The first words had been the hardest thing Allura had ever had to do, causing her physical pain to speak, the girl experiencing sharp needle like pangs in her stomach. It was all psychological, the girl connecting her words with danger, Allura fearing for her well being if she spoke. But she had things to say, and little by little she was combating the phantom pains, speaking out on her loss and her sorrows.
Adaline was dead, of that she was sure, the girl remembering the horrors she had witnessed. Remembering and reliving them in her dreams, the girl growing desperate for a good night’s sleep. She wasn’t the only one though, there were other children just as bad off as she, their screams of terror mimicking her own fears, sometimes waking her up before her own nightmares could take root in her mind.
They were all friends in suffering, the various boys and girls of the orphanage bonded together in pain and in fear. They formed a family together, and here there was little cruelty, the children more concerned with helping one another heal. It was a clumsy effort, but so much better in Allura’s mind than the clinical coldness of the doctors at the hospital.
She began to talk with more frequency, feeling as though there was a dam inside her. Her words tore cracks into the dam, breaking it down to the point she was no longer scared to speak. She began to live again, Allura starting the grieving process she had delayed with her retreat inside herself. Those first days she did nothing but cry, her stuffed robeast snuggled in her arms, the girl weeping into it’s fur.
The people who ran the orphanage tried to make time for her, but with so many other children, it was difficult to offer comfort with so many others breaking down. It wasn’t unusual for the bedrooms to be filled with bawling children, the boys and girls crying for their parents, not knowing if they lived or died.
Allura came to understand all that had happened in the month proceeding her time at the orphanage. The hospital she had been staying at had been destroyed, leaving her to contemplate the what ifs. It was scary but she knew if TIliana hadn’t insisted on taking her with the others to the park, Allura would have died that day. Another what if, the girl realizing that Juniper in her attempt to do her a great cruelty, had inadvertently saved her life.
There was more, Allura remembering the man dressed in military fatigues who had comes cross her huddled form in the park. He had lifted her up into his arms, and carried her away from the fires, tucking her into a vehicle with other frightened children. It was this man, and his comrades who would bring Allura and the other children to an orphanage outside the city’s limits. She’d never learn his name, he didn’t stick around long enough for more than a hug before leaving to search for more lost souls.
She’d never see that man again, and she often wondered if he was still alive, or if he had died in one of the many explosions that had shaken the city. She didn’t remain long at the orphanage the man had brought her too, Allura and many of the other children being transferred to another city, to a building that had made room for them. It still left the children in crowded conditions, the boys and girls forced to wear the same clothing for days on end before new supplies arrived.
There had been another man, a kind soul who had exhibited patience with her, telling her it was okay not to talk. He had traveled with Allura and the others to the new orphanage, and the sight of his face gave Allura comfort. She often followed him around the orphanage, trying to help him in his tasks, be it delivering new blankets or the day’s meals.
He tolerated all this with good nature, accepting of his golden haired shadow. Allura learned his name, and slowly, shyly she began to call out to him. He never realized what an accomplishment she was achieving, the man thinking she had been quiet because of her ordeal in the city. He had no way of finding out her background, no way of learning how damaged Allura had been by her last experiences on Doom.
She preferred it that way, not wanting him to pity her. Allura had had enough pity in her short lifetime. Instead she focused on being a help to him, wanting to make his tasks just a little easier, and offer comfort to the other children. They were her friends, her family, and she wanted to ease their suffering.
But then a disturbing element was introduced into her life, children starting to vanish from the orphanage. It left Allura unsettled and confused, the girl anxious as she ran about the building trying to locate the missing children. Brandon found her on her hands and knees, the girl peering under a bed.
“Did you lose something Allura?” He chuckled, watching her from the room’s doorway.
“My friends!” She said plaintively, sitting back on her knees. “Where is Timmy and Johnny?” The twin boys were the latest to disappear, Allura feeling close to tears and sick with worry. The feelings grew worse as Brandon frowned, his eyes hinting he knew something, something she would not like.
“Allura..” He sighed and walked towards her, reaching down to help her up off the floor. “Sit with me.” Together they perched on the bed, Allura swinging her legs back and forth as she rocked in place. “Timothy and Jonathan have had a very good thing happen to them.”
“They learned their parents had survived the attacks. They left the orphanage to be reunited with them.” Allura frowned at Brandon’s words, not liking that the two boys were gone. “Its a good thing.” Brandon continued, petting her hair. “They’re back with their family.”
“What about my family?!” Allura demanded, feeling her tears trickle down her face. She saw Brandon did not understand, the man assuming she was talking about her own mother and father.
“We’re still searching for the rest of the children’s families. I’m sure someone is out there looking for you as well.”
“NO!” She shrieked, and jumped up off the bed. “No one is! Addy is dead! She’s never coming back.” She cried harder now, Brandon trying to pull her into a hug, but she fought him. “Why?” Allura sobbed. “Why does everyone leave me?!”
“Oh sweetie…” Brandon began, but she was in no mood for his attempts at soothing her. She jerked away from him, and ran out the room, heading towards the stairs that led down to the first floor. She could heard Brandon calling after her, his footsteps echoing on the hardwood floor as he gave chase. She sped down the stairs, and through the corridor, bursting into the common room, her entrance causing the other children to look up in startled surprise.
“Allura, why are you crying?” asked Alana, the girl’s fingers fidgeting with her red pigtails. Allura just sniffled and went over to a corner, slumping downwards in defeat. The other boys and girls came to surround her, expressing concern about her upset state.
“Why aren’t you with Brandon?” A boy wanted to know. Another took on a knowing look, voice confidant as he spoke.
“I bet they had a fight.”
“That’s awful!” Alana said. “Allura, you should go make up with him right away!” Allura shook her head no, letting her hair fall forward to cover her face. One of the younger girls came to sit next to her, the seven year old snuggling up against Allura’s side.
“Don’t be sad Allura.” The younger girl said sweetly, putting an arm across Allura’s waist.
“Yeah, cheer up!” The first boy said, just as Brandon’s footsteps skidded to a halt in the room. The children looked his way, and at a gesture from the man, they scattered, going back to their toys. But they kept a wary eye on the pair, the children quick to protest should Brandon say or do anything that would further upset Allura.
“Allura…I know it’s rough…and difficult for you to understand right now.” He kneeled down before her, but didn’t make a move to touch her, just talking softly to the girl. “People come and go in and out of our lives. It’s simply fact. Even mommies and daddies eventually leave us. But it doesn’t mean they stop loving you.”
“They don’t?” Allura whispered her question.
“They don’t.” Brandon nodded, smiling gently at her. “After all, you didn’t stop loving them just because they are no longer with you, right?”
She thought about that, realizing that though Adaline would forever be gone from her life, she had not lost one ounce of love for the woman. Or for Lotor, the girl remembering the good times and the bad with him. Before she realized it she was smiling, a relieved look in her eyes. “You’re right…But…I still don’t have to like them leaving me!”
Brandon chuckled at that. “I don’t think anyone likes to be left behind.” He opened his arms to her. “Now come here and give me a hug.” Allura all but flung herself forward, nearly knocking the man over in the process. He laughed harder, the two clinging to each other, Allura listening to his heartbeat. She wanted to ask him to never
leave her side, but she feared his answer. So she just sat there, reveling in his closeness, closing her eyes.
He rubbed circles on her back, letting her hold onto him for as much as Allura needed. Eventually she realized she was keeping him from his work, Allura pulling back with a shy smile. “I feel better now.” She told him, and he smiled.
Allura watched him stand up, but this time she didn’t offer to go with him, the girl instead walking over to play with Alana. The redhead had several dolls before her, Allura picking up a blonde one, and beginning to undress her. The boys were playing marbles, and the seven year old was sitting in front of the holo projector, watching people in animal costumes put on a play.
The atmosphere in the common room was relaxed, the kids talking quietly and laughing. Allura picked out a green colored dress to put on the doll, looking up when the holo screen suddenly screeched to a halt. The seven year old child was upset by this, the girl hitting her fist on the projector, trying to restore the picture. An adult was rushing forward to stop her, the holo being full of static that was soon replaced by a grinning skull on a red and black backdrop.
Allura shivered in fear at the sight of that skull’s malevolent grin, the girl recognizing it’s distinctive shape as that of a symbol of planet Doom. There was no mistaking it, or the colors it sat on, the red and black a motif that had been spread all over the castle rooms.
Almost as though compelled, Allura set down the doll, and got up. Words appeared on the screen, two languages side by side, one of them Drule. She knew enough to make out the message, the girl reading out loud that Doom had successfully fought off Demos. Now planet Zabatos was under Doom’s control, the latest in a long line of planets to fall to the Empire.
Music started to play, the imperial march that heralded the arrival of the King of Doom. The skull banner began to fade, the picture opening up on an arena. Allura had no idea where this footage was coming from, but she watched as humans and Drule mingled in the stands, their voices a loud murmur as they waited for something to happen.
They didn’t wait long, a tall, all too familiar man stepping up to the podium. Allura bit back a whimper of fear, recognizing him to be King Zarkon. Lights went off all around him, people taking pictures of what was to be a historic moment. The king allowed it, pausing for effect before his voice boomed out of the microphone. The children in the common room all jumped back at the loudness of the Drule’s voice, and the seven year old began crying, frightened by Zarkon’s intimidating looks.
Zarkon spoke not in any language the common person of Zabatos would understand, his words in Drule. A running translation was under the screen, detailing the key points of the king’s speech. He spoke of the war, of the time spent fighting, two months in all going by. He grinned for the cameras, flashing a row of deadly looking teeth, practically purring as he announced that Doom had won the war.
The children besides her didn’t understand the significance of this, but the adults did, more hurrying into the room to stare in horror at the screen. One woman was pale faced, all but collapsing to the floor as Zarkon began talking about the changes that would be dealt to the Zabatos way of life. The people would be enslaved, all healthy and able bodied men being carted off to do labor either here on the planet, or brought back to work the lazon mines on Doom.
The destroyed city would not be rebuilt, but Zarkon strongly encouraged the people of Zabatos to open up what research remained, a threat in the king’s voice. He was going to bring in his own scientists and doctors, those men and women would study the findings, work to develop new cures and vaccines. Ones that would only be
available to the Drules of the Doom Empire.
He talked at length about all the plans he had for the planet, the adults in the room growing more and more upset. She could hear them talking, a woman hissing for silence while men began to make plans to escape this fate. As if knowing the kind of thoughts running through their minds, Zarkon mentioned that Doom ships were currently in the space above Zabatos, ready to shoot down any unauthorized vessels. There would be no escaping Doom’s clutches, not if one wanted to live a bit longer.
Soon the King was gesturing for someone to join him up on the podium. Allura gasped out a name, stepping close enough to touch the screen, feeling it’s energy
flicker beneath her fingers.
It had only been about three months she had last seen him, and yet he seemed different somehow. Colder, meaner, a dead look in his eyes. Zarkon introduce the prince to the crowd, the Drules cheering. The camera pulled back to reveal a row of humans, men dressed in the uniforms of commanding Demos officers. Zarkon began talking about them, calling them war criminals, saying they needed to be dealt with.
A message had to be sent to the king of Demos, and Zarkon intended to do it with these captured men. He smiled again, the smirk one of cruel pleasure, Zarkon gesturing for Lotor to step forward. The boy did so eagerly, Allura spying fire in his eyes, an emotion she did not recognize bringing the life back into his gaze. The prince walked down the steps of the podium, the Drules goading him on with their screams.
She gasped as Lotor drew his sword, Allura spying the tell tale glow of lazon blue. “What is he doing?” asked Alana, even as the adults gasped.
“The prince is just a child. They cannot mean for him to…to..” The woman trailed off, Lotor grabbing the hair of one of the Demos commanders. With a cruel jerk, the man’s neck was exposed, Lotor swinging back his sword arm in preparation to strike.
Allura cried out, her words coming out in Drule. “No, Lotor, no! This is not like you!” But there was no way he could hear her, his arm swinging forward, the girl shutting her eyes so she would not see the severing slash connect.
The screams of the crowd died down, Allura hearing Brandon speak, his voice angry. “What is wrong with you all?!” He was standing by the holo projector, having shut off the mechanism, sparring the children the sight of the gore infused executions. “How can you just stand around, watching this bloody spectacle, allowing children to almost witness the executions?!”
“Brandon!” The seven year was tugging on his leg, looking up urgently at him. “What’s an execution?!”
“Never you mind!” The man replied, and the girl frowned.
“Is it something fun?!”
“That blue boy was going to cut off their heads!” One of the boys said excitedly. “That’s so cool!”
“It is not cool!” Alana protested, clinging to Allura’s arm. “Right Allura?” She could only bob her head in agreement, wondering how Lotor could do such a thing. Adaline would have never approved, she knew that much, and it left Allura wondering what other changes had been done to Lotor in the wake of Adaline’s death. She’d shake with fear if she only knew how easy killing those officers had been for Lotor. And it was all because of her, the boy eager to exact revenge in Allura’s name.