It was like a scene out of a nightmare, the city on fire, the blazes traveling from building to building, and no amount of fighting could stop the flames. Not with more bombs going off, the explosions occurring every thirty minutes, bringing down buildings and devastating lives. The various departments of police, medical and fire fighting didn’t have enough time or man power to react to all that was going on, their forces scattered across the city, spread thin in an attempt to help stop the populace from panicking any further.
Chaos reigned supreme, nowhere was safe, the people forced out into the streets in a desperate flight to evacuate the city. It was slow moving endeavor, the people pushing and shoving, impatient and ready to trample anyone who stumbled down to the ground. It was not uncommon for fights to break out, people getting beaten or killed before the authorities could intervene.
Tiliana could only move forward, holding onto the hands of Mark and Leo, the woman trying not to sob. The two boys were as terrified as she was, openly weeping, their hands gripping hers tightly. She barely felt their touch, Tiliana walking about in a dazed state, stunned over the events that had happened in a span of two hours. The hospital had been destroyed, one of the first buildings to be blown apart by terrorist activity. Other buildings and landmarks suffered a similar fate, including the playground
center of the park she had taken the children to visit.
“Oh God.” She was suddenly retching, doing dry heaves as she tried to control her horror. Tiliana was well aware of how close a call she and the boys had had, if Mark and Leo hadn’t picked on Tara, hadn’t run away, they would have been right there for the explosion. So would she, the woman grateful she had run after the boys, even as she felt guilt for leaving the girls behind.
She remembered when the playground exploded, the force of it sending her to her knees, the boys landing on their backs in shock. Stray pieces of flaming shrapnel landed all around them, the melted pieces of playground equipment. She had screamed when she realized what they signified, the woman staggering to her feet, trying to run forward. But fallen trees blocked her way, their branches on fire, and the thick smoke choked out her breath and stung her wet eyes.
She couldn’t see past the smoke, had no way of knowing what was going on in the playground remains, but a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach told her there had been no survivors. Tiliana had screamed and sobbed out for the girls, only becoming coherent when she became aware of the boys cries. As much as it pained her to abandon the girls, she knew her priority had to be to the living. She had to get Mark and Leo to safety.
It became apparent there was no safe spot in the city, and soon she and the boys joined the others in an attempt to leave it. It would take hours to get out, each and every person flinching at the sound of more buildings exploding or collapsing. Tiliana knew without a doubt it was the worst terrorist act the city had ever suffered in all it’s ninety years.
What Tiliana didn’t realize was the bombings heralded the start of a war, Doom and Demos both blaming each other for the attack. Both Empires had been eager to lay claim on Zabatos, and now they used this as an excuse to start fighting. It would take only a few days before the sky was filled with war ships, whole armadas primed and ready to do battle.
As the city burned, the sky lit up with lasers, the bright colored beams criss crossing over the black clouds of smoke. It wasn’t just this city the fighting took place over, all over the planet, similar battles were occurring. The people of Zabatos could only watch and wait, wondering who would become their new suppressor.
Neither Demos nor Doom was an attractive option, both known for their cruelties, both known for their tactics of enslaving the current population of a planet. They knew more would die before a tentative peace would settle over their world, the Zabatons mustering up their meager space force to try and defend the planet from the invaders. It just made Zarkon laugh to see them add their pitiful military might to a battle between two behemoths.
Of course he didn’t waste HIS resources on putting down the Zabaton fleet, Zarkon content to let Demos take care of the insects for him. Instead his commanders focused the entirety of their attacks on the Demos’ armada, the men and women determined to win the planet for their king. Zarkon would settle for nothing less than complete and total victory, the Drule more interested in striking a wounding blow to the upstart empire of the Demos king than of the planet itself.
The battle raged on, days passing before Zarkon thought to break the news to his son. He knew the boy would be upset, and Zarkon could only hope the boy wouldn’t bring them both shame and dishonor with a display of out of control emotions.
Lotor was immediately suspicious when Zarkon canceled the day’s sword practice, instead leading him to his private study. Zarkon tried not to be overly solicitous, sitting the boy down before his desk, offering him no more refreshment than a glass of water. The boy sipped nervously at his drink, his eyes studying his father over the top of his glass.
“Why have you brought me here father?” Lotor had broken their silence, the boy watching as Zarkon began typing out a sequence on his keyboard.
“How much do you know about Doom’s current state of interplanetary affairs?” The king asked him, inputting a code into his computer. A glance at the boy showed him in deep thought, Lotor trying to recall the lessons he had learned.
“Currently the Doom Empire has successfully expanded to thirty-five planets. We are engaging with an additional twenty, each one trying to delay the capture that is inevitable. We would have more planets, but the war with Arus consumed much of our resources. Time, money and men were lost, and though it is slow, we are
recuperating our expenses.”
He recited it the way it had been written down in the information pamphlets handed out to the schools, Zarkon nodding in approval. “Currently the Doom Empire has only one known enemy, and that is Demos. It is a smaller empire consisting of only eighteen planets but it has a strong military might, large enough that it has been causing problems for Doom.”
Lotor paused, taking another sip of his water. “To date, Demos has cost the Doom Empire only one victory. And that was with planet Pollux. Since then the Doom Empire has been merciless in it’s dealings, attacking Demos whenever an opportunity arises.”
“The Doom Empire has always been merciless.” Grumbled Zarkon, and now he reached for the computer’s monitor, turning the screen so Lotor could view the sight of the battles being waged over planet Zabatos. His son stared without comment, slow to realize just what he was witnessing. “This is a playback of current events on planet Zabatos.”
Lotor gasped in recognition, nearly dropping his glass. “No…!”
Zarkon gave a grim nod, letting Lotor take in the sight of the ruined city that lay beneath the sky battles. It was little more than a smoking crater at this point, the battles overhead finishing off the buildings that the fires had failed to destroy. “Demos began a torrent of terrorist activity a mere three days ago. Much lives were lost, but more importantly, the medical research facilities with all their knowledge has been destroyed. Cures that had been in development lost to us, years….decades of research done away in seconds.”
“Me…medical facilities?” Lotor seized on the word, his hand shaking so violently the water splashed over the sides of his glass. “You mean like…hospitals, don’t you?”
He paused, letting Lotor come to the conclusion on his own. “What about the hospital Allura was assigned to?!”
“I’m sorry son….that hospital was one of the first to go when the explosions started. The building collapsed in on itself, there was no chance of survivors.” Lotor screamed out a no, the glass falling from his hand to shatter at his feet. Again Zarkon waited, watching as Lotor struggled with himself, trying to gain even one once of control. “I’m sorry Lotor. I’m told the blast happened so quickly that no one was even aware of their impending deaths. Allura most likely did not suffer in her final moments.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?!” Lotor demanded, his voice a hoarse whisper after that scream of his. Zarkon just looked at him, spying Lotor’s hands gripping the armrest of his chair, the boy giving in to violent trembles. “Allura is dead!”
“Doom is retaliating for this insult.” Zarkon told him, but saw the news didn’t make his son feel better.
“AH Gods…” Lotor hunched over, his hair falling over his face, the boy gasping on his own breath. “I should have never sent her away….”
“You couldn’t have known this would happen…” Zarkon began, and Lotor suddenly sat up, his hair settling wildly about his face.
“I made a promise to her! A promise to meet again once she was better! And now she’s dead!”
“We cannot change what has happened.” Zarkon said, trying not to get upset at how much whining his son was doing over the dead girl. “But we can make amends.”
“How?!” Lotor wanted to know.
“We can take down Demos.” Zarkon leaned back in his chair, watching Lotor carefully. “We have the advantage in this fight, Demos’ numbers are steadily dwindling, their forces divided between ours and Zabatos. It won’t be long before we take the planet.”
“I don’t care about the planet!” Lotor snapped out. “It means nothing to me!” The boy pushed out of his chair, Zarkon rising to stand with him. Lotor angrily shoved at his hair, glass crinkling underfoot. “Demos must pay.”
“Aye.” Nodded Zarkon.
“It’s not enough to take a planet from them, or even two. I want them to suffer!” Lotor’s eyes blazed with fury, the prince once again looking at the view screen.
“You want vengeance.” Zarkon purred his approval. “I can help you get it. It will take time though…Empires are not like planets, they are exceedingly hard to crush.” He spoke from experience, Zarkon remembering when the Demos Empire had only been thirteen planets big. Like a parasite it continued to devour all in it’s path, growing bigger and bigger, to the point it might one day rival the Doom Empire.
“But it can be done, right?” Lotor demanded, seeming no less anxious when Zarkon nodded.
“It may take a lifetime to do, but Demos will be obliterated.” It was no hardship to make that promise, Demos a problem Zarkon had been working to rid himself of for quite some time now. It would be just another tool for him to use to harden his son, Zarkon thinking to show him first hand the cruelties of an Empire.
“I want to be there when you do it.” Lotor’s eagerness surprised him, Zarkon blinking owlishly at his son. “I want to see Demos fall with my own eyes.”
“You’re speaking of going into a war zone. Do you really think you’re ready for that?” Zarkon asked with feigned concern. Lotor nodded his head, causing the King to smirk. “It won’t be like killing in the arena, it will be messy and dangerous. You still need much training, not just with the sword if you hope to battle an empire.”
“You’ll teach me what I need to know.” It was not a request but an order Lotor gave him, the boy staring regally at his father.
Another nod from Zarkon, the king secretly delighted at the fire he saw lit within Lotor. “Then I’ll have Veria replaced with a more adaptable teacher. History and science can only take you so far, you need to learn battle tactics and the art of war making.” The boy also needed to start learning about politics, but that too would come in time.
“Of course…” Zarkon continued smoothly, coming around the desk to put a hand on Lotor’s shoulder. “There’s nothing like some hands on experience. Come!” He began guiding Lotor towards the door, his eyes glittering with amusement. “Pack your things. We leave for Zabatos first thing in the morning.” Lotor looked stunned, which only furthered Zarkon’s amusement. “Lotor son, you’ll get to see first hand the kind of controlled chaos that goes aboard one of my destroyers.”
“And maybe while we’re there….we could…could hold a funeral for Allura?” The boy stuttered out his question, looking hopefully at his father. For once Zarkon chose not to crush that hope, the man in an exceedingly good mood over Lotor’s behavior today.
“It’s the least we can do.” Zarkon agreed, holding back a laugh as he thought of the dead girl. His laughter would have died down on the spot if he had even suspected that Allura was not as dead as he would have liked. In fact the girl was doing remarkably well considering the current state of affairs on planet Zabatos.
She wasn’t sure what was going on, why there was so many people around her. Strangers each and every one of them, many of them too busy to pay much attention to her. Allura would have frowned if she was capable of caring, the girl sitting huddled in a corner, watching the people bustle around her. She wasn’t the only child, the cabin full of bewildered and sobbing children.
In fact there seemed to be more children than adults, roughly four kids per every grown man or woman. As upset as the children were, the boys and girls tired and many crying out for their mommies, the adults seemed worse off, trying to present a show of being unaffected by the noise. It was a consistent sound, heard over the hysterical children, something like the explosions that had rocked the city but lower in volume.
These new explosions were constant, new ones going off every few seconds. Allura had no way of understanding she was listening to the sound of laser fire and ships being blown apart, the girl having little experience with actual war fare. The sounds barely startled her, Allura more interested in trying to figure out where she was. Tia wasn’t here, she knew that much, the girl wondering what had happened to the woman who had been a regular in her life these last few weeks.
Someone approached her, sidestepping a child who had laid down on the floor, the man offering a blanket to Allura. She just stared at him, clutching her stuffed robeast tighter, and the man smiled at her. “It’s okay.” He told her, draping the blanket across her shoulders. “You don’t have to talk. Not until you’re ready.”
That was a surprise, Allura used to the doctors who had always poked and prodded at her, demanding she speak. She was used to people showing frustration at the lack of her response, only Lotor and Tiliana being patient with her. Allura instantly decided she liked this man, and all for the patience, the understanding he showed her in the moment.
A woman approached, and the man looked up at her, echoing her sigh. “There’s still more kids coming in.” The woman said, looking upset. “We’ve already run out of beds. What will we do when we run out of floor?”
“We’ll make room.” The man replied, trying to sound reassuring. “Somehow we’ll manage. We have to.”
“I never expected so many children to be lost or abandoned during the attack.” The woman seemed about ready to sigh, brushing her hand angrily at her eyes. “Most don’t even have id on them. How will we ever reunite them with their families?”
“They’ll come looking for them.” The man told her, sounding confidant. “When things have calmed down and they get their bearings, they will start searching the orphanages for signs of their children.”
“I wish I had even half your confidance about that.” Replied the woman. “We don’t know how many have died..”
“Hey now!” The man interrupted with a shout. He glanced at Allura, and the woman looked too, her cheeks coloring in the process. “Don’t talk like that. Especially in front of the little ones.”
But it was too late, Allura had heard, and she found tears coming to her eyes. It would be the first time she cried without a nightmare rousing her from her sleep, Allura letting out a sniffle. “Addy…” She whimpered out loud, her voice hoarse and sounding strange, even to her own ears. “Addy is dead.”
“Oh sweetie…” The man sat down besides her on the cot, taking her into his arms. “Is that your mommy?”
Allura thought about it, realizing Adaline had been the closest thing to a mother she had ever had. “Addy is dead!” She repeated with more force, nodding her head in answer to the man’s question. The tears came forth, Allura letting out a cry, adding her voice to the hysteria around her. The man could do nothing but hug and hold her, staring up bewildered at his female companion.