he went to town. There was some things he insisted we needed. Medicines he couldn’t wait on the chance we’d find them for free on the estate.” Qualenn patted Allura’s hand. “He shouldn’t be back for at least another hour. We have plenty of time to talk uninterrupted.” She hadn’t shut off her computer, seeming to have forgotten it was there. The screen told Allura nothing, the words written in the Drule language.
“I see.” Allura let out a shaky breath, telling herself to calm down. Qualenn said nothing, letting the silence drag out. It was clear she wasn’t going to rush Allura into speaking, the woman patient and kind. Allura tried to focus, to think of something she was willing to share. Some kind of memory that didn’t have to do exactly with the soldier she had encountered.
“I spent many of the first years of my life living underground.” Allura finally said. “It’s only been in the last two, three years that I haven’t. That I’ve been able to walk above ground, to gaze up at the sun lit sky and not feel fear.”
“That must have been a rough transition fro you. Getting adjusted to going out.”
“Oh it was!” Allura nodded emphatically. “Before Voltron was revived, it was practically unheard of to go out during the day. And only under the most dire of circumstances…”
“Like what?” Qualenn asked.
“Like a tunnel collapsing.” Allura shuddered. “It sometimes happened without warning, the ground becoming unstable from the mining the Drules were doing above ground. I’ve seen people, lost people by the dozen to a tunnel’s collapse…” She closed her eyes, unable to stop the shudder that went through her. “It’s how I lost my mother…”
“I’m sorry…” Qualenn whispered, looking stricken.
“It’s nothing we can change…the past is the past…” Allura sighed, but couldn’t stop shaking.
“The past has strength. It affects many…maybe everyone.” Qualenn also sighed. “Princess, are you okay with closed spaces?”
“Do you mean am I claustrophobic?” Allura managed a bitter smile. “No. I wouldn’t be able to pilot blue lion if I was. I spent a good portion of my life underground, and many times the caves weren’t that big…sometimes they were smaller than this room. I would have been in real trouble if I had feared them…” And yet she had craved wide, open spacing, Allura wanting to run free. To bask in the sun, to see the flowers the others described, the colorful plants that could not bloom beneath the ground where the sun could not reach.
It was such a silly, simple yearning. But it had been strong enough to drive her above ground. Allura had wanted to see with her own eyes, the paradise the Drule had stolen from her. It was longing she had been dealing with for years, and it only grew stronger with every passing day. Allura would often venture ever closer to above ground, every week just a step nearer towards paradise. Coran or Nanny always stopped her from going too far, but that one day, they had not been near. They couldn’t have, not with another tunnel collapsing in on itself.
In the distraction, Allura had slipped away. She left behind the screams, the people choking on the dust and the dirt. She had been crying as she fled, sick of life underground. She hadn’t been topside in years, not even at night. Her status as princess had afforded her the odd luxury of having others do the night time foraging for food. She had been sheltered and protected, and she had foolishly thrown away that protection!
A tear slipped down Allura’s cheek. Qualenn was quick to hand her a tissue. Allura took it gratefulyl from her, dabbing at her eyes. “I just wanted to see Arus.” She finally said. “I wanted to see my birthright, that which everyone fought for. I was stupid…”
“You ventured outside.” Guessed Qualenn, and Allura nodded. “What happened?”
“At first? nothing. Nothing but sheer joy. I was marveling at what I saw, the sun sparkling on a lake that was so blue, so crystal clear in it’s brilliance. It was nothing like the stagnant water we drank underground. It was beautiful and pure…and I think it was then I truly fell in love with my planet.” Allura sighed. “You have to understand…the last time I had been above ground, I had been nothing but a baby…too young to have any true memories of Arus…”
A rumble of thunder was heard, and almost immediately a second one sounded. Nervous, Allura glanced over at the window, noting the sky was growing dark. “Storm’s coming.” She murmured.
“We’re safe from it.” Qualenn said reassuringly. She didn’t try to demand Allura continue, letting the princess’ thoughts form in whatever way she wanted. Allura wouldn’t speak for the longest time, just sitting there gripping her tissue. Listening to the rumble of the thunder. She wondered if Lotor would come back to the house soon, just as she wondered if Ryder and Alexandria were having any success on their herb picking adventure.
“I should have never left the underground.” Allura finally said, and even to herself her voice sounded tormented. “I should never have given my caregivers the slip…I should have been content to hide…”
“Don’t blame yourself…” Qualenn urged her.
“How can I not? I set myself up for what happened. If only I had stayed…if only…” The sudden, booming loudness of thunder startled her, Allura leaping up out of her seat so fast it fell over. She was shaking again, and looking around, thinking a bomb had gone off.
“It’s okay, it’s okay!” Qualenn was saying, having risen at a much slower pace. Over the too loud thunder, Allura could hear the harsh sound of a hard rainfall. The kind that soaked everything in an instant. It was a very bad storm, and she was very glad she had not gone out in it. “Princess…was it…was there a storm that day?”
Allura quickly shook her head no. “No, it was a beautiful day. Too beautiful for what would happen…” Again a pause, Allura trying to control her memories. She would not go down that path. She would NOT!! And yet her body was showing signs of panicking, her breath taking on a ragged rasp. Qualenn realized what was happening, and began instructing Allura to slow her breathing. Allura would honestly try, focusing on the nurse’s voice, even as she fought the memories. She couldn’t stop from recalling the leering Drule’s face, the twisted look of lust in his eyes. Or the violence that followed.
Suddenly she was down on her knees, Qualenn’s arms around her. Allura continued to struggle to breathe, aware tears were streaming down her face. She wasn’t saying anything now, just sobbing wordlessly as the nurse tried to calm her down. Allura knew from experience she had to ride out this panic, and she wouldn’t know how long the episode would last. But eventually she was calm, only a slight hiccup of sound escaping her as Qualenn murmured soothing nonsense to her.
Finally it was over, the nurse helping Allura to stand. She’d get more tissues, and work on cleaning up the princess’ face. Allura blinked constantly, expelling the last of her clinging tears.
“Are they always this bad?” Qualenn finally asked.
“Sometimes.” Allura said. “Sometimes they are even worse.”
“Oh dear…” Qualenn muttered. “It’s a wonder you haven’t choked trying to breathe.” Allura just shrugged. “I can get you some breathing exercises to practice. It might help with the panic attacks if you do them the minute you start to get upset. It might stave off a full blown episode.”
“Do you really think it would help?”
“It couldn’t hurt to try.” Qualenn told her. “I can look them up right now…I keep everything related to medicine and healing on this computer. Even the files of everyone who came to Simestia. Their medical history.” She frowned then. “You never know when it’s going to be needed…when disaster might strike.”
Almost on cue, the door was flung open. Allura was still jittery, nearly jumping out of her skin as the door banged against the wall. There was a man there, a dark purple Drule whose agitation was apparent. Allura was trying not to overreact to his sudden entrance, but then she noticed the blood on his white shirt.
“Qualenn, come quickly!” He was shouting. “There’s been an accident.”
“An accident?” The nurse asked, already stepping away from Allura to go towards her medicine bag. “What happened?”
“We were riding…the thunder, it spooked our mounts.” The man as saying. It got through to Allura, the princess stepping towards him. Her worry was apparent, Allura whispering a name fearfully, urgently.
“No, not the prince.” A relief she didn’t want to examine filled her, Allura almost sagging to the floor now that she knew Lotor wasn’t injured. The relief didn’t last, a new name being spoken. “Vorlac’s been hurt. It’s bad.”
“No, not Vorlac!” He was one of the Drules Allura knew, the girl having reluctantly spent much time in his company. He hadn’t been overtly mean to her, though his patience had been tried by Allura’s antics. She didn’t like the thought of him, of anyone being hurt, possibly dying. She found herself nodding, following Qualenn and the man out into the hall.
“You remain here Allura.” Qualenn ordered.
“There’s no time to argue!” The nurse said sharply. “Please…I know what I am doing. I will save Vorlac if I can.”
“Yes, of course.” Allura would stand in the hall, watching as the pair ran down it. She would remain out there for several more minutes, before her jumbled thoughts realized something. Qualenn had been in such a hurry, she had never switched off her portable. Allura couldn’t believe her luck, even as she felt bad for taking advantage of a situation caused by Vorlac’s accident. It wouldn’t stop her from going back into the infirmary, Allura hurrying over to the tiny computer.