We would enter into a period of near endless waiting, desperate for any news. Of Sven, of the satellite, even of the Voltron Force. We were cut off from off world communications, unable to contact Arus or even Sven. Even if we had had the means to put out a message, the security around planet Doom was upped, a net going around all incoming and outgoing messages.
I would go out often those first days of waiting. I wouldn’t go far, my intent to always return the same day I left. It was a self imposed limit I did not mind, and in truth I felt uncertain that Dealian and Malkom would be able to protect Romelle if a real problem should crop up. I was only at ease when I could personally lay eyes on Romelle, and yet I had to leave in order to find out what was going on outside the cave.
I’d travel to all the sites of interest that lay in both directions of the cave. That included my camp site, which had been ransacked and ruined. Something had triggered the traps I had laid out, many of the remaining items knocked over and broken. What hadn’t been damaged had been carried off, and I realized what must have happened. A creature, perhaps several, had stumbled across the camp and it’s traps. The damage they had done in attempting to escape, plus my unexplained absence surely sent a message to Lady Sarada’s agents.
The message of course was that something had to have happened to me. It was over a week since I had last checked in, and with the state of my camp, there’d be little doubt that I had survived an encounter with the very beast I had been sent to hunt. They probably assumed the robeast had killed me, as it had done so many other exterminators. And with my assumed death they had gone into scavenger mode, taking from the camp whatever was still intact, some of my belongings having been loaned out by Lady Sarada herself.
My assumed death would make me the fifth exterminator to be killed by this particular robeast. The numbers were such that it would cause the other hunters to hesitate in taking this job. But eventually someone would. And when that happened, I had to be far from this area. Or else explanations would be needed. Explanations I had no time for. Nor did I care if they thought me dead. It would make things easier when I left Doom, no one actively looking for a dead man.
There would be the issue of my money, but I had always thought in advance where that was concerned. My accounts weren’t in my real name, secreted away in off planet holdings. I’d still have access to my funds, so I wouldn’t be a complete burden on Pollux. I was still uncertain about the life I could have on Pollux, regardless of the reassurances Romelle tried to give me.
I wasn’t just a Drule, once I had been a high ranking soldier. I may not have been the one to give the orders to betray Pollux, but my presence during that ordeal had been felt. There had to be those that had survived, those that would remember me. Those that would have seen me escorting their princess about, maybe even seen my inaction in the castle courtyard. I hadn’t killed any one on Pollux, but then I hadn’t done anything to save them either. That damned me as surely as if I had taken lives that day.
The people of Pollux might have been more welcoming to me if I hadn’t once been the loyal lap dog of the Doom Empire. Or maybe they would have shunned any Drule, regardless of their ties. I cannot say for sure. If Dealian was anyone to judge the people of Pollux by, then many of them would hold grudges against me. Even a week later, Dealian was still hostile under the best of circumstances, always watching me with narrowed eyes. Trust between us would not come easy, no matter what his princess wished, or I attempted to do.
Truthfully, Dealian’s mistrust was such that I was surprised he allowed me to leave the cave unescorted. But Romelle needed guarding, and a human companion would only hinder me in my travels. Especially when my quest for information brought me near to the closest fortress, the massive building now silent and all but empty. The robeasts has long been taken from the fortress, this and similar ones located across the planet. Only the bare minimum of a soldier’s squad were now stationed inside the building, the rest of the men sent elsewhere.
I wouldn’t be able to get into the fortress. I no longer had such authority. My uniform, bearing the insignias of Lady Sarada’s exterminators, allowed me to walk unmolested past the fortress. Everyone assumed I had business this far out. They’d never dream I was hunting for information.
Earlier, I had gone back to the camp ruins, searching out the remains of my broken equipment. Most of it had been explosives and weapons, but there was even bits
needed to cobble together a working communicator. It was keyed into the military’s frequency, but it had a short distance range. I’d lurk in the shadows of the fortress’ outside walls, fiddling with the control dial in order to pick up on communication inside the building.
I wasn’t always successful. Those first days Sven was gone, there wasn’t much being said about Zarkon’s army. The soldiers were glad to have the robeasts gone from the premise. So many of those creatures packed in tight quarters had made them uneasy. They did not envy the Drules who had accompanied the robeasts to the facility. I would learn a name during such talk, the satellite at last becoming known.
It wasn’t familiar to me. It had come into Doom’s possession sometime after my dismissal from the military. It was far out in the galaxy, on the edge of the Empire’s borders. It’s location was meant to keep suspicion from it, the facility being built upon it. But the power source of the facility came from elsewhere, nuclear radiation being gathered from hundreds of worlds. Spoken in hushed whispers was the amount of lazon that had been mined for this operation. A staggering amount, slaves worked to the death to mine out enough to empower as many robeasts as Zarkon had decided upon.
This was surely the biggest operation Doom had engaged in over twenty years time. The amount of energy gathered, the amount of slaves who had died digging out lazon, not to mention the amount of alien gladiators who had fought to the death. All here to unknown amount of numbers. And all to create what would be a near invincible army for Zarkon to use against planet Arus and it’s defender.
Of course, when chaos broke out on Satellite Nuclon, it was all the soldiers could talk about. Many were relieved they hadn’t been chosen to work at the facility, people marveling at the close calls they had had. But none of them knew for sure what had happened on Nuclon, just that the facility had been bombed. More lives were lost in the ensuing explosions, only a few Drules managed to evacuate. The rest of the soldiers, and the five hundred robeasts slated for augmentation, all died in the bombings.
In no time flat, word had reached King Zarkon, the Drule absolutely infuriated. He would send salvage crews to Nuclon, intent on seeing what of the facility and it’s power reserves could be saved. Accompanying them would be one of Haggar’s robeast, augmented to the normal levels of power. The robeast was an added precaution, meant to seek out and destroy any would be threats.
And a threat did come, the Voltron Force heading out to satellite Nuclon. They would be intent on finishing the work Sven had started, eager to attack the facilities’ back up reactors that were spread out on the satellite’s surface. But before they could do that, they would have to engage Doom’s robeast. I heard it was a most spectacular fight, both sides putting their all into the battle. But in the end it made no difference, Voltron would kill the robeast and move on to devastate the satellite.
With several strategic strikes, the satellite was destroyed. The stored reserves of nuclear energy exploding upon the impact of blazing sword’s strikes. The ensuing explosions lit up the sky, and word whispered that for several hundred light years in all directions, one could see the display. It lightened night into day for the worlds’ closest to satellite Nuclon, and some mistook the rumbles for the sound of thunder storms.
We did not see or hear any of this on Doom. The planet was simply too far away from Nuclon to feel even a ripple from it’s destruction. It was only the knowledge I had gleaned from the spying on the soldiers’ conversation that allowed us to know just what had gone down. Not even Doom’s newscast talked of the destruction of Nuclon. It seemed the King wanted no one to know of Doom’s latest disgrace.
It got riskier to stay on Doom. More soldiers were being sent out on patrols, bringing in anything or anyone who looked suspicious. It became difficult to leave the cave, and I dare say we had a few close calls that almost caused us to leave our hiding spot. Frankly, I knew we should have left long ago if not for Romelle’s pleading. She was determined to wait for Sven, and reasoned he would not be able to find us if we broke up the base camp to move somewhere else.
I humored her, but as the days passed the odds for Sven returning began to look less and less good. Even Dealian and Malkom were giving up hope on the man. And yet none of us were ready to try and force Romelle to accept that her hero might be dead. But neither did we try to fill her with hope, the three of us sharing solemn looks and knowing glances.
It was fast going on two weeks since I had met up with Romelle and her terrorist faction. Two weeks of living in this cold cave, existing on meager rations. Tempers were coming close to snapping, only Romelle held us together. None of us wanted to disappoint or upset her, but we were also all eager to move on. To the point Dealian put aside some of his animosity to approach me, his voice a hushed whisper.
I would look around, and see Malkom engaging Romelle in some sort of discussion. Her back was to me. She seemed unaware that Dealian had approached me. It was a set up in a way, one man distracting her so that the other could talk about something important to me. I was sure I already knew what was on his mind, yet I still gave the blonde man my full attention.
“Something has got to be done.” Dealian gave a subtle nod in Romelle’s direction. I nodded back, showing I understood. “We can’t remain on Doom any longer. It’s too dangerous…each night the soldiers get closer to finding this cave….”
“I know…” My own voice was low, practically silent save for my lips moving.
“We have to convince her to leave now.” He continued. “There’s no point in waiting around any more. Not for a….” He trailed off, but I could guess what he had been about to say. We all thought it, all felt Sven was already a dead man. Only Romelle was holding out hope. Only Romelle would keep us waiting an eternity for a man that was more ghost than flesh now.
“I doubt she’d listen to Malkom or I.” Dealian grimaced. “Loyal though we are, we still are only servants to the crown. It is not our place to order or force the princess to do as we please…”
“But you think she’d listen to me, since I am an outsider?” I raised an eyebrow at that. He continued to grimace.
“She trusts you. Likes you even. I don’t know what happened exactly between you during her captivity, but even I have to admit it bonded you two together. I may not like that bond, but I am willing to exploit it if it will get her back to Pollux.”
“She has a bond with Sven too.” I noted. “One that might be even deeper. He’s the one who saved her from Doom after all….”
“Don’t you think I know that?” snapped Dealian, though his voice did not go any louder. “She owes him….but it’s not a debt he would want her paying with her freedom.”
I nodded. “True.” I glanced at Romelle, and sighed. “It’s time I honor my promise to Sven.” I tried not to grimace then. “One way or anther….” Dealian looked relieved, as though he thought I really had the ability to change Romelle’s mind on this. “I’m not saying it’ll work…” I warned him. “Especially if she’s made up her mind. There might not be any reasoning with your princess…”
“But at least you’ll make the effort…”
“Yes.” Another sidelong glance at Romelle, who was now looking at something Malkom held in both his hands. “But if this doesn’t work..” In my boredom I had done an inventory of the items they had brought with them from Pollux. The many foods and herbs contained in the crates. There was even some medicines, pills that could be used to our advantage where the princess was concerned.
“Be prepared to drug her food.” I said at last. Dealian looked shocked at that, his mouth actually dropping open.
“She’ll hate you if you trick her like that.”
“Better she hate than she end up dead or in Lotor’s hands again.” I retorted.
He couldn’t help but be curious at that. I knew enough to know Romelle hadn’t shared the explicit details of all the torments she had endured at Lotor’s hands. Not with Malkom and Dealian, perhaps not even with her brother Bandor. It seemed only I and Sven were privy to the full horrors of Romelle’s ordeal, and it was a secret neither one of us would reveal without her expressed permission.
“Go…” I said, to ward off his questions. “Get the items needed to prepare the drug. I shall go speak with Romelle….”
He nodded, though he looked disgruntled. Dealian really was curious, and it was eating away at him. I almost called him back, wanting to tell him to satisfy that curiosity would be to carry a heavy burden. But I kept silent, walking towards the princess and Malkom. They weren’t trying to be quiet, their conversation carrying easily to me.
“If we’re extremely frugal, and take only the smallest of portions for our meals….” Malkom was explaining to Romelle. “We’ll have enough food to last us maybe another three days…”
“Is food really that low?” I interjected myself into the conversation, but already knew the answer. I had inventoried the crates several times over, and was well aware of the situation. The supplies were running out, and we had little way to get more. Doom’s surface was so barren it had little in the way of forageable plants. Hunting for food was even worse, only scavengers and carnivores existed. I could always go to town, but that would mean abandoning Romelle for days on end, something I wasn’t willing to do. Not to mention my return to civilization would resurrect a man supposedly dead.
We couldn’t remain on Doom. We had to pack up and leave. Everyone recognized that but Romelle. She turned to look at me, a half smile turning the corner of her mouth up. “We’ve almost exhausted all our supplies.” She said. “But as Malkom was explaining, if we hold back and skimp on our meals…we’ll be able to remain on Doom just a little while longer…”
And that little while longer meant everything to Romelle. I could see that, and so could Malkom. Just as we could tell she would keep us firmly rooted on Doom, waiting forever if we had too. This couldn’t go on, and something must have shown on my face for Romelle was suddenly shaking her head no.
“Don’t…Sabbath, don’t say it…”
“You have to hear it Romelle….” I retorted, and what little of her smile she had managed, crumpled. “It’s been too long…Sven’s…”
“Sven is fine!” She spoke over me, tone firm. “He’s just been delayed…..but he will be returning…he will!”
“Malkom….could you come help me with this evening’s meal?” Dealian’s request had a grateful Malkom backing away from Romelle and I. I wouldn’t bother to listen to what the two men would say to each other. Surely Dealian would fill Malkom in on the need to drug Romelle for her own good.
“Romelle, it’s been a week…More than enough time for him to have returned…” I pointed out. She was shaking her head no, over and over. I stepped toward her, intent on stilling her movements with my grab. But she evaded my reach, backing away from me.
“He’ll come back…” She repeated, voice a fervent whisper. “He has too…”
Nothing I could say felt adequate enough. I stood there, expression serious as I watched her hug her arms around her trembling body. “Romelle…” I sighed then, even as she shook her head no yet again. “Sven made me make a promise. A promise to get you off this world. To see you back to Pollux safely. And not just you. But Malkom and Dealian…”
She stared at me, long enough that I thought she wasn’t going to speak again. “I made a promise too…” She finally whispered.
I blinked slowly. “You did?”
“Do you want to know what it was?” I turned guarded, but eventually nodded. “It was back when Sven first got me off of planet Doom. I vowed that I would never again leave this awful place without the persons that matter to me…” She was still hugging herself, and I didn’t know what to say. We hadn’t really discussed the time she had first escaped from Doom. I had yet to share my upset over being left behind like that, or my grudging understanding over why she had to do what she had done.
I don’t know what Romelle took my silence for. She peeked up at me through lowered lashes, her expression one of raw nerves. “I…” A nervous exhalation, Romelle trying to find the right words. “I didn’t…”
“You didn’t owe me anything.” I interrupted at last. “It was right of you to leave without me.” She looked surprised at that.
“You’re not angry?” Romelle asked.
“Can’t say…” I said with a shrug of my shoulders. “It’s a difficult situation we both were in. So many things to factor in. You didn’t know how far you could trust me…if I’d turn on you and bring you back to Lotor or not. Of course you had to seize the opportunity to get away the first chance you get. But…”
“But what?” She prodded, stepping closer to me.
“But even knowing all that. It hurt.” I admitted. Her expression seemed to soften, she was reaching with her hand to touch my face. I allowed the touch, staring unblinking at her. “I wish…things had been different…that you could have trust me….that I could have…” I trailed off, and no amount of prodding from Romelle could get me to admit to my secret desire. The desire to have been the one to rescue her.
It hurt her when Romelle saw I wouldn’t finish what I had been about to say. I saw the look in her eyes, felt her distance herself from me both physically and emotionally. She toughened up, expression firm, not willing to tolerate any argument. “We will continue to wait for Sven.” She told me. I didn’t react, not even when she added the following. “It’s the least I can do…after all he’s done for me.”
“We might be waiting forever…” I reminded her, and she didn’t so much as frown.
“So be it.” She turned away from me then. “I won’t ever let anyone feel what you felt. I won’t ever let anyone feel the hurt you felt, the hurt of being abandoned.”
I could understand that. But I didn’t have to like it. I clenched my hands into fists, forcing myself not to chase after her as Romelle walked away. She was allowed some
time alone, we all were. But I felt Dealian and Malkom’s stare, the men waiting for a command. It wasn’t one I particular wanted to give, my teeth grinding together as I turned to look at them.
“We do it tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?!” Dealin was shocked. “Why not today?”
Malkom was nodding. “Yes, the sooner the better. No good can come of waiting…”
He was right. There was plenty of reason why we had to get off the planet, and had to get off it now. And yet, Romelle’s sincere words had made me hesitate. Enough that I was willing to give her one more day to come to terms with the fact Sven would not be returning. No amount of prodding from Dealian and Malkom could get me to change my mind about this. It was both kindness I offered Romelle, and a selfishness on my part. All because I wanted one more day to keep Romelle from hating me completely.
I can’t lie and say I wasn’t nervous about this impending betrayal of her trust. I wondered if it would be the end of our friendship, if Romelle would rescind the offer for me to live on planet Pollux. I even thought she might blame me for Sven’s failure to return. She’d probably forever think if we had waited just one more day, the man would have appeared.
Restless, I paced about the center of the cave. I didn’t want to chase after Romelle, and yet she was taking too long in returning. Malkom and Dealian kept looking down the path to the cave’s entrance, growing increasingly agitated. They were working on cooking the evening’s meal, and I kept a close eye on what they used. All because I feared their impatience would lead them to drug Romelle ahead of schedule.
I was drifting closer to them, when the scream came. Immediately all three of us ran towards the cave’s entrance. There was no doubt about it, that had been Romelle’s voice. She had screamed and then it had died down, muffled by some unknown assailant. We ran, and I pulled ahead of the two humans, bursting out into the open. It was a wonder we didn’t shoot anyone, spying Romelle repeatedly banging her fists against a Doom soldier’s chest. She didn’t look frightened though, her blue eyes flashing angrily.
The soldier paid us no mind, too busy laughing at the princess’ antics. It was the laugh that gave him away, the soldier having an accent no Drule could ever manage.
“SVEN!” All three of us voiced as one, our disbelief apparent. He continued to laugh, Romelle still fuming, striking him again and again. It was then that I realized she was talking to him, furious whispers we could barely hear over Sven’s hearty laugher.
“Don’t ever do that again! You gave me quite a fright!”
Sven’s laugher calmed down some, the man grabbing the princess by the wrists. “You shouldn’t have been out here alone. What if I had been a real Doom soldier?” That didn’t calm down Romelle in the slightest, she glared at him and struggled to get her hands free.
“I can’t believe you’re still alive!” blurted out Dealian. Malkom and I could only nod. I was sure my expression was as stunned stupid as theirs.
“Did you think I was lunch?” Sven asked, glancing our way. “For some robeast?”
“That’s not funny!” snapped Romelle. “Don’t make jokes…not at a time like this!” He turned back to Romelle, locking eyes with her as his expression turned serious.
“Were you worried about me?” A tremulous smile was cast her way. I expected Romelle to cease her struggles and fall into his arms, maybe even cry out her relief. Instead she surprised us all, stamping her foot on one of Sven’s.
“I hardly even noticed you were gone!” She announced, and jerked free of his hold. Without a backwards look his way, she stalked back into the cave, leaving a bemused Sven behind.
“So much for a hero’s welcome…” He muttered, his expression one of pure bewilderment. Dealian and Malkom immediately set out to make excuses for their princesses behavior. Sven seemed to tune them out, looking at me. It was hard to read his expression then, if he was really that angry that we had remain behind to wait for him.
I could only shrug, muttering something about willful princesses before hurrying back into the cave. I wouldn’t find Romelle at first, she had traveled all the way to it’s rear. Far enough that she must have thought her weeping would be muffled. I stood back, watching her and feeling awkward. She didn’t acknowledge me. I wasn’t even sure if she realized I was there, the girl too busy crying out her relief over Sven’s return.
I wanted to go to her then. To wrap her up in my embrace, and rock her to comfort. But I was aware she was crying for another man, her sob filled whispers voicing Sven’s name over and over again. She literally shook with emotion, thanking the Gods for returning him. It made me feel like an outsider looking in, unwanted and unnoticed. I may have had a bond with Romelle, but she had one that might have been just as strong if not stronger with Sven. And that hurt even more than being abandoned.