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The Boys Are Back

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The scent of ozone fills the air and Haggar takes it in with deep, labored breaths. The crackle of electricity and magic has ended with her efforts, but the room’s silence seems weighted with potential, poised to begin again.

Her chest aches as she steps forward to the body of her son. The bodies of her son, but just the one in the center really matters now.

She has to marvel at the perfection of the clones. The perfect image of her son lies before her, though she has never seen him look so at peace. Haggar wonders if that will change this time around, with this second chance she has seized for herself. Perhaps this time he might even look at her with kindness in his eyes. Perhaps he will call her ‘mother’ instead of ‘witch’.

All of that relies on this experiment working, of course. These endless ticks shall determine whether or not this experiment has been for nothing. All the man in front of her has to do is open his eyes at last.

She can’t help but spare a glance at the other unconscious figures in the room. Their eyes shut tight and limbs hanging limp. Spares saved in the event that this one doesn’t work out. It doesn’t hurt to keep a few extras lying around. Her most recent cloning experiment taught her that.

There is no reason why this one shouldn’t work as well or why it is taking as long as it is for him to wake up. Still, there is another thing Haggar has learned over the thousands of years of her existence and it is to be patient.

She places a gnarled hand on her boy’s cheek. Her hand is less withered and decrepit than it once was, but it still looks ancient next to the flawless, violet porcelain of his skin. Even lifeless, he is more beautiful than either she or Zarkon had been in their prime. Perhaps it was a side-effect of quintessence exposure in his youth that gave the young emperor his good looks.

The body on the table gasps to life theatrically, with a shudder and a jolt. His eyes open wide, his pupils are small, and they dart about the room before landing on her. Haggar holds her breath, waiting to discover the results of her trial run.

His eyes study her face for a moment, trying to make sense of what he sees, a word on his lips. She knows she looks different. Oriande has changed her features. The Galra physique she had worn for so long couldn’t hide her there and when she returned, she hadn’t bothered with the disguise.

“Mother?” he near-whispers. The word breaks her heart and heals it again and again. She closes her eyes to listen to the echo of it in her mind.

“Yes,” she answers. “I’m here, my son.”

In a moment of bravery, she lowers herself to sit beside him on the table and wraps her arm around him. She can’t remember ever having done this to him, even when he was a child. She isn’t sure he would have allowed her to past the age of five, even if she had wanted the to hold her child in her arms. The Galra do not show weakness in public. Displays of affection are shown only by those willing to defend that affection.

He is larger than her even without his armor on. When he folds in, accepting her embrace, he envelopes her.

“I’ve brought you back, my son,” she murmurs into his chest. She is determined to appreciate this in all the ways she hadn’t when he was alive. “Have you forgiven me?” By his reaction to her face, to her affection, she knows his answer before he says it. Haggar relishes it all the same.

“Of course, mother,” says Lotor. She can feel the vibrations of his voice and she grins against his chest. She will never take the word ‘mother’ on his lips for granted. “I know now how much you love me.”

Words she has dreamed of hearing, had pictured hearing even as she had cast her spells over him. In the past, she would have been forced to doubt their veracity, forced to suspect that they were nothing but an attempt to manipulate her. From her new son, the one she has crafted to perfection, they are completely genuine.

“I do, Lotor.” She pulls away from him and looks at his face. A boy who loves his mother, completely free of artifice. Everything she had wanted.

“We should go,” she says. “There is much to be done. I have big plans for the two of us.”

They rise from the altar, Lotor’s legs are uncertain at first but he steadies himself soon enough, and they start to leave. Haggar’s druids step forward to clean the room after the intense session of magic. The clatter behind them as they walk is nothing but the sound of many hands tidying the mess she has made.

Until one of them calls out in alarm.

Haggar turns at the sound. She almost shouts to them, words of warning or discipline at the ready, when she sees what has the five druids in shock. One of the clones in its chamber lining the wall has started to move. He thrashes against the glass of the stasis chamber and claws at the mask covering his face.

“Move,” she commands the druids. She rushes over to the chamber and peers in through the glass. Yellow eyes meet hers and her mouth opens in shock. He is awake.

“Let him out,” she commands.

Someone, anyone obeys her. Before the chamber has been drained, another clone pounds against the glass, a fist threatening to break through in anger. Still another raps his knuckles gently on the chamber, signally life politely after the initial shock of realizing he was alive. A fourth kicks at his restraints, his shouts muted by liquid and feeding tubes.

“Let them all out!” she shouts. She can hardly tear her eyes away from the scene in front of her, clones stumbling out of their chambers, but she knows she must. “Go to your rooms,” she says to Lotor, her Lotor, who has been watching from behind her.

“Yes, mother,” he says obediently. His eyes are wide, but he knows his mother will do what is best for him and so he leaves.

She smiles at the retreating form of the good son she has created before turning back to the mess she has made. Four more clones are alive, walking, breathing, and conscious. She has only a few ticks to decide what to do with them.

The druids give the clones a wide berth. These bodies weren’t prepared for the ritual in the same way that the first one had been. The nutrient wash they were floating in has coated their simple flight suits, soaked their hair, and dripped onto the floor.

Despite their identical composition, Haggar sees that each version of her son holds himself differently. One stands tall and proud despite his disheveled appearance. Another holds himself in much the same way the real Lotor might have, especially in the moments when he looked upon her. His gaze is haughty and imperious and his arms are folded across his chest. The one who had awoken in a violent fit continues to gasp for air in a snarl. His eyes daring any of them to step closer. The last looks about the room in furtive glances, his eyes soft and worried and his lips parted just slightly.

Haggar stands, mouth agape and taking the sight of all four of them in. She realizes now exactly what has happened. She shuts her mouth tightly for a moment before making her decision.

“Destroy them,” she commands to her druids before taking her leave. Surely her most faithful servants can handle four newly born clones.

She should have known that having the perfect son, at last, would come with a price. It had been too easy to hold him in her arms and to listen to him call her ‘mother’ without the faintest whisper of a fight. In forming her perfect Lotor, she had needed to pick and choose which aspects of her son she wanted to keep and which she wanted to do without. Admittedly, she may have kept very little of the original Lotor for herself. Haggar didn’t need his attitude, his flair for the dramatic, or his curiosity. All of those traits had proven problematic when dealing with her son in the past.

To see all of those traits personified… that was more than Haggar was prepared to deal with.

The druids could handle it and if not, she would deal with them and the clones later.

***

The door shuts behind Haggar and leaves the four Lotors blinking at her disappearance before turning to the five druids. The witch’s minions keep to the walls of the room, surrounding the clones and inching closer.

Two of the Lotor’s widen their stances, preparing for a fight. Without a word, the five of them move toward the center of the room, standing back to back to face their attackers.

One of the clones looks frightened at the sight of the encroaching masked figures. “Destroy them?” he asks the others. Even amidst his fear, he acknowledges the three other figures that look exactly as he does and knows that something strange has happened.

The other clones do not respond and this clone too falls into line, staring down the black eye slits of the druid nearest him.

“What are we going to do?” he asks the others.

This time, the one on his right, a more confident clone, one of the initial two prepared to defend themselves, answers. “We’re going to fight.”

The fourth clone simply laughs, loud and unnerving, and says nothing to explain himself.

When the druids charge, so do the clones.

Though they are outnumbered, the clones hold their own against their adversaries. The druids are magicians first and foremost; their work mostly involves spell casting and research. They certainly weren’t trained to take on four highly skilled fighters. And despite the clones’ lack of weaponry and the shock of being brought back to life only to be executed, they excel at hand to hand combat.

Punches are thrown. One druid’s mask falls to the ground with a clatter before another clone picks it up to protect his fist. A particularly ambitious druid grabs one Lotor clone by his long white hair before that Lotor snarls and unleashes his claws on the druid’s throat.

The laughing clone stands on the altar in the center of the room, kicking at any druids who might dare approach him. Hopelessly outmatched despite outnumbering their opponents, the druids soon learn to avoid him. Without challengers, this Lotor leaps from the table to rejoin the fray.

The druids attempt to avoid being attack by teleporting away from danger, but there are simply too many Lotors. The second they find themselves out of one fight they are drawn into another. Two druids lie on the ground unconscious and the balance of the fight has started to shift in favor of the clones.

The two Lotor’s who stood ready to fight initially, combine their efforts to take down one druid and toss another across the room. One laughs in triumph while the other coldly turns his attention to his next victim, a cruel smile playing at his lips.

The gentler Lotor has a bit more trouble than the other three but is able to evade the druid focused on him. He is quick and nimble, but there is a sheen of sweat on his brow and his confidence is failing. The druid has not been able to hit him yet but has backed Lotor into a wall. His eyes widen.

The Lotors acting as a team grab hold of this druid’s shoulders and turn him around to face them. They smile together, perfect mirror images of each other. Then they take him out, working in tandem to eliminate him from the fight.

“Thank you,” murmurs the Lotor who has just been saved.

“Figure out how to get us out of here,” says a Lotor who has the druid in a stranglehold.

The rescued Lotor nods and heads to the doors where he knows there is a holo display. He finds that when he thinks about it, he knows a lot of things, about this ship, about the woman who left them to die, and about a past he probably didn’t live. The knowledge is almost enough to cause him to freeze again, but he swallows that feeling and keeps moving.

The fight continues on around him as he pokes and swipes at the screen. The doors to the room should open automatically for them, that really isn’t the problem. The problem is that they have nowhere to go and Haggar wants them dead. They need to get out of here and fast. There are only two remaining druids and even with their masks on they look scared. Once those are taken care of, they will need somewhere to escape to.

But this Lotor has a plan. The Galra don’t have escape pods. If the ship starts to go down in the middle of a fight, the Galra are honored to go down with their ship. And if the systems begin to malfunction, the inability to escape does wonders for bolstering the imagination into finding a quick solution. This ship does, however, have transport vessels: ships to carry people and cargo from the capital ship to nearby cruisers; and it as fighter crafts, faster, less noticeable, but smaller. This Lotor formulates a route to the nearest hangar, specifically designed to avoid most guards along the way.

The map on the display also shows the nearby hangar where Lotor’s private ship is housed or rather, is usually housed. He knows all of them would likely prefer to travel in that ship and is slightly sad himself at the prospect of not being able to. Time is precious now, though. They can’t risk being detected because they are feeling sentimental.

When he looks up, the three other clones have done away with the last of the druids. Their opponents have been reduced to heaps of cloth on the ground, some with their masks tossed aside. The clearly mad Lotor sneers at them.

“Fools!” He shouts. “You were no match for us infinitely superior beings. Raise a hand to us again and we shall burn your cities to the ground!” Each of the other clones turns to look at him. While they all look far from their bests, this Lotor has a madness to him that is manifested body and soul.

“Where are we headed?” asks one of the other Lotor’s. He speaks urgently and looks at the Lotor standing by the door.

“There’s a hangar not too far away. Follow me and I can get us past most of the sentries.”

“Excellent,” he says and the two of them head out together. They open the doors but the two Lotors pause for a tick when they realize that the other two clones are not following them. “What are you doing?” asks the same clone.

“Why would you chose to leave?” asks the clone who still stands beside his violent twin. “Our empire is here. Our armies, our fleet. I am staying here where I can conquer the universe. Only a fool would flee.” The clone next to him bares his teeth and the sharp points of his fangs in a gesture of agreement.

“Haggar is going to kill you when she finds out you’re still alive,” The calmer clone says. He may not have been the best in a fight, but he knows he is intelligent. “You will die before you ever get a chance to reclaim our empire.”

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” he retorts. “Have fun living in exile again. It was great fun the last time, but I prefer being emperor instead.”

“We have to go,” says the other escaping clone and the group of clones divides in two. From down the hall, they can hear an unhinged laugh echoing against the steel.

They run together and match each other step for step when one clone isn’t looking to the other for direction. As planned, they do not encounter anyone who tries to stop them.

“Should we take a fighter or a transport vessel?” The intelligent clone asks. He has an opinion of his own but wants to see if his new partner in crime will concur.

“Fighter,” the other says decisively. “Faster, lighter, with an engine equipped for long distance journeys and a top of the line navigation center. A stealth fighter would be our best bet, but once we disable the tracking nodes we shouldn’t have to worry about being followed.”

It was as if he had read his mind.

They slowed as they came upon the entrance to the hangar. Lotor, the fighter, crouched with a finger to his lips. He surveyed the hangar for guards and found only two, both occupied with something unseen and facing away from the door. The crouching Lotor turns to look at his companion, hair now dry and tossed over his shoulder, with a small smile on his face. His eyebrows were quirked in a question as if to say ‘think you can handle this?’

The other Lotor isn’t so sure that he can but nods anyway. They step softly behind the two guards to take them by surprise. The fighter hooks his long arm around one guard's neck and traps his victim’s arm behind his back. It happens in one fluid motion and the other Lotor, holding back due to nerves, pauses for a tick just to admire the maneuver. Which is when the guard he was supposed to be taking out turns around to see him.

In what must have been a reflex, the more bookish Lotor launches himself at the guard and wrestles him to the ground.

The other clone drops his guard to the ground with a laugh. “That’s one way to do it.”

“Can you find us a ship while I figure out what to do with him?”

“Gladly.”

That Lotor helps him deal with his guard too once he has secured a ship and started the ignition process. He even helps himself to the cape the guard was wearing. When they are safe inside their stolen Galra fighter, he tears a strip of fabric from it and ties it around his neck. “Now you can tell us apart.”

The other Lotor frowns, thinking that if he tried to wear something like that he would end up looking foolish rather than roguish. Then he realizes how silly that thought is. They are literally the same person.

The now-stylish Lotor kicks his feet up onto the back of the pilot’s chair and extends his legs as far as he can in the small space. The area he sits in is really meant for supplies, but he seems very comfortable.

“Where are we headed?” The quieter clone asks, even though he has found himself in the pilot’s chair. He managed to fly out of range of the capital cruiser and evade the few fighters that tried to follow them. Now, they are flying out into open space, aimless, which is starting to frighten him.

“What’s the nearest civilized planet?”

“Tyrus. We should be able to find disguises ourselves there.” He looks back at his clone to see him frowning.

“They are under Galra rule,” he muses. “Our ship would blend in, but our faces might be recognized. I do have my disguise…” The pilot resists rolling his eyes. ”I think it might be worth the risk.”

Pilot Lotor agrees, though not because of the disguise. “Where do we go from there?” After being born only a varga if not doboshes ago, he is trying to think of their future rather than their messy past.

“To Voltron, of course.”

For the first time since they met, the two clones have a serious difference in opinion. “That’s the last place we should go! Second to last if you count the ship we’ve just escaped!” If the forward momentum of their ship didn’t carry them through space regardless of what he did, he would have put them at a dead stop. “Not to mention they are the reason we died in the first place.”

“We are the reason we died. Us and the two or three other clones we left behind. I think we need to make amends and more importantly,” he leans forward, placing his head just to the side of the pilot’s chair. “Get them on our side before the others get up to something terrible.”

The pilot gulps. He knows what Lotor is talking about even if he wishes he didn’t. “This is a terrible idea.” He shifts the controls and begins preparations for their descent to Tyrus.

“I think by the time we’re done here you’ll come around.”

The pilot shakes his head, unconvinced. He doesn’t necessarily have a plan of his own. The smartest thing to do in their situation would be to disappear for a while, find someplace they can hide and wait until they are forgotten. It isn’t an especially attractive plan, but it is the safest.

Tyrus is a trading planet, not rich in its own natural resources but rich enough in history that people flock to it to sell what the planet does not produce on its own. It should be busy enough to hide them while they acquire disguises. The air is dry and dusty when they land and the sand helps add to their ‘disguises’. The Lotor with the cape and scarf has the smaller piece tied over his face and offers the rest of the cape to the other clone. He takes it because he really has no better option. They still look identical to anyone with eyes, but it will be enough for now.

For the first time in either of their lives, they are forced to shoplift to get what they need. A jacket, some boots, rope and a knife aren’t too hard to take and carry back to their ship. They hide most of it in plain sight on their persons. If the shopkeepers notice, they say nothing. Maybe there is a benefit to looking like the emperor.

When they return to the ship, the roguish Lotor gathers his hair up with a segment of their recently acquired rope. He holds the length of it in one hand and takes up the knife with the other. It almost pains the other clone to watch the severed white tresses fall away.

“Still handsome?” The shorn Lotor asks.

“Another way to tell us apart,” says the other, refusing to acknowledge the comment.

“We should get something to eat before we leave and try to gather some information on where Voltron was last seen.”

The second part is something the other Lotor is still not on board with, but he follows his twin back into the market. They blend in better this time. Neither of them are perfectly disguised, not to anyone looking for the Galra prince, but no one is and so they remain safe.

They barter their recently acquired knife away for far less than it is worth. Now at least, they have money to buy their last meal with. The alien they deal with has too many hands and too many eyes. Both Lotors feel too intensely scrutinized to put up much of a fight in price haggling.

When they both have sticks of roasted Pentagruul tentacles drenched in a fragrant yellow sauce, they wander the market. The sights and smells are familiar to both of them. They, in their past life, have been here many times before. There are also little details: blue and green Sandavi silks, thick Darnine incense emanating from one stall in a cloud above the marketplace, and even a watery purple soup that neither of them can quite place, that send them back across the galaxy in their memories. They don’t put it into words for each other, but they both recognize how strange it is to have memories and to know that they don’t exactly belong to you.

They know they are Lotor. They also know that the man they are traveling with is Lotor and that those three other men they met were Lotor. It is easy to come to the conclusion that they are clones; that they are not the original man from their memories. It is far more difficult to accept that fact.

“What should I call you?” asks the pilot. They are seated in the shade under a cloth canopy after spending a bit more of their funds on some sweet tasting frozen drinks. “We should have some method of designating ourselves. You are Lotor, I am Lotor. I fear this could get confusing eventually.”

The other clone frowns slightly, considering. Their situation would have already become difficult if they had one of the others traveling with them. With just the two of them, they have managed thus far. “Shall I call you ‘One’ and you can call me ‘Two’?”

Using numbers seems like a clear and simple choice, if a bit dehumanizing. The Lotor now to be known as One nods once in agreement. He doesn’t like it. It’s foolish but he already has a name, it just so happens to be a name that doesn’t belong to him alone.

“I suppose being One and Two are better than being Three, Four, or Five.”

“Well, we are clearly the better clones,” says Two. “Besides, the clones who stayed aren’t likely to survive long enough to need designations.”

Neither of them feels too badly about the three other Lotors they left behind, especially the two that chose to stay. They had their chance to leave and now they had to live or die because that decision.

With the last drops of their drinks all but licked from their containers, the two clones stand and move on. They need to find someone who knows anything about Voltron before the sun sets and the quintent ends. Rumors aren’t a good enough reason to risk being caught by Haggar.

They pause next to a holo display, one that typically displays advertisements or city maps when they notice their wanted holos. This isn’t the first time that Prince Lotor’s face has appeared on one of these. The two wanted men slip into the shadows to avoid attention when small crowds gather around some of the other kiosks. The bounty is a large one, a regal sum, and one that will send more than a few ruffians after them.

“It’s a good holo,” says the more roguish Lotor, Two. He is more suited to be a wanted man. The other Lotor tightens his cape around himself to hide his long hair and lilac skin.

Despite One’s pleas, the two of them continue through the market. Occasionally, they stop to talk to one of the merchants or a fellow customer, but more often than not they come up empty-handed.

They find a common area where merchants take a break from their stalls to play board games and gamble. Seems like as good a place as any to hear gossip.

They partake in a game or two. With almost no money to gamble away, they don’t last long, but now they have been invited into the circle with the rest of them. Now they can ask questions.

“Has anyone heard from the Lions in a while, the Paladins of Voltron?” Two speaks casually, as if they are all good friends. One thinks he sounds too imperious. Their voice is bold and sonorous from years of practicing perfect elocution.

The question is purposefully ambiguous. There is no way to know which way the allegiances of the group sway. Tyrus is under Galra rule, but they are a well-behaved planet where the Empire’s grip is lessened. It is best to stay vague until it becomes clear one way or the other.

“You hear things now and again,” says a short bug-like alien. “But who’s to say any of it’s true?”

“What have you heard?”

“Sometimes you hear that they’ve been flying over this or that planet. Sometimes you hear that they’re hiding. Not doing anything important really.”

“It’s been almost three deca-phoebs since anyone’s seen them. Probably time to face the fact that they’ve disappeared again,” says a furry blue alien with yellow hands and feet and a long, sticky tongue.

Three deca-phoebs. The two clones look at each other and look away quickly to avoid appearing suspicious. So long since their fight with Voltron, since they had been lost to the blinding white of the rift.

“Where were they last seen?” asks the long-haired Lotor.

“Why do you care?”

“My brother’s a fan,” says the other clone, coming to his rescue.

“Who did you say you were again?” asks the bug.

Two stands and pulls the other to his feet. “We didn’t.”

The other clone puts a hand on his shoulder, slowly taking a few steps back. “I think we should get going. It was lovely meeting you.”

No one follows them back to their ship, but they don’t give anyone the chance. The Lotor who got them there takes the pilot chair again and takes them up into orbit without a word from the other clone.

“Now what are we going to do?” he asks when they reach a stable orbit. He can talk and move about the ship if he needs to without having to worry about the ship going somewhere he doesn’t want it to. Two looks the most concerned he has ever looked, considering their next move.

“We aren’t safe in the Galra Empire any longer. In truth, we never were. Our only chance is to head to Coalition territory.”

“Head to the Coalition? Why not a neutral system?”

Two looks up at him. “We have no chance of finding Voltron there. Better to see what their allies have been up to than to venture into no man's land.”

The other Lotor turns away to face the ship's controls. He still hasn’t been convinced that Voltron would help them, that they need anyone else’s help. They could head to a neutral planet and make lives for themselves, far away from the threat of Haggar and the other Lotors.

With this thought, One realizes the way in which he differs from the other clones. He has Lotor’s memories, he knows how he is meant to act and how that is contrary to everything he has wanted to do since waking up. He realizes that perhaps all of the anxiety and fear Lotor had always kept beneath the surface had been collected and bestowed upon him. His companion would never settle for a life of peace and anonymity. The Lotor in his memory would never have fled responsibility and power for safety. He, himself, isn’t sure that such a life is what he wants. All he knows is that it is the smartest option.

The pilot closes his eyes and leans against the dashboard. He takes a tick to collect himself before speaking again with a sigh. “Where to?” He already knows the answer but is unable to say it aloud.

“Olkarion,” says the other Lotor, a smile in his voice. “Why settle for anything less than their capital?”

Sure, if they were going into enemy territory, why not head right into the heart of it?