It was over. The robeast had been destroyed, severed in half and then cut a third and fourth time, pieces of it landing in the castle’s courtyard. Flames had licked along the ruined flesh, a result of the explosion that had follow blazing sword’s final thrust. Before the flames could spread to the castle walls, her people had attacked the burning remains, their hoses firing thick streams of water onto the flesh. Clean up would come eventually, her people laboring to remove the fleshy remains with fork lifts.
Voltron had lingered for a moment after the robeast’s death. It had gazed up at the sky, towards the battling fleets of the Doom Empire and Galaxy Garrison. Allura had had the awful suspicion that Keith had still been contemplating Lotor’s death, but at a terse order from Coran, the lions had disassembled. No Drule ships had come near, allowing the lions to return to their lairs unmolested.
Enough time had passed that any minute she should hear the boys’ return. She paced as she waited, ears listening intently for their voices. In the background, Coran was giving orders to the various castle control room technicians. His orders were being repeated, sent to the clean up crew and the ships that were currently circling around the castle. The Arusian ships were few in number compared to that of Doom and Garrison’s forces. But then Arus had never needed large numbers so long as the lions were active.
She nearly jumped in fight when Coran came up behind her. His expression was as grim as ever, as though Arus had not just won it’s latest victory against Doom. Allura found herself frowning as she reminded herself that it was just one battle in a war that seemed never ending. Until they could find a way to win the war, these wins meant little in the long run.
“What is it, Coran?”
“Doom has ceased calling for our surrender.” Allura didn’t feel relief, knowing that at best the Empire had merely pulled back to lick their wounds. “However….a rather sizable amount of ships have broken away from the main fleet…”
“What are they up to now?!” demanded a frustrated Nanny. Coran could only shrug, showing he was as in the dark as any of them were.
“Keep a close eye on them.” Ordered Allura. “At the first sign of trouble, we’ll launch the lions.”
“Yes, princess.” Coran turned, his voice brisk as he began giving orders to the crew inside the control room. Allura couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling inside her, the princess wondering just what Lotor intended to do next. How much more would he make the people of Arus suffer? How much more could they all take before breaking, Allura included?
“It’ll be all right.” Nanny had noticed the way Allura was shivering. “The boys will stop whatever Doom has planned.” Allura flashed her a small smile, the most she could muster up in gratitude. But inwardly she had her doubts, especially after today’s performance. A bad performance that could be blamed on one pilot in particular, Allura feeling her temper flare as she heard the voices out in the hall. It seemed the Voltron Force was back, and more than a little bewildered by the new man in their presence.
By the time the doors opened to castle control, Allura was striding forward. She wasn’t quite sure of her intent, her anger boiling as she took in the sight of Keith in his pilot’s uniform. The red and white spandex was pristine, his helmet tucked under his left arm. Allura found her hand raising, as though she might strike the captain across the face.
But somehow she controlled that impulse, instead gritting out a question through clenched teeth. “Just what were you thinking?!”
He had come to an abrupt stop before her, eyes locking with hers for one brief second of defiance. And then hurt flashed in them, Keith looking away as if the very sight of her pained him. “I…”
“He wasn’t thinking, that’s the problem.” Nanny grumbled, the woman having followed close behind Allura. Keith’s head jerked, his eyes angry now as he glared at Nanny. The other pilots, including Alfred, had come to a stop just on the threshold of the room’s wide doorway. They looked uncertain, though Alfred’s eyes were blazing with curiosity.
“You came close to jeopardizing us all!” Allura exclaimed, and Keith snapped. Still not looking at her, he growled out an excuse.
“I was moving to eliminate a threat!”
“You know killing Lotor won’t end this.” Allura told him. His jaw seemed to clench in reaction. “If anything, it will make Zarkon dead set on revenge. We kill Lotor, Doom will never go away….”
“We have to kill the monster in it’s lair.” Hunk added. “We have to take down the Doom Empire at it’s heart….”
“Yeah, but to do that we’d have to leave Arus…” Lance pointed out. “And with the Doom fleet running interference, I doubt we can get off planet. And even if we did, without the lions here to protect Arus, the Drules would run wild.”
“So we what? Just sit here, and wait for them to finally win?!” demanded Keith. Now he looked at her, eyes angry. “You’d be safe if Lotor was dead.”
“Depends on your definition of safe.” Argued Hunk. “Lotor might not be able to touch her, but without him to run a buffer between Zarkon and Allura….”
She tried not to shiver at that, understanding Zarkon would be after her, especially once he learned she was pregnant with his grandchild. Zarkon would want the baby she carried, all to better pervert it into as evil a being as he was. She knew Zarkon would probably do away with her once she had delivered the child. All to prevent her from influeincing the baby towards the side of good.
“So you think I should allow Lotor to live just on the off chance he can protect her from his father?!” Keith demanded hotly. He shook his head, scowling. “No. He’s as bad as Zarkon….worse. You know what he’ll do to Allura if he gets his hands on her again…he’ll…”
Coran cleared his throat. “This is not a conversation suitable for the public to hear.” Keith seemed to flush as red as the color on his uniform.
“Coran is right.” Nanny said, tone disapproving. “If you must continue with this line of talk, then we shall do it in a private setting.”
“Fine.” Grumbled Keith, and turned his back on them.
“Keith. Wait for us in the Jonias conference room.” Ordered Allura when the pilot tried to walk out of the room. He didn’t issue a reply, shoving past his teammates when they didn’t move fast enough to get out of his way. They all exchanged looks after Keith was gone, expressions strained with the difficulty of their emotions. But no one was quite as angry as Keith was. It left Allura relieved she only had one hothead to deal with.
Alfred’s eyes were still brimming with curiosity, though the blonde man didn’t give voice to the questions he surely had. Allura forced herself to smile at him. “Lieutenant, you performed admirably today.”
Was that a faint hint of blush on his cheeks from her praise? “I merely did my duty.” He said, trying to play off his heroics.
“Still, you exceeded my hopes.” Allura told him. “Given the circumstances, you handled blue lion well. Better than my first flight inside it.” Now he was outright blushing, embarrassed by her praise. “I hope you will consider applying for the chance to be a permanent replacement for blue lion.”
“Permanent?” He seized on that word, but she didn’t give him a direct answer. Instead she glanced towards Lance and the other pilots, knowing they wouldn’t like what she had to say next.
“We’re going to start training replacement pilots for ALL the lions.” She explained. The Voltron Force trio immediately reacted, expressions shocked and more than a bit angry.
“Is that really necessary?” Hunk wanted to know.
“Yes, it is.” Allura said firmly. “Too often have we endangered the safety of Arus in jealousy guarding our pilot positions. How many times have we had to fight, injured, sick, even on what could have been our death beds?” She demanded when Lance tried to raise his voice in protest. “How many times has one of us bled our life’s blood on our lion’s controls, trying desperately to keep together long enough to form Voltron?” Allura shook her head then. “No longer. More will be trained on the lions.”
The boys didn’t look happy to hear that, not even when her advisor, Coran began to speak. “We are all only human. The strain is too much to expect the same group to be on constant stand by, to fight without ever taking a break.”
“We can manage.” Insisted Lance.
“You shouldn’t have to!” snapped Allura. “I am not meaning to replace you. You will still be the main stand by team of Voltron. You will still get first shot at missions.” She could see it would take some coaxing, especially with Lance who seemed the most resistant to having another pilot for red lion.
“Keith is not going to like this…” muttered Lance.
“The Captain will have to adjust, just like the rest of you.” Nanny retorted. Allura touched her shoulder in an attempt to silence her.
“You will also have to get used to fighting with a new teammate.” She tried not to choke on the words, knowing it was painful, the thought of being replaced. “Ideally we don’t want to break up the team…You four work well together…..we just have to find a fifth pilot that will fit in with your fighting style.” Allura glanced at Coran. “Make the proper inquiries to any one you think might be interested within the castle. The only requirements needed is some advanced piloting skill, and the ability to follow orders.” She stressed that last one, Allura knowing they didn’t need someone who would question commands at any turn.
“Of course princess.” Coran acknowledged.
“This doesn’t go further than this room.” Allura continued, and cast a glance at the eavesdropping technicians. “We have an advantage so long as Doom continues to believe I pilot blue lion. I mean to keep fueling that deception for as long as possible….”
“That makes sense.” Pidge said. “It’ll give the new pilots time to get used to fighting in blue lion so long as Lotor is having his men go easy on that ship.” Nods followed, everyone agreeing with that.
“Then if that’s agreed…” Allura began inching towards the room’s exit. She wasn’t exactly eager to go and have a confrontation with Keith, but she knew they all needed to have it out.
“Princess….what should I do with…” Alfred was now holding blue lion’s key. He hadn’t yet earned the right to keep it. She hesitated, wanting to snatch it from him, even as Allura knew her life as a pilot was over with.
“I’ll safe guard this until a new pilot is found.” Coran took the key from Alfred’s hand. The man nodded, then bowed once to Allura.
“It was a real honor to have been chosen for this mission.”
“You were instrumental in Doom’s defeat this day.” Allura told him. “The honor is all ours.” With that she walked past the Voltron force, trusting them to follow her to the conference room. Nanny was besides her, the woman’s expression fierce as though she prepared herself for a battle. It might very well be a fight, Keith having turned hostile the instant he had learned what had happened to Allura.
Allura repeated that Keith wasn’t angry with her, even if sometimes that anger seemed directed her way. She couldn’t know for sure what was going on in his mind, though she wondered if a part of that anger had to do with how he felt he had failed to protect her. However, failing or not, it was something he would have to get over. The anger wasn’t helping him, her, or Arus.
Keith wasn’t sitting when she entered the conference room. He was actually at the far wall, passing the short length of it. He didn’t look her way when she entered, nor did he glance at any of his team mates when they shuffled in. Allura took her seat at the head of the table, and for one brief moment just sat there with her eyes boring into Keith.
“This can’t go on.” She said at last. “This anger is not healthy….” Keith snorted but did not say anything. “Keith, anger won’t solve anything. It won’t change the past, and it won’t help us now.”
“She’s right Keith.” Spoke up Lance. “You nearly got yourself killed today. Hell, you nearly got your team killed….”
“We didn’t die.” Grumbled Keith, and Hunk sighed.
“We were lucky. We were surrounded and outgunned even for ships as powerful as the lions.”
“Our shields were failing!” Added Pidge. “The lions will have to spend days recharging them….”
“Days we might not have.” Allura pointed out. “How long until the next robeast is launched? We don’t know….but we can’t afford to put the lions in any situations where they can be damaged! We don’t have time or the luxury for repairs….even with Garrison’s help! We need you…all of you, to keep a level mind. A control on your emotions. We need focus…we…”
“How can you be so calm?” Keith suddenly demanded. He whirled to face her, slamming his hands on the table. Allura was left blinking in confusion at him. “You’re acting as if nothing happened, as if Lotor doesn’t deserve to die for what he did!”
“I can’t think about it all the time.” Allura said at last. She’d go mad otherwise. Or at the very least be unable to function.
Keith looked frustrated by her answer. “And I can’t stop thinking about it.” His voice was low, a whisper so soft she almost thought she had imagined it.
“He had his way with you Allura…” Keith continued. “He put his hands all over you, got you pregnant and…”
“Don’t!” She snapped out. “Don’t think about it….don’t try to imagine what happened…..don’t…”
“I failed you.” Continued Keith as though she hadn’t spoken. “It’s my fault this happened. My fault that…”
“Don’t make this all about you, Keith!” Allura nearly snarled. “I’m the one who this crime was committed against. Not you, not them, not anybody else. ME!” He stared at some spot past her shoulder, though his eyes weren’t vacant. “I’m the one who asked, no demanded to be alone with him. I put myself in that situation, and am now reaping the consequences…”
“Princess, you were drugged.” Pointed out Nanny.
“We should have never left you alone with him.” Added Lance. “Even if you gave a royal order…”
“I should have never walked out on you…” said Keith.
“This was going to happen, whether you stayed or not!” Allura exclaimed. “Yes, I was drugged. And it made me unreasonable…I would have still gone to the interrogation room without you….still would have been taken prisoner by Lotor. I enabled his escape, it was my fault that not only I, but Pidge got taken prisoner.” Her shoulders sagged. “Everything is my fault, including what is happening to Arus now!”
“It’s not your fault..” Nanny soothed, hand touching Allura’s. “You didn’t ask for that monster to….to..”
Allura lowered her eyes, listening as Nanny struggled to finish that sentence. “But I did in a way.” She whispered. She couldn’t look at the people in this room, remembering how the potion had made her act. But more than that, Allura remembered how she had initiated the sex. Before the drugs had taken hold of her personality. Yes, it had been to save Arus, but in the end she had done the unwanted act, and still had been forced to sign the papers. “I did…” She repeated, hands clenching into fists. She would not start crying, would not break down in this moment.
Keith made a sound, resuming his agitated pacing. “I’m going to kill him.” He was heard to be muttering.
“We have to come up with a solid plan.” Pidge’s voice was loud, trying to muffle Keith’s threat. “I say we take this fight to planet Doom.”
“Sure, makes sense.” Lance said. “Except for one thing. No, make that two. First we can’t leave Arus right now…and two, even if we got to Doom, how are we gonna get past their shielding to launch an attack?!”
Everyone’s shoulders seemed to sag at the reminder of the planetary shielding Doom employed. It made it near impossible for any ships to come close enough to the planet to do any damage to it’s surface. It was one of the reasons why Doom continued to prosper, protected by it’s shield. That shield only ever turned off long enough to allow ships with the proper clearance through. Very few if any Alliance ships had ever made it pass it, save for a few spy probes.
“We can blow as many Drule ships out of the sky as we want too.” Added Hunk. “But until they stop sending reinforcements, we won’t ever run out of targets.”
“We’re just lucky Garrison hasn’t given up the fight.” Pidge adjusted the glasses on his face. “We’d surely be overwhelmed then, even with the lions.”
“The situation is grim, any way you look at it.” Allura sighed. “We need the siege to end, and we need a hearing date set….”
“Like that will happen anytime soon.” Scoffed Lance. “Not with Doom’s bribery and threats.”
Allura frowned at him, but it was Hunk who spoke. “There’s gotta be a judge out there who isn’t greedy or frightened off by the thought of dealing with Doom…”
“We’ve seen how difficult it is to FIND one.” Lance grumbled.
“Doom is determined to wear us down before this ever reaches the courts.” Pidge sighed, flashing Allura an apologetic look for a truth none of them wanted to hear. It was made all the worse with how close they were to breaking already. So much riding on Arus’ shoulders, on the planet’s ability to remain free of the Doom Empire. But Arus was suffering, the siege not only weakening the people’s resolves, but dwindling down resources.
Further damages were about to happen, the view screen activating inside the conference room. Coran appeared in the center of it, expression angry as his mustache twitched. “Pardon for the intrusion, your highness.”
“What is it, Coran?”
“Those ships you asked me to monitor? There is activity on that front.” From his expression and tone, Allura already knew it wasn’t good news.
“What is Doom doing now?” demanded Nanny.
“They’re concentrating their assaults on several farmsteads.” Coran revealed, everyone gasping and lurching up out of their seats. “Whole crop fields have been set ablaze, months of work ruined in an instant. Garrison has sent some ships to defend the remaining farms, but the fights that broke out between both sides….well…this near to the fields, stray laser fire is bound to start a blaze or two.”
“NO!” Allura exclaimed horrified. They were already so low on resources. To have a prime source of food destroyed, it was almost more than Arus could survive, even with Garrison’s aid.
“Coran, prep the chutes.” Keith told him. “The Voltron Force will go out and…”
“And what Keith?!” demanded Allura. “Even if you take down those ships, more will come.” She was fighting not to sag, feeling how hopeless it all was.
“We can’t let these attacks go unchallenged.” Pointed out Keith. “Even if the fighting is ultimately futile, we have to send a message. One that says we won’t simply roll over and take what Doom deals.”
“He’s right princess.” Hunk spoke now. “We have to do this.”
She covered her face with her hands, not wanting to look at them as they hurried past her. Nanny put an arm around her, trying to lend her comfort as Allura fought not to moan. She repeated to herself to be strong, knowing tears would do nothing to help the situation. “Coran.” Lowering her hands, she met the advisor’s sympathetic eyes. “Get in contact with our men at the Alliance Headquarters. Find out what the latest delay is with the hearing. Make it known I will not accept any more excuses.”
“Of course princess.” Coran bowed his head in acknowledgment, than the screen went blank. Nanny continued to do an awkward one armed hug, Allura relaxing into her side.
“It will be all right.” Nanny’s voice lacked conviction. “The boys will save the farms….”
“What’s left of them you mean.” Allura whispered. She knew even if the farms were saved, the crops were most likely ruined. Her people’s hard work destroyed, the very food they needed to sustain them gone. It was blow as crushing as if the lions themselves had been destroyed, and Allura did not know how or if they could make a come back from this loss.