Papers were spread out before him on the table, a wealth of information written on the sheets, detailing the demands of the rebels. To the right of him were the demands of the Drule, and copies of those documents were being handed out to the rebel leaders. Both sides were going over the documents, eyes careful not to miss a thing, fearing giving their opponent a chance to slip in a provision that would work against them.
It had taken hours to get to this point, both sides debating heatedly over their wants and desires. Some of the demands had been outrageous, the kind that no one in their right mind expected to gain. Those outrageous ones made lesser demands seem more doable, the Drule agreeing to work with the Arusian to give them a taste of what they wanted.
And the Arusians wanted much, desiring their planet restored to them, their people free, their kingdoms thriving. Of course Lotor couldn’t give them everything they yearned for, he had appearances to keep up. Arus would never again be an independent planet, but a world that was firmly part of the Drule Empire. As such their royal line was demolished, Alfor and his family having to agree to give up all ties to Arus’ crown.
No longer would Arus be ruled by it’s own monarchy, now owing allegiance to the Drule Empire and it’s king. Even when the time came for Lotor to step down from his throne, the Drules would continue to keep close watch over Arus and it’s people. They wouldn’t be allowed to govern themselves, Drules would be put in place to lead the towns, separate governors for each village and city. There would be lesser positions to fill, and those would be open to both human and Drule alike.
It would be a mixing of the two races, an equal share of the power split among them so that neither one felt slighted or abused. They’d worry about who would fill what positions later, Lotor debating on bringing in a few Drule from other worlds, ones who were used to dealing with the populace as freed citizens. Certainly the Drule stationed on Arus now would have to make some changes to their way of thinking, no longer able to take what they want from the Arusians.
With the collapsing of many of it’s mines, Arus was in a poor state of affairs, needing outside help to finance it’s restoration. Lotor’s aides wanted the Arusians to work off the debt themselves, but Alfor argued that the Arusians had been working as slaves for so long, that they had done more than enough to earn any money the Drule Empire would throw their way.
Lotor had privately agreed, thought out loud he had fought with Alfor, until the two came to an agreement. The debt would be split in half, the Arusians expected to work off the remaining fifty percent of a quater billion loan from the Drule Empire. The money would be given up front, and all to bring the planet back to it’s former glory, food and supplies being brought in from outside sources.
The freed Arusians would get their reparations, though it wouldn’t be nearly as much money as they could have gotten. Each family would get enough money to play with, to work to rebuild their own private fortunes however they saw fit. It wouldn’t be a lot, but it would be better than nothing.
For the first two years of Arus’ rebuilding, food would be rationed out, made free and available to the Arusians. The Drules would be encouraged to spend their coin on Arusians goods, all to better bolster the Arusian economy. Many of the soldiers who earned a wage keeping peace on Arus would continue to do so, but with restrictions limiting their actions.
No more would a Drule be able to legally abuse an Arusian. Beatings and rapes would now be a punishable offense, as would killing and stealing from a human. As citizens of the Drule Empire, crimes against the Arusians would be treated as such, the violators imprisoned or even killed depending on the offense.
When the soldiers weren’t busy keep the peace, they would be put to work to help the Arusians rebuild their cities. The Arusians couldn’t keep living in tents, it only fostered a belief in the Drule that they were lesser beings.
Of course not everything was going in favor of the Arusians. Weapons would be forbidden to them, at least for the next one hundred years. Enough time for resentments to fade away. If, in one hundred years time, the Arusians had proven themselves a loyal and hard working people, then they would be allowed to arm themselves. Until then they had to rely on the Drule for protection from other would be invaders.
There was also the matter of the deaths the rebels had caused with their actions. There were Drule families crying out for vengeance against the Arusians, leaving it a hot topic for debate. Just who would take the blame for the deaths? The rebels who had set the bombs, or the leaders who had ordered them to do so? Alfor was stubborn, refusing to give up the names of the rebels who had been on missions that ended in Drule deaths.
The rebels thought it an eye for an eye, feeling the Drules that had been killed were making up for the Arusians who had died at their slaver’s hands. It left Lotor weary to argue about this, knowing it was a sore point for both sides. Someone had to be punished, and Lotor feared that in the end it would be Alfor who paid the price.
He glanced up from the papers now, eyes seeking out Alfor. The man was studying the documents in front of him, surely going over each one to make sure it was as favorable as possible for the Arusians. Diana, his wife sat leaning in to him, studying the papers and offering whispered advice. Next to her was Allura, the girl seeming to fidget in her seat, She had been quiet during much of the talks, seeming not to know what ideas to offer.
It was fine, Lotor felt she had done more than enough. After all, if not for her, the talks wouldn’t have even been possible. She had softened him enough to the idea, Lotor willing to do almost anything to make her happy. He knew such an attitude weakened him in the eyes of his people, Lotor knowing he had to do something that would gain back their approval.
“Is everything in order?” Lotor asked out loud, Alfor lifting his head from his study of the documents.
“It seems that way.” Alfor replied. “Certainly you’ve been very generous where money is concerned.”
“His highness has been very generous where all things are concerned!” A stiff lip aide snapped angrily.
He was ignored, Lotor leaning forward in his seat. “There’s still a matter of the deaths to be settled.”
“That again?” Gertrude hmphed, leaving Lotor to think the portly woman had a low opinion about the value of Drule life.
“There was quite a number of Drules who died during your reign of terror.” Lotor said, earning a reluctant nod from Alfor and Diana. “We have to punish the offenders somehow.”
“What about all the Arusians who died at the hands of your Drule?” demanded Gertrude. “Isn’t that more than enough compensation for the few Drule who were killed?”
“It doesn’t even out as fair to my people.” That was as close as he would admit to Drules being considered more valuable than the Arusians. “They are demanding retribution…”
“And what does that retribution entail?” Alfor asked, and Lotor gave an elegant shrug of his shoulders.
“Nothing as barbaric as killing.” A small smile then from the King. “However, someone has to pay. There will be prisons constructed on Arus….the offenders may end up living out their lives behind those prison’s walls.” Frowns from the rebels, Alfor sighing. “I know.” Lotor said, tone a soothing purr. “It’s hard to know just who to blame. The rebels who did the crime, or the leaders who instructed them.”
“It isn’t as cut and dry as that.” Coran complained. “Many of the people involved in the attacks were eager to do them. Chomping at the bit as it were. If it were not for their leaders, I dare say more damage would have been done.”
“Some of our people are very hot blooded.” Added Gorma. “It was hard controlling their tempers, keeping the violence to a minimal.”
“Then perhaps those hot blooded ones should be the ones imprisoned.” Muttered an aide, and Lotor had to agree with him. “To keep them from causing any more violatile situations.”
“Perhaps.” Alfor sighed, exchanging glances with Coran and Gorma.
“I’ll give you a moment to discuss this problem amongst yourselves.” Lotor said, rising from his seat. The aides moved to follow him, and he allowed it for now. “Allura? May I have a moment of your time?”
She looked startled at being singled out, turning in his direction. “Er…yes..” She squeaked out, voice nervous as she rose from her seat. Diana reached for her hand, giving her a squeeze with her fingers. Allura glanced at her and shook her head, and whatever shone in her blue eyes got her mother to back down, albeit with a frown.
Lotor waited for Allura to join him, the King offering her his arm. They strolled out of the room, and once outside in the hall, he dismissed the two aides. They tried to protest, frowns on their faces, but Lotor was insistent, wanting to be alone with Allura.
He held off on speaking to her, waiting until they were situated in another room, the door closing behind them. He barely took notice of the room’s surroundings, save to identify it as an emergency weapons cache. Hardly the ideal surroundings for a talk, but at least it was private.
Allura slipped free from his side, the girl studying the room curiously. He felt it was all for show, the girl couldn’t possibly be that interested in the weapons stacked up against the wall racks. “So…” She surprised him by being the one to break their silence, Allura turning towards him though her eyes were lowered. “You wanted to talk to me?”
“Yes.” Lotor confirmed, stepping closer to her. “Though in truth I just wanted a break from the proceedings.” A smile then, Lotor lifting up a hand to brush back his hair. “We haven’t had much time together since being reunited…”
“True. It’s been very busy, what with the peace talks.” She risked a glance at him, as though trying to read how he felt about it.
“It’ll get busier yet.” He warned her. “As hard as it may be to believe, these talks are the relatively easy part. The real struggle will be getting Arus back on it’s feet, getting the people to accept the changes, to get them to be comfortable with the idea of coexisting with their slavers.”
“Slavers no more.” She was quick to point out. “The Drules and the Arusians will be on equal footing.”
“You can change a person’s circumstances, but can you really affect their way of thinking after it’s been shaped a certain way?” Lotor wondered out loud. “The Arusians have endured over ten years of slavery….”
“They were free before that though. I’m sure they’ll be able to embrace their return to freedom!” Allura insisted. “It may be hard…and I don’t doubt that many will bear emotional scars from their suffering…but surely they can rise above it.”
“I pray that you are right.” Lotor said, not wanting to think about what would happen if tensions escalated between the Arusians and Drules. It would lead to violence, and heavy prices would be paid to put an end to whatever followed.
“As much as I worry for the Arusians, it’s the children I am concerned about.” Allura said, her voice breaking into his private musings.
“Especially those half breed orphans no one wants.” She looked at him then, expression urgent. “They’ve been forced to live as scavengers, unwanted by either side. Scouring for food and the fighting for the right to just live. Can’t something be done about them?”
“We can have orphanages made for them.” Lotor replied. “Although I’m afraid that is about the extent of the help I can give them. If the people won’t open their hearts to these children, well…” A shrug then, Lotor sighing. “It’s not like I can force them to adopt these whelps, make them welcome them into their homes.”
“Nor should you.” Allura said. “If you force the children on the people, they won’t give them what they need. They won’t love them.”
“Love can never be earned through force…” Lotor muttered, and Allura nodded in agreement.
“Love must be given freely…” She added, and he could only make sounds of agreement. The conversation seemed to die at his noise, Allura turning slightly, reaching out to touch one of the blaster racks. It was bolted securely to the wall, no danger of it being unsettled by her inquisitive touch.
Lotor held back a sigh, just studying her profile. She looked tired, but no less beautiful, with the faintest of smudges under her eyes. He had to fight to keep from reaching out to touch her hair, Lotor yearning for even the briefest of contacts with Allura. But he knew if he started touching her now, he’d never be able to stop!
He didn’t quite manage to hide his frown, his hand clenching into a fist in order to better keep his hands at bay. “We should go to bed.” He said out loud, and she turned to stare at him surprised. He cursed silently, words rushing out hastily. “I mean we all should. It’s been a busy day….perhaps too busy to make important decisions.”
“I get the feeling my father won’t rest until every last detail has been decided on.” Allura told him.
“He might work us all into collapsing at this point.” Grumbled Lotor, earning a smile from Allura.
“You’re both stronger than that.” Allura insisted. “You’ll resolved all the issues, and then…”
“And then what?” He prodded at her trailing off. “What will you do Allura once Arus is free?”
“I…” She turned away completely, back to him so that he couldn’t see her face. “I’m not sure.”
He frowned at that, Lotor wishing she had had an immediate answer. But more than that, he wanted her assurance that she was coming back to Doom with him. And yet he knew he couldn’t force her, not unless he wanted to ruin their relationship completely. He frowned harder, Lotor knowing whatever this was between them, it had no clear definition.
“You don’t know?” He said out loud, not hiding his surprise. He saw her shrug, Allura’s fingers playing against the side of the rack.
“There’s still so much to be considered.” He hoped he was part of that, Lotor stepping nearer to her.
“Oh…I dunno…” But he had the feeling she did know, the girl sounding hesitant as she spoke. “Lotor?”
“Yes, Allura?” She was turning again, looking at him uncertainly.
“What do you think my parents would think of me?” He was left blinking, confused.
“I think they love you.” Lotor said, then chuckled. “They’re certainly protective of you! Alfor is hard to read, but Diana certainly shows her affection for you whenever she turns her gaze towards you, Allura.”
“Yes…maybe.” She sighed, fingers now fidgeting with the front of her skirt. “But…they don’t know me. The real me.”
“The real you?”
“Yes. There are things about me I haven’t told them yet. Things they can’t have possibly guessed.” She looked fretful, eyes upset, fingers moving faster. “Lotor…how can I tell them what I’ve become…?”
“Become?” He had a vague idea of what she was eluding too, Lotor reaching out to take hold of her hands. “Allura, if it’s the courtesan thing you are worried about…” She quickly nodded, but kept her eyes downcast, staring at their held hands. “Allura, it wasn’t your choice to take up that profession. Circumstances led you to this path, led you back to me.”
“But will they understand that?” She wanted to know.
“I can’t predict their reactions.” Lotor admitted. “But…” An almost casual tone, Lotor keeping his expression sly. “Do they really need to know?”
“Need to know?” She repeated, then frowned. “Do you mean I should continue to lie to them?”
“It wouldn’t necessarily be a lie.” Lotor quickly said. “You would just be omitting some things…”
“But they are bound to question me about my past!” Allura sounded frantic in that moment. “My mother already tried to find out a few things, but I distracted her.”
“Then continue to distract her.” Lotor replied, and Allura shook her head.
“It’s impossible…” She sighed again. “Even if I leave off the part about becoming a courtesan, she’ll wonder how I ended up back on Doom.” Allura closed her eyes, Lotor fearing she was about to start crying. “How can I face my parents once they know the truth. That I am nothing more than a paid whore?”
“Don’t ever call yourself that!” He growled viciously, and she blinked, staring up at him shocked.
“But it’s the truth…”
“You can stop being a courtesan at any time.” Lotor said, and turned insistent at her head shake. “Yes, you can.” Lotor growled, giving her hands a squeeze. “I meant it that time when I said I would pay off your debts to Madame Elianza. I’ll end your contract with me, fix it so you need never sleep with another man unless it is by your choice. For love, not money, not survival.”
“Why? Why would you go that far?” Allura wanted to know. “To spend all that money….”
“You’re my dearest friend Allura…” Lotor said, his mouth going dry. There was an inherent wrongness with what he was saying, but he couldn’t figure out why. “I’d do anything to make you happy…”
“I…there’s no way I could repay you back for all you’re doing!” She exclaimed. “First Arus, and now freeing me from the life of a courtesan…”
“Those are gifts Allura. To try and repay me would be insulting.” He told her, then grinned. “Just accept it gladly. With the knowledge that now you can choose your own path in life.” Unspoken was his desire to have her choose to stay with him, Lotor trying to keep the yearning off his face.
“Th…” She choked on her emotion, the briefest hint of tears sparkling in her eyes. “Thank you Lotor!”
“I didn’t do this so that you would cry!” Lotor teased her, and she made a half giggle of sound.
“I’m sorry….I’m such a crybaby…”
“Maybe to cry is to be human…” Lotor mused out loud, noticing Allura was going on tip toe. And still he was startled, feeling her press a kiss to his lips. It was a gentle, chaste kiss, one of pure love and affection, the likes of which he had never experienced. It made him want more of that innocent emotions, Lotor staring stunned
even when Allura lowered herself back to flat feet.
“What was that for?” he whispered, fighting the impulse to raise a finger to his lips.
“A thank you.” Allura told him, making him feel disappointed that it didn’t mean more to her. “It’s all I have left to give that is my own.”
Embarrassed, he squeezed her hands, giving her a gruff smile. “You don’t have to give me anything…”
“I understand that.” She assured him. “I still wanted to though.”
He let go of her hands, reaching towards her face. She held herself still, allowing Lotor to brush away her tears before they could fall any further. “Come..” He said, once she was composed. “Let’s go back and see what if anything has been decided amidst our absence.” Allura nodded once, taking hold of his arm as he ushered her out of the room.
It was no hard feat to keep his expression serious, Lotor feeling a pang in his heart over what had just happened. He felt sure he knew what Allura would decide to do, felt certain she would choose to stay on Arus if only for the chance to get to know her parents. The very idea hurt him, Lotor taken aback by the force of his upset, Lotor wondering how he was going to survive losing Allura a second time.