The shaking would continue, every few seconds some new quake seeming to rock the very foundation of the castle. Allura, accompanied by Nanny, would make her way to castle control, her anxiety apparent as she shouted out a question to Coran upon her arrival.
“What’s going on?! What is responsible for the shaking?!”
Coran was standing with his back towards them, bent over the console of the main computer screen. At Allura’s questions, his fingers began typing out commands. The view screen’s image would flicker, going from monitoring the situation in Arus’ air space, to a scene in the nearby forest. It was there that she saw it, a large creature that was marching determinedly towards the castle. With every step, the ground seemed to shake, vibrations reaching the very castle’s grounds. Trees were knocked over in the wake of the monster’s forward progress, wildlife fleeing in a panic to avoid being flattened by the creature’s feet.
“A robeast!” She heard Nanny exclaim from behind her. Allura found herself nodding, staring at the creature as she looked for it’s weaknesses. She couldn’t see any, but then the view of it was from a distance. Maybe up close, and in a combat situation, the key to it’s defeat would be revealed.
“Where is the Voltron Force?” Allura demanded. “Why have they not engaged that monster?” She wondered if she paled. “Don’t tell me they are still trying to talk Keith down from attacking Lotor’s ship.”
“Not quite.” Coran admitted. “Black Lion made it deep into Doom’s territory. And though he’s given up on Lotor for now, we are having trouble extracting the lions from amidst all those enemy ships. Garrison is lending assistance, but even with their help….”
“They might not be able to pull out in time…” Allura was horrified. And so was Nanny, the woman actually cursing.
“That damn fool!” She exclaimed, meaning Keith. “He endangers us all!”
“How long until that robeast reaches the castle?” Allura wanted to know.
“Our estimation of it’s current speeds gives us a full fifty minutes before we become a target.” Coran answered. “Doom is already gloating, calling for our surrender. With the lions otherwise engaged, even if Garrison diverts it’s fleets to concentrate on the robeast, it doesn’t look good for us.”
Her hands clenched into fists, Allura glaring at the view screen. She couldn’t believe it might end like this, before they had even gotten their day in court. “No.” She whispered, trying not to picture Lotor’s smug smile. “NO!” She said louder, and took a determined step forward. And then another, until she was all but running towards the chute that would lead her to blue lion’s lair.
“Princess!” Nanny cried out after her. Coran added his voice to the cries, his voice a reminder Allura did not want.
“Princess Allura, you cannot go out there! Not in your current condition….”
Her nails dug into her palms, Allura feeling helpless. “If I don’t…Arus will fall….”
“One lion, even with the back up of Garrison ships cannot hope to stop a robeast!” Coran retorted. “You would merely be going out on a suicide run if you tried to fight by yourself.”
“I wouldn’t die.” Allura protested, tone turning bitter. “There’s no way Lotor would allow one of Haggar’s monsters to kill me!”
“He won’t go easy on you though.” Coran pointed out. “He’s not above exerting enough force to bring your lion down to disable it….you can’t take that risk. Especially not now…”
The castle technicians inside the room were seated before their computers, fingers busy on the keyboards. By the way it had gotten quiet in the room, she knew they were listening intently to the exchange between Coran and their princess. She appreciated her advisor’s tact, Coran being sure not to mention the exact reason why she couldn’t go out in her lion. And all because the more people who knew about her pregnancy, the easier the chance that the news would reach Lotor’s ears.
“Then what am I supposed to do?” Allura cried out. “Just stay here as a sitting target for that monster’s attacks?”
Coran had no answer for that but Allura no longer tried to walk to her lion’s chute. The technicians continued their work, monitoring the lions that were in the midst of the Doom fleet. Occasionally she’d hear over the airwaves, the roar of the lions fighting. They were facing superior numbers, and even with the speed and maneuverability of the lions, they were starting to get overwhelmed.
“It can’t end like this.” Allura repeated, as another violent tremor shook the castle.
“This is all Captain Keith’s fault.” Sniffed Nanny. “If he had just controlled himself, ignored his first impulses….we wouldn’t be in this situation now!”
No one tried to reprimand Nanny, or argue that Keith wasn’t to blame. Not with the situation so grim. The image on the view screen split into two, one half monitoring
the lion’s progress, the other the robeast. Allura watched as the lions fought against the ships that surrounded them. The sky in that sector was thick with Drule vessels, leaving Allura to wonder if Doom had purposefully opened up a path in order to trap the lions.
The flag ship which Lotor resided on, wasn’t even anywhere near the lions. About a hundred ships, both large vessels and the smaller star cutters, stood between Lotor and the Voltron Force. With the space bloated with Doom’s ships, it didn’t look like the lions even stood a chance of getting near the prince of Doom. The ships from Garrison were flying near the edge of this, lasers attempting to pick off any Drules out on the fringe of the crowd that surrounded the lions. Occasionally a few ships would catch fire, trailing smoke as they began to spin out of control. Magnificent explosions would usually follow, the ships blasting apart before they could touch down on Arus’ surface.
Even with the added assist from Garrison, it didn’t look like enough was being done to bolster the lions’ chance of escape. Allura’s fists weren’t the only thing clenching, her teeth grinding together in agitation. The situation made her doubt what she had done, Allura wondering if she should have kept quiet about her condition just a little longer. Maybe then they wouldn’t be so close to losing against Doom.
More than a hundred of Garrison’s fighter jets had surrounded the robeast. Allura watched them, lasers torpedoing into the monster’s flesh. It let out an occasionally roar, snarling as it batted ships out of the sky with it’s meaty fists. To the robeast, the Garrison ships were as insignificant as flies.
Allura didn’t like the helpless feeling that settled within her as she watched the battles on the view screen. Nor did she like the choices she was being presented with. She knew Coran was right, she couldn’t, shouldn’t, go out and fight. Not when she was carrying a baby. It changed everything for her, made her conscious of how easy it would be to lose the child should she get battered too badly in a fight. It was both a new responsibility and a burden, Allura having to make sacrifices and change in order to prepare for the precious life she would one day give birth to.
Nor did she want to think what would happen to them all, if Doom won the fight this day. Even with Garrison trying to run interference, if the lions went down, and the castle was taken, no one would be able to save Arus from the Doom Empire. Allura tried not to think what that would mean for both her planet and her people, and especially tried not to think what would happen to herself as Lotor’s prisoner. If she did, she might start breaking down, and right now tears wouldn’t help them.
But what would help? Allura frowned, her mind picking away at possible solutions. It was slim pickings, Allura dismissing each suggestion almost immediately. The lions were needed, blue lion in particular. They needed all five to form Voltron, and they needed to get the other lions clear of the Drule ships to do that. Her mind kept coming back to the point that blue lion was missing from battle. She knew Lotor would notice and wonder why she had abandoned her teammates, and then it hit her.
“Coran!” Allura stepped away from the chute, excited. “Get a pilot in here fast! Anyone will do, so long as they have the necessary training to fly!”
“You’ve thought of something?” Coran asked, then shouted at the present technicians. “Check the roster, see who is still inside the castle.”
“I have!” Allura exclaimed. “It’s not the best idea, but it’s all we got.” Quickly, she began to explain. “We need to launch blue lion…” Nanny and Coran began to protest, Allura talking over them. “I won’t be flying it….but I will be giving instructions to the pilot that is. Coran, secure a direct line to blue lion. Make sure it’s private. I don’t want Lotor and his men suspecting that it’s not me inside that lion.”
“Princess, what are you planning?” Asked Nanny. “No one else has the training to fly a lion. No one on Arus that is…” She was thinking of Sven, the original pilot of blue lion, who currently lived on her cousins’ planet.
“And that has been a grave error on our parts.” Allura retorted. “We should have never guarded the secret to piloting the lions so zealously. It may have cost us our freedom…but if it hasn’t, I intend to make up for that mistake. It won’t just be blue lion who we need to train a pilot for. I intend to train pilots as back ups for all the lions, in case something happens to any of the members of the Voltron Force. We’ve been lucky Doom has never capitalized on this weakness of ours.”
She shuddered, remembering how she and the other members of the Voltron Force had piloted the lions in all manners of conditions. From broken arms, to deep chest wounds inflicted by a sword. Even when bedridden with a near fatal illness, they had all ignored their health and conditions in order to pilot the lions. It was a miracle they had been able to fight well enough to win those battles.
They couldn’t rely on miracles anymore. They had to prepare for any eventuality. They could start with training replacement pilots. But right now, she intended to help whoever it was that was about to get a crash course introductory to the inner workings of blue lion.
A pilot was found, a veteran of several battles with the Doom fleet. Allura was delighted to see him, knowing how fortunate they had been that the man had been inside the castle, rather than up in the sky fighting. But everyone had to rest sooner or later, be they human or Drule.
“Princess, allow me to introduce you to Lieutenant Alfred.” Coran gestured to the man, who was a handsome youth with dark gold hair. He wore thin wire frame glasses, and was dressed in the clothes that were colored the castle’s colors. Light gray and powder blue. On his breast was a medal, some token awarded for daredevils done in battle.
“Thank you for coming Alfred.” Allura said, offering her hand for a shake. He took it, blue eyes curious behind his glasses’ pane. “I’m sorry we had to wake you, but your assistance is desperately needed.”
“It’s no problem, your highness. I’m ready to do anything I can to help.” He kept looking at her, save for a brief ascertaining glance at the view screen’s monitors.
“Glad to hear it.” Allura managed a smile. There wasn’t as much time to explain as she would have liked, Allura leading him over to her lions’ chute. “You know what this is?” She asked, and he nodded.
“The chutes that lead to the lions.”
“Yes. This one in particular leads to blue lion.” She gestured at the view screen. “Four of the five lions are already on the battlefield, trapped in the midst of the Doom fleet. A robeast has been unleashed…and will soon be before the castle….we need blue lion launched. We need it now. But I…” She trailed off, fighting not to touch her stomach. “I am in no condition to fight….”
His eyes widened behind his glasses, Allura wondering what if anything Alfred had heard about her mysterious illness. “We need you, Alfred.” She continued, looking imploringly at him. “We need someone with your training to pilot blue lion in my stead. The fate of Arus and the Voltron Force depends on blue lion.” Understanding dawned in his eyes, the man looking a little awed at the thought of stepping into the pilot seat of blue lion.
“I won’t force you to do this.” Continued Allura. “Nor will you be completely on your own. I intend to give you all the help I can via the airwaves. Piloting a lion is very different from the ships you are used to. But we don’t have time for you to get more than a rudimentary familiarity with the lion’s controls.”
“I understand.” Alfred answered. “And I’m ready to play my part in today’s battle.”
Allura couldn’t give in to relief, smiling weakly at him. “Then if you’re ready…” She reached into her pant’s pocket, and pulled out her lion’s key. It was something she had always kept on her, ever ready for the chance to pilot the lion no matter the emergency. Alfred held out his hand, palm up, for the key. Allura actually hesitated, knowing once she turned them over, her life as a member of the Voltron Force was truly over with.
“Princess?” She had hesitated too long, Alfred turning confused.
“It’s nothing.” She said, and forced her fingers to let go of the key. His fingers closed around it, and in response, her chest let out a pang. “Go now.” Allura urged him. “Take the lion. I’ll be monitoring you closely…you must be careful not to betray to the Drules that you are inside the lion. The plan is dependent on Lotor believing it’s still me that pilots blue lion.”
It wouldn’t always be the case. Once word got out that they were training replacements for the lions, Lotor would adjust his attack patterns. Especially towards blue lion, the prince no longer having to show care towards preventing the pilot from being injured. But for now Allura was counting on Lotor to assume it was still her inside the lion. And to react in a predictable manner.
Bowing once, Lieutenant Alfred took a running leap into the chute. At the last possible second, his hands locked around the swing. It immediately began to descend with his weight, Allura watching until he disappeared from sight. She then turned briskly towards her advisor. “Coran. Have you got a line secured?”
“Yes, princess.” He confirmed, and made room for her over at the computer console. She took his seat, pulling it as close as possible to the console and began adjusting the microphone’s volume. One eye on the battle, she noted the screen had split a third time, showing the inside of blue lion. All too soon Lieutenant Alfred was inside, the young man looking around the cockpit with interest.
“There’s not much time to spend looking.” Allura chided gently. The Lieutenant seemed to jump at the sound of her voice, expression turning sheepish.
“Sorry.” Came his apology. “Never thought I’d be inside a lion.”
“I know. It’s exciting the first time, isn’t it?” Allura actually smiled, remembering the first time she had gotten to pilot blue lion. “But you have to set aside the excitement, and get ready for battle.”
“Of course.” He nodded, and following her instructions, keyed in the proper sequence that would open up a hidden panel. Inside that panel would be the slot for the lion’s key, blue lion coming to life with a roar. It’s eyes started to glow, Alfred’s hands moving as Allura instructed him on how to launch the lion. A melancholy mood filled her as she watched blue lion lift out of the castle’s lake.
Drule ships immediately went to engage the lion in battle, the star cutters raining a smattering of laser fire against it’s shields. It wasn’t as fierce an attack as they had lobbed against other ships. Lotor wanting to disable blue lion not blow it apart. That worked in their favor, Alfred dodging the ships and their attacks as best he could. Allura prayed Lotor wouldn’t notice how different the lion’s flight patterns were, Alfred flying slow, a lot like Allura had her first time.
Under Allura’s guidance, Alfred would fly blue lion towards the Drule fleet. Lotor would take the bait, his ships parting to allow blue lion passage through. Unfortunately for him, a few of Garrison’s ships would follow. It still wasn’t enough to come close to evening out the odds, but it left the Drule ships distracted with dealing with this new threat. Blue lion would continue forward, practically unmolested as it flew towards the other lions.
Allura could hear the surprise in the pilot’s voices, the Voltron Force admonishing her for risking herself in this way. Alfred wisely did not respond, keeping up the charade that it was the princess in their midst. The Voltron Force began to fight with renewed vigor, as though desperate to protect blue lion. They still couldn’t get free to form Voltron, but Drule ships were getting damaged. Between the lions assault, and Garrison’s attack, a pathway was opening up.
Blue Lion would roar, diving towards the opening. The other four lions would follow, remaining close to it’s side. So close, the other ships didn’t dare fire upon them for fear of hitting blue lion. It didn’t stop the lions from attacking, even as they made their bid for freedom. Laser fire was exchanged, tail blasters activated, steel claw tips being ejected. They would score direct hits on many of the Drule ships, although some were too big to suffer anything more than a minor inconvenience.
Shields flickering on all the lions except for the blue one, the group of five finally were free of the Drule ships. Excitement coursed through the air of the control room, hope renewed to the people gathered there. But Allura wouldn’t relax, not until she saw for herself the five lions formed into Voltron. It would take some time, the five flying towards the robeast which had nearly reached the castle’s gates.
The lions began to do battle with the robeast, trying to force it back from the castle. Their attacks seemed to confuse the monster, the creature roaring as it took an uncertain step after black lion. Garrison ships continued to fire down upon it’s flesh, though they had retreated some in order to allow the lions free range to have at the monster.
Continuing to scream, the robeast began an attempt to knock the lions out of the sky with it’s fists. More trees fell over, the robeast actually lifting up a large oak and swinging it like a bat. It hit the slower moving blue lion, which was battered against the castle’s wall. Allura could hear the panic in the Voltron Force’s voices, they screamed out concerns as green lion landed next to the fallen lion.
“Alfred, it’s time to end this!” Allura cried out over the secure channel. “Just hold on until they form Voltron.”
“I am okay princess.” Came the blonde man’s quick reassurance. “Just a little shaken up.”
Allura hoped that was true, practically holding her breath as she watched blue lion stand up. There was no sign of the abuse it had endured, the white and blue metal free of dents. Green lion continued to hover protectively over it, occasionally shooting ion blasts in the direction of the robeast. Blue lion would began to run forward, each step bringing it closer to lift off. By the time it reached the robeast, it was in mid air, water cannon firing under Allura’s direction.
Getting a face full of water, the robeast seemed to sputter and choke under the assault. Yellow lion released a thick cable, wrapping it around the monster’s legs while it was distracted. When it tried to take a step forward, it’s legs became further tangled, causing it to topple backwards. It just narrowly missed crushing a carriage that stood parked in the castle courtyard.
With roars of triumph, the lions left Garrison to continue the assault on the downed robeast. Black lion in the lead, the other four followed in the formation that would allow them to transform into Voltron. On the view screen, Alfred’s face showed his strain, the man trying to keep up with the super fast speed of the other lions. Sweat seemed to bead on the sides of his face, and Allura could only watch in pity. It was always rough, those first times using the maximum speed of a lion. Only continued exposure would make it possible for one to grow used to it, and Allura wondered if Alfred would try to become a replacement pilot in order to get that experience.
The lions were changing, green and red becoming arms that attached to black lion’s body. Yellow and blue would go through a similar change, becoming the feet of the mighty robot Voltron. Once all four were connecting to black lion’s body, the jaws pealed back, revealing the face of Arus’ sacred defender.
Leaning back in her seat, Allura sighed, feeling relieved. It would soon be over. Voltron would take care of the robeast. With the lions connected together, Alfred no longer needed to worry about piloting an unfamiliar ship. Keith and the others would pick up the slack of his inexperience, and together they would gain another victory for Arus. Allura just wished it was a victory that would put an end to the siege. But she knew a dead robeast wouldn’t put an easy end to the fighting between Arus and Doom. No, Haggar would continue to make robeasts, actually going so far as take Allura’s own people as her test subjects. More ships would come, making up the losses Doom had suffered in this battle today. The Empire would continue to try and overwhelm Arus, to break down the planet’s resistance until Allura had no choice but to honor the documents she had signed. Their only hope lay in a fair hearing, but Allura feared the trial would never happen. She might have been right, just hours earlier. But that was before Lotor’s latest scheme, the prince plotting to use the hearing as the grounds to kidnap his heart’s desire.