Trouble on Deion
The mine was abuzz with activity. Dozens of heavily-clad men and women pushed carts full of rock and ice across the mine floor away from the excavation area. Other miners utilized manual laser cutters and heavy machinery to cut through the tough frozen rock wall. The operation was in full swing, as the team of diggers searched for the ores that would keep their economy alive.
One such digger concentrated on a section of rock wall deeper than the others. Using the vibrating laser blade he held firmly in his hands, the miner made gauges in the rock, keeping his eyes open and alert for veins of blue. But suddenly the laser beam struck something out of the ordinary, and sparks began to fly right into the man’s helmet. He immediately shut off the machine and brushed them off, then peered closely at the object his tool had hit.
"Mrek!" he called over his shoulder, "Mrek!"
The foreman of the operation hurried over.
"Did you find a vein?" he asked eagerly.
The digger shook his head.
"No," he said, "but I found something else."
Mrek knelt down next to his man and peered at the scarcely exposed object. It appeared to be a slab of shaped metal, definitely man-made, and was seemingly part of a whole. It also had a strange logo etched into it that neither man recognized.
"What is it?" the miner asked.
Mrek shook his head.
"I don’t know," he admitted, then added, "Maybe Nled will know what it is."
The foreman then stood and left to go get his boss. The man who had found the strange object stared down at it with a puzzled expression, scratching the back of his covered head.
* * *
Keith grimaced as he strained his arms against the entire weight of his body. A dull pain shot up through his upper extremities from wrist to shoulder, and his muscles strained against his bare skin. Then, just as quickly as the pain ensued, it stopped as his muscles relaxed slightly. Keith breathed out noisily, then set his jaw and tensed his muscles to prepare for another round.
Across from him, Lance was doing sit-ups on a slanted bench, wheezing at the effort. The two men were dressed similarly in workout pants and sneakers. They had shucked their shirts over half an hour ago after more than an hour of heavy exercise. Lance had wanted to quit long ago, but Keith had insisted upon stretching their workout farther. And because of his stubbornness, Lance kept going too.
Beads of sweat glistened off the well-toned bodies of both men. Lance idly brushed back a lock of drenched brown hair in the middle of a sit-up, glaring at his commander each time he raised his form. Lance’s body was about to give out on him, yet Keith was still going strong. Lance felt satisfaction, however, when Keith let out a muffled grunt at his next chin-up. At least his leader wasn’t immune to exertion.
With a final noisy, somewhat exaggerated groan, Lance sat up fully and let his body go loose, bracing his hands on his knees. He breathed in and out heavily, his mouth hanging open. He watched his friend do a few more chin-ups before he spoke up.
"Hey, Keith," he said, "Don’t you think we’ve been at this long enough?"
Keith let out another short grunt and let his eyes move to peer down at Lance.
"Getting soft?" he asked.
"My arms and legs are turning to Jell-O," Lance told him, "And my stomach feels like it’s going to implode."
"You can…quit…if you want," Keith told him in between pulls.
Lance rolled his eyes.
"Maybe I better stay," he said, "By the time you’re done I’ll have to carry you to your quarters."
Keith let out a chuckle.
"You have…such little…faith…in me," he replied.
Lance stood and gave him a critical look, grabbing a towel to drape around his sweaty shoulders.
"The veins in your arms are going to burst any minute, Pal," he warned, "What’s with you and working out to death?"
"Got to…keep…in shape," Keith told him.
Lance filled his mouth with water from the bottle nearby, then squirted some all over his face.
"I don’t think that’s a problem," he stated.
Just then the widescreen monitor behind Keith flickered on, and Allura’s enlarged visage appeared.
"Keith? Lance?" she spoke up to get their attention.
Lance cocked his head to one side as he regarded her coolly.
"Hey, Princess," he greeted her with a lopsided grin, "Wanna join us?"
She smiled and shook her head.
"No thank-you," she told him, "I need you boys to come up to Castle Control right away."
Keith lowered himself to the floor and let go of the bar, making no swift movements with his arms. He ran a hand through his soaked black hair, then grabbed a towel to wipe the perspiration off his face. He turned to face Allura, his expression serious.
"What’s going on?" he asked.
"We’ve got a distress call from the planet Deion," she told them.
"The ice planet?" Lance asked, then turned to Keith. "Didn’t you go there once?"
"What’s their problem?" Keith asked.
"I think you’d better just come up and listen to the transmission yourself," she told him.
"We’ll be right there," he promised.
Throwing on their shirts, Keith and Lance hurried up to Castle Control to find the others already there, gathered around the communications console. Pidge gave them a critical look.
"Looks like you two just jumped in the lake," he observed.
Lance nodded his head to his companion.
"Blame him," he said.
Keith ignored them and went to stand next to Coran and Allura.
"Let’s hear the transmission," he said.
"Right," Coran said, nodding to the Castle officer manning the console.
The man pressed the playback button, and the transmission came through loud and clear for them.
"This is Minister Jbar from the planet Deion," the message said, "We are in need of immediate assistance from the Voltron Force. Drule forces have overtaken one of our mines and are holding our men. We believe they are after the alien ship my people discovered days ago…"
Keith frowned deeply as the message continued.
"The Drules have ships all around the excavation site," Jbar continued, "There’s no way our forces can overtake them. The Garrison suggested we contact you because you have had previous dealings with the Drules and know them well. Please hurry. My planet’s welfare may depend on it."
The transmission ended there. Keith crossed his arms and stared at the blank monitor quietly. Lance glanced at him.
"Do you think it’s the same ship?" he asked.
"There’s no other reason Lotor would want it so badly," he said.
"What ship?" she asked.
Lance turned to her.
"An alien fighter ship was found in the Deion mines seven years ago," he told her, "It carried extremely powerful weaponry, much more powerful than anything the known galaxies have ever seen."
"The Garrison tried to keep it under wraps, but as always other people found out about it," Pidge spoke up, continuing the story, "The Alliance didn’t want the wrong people to get a hold of the technology on board the ship, so they had it locked up in the vaults underneath Garrison Headquarters. Not even they dared to unleash the power of the ship."
Allura turned to Keith.
"So you think they found another one, and that Lotor is after it?" she asked.
"I think that’s exactly what’s going on," he said, "We have to get over there as soon as possible."
"And take Voltron away from Arus?" Coran asked skeptically.
"Lotor is at Deion," Keith told him, "Arus should be safe while we’re gone. And besides that, we have to do everything possible to make sure Lotor doesn’t get that ship."
"If it’s as powerful as you say, then I agree," Allura said.
Coran finally nodded in consent.
"Very well then," he said, "But please keep an open line of communication while you’re away."
"Of course, Coran," Lance told the older man assuringly, "You have nothing to worry about."
* * *
Keith headed the formation of Lions and set the Black’s coordinates to planet Deion. He was not happy. Not only was Lotor on the rampage again, and not only was he after a weapon that could vastly tip the scales of the war, but they were going to a planet that Keith swore to himself he would never return to. Add to that the fact that he would probably have to deal with Jbar on top of the Prince of Doom, all in all Keith was not having a very good day.
"So how cold does it get on Deion?" Allura spoke up from her Lion.
"Temperatures on the surface of Deion this time of year can reach as low as -97 degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime," Pidge spoke up helpfully.
"So let’s just say you better have your longjohns with you," Lance added.
"You’ll need more than that," Pidge told him, "It only takes 2.4 seconds for the surface weather to freeze and kill exposed skin."
"So that means we have to wear our scarves and mitties?" Lance asked.
"The Deonites wear special protective clothing to keep them warm on the surface," Keith spoke up, "I’m sure they’ll supply us with some once we land."
"Will our Lions be able to handle the cold?" Allura asked.
"Of course!" Hunk spoke up indignantly, "These babies are designed to keep out the elements, no matter how extreme."
"Yeah," he said, "If they didn’t, then Lance would be burnt toast by now."
Lance gave his little friend a dirty look.
"Let’s just hope they have one of those suits in midget size," he said with a grin.
"How about giant size?" Pidge asked mischievously.
"I’m sure Hunk’s natural insulation will do the job," he said.
"Hey!" Hunk objected.
"That’s not very nice, you guys," Allura spoke up in the big guy’s defense.
Lance looked at her sheepishly.
"Sorry, big guy," he said.
"Ah, I’m used to it," Hunk replied good-naturedly.
Allura turned to Keith.
"You’re the only one of us who’s been there before," she said, "What’s it like?"
"It’s cold," Keith replied easily, "Not a very exciting place."
"He hated it there," Lance supplied, "He used to call me and Sven just to complain."
"Why did you hate it?" she asked.
* * *
They arrived at Deion within hours of leaving their own galaxy. Keith had them keep their distance since they did not know how many ships Lotor had with him. Fortunately, all of the Doom Prince’s ships were hovering together on one side of the planet, directly over the mine site he had seized.
Keith immediately sent out a communication to the Deion outpost on the surface of the small planet. He wanted to make sure they were welcome before they flew in.
"Planet Deion, this is Captain Keith of the Voltron Force," he said in his communication, "We have come in response to your distress call and are willing to offer our assistance. We would like your permission to land on the surface. Please reply."
They waited a few moments for the response. When it came through, the transmission was quite staticky.
"Captain Keith, this is Minister Jbar of Deion," came the reply, "Permission granted to land on Deion."
"Thank-you, sir," Keith replied, holding back a groan.
He then addressed his team.
"We’ll enter the atmosphere on the other side and fly in low toward the city," Keith told his teammates, "Pidge, I want you to keep an eye on those Doom ships and let me know if they’ve detected us."
"I’m on it, Captain!" Pidge replied.
"Let’s go," he said.
The Lions broke through Deion’s weak ozone layer and entered the planet’s atmosphere. At once they were blinded by heavy torrents of fluffy white snow that was thick in the air. The pilots had to use their sensors to guide their Lions through the air.
"No wonder that transmission was so bad," Hunk spoke up, "It’s storming out here."
"It’s storming here 90% of the year," Keith told him.
"You’re not gonna start complaining again, are you?" Lance asked teasingly.
Keith just gave him a look in reply.
They reached the Deonites’ domed city and made landings in the docking bay. Once inside, the snow and ice disappeared and they were greeted instead by drabby gray steel. The five pilots exited their Lions and were met by a small group of Deions, all dressed in similar gray and black clothing. At the head of the group, Keith recognized Jbar. He stepped forward to meet him.
"Captain," Jbar spoke up shortly, "I am relieved you received my message."
"We came as soon as we got it," Keith replied.
"Prince Lotor has taken over one of our mines," Jbar told them, "He is keeping my people hostage and is forcing them into labor."
"Has he managed to extract the alien ship yet?" Keith asked.
Jbar narrowed his eyes at the young captain.
"I do not believe so," he replied.
Keith nodded in relief.
"We’re going to have to get in there and stop him before he succeeds," he said.
"Perhaps you misunderstood my intentions," Jbar spoke up with irritance in his voice, "I called you here so that you could rescue my people, not just so you could steal another war toy."
Keith frowned, jaw clenched, as he replied in a calm voice.
"I assure you, that goes without saying," he said, "Of course we will rescue the miners. They will be our first priority."
Jbar gave a nod, his eyes still revealing his disbelief as he eyed Keith and the rest of the Voltron Force.
"My people will provide you with directions and adequate protective gear and anything else you need for your operation," he told them.
Jbar and his men then turned to leave the docking bay, and the Force moved to follow. Lance leaned in to Keith to whisper in his ear.
"Man, you weren’t kidding when you said that guy was a total harda—"
Lance grunted as Keith elbowed him to keep him from finishing his sentence.
* * *
"Here’s the plan," Keith said as the five of them stood around a large map of the underground mines, "Allura, Lance and I will go on foot to the mine through this tunnel here," he pointed, "While we secure the mine from the inside, Pidge and Hunk will take to the Lions and secure the surface area right above the mine. Lotor only has a few detachments up there, so it should be no problem."
"Just leave it to us!" Pidge said confidently.
"Once we’re sure the miners are safe, we’ll go after that ship," he said, "Pidge, Hunk, I’m counting on you two to keep Lotor from bringing that ship to the surface. If you get in trouble, back off and call me. Got it?"
"Aye aye, Skipper," Hunk replied.
Keith turned to the other two.
"Let’s go get our protective suits and gear up," he told them, "I want to be inside that tunnel within the hour."
"Let’s just hope none of us are claustrophobic."
* * *
All three carried flashlights as they tromped through the dark underground tunnel. The floor was covered in ice, but the special spikes on the bottoms of their boots allowed them to walk without slipping. Because an icy wind was flowing through the tunnel due to multiple fissures in the body of the planet, they had to keep the protective gear on over their faces and hands. They all looked so alike in their outer wear that without the colored bands on their arms, they would be difficult to tell apart. Each band color corresponded to their Lion.
Keith took the lead, and Lance took the rear. They made good time through the tunnel, keeping a watch for Drule sentries. Each of them carried a blaster by their side with triggers specially designed to be used with gloves.
As they neared the mine that Lotor had taken, Keith slowed the pace, wary of Drule soldiers. He knew Lotor wouldn’t be very concerned with security since the people of Deion were peaceful and did not have a military order. Hopefully, the evil Prince still wasn’t aware that Voltron was there. That would make their job to save the miners and retrieve the alien ship a lot easier.
Keith suddenly called a halt, then motioned for Lance to follow him. Allura moved to join them, but Keith held up a hand and she stopped. The two men the disappeared around a corner. Allura waited rather impatiently for only a few minutes before they returned and waved her to follow. She did. She stole a glance at the two Drule soldiers that had been overtaken by her teammates and frowned underneath her mask. She wished Keith and the others wouldn’t leave her out of the fighting so much.
They reached the outskirts of the mine and came to another halt. Keith peered ahead of him toward the lighted cavern, then started forward slowly. He and the others had their blasters up and ready. As they reached the opening to the large cavern, the tunnel got bright enough so they could shut off their flashlights.
They pressed themselves to the side of the icy tunnel wall and peered into the mining cavern. They could see a group of about a dozen miners huddled in the middle of the room guarded by three Doom soldiers. About thirty other miners were working along one of the mine walls, digging and hauling away stone and ice. Two more soldiers guarded them. Otherwise there was no other activity in the mine.
"So where’s the ship?" Lance asked, his voice muffled under the mask.
Keith shook his head, troubled. But soldier instincts took over and he got down to business.
"Lance," he said, "You head around the west side and sneak up on those two guards by the excavation site. Allura and I will take the other three."
"No problem," Lance replied.
He moved out without another word and snuck along the side of the mine wall on light feet. Keith motioned to Allura, and the two of them did the same in the opposite direction, using the heavy machinery as cover. Allura followed Keith’s lead as he used his stealth maneuvers to sneak up on the Drule soldiers. He hadn’t really instructed her in stealth very much, focusing more on flying maneuvers and hand-to-hand combat. But she managed to follow his example fairly well to keep from being detected.
They got as close to the soldiers they could without losing cover and then crouched down behind a big Crusher. Then they waited.
On the other side of the mine, Lance got close to the two Drule guards, closer than Keith and Allura could get to theirs. When he got within twelve feet of the first guard, he waited behind his cover until the soldier turned away before he sprang out and grabbed him from behind. The guard struggled in his grasp, but Lance managed to get a one-armed choke hold on him to keep him from getting away.
Their struggles claimed the attention of the other guard, who turned around and brought up his weapon to aim it at Lance.
"Uh-uh," Lance told him, wagging his blaster back and forth, "You shoot me, you have to shoot your buddy."
The Drule soldier complied and fired his weapon. Lance used his hostage as a shield. As soon as the Drule soldier in his arms was hit, Lance brought up his own blaster and shot the other guard squarely in the chest. The guard fell back to the frozen floor. Lance let the man in his arms fall, chuckling to himself.
"You guys are so dumb," he said, shaking his head.
As soon as they heard the firing, the three soldiers guarding the hostages all whirled around to face the commotion. As soon as they did, Keith sprang into action and leapt out from behind the Crusher, aiming and shooting. Allura joined him, but didn’t get a chance to fire her own shots as Keith took out all three Drule soldiers before they had time to react and fire back.
As soon as the excitement was over, the three Force members calmed down the miners, then regrouped. Keith reached up and pulled his mask and hood from his face, looking around the mine with a deeply unsatisfied expression on his face. Lance and Allura did the same. Keith brought his wrist communicator up to his mouth to contact the others.
"Pidge, Hunk, what’s going on up there?" he asked.
"Everything’s A-OK up here, Chief," Hunk replied, "There wasn’t very much resistance."
"Any sign of Lotor?" Keith asked.
"None," Hunk replied, "Just a few cruisers and ground soldiers. Either one of us could have taken them alone."
"Damn," Keith muttered under his breath, then said aloud, "Lotor must have already gotten the ship up to the surface and transported into space. He’s probably on his way to Doom right now."
"But why would he leave his men behind?" Allura asked.
"To decoy us into coming down here," Lance supplied, "With us busy rescuing the miners, he has plenty of time for a clean getaway."
"So what now?" she asked.
"We still have to get these miners out," he said, "I’m guessing Lotor didn’t fly the alien ship out into space. Hopefully we’ll be able to get out of here and catch up with him before he figures it out."
"Well, we won’t be able to get out the easy way," Lance said, nodding to the lift sitting against one wall of the mine. The cables that the lift was connected to had been cut, making it useless.
Keith looked around and spotted the miners’ foreman and waved him over. The middle-aged man ambled over to them, sporting a limp.
"Is there a more direct route to the surface from here than that tunnel?" Keith asked.
The foreman nodded.
"There’s an old access stairwell that was built before the lift was built in," he replied, "It’s a pretty rough climb."
"We’ll go up that way."
He spoke again into his communicator.
"Hunk, Pidge," he said, "We’re evacuating the miners up through the old manual access tunnel. Have Jbar send some transports to pick them up."
"Yes, sir!" they both replied in unison.
Keith turned to the others.
"Let’s get these people up as quickly as possible," he said.
The others nodded, and they got to work. Allura headed over to the group of miners that was huddled on the floor, their hands bound behind their backs. She then began to attempt to untie them, but her gloves hampered her progress. Finally she just gave up and slid off her gloves, since the temperatures inside the mine were milder than on the surface. She was surprised, however, at how icy the air felt against her once warm fingers. They became cold quickly, but she nonetheless proceeded to free the miners from their bonds. Lance was doing the same. They managed to get them free within a few minutes. Meanwhile Keith and the foreman were urging the other miners into the old stairwell.
After barely managed to un-knot the last bond, Allura rubbed her hands together quickly for a moment before reaching for her gloves. She had trouble putting them on, though, because her hands were so cold.
"Having trouble?" Lance asked her with an amused expression on his face.
"My fingers are freezing," she told him.
"You shouldn’t have taken your gloves off," he told her, "I just used my knife." He held up the knife for emphasis. Allura then mentally kicked herself for ignoring the knife strapped to her own leg.
Keith came over and watched as Allura managed to get one of her gloves on. He immediately frowned.
"What’s wrong?" he asked.
"Allura’s fingers are a bit nippy," Lance replied amiably, then turned to Allura and told her in his most serious tone, "You know, we might have to amputate."
Allura shot him a glare.
"Lance," Keith told him, "help the foreman get the miners up that stairwell."
Lance nodded and backed away. Keith looked around at the mine walls for a moment before grabbing Allura by her sleeve and guiding her over to a small crevice in the wall that was part ice, part rock. He prodded her inside and then followed her.
"The cold air doesn’t blow in here so it’s warmer," he explained to her.
He took his own gloves off and wrapped them around her bare hands. They were warm against her skin. But then Keith shook his head and moved them away. Allura frowned in puzzlement as he reached up and began to undo the front of his jacket.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
He opened the front of his jacket, and then the insulated sweater underneath to uncover his undershirt.
"Put your hands in," he told her.
She looked up at him.
"What?" she asked.
Keith grabbed her wrists and guided her hands into his jacket.
"Reach in farther, right under my arms," he instructed.
She complied, more than a little nervous at the close contact, even though fabric separated their skin. She found her face very close to Keith’s chest and looked down to keep him from seeing her blush. But she was relieved to find that her hands were beginning to warm up quickly.
"That feel better?" he asked.
"Thank-you," she said, "It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have taken off my gloves—"
"It’s all right," he interrupted, "and it’s not your fault. You’re not used to this kind of weather. I should have said something. Your hands always get cold a lot faster than your face."
Allura smiled, now noticing how cold her nose and ears felt. She had no doubt they were both red by now. But the close contact with the Voltron captain was starting to warm up more than just her hands. A tepid vapor started to steam up from her collar, warming her neck and chin. She could feel his well-toned muscles underneath his shirt, but tried not to notice. She also tried to keep her hands as still as possible. But as soon as she did, Keith started shaking his head.
"Keep your hands moving," he said, "It warms them up faster."
Hesitantly, with the blush on her face growing, Allura complied and began to moved her hands over the thinly-covered skin along his sides. She was definitely getting warmer.
They remained silent for a few moments after that, both feeling a little uncomfortable. Their silence was broken by a highly amused chuckle from the opening of the crevice. They both turned at the same time to see Lance grinning widely at them.
"You know what else works at warming you up really fast?" he asked, then continued before either of them could make a reply, "Kissing."
Allura blushed further and turned away, but Keith remained impassive.
"Go do your job, Lance," he told his amused lieutenant, "We’ll be with you shortly."
"Take your time," Lance told them, laughing as he turned and left.
Keith looked down at Allura, who was trying hard to keep her blushing to a minimum. She hadn’t even noticed she was still rubbing her hands against Keith’s body.
"Are your hands warmed up yet?" he asked.
"Yes, I think they are," she replied. Along with the rest of me, she added to herself silently.
"Good," Keith said with a nod.
She almost reluctantly pulled her hands out of his jacket and put on her gloves as he zippered himself up. Then they both exited the crevice and moved to join the others.
"All warmed up already?" Lance asked them with a sly grin.
Keith ignored the comment.
"Are the miners all on their way up?" he asked.
Lance nodded, pointing to the foreman who was just disappearing into the entrance of the stairwell.
"That’s the last of them," he said, "Our turn now."
Keith nodded and swept up his hands to invite them to go first. This time Allura took the lead, following the foreman up the wide but steep stairwell to the surface. It was very slow going, since the miners ahead of them were very tired after being stuck in the mine for almost 48 hours. As they neared the surface, the miners and the three VF members pulled their hoods and masks back on over their heads and faces to ward off the impending cold. According to Pidge, it was still storming up on the surface.
Fortunately the protective gear the Deonites had supplied them with was very effective against the freezing Deion surface climate. The cold air did not penetrate to their skin, and the gear they were bundled in kept Allura and the others nice and warm. However the strong winds almost propelled her off her feet. If it had not been for Lance’s quick reflexes, Allura would have been tossed to the snowy ground. He helped her gather her balance and directed her to the awaiting transports. Hunk and Pidge were standing by to fly them quickly to their Lions.
The drivers of the transports were already in the process of loading miners. Lance left Allura’s side to help them load the weary miners, all of whom were ready to collapse. Allura had to brace herself against the side of one of the large vehicles to keep the wind from blowing away her light form. She turned her head to watch the progress. The heavy fall of snow made it difficult for her to see. But after only a moment she frowned, noticing that Keith was missing.
She looked around for him toward the other two transports, but he was nowhere to be seen. She looked back at the opening to the stairwell leading to the mine, but he wasn’t there either. Under the mask, her eyebrows creased in concern. Where was he? He couldn’t already be in one of the Lions. He wouldn’t leave without making sure the miners were safely on their way.
She adjusted the lens on her mask to get a better view of her surroundings. She scanned the wide open, startlingly white vastness of the surface around her for any sign of their leader. She finally spotted him quite a distance away, past the mine entrance. As soon as she saw him, he disappeared in the snow. She wondered what he was up to, and glanced at Lance. The other pilot, however, had not seemed to notice Keith’s departure.
She stepped away from the transport and bent her body against the winds. She contemplated notifying Lance first before chasing Keith, but he was so busy she decided against it. Besides, it was virtually impossible to communicate with the noisy winds added to the masks they wore over their faces. She headed back the way she had come, past the mine entrance and toward the spot she had last seen Keith. She did not notice Lance’s frantic gesticulating behind her.
It was difficult walking through the snow since it came clear up to her thigh. But luckily it was soft enough that she could wade through it. Her arms moved back and forth and she struggled through the drifts of snow to reach Keith. She came to the point where she thought he had disappeared and looked around. All she could see was white. Even the Lions and the transports were almost invisible. She could see a form in the distance behind her, following her. Most likely Lance. She turned back around to scan for Keith.
Finally she spotted him, about thirty feet away. At the same time, he spotted her and started to head toward her. She moved to meet him. But then he raised his arms and started shaking his head frantically. Allura frowned, puzzled. But she didn’t stop. Keith started to quicken his pace, trying to run even in the deep snow. Allura was starting to become confused as to why he wouldn’t want her there. But then, just as he was about to reach her, the ground beneath them gave way.
Only fifty feet away, Lance stopped dead in his tracks and stared at the spot his commander and the Princess had disappeared into. He took a single step forward, then stopped, knowing better. Reluctantly, Lance turned around and headed back to the Lions.
* * *
Allura moaned aloud. It seemed every bone in her body ached and every square inch of her skin was bruised. When she realized she was breathing-in snow, she slowly lifted her head and coughed. Then with a start she realized her mask was gone, which was why her face felt so cold. At first she panicked, remembering what Pidge had said earlier about skin freezing after only a couple seconds. But then she calmed down, realizing that her face was, in fact, not frozen. At least, not yet.
She moved her arms and pushed herself up onto her hands and knees, then pushed herself back onto her rear. Blinking her eyes at the chilly air, she looked around in amazement. She seemed to be in a very narrow tunnel of pure ice and snow. The dim light in the crevice was supplied by the natural light above. She looked up to see the hole they had fallen into. It was about seventy feet above her.
Then, suddenly remembering her companion, she swiveled her head around to search for Keith. She spotted his prone form only a few feet away. He was lying on his side, his back to her. He was not moving. Allura immediately pushed herself forward and crawled over to him. As soon as she reached him, she grabbed his arm and pulled him onto his back so she could look at his face. Then she gasped. Blood had spurted out of a nasty cut on his forehead, but the flow had stopped from the icy winds flowing through the tunnel. He too had lost his mask in the fall.
"Keith!" Allura cried, nudging him and trying to get him to wake up.
Keith groaned and started to stir, and Allura let out a sigh of relief. She placed her gloved hands on either side of his face and looked down at him intently. His eyes opened slowly, reluctantly, and he looked up at her dazedly. He attempted to lift his head, but then winced in pain and brought his hand up to his cut.
"I think you have a concussion," Allura told him, worry playing over her pretty features.
Keith took a few deep breaths, then pushed himself up with his arms. He gave another wince, but managed to right himself. He then closed his eyes and brought his hand up to his head again. Allura looked at him and felt tears form in her eyes.
"I’m so sorry," she told him, sniffling, "This is all my fault…"
Keith shook his head, opened his eyes, and put his free hand on her shoulder.
"Stop being so hard on yourself," Keith told her, "I should have warned you about the fissures."
"Still," she continued, "You were telling me to stop…"
Keith smiled weakly.
"Well then, let that be a lesson," he told her, "Next time I say stop, do it."
She nodded soberly, still regarding him with worry.
"Are you all right?" she asked.
"I’ll be OK," he said.
Keith then started to move his eyes around the deep fissure to inspect their surroundings.
"Is there a way out?" Allura asked.
"There might be," he said, "Though it won’t be up."
He moved to get up. Allura quickly scrambled to her feet, ignoring the protesting aches and pains, and grabbed his arm to help him. He appeared a little dizzy, but managed to stay on his feet.
"This fissure might lead us to one of the Minories tunnels," he said aloud.
"Minories?" she asked, "You mean the people who live underground?"
Keith nodded and began moving along the floor of the pit, letting his free hand glide along the icy wall to help keep him steady. Allura followed him. As they walked farther into the tunnel, the light grew dimmer and dimmer. Before it went away totally, Keith stopped.
"I think this will take us to one of the tunnels," he decided.
He then turned toward her and reached for his wrist communicator, only to find it missing. He turned to her.
"Does your communicator work?" he asked.
Allura looked down at her own wrist. The communicator was still there, but when she brought it closer to her face she could see it was badly damaged. She sighed and shook her head. Keith nodded, his face showing no concern.
"We’ll have to walk," he said.
He turned to continue their trek, but then suddenly he winced and collapsed to the floor. He managed to stop his face from hitting the floor with his hands, but then even they gave way. Allura cried out and dropped down beside him, her face once again filled with concern.
"What’s wrong?" she asked, "Keith?"
He didn’t reply. His breathing was erratic and his eyes unfocused. He tried to right himself again, but his strength seemed to leave him. With Allura’s help he managed to prop himself against the wall. Allura knelt beside him.
"What can I do?" she asked.
He gathered his breath before he replied.
"Keep going," he told her, "Keep going and find the Minories. They should help you get back to the others."
Allura shook her head.
"I can’t leave you," she told him.
"Allura," he told her, "you have to go. These suits won’t keep us warm for much longer. You have to go get back to the others."
"You have to," he told her, "That’s an order."
Tears once again formed in Allura’s eyes as she stared at her semi-conscious captain. Keith seemed to be losing consciousness very rapidly. His eyes sagged and his head began to droop. Allura herself felt extremely exhausted all of a sudden, and she wondered if she too had been knocked unconscious in the fall.
Before either of them could say another word, Keith lost consciousness completely. His head fell to his side. Allura put her hands on his face again and felt a tear slide down her cold face. She didn’t know what to do. Desperate, she stood up and grabbed Keith by the arms, then pulled with all her might. She barely managed to move him two inches.
Allura then grabbed Keith by his ankles and leaned back, pulling hard. He moved another inch. Allura stopped pulling and began breathing heavily. There was no way she could drag Keith all the way through the tunnel. Besides the fact that he was almost twice her size, Allura was tired and hurt and her muscles were protesting heavily against her efforts. Finally she just collapsed beside him to catch her breath and rest a bit. Her lids felt heavy against her eyes, and she closed them for just a minute. She would try again in a few minutes when she regained some of her energy.
* * *
Lance pounded his fist angrily on the table, startling those gathered around it. Hunk and Pidge stood behind him, not saying a word.
"What do you mean, you won’t help us rescue them?" he demanded hotly, "They risked their lives to save your men, but you won’t return the favor?"
"It’s not that simple, Lieutenant," Jbar told him, irritance also playing over his face, "It is too dangerous to send men down there. The surface in the area is highly unstable. It could collapse and more men would be lost. Not only that, but it’s almost nighttime. The temperatures outside fall even lower at night. Too cold even for our suits to protect us."
Jbar sat back and returned Lance’s angry glare.
"Besides," he continued, "they are probably already dead from the fall."
"That’s not true!" Pidge burst out.
Lance looked Jbar squarely in the face.
"I don’t know what you’ve got against Keith," he said, "But we aren’t leaving here until we get him and the Princess back."
Jbar gazed at him for a moment before responding.
"I cannot help you," he finally replied.
Lance was about to make a biting reply, but Jbar held up a hand.
"But," the Deion Minister told them, "the Minories may be able to help. They live under the surface. Some of their tunnels are made from fissures in the ice and rock. One of them might lead to the one your commander and Princess fell into."
"That’s more like it," he said, "How do we get to these Minories?"
"One of the mines near here has a tunnel leading to their caves," Jbar replied, "It’s been barricaded, but I’m sure you’ll be able to get through. They have no weapons and are fairly peaceful, so I’m sure they’ll give you the help you need."
"Good," Lance said, "Now, can you lend us a couple more of those suits?"
Jbar shook his head slowly.
"You can’t go now," he said, "The mine is five miles from here. If you tried to leave now, even in one of your ships, you’d freeze the moment you stepped out."
"So now what?" Lance asked, his irritation resurfacing, "We have to wait sixteen hours until we go rescue them?"
"I am afraid so," Jbar told him calmly, "There’s nothing else to be done. I wish there were."
Sure you do, Lance though to himself, eyeing the Minister distrustfully. Jbar stood and left the room, along with those who were with him, leaving the three Space Explorers alone.
"So what do we do?" Hunk asked, his expression worried.
Lance shook his head and sighed.
"The Lions are too big to get down that hole," he said reluctantly, "We’ll just have to do like Jbar said and wait until morning."
* * *
Allura came awake slowly and was instantly disoriented. She was unnaturally cold, and wondered if perhaps she had left her window open the night before. But then a strong wind whistled over her head, tugging at her golden locks, and she realized she wasn’t in her bedroom at the Castle.
She struggled to sit up and was startled by how cold the wind flowing through the tunnel was. It had definitely gotten colder. She checked the power pack on her suit and realized that it was at zero. She was beginning to feel the chill. Then she turned around and looked at Keith, who was lying on his side with his back to the wind. He was still unconscious. She checked his power pack and found that it was at zero too. With the wind getting colder, they were sure to freeze if they didn’t reach safety soon.
Allura struggled to her feet and looked around. It didn’t appear as if the tunnel were being used by people. Yet Keith had been sure it led to the caves of the Minories. Allura took a few steps in the direction they had been traveling earlier, but the farther she got, the darker it got. She stopped as blackness surrounded her, unwilling to stray from Keith any farther.
"Is anybody out there!" she called, raising her voice as high as she could, "We need help!"
She waited as her cries echoed off the walls. But she got no response.
"Please!" she cried, "Please help us!"
After waiting a few moments in the ensuing silence, Allura dejectedly made her way back to Keith and dropped down unceremoniously beside him. She then gathered him to her and hugged his body to hers. Tears streamed down her face as she began to cry, and she rested her cheek against his thick black hair. She hoped that with the close contact they could keep each other warm until help arrived. She was sure Lance and the others would come after them. She just hoped they would arrive before it was too late.
* * *
On to Part Two
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