In the Name of Duty

Part Two

By Cheezey

It was while the Voltron force was busy loading Lotor onto the prison ship that the Axtur-Ves neared close enough to Arus to get the planet on a distant visual.  Cossack sat comfortably in the command chair on the bridge while Haggar watched the viewscreen from a seat nearby.  "Approaching planet Arus," one of the robot navigators announced.

"Give me a status report on the long-range scanners," Cossack ordered.  Although normally his approach was to go in with guns blazing unless there was some prior stealth plan in action, he wanted to be cautious on that mission considering their recent string of disasters with Arus and Zarkon's warning to not screw up.  The king got cranky when repeated failures were reported to him, and the commander had no desire to be on the receiving end of King Zarkon's displeasure.

The robot turned back to the console for a moment to run the scan and then put the results on screen.  The three Galaxy Alliance ships—the prison ship on the planet and the two sentinel crafts in Arus' orbit—appeared in the display as red blinking dots.  Upon seeing them, Cossack frowned.  "What the hell are those?  Not lion ships, and our forces blew all of Arus' spaceports into rubble years ago so I don't think it's something of theirs…" he muttered, and tapped in a sequence on his own panel.

Rising from her seat, Haggar walked over to his side and leaned over his shoulder to view the information for herself.  "Our friends on Arus have visitors then?"

"Yeah," Cossack replied as the results of his scan of the nearest ship came in, and frowned.  "Alliance ships.  I've seen that type before.  They're small and fast, highly maneuverable, and heavily armed.  Usually they're scout ships, or escorts to something bigger."

Before Haggar could comment, one of the robots at the navigational console spoke up again.  "Commander Cossack, our sensors indicate the enemy craft is running long-range scans on us."

Cossack frowned.  "So, they've spotted us, huh?  They taking any action?"

"Not yet, sir."

Haggar peered over at the robot from beneath her hood.  "Can you get any information on what the other ship on the planet's surface is?"

The robot reviewed the data.  "It is an armored transport unit, class 329A issue from Galaxy Garrison headquarters.  Known standard uses are for vessels of that class are the secure transport of precious or classified cargo or personnel."

Glancing over at Haggar, Cossack exchanged a look with the witch as they mutually came to the same conclusion.  "Transport of personnel…"

"I'll bet they're giving Lotor to the Galaxy Alliance as a political prisoner," Haggar mused, voicing the thought that they had both had simultaneously with a somewhat disturbed note in her tone.

"Shall we engage the enemy ships, Commander?" The robot in chare of the others on the bridge questioned.

Staring intently at the screen, Cossack considered the option but ultimately decided to hold off for the moment.  In his earlier days in the fleet he had experience with alliance scout ships of that type, and he knew that they were not as easily dispensed with as appearances might suggest.  Although he was confident that the Axtur-Ves could take out two of them and also bring down a transport ship if necessary, it would not be an easy battle and would likely result in considerable damage to their own craft.  Additionally, attacking an alliance ship directly was not in their orders—those only included Arus itself.  Cossack had no moral qualms about blasting a bunch of alliance ships into oblivion—he loathed them as much as any self-respecting member of Doom's fleet—but he also knew better than to initiate a direct attack like that without getting Zarkon's prior approval.  Had they fired first, there would have been no issue at all, but as of yet they had made no move and hence Cossack was unwilling to gamble with guessing at Zarkon's wishes when it was his neck on the line, especially in light of how the last battle had turned out.

"Not yet," Cossack decided authoritatively.  "Try to intercept any transmissions between them and find out what's going on, and get me coordinates of the ship landed on the planet."

Obediently the crew set about following the commander's orders.  In no time at all they were able to detect communication signals between the vessels and a long range transmission that appeared to be directed at Galaxy Garrison, but they were unable to decode them as they were all encrypted—undoubtedly because they were in regards to the Doom-based battleship in the area.  "It will take time to break through the encryption, Commander.  We can not read them at this time."

"What about the other ship?" Haggar insisted.

The robot recited a set of coordinates and brought a visual up on screen.  Both the witch and the commander recognized the location instantly as it was one both were quite familiar with—the Castle of Lions.  Neither could say they were surprised by that discovery, either.  "That makes it almost certain they're there for Lotor.  We may never have a better chance to free him than when that prison ship is out in deep space."

Cossack frowned.  "Yeah, except Zarkon doesn't want us to do anything specifically to get Lotor back."  He eyed the screen for a few more moments and then looked over at the witch again.  "I don't know about taking them on without checking with him.  He told us strike Arus."

"Zarkon is holding a grudge against Lotor, and I blame Merla for it," Haggar said icily.  "I know that they've had their differences, but before he left for Tyrus it seemed like he wanted Lotor around again.  He is his only son."

"Yeah, unless he knocks up Queenie," Cossack muttered with a nod while Haggar scowled visibly at that statement.  Cossack missed it as his visual attention was on the viewscreen, however, and he continued to talk.  "Which, if he's pissed enough at Lotor, he might not think is a half bad idea," he finished with a sigh.  Although Cossack found Lotor difficult to work under at times, he did genuinely respect the prince for both his skill in battle and as a rightful member of Doom's royalty.  He definitely regarded Lotor light years higher than he did Merla at any rate.  He did not like the idea that Zarkon might write off his only son and place the future of his kingdom on the hopes of some heir Merla might give him, especially since if Lotor left the picture, all that stood between Merla ruling her own empire and Zarkon's was a well-placed knife in the king's back.  As one who was very loyal to Doom and its rightful empire, that notion did not sit well with him in the least.

"Let's advise Zarkon of the situation.  If we can get Lotor back easily, he might allow it—and then if nothing else, he could discipline Lotor for his stupidity himself rather than letting the Alliance do it for him."

Cossack nodded in agreement with the witch and pointed to the robot at the communications console.  "Get me a line to Castle Doom, pronto, and make damn sure it's secure," he ordered forcefully, before adding, "If those GA ships hear one syllable of the transmission, I'll melt you into scrap metal myself."

A few moments later King Zarkon's face popped up on the communications screen.  "You two had better be reporting something worthwhile.  I was in the middle of something important."

"It is, sire," Haggar assured him.  "We just reached Arus' airspace only to find three armed alliance fighter crafts stationed there."

"And one of them is an armored transport unit," Cossack added urgently.  "They haven't fired on us yet, but they know we're here, since we've confirmed that both scout ships ran scans on us."

Haggar leaned forward slightly as she continued to explain.  "We think they may be turning Lotor over to Galaxy Garrison.  If we ambush that ship once it's in deep space, we may be able to get him back."

The king's serpentine eyes narrowed.  "Do nothing of the sort."

Cossack and Haggar exchanged looks.  "But sire…" the commander began.

"But nothing!" Zarkon cut him off harshly.  "I told you not to do anything rash in getting Lotor back, and I mean it.  Do not attack those alliance ships.  The last thing I need is the Drule council breathing down my neck because my people started instigating interstellar skirmishes."  The king grasped his scepter tighter and settled back against his throne.  "I realize we're at war with the Galaxy Alliance, but that bleeding heart idiot Hazar has been trying to make 'talks' with some of those alliance fools in his territory, and he's bent the ear of the Drule council enough that the kingdom sovereigns have been told not to initiate any acts of aggression toward them unless it involves a planet we're at open war with."

Zarkon frowned as he looked at the stunned looks on the faces of his subordinates.  "In simple terms, if they aren't on Arus and they don't fire on you first, leave them alone.  The last thing I want is that officious little toady Kheezor whining at me that I'm not respecting the Drule Empire's authority, and if I do hear it because of something you did, you'll be the ones regretting it.  Am I making myself clear?"

The old witch lowered her head in a subdued nod while Cossack did the same, displaying his understanding of the order even if he did not agree with it.  "Yes my lord," Haggar spoke for the two of them.  "We will not take action against the alliance ships unless they attack first."

"Good," the king growled. 

"What would you have us do then, sire?" Cossack questioned, his yellow eyes fixed intently on the viewscreen.  "Do you still want us to proceed with the attack on Arus?"

Zarkon shook his head.  "No.  Hang back and gather as much information as you can from those alliance ships and then report back here immediately.  Assuming that the blue lion is still out of commission, which you said it should be permanently, old witch," he said with a pointed glance at Haggar, who nodded in firm assurance that his statement was correct, "Arus will still be there without Voltron open to invasion without any alliance interference."

Cossack found himself biting his tongue as he did not agree with the king's decision but he knew better than to question it.  "As you wish, King Zarkon.  We should have a report for you shortly."

"I'll be expecting it," Zarkon responded abruptly, and cut off the transmission without another word.

Haggar scowled darkly at the screen while Cossack looked to the witch with dubious surprise.  "What gives?  I mean, does he really not want Lotor back?  That would've been the perfect chance!"  He sat back in the command chair with his arms folded across his chest and shook his head.  "That paying lip service to the Drule Empire has to be bullshit.  Zarkon's never been worried about their opinion before when it came to Arus, and we could make them fire the first shot easily enough.  There are ways around things like that.  I mean, there are always technicalities, or malfunctions that lead to little 'misunderstandings' about who fired when, especially with your magic…"

"Yes, I know," Haggar hissed irritably.  "But for now, we'll humor him.  Lotor shouldn't be in any immediate danger.  Galaxy Garrison operates on a trial system and they won't give Lotor any sort of sentence without one, which should give us days to change his father's mind—if Zarkon doesn't already have some other plan in the works that he hasn't told us about."

"A plan that doesn't include us?" Cossack asked, blinking incredulously.  "We're the highest members of his court except for Prince Lotor.  Who could he trust more than us?"

The old witch's yellow eyes narrowed in utter contempt.  "Who else?"  She then spat the name out with venomous hatred as she finished answering the commander's question.  "Merla."

"So Galaxy Garrison has Lotor now?" Merla's soft voice questioned from behind Zarkon as she approached the throne.  The new queen of Doom had been out of the throne room finishing a luxuriant bath in the royal quarters of her married home when the call from the Axtur-Ves had first come in, and she had returned in time only to hear the end of the conversation.

Zarkon turned to face his new bride with a pensive frown on his scaled blue features.  Even the sight of the lovely Queen Merla wearing a lovely velvet royal robe instead of her usual armor with her pink hair unbound and falling in long cascades about her shoulders did little to distract the preoccupied king.  "So it would seem.  I suppose I should have figured on something like that, but I didn't think Princess Allura and her gang of teenage do-gooders had that sort of foresight.  That sort of efficiency is something I'd expect in a seasoned ruler, not a bunch of kids that think they're invincible and the saviors of the universe."  He rolled his eyes.

Merla raised an eyebrow.  "Some of those youths do have military experience, although I suspect that the decision came either from the old advisor or their commander.  Lotor is competition for him."  She looked away for a moment in thought.  "It was obvious to me in my time with them that Keith cares for Allura quite a bit.  Lotor does as well… in his misguided way."  Her delicate features darkened with a flash of bitterness as she recalled hearing evidence of just where Lotor's heart lay in their last encounter—when he had been pretending to have given up his conquering ways and perpetrating the charade that he wanted to marry her only to jump at the chance to try to get Allura as soon as Merla was not there and the Arusian princess seemed sympathetic.

Zarkon's sharp gaze did not miss the flicker of emotion on his young bride's face.  "I know of my son's silly obsession for the girl, but are you saying that she might actually consider Lotor in such a way?"  He eyed her dubiously.  "Has she been encouraging him?  I would have thought she must hate him almost as much as she does me."

"She should," Merla said stiffly, and then met Zarkon's eyes with a neutral expression.  "But she's one of those types that tries to see the 'good' side in everyone… even someone like Lotor."

"Oh," Zarkon said, clearly finding the notion nauseatingly ridiculous.  "What a fool."

"Indeed."  Merla placed a hand on Zarkon's shoulder.  "So what do you intend to do if not let Haggar and Cossack intervene to free him?  You don't really intend to leave him to the mercy of the Galaxy Alliance, do you?"

Irritably Zarkon tapped his scepter against the side of his throne.  "Frankly it's no less than he deserves.  He's an eternal screw-up, and I've lost track of how many times he's embarrassed me.  While I could go around the Drules' idiotic 'don't bother the alliance' ruling if I wanted, I'm not sure Lotor is worth the effort it would take."  The king sighed in disgust.  "I'll see to it that Arus pays for the insult against the royal house of Doom, naturally, but as for negotiating with the alliance for him…" Zarkon winced in clear distaste.  "I don't think so.  Unlike Hazar, I don't negotiate through happy feel-good chit-chat.  I prefer lazon and battleships."

Merla chuckled at hearing Zarkon speak so bluntly of the well-known Drule.  "If we wanted, we could assemble a force to break into Galaxy Garrison and free him—though the Drule council would be very displeased with us."

"Yes, I know," Zarkon murmured thoughtfully, and then smiled conspiratorially at her.  "Besides, they don't even know about our little merger yet.  Fun as it might be to tweak them and break the news to them in such a way, we might not want to tip our hand to that tidbit of news until we have a better circumstance to use that sudden voting power to our advantage."

"Oh yes."  A sly smile spread across Merla's features to match her husband's both in agreement and as inspiration struck.  "In fact, Zarkon, in light of the fact that no one aside from a few here on Doom know of our alliance, I have an idea…"  She leaned forward and flirtatiously drew her fingertip over his shoulder.

His eyebrow rose with interest.  "Oh?  Do share, my dear."

"What you need in Galaxy Garrison is a spy, a competent one—not some slave under threat or spell that will break or a robot that will slip up and be discovered.  Rather, someone who's well-versed enough in intergalactic politics to keep an eye on the whole situation and give you an informed report.  Someone with," she tapped the side of her head lightly with a well-manicured fingernail, "special insight to the situation… and someone who you can trust as well as they will foolishly trust her—because she's reformed, you know."

Zarkon grinned at her in admiring approval.  "I do love the way your gorgeous and devious mind works, Merla."  He pulled her close to her in a gesture that could pass for affectionate but was also unmistakably possessive and dominant in nature. 

"Just thinking about what's best for both of us," Merla purred sweetly, curling against him in a suggestive manner as he began to run his clawed blue fingers through her pink locks.  And how delightful it will be to see Lotor raked over the coals in person after how he treated me, the queen added silently.

There was no window in his cell through which Lotor could tell how many hours into the night or early morning it was, but somehow despite that the captive prince knew that it was only a short while before the programmed lights would come on signaling that it was officially morning by Galaxy Garrison time.  A short while after that his trial would begin.

To think that I, Lotor, the crowned prince of Doom, am going to be put on trial and judged by these inferior and insignificant worms, Lotor thought with contemptuous disgust.  Although he had an ominous feeling as to his fate as it was a given that they would find him guilty of the list of war crimes he was accused, he refused to give any of them the satisfaction of seeing him sweat it out or beg for mercy.  "There's little they could do that would be worse than anything Father has done to me at one point or another anyway," he muttered under his breath in the darkness.  He knew it was likely that Galaxy Garrison would sentence him to death or a life of imprisonment, and if that was the case, he would have preferred the former.  He was used to the life of a conquering prince and the luxuries that went with it—he was not ready to accept the shame and indignity of losing his station and living under the rule of the enemy.

More so than his eventual fate however, it was Princess Allura that occupied his thoughts.  The troubled look upon her lovely face that she had worn when he had last seen her was an image he could not banish from his mind.  She actually believes she's done the right thing for everyone, including me.  The realization was painful, as he knew that Allura truly thought that being imprisoned by Galaxy Garrison would be "good" for him, that he might "reform" as he had once told her he had.  He had no doubt that the possibility of a death sentence was something Allura had not considered, and he suspected that her friends had deliberately not mentioned it so that she would make the decision she made.  He did not believe for a moment that Allura would send him off to meet his end after delivering her from hers.  His competition on the other hand…

A low growl came from Lotor's throat when he recalled the way the Voltron force captain had so comfortably held his beloved's hand, the perfect picture of concern and care.  She can't love him, she can't! Lotor thought fiercely.  Not if she also cares for me!

The lights came on, indicating that the day had officially begun.  Lotor sat up stiffly, eyes cast in the direction of the cell door.  He had little time to think about anything further before a trio of armed guards approached his cell.  The prince of Doom was alone in the chamber in which he was confined, a portion of the prison complex designated as solitary confinement under maximum security.  The area was used only for prisoners of his classification—ones who were very dangerous, politically significant, and very important that they not have any chance at escape.

"Mornin' Princey," one of the guards sneered into his cell, tapping at the bars with a heavy laser rifle.  "Today's your big day—the day they decide what to do with you once and for all."

Lotor only glowered dangerously at them, but remained otherwise silent.

One of the guards began to unlock his cell.  "We've got orders to take you in shackles to the trial site now.  You'll be permitted to speak in your defense if you so desire, as is your right under Alliance laws."

"Rights?" Lotor repeated dubiously, "Please.  I've no more rights here than any of you wretches would crawling on the floor of Castle Doom's throne room.  This is all formality and technicality, and don't insult me by pretending otherwise."  He eyed them with a cold stare as the cell door opened and the three of them entered, two guards with their rifles pressed to each side while the other affixed the shackles to his hands and then his feet.  "This so-called hearing is only a way to gloat and broadcast to the Drules and your own planets how well you think you're weakening my father's empire.  I wonder if the retaliation he'll visit on Arus will be as newsworthy."

Once Lotor was secured, the guards ushered him out into the hall toward the trial room.  "As of a little while ago, no action has been reported on Arus.  One of Zarkon's battleships was spotted near there around the time of your transfer, but they made no move against the planet or us before returning."

"In fact, the Voltron force is here at Galaxy Garrison now for your hearing—things have been so quiet on Arus that they didn't even bother staying behind to keep it guarded.  Perhaps we do more than think we've weakened Zarkon's hold on Arus."

"Keep underestimating my father," Lotor sneered.  "He's bested far better than you or any of the fools running this organization."   Despite his arrogant demeanor, the news that the Voltron force was there came a bright light in the grim circumstances.  If Allura had come in person to witness his fate, then it proved that she did care about him, that she was not abandoning him to chance or washing her hands of him. 

The conversation ended when they reached their destination.  One guard held the door open and gestured for Lotor to enter.  When he stepped inside he found himself in a grand courtroom.  At the head a military council of highly decorated Galaxy Garrison officials presided and before them in the center of the room were two distinct platforms.  One held a seat that he realized was the seat of the individual being tried and the other was a podium at which witnesses would testify.  The rest of the room held seating for a large audience, and the size of the audience there to witness his hearing did not disappoint Lotor.  The room was packed to the rafters with standing room only. 

A hush fell over the crowd as Lotor was ushered in by armed escort, and he carried himself with the haughty pride befitting a crown prince.  He recognized many of the faces in the crowd as dignitaries and nobles of planets he had dealt with, mostly alliance planets Doom had once invaded.  Toward the front he noticed Romelle and Bandor of Pollux, and the former Voltron pilot Sven alongside them.  In front of the Polluxian court sat the Voltron force, and to Lotor's elation Princess Allura among them in the center, between Captain Keith and the young one called Pidge. 

He was unable to take his eyes off of Allura as he passed by her on the way to his seat.  As she met his gaze, Lotor saw an empathetic look shining in her blue eyes that filled him with a bittersweet sense of triumph.  She didn't want this for me after all.  Even though the realization changed nothing about his circumstance and his father would have called him a fool for feeling the way he did, that simple knowledge made his situation that much more bearable.  Left to make her own choice, she wouldn't have had this done to me…

Allura meanwhile was unprepared for the unpleasant twinge of emotion that reared when she saw Lotor brought in and placed in the trial seat.  Though she knew without a doubt it was what he deserved for the crimes he had committed, she still felt cold for repaying the kindness he had shown her—selfishly rooted as that kindness had been—in sending him there.  The intense way Lotor watched her, his yellow eyes heavy on her even as he took his seat, did little to ease her mixed emotions for the situation.  Keith must have noticed the troubled look on her face as well, for he squeezed her hand a moment later.  Grateful for the concern, she squeezed it back absently but was unable to stop thinking about the situation anyway.

Shortly the trial was called to order and the room fell silent so that the proceedings could begin.  Space Marshal Graham's "brief opening statement" was anything but brief and took the better part of twenty minutes, and Lotor wondered how his own trial could be so dull.  Even his father, who had given some tediously long lectures, rarely managed to bore him that thoroughly.  The only interesting part of it at all to the prince was hearing the dramatic words the Galaxy Garrison official used to describe him and his crimes.  My, I'm so notorious to these alliance fools, Lotor thought smugly.  Father should be proud.

That was one thing that surprised Lotor somewhat.  Despite all of his statements and assertions to the fact that Zarkon did not care about him beyond appearances, the prince was somewhat disappointed that Zarkon truly had done nothing in response to his capture yet.  No bargaining, no contact made in an effort to negotiate—unless something was being deliberately kept from him—and not even an attack on Arus out of vengeance.  Weakened as Arus was, it surprised Lotor that his father had made no move at all against the planet.  While he was certain the old man had his reasons, he did not understand them and he did not appreciate Zarkon leaving him hanging out to dry without so much as even making a retaliatory strike in his honor.  As much as Lotor detested his father at times, had their roles been reversed, he would have at least dignified him with that much of a gesture.

As the trial continued, at that point with the reading of certified statements made by planetary leaders of worlds he had a part in invading, Lotor looked over the crowd for a sign of anyone from Doom that might have come to keep an eye on things.  Although as part of the Drule Empire Doom was technically at war with Galaxy Garrison and it was enemy territory, it was not unheard of for ambassadors to be admitted to trials such as his.  Surely his father could have sent a member of the nobility in to report what was going on—even though any Doomite or Drule would be under heavy scrutiny, if they had not committed any actual crimes they would not be eligible to be arrested.

But to his dismay Lotor saw no one from Doom, and unless they had discreetly sent in some disguised spy or the old witch was there in some sort of illusion—which he supposed he could not be sure of one way or another and as a result would not lay hope on—it appeared that his father was sending him the message that he was on his own.  Scanning the audience again showed no Doom-born individuals and only a very few who looked like they could have been any part Drule at all, except for perhaps one woman in the back…

Frowning, Lotor felt his heart skip a beat when he narrowed his eyes and focused on the distant face.  She was sitting quietly, a hood over head to keep her from standing out, but Lotor would have recognized the pink braid that snaked out from beneath it and across her shoulder anywhere.  "Merla!" he whispered in shock.  "Merla is here?"

Last he had seen Merla it had been in the midst of the failed charade of turning good on the false planet Doom.  He had been fighting with the Voltron force captain and Merla had called him a fool and stalked off in a huff.  I thought Merla wanted nothing to do with me… so what is she doing here?  He then had the hope that perhaps Merla came to help him again.  She had once before even when he had spurned her, when she turned against his father and sought the help of the Voltron force to free him from the Pit of Skulls.  Merla must still care for me despite how I lied to her, Lotor realized suddenly, and a small smile of confidence tugged at his features.  Though he held no real affection for the Seventh Kingdom queen, he certainly would not turn down her help if offered.  In fact, his father would probably be quite pleased with such a turn of events, given how angry he had been with him for driving Merla off.

The hearing continued and more of Lotor's actions were listed as criminal acts.  At one point Princess Romelle was called up to give a statement about the things he had done on Pollux.  He watched her give her account through cold and arrogant eyes and took a measure of satisfaction in hearing a member of the tribunal running the trial point out that a number of the things she mentioned, including the death of her father and time he had kept her prisoner and thrown her into the Pit of Skulls, as inadmissible as those took place prior to Pollux's membership in the Galaxy Alliance.  Though there were plenty of instances after the planet had joined the Alliance that were eligible to be listed, Lotor still enjoyed seeing the haughty blond knocked down a few pegs.

Eventually Princess Allura was called upon to testify to the events leading up to Lotor's capture.  The Galaxy Alliance officers asked her a number of questions about previous invasions Lotor had led on Arus before they got into the discussion of what had transpired the day that the blue lion had been destroyed.  The prince's gaze was fixed intently upon the Arusian princess as she gave her account, and although it hurt him to hear Allura describe his actions and give evidence against him to the enemy, Lotor could not deny that she spoke the truth and at least did not embellish or dramatize for effect as so many others had.  In fact, it seemed to him from her body language that the testimony she gave was not something she found satisfaction in but rather she viewed as the fulfillment of obligation.

Lotor's suspicions were correct.  Allura had not expected to be called upon to testify as she thought that the statements she had given and reports she had filed to members of Galaxy Garrison prior to the hearing were all that were required of her.  Therefore when Space Marshal Graham had called her up to speak it had caught her by surprise.  Sitting in the audience Allura had felt responsible enough for Lotor's situation given that she was the one who had turned him in, but on the witness stand being asked questions that would help condemn Lotor after he had helped save her life made the princess feel far worse.  She knew that Lotor deserved punishment for the awful things he had done, but contributing to it was another matter entirely and it did not sit well on her conscience at all.

When the questioning was finished, the marshal gave Allura permission to step down, but instead of returning to her seat she paused where she stood, and looked to the council.  "I'd like to add something if I may."

Immediately a hush of whispers filled the courtroom.  The alliance officials looked back and forth at one another at the princess' unusual request while the Voltron force exchanged surprised looks amongst themselves, and from where he sat Lotor felt a resurgence of hope. 

After a period of brief murmurs and nods amongst those conducting the hearing, finally Space Marshal Graham addressed the princess.  "All right, Princess Allura.  You may address the assemblage."

"Thank you," Allura said graciously, and straightened to a regal pose.  "I can't deny the terrible things that Lotor has done, to my world or to any of the others in the alliance that have been discussed here today.  However, I want to say that despite that... please remember that the reason he's here in custody today and not back on Doom with those who attacked with him is because he did show a moment of kindness that day by sparing my life.  Not because it gained him anything, not because I begged him, not for any other reason than he wanted to spare me a painful death."  More hushed whispers filled the courtroom as the princess paused to take a breath, and then continued, a slightly shaky note in her voice as she went on.  "I know that isn't enough to atone for the things Lotor's done, but I do ask that you consider all the circumstances when you decide his fate.  Thank you." 

Feeling considerably better after airing her honest feelings on the situation to those presiding after her testimony, Allura bowed demurely to the council and then stepped down from the stand to retake her seat.  As she approached her friends she found their expressions ranging from sympathetic to mildly puzzled, but all supportive nonetheless.  Keith put his arm around her reassuringly as she sat back down, and as she settled into her seat she glanced over at Lotor.  The prince smiled fondly in her direction, although what she did not know was that while the fondness and gratitude were genuine, Lotor was also thinking equally uncharitable thoughts at the Voltron force captain who put his arm around the princess with such familiarity.

When Lotor had heard Allura speak in his favor in front of all of Galaxy Garrison his heart soared with triumphant fulfillment.  She does believe I'm capable of love after all!  The only two things that could have made the moment he gained that knowledge more satisfying would have been if she had told him she loved him directly in a scenario where there was no trial or imprisonment and just the two of them together, and that if both his father and Merla—who had mocked him so nastily for lavishing affection that they claimed would never be returned—would have been within earshot.  Then he remembered that Merla was indeed within earshot, and he glanced in her direction, the smile on his face changing subtly to a superior sneer. 

Merla's features however were impassive, and if she noticed Lotor staring at her she gave no indication of it.  Instead the pink-haired queen stared straight ahead as if she were watching only the proceeding but paying Lotor himself little to no attention.  Her lack of reaction mattered little to the prince, however.  I know she heard it, and now she knows the truth as well, and nothing will change that, Lotor thought smugly.

After Allura left the stand, those conducting the trial announced that there were no further witnesses and that they would recess for a time to deliberate the evidence and decide upon Lotor's fate.  The prince was escorted to a holding area nearby for the time that would take, but it did not take long for the representatives of Galaxy Garrison to reach their decision.  Within forty minutes word was sent that their deliberations were over and that the hearing was to resume.  Shortly Lotor found himself back in the seat of the accused in front of so many angry faces from alliance worlds as well as the unreadable one of Merla, the serious ones of the male Voltron force members, and the somber one of Princess Allura.

A few minutes later the council of officers presiding over the trial filed back into the room and took their places.  As they called the meeting to order the room fell silent again, the tension and anticipation in the air so intense that it was nearly tangible.  Space Marshal Graham stood and faced Lotor.  "The accused will now stand to be sentenced."

A tap from the business end of the laser rifle on the armed guard beside him prompted Lotor to rise to his feet.  The prince of Doom straightened to his full height despite the burden of his chains and stared back arrogantly at him.  "And so this political farce you call justice ends once and for all," he stated in icy reply.

The space marshal's eyes narrowed but he chose not to address Lotor's remark.  "Prince Lotor, you have heard the charges levied against you by the members of the Galaxy Alliance that have spoken here today.  You have yet to deny or argue any of these accounts even though given opportunity to defend yourself or explain your actions after each testimony.  Before we pass sentence on you, have you anything to say on the record in your own defense?"

"Yes," Lotor replied haughtily.  "I do not and will not deny the acts you've labeled crimes of war as deeds I've done.  I acted as I always have—in my own interests and in those of my empire, that of Doom and the Ninth Kingdom of the Drule Empire which I will one day rule.  I make no apology for my actions and assure you that I would and will do whatever it takes to claim the spoils of that war.  If you were expecting me to offer some sort of repentance or to grovel like a dirt worm for your clemency in some humiliating display then you were sorely mistaken.  I am a royal prince, and I do not and never will bow to ones who would be nothing more than slaves to my world," he finished, his tone laced with contempt.

Graham's eyes narrowed as he listened to the prince's statement but did not let it affect his professional demeanor.  "Is that all you wish to say?"

Staring at the space marshal as though he were an utter fool, Lotor only dignified his inquiry with a nod.

"Very well then," Graham replied, and glanced back at the other members of the tribunal, who gave their silent approval for him to go on with the sentencing.  "Lotor, crown prince of planet Doom and first son of King Zarkon and deceased Queen Altora of royal house Dar'skel'Ayr of the Ninth Kingdom of the Drule Empire, due to the heavy preponderance of evidence and by your own remorseless admission you have been found guilty of numerous acts of war and terrorism against many peaceful planets and peoples of the Galaxy Alliance.  As punishment for these heinous and unforgivable acts the only fair sentence that can be meted out is death."

A collective gasp filled the room at that announcement.  Despite his arrogant and challenging stance, Lotor's blood ran cold, and from where she sat at the front of the audience, Princess Allura's heart skipped a beat and then pounded in horrified shock.  Even the quietly observant Merla showed a visible reaction to that announcement, sitting up straighter in her seat with a mildly disconcerted look on her features.

A member of the council banged a gavel to call order to the courtroom, and Space Marshal Graham waited for the reaction to die down before he continued.  "The sentence will be carried out by firing squad one standard month from today.  Until that time you are remanded to the custody of the maximum security facility of Galaxy Garrison in which you have been detained prior to this hearing."

"One month?" Lotor cut in with a sarcastic sneer.  "It takes you half an hour to decide to execute me but a month to gather a group of soldiers and carry it out?  And you Alliance fools wonder why the Drule Empire has such little respect for you.  Say what you will about Doom or any other of our worlds, but at least our soldiers are man enough to carry out an order of execution against a war criminal with a blade or rifle with their own hand and on the spot."

While Lotor was mouthing off his reply, the cold reality of Lotor's sentence sank through Allura's numbed initial reaction enough for her to stand in protest.  "No!" she shouted over the arguing voices of the condemned prince and the Galaxy Alliance officers.  "You can't do this to him!"

The sound of Allura's normally gentle voice full of emotional protest caught everyone off guard, especially those seated with her.  While they knew the instant that the sentence had been given that it would upset her, none of them expected that vehement a reaction that quickly.  The Voltron force looked up at her in shock, not quite knowing what to say but not willing to stop her as it was clear that she would say what she would no matter what they did or said anyway, and Lotor whirled around in her direction as soon as he heard her familiar voice speak up for him.  He had hoped that either she or Merla might say or do something, but for it to be Allura, and openly and passionately at that…

A snide feminine laugh suddenly broke into his thoughts.  You think I'm here to save you, Lotor?

Caught off guard, Lotor blinked and looked over his shoulder before realizing the voice was in his head.  "Merla?" he murmured, and wildly glanced in her direction for a moment, taking his eyes off of Allura only briefly.

Save you? Merla's voice continued telepathically, full of disdain.  And why would I do that?  Your own father didn't bother… why should I?

I don't need you or my father, Lotor thought back angrily.

Then I guess it's all up to your little princess, isn't it?  Let's see how far she'll go for you, Lotor… see how much she really cares, hmmm?  Either way, it'll be delightful to watch you squirm.  Merla's voice then faded from his mind.

Meanwhile, Space Marshal Graham glared harshly at Allura for her outburst.  "Princess Allura, you will be seated!  Do not disrupt the order of this court!"

Ignoring his order, Allura shook her head in outrage.  "I did not turn Lotor over to you for this!  I was told he would get a fair trial and sentence!"

And still Allura defends me! Lotor thought with rising elation and more than a little victorious satisfaction aimed at Merla as he watched the normally gentle princess face down the full council of high-ranking alliance officers with the ferocity of a lioness.  

"Your highness," another member of the council said with thinly worn patience for what he considered the princess' youthful naïveté and foolishness, "You entrusted your prisoner to our custody for a fair trial and that is what he got.  His sentence reflects the evidence presented."

"But he saved my life!" she cried in horrified protest.  "You can't punish him for that!"

Another council member addressed her.  "Princess Allura, he is not being punished for saving your life, he is being punished for the lives he has taken on all the Alliance planets he has helped terrorize in the name of Zarkon's empire."

"One virtuous act does not excuse or erase his crimes," Graham added.

Lotor frowned coldly.  "It seems my father was right in what he taught me—no good deed goes unpunished."

"I'm not saying to pardon him completely," Allura argued desperately, "But don't have him killed!  He doesn't deserve that!"

"That is your opinion, Princess Allura—not that of the Galaxy Alliance."

Shaking in frustration, Allura slammed her hand against the rail that separated her from the main courtroom floor.  "Then I demand that he be taken back to Arus to be sentenced there!  He was my prisoner to begin with anyway!"

The Voltron force members looked up at her in shock.  "Princess, don't—" Lance began, but she cut him off.

"Release him back into Arusian custody now.  I withdraw my offer.  As the sovereign ruler of Arus, a planet in good standing in the Galaxy Alliance, I demand to have my prisoner returned to me."  Allura's voice was stern and full of unchallengeable demand.

Space Marshal Graham's eyes narrowed irritably.  "I'm afraid that's out of the question, Princess.  You signed him over to us yourself.  You have relinquished all rights and claim to him as your prisoner.  You have no legal rights to him except the ones specified in alliance by-laws.  Unless you are a direct family member of the prince's, you have no authority to reclaim him to your world." 

"Is Prince Lotor any sort of relation to you, Princess?" asked one of the officers on the bench.

Allura bit her lip and lowered her head slightly.  "No," she admitted, unable and unwilling to lie to the court.

"Then your plea is overruled and this hearing is officially adjourned," the councilmember announced with finality, slamming the gavel against the bench.

Graham nodded to the guards around Lotor.  "Take the prisoner back to his cell.  Everyone else," he saluted the audience, "you are dismissed!"

The princess' eyes filled with tears.  "You can't do this!" she shouted angrily.  This is my fault… He saved my life and now I've paid him back by sentencing him to death… How can I ever look myself in the mirror again if they do this to him?

The pained note in Allura's voice only made the cold fire of Lotor's hatred for the alliance burn more intensely.  As the armed guards hauled Lotor toward the door, he looked back over his shoulder at the beautiful and distressed face of the princess he loved so deeply—and so foolishly, according to those that did not understand—the woman he realized he might very well die for if his fortune did not take a miraculous turn for the better within the next four weeks. 

"You tried, my love," Lotor called out to her in parting, and then declared passionately before the doors leading to the security hallway shut behind him, "And if I never see you again, I'll meet my end knowing that you loved me as I did you!"

Allura was too preoccupied with the gravity of the situation to fully feel the comparatively minor emotional implications of Lotor's statement.  "This can't happen… this won't happen…" she murmured determinedly.

Keith put a hand on her shoulder while Pidge took her right hand and squeezed it.  "It'll be okay, Princess," the youngest Voltron force member tried to assure her.

Allura straightened, bolstered by the support of her friends, and glared at Space Marshal Graham's retreating form.  For several long moments she pondered what had just transpired in that hearing, and did her best to numb herself to the humbling sting of Galaxy Garrison's betrayal.  Finally she turned and strode out of the courtroom without another word, her friends behind her in quiet understanding, with one more aspect of her youthful innocence and trust forever shattered.

The End