Freedom 34

The pile of paperwork on his desk seemed to have grown in size, Lotor could have sworn it was nearly twice the amount since last time. It made him bite back a sigh, the prince striding over to the desk, a glum expression on his face. This was his least favorite part of ruling a planet, the duties that came with the crown. It was so much simpler when trying to capture a planet, paperwork was practically non existent at that point except for a few scraps dedicated to calculating strategies.

Lotor sat down, fingers reaching for the top most document. It brought him news of the recent Drule settlements, his people finding suitable bits of land which they were in the process of clearing. Trees were being cut down, the land smoothed over to make way for houses, the Drules setting up tents in the interim as they built. It was a slow progress, the Drules far more used to taking over towns and displacing the people from their homes.

His eyes scanned across the words of the report, the documenter making the soldiers’ displeasure known about having to build their own housing. They longed for slaves to come do the work for them, sending in pleas for assistance to the castle. Lotor knew they were balking at the hard work, his people were so unused to doing anything for themselves. He was sure Allura would say the experience was good for them, that it would teach them to be self reliant, but Lotor worried that it would only make them angry and more surly towards their dealings with the Arusians.

So far there was no problem from the natives of planet Arus, the rebel factions had not yet tried to interfere with the Drule settlement camps. Lotor didn’t trust this, feeling his people were a prime target, surely tempting to any would be trouble makers.

He set aside the report, reaching for another. This one spoke of the missing wagon, revealing the contents of the items stolen during the attack by the resistance. The wagon had been transporting weapons, a modest amount of artillery that would prove deadly in the wrong hands. It made Lotor grit his teeth in annoyance, thinking of the rebels arming themselves with HIS weapons.

He turned the page, eyes scanning the detailed list of all the weapons that had been lost. Blasters, rifles, grenades, even a few bombs were among those listed on the page. The resistance had just grown some teeth, and Lotor knew it would only be a matter of time before they used those stolen weapons to mount some kind of offensive. But as to when and where, no one had any idea, leaving Lotor to sigh and toss the papers down.

Security would be doubled, here at the castle and at key villages across the kingdoms of Arus. The Drules would be on high alert, waiting for the rebels to make their move. But, it didn’t mean they would be idle, Lotor pushing his men to continue searching for the hideouts these rebel scum used. They couldn’t stay hidden forever, and that made Lotor smile, sure that someone out there would mess up.

A glance at the next document showed word that Zarkon’s scientists had been in contact with Lotor’s, pushing for answers about the lions. It was just another sign of his father growing impatient, eager for his army of Voltrons. “Doesn’t the old fool know it will take time?” Lotor grumbled out loud, eyes speeding fast over the words before him. It had only been a few days, but little progress has been made. The lions were keeping their secrets locked up tight inside them.

At least the data concerning the test flights were promising. The pilots who had been chosen to fly this day were in high spirits, their interviews with the scientists confirming what Lotor already knew. No other ship could compare to the lions, not in speed or power, leaving them a joyful pleasure to fly.

He was reaching for the next document when a knock sounded at his door. Without a glance upwards, Lotor called out, his attention still focused on the documents before him. “Enter.”

The door swung open, well oiled hinges keeping it from making a sound. The carpet muffled the footsteps of his visitor, the person walking towards the desk, stopping half a foot from it to drop a bow to Lotor. “Your highness…”

Lotor looked up, seeing Merack with his head bowed, right hand a fist over his heart. “Ah Commander…” Lotor said, close to smiling as he looked at his most trusted confidant. “What brings you by?” Lotor leaned back in his chair, shifting into a more relaxed posture as he looked at the Drule.

“I bring you word about the poison.” Merack said, straightening out of the bow.

“Oh?”

“Our medical analysts have finished running tests. That was no mint juice the slave sought to feed you and your wife.” Merack told him.

“Ah, so it did indeed prove to be Kichtrina root extract?” Lotor held back a sigh at Merack’s nod. “Such a pity.”

“Sire?”

“My former harem slave is bringing me no end of trouble.” Lotor explained. “Tell me Commander, how many people know about this poison attempt?”

“Besides us, there is your wife, the doctor, and more than a dozen soldiers.” Merack listed. “I was able to keep word from spreading to the analysts about the assassination attempt. Also there is the two maids who were present when you fell ill.”

“So many people…” murmured Lotor, seeing Merack nod.

“Yes. Far too many to keep this quiet. Word is sent to spread at any moment, you must act quickly if you are to retain your reputation as the ruthless Prince of Doom.”

“You would have me kill Tamara?” Lotor asked, but inside he knew that was what was needed to be done.

“Once you would not even have asked me that question.” Merack’s expression was unreadable, the Drule looking at Lotor with serious eyes. “Once you would not even wait for confirmation on the poison, you would have acted immediately to neutralize the threat against you and your family.”

“But these are complicated times Commander.” And now Lotor did sigh, thinking of his wife, Allura. “And Arus and it’s people calls for a different type of tactic to be used against them.”

Merack’s lips twitched, the man fighting a frown. “Forgive me sire, but this is foolish of you.”

“Commander!” Lotor snapped out his name in an irritated growl, eyes starting to narrow into a glare. “You speak out of turn.”

“I only do out of concern for you!” Merack said, a hint of agitation to his voice. “Your highness, the men are starting to talk. People are starting to wonder if you really are the scourge of the galaxy! Since you’ve been on Arus you have done nothing but try to maintain peace. You let the rebellion run rampant on Arus, you have taken no action to put an end to them.”

“What would you have me do?!” Lotor demanded, slamming his hands on his desk, his eyes flashing with annoyance. “I made a pact with my wife, an iron clad treaty that this would be a peaceful integration of our two worlds!”

“But it’s not!” Merack pointed out, unmoved by Lotor’s display of temper. “These Arusians are testing you, testing and attacking our people. They are not sitting back and being passive. They are being the aggressors in this. Or have you not read the reports?!” An off hand gesture at the pile of paperwork on the desk, Lotor maintaining his glare at Merack. “Every day they grow bolder, every day there are new attacks on the towns where our people have been stationed to rule.”

“I will deal with these….terrorists in due time.” Lotor told him, trying to keep his voice calm. “They won’t have their way for much longer.”

“And until then we continue to lose men?” Merack asked. He gave a shake of his head, continuing. “Prince Lotor, the treaty was written on the understanding that Arus cooperate with Doom. These rebel scum make a mockery of the treaty…a mockery of it and of you!”

“MERACK!” Lotor snarled, leaping to his feet, his chair falling backwards. It hit the floor with a loud thud, Lotor’s hand instinctively reaching for the hilt of his sword.

“Strike me down if you must…:” The commander was calm, not moving a muscle to defend himself. “But know that I speak the truth.”

Lotor let out a hiss of air, trying to calm his breathing. His tensed fingers relaxed on the handle of his sword, Lotor letting his arm go limp at his side. “No…No..I will not lose you in a moment of anger.”

Relief showed openly in Merack’s eyes, the man breathing easier. “Sire…even your princess must know that the treaty cannot extend to cover these outlaws. You must act, and soon.”

“You’re…right.” Lotor heaved out a weary sigh, a hand raised to smooth back his hair. “But tell me Merack. How can I do what I must and keep my wife from hating me?”

‘That I do not know sire.” Merack said. “But is it any better to deny who you are in order to keep her….affection?”

His question made Lotor frown, the prince opening his mouth to retort, when the crackle of his communicator was heard. It hissed into life, a tinny voice over the communicator. “Commander Merack! There is a situation in the medical wing!”

Merack unhooked his communicator, maintaining eye contact with Lotor as he spoke into the tiny device. “Merack here. What’s going on?!”

“The assassin is dead on arrival in the infirmary.”

The news from the communicator made Lotor’s eyes widen, his brow raising in surprise. “What?!”

Merack was calm as he spoke. “Understood, I will be down in a moment.” He switched off his communicator, hooking the device back onto his belt.

“I’m going with you.” Lotor announced, coming around the side of the desk.

“Really sire, there is no need.” Merack protested, even as Lotor moved to the door. “I am perfectly capable of identifying the body.”

“Yes, I know you are.” Lotor turned to look him over, knowing his suspicion showed. “But don’t you think it’s suspicious?”

“Sire?” Merack asked, moving to follow him out the door. His face was the picture of perfect innocence, and that alone made Lotor doubt Merack.

“Just when we need the problem of this slave to go away, she turns up dead.” Lotor said, walking quickly down the hall. Merack had no problem keeping up with him, his long legs propelling him to Lotor’s side. “Awfully convenient that.”

“Yes.” Merack’s tone betrayed nothing, the two men falling silent as they hurried to the infirmary. The halls leading to the medical wing of the castle were practically empty of servants, Drule soldiers keeping them away. They were doing their best to maintain an air of secrecy on the events that surrounded the slave’s death, but Lotor knew that it would just make the servants talk more as they were left to wonder just what had happened.

The closer they got to the medical wing, the more soldiers appeared, the men saluting Lotor and Merack as the two sped by. It took them less then ten minutes to reach the infirmary, Lotor pausing to take in the sights. It was active with bodies, soldiers standing with medical personal, people speaking in hushed whispers. Looks were shot Lotor’s way, the humans falling silent, eyes wide, skin pale. Accusation was in their eyes, the humans turning their backs as Lotor walked past them.

The Drule’s reactions were different. They were calm, eyes knowing, practically radiating approval. Lotor ignored both humans and Drules, walking through the infirmary, keeping an eye out for the one in charge of this circus. Doctor Gorma was nowhere to be found, but instead Lotor stumbled upon the room where the slave’s body was kept, Drule soldiers standing guard outside the window. They nodded at Lotor, making no move to stop him as he pulled open the door and strode into the room.

“Prince Lotor…is this wise?” Merack’s voice from behind him, the commander following him into the room.

“Your highness!” A young man was inside the room, standing guard over the body. The human dropped into a hasty bow at the sight of Lotor, his eyes wide with a nervous light.

Lotor ignored them both, stepping towards the body on the bed, gloved hand reaching for the sheet that hid Tamara from view. With a yank, he wrenched the sheet free of the body, seeing Tamara laying frozen in death’s grip. Her eyes were glassy, and they stared straight up at the ceiling, the green of them already dull and missing the spark of life to them. Her mouth was frozen in a scream, a silent o of surprise, and her skin was blue tinted showing she had suffered lack of oxygen as she died.

Lotor was silent for a minute, just staring, seeing the bruise marks on her neck. His eyebrows rose in surprise, Lotor turning to look at the human. “What was the cause of death?”

“Ah….an apparent suicide.” The man said, words coming out quick and nervous. “She was found hanging in her prison cell.”

“Leave us.”

“Sire?” The human blinked, confused.

“Leave us!” Lotor repeated, his words angry. The human didn’t hesitate, hurrying past the prince and his commander. Lotor made a fist, fingers clutching the bed sheet tight in his hand. “Really Merack, a hanging? Is that the best you could come up with?!”

“Prince Lotor?” Again that blankness to his voice, Merack letting neither his words nor tone to betray him.

“Just how stupid do you think I am?!” hissed Lotor, spinning to glare at Merack. The commander’s impassive face only made Lotor more angry, Lotor growling at him. “Do you think I would believe the Arusians would just leave laying in her cell enough rope for the girl to hang herself with?!”

“Mistakes have been known to happen.” Merack retorted.

“Really? And I suppose if I was to review the security footage of the palace prison, we would discover the time around this slave’s suicide missing from the tapes?” Lotor asked, already knowing the answer. “Another one of your MISTAKES?!”

“Mice get into the wiring all the time. I would not be surprised if a camera or two shorted out during that tine.” Merack answered smoothly.

“Damn it Merack, you know what I mean!”

“Really sire, you should not let yourself get so worked up over one slave’s death. Especially one that is an assassin.” Merack told him, still maintaining his calm.

“I just want answers!” Lotor snapped, dropping the bed sheet onto the floor. “Don’t think I don’t know your handiwork Commander. If it wasn’t you who tied the noose around her neck, than it was one of your subordinates. Awfully nice of you to come see me in order to establish an alibi.”

“An alibi for us both your highness.” Merack said, and Lotor snorted, whirling around to stare at Tamara’s body. “Prince Lotor…I do what I must to protect you.”

“She was no longer a danger to me.” Lotor told him, hands clenching and unclenching into fists. “Not so long as she was detained in the palace dungeon.”

“She was a danger to your reputation so long as she remained alive!” exclaimed Merack. “Prince Lotor, you know what people would say, what they would think if they knew you let her live.”

“So you act without my permission?!” demanded Lotor.

“If it means doing what you won’t then yes. I will.” Merack admitted.

“You speak of treason.” Lotor hissed.

“I speak of saving you!” Merack countered. “Your father himself would approve of my actions. Prince Lotor, I have always watched out for you, always worked hard by your side. I’ve gotten my hands dirty many times, and will do so again in the future for you. When it comes to your safety and reputation, there is nothing I wouldn’t hesitate to do, no act too deplorable.”

“So you just arrange for a shoddy suicide attempt that everyone will know was murder?!” Lotor said, finding it very hard not to start shouting. “A murder they will think I committed, that I sanctioned?!”

“It was the only way to solve this problem.” Merack retorted. “The slave had to die, and I made sure she did.”

“You did this Commander?” A soft female voice, both men stiffening in surprise. Moving as one body, they turned, Lotor seeing Allura standing in the doorway of the hospital room. She was staring with her eyes wide, shock and anguish contained in her blue depths. Her hand was holding onto the archway of the door for support, Allura looking far too pale for Lotor’s liking.

It left Lotor wondering how long she had been standing there, how much she had heard. A part of him couldn’t help but feel relief that she had eavesdropped, knowing she would know the truth behind Tamara’s murder. But another part of him wanted to shield her from this all together, not liking how pained her expression was.

“Answer me.” Allura said, voice a soft command as she stared at Merack. His expression remained one of stone, not betraying what he was feeling, though the corner of his mouth twitched. Lotor wondered if the commander wanted to smile or to frown, surely not having to expect to deal with the princess himself. “Did you kill her?!”

“Yes, your highness.” Merack answered, his words visibly upsetting Allura. “By Doom custom, any attack on the royal family life must be dealt swift and final punishment.”

“This is not Doom!” Allura cried out in reminder. “We do things differently on Arus.” She shook her head, blonde hair bouncing in movement. “She didn’t have to die!”

“Tell me princess…would your aides agree with you?” Merack wanted to know. “Would that….advisor of yours sanction allowing someone who was known for an assassination attempt against you to go free?” She was biting her lip, hesitating in answering. “Or would he act to rid you of your attempted murderer?!”

“He wouldn’t just kill her!” protested Allura. “Coran is a good man. He would have had a fair trial done for her, and if she was found guilty…”

“The results of her mint juice came back, testing positive as Kichtrina root extract.” Merack interjected his words at Allura’s silence. “That was all the proof we…I needed to act.”

“How horrible.” Allura whispered. “So you play judge, jury, and executioner?!”

“It is Doom’s way.” Merack answered. He held up a hand when Allura opened her mouth to protest. “We are not of this planet.” He reminded her. “We are not…human. We are Drules. We must act like it, and act swiftly to crush our opponents.”

“That’s enough Commander.” Lotor interrupted.

“I think not Prince Lotor.” Merack turned to look at him. “Your wife doesn’t seem to understand our ways, doesn’t realize the dangers in acting soft. It is my duty to protect both you and Princess Alllura, and I will not be hampered by soft sentiments and weak dealings!”

“Then perhaps you should seek employment elsewhere.” Lotor’s voice was a cold suggestion to Merack.

“Sire!”

“If you cannot learn to adapt to more peaceful ways, you are no good to me.” Lotor said, seeing Merack’s hands clenched into fists.

“….I would be a fool to leave you on this planet without aide you can trust.”

“But that’s just it. I can’t trust you, can I? Working behind my back to kill Tamara proves it!” Lotor said, his voice weary.

“I’m damn better trusted then any one of the other generals you brought with you to Arus!” Merack snapped, too proud to beg and grovel for his position. “Prince Lotor, do not be hasty. Do not let one act mar my standings in your eyes.”

“I will…think about it.” Lotor said at last. “For now return to the ship. You are temporarily relieved of your duties.”

“Yes, your highness.” Merack said, relieved. He dropped a quick bow to Lotor, then turned to look at Allura. “Princess.” Another bow towards her, and then he was moving, the Commander squeezing past Allura to get out into the hall.

“Allura what are you doing here?” Lotor asked, walking towards his wife. She looked at him, eyes weary and wet, a sight Lotor was unable to resist. He took her into his arms, petting her hair, using his body to block the sight of the dead Tamara.

“I was still in the medical wing when Tamara was brought in.” Allura whispered. “I couldn’t just leave after seeing her in this condition.” She rested her head on Lotor’s chest, eyes half closed as she spoke. “Doctor Gorma had me brought to one of the other rooms for a lie down. I came out as soon as I heard you had arrived.” He was running his hands through her hair, over and over, trying to offer her comfort with his fingers. “How could Merack do such a thing?”

“You ask a difficult question.” Lotor commented, a sigh escaping him. “It is different on Doom. Killing is…killing is easy.” It was a tough confession to make, Allura lifting her head to peer at him, eyes saddened at his words. “A quick solution to our problems. It’s doing things the fair way, the just way that presents a problem to my people.” A wry twisting of his lips, Lotor’s hands landing on her shoulders. “Your people will have to help teach mine how to live another way.”

“Can it even be done?” Allura wondered out loud.

“It’ll have to be, at least for the Drules living on Arus.” Lotor answered.

“Perhaps it’s unreasonable for me to want this…” Allura’s turn to sigh. “To expect a race to change based on my….sensitivities.”

“We could always have the two meet in the middle somewhere.” Lotor suggested. “The best of both worlds. After all, the people of Arus are a little too passive. They could benefit from some toughening up.”

“Perhaps.”

“Come Allura, let’s not dally in this place of death any longer.” Lotor said, moving to usher her out of the hospital room. She moved when he did, Lotor taking care to keep the body out of her line of sight.

“Lotor…” Allura’s voice was still soft, leaving him to strain to hear her over the noise of people talking in the hallway. “When I first found out the cause of Tamara’s death was suspicious….I…I…blamed you.” He said nothing in response to her confession, seeing Allura anxiously twist her hands together. “I thought for sure you were the monster everyone says you are…but I was wrong. You didn’t kill her. You didn’t even order Merack to do it.”

“But I could have.” Lotor told her, seeing her eyes widen. “Make no mistake about that Allura. The situation with Tamara couldn’t have been allowed to continue for much longer. A decision would have had to been made…and I fear it is one you would not have liked.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Allura asked. “Why not let me believe in you?”

“Because it would be a lie.” Lotor explained, running a hand through her hair once more. “I don’t want any illusions between us. I AM the monster everyone claims. I’ve just….sheathed my claws for you.”

She was silent so long, he feared she would not speak again. Minutes seemed to tick by, Allura just staring at him, the people in the infirmary moving around them, loud and busy as they hurried to do their work. “I…I appreciate that.” Allura said at last. “More than you can know. I think….not even the treaty would keep you from acting if you were really a monster.”

“I am trying my best to honor the treaty and do right by you.” Lotor said, making an admittance. “But…I fear this can’t go on for much longer. My hands are tied when it comes to certain matters…matters that would best be dealt with the Drule way.”

“Such as?”

“The rebels.” Lotor said, seeing her look downcast at the mention of them. “Allura, they are causing too many deaths. Its not just Drules, but Arusians who have died, innocents caught in the crossfire. Something has to be done and soon….”

“You’re right…” Allura sighed. “But isn’t there a way to settle things peacefully? Violence will only beget more violence.” Lotor hid a frown, finding she still didn’t understand.

“Let me worry about it.” Lotor said, taking hold of her hand. She followed him as he moved, her hand squeezing his for reassurance.

“Lotor?” A questioning tone, Allura pausing to stare at the room that housed Tamara’s body. “Can we….can we hold a funeral for her?”

“If you like Allura.” He said, quick to agree to just about anything to make her feel better.

“Thank you.” Allura said, gratitude in her voice. “At least in death, she can get back a little respect….” He said nothing in response to that, merely guiding Allura silently out of the infirmary.


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