Duty 34

Space stretched out endlessly before her, the distant light of stars winking in and out of existence. Behind her, the planet Kirentya continued along it’s path, slowly spinning in orbit around it’s sun. Mara wasn’t concerned with the planet at the moment, keeping her eyes facing forward. The cock pit’s screen was divided into subsections, one of which showing the pale purple planet behind her. On another screen, she could see red lion, Lance maneuvering it to stick close to her.

Somewhere, currently out of range of blue lion’s recorders, the other lions of Arus flew. As did the last of the ships that were part of the escort of the various world leaders who were intent on returning to their home planets. The Voltron Force had been busy, patrolling the area. Watching over the ships, as they journeyed from Kirentya. Hyper space was a tricky tool to use. One could not enter or exit it too close to a planet’s orbit. They had had to travel some distance, before the ships had begun the process of entering it.

Tension had been high during the journey. The Drules may have pulled back their ships, the armada seeming to have left this part of the galaxy, but the fear of them still remained. Fear and suspicion, everyone thinking the Drule would back stab and betray at the first opportune moment. Mara supposed she couldn’t blamed them for that fear. Her people didn’t have the most sterling of reputations. It was all thanks to Zarkon, the cruel despot not one to miss the ooportunity the Alliance had presented him with.

With fear running so strong, it was no wonder the call had come the instant the Drule ships had begun to pull back. Everyone had been waiting for this moment, and the world leaders hadn’t wasted a second hurrying to the space port. The Drules barely had time to clear out to a respectable distance, before the Alliance was demanding the Voltron Force lead the charge into the space above Kirentya.

That had been roughly two hours ago. Two hours since Mara had first set foot inside blue lion. It had been an awe inspiring moment, the Drule female not immune to the sheer magnificence of one of the fabled lions of Arus. They were ships to be admired, even envied. Many people lusted for the lion’s unrivaled power, the Galaxy Alliance included. And here she was, not only inside one, but piloting it. It was a heady experience, Mara both nervous and excited. She hadn’t been able to keep from making mistakes, but that was to be expected given the situation. Her piloting skills came in handy, but nothing and no one had been able to prepare Mara for the reality of working a lion’s controls.

It was different from any other ship she had piloted. Mara had gotten off to a shaky start, unsure of which buttons to push, which levers to pull to get the lion up and moving. The rest of the Voltron Force had been concerned by blue lion’s delayed reactions. Fortunately Mara was able to learn on the go, blue lion padding forward on shaky feet. It would get easier the longer she was inside the lion, Mara figuring out some of the more basic programs simply by fiddling with buttons. The weapons system’s controls were clearly marked, huge red buttons that had black symbols drawn over them. She had stayed well away from those buttons, not wanting to accidentally open fire on the people who were now her allies.

She would continue to learn. It wasn’t possible to become an expert at piloting a lion in just a few hours. Not even a few days would be enough time. But Mara would adapt herself to the controls, to learning everything she could about piloting blue lion. Perhaps then, before a combat situation presented itself, she would be just a little wiser to the lion’s controls.

Certainly as it stood now, it would have been absolute disaster for Mara to try and fight in blue lion. She would be just as likely to blow herself up, as well as any of her opponents! She continued to remain grateful that all she had to do was fly, Mara keeping an eye on the ships before her. Watching as another grouping of them broke off from the main group. Minutes later, they would glow, a brilliant white light that flickered and flashed and then winked out completely. The ships were gone with the light, vanished inside hyperspace. Mara didn’t even know which planet those ships had belonged to, but it was one last group to guard. There was perhaps three more, and then the Voltron Force could dock the lions inside the ship that would carry them to Arus.

As interesting as it was to be piloting a lion, Mara could admit she was looking forward to the break. She too had been feeling tension, though it had nothing to do with the retreating Drules. Her tension was all based on the mistakes she was making, Mara fearing each error brought her one step closer to discovery. Her team members continued to express their concern, be it Mara was flying at too low a speed, or she had messed up a formation maneuver. She had studied Allura’s life in depth, but there was things the Drules weren’t privy too. That included some of the flight maneuvers, and strategies the lions used.

Of course, the Drules had guessed at some of those strategies. The lions had repeated several in the past, and Zarkon had had his best technicians studying the footage of the battles. Picking apart everything the lions had done, until the tacticians had figured out the strategy. Sometimes the Drule were able to hack into the frequency the lions used to communicate between each other. It was because of those hacks, that the Drule had names for some of the strategies and formations. Mara had had to study what was known about the Voltron Force’s fighting tactics, to learn as best she could in order to pass at Allura.

It was a lucky break that Allura wasn’t the best of the pilots. In fact the princess sometimes was barely adequate at flying blue lion. At fighting in it. Even two years later, she still made mistakes. Mara with her extensive skill in piloting, was able to make a good go at things, bringing herself up to Allura’s level of expertise in piloting blue lion. If given a chance, and the proper training, Mara would easily be able to surpass the princess of Arus in this.

Another group of ships had just made the jump into hyper space. Mara recognized the make and models as being that of a planet Pollux. She hadn’t had much chance to spend time with Allura’s cousins, and for that Mara was glad. It was one less group of people to lie to, one less group of people to make believe Mara was Allura. She was busy enough with Nanny and the Voltron Force. She didn’t need Allura’s cousins wondering at any strangeness about her.

Arus would prove the ultimate test in Mara’s acting abilities. In whether she could pull off this deception, surrounded by so many of the people who knew and adored the princess of Arus. There were people in the castle, Nanny included, who had been with Allura since she had been a small child. If anyone would notice anything off with Allura, it would be them.

Mara knew there was the potential for all this to backfire, to blow up in her face. She couldn’t let that happen. So much depended on Mara’s ability to fool everyone. If Mara was discovered, questions would be asked. Assumptions made. People would realize Lotor was not as dead as they had believed, and that he had taken off with the princess. Mara didn’t fear the Arusians anywhere as much as she did Zarkon. She and Haggar would be in trouble, the tyrant King would be furious, enraged and vindictive over the deception. Mara and Haggar would make convenient targets, at least until Zarkon tracked down Lotor and the other Drules with him.

She was shuddering at the thought of Zarkon’s brand of vengeance, when a voice called out to her. Or rather to the woman she was pretending to be, Mara noting how concerned Keith sounded.

“Is everything all right, Allura?”

“I’m fine Keith.” Mara quickly reassured him. In the distance, she saw the second to last group of ships flash, then disappear. There was only the Arusian ships left, which meant the ride inside the lions was nearly over for the moment.

“Are you sure?” pressed the captain of the Voltron Force. “You seemed distracted this entire time.”

Mara realized he was crediting her supposed distraction as the reason why Allura had made so many mistakes. “Just have a lot on my mind…” It was true too, Mara feeling the weight of her ruse bearing down on her. The weight of how much was at stake on her ability to fool everyone.

“Thinking too much will get you killed on the battle field.” It was red lion, Lance having picked up on the conversation between Mara and Keith. “It’s best to stay focused on the job at hand, and worry later about any problems that might be bothering you.”

It was actually sound advice, Mara having learned that first hand. Thinking too much was indeed a distraction. One had to be able to focus, to cut out all thoughts but that of strategy. The Drule Military Academy tried to train the soldiers into becoming living weapons, people who reacted instinctively with their fighting skills. Not all the Drules got the training needed to become like that. The Academy was expensive, and many could only afford a few weeks at best. Zarkon didn’t care, letting the Drules learn just enough to be competent at fighting his wars. It didn’t matter to him if he sent them out unskilled. That more died than lived. The poor job situation on Doom allowed Zarkon his pick of soldiers, the people desperate for the wages life in the military could give them and their family.

“You can’t cut off your thoughts completely.” Argued Keith. “Yes, you shouldn’t allow yourself to be distracted…but what kind of unfeeling beings would we be, if all we focused on was the fighting?”

“We’d be no better than the Drule.” answered Lance quick enough. Mara had to fight to keep from scowling. It had been several hours since she had last heard a slur against her own people. Several hours that almost let her forget Lance was full of hateful opinions where the Drule were concerned.

“I doubt even the Drule think about fighting THAT much.” Mara said, as diplomatically calm as Allura would be in the situation. “Think what you will Lance, but there has
to be more to the Drule than just slave keeping war mongers.” It was bold of her, Mara speaking in a way Allura would most likely not. But it was hard for her to hear her people put down so, even as Mara faced the harsh reality that the Drules reputation was misrepresented so.

“Yeah?” Lance sounded doubting. At least his tone wasn’t actively suspicious in response to what Mara had just said. “What makes you think that?”

“It was their dead. Their desire to reclaim them, to do right by them.” Mara explained. “No race that can honor their dead, respect them so, can be so simple to classify.”

“She’s right Lance.” Keith spoke up. “Say what you will, but the fact remains they wanted a chance to reclaim them. So badly, they were willing to negotiate, to peacefully pull back from Kirentya.”

“That was more surprising than anything.” Admitted Lance. “I keep expecting the other shoe to drop. For the trap to be sprung.”

“You’re waiting in vain. There’s been more than enough time passed, and now the ambassadors and Alliance members have all left. The window of opportunity has passed.”

“The princess is right. If they were going to do something, they would have done it before everyone fled into hyperspace.” Keith pointed out. “They’ve given up on wiping out the world leaders.”

“For now at any rate.” Muttered Lance.

“There won’t come a chance like this again.” Mara said. “I doubt the Alliance will organize such a meeting…not after the near disaster this one was!”

“Hey you guys, can you save the chit chat for later?” It was Hunk’s impatient sounding voice that broke into the conversation. “Some of us would like to dock the lions, and go grab a bite to eat.”

“Easy big guy, we’re coming.” Keith soothed, then ordered. “Pidge, do one last scan of the area. I don’t want to risk any nasty surprise popping up just as we try to enter into hyper space.”

“Gotcha.” Pidge answered. Over the airwaves, Mara could hear the faint tapping of a keyboard. A series of beeps followed, the lions flying closer to the Arus escort. Five minutes would pass, and then Pidge would speak. “Everything’s clear according to the scan. No ships in the vicinity, save for our own.”

“Good to hear.” Keith said. “Okay team, get ready to board the transport.”

“I’ve already established contact with them. They are ready and waiting for our arrival.” Pidge informed them.

“Stick close to me, princess.” Lance urged, his lion still visible on her monitor.

“Right.” Mara said, though she knew his caution was not needed. The Drule weren’t going to come back. Not so long as Haggar still had command of the armada. She didn’t want to think about what could happen once that armada reached Doom. Would Zarkon immediately come back to Kirentya? There was always the chance of that, although in all likelihood Zarkon would simply focus his forces on resuming the attempts to invade Arus.

Together with the other pilots, Mara followed red lion towards the ships from Arus. She already knew what the transport ship looked like, the vessel similar in design to ships that carried numerous one man fighter craft. There was probably some fighters already inside the transport, though Mara didn’t think their numbers were many. The Alliance had come not to fight, but to negotiate. To play diplomat in deciding the fate of the applicant worlds. They would have brought only enough ships for an escort, never preparing for the chance that a full out war might happen on the host planet.

Red lion began slowing it’s speed. She could see past it, see the docking bay doors pulling open. Mara began slowing blue lion down, and within minutes she and the Voltron Force were inside the hanger area. The docking bay doors closed behind them, the lions stalking forward on their paws. Ahead of them was another set of doors, tightly seal shut. Those doors would not open until the rear docking bay doors were closed, all in order to prevent what waited beyond them from being sucked out into space. That included the repair crew and other ship personnel who wandered the hanger area.

Mara could not get out of blue lion fast enough. She had been sitting for too long, and wanted to stretch her legs. She popped the hatch of blue lion, and climbed out. The others of her team were doing the same, Keith already on the ground by black lion’s front paws. For one brief moment, she admired his form, the smooth lines of his muscled frame revealed in all it’s glory by the clinging spandex. It was almost indecent how tight the Voltron Force’s uniforms were, leaving little to the imagination. Mara’s eyes half lidded, and then she abruptly snapped out of it. She knew Allura wouldn’t go around staring half starved with desire at any male, let alone one of her teammates.

Sighing, she began leaping from joint to joint of blue lion. It just wasn’t fair, Mara thought to herself. She was wildly attracted to Keith, and could do nothing to act on her desire. It was all because there was nothing on record of the princess of Arus being the flirtatious type, let alone involved with anybody she worked with. Mara wondered if it was because Allura had been too busy, or if it had to do with the woman who followed her around like a shadow. It might have been a little of both, though Mara felt uncharitable enough to blame it all on Nanny.

Gertrude was a tyrant of a different kind from Zarkon, ruling over her charge with a firm, unyielding hand. Mara shuddered, just remembering the way Nanny had carried on about Allura going out to lunch with the Voltron Force. The woman had been practically scandalized at the thought of Allura out without a chaperone, and alone with four men. Mara wondered what Nanny thought would happen. It wasn’t as though the four male members of the Voltron force were men of an ill reputation. They would have never done anything to Allura, and would have done their damnedest to make sure nothing bad happened to her. Even if Mara as Allura had invited that trouble, she was sure Keith and the others would have run interference. Even Lance, who liked to sometimes encourage Allura’s rebellion, wasn’t about to let the princess into a situation that was over her head!

But the men meant well. They loved Allura, cherished her as a friend and a sister. They wanted to protect her, without restricting her freedoms. It was something Mara could appreciate, the Drule female hoping there would be more chances for fun like the lunch had been.

She landed nimbly on her feet, the action holding a bit more grace than a human should posses. But no one seemed to notice, the people here without comment as they greeted the Voltron Force. Mara joined them, listening to the reports come in. It appeared the ships were ready to enter into hyperspace, and were just waiting for the lions to be secured. Keith would give the okay for the restraints to be snapped onto the paws of the lions, and then the Voltron Force would move on.

They weren’t quite relaxed yet. Mara could respect that they wouldn’t let their guards down until the ships were in the safety of hyper space. Only a fool would do otherwise in a war, no matter who their enemies were. She walked with them, listening to them talk and tease, but there was an edge to their voices. They were still nervous, still expecting a last minute attack. It made her wonder if there was any chance for these battle hardened soldiers to ever make amends with the Drules they had fought for so long.

“All I’m saying…” Lance was speaking. “Is that I won’t be able to completely relax until we’re back on Arus.”

“But we won’t be able to truly relax.” Argued Keith. “Zarkon will continue to try and invade. Even now he has some of his forces fighting Garrison’s over Arus.”

“Yeah, but that’s normal for the Drule.” Lance retorted. “I understand them better when they are trying to fight us. It’s when they do things like make a temporary truce in order to reclaim their dead, that makes me more worried.”

“Does that mean you rather fight than make peace?” A curious Mara asked.

“Do not get me wrong, princess. I’m all for peace, if that is even possible with the Drule. But I don’t like it when they do something unexpected. When their motives aren’t clear.” Lance told her.

“They wanted their dead. What’s unclear about that?” questioned Hunk.

“I just find it hard to believe they’d give up the chance to wipe out so many key members of the Alliance. Think of the worlds that would be in chaos right now, if they’re leaders had been murdered. This was an opportunity the likes of which Zarkon won’t ever get again. Not in this lifetime no doubt. I just can’t, won’t believe he’d put that side just cause some religious fanatics got upset over their dead.”

“Maybe Zarkon didn’t know.” Pidge suggested. “Princess Allura never did speak with him. All her negotiations were with the witch!”

“The witch is as bad as Zarkon.” Lance dismissed.

“Clearly she’s not, if she honored the truce.” Mara pointed out, stiff with annoyance.

“That’s what I can’t figure out! It’s going to bother me for a long time too.” Lance sighed. “I thought we knew the Drules well enough to predict everything they could try to do…”

“Lance, we’ve clearly barely touched upon the surface of the true face of the Drule.” retorted Mara. It was a flash of sudden inspiration, Mara almost sly as she said the following. “But maybe we can do something about that. Maybe we can….”

“Can do what?” Lance interrupted. He was immediately shushed by the others.

“We need to learn more about the Drule.” Mara said firmly. “We need to study them, beyond the faces they present us in battle. We need to learn about the people. About the kinds of hopes and dreams they have…” And maybe through that learning, the real situation on Doom would be brought to light.

“What’s there to learn?” Asked Lance to Mara’s frustration. “The Drule are motivated by greed, blood lust, and the hunger for power.”

“That’s certainly what Zarkon is motivated by.” Muttered Hunk.

“There has to be more to his people then that!” Mara exclaimed. “We know so little about the Drule themselves.”

“It’s kind of hard to get to know them, in case you hadn’t notice princess.” Lance’s sarcasm was obvious.

“With that shield up around planet Doom, it makes it difficult to do much of anything.” Pidge said, nervously adjusting his glasses. “Garrison hasn’t even been able to land many spy probes on Doom’s surface.” That Garrison had landed any spy probes at all was news to Mara. She wondered what if anything Garrison had discovered, a thought that wasn’t completely paranoid suspecting that certain war hungry people like Grants would hide the truth in order to keep other worlds supporting the war with the Drule.

“If only there was a way to speak with the average people.” Mara sighed. “The people who do not fight in Zarkon’s war.”

“Wow, what happened with the Drule have really got you thinking!” Hunk exclaimed.

“Hasn’t it done the same for you?” challenged Mara. “Seeing their willingness to work with us to gain back their dead? Doesn’t it give you hope that there is more to the Drule than what Lance and Grants would have us believe?”

“Hey don’t lump me in with that jerk.” Protested Lance.

“I don’t know what to believe princess.” Hunk admitted. “It wasn’t like anything I’ve come to expect from the Drule.”

“None of us were prepared for today to end so peacefully.” Keith pointed out. “But it makes me think that maybe there is hope. That maybe we could have a peaceful resolution one day.”

“Keith…” Mara was sure her eyes were shining, her look admiring as she glanced at the captain. He seemed to grow flustered in response, ducking his head shyly.

“I’m not saying we’ll be able to live in peace so long as Zarkon rules…but maybe, just maybe we can reach an understanding with the Drules themselves.” He said.

“Yes, I’m sure of it!” Mara was excited, clasping her hands together in a gesture she had seen Allura do countless times before. “We should always strive for peace over war. We shouldn’t have to kill the Drule, anymore than they should have to kill us!”

“It’ll take a lot more than some concern over their dead for me to believe peace can be achieved in this lifetime.” Proclaimed Lance. He walked away before Mara could say anything else, Keith placing a hand on her shoulder to stop her from chasing after Lance.

“Let him go.” The captain advised. “He’s still got a lot to work out where the Drule are concerned.”

“Like what?” Mara asked, at the same instant Pidge spoke.

“We all do.” She glanced at the young pilot, seeing he was touching his wrist. His gloves covered it from sight, but Mara realized he was touching over where his tattoo was. The mark of a slave of Doom. Understanding dawned in her eyes, Mara remembering before these men had become the Voltron Force, they had been space explorers working under the command of Galaxy Garrison. They had been on a mission to discover if the legend of Voltron was true, and to revive the robot if they could. Only, they had been captured in a Drule raid before they could get to Arus. Taken back to planet Doom, and branded as slaves.

“It must have bee terrible.” Mara said out loud. “The things you saw, the things done to you…”

“Didn’t stick around long enough for too much to happen, thankfully.” Keith looked at her now, Mara touching the hand of his that was on her shoulder. “But it was enough to leave a lasting impression on us.”

“I’ll try not to get so upset at Lance from now on.” Mara said, feeling chastised.

“Don’t hold back your opinions though! He needs to hear them. We all do.” Keith told her. “It helps to be reminded that maybe the Drule aren’t all bad.”

“It’s not like we saw much of Doom.” Added Hunk. “We spent most of our time around Zarkon’s soldiers, and inside the castle dungeons….”

“It was enough for me. Just thinking about the dungeons is almost enough to spoil my appetite!” complained Pidge with a scowl. “Come on guys, let’s put aside all this talk for now and get something to eat!”

They all glanced at Mara, waiting for what she had to say. “Sure, let’s go.” She voiced her agreement, knowing she had a lot to think about. Not just about improving her skills as blue lion’s pilot, but about these men. About what they had been through, that had left them so divided on their willingness to give the Drule people a chance. Mara thought she was closer to understanding Lance better, to know he wasn’t just repeating adnauseum the rumors and gossip about Doom. He had experience with the Drule, with the nastier elements of life in the castle. He had probably seen the people enslaved in the dungeons, might have even heard some of their horrible stories. No wonder his perception of the Drule was so unyielding to a new concept.

Following in the steps of the Voltron Force, Mara wondered if there was some way to change Lance’s opinion about the Drule. It might be a huge undertaking, but she felt it would be worth it. And it would be good practice, for to help one person accept the Drule was just one step towards helping the rest of the galaxy to come to a better understanding of Mara’s people and their plight.

There was of course some people who might never change their views. Nanny came to mind, Mara quickly shaking her head no. She didn’t want to think about that woman, didn’t want to think about the people like Grants who would always hate and despise the Drule. She’d much rather concentrate on the positives, on the hope that she could somehow help to bring about a new reputation for the Drule.

But for now, she was content to listen to the Voltron Force talk and joke about. The hot topic of choice was clearly the meal they were about to have. Pidge and Hunk dominating the conversation with their hunger. Keith wasn’t talking much, content to just listen to the two big eaters of his team. Mara didn’t try to talk, not caring much about what they would eat, so long as it was something that tasted better than rations.

Pidge and Hunk seemed to know their way around the ship, at least when it came to finding the cafeteria. They walked in the lead, heading determinedly towards the meal that beckoned them forward. Keith was a step behind them, and Mara a step behind him. As she grew content to listen to their talk, she began studying Keith from behind. Letting her eyes rove over his body. Down his broad back, until she was admiring the view of his backside. Even over his ass, the spandex was form fitting, molding almost lovingly to his rear. Mara liked what she saw, admiring his well formed bottom right up to the point an aghast voice hissed Allura’s name.

“Princess Allura!” Mara didn’t look up in time, not until Nanny was standing in front of her. It was clear by the look on the woman’s face, she had noticed just where Mara’s eyes had been.

“Nanny…” Mara didn’t have to fake the embarrassed guilt the princess would have felt in the moment. “We were just going to grab a bite to eat…?” It ended in a question, the older woman scowling at her.

“You won’t be able to sleep if you eat this close to bedtime.” It was a clear rejection of the plan, Nanny reaching to take Mara by the arm. Mara tried to evade that grab.

“I won’t eat then. But there’s some things I’d like to discuss with my teammates.”

“You can discuss them some other time.” Nanny said firmly.

“But…”

“But nothing!” This time Nanny caught Mara by the arm, and all but dragged her away from Keith. The three men had stopped to watch what was happening, expressions ranging from amused to sympathetic. “You spent enough time with the boys today. Anymore and they’ll be a bad influence on you!”

“We will not!” Pidge protested. Nanny ignored him, dragging Mara down the hall. She talked the entire time, lecturing Mara on the proper conduct of a princess. Apparently that conduct did not extend to staring at a man’s butt, Nanny tsking in disapproval over Mara’s shameless display. Mara didn’t think what she had done was that bad. It wasn’t like she had reached out and touched Keith there! Fortunately she kept from saying such a thing to Nanny, not wanting to give the woman any further fuel to her tirade.

Nanny’s mouth was a tireless thing when reprimanding someone. Especially Allura! She would have to listen to Nanny for nearly another hour yet, the woman unrelenting as she watched Mara get ready for bed. It was another too early turn in for the Drule female, Mara trying not to groan at the thought of having to spend all these hours pretending to sleep. The only plus side to going to bed so early, was it allowed her to escape Nanny and her near endless nagging. And even then it almost wasn’t worth it, Mara sighing as she settled down against the pillows. She wouldn’t sleep anytime soon. Her mind would be busy thinking about everything, from Lance to the fact she would soon be making decisions that affected the governing of Arus. She couldn’t stop the thoughts of Keith slipping in, Mara remembering how he had looked in his uniform. She nearly groaned again, realizing thoughts like that were going to make the night even more restless for her.


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