Songbird 33

I would still be unconscious when the shipped touched down in the castle’s docks. Someone would carry me to the infirmary, dumping me unceremoniously at a nurse’s feet. They wouldn’t stick around to explain what had happened. They were too eager to attend the celebrating that was already underway. Perhaps it was that same eagerness that kept anyone from remaining behind to stand guard over me.

I wasn’t even handcuffed to a bed. It was as though I had escaped punishment for attacking the crown prince. But his words echoed back to me, Lotor promising me I would know a far worse pain than that of a beating. I stifled a moan as I awoke, wondering if it was truly possible to hurt more than I was now. But I didn’t think anything was broken in me. At worse I would have a lot of bruising.

For one brief moment I simply lay there, staring up at the ceiling. I almost laughed then, thinking how I had just finished healing from my previous beatings only to end up in the hospital once more. Doctor Shabatoba would voice a similar thought, startling me as he entered the room.

“This is begginning to become a habit with you.”

“Doctor….”

“So what happened this time?” He spoke over me, frowning. “Or do I even want to know?”

“The prince….he struck Romelle.” I told him, and he sighed.

“That girl again?” When I nodded, he continued. “If this keeps up, she’ll be the death of you…”

“I’m probably already a dead man walking.” I sighed. “I tried to kill the prince. Did anyone tell you that?” From the gaping look of astonishment on the doctor’s face, I knew they had neglected to tell him even that much.

“Why would you go so far for that girl?” Shabatoba demanded when he was able to speak.

“Shouldn’t’ the question be why wouldn’t I?” At his blank look, I sighed again. “You’ve had just over two months to get to know her. You’ve talked with her. Surely you’ve seen….”

“I have seen nothing worth getting killed over!” interrupted Shabatoba. “She has nothing that a million other women don’t have. She’s just a slave Lieutenant…pretty though she may be, it’s not worth the loss of your career and friendships.”

I growled at him then, sitting up. “Why can’t any of you see this is more than just a sexual attraction?!”

“Then what is it about?” Shabatoba asked.

“It’s about….doing the right thing. About wrong and right. What Doom is doing to Romelle, and to the billions of others we’ve enslaved, is WRONG.” Never had I voiced such a thought out loud. It felt strange coming from me, but I wasn’t uncertain in the moment. I had been building up to this realization for months now, ever since I had met Romelle. My unease with the Doom Empire had grown, sometimes by leaps and bounds.

The Doctor looked aghast at what I had said. “Are you calling into question the very life’s blood of the Empire?!”

“Yes.” I answered simply. I was a changed man from when I had first met Romelle. Back then I had been blinded by loyalty to Lotor and my home world, to the Empire. I might not have always liked what they asked us soldiers to do, but I hadn’t really questioned those orders either. Some things I had pretended not to notice, and that included burying memories of the treatment my mother and the other brothel slaves had endured.

“Doom would be…nothing without slaves.” Shabatoba insisted. “The Empire is built on the backs of them. It is through their blood and sweat that we prosper.”

“Maybe so. Or maybe we could become something better if we learned to use our own hands to do the work of the slaves.”

“I think you’re crazy…” I bristled at his words, and snapped out a retort.

“Or maybe I’m one of the only sane ones in a world gone mad.”

“You really think there are other Drules who would think like you do?” Doctor Shabatoba asked.

“I can’t be the only one.” I argued. “They may be keeping quiet but…”

“I’m sure you want to believe that, if only to make yourself feel better.” He said to me. He came over to the bed to check my vitals. I brushed him off, and got out of the
bed. “What are you doing?”

“I need to see her.” I said, prowling about the room, looking for my clothes. “It might be my last chance….” My last chance before Lotor had me executed.

“I wouldn’t bother.” Shabatoba said.

“Yes, I realize you wouldn’t.” It was a bitter, angry comment. “But I’m going all the same.” I had found my clothes, folded up on top of some shut off machinery. I began pulling on my pants, leaving the hospital’s nightshirt on the floor.

“I want you to meet with another doctor.” Shabatoba told me. I didn’t look at him, zipping up my fly and reaching for my shirt. “I’m sure she’d agreed you’ve been under a lot of stress. That you’re not thinking clearly.”

“I’m not crazy.”

“I’m not so sure of that!” protested the Doctor. “These actions of yours, the treasonous talk you just had with me…They all point to a disturbed mind. Lieutenant, let us help you…if we can make a case to get you committed, temporarily…” he added hastily when I turned to glare at him. “I’m sure the prince could be made to see your actions weren’t the work of a sane and rational mind.”

Finished with the buttons of my shirt, I moved to the door. I hadn’t bothered to look for my holster, knowing there was no way they would have allowed me to keep a weapon.

The doctor followed me, a desperate kind of anger in his voice. “Lieutenant! This could be the only way to save your life!”

“What? By brainwashing me into becoming a good little solider for the Empire?” I let out a harsh sound. “I’d rather die with honor than live as a slave doing Lotor and the King’s dirty work. That is what we are.” I added when Shabatoba tried to protest. “We’re as enslaved as anyone else, only the work differs.”

“I won’t let you leave here.” Shabatoba said.

I looked around the near empty hall, seeing no guards around. I laughed. “How will you stop me? With that I shut the door in the doctor’s face and strode away. He slammed open the door, and shouted after me but I ignored him. I was going to see Romelle, and no one, not even the devil himself, would stop me.

As I began walking the corridors that led to the castle’s dungeons, it became apparent the festive mood had taken over nearly every nook and cranny. Every person I passed was drunk or well on their way to it. There was a lot of laughter and singing, wenching and drinking. Couples abounded and not all the women being used were slaves, Drule females granting soldiers their charms for a job well done.

No one took notice of me. They were too high on victory and intoxicants to pay any mind to the lone Lieutenant who was not visibly celebrating Doom’s triumph over Voltron. It was all too easy to move through out the castle, and I had the thought that if someone were to attack now, we’d all be slaughtered where we stood. Of course, Doom’s enemies would have to get through the planetary shield first to launch such an attack. But still, it made me uneasy to see how all the soldiers had abandoned their posts. It made me wonder what the King was thinking but not for long.

Running down the stairs that led into the dank dungeon, my nose crinkled at the disgusting smell of this place. Here too, there was drinking going on, the two men who stood guard over the dungeon’s gate smiling as they feasted in plain sight of the imprisoned people. It was a new kind of cruelty, allowing those captives to see a meal the likes of which they would perhaps never get to eat again.

The guards here weren’t so drunk as not to be surprised to see me. One began to lift up a cup, offering it to me. I ignored it, and stepped towards the gate that separated their desk from the rest of the dungeon. The less inebriated one realized my intent, and slurred out a protest. “Hey. You can’t go in there.”

“I’m going anyway.” I retorted, snatching his keys off the table. He gaped at me a moment, then moved to snatch the keys back. I deftly avoided the grab, and got the proper key into the gate. It opened easily enough, and I rushed inside. The one guard followed after me, muttering protests as he pocketed his keys.

I walked hurriedly past the cells, looking for Romelle. I’d reach the end of the line, and still there was no sign of her. Agitated, I began to pace back, thinking I had missed her. It became apparent on my third walk past the cells that I had not. Thus, with a snarl, I turned on the guard, grabbing him by his shirt’s collar.

“Where is she?!”

He looked blank, exhaling a breath that stank of alcohol. I didn’t drop him, nor did a lose my angry expression. “Where is who?”

“The princess Romelle!” He still looked blank, and I began to shake him. “The slave Prince Lotor wanted to marry!”

Understanding dawned in his eyes then. “Ah, that slave. She’s not here.”

“I can see that you dolt!” I snapped. “Where is she? With the prince?” Fear knotted my belly, even before the guard nodded.

“He took her out of her cell hours ago.”

“Hours?!” I felt staggered, my hands going limp. They relaxed so much my hold loosened on the guard, allowing him to pull free. The guard didn’t seem to notice my expression, snickering as he gave me a knowing look.

“That one’s a real screamer. No doubt the prince will have fun with her!”

The implications made me punch the guard. He was so drunk he was out like a light before he hit the floor. The imprisoned people were too frightened to even react to my attack, just staring at me as I ran back to the gate. The other guard had opened a new bottle of drink, too focused on it to even look at me as I ran by. I wasn’t sure where Lotor would be, but my first instinct was to check his apartment. Unfortunately it was empty when I arrived, and there was no sign a struggle had taken place. The bed was still perfectly made, hinting clearly that it had not been used.

But I didn’t relax, the feeling that something awful was going to happen growing stronger within me. Still running, I headed for Lotor’s private harem. I burst into the room, startling the women gathered there. They weren’t frightened of me though. They knew they were safe from molestation from all men but the prince.

Doing a quick scan of the women, I looked to see if Romelle had been added to their ranks. She hadn’t, and with a muffled curse, I left as quickly as I had arrived. I was begginning to feel like a chicken with his head cut off, running crazily about the castle with no rhyme or reason. I had no way of knowing where Lotor could have taken Romelle, and my only other option was to go to the throne room.

I wasn’t thrilled at the thought of facing King Zarkon especially after I had tried to kill his son. But short of doing a room by room search, I didn’t know what else to do. So I bit back my uncertainties, and raced to the throne room. Even there the party was still going strong, the nobles in high spirits as they celebrated with their King. Some of the King’s personal guard was present as always, but even they had mugs of ale in their hands.

Zarkon sat on his throne high up on his dais that allowed him to overlook his court. A naked slave girl sat on his lap, trembling as she held his goblet up to his mouth. He was allowing her to feed him the drink even as he had one hand on one of her bare breasts. He wasn’t drunk though, his eyes clear of intoxicants. He was just happy, pleased that Doom was finally rid of the threat that was Voltron.

As I rushed the dais, the guards dropped their mugs, moving to stop me. I struggled with two of them, shouting out to my King. “Where is your son, King Zarkon? Where is Prince Lotor?!”

Zarkon was slow to respond, looking me over as the guards held me back. “Lieutenant, you should be celebrating. It is a time of triumph for our people!”

“Where is Lotor?” I repeated, my agitation growing.

Zarkon looked around the room, as though searching for his son. “Ah yes….Lotor. He was getting on my nerves, his sour disposition ruining the party. I told him to go do something about that bad mood of his, or else I would imprison him in his rooms regardless of the recent victory he gave me.”

“He’s not in his rooms.” I responded immediately. “Nor is he in his harem.” Zarkon merely shrugged, unconcerned with his son’s whereabouts. “He’s taken a slave from the dungeons. Princess Romelle…”

“Ah yes, the princess.” Zarkon grimaced. “Lotor was carrying on and on about losing Allura. I was quick to remind him that one princess is as good as another. Perhaps he sought solace between the legs of that slave from Pollux.” That is the very thing I feared, and I jerked away from the guards. I must have worn my horror on my face, Zarkon studying me a moment. “Lieutenant, I’d forget about that woman if I was you. She’s Lotor’s now…I will not stand in his way any longer, now that he’s won me Arus.”

The nobles erupted into cheers, toasting to Lotor’s victory. I couldn’t join in, backing away from the guards before turning to rush out of the room. “Lieutenant, you’re acting very erractic…even for you.” I heard Zarkon say, but I didn’t respond.

I was beyond desperate, intent on searching the entire castle for Lotor and Romelle. I’d tear it apart with my bare hands if need be, until there was nowhere he could hide the princess from me. I’d search for what felt like hours, wandering the corridors, opening every door I came across. It was when I was on the ground floor of the castle, that I finally found him. For one brief instant I looked through him, almost not recognizing him for the prince wasn’t moving with his usual confidant swagger.

Instead his head was lowered, Lotor staring at the floor. His whole body seemed to sag, depression coloring his every move. He stank of alcohol, and his clothes were disheveled. There was scratches on his cheek, made by a human’s nails. Those scratches damned him, I had no doubt they came from Romelle’s nails. Whatever awful thing he had done to her, she had not gone down without a fight.

I screamed then, my voice an angry snarl. “LOTOR!”

Even in his current state, he reacted to my scream. Head raising to look my way, he couldn’t even muster up a smirk. “Sabbath…” He started to say, and I reached him, punching him in the face. He fell back against the wall, but he wasn’t shocked I had hit him. He had expected the blow, but hadn’t taken any measure to avoid it.

“Where is she?!” I demanded of him. I had to fight to hold back my rage, the urge to beat him into a bloody pulp surging through me. “Where is Romelle?!” I didn’t dare ask what he had done to her. My own mind was full of guesses, none of them pretty. But I didn’t want Lotor confirming he had raped her again, as if that could somehow prevent the rape from being true.

“Answer me!” I bit out when Lotor remained silent. Blood trickled out of one nostril. I had hurt him, but he wasn’t complaining.

“She’s gone.” He finally answered. I lifted a brow at that, not understanding and not sure I wanted to.

“What do you mean?!” I demanded. “Where has she gone?!”

“She’s gone.” Lotor repeated, then laughed hoarsely. “I killed her.”

My world ceased to turn, reality freezing as his words echoed a thousand times in my mind. It didn’t want to process what those words meant, I didn’t want to believe he was telling me the truth. My heart wouldn’t break then, this bleak misery would stay it’s hand.

Lotor didn’t like that I didn’t react. He began to push and shout at me, his voice a mixture of drunken slur and grief. “Didn’t you hear me?! I killed her! She’s dead! As dead to you, as Allura is to me!”

Did he expect me to feel pity for him? Pity that he had lost Allura? I didn’t. I knew he hadn’t loved Allura. Hadn’t really even cared for her. The fact of the matter was Allura was in a better place, better off dead then wed to this cruel prince. The same could be said about Romelle, but I was a selfish Drule who couldn’t bear the thought of this bright soul being gone.

He was still shoving at me, backing me up against a wall. But he wasn’t trying to beat me, though his shoves were violent enough to nearly knock me over. I began to get the sense Lotor wanted me to attack him. Perhaps in some twisted need for abuse that would absolve him of his current pain.

“How….how did it happen…” I asked instead of hitting him. My voice was quiet, hoarse. I could feel wetness in my eyes, and realized I was close to crying. Grief was taking my heart. It would be pure torture to hear the details of Romelle’s final moments.

“I asked her one last time to reconsider marrying me.” Lotor had stopped pushing me. He wouldn’t meet my eyes though, fidgeting as he talked. “I gave her a choice…she HAD a choice!” He insisted.

“Wasn’t much of a choice if you knew she would never marry you.” I snapped.

He nodded. “I didn’t really want her anyway. I just….” he sighed then. “I just wanted the pain to stop. Wanted Allura back…”

“I don’t care what you wanted!”

Another nod. “You haven’t cared about my wants and needs for a long time now Sabbath.”

“And whose fault is that!?” I demanded. “No, don’t bothering answering. How…what…” i was stumbling, afraid to ask and needing to know how she died. “How did it happen?” Was it with a strike from Lotor’s sword? Or had he beaten her to death? Had he choked her with his hands as I had tried to do to him on board the command ship? “How did she die?”

“It was through a firing squad.” Lotor told me. “I simply stepped back, and they opened fire.”

“You coward.” I sneered. “You had others do the deed for you?!”

“I couldn’t do it…” Lotor confessed. “She looked too much like Allura for me to ever…” He trailed off, and then his expression hardened. “I didn’t kill her because she refused me. I killed her because she wasn’t Allura! Because she would never, ever be Allura! She’s nothing but a pale imitation, her face mocking me! Every time I would have seen her, the pain would have been renewed. it would have been as though I was losing Allura all over again, and I couldn’t stand that!”

This time I did punch him, Lotor falling to the floor. “You’re a coward. A pathetic weakling.”

Lotor was nodding in agreement. “We’ve both lost Lieutenant.” He said tiredly. “Now neither one us will have her.” The her he spoke of referred to both Allura and Romelle, the two princess interchangeable in Lotor’s mind.

I wasn’t going to bother with him anymore. I was through with Lotor, through with the Empire. Maybe even through with Doom. But there was one last thing for me to do. “Where is…where is Romelle?” I couldn’t bring myself to say her body. I wasn’t ready to process things that far. But I needed to know, wanting to give her a proper burial, rather than leave her to the vultures.

“The pit of skulls.” Lotor whispered. “She’s in the pit of skulls.”

Without another word, I took off. But I didn’t move fast enough to avoid hearing Lotor’s pained moan. He groaned out Allure’s name, sounding forlorn and bereft. I felt no pity, dead to everything but my own grief over Romelle. I was already in mourning, and knew of no way to get the kind of closure I needed.


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