The city was a marvel, a hidden gem in what was the barren bleakness that made up the surface terrain of planet Doom. For miles in either direction, only brown baked clay could be seen, with darker shades of brown coloring the rocks and mountainsides. The planet truly looked desolate, a lonely place that should not have harbored any kind of life.
Aside from the Drules that made this pitiful rock their home world, she had seen some creatures, large monstrous types that their hover bike escorts kept at bay by firing off round after round of lazon fueled lasers. Lotor had explained to her that these monsters were not natural to the planet, but creatures imported for the coliseum. The monsters were used for both entertainment and war fare, the strongest being picked to be sent to other planets, unleashed on unsuspecting populace as they ran rampant upon the lands. The various witches in the employ of the Doom Empire used their magic to make the beasts grow to staggering heights, able to crush buildings and people under their massive feet.
She had felt a chill at his words, Allura wondering if a robeast had ever been brought to her own world of Arus. Lotor had offered to find out what had happened to her planet after her father’s defeat, the prince using his communicator to relay the order to Cossack. The commander had promised to get right on the request, having the archivists at the castle get to work on researching the past battles that besieged planet Arus. Allura wasn’t sure the results would put her mind at ease, but she felt she had to know just what had been done to her planet since she had been forcibly taken from it’s lands.
She had had to force aside thoughts of her home world’s conquest, not wanting to put a damper on the day’s outing with her worrying thoughts. Instead she concentrated on the wonder and amazement she had felt when first seeing the Drule city. It had been hidden from sight, it’s large cavern walls towering over even the tallest of the cities’ buildings. It wasn’t until they drove their vehicles into a split between the rocky cavern walls, that Allura had gotten her first glimpse of the city lights.
They were a multitude of color, various lights combating the shadows that the rocks walls cast on the city, their lights shining like a beacon in that darkness. What she had taken for white stars, were lights on the highest point of the center most tower of the city, the smaller buildings surrounding it as they basked in it’s light. Many of the buildings were made of a reflective metal, casting back the lights onto each other.
The red and black colors of Doom were everywhere in the city, flags hanging at full mast on every street corner, banners unfurled and draping down from balconies, bearing the skull and cross bone insignia of the Empire. The people themselves were dressed in bold colors, most favoring the reds, blacks and gold of their King’s dress. She saw all kinds of outfits, the wealth on display in their clothing alone was staggering to her. It was different from Arus, the people of her home world choosing instead to dress simple and comfortably. Some of the complex outfits the Drule women wore had Allura gasping for breath, wondering how they could move in those confining corsets.
Still it was exciting, the people here bearing different attitudes from the ones at the court. What little experience she had had with Drule nobles bordered on unpleasant, the men and women haughty and looking down on her. Allura was never sure if they turned their noses up at her due to her being human or a former slave, but they always left her feeling depressed from their encounters. Other times, usually in the presence of Lotor or the King, they were want to act frightened and subservient, practically crawling on all fours to scamper and brown nose after the royals. When Lotor was around her, they tended to be solicitous towards Allura, acting as though they actually cared about her and her well being. Allura disliked this fake concern the most, preferring to see their true nature at work.
Here the citizens of this city not knowing who she was, or of her former slave background, acted a bit better. But Allura knew she wasn’t getting a true view of them, because of Lotor’s presence around her. His very nearness assured that all would be on their best behavior around them, the people pausing to point and stare as Lotor led Allura through the city streets.
She was conscious of their whispering, only able to pick up a few sentence fragments here and there. They seemed to be in a state of shock to see their prince among them, and many wondered at just who his companion was. When an old, haggard looking woman began to whisper loudly that Allura could be the slave that had started the war, Lotor’s men quickly surrounded the woman, ushering her away from the crowd before her words could incite a riot.
“Lotor…?” Allura was aware that her use of no title when addressing the prince caused some eyebrows to raise, and tongues to wag. “What are they going to do to that woman? They’re…they’re not going to hurt her are they?”
“Of course not.” Lotor was quick to reassure her, patting her hand with his. “They’re merely escorting her back to her home where they will insist she remain for the day.”
“Why? Well…we don’t want her to upset people with her speculations.” Lotor explained. “It’s best for us all if we can keep the gossip mill from churning out troublesome notions.”
“But…don’t the people have a right to know what’s going on? To know just who I am?” They were speaking in a mix of broken Drule and Arusian, making it difficult for the people that surrounded them to understand what they were saying.
“We don’t want to cause pandemonium by revealing everything.” Lotor told her. “They can continue to live their lives by existing with the knowledge allowed to them by their rulers. We needn’t concern them with things like who you are or the near loss we suffered against Merla’s ultimate weapon. As far as the citizens are concerned, it was a flawless victory for Doom.”
“Oh…” She sighed then, thinking how different Doom’s policy was from her home world’s. Arus’ officials would never have chosen to lie to the people about what was going on, wanting to keep them informed in times of chaos and upheaval.
“But let’s not worry about that, and continue on with the tour.” Lotor said, leading her forward as the remaining soldiers cleared a path for them to travel past the crowd. They passed by several shops, Lotor catching wind of Allura’s interest to pause before the windows. She stared at the exotic dresses on the mannequins’ frames, noting the garments were so different from the dresses Lotor had commissioned the castle seamstress to make for her. Her dresses weren’t the same style as those worn on Arus, but they were typical designs that many women from human worlds wore.
Allura realized the dresses here were made to accommodate the more lizard like Drule’s spikes and scales, some of the gowns slit in such a way as to show off their alien like features. There was a lot of leather and latex, wire frame corsets, and tight, restraining skirts made of numerous straps and buckles. She couldn’t imagine herself in any of those garments except for maybe the loose fitting robes that seemed the sort of thing Lotor’s father, the demon favored.
There was more than just dress shops to be had, she spied a book shop, Allura pressing her hands against the glass. Her excitement quickly turned to disappointment as she realized all the books on display in the window were written in Drule. “I should have known.” She murmured softly, Lotor cocking his head to pick up her words. “That the books here wouldn’t be written in anything but Drule.” She explained to Lotor.
“Ah. That.” Once again he was taking her hand, leading her away from the book shop. “If new reading material is what you require, I can always order some more books from Arus.”
“I’d like that.” Allura admitted, having already started her third reread of the small pile he had collected for her. He was leading her towards a street vendor, the man looking nervous at the prospect of serving the prince of Doom. His cart held an assortment of foods, Allura staring at the various baked treats as Lotor conversed with the vendor.
Money was exchanged, one of the escorting soldiers paying for the prince’s purchase, as Lotor handed Allura what looked like a glazed eclair. She looked it over carefully, noting the dark purple color, and the hole in the rear end that leaked out a yellow cream. Cream that she learned filled the eclair to the point of near exploding in her mouth when she bit down on the tip.
Lotor actually laughed at that, being quick with the napkin to brush it across her lips, cleaning up some of the cream. What he didn’t reach, Allura licked at herself, finding the treat messy but tasty. Lotor had his own eclair, the prince being just as careful as she when biting into it. And still it exploded, cream covering his chin, leaving Allura in a fit of giggles as she went to wipe away some of the cream with her fingers.
“Come Allura…” Lotor urged her to walk as they ate, the prince sucking on the tip of the eclair to get out more of the cream. She mimicked his actions with the pastry, noting that draining it in this manner left it safe to bite in. “There’s more to see.”
They reached the theater district a few blocks away from the vendor, Allura looking at the small buildings that held posters advertising various plays. She saw one of a beautiful Drule maiden standing on a balcony. The Drule female was leaning over the side, staring at the Drule male who clung to the vines that grew on the marble wall. He was so near to her, that any closer they would kiss. Allura couldn’t read the words written on the poster, but her every instinct told her it was a love story that this theater held.
“Normally, the theater groups come to the castle to perform plays for my father.” Lotor’s tone was conversational, the prince nodding at the poster which held Allura’s attention. “He’d never allow a story about love to be performed at the castle.” A wry smile then, Lotor tsking. “He only likes the tragedies, and the ones about war.”
“That seems very in character for the demon.” Allura said, fighting not to frown. “Lotor? Can we see a play? One about love?”
“We can see whatever you want to Allura.” Lotor told her. “But are you sure you’ll enjoy it? It’ll be in Drule, and may be hard for you to follow along with what is going on.”
“It’ll be fine.” She said quickly, eager for a chance to see a play. “I’ll read their body language and emotions. And what I don’t understand, you can explain to me!”
“All right Allura.” Lotor agreed, and his arm made a gesture to include the various theaters on the block. “Just pick a play, and we’ll go see it.”
“This one!” She said automatically, pointing at the balcony poster.
Lotor glanced at the poster, nodding his approval. “It won’t be till this evening though. The theaters are closed during the day for rehearsals.”
“That’s fine.” Allura quickly answered. “I can wait a few more hours. Till then you can show me more of this city.”
“Of course.” Lotor said, leading her past the various fronts of the theaters, Allura taking quick glances at their posters. She wondered if Lotor would be agreeable to seeing another performance or two, Allura catching sight of several more interesting looking advertisements. They passed by more stores, and soon the cobblestone pathways led to the housing district of the city. Here were several buildings, more wide than tall, veritable mansions with gated fences to keep put the rabble. It was clear this was a rich area of the city, where only the well to do could afford to live.
Seeing those buildings made Allura realize they had yet to see any of the poorer elements of the city. She felt certain there had to be some, no place where people gathered was free of the poor and destitute. It left her wondering if the Drules hid them better than the humans, Allura’s mind taking a leap towards the dark, as she imagined the soldiers shooting down beggars who strayed too close to the nobles.
“Lotor?” Allura interrupted him mid speech about one of the mansions, the girl having not heard a word of what he was saying. “What happens to those who aren’t well off?”
“Pardon?” he looked confused, staring at her as she continued.
“The people who cannot afford to live in these mansions, and buy those expensive clothing and books.” Allura glanced around, realizing they had left the crowds behind them when they entered the home district of the nobles.
“Ah, you mean the slaves?” Lotor asked, making her frown as she realized that too had been lacking in their tour of the city. She knew the Drules did very little for themselves, always relying on the people they enslaved to do the work for them. And yet here in this city, she had seen none. Neither working in the shops, nor following their masters around as they walked the city streets.
“Slaves and the poor. The homeless.” Allura clarified, stopping before the gates of one of the mansions. She gazed at the sparkling clean windows, and the dirt free statues that decorated the front courtyard of the home, and knew that Drule hands had not been responsible for the upkeep of the land. She glanced at Lotor, seeing a look of discomfort pass over his face, leaving her to wonder what he was hiding.
“There is none.” He said at last, and her eyes widened.
“No slaves or no poor?” Allura wanted a clarification.
“No poor.” He answered, and she stared at him, shocked confusion on her face.
“How can that be?” She asked, shaking her head. “No world is free of poverty. Though some would try harder than most to deny they hold such unfavorable aspects!”
“You’ll find Doom to be one of those worlds.” Lotor told her, a rueful expression on his face. She cocked her head at him, waiting for him to explain. “This city….it’s one of the crown jewels of the Doom empire. It, along with several others, all located in close proximity to the castle, are a sort of utopia you could say.” He shrugged then, a humorless chuckle escaping him. “My father has never been one to tolerate those who are weak, he wants no reminders of that even here in the heart of the empire there could be poor and hungry citizens.”
“So he what?” Allura was cautious, sure she would not like whatever answer Lotor supplied to her question. “Gets rid of them?”
“You’re closer to the truth than you realize.” Lotor sighed, reaching out to grip one of the iron bars of the mansion’s fence. He stared into the property, Allura waiting for him to speak. “He’ll tolerate no poor this close to the castle. You’ll find no homeless, no people in debt in this city. They’re shipped off to the outer realms of Doom, to decrepit towns where they are quickly forgotten.” Now he turned, and looked at her. “They might as well be dead for all the attention the Empire gives them.”
“That’s horrible!” Allura exclaimed, staring at him sadly. “You don’t care for them at all?”
“Unlike Arus, we don’t have a health care system set up to tend to them, nor does the Empire give out handouts to help them get back on their feet.” Lotor explained. “The only help one can rely on is their family, and when that support system fails you, or tires of you, you’re soon cast out into the slums.”
“Do you ever go there…? To one of these slums I meant?” Lotor’s look clearly defined the answer as no, Allura sighing. “On Arus….my family always worked with the poor. Always.” She stressed the word, fingers playing with her skirt. “We helped to feed them, and build them homes, get them back on their feet. Try to find them jobs.”
“It sounds like a lot of effort….”
“It was! But it was worth it!” She exclaimed. “We didn’t just hide them away, never to think of them again. Lotor, some people may end up in this position through their own fault, but a lot of people who ended up homeless on Arus really tried their best to avoid that fate in the first place. Lotor, you should try to change things. Your less fortunate people shouldn’t be treated worse than the slaves!”
“Worse than the slaves?” He echoed, then nodded. “I suppose you’re right. As a slave you get fed, have a roof over your head. Your master may even see to your health care if only to make sure his investment doesn’t die out.”
In her ideal world, there would be neither slaves nor poor, everyone would be equal and well off. She didn’t mention this to Lotor, knowing the prince would most likely laugh at her for her naivety. She sighed, and though Lotor looked at her curiously, she offered no reason for her discontentment.
“Are you hungry Allura?” Lotor had taken hold of her arm, trying to urge her to walk with him. She went where directed, still thinking of the poor’s plight as Lotor talked to her. “If I remember correctly, there’s a fine bistro the way we just came. It shouldn’t be a problem to clear it of it’s patrons and have the place to ourselves.” They were moving back the way they had come, the accompanying guards silent save for their footsteps.
A communicator went off, Lotor and his men each checking their personal coms. It turned out to be Lotor’s communicator that was responsible for the noise, the prince sighing as he offered Allura an apologetic look. She merely looked away, pretending to be uninterested in his call, though inwardly she focused all her attention on his words.
“What?!” Lotor barked into the communicator, practically crushing it in his fist. “This better be good Cossack. I’m in the middle of something important here!” Allura heard Cossack’s voice answer back, the Drule sounding worried, panic underlying his fear.
“You have to return back to the castle at once Prince Lotor! It’s an emergency!”
“What kind?” demanded Lotor, even as Allura stared off into the distance, frowning at the red light that seemed to be falling from the sky. It reminded her of a shooting star, only it moved too fast, and erratically to be that.
“It’s the queen!” Cossack exclaimed, and Allura gave a start of surprise. Some of the soldiers that made up their escort were also looking up at the sky, one man raising his hand to point at the red light. Allura saw that there was more than one now, a half a dozen of those lights, sprinkled across the sky, leaving a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.
“What about the Queen?” Lotor asked, and exhaled a sharp breath as he too noticed the lights. He was already dropping the communicator on the ground, to grab hold of Allura, even as Cossack’s words came screaming out of the tiny device.
“There’s an invading armada bearing her insignia in Doom air space!” That was the last thing Allura heard, before the red lights began exploding in the sky.