Songbird 37

Romelle’s escape from Doom wasn’t without it’s troubles. Nearly every slave that had accompanied her had been killed, their bodies littering the halls leading to the castle docks. It left her badly outnumbered, all alone save for one other. That other was a man, a captured soldier who had once been part of the Galaxy Alliance’s Garrison. He wasn’t typical of the types of slaves Doom normally kept, the Drules quick to kill any that seemed too strong or too prone to causing trouble.

The fact that this man hadn’t been killed long before he met Romelle, was a miracle in and of itself. He seemed to have the luck of the angels on his side, every last bit needed for the escape the pair was attempting.

It’s difficult to fly a ship with only a two man crew. So many of the ship’s functions would be neglected. That included the stolen ship’s offensive capabilities, Romelle and her companion unable to fire back as they tried to navigate the ship to some safe harbor. Doom would not hold back it’s attacks, openly firing on the ship again and again. The stolen ship was a better model than the one Romelle had previously tried to escape in. It’s shielding would hold up, long enough for the Voltron Force to arrive.

One of the first things Romelle’s companion had done, once their stolen ship had launched, was to contact the Voltron Force. The space explorers gave an immediate response, speeding towards planet Doom. They would meet Romelle and her pursuers halfway between Arus and Doom, the fully formed robot moving to engage Lotor’s ships.

The Iron Maiden would be launched, the robeast set to take down Voltron. It was one of the more effective of Haggar’s robeasts, it’s stone outer covering being broken apart to reveal the gold gleam beneath. And with it’s true face revealed, the Iron Maiden would capture Voltron within energy coils. The coils would sap Voltron of it’s power, the robot starting to descend down towards a nearby planet.

Doom’s ships would concentrate their attacks on the newly arrived fleet of Prince Bandor. There would be no way for Bandor to help Voltron escape the Iron Maiden’s attacks, not so long as they were engaged with Lotor’s fleet.

It would be Romelle’s ship that made the difference in the fight. Small and all but ignored by Lotor, Romelle and her companion would risk their lives to save Voltron. They’d fly that ship of theirs into the Iron Maiden, crashing into it’s back. It was a distraction that allowed Voltron to get free of the energy coils. Somehow, Romelle’s ship came away from the crash with nothing more than a few dents.

Still it had been risky. The ship could have exploded on impact, killing Romelle and the soldier. But they had both been willing to take the risk, both preferring death to living in a galaxy that would be ruled by the Drules.

With the Iron Maiden destroyed, Lotor would beat a hasty retreat. He wouldn’t even have Romelle to show for his efforts, his father greatly displeased. With him and with Haggar, the King’s angry bellows echoing through the castle halls.

I would know none of this, imprisoned deep in the castle’s bowels. The dungeons were a million times worse now that I was on the opposite side of the bars. The filth was intensified, the feelings of misery overwhelming as was the despair. I was torn between wanting to be left alone, and needing to know what was happening with Romelle. The guards would not answer my questions, intent on furthering my agony. Not even when I grew my most desperate, willing to barter away my soul would I get the answers I needed.

I wasn’t alone in my cell. There was humans present, men who looked at me with open hostility. They thought me their chance to pay back Doom for the years of misery they had endured. They were many and I was but one. It made them overconfident. But I was still strong, well fed and in prime condition for a Drule. Even with six of them rushing me, it wasn’t an effort to beat them back.

I tried to use just enough force to get them to leave me be. But they had no respect for my attempts at being gentle. The humans would be bruised and battered, just barely able to walk after our confrontation. But it was enough to get them to leave me alone for the days that followed. I may not have earned their respect, but I had earned their fear. They would not underestimate a Drule again.

I would lose track of the days. There are no windows available to us in the dungeons. Nor are there clocks, leaving us with no way to keep track of the hour. Time would distort, leaving us senseless of everything but our present reality. There was nothing to do, many of those imprisoned spending much of their time asleep. It seemed not to matter to them that the floor was filthy. Dreams were better than the nightmare of the waking world.

The only interruptions to this endless waiting was when one of two things occurred. The bringing of the slop they passed off for a meal, or the arrival of someone new in the dungeons. The latter did not happen all that often. Slaves were more apt to be killed on the spot, rather than sent to the dungeons. Even less rare was the arrival of someone with the intent to visit those locked away, and it was practically unheard of for the Prince to come to the dungeons.

But Lotor did come, long after time had lost it’s meaning for me, and my belly constantly rumbled with hunger. He would stop before my cell, the other slaves cowering away from the bars. He’d stare at me a long moment, expression unreadable. I would return his gaze, walking forward. I refused to be intimated, to cower and hide.

There wasn’t much choice in the things I could have said to him then. I was distraught over Romelle, over the fact that her fate was unknown to me. Lotor’s presence in the dungeons did not guarantee anything, she could be dead, or she could be alive. Either way, I HAD to know of what had happened to her.

“Does…” My voice came out hoarse, my words choked out after a long period of silence. “Does she live….?”

Lotor’s lips curled into a sneer then. “Look at how low she’s brought you.” A gesture of his hand to encompass the dungeons, Lotor looking disgusted by the conditions of my cell. “You’ve gone from the luxury of a high paid position, to wallowing in the filth of the dungeons. Was she worth it Sabbath? Was she worth being brought so low?”

I wrapped my fingers around the iron bars, needing to grip something as I steeled my gaze. “Does Romelle still live?” My voice was an urgent growl. I was wondering if Lotor too would leave me to wallow in uncertainty.

He certainly kept me waiting long enough, holding my gaze as he continued to sneer. But at last he nodded, and a breath expelled from me. My eyes closed, I was so relieved. “Thank the Gods.”

“I wouldn’t be so quick to thank anyone.” He snapped back. “Her being alive is only a temporary thing at best. Doom will crush Pollux, just as it will all our enemies. Romelle will die. I will see to that personally.”

“You’ll never get near her again.” My retort was full of confidence, my look knowing. “She is safe from you, from Doom. The Voltron Force will destroy the Doom Empire, and you with it….The galaxy will know peace once more…”

“Just listen to yourself, Sabbath!” Lotor hissed. “You’re talking crazy! Beyond crazy, your words treasonous. That Romelle really turned you upside down, to get you so twisted up that you long for the destruction of our glorious empire!”

“There is no glory in what Doom does. In the misery and pain it causes.” I retorted back.

“You were once part of that system.” Lotor reminded me. “How many worlds were ruined by your commands? How many people dead or enslaved?!”

“I’ve played my part…” I acknowledged. “I’ve done terrible things….on yours and the King’s orders. What’s worse, I acted without questioning such orders, behaved like a good little soldier. I can’t ever make up for the past….but I can work to change the future.”

“Oh?” Lotor’s smiled, expression mocking. “And how will you do that? You can’t change anything from a dungeon cell!” I narrowed my gaze at him, fingers clutching the bars harder. “You won’t be able to make a difference, you’ve NEVER been able to. Certainly your actions never amounted to anything where Romelle was concerned!”

My eyes flashed with anger, but I was hurt. Hurt because I felt he was right. I had never been able to save her from the things happening to her. All I could do was bear witness to her pain and suffering.

“It’s no wonder she left you without a second thought.” Continued Lotor. “Romelle recognized that you were worthless to her now. She was quick to abandon you, to toss you aside like garbage.”

“She did what she had to, to survive…” But my voice betrayed the slightest bit of uncertainty.

“Pity you didn’t show that same ambition.” Lotor retorted. “She did what she had to, to be free. Her ambitions in that outweighed her so called friendship to you.”

“You’re wrong…” I whispered.

“Am I?” Lotor asked. I nodded, though it lacked confidence. He snorted, and stepped back. “You fool. You’ve lost everything….everything and you have nothing to show for it.”

“She’s free. That’s more than enough for me.” He gave me a patronizing look, shaking his head no.

“That’s cold comfort down here in the dungeons.” With that, Lotor walked away. I didn’t stare after him, instead gazing at my hands clutching the bars. Was this to be my fate? My future spent in the dungeons? Would I grow old and weak here, come to accept the filth and the slop?

For a time, the answer seemed to be yes. I would remain in the dungeons, growing weaker by the day. My stomach was constantly rumbling it’s discomfort, the slop
they fed us not enough to satisfy our appetites. I grew lethargic, half starved, and malnourished. The filth clung to me as surely as it did the floors, the dirt unavoidable when I collapsed from a need to sleep.

I was always cold, shivering violently. There was little heat to be found in the dungeons, the cold encouraging illness. I’d become feverish, dreaming of Romelle, of Lotor and of the past. Sometimes it felt like I was reliving these last few months, over and over without the ability to effect change. Other times I would dream of Romelle, and wonder if she was happy now that she was free. Had that brilliant smile returned to her? Or was she still haunted by her experiences on Doom?

There was even a small part of me that envied her freedom. I still felt hurt at being left behind, at the fact she hadn’t trusted me enough to seek me out. I wondered if Romelle had thought so low of me that she had expected me to turn her back over to Lotor. But then I’d remember how little I had done to help her in the past. It was no wonder she had no faith in my ability to play her savior.

Sometimes I even thought of the man she had left with. The Garrison soldier. I wondered if he was still with her, if Romelle lauded him as her hero. I was full of angry jealousy towards this man, sometimes hating him for doing what I had been unable to do. I was torn between praising him, and damning him but mostly I damned myself.

I think in my miserable state, I would have been content to die from the fever. For then I would no longer be tortured by the dreams, the worries and the irrational emotions. But I didn’t die. Instead I would be taken from the dungeons, brought to the castle’s infirmary. I would awaken to a nurse leaning over me, and for one-second I was disoriented enough to think she was Romelle.

“Romelle…” Weakly, I reached for her. “You came back for me…” The vision would fade at the touch of my hand on the nurse’s face, feeling how she stiffened in response. The blonde hair would be replaced by stark white, the porcelain pale complexion now the faintest hue of lavender. My smile would fade, I would stiffen in return. Just as abruptly, I would drop my arm, unease filling me.

“I will go get the doctor.” The nurse was unsettled, hurrying out of the room. I would lay back in the bed, reveling in it’s softness, and the cushioning feel of the pillows beneath my hair. The hospital room was a vast improvement to my cell, clean and smelling faintly of medicines. I myself had been bathed, my hair taken out of it’s braids. Later, I would find my mother’s beads gathered in a bowl on the night stand.

I was also given a much needed change of clothing. It’s amazing how much of a mood lifter being clean causes. But I didn’t trust this development, suspicion filling me as I waited for the doctor to appear. Why had they gone to so much trouble to tend to me? Why hadn’t they left me in the dungeons? Why not let me die? What purpose could Lotor and the King have for me now?

It would be a small eternity before Doctor Shabatoba made his appearance. His appearance was a little mussed, surgical scrubs bearing the faintest stains of blood on them. I didn’t inquire as to what he had been doing. He was surely a busy man, and I was recovering enough to not need round the clock care.

“Sabbath…” I thought it telling the Doctor didn’t refer to me by my rank. I surely must have lost all position in the Empire. I sighed as he came closer to my bed, wondering bleakly what was to become of me. “I’m sure you have a lot of questions….” I just looked at him, unable to rouse much interest in what he had to say. That visibly frustrated Shabatoba, the Drule frowning. “Sabbath, I’m concerned about you. We all are.”

“Are you really?” I managed to ask. He nodded. “Why?”

“You’ve been acting…very strange these last few months.” He didn’t answer my question, and I forced back a scowl. “Ever since that girl was brought to Doom.” It was true that Romelle’s presence had been the trigger to the change in me. I could acknowledge that much at least. “You’ve done things…things that aren’t like you.”

“How would you know…” I interrupted him.

“I’ve checked your file.” Shabatoba was quick to answer. “I’ve read the accounts, interviewed some of the men who worked with you. You’ve led an exemplary career, had a bright future ahead of you. A career you disregarded, a future you tossed aside all for a woman.”

“I’d do it again…” I started to say, but he spoke over me.

“You’ve been questioning orders, going against the prince. Openly attacking him. You’ve even spoken aloud some treasonous thoughts…It’s all things that can brand you a traitor to the Empire. You’re lucky you haven’t been executed for your actions.”

“Why am I still alive then?” I needed to know this.

“You’ve been extraordinarily lucky.” Shabatoba said. “Part of it has to do with your record….the accomplishments you earned Doom. The King himself has recognized what a good soldier you’ve been….that you can still be…”

“Still?” I snorted, shaking my head no. “I’ll never play soldier for the Empire again.”

“Do not be so hasty Sabbath!” The doctor quickly protested. “You’re being offered something few others on Doom get. A new chance….”

“And what would I have to do for this new chance?” I was suspicious, and rightfully so. The doctor turned hesitant, unable to meet my eyes.

“I’ve made a case with King Zarkon. He knows…”

“Knows what?!” I demanded, sitting up.

“That you’ve been under a lot of stress….that it affected your mind and your sense of duty.” Shabatoba explained. “That you, lost your wits for a while…”

“I am not crazy!”

“I have my doubts about that.” Shabatoba retorted. I growled at him, but he seemed unaffected by my anger. “The King has already signed off on the papers. He;s eager to have his commander back.”

“That will never happen!”

“I would think long and carefully on what I’m about to tell you. You shouldn’t waste this opportunity, this chance to regain all that you lost.” Shabatoba was unblinking then, holding my angry gaze. “All you have to do is agree to be committed for a while. Allow us to work with you, to help you become the man you once were…”

“You mean to brainwash me!” I snarled. “I won’t allow it!”

“What other options do you have? You will be shunned otherwise, sent away from the castle, discharged without honors. What kind of life can you possibly have once you’ve been marked so?” His tone was reasonable as he asked me this. Shabatoba very much wanted to convince me to walk the path of the perfect Drule soldier. A path I had long since turned my back on.

“Even a life in the slums would be a million times better than a life without a free will of my own.” I retorted. Shabatoba looked frustrated with my answer, the man shaking his head sadly.

“Is that really your final answer?”

“Of course it is! There’s no other choice for me!” I meant it too. I would gladly walk away from this castle, from this life if it meant I’d never have to sit back and watch someone I care about be so abused. With Romelle gone, there was no reason for me to remain in the castle. I had stayed only on the hopes my presence could somehow make a difference to her fate.

“I still believe you should wait until you’ve had time to think about it…” Shabatoba began.

“My answer will be the same, no matter how long you keep me here!”

He sighed then. “I will inform the King of your decision then. I’ll….be sorry to see you go.”

I didn’t know what to say to that, watching in stone face silence as the doctor left the room. I wouldn’t relax, my hands fists on the blanket covering me as I wondered what I would do now. It wouldn’t be an easy life I would have, walking away from the Empire. I’d lose my home in Kesodonia without a steady paycheck, my savings would eventually run out. It would be difficult to find a high paying job once it was learned I had been discharged from service without honors. But somehow I would manage. And all because I was starting down a new path, one that would keep me from simply sitting back and doing nothing as the Empire did it’s evil right in front of me.

I won’t say a weight had been lifted from me. My heart still felt heavy, and I felt very uncertain about what was to happen to me. The coming weeks would be rough, the first time I was without a purpose since the days after I had first been kicked out of the brothel. I would set out to reinvent myself, all in order to put an end to the restlessness I now found myself burdened with. I had no idea back then, that my life and Romelle’s were still intertwined. Or that the visions of Doom’s destruction had not yet been thwarted, fate continuing forward in an attempt to make Haggar’s premonition come true.


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