One Good Turn
In the shadowy corridors of Castle Doom, the witch Haggar walked along with her familiar at her heels toward her laboratory while she pondered her latest plan. The idea was still in its earliest stages of contemplation, but she had not spoken of it to anyone just yet. She preferred to iron out a few more details than she had quite yet before she did that, especially because what she had in mind was a plan she was not entirely sure Zarkon would accept. Her thoughts were disrupted, however, when she heard voices further down the hall. One was robotic, one male and unfamiliar, and the third female and very familiar—although in her opinion, hardly welcome. It was Queen Merla.
A scowl of complete and utter contempt crossed the old crone's features from beneath her dark hood at the sound of the queen's voice. She had not yet and likely never would accept the fact that Merla was now her liege as well as that of the Drule Seventh Kingdom through a marriage to Zarkon. While Haggar was all in favor of the concept of a merged kingdom with the voting clout that went with it—now the second largest in the hierarchy due to its size—and Doom in general having more power, she was most certainly not in favor of it being through Zarkon's marriage to the pink-haired tart, as Haggar thought of her, sitting at his side. While Haggar would likely have resented anyone in the spot she still coveted after so many years, someone like Merla, who had not only been snide and condescending to her in the past but who already had a spotty history where loyalty to Doom's royalty was concerned, had earned the lion's share of the witch's contempt.
Haggar's scowl faded somewhat, replaced by a more neutral look of curiosity as she drew closer to the source of the voices. From down the hall she saw a trio of armed robot soldiers escorting five male slaves whose purpose was obvious. Though the men were of varying races local to the galaxy—humanoid and some with some mixed Drule parentage by the looks of them—each was nicely groomed, well muscled, and scantily clad in clean ornamental slave linens. Merla stood with the one in front, smoothing a perfectly manicured hand across his broad chest and smiling complacently. "I approve," Haggar heard the queen tell the robot. "You may bring them to the private quarters as I instructed earlier."
Queen for so little time and already she's stocking up a harem in Castle Doom? Haggar's yellow eyes glared poisonously through the shadows at Merla. What nerve, what arrogance, to insult Zarkon in such a way! Her bony fingers clenched her staff in anger. Has she no respect for him at all to flaunt her infidelity so blatantly and soon? Though the concept of staying monogamous in one's marriage was not necessarily expected in Drule Empire society and certainly not on Doom—reputed to be one of the more hedonistic planets in the empire—actions that could be interpreted as disloyal or lacking in respect among those in high public profile still raised eyebrows and inspired huffs in certain circles. Haggar generally was not included in that group, as she did not particularly care about gossip unless certain individuals were involved, but Zarkon was at the top of the list of those that did concern her.
As the robots escorted the slaves away, Haggar took a bold stride forward toward Merla. Before she could get a word out however, Merla turned toward her with a saccharine smile on her azure lips. "Well, it's about time you stopped lurking in the shadows like some spying little bat, Haggar. I wondered how long you'd eavesdrop before you had to give your unsolicited opinion."
"Defensive much, Merla?" the witch retorted, both unimpressed and irritated by Merla's attitude.
Merla laughed. "Not at all. It's just that if you're going to spy, you might want to stick to your little crystal ball because you're terrible at it. I didn't even need to be a telepath to pick up on your presence." She straightened and flipped her braid back over her shoulder. "Although implying that I'm insulting Zarkon by keeping a few masseuses around is laughable. Your jealousy is painfully transparent."
Haggar's temper nearly flashed to the surface, but she managed to keep a calm façade. "Jealous of you, Merla? Hardly. But I'd think a newlywed queen would have better breeding than to go cavorting around with a bunch of harem boys—oh I'm sorry, masseuses," she amended cattily, "while the crown for this planet's barely had time to settle on her overstyled pink hair. You don't see Zarkon acting like that."
"I'm not Zarkon; I'm his wife, or do I need to remind you of that?" Merla leaned forward, and stared the older woman's aged face down harshly. "As for Zarkon, let me clue you in on something, my dear. You don't need to worry about Zarkon or his needs. Trust me; I'm taking good care of them." A sneer crossed her lips. "Now be a good little witch and run along and build a robeast, or go turn Cossack into a toad or something useful like that." She accentuated her gesture with a shooing motion of her hand.
"I always put my time to good use… that's why I'm still here after all these years," Haggar replied huffily, and turned to leave imagining the different ways she could turn Merla into a hideous robeast. She already had the personality for it, she thought on a snide note.
"I heard that," Merla called out after her, but Haggar chose to ignore her and shortly she was out of earshot and back at her laboratory.
"Useful," Haggar muttered to herself as she went in, slamming the door behind her, "I'll show her 'useful'… we'll see how 'useful' I am when I get Lotor back here where he belongs to put Little Miss Queenie in her place—right back on Eshai!"
The old witch's muttering was answered by a snort followed by a hearty guffaw of laughter. "Ran into Merla, did ya?" Cossack greeted her from where he stood leaning against one of the pillars of the chamber, idly tossing a couple of her crystals from one hand to the other as a way to amuse himself while he waited.
Not in the mood for Cossack's inanity, she cut him off in a snappish tone. "Brilliant statement of the obvious as usual, Cossack."
He straightened and rolled his eyes at the rude greeting. "Yeesh, what bug crawled up your robe today?"
"A black widow with a pink braid," Haggar retorted as she went over to her bench. Coba hopped up on it beside her while she looked over at Cossack. It was then that she noticed he was apparently practicing juggling with her magical paraphernalia to entertain himself in her absence, and her yellow eyes grew wider with aggravation. "Put those down, you idiot, before you break something or cast a spell that further imperils what few brain cells you have."
Frowning, Cossack set the crystals down. "Well next time be here when you have a robot send me over, and I won't get bored enough to mess with your shiny rocks." He followed her over to her bench. "So what did you want, or did you just call me here to bitch about Merla?"
"I called you here because I need you."
"What for? You got a new robeast for me or something?"
Haggar glanced at the door to her lab and pointed her staff at it. The sound of a heavy lock clicking into place echoed through the chamber a moment later, and she leaned in closer to Cossack. Lowering her voice to just above a whisper, she met his gaze seriously as she began to speak. "Not quite. But I need your help with something I'm planning—the Ancients save me—and I need you to cooperate and most importantly keep quiet about it. Very quiet."
Intrigued, Cossack's eyes brightened. "What's going on? You up to something that's going to piss off Queenie?" He smiled at the thought, but then paused. "You aren't planning to off her are you? I mean, I can understand why you'd want to, but—"
The old witch let out a snort of mild amusement at the notion before shaking her head no. "No, not today," she assured him in a matter-of-fact manner. "Actually this involves Prince Lotor."
"Has something new happened?" Cossack asked with surprise. Last he had heard Lotor was still in custody at Galaxy Garrison headquarters, sentenced to death and awaiting execution. King Zarkon had forbidden both Cossack and Haggar to intervene, and although they did not like or understand his decision to let his only son and heir die by enemy hands with no attempt to rescue him, so far they had abided by it. In Cossack's case that was because he had not received instruction otherwise and had no real idea how they might go about rescuing Lotor anyway, and he figured that if Haggar came up with any bright ideas she would let him know. He was encouraged to learn that she might have gotten such inspiration. As a loyal member of Doom's nobility, head of Zarkon's fleet, and as a friend—at least Cossack liked to think that the prince would call him such—of Lotor's, his situation had not sat well with him from the beginning.
"There hasn't been any news, no," Haggar replied, "but I think I've come up with a way to get him back."
"Enough time has passed that I don't think Zarkon is going to do anything on his own to save Lotor. I don't know if it's because he finally got fed up enough with Lotor's failures to wash his hands of him for good, if he expects Lotor to prove himself by getting himself out of there on his own, or if Merla's gotten into his head and convinced him to let Lotor die so she can get some spawn of their union in line for the kingdom's throne."
Cossack made a face. "Oh man, Zarkon didn't knock her up, did he?"
"As far as I know no," Haggar hissed, wincing at the mere thought. "But I wouldn't be surprised if that's her plan. That whole marriage is a political maneuver on both their parts, and you know how the nobility is about heirs."
"Yeah," he agreed with a grumble on a personal note. His own mother had lectured him enough times over the years about settling down and giving her grandchildren that he could only imagine how the pressure was on royalty as opposed to mere planetary nobility like himself. "And if that happened, it wouldn't be great for Prince Lotor, not to mention the rest of us. Queenie's bad enough on her own. I don't want to think about what her kids'd be like." He sighed. "And Lotor's pretty much screwed anyway at this point."
"But we could see to it that Merla's ambitions get screwed instead if we get Lotor back here in one piece. And I think we can do it. I have an idea for breaking him out of Galaxy Garrison, if you can help me."
His eyes lit up with enthusiasm. "Sure. What's your plan?"
"It's simple, simple enough even for you not to screw up. We'll take one of the fleet battleships to Galaxy Garrison headquarters. You wait outside in the ship while I infiltrate the complex and find Lotor. Once I get to him, I'll teleport him back to the ship with my magic, and we fly home."
A blink crossed the commander's otherwise neutral expression as he listened to the plan and waited for further elaboration. When none was forthcoming, he pondered what she had said, and then burst out laughing with the realization that she must have been joking. "Oh, that was a good one Haggar! You really had me going for a minute there!"
Haggar failed to see what was so amusing in her suggestion, and narrowed her eyes impatiently. "What are you laughing at, you idiot? I'm serious."
His hearty laughter at continued for a moment until he composed himself under her intense gaze. "Sure Haggar, whatever!" he replied, still not able to stifle his snickers completely. "You do that. Just take a battleship, fly on over through heavily monitored GA airspace, and park yourself by their biggest complex while you pop on in and pick up their highest profile prisoner without them noticing. You let me know how that works out for you!" He laughed out loud again, shook his head, and started for the door. "I'll be in my office playing Grenade Hunter if you need me."
A zap of energy from the witch's staff flew through the air, narrowly grazing the edge of his helmet and missing his fingers only by inches as he reached for the door handle. "Stay put, Cossack. You're going to get me a ship and fly us in there."
That effectively snuffed out the last of his mirth, and he turned around and gave her a dubious look instead. "Look Haggar, you know I'd be glad to help you, but did you think this whole thing through? Maybe you're not up on the intricacies of military strategy, but you don't just fly over to an enemy base the size of the Garrison complex with one ship for shits and giggles." He paused. "At least not unless you're damn sure your cloaking device isn't going to fail, you've got a fast ship, and you've got no hang-ups about becoming a smear on the nearest asteroid if something goes wrong. And did you forget that Zarkon told us not to do any rescue missions for Lotor?"
"Giving me a ride there and Lotor a ride home isn't doing that much," she retorted, making it clear how trivial she found Zarkon's decree against a Lotor rescue mission to be when it came down to it. "So show some backbone and help me get a ship."
Straightening indignantly, Cossack frowned at the witch and folded his arms across his chest. "I don't think not wanting my ass blown from here to the astral plane on some half-baked suicide rescue mission you pulled out of your pointy little hood against the king's direct orders makes me a coward."
Haggar sighed. "You know, Cossack, sometimes you make me miss working with someone as agreeable as Mogor was. He never said no. Even that hardheaded fool Yurak wouldn't have argued with me on something as important as the prince's life."
"Yeah, and you'll notice one key difference between me, Mogor, and dog-face. I'm still alive." Cossack turned his head to one side. "Don't get me wrong Haggar, I don't want to give you a hard time and I want Prince Lotor back here as much as you do." He reflected upon the notion of Merla as queen beside King Zarkon with little fish-faced, pink-haired prince and princesslings ruling the planet and ordering him around, and winced. "Maybe more. But you've gotta give me a better strategy than 'fly in and hope the Alliance officers don't spot the big cloaked Doom battleship hanging out while we screw around looking for Lotor,' you know?"
He walked over to one of her stools and sat on it, leaning onto one of her benches on his elbows. "From what I know of the Garrison complex, they've got some heavy firepower. If they spot us or we have to de-cloak for some reason, we gotta withstand that. If we take our fastest ship we won't have the firepower or shielding our biggest battleships have, but if we take one of those we're more likely to get tailed and pursued with attack ships. Until we get back into Drule territory we're not going to be able to call on anyone for backup, and that's enough of a trip that I don't want something that doesn't have top-class speed if we can't bring backup in there with us… which we can't since we're not even supposed to go out on a mission like this."
Cossack paused for a moment and thought a bit more. "We can take one ship out with no problem, but you can bet if I order more than that to leave the bay at once someone's going to ask why and word will get back to Zarkon or Merla. Then you'll have some explaining to do before we even get out of the solar system," he continued, and pointed at her dramatically. "Remember, the reason Zarkon says he doesn't want us going in there is that Commander Hazar's end of the Drule Empire is in some kind of negotiation with the Alliance and we can't cause any 'incidents.' If Zarkon thinks we're going to out to cause one, good luck getting so much as a robeast coffin out without him grounding it or shooting it down."
The old witch waved her hand dismissively. "You know as well as I do that Drule Council ruling holding him back is a load of gladiator beast droppings. Much as he dislikes Keezor, Hazar, and the rest of them he's not worried about anything they're going to do. How ineffective they were at supplanting him back when Lotor tried to take over made it clear how little a threat they really are. No, he's just using them as an excuse not to bother with Lotor." She scowled at the folly of that decision. "But that's beside the point. One ship is all we need anyway. Just get us the one with the best cloaking system and the most speed, and if you need more firepower, I can stash a couple of robeasts on board to mop up any mess. Can you handle that?" Her tone was impatient.
"Yeah, but I still think you've sniffed one too many fumes from your bio chamber," he replied with a measure of hesitation. "Do you at least know where in the complex they're holding Lotor or how long it'll take?"
"I'll be able to use my scrying crystal to pinpoint his location when we get close enough. Once I find him, all I'll have to do is get to him and teleport him out with my magic, since I'm sure their prison is well protected against all known mechanical transporter frequencies. But magic doesn't quite work the same way so they can't block that." She was not looking forward to having to teleport two bodies, as that took a lot of concentration and more of her energy than she liked to use at once, but it was far easier than the alternative, which was somehow smuggling Lotor out of the highly guarded complex in secret.
"You shouldn't have to de-cloak the ship if we can get in and out without tripping any alarms," Haggar went on. "If all goes well, all you'll have to do is sit in the command chair and give the flight navigators orders. You should be back in time for dinner with your new wife." A wry smile crossed her cracked lips as she glanced at his arm guard adornment from the recent ceremony. "After all, we wouldn't want Yurak's mommy to ground you for being out too late," she finished with a cackle.
"Oh, take your broomstick and shove it," Cossack shot back as he got back to his feet and headed for the door. She dispelled the magic locking it for the security of their conversation, and he said before departing, "I'll let you know when we're ready to head out."
The midnight moon shone brightly in the clear Arusian sky and a warm summer breeze wafted upon the air and through the open window into the library of the fortress called the Castle of Lions. Seated inside at a heavy oaken table in the center of the room, Princess Allura was aware of neither as she hunched over a thick book worded in standard legalese that she could barely make heads or tails of. It was not because the princess was stupid, or even that she was uneducated, but because the text was written by lawyers for lawyers, and that sort of wording became confusing quickly. As a result she had spent most of the day in that room, and a good portion of the evening prior, reading through books they had and through media files obtained from the Alliance database looking for an answer—an answer to the question of how she could save the condemned Prince Lotor's life.
Ever since she had returned to Arus from that fateful trial in which Lotor had been sentenced to death, after she had turned him over to them in good faith that he would get a fair trial and sentence that she expected to be imprisonment, she had been wracked with terrible guilt. Although the others had tried to reassure her with their logic and reason that Lotor was being punished for the crimes he had committed against Alliance planets, Allura could not get past the simple truth that he had put himself in the position to be captured because he had saved her life, and she had repaid his kindness—no matter how uncharacteristic a kindness that might be—with a death sentence. Unwitting or not, the gentle princess' conscience could not bear that burden, not when a death penalty was something she had trouble endorsing for someone who had redeeming qualities in his soul, no matter how few or how buried, and especially not when she was the one who had benefited from them.
I should have kept him here, Allura mused with regret once again, subtly shaking her head in frustration and sorrow. She'd had an ominous feeling about turning Lotor over to Space Marshall Graham, a feeling that perhaps there was another way, but the decisions had all been made so quickly, and Coran and the rest of the team had assured her that it was the right choice. After all, the Galaxy Alliance stood for justice and fairness, and it was true that they did not have the means to keep a high profile prisoner like the crowned prince of Doom in the Castle of Lions, which was the most secure building left on Arus. Logically she knew that holding Lotor would only make them more of a target for Zarkon's attacks—if such a thing was even possible at that point, she thought bitterly as she considered the war-torn state of her home planet—but it would also put a permanent strain on their already limited resources by having to keep him under secure armed guard at all times. The Arusians needed every able-bodied person that was willing to resist and fight to withstand Doom's attacks, especially now that Voltron was no longer able to defend them…
Allura sighed again. The loss of Voltron was another big stress on her, and one that she knew she should be more concerned about than Lotor's fate. The blue lion was destroyed, and even after days of examining its wreckage and having the most brilliant experts in the galaxy look over it, none could offer any hope that it could be repaired like they had been able to the previous time it had been put out of commission. It was true that the Voltron made of air, land, and sea team vehicles might be able to help them in a pinch, but the Explorer was rarely stationed anywhere near Arus and they had their hands full as it was so they could not depend on that. Furthermore, Arus was not in the position to make that kind of demand on the Galaxy Alliance. Just because her people had grown comfortable with having Voltron and the lions readily available to defend the planet did not mean that they had the same right to another Voltron when he also had innocents to defend. Besides, she had a feeling the Alliance would deny such a request anyhow. Her public denunciation of their decision regarding Lotor and the demand to have him remanded back to her custody—which they had flatly denied—had certainly not earned her much sympathy from Alliance officials of late.
In all truth she did not want to ask them for much anyway. Perhaps it was childish, and perhaps it was stubborn and irrational, but it was how she felt. The Alliance had let her down when she trusted them to do the right thing, and as a result she no longer had any faith that they would be there for Arus in a time of need unless it somehow suited their agenda. Allura still believed in the principles the Alliance stood for and held no malice toward the other peaceful planets that were a part of it, and that was why she did not have Arus resign from the organization on the spot after what she felt bordered on a betrayal, but she had no faith left at all in the Galaxy Alliance leaders as a whole.
"This is useless," she said with a weary sigh, and slammed the heavy book in front of her shut. "I need to talk to someone I can trust who knows the laws of the Alliance to the letter." Unfortunately the individuals that immediately sprung to mind were either Alliance officials—who she certainly did not trust to be honest with her about a legal means of obtaining Lotor's release—or her friends there in the Castle of Lions. As a diplomat Coran was well versed in interplanetary legal protocol, and it was possible that the rest of the Voltron force having served as space explorers for the Alliance might know a way, but her trust in them as far as that situation went was also shaky. She did not believe they would lie to her outright, but she also had trouble believing that they would try very hard to think of a way to free Lotor given how they felt about him.
That left her to come up with something on her own. So far her efforts had proven fruitless, thus the reason for her to be up and about in the middle of the night trying to change it while everyone else was asleep—which she could have used herself at that point, but she was too keyed up to indulge in. For what seemed like the millionth time she replayed the ugly events of Lotor's sentencing over again in her head… hearing him sentenced to death, his defiant words against the judges, her own protests that had turned out to be in vain, and the gasps that had run through the crowd when she had voiced them. No one had expected the demure princess of Arus to erupt in an emotional outburst like she had, to dress down the higher echelons of the Galaxy Alliance in public, and to demand that they return Lotor to her. That moment she first objected it seemed as though time itself had stopped for a brief moment, when all eyes—human, alien, Alliance ally, neutral spectator, even the robotic LADs—had been on her…
It was then that a flash of hope struck her. "The LADs…" she murmured aloud into the darkness, using the acronym of the units known as Legal Advisory Droids.
The LADs were robots built to specialize in the practice, interpretation, and execution of Alliance and interplanetary law. Designed by a tribunal of scientists from various planets in the Galaxy Alliance, the LADs served as legal advisors to all Alliance citizens. They could dispense advice on legal inquiries and produce legal and binding documents, contracts, and certificates. Because they were robots, their programming was neutral and they were not influenced by emotion, only the letter of the law they were programmed with. If her memory served correctly, they were also programmed to be completely discreet and confidential. Their confidentiality code in them was one of their most useful features—once initiated, only the individual seeking counsel or a verified designate could withdraw the information pertaining to the matter being discussed. If the unit was illegally tampered with, it was programmed to self-destruct on the spot to protect that confidentiality.
"I can ask a LAD if there's any legal way to save Lotor—and a LAD won't have any agenda to push or any personal grudges against him." She straightened, her tired body revitalized by renewed hope.
Cheddar, one of the space mice who had been quietly watching Allura from the shadows, tugged at her pink leggings from the floor. She looked down and smiled reassuringly at her rodent friend. "Don't worry. I'm fine. Better than I've been in days if this works out the way I hope it does."
The mouse squeaked back unconvinced, and looked up at her with concern.
"No, I will," she said with firm resolve, and stood.
Cheddar's eyes went wide and he gestured wildly with two more squeaks.
Allura picked him up and set him down on the table, and gave him a gentle pat on the head before releasing him. "I'm going to go to the Garrison complex and talk to a LAD to find out my options. I'll take Black Lion since Blue isn't fixed and Black is the only other one I've had experience flying in—and if anyone needs me before I get back, you can tell them where I went. But please don't tell them yet."
Cheddar frowned and twittered uncertainly.
"Of course you can tell your family… and if something urgent comes up of course you can tell the others," she assured the mouse, "but I just don't think they'll understand. Not like you do. You know I don't—I can't live with what they did to Lotor. I know he's evil, and I know he'd just as soon take over this world as look at it…" She looked out the window at the Arusian night sky wistfully, "but he doesn't deserve to die. There's good in him; I know it. If we killed him…"
She felt Cheddar's paw pat her finger, and she smiled down at him. "Thanks for understanding, Cheddar. You're a true friend. I knew I could count on you." She leaned down and kissed him on the head, and then ran for the black lion as fast as she could.
Continued in Part Two