Voltron: Defender of the Universe:

Rescue

The control console blew up at them in an array of blue and yellow sparks. The woman sitting in front of it leapt out of her seat and backed away, covering her face with her forearm. The entire control room was a mass of smoking equipment and panicking officers. The only one not running around in alarm was her commander, a tall, solid man in a gray and black Garrison uniform. He stood looking over the only console in the room not yet damaged. Though his attitude was calm, his face showed telltale signs of anxiety. The woman went over to join him.

"Sir," she reported, "Our weapons are dead. They've already cut off long-range communications and decimated our aerial squadrons. There's no way we can hold our position much longer. It's only a matter of time before they infiltrate the base."

Her commander waited for a moment before answering. When he did, his voice was full of regret.

"Have all personnel evacuate to the life pods," he ordered, "Have them take the secondary escape route."

"Yes, sir," she replied immediately.

She hurried to the small computer pad on the wall that was hooked up to the base's communications network and activated it. Fortunately it was still operational. She opened the line to reach the entire base.

"Attention all Levia-D," she announced in a calm, clear voice, "This is Lt. Commander Jordie-Maz. By orders of Commander Tysta you are to evacuate to the life pods immediately and proceed with escape route ELA-2. Repeat, proceed with escape route ELA-2. Out."

Jordie-Maz hurried back to her console to try to get some readings, but the screens were completely dead. She turned just as her commander addressed those still left in the control room.

"All of you," he commanded, "Leave your posts and evacuate now."

Without a word of resistance, the men and women stationed in the control room left their posts and hurried out the large steel doors. Jordie-Maz hesitated behind them, and turned again to face her commanding officer.

"Sir," she asked, "What about you?"

"I will stay behind to make sure you get away safely," he told her, "Now go!"

She hesitated still, unwilling to desert her leader. Commander Tysta noticed her unmoving form and turned away from his console to face her.

"Lieutenant, I gave you an order," he reminded her.

"I can't leave you alone," she insisted, "I can stay to help."

The commander's face darkened.

"Your orders are to evacuate, Lieutenant," he told her firmly.

She stared back at him resolutely, unwavering in her decision, her hands pressed firmly to her sides. The two continued to hold steady eye contact, both expressions hard. Finally the commander's face relaxed and he sighed.

"Monitor the internal security sensors," he told her, "Let me know when they get through."

Her face broke out into a grin.

"Yes, sir," she replied in satisfaction.

Shaking his head, an imperceptible half-smile on his lips, the commander turned around to face his console again and monitor the escape pods jettisoning from their underground ports. The small four-man pods would proceed through an underground tunnel and emerge hundreds of miles away on the planet's foresty surface. Hopefully the enemy's ships would be too preoccupied with capturing the base to notice the pods on their long-range sensors.

A sudden shockwave blasted through the base, sending the two officers crashing into consoles, chairs, and finally each other. Tysta and Jordie-Maz clutched each other as they tried to regain their balance. After a few more moments the tremors subsided and they were able to relax their stances. Slowly they parted.

"That sounded like it came from inside the base," Jordie-Maz realized.

Tysta nodded.

"They've come inside," he told her gravely.

The commander reached into a utility locker nearby and brought out two laser rifles. He passed one to her, then armed his own. Jordie-Maz did the same.

"Whatever happens," Tysta told her, "stay behind me."

Jordie-Maz nodded, knowing full well that she would disobey that order as soon as they met the enemy. But he didn't need to know that now.

It only took the enemy a few minutes to find the control room. As soon as they started blasting a hole through the heavy doors, Tysta ushered Jordie-Maz to take cover behind the main control board. The commander peeked around the corner just as the enemy broke through and began to duck through the hole they had made in the door. As soon as they entered, Tysta and Jordie-Maz began firing. The enemy soldiers crouched down and returned fire, not even attempting to take cover themselves. Two of them were shot down right away, but more kept piling in through the damaged doors.

"There's too many to take out," Jordie-Maz spoke up.

"Just keep firing," Tysta ordered.

More foot soldiers stormed in, slowly filling the large control room. They began to advance on the cornered duo, defying the laser shots that blasted through their ranks. Even though Jordie-Maz and the commander had excellent aim and were able to take out more than half a dozen enemy soldiers, there were too many to hold back for long. They made their way around the control board. One of them finally lunged at Commander Tysta, knocking the Garrison officer to the floor. Tysta managed to awkwardly blast the soldier in the ribs before he could get a good lock on his neck. Tysta struggled to his feet, and was about to continue firing at the enemies, when a strangled feminine cry from behind him startled him. He whirled around to see Jordie-Maz struggling in the arms of two enemy soldiers, her weapon lying by her feet.

Just then the firing in the room stopped, and the soldiers in the room parted ranks to allow someone to approach. Tysta averted his eyes from his second in command for a short moment to see who was coming. His eyes narrowed and his teeth clenched as he recognized the imposing being before him.

"Drop your weapon, Commander," the enemy leader told him.

With a short glance at Jordie-Maz, Tysta let his weapon fall to the floor. Immediately three soldiers moved to surround him and grabbed his arms roughly. He and Jordie-Maz were both shoved to the floor to their knees in front of the enemy commander. Both Garrison officers looked up at him defiantly.

"Commander Tysta," the leader addressed him, a smug look on his large, ugly alien face, "You are a formidable opponent. I enjoyed putting you to shame."

Tysta just glared at him.

The alien commander then addressed his men in his own tongue. The soldiers then dragged Tysta and Jordie-Maz roughly to their feet and stuck weapon nozzles in their backs. With their hands over their heads, the two Garrison officers were escorted out of the control room.

The enemy commander gazed about the control room, his expression full of self-satisfaction. He lifted his communicator to his mouth and spoke.

"This is Commander Gadez," he spoke in his rough voice, "Alert General Thuvik that Levia-D has been taken. And tell him we have Commander Tysta as our prisoner."

He lowered the device, then looked around the near-empty control room in satisfaction. At that, Commander Gadez left to begin interrogating his prisoners, a task in which he always took great pleasure.

* * *

"Pidge, look out!"

Keith winced, as Allura's warning came too late. Pidge was struck solidly on the back of the head, sending him face forward to the ground. As he pushed himself up onto his hands and knees, spluttering grass and dirt, all the children began to laugh at his plight. They were followed closely by both Lance and Hunk. Even Allura let out a small chuckle. Keith just grinned at his downed teammate.

"Thanks a lot, Lance!" Pidge spoke up as he made it to his feet.

"Hey, squirt," Lance replied without remorse, "You don't win at dodge-ball by looking the other way."

"And just what were you looking at, Pidge?" Hunk asked.

Lance grinned smugly.

"Gee, I wonder," he said knowingly, casting an exaggerated glance at the small gathering of young ladies at the edge of the playing field. They were all giggling at the bespectacled young pilot's mishap.

Pidge blushed, casting an embarrassed peek at the girls.

"Looks like astrophysics isn't the only thing on our little genius's mind," Lance needled.

Pidge shot a glare at his smirking teammate, which only made Lance laugh.

"Oh, stop it, Lance," Allura told him admonishingly, "You're no better."

"That's right," Hunk agreed, "He's worse!"

Keith chuckled to himself, knowing how true that statement was. Lance had been ogling the group of village girls since they arrived. The only reason he hadn't been caught off guard like poor Pidge was due to the fact he had a lot of practice.

A tugging at his sleeve brought Keith's attention back to reality. He looked down to see a white-haired, pointy-eared six-year-old looking up at him impatiently.

"C'mon, Keith," Sith urged, "We've almost won!"

Keith smiled and allowed the little boy to lead him back onto the field.

The two sides took positions on the field. Opposite of Keith, Sith, Pidge and their team were Lance, Hunk, Allura and eight more little boys and girls. As soon as one of the orphanage workers gave the signal, the game of dodge ball resumed. Immediately Keith and Lance began pelting each other with balls, knowing they were the only matches for each other. Though their aim was good, neither managed to make contact with the other.

Pidge was also very difficult to hit as long as he was paying attention to the game. His slight, agile form and quick reflexes made him a hard target. Hunk, on the other hand, was quite a big target, and was soon hit by Pidge. He took his place on the sidelines, along with a few other children who were tagged out.

Allura joined Lance in attacking their commander. Not only did Keith have to dodge their throws, but those of the other children as well who all wanted to be the one to tag out the Voltron captain. While they were busy with this mission, however, Sith and his other pint-sized playmates aimed their tosses at them, tagging them out. Sith himself managed to hit the Princess with one of the soft yellow balls. Allura smiled good-naturedly at him and went to stand next to Hunk.

"Looks like it's two-to-one, Lance," Keith told his second-in-command.

"Doesn't seem fair for you," Lance shot back. He aimed a well-placed shot at Keith’s head, which the other man dodged effortlessly.

While the two older men attacked each other, Sith collected all the balls he could. He knew he was safe because Lance was solely intent on tagging out his commander. And everyone else on the sidelines was so busy watching the two Voltron members, that no one noticed Sith take his position and aim over half a dozen small yellow spheres straight at Lance. Voltron’s second-in-command didn’t even notice the attack until the first ball was halfway to his chest. He managed to dodge it, and the next two, but with Keith still pelting him, he stood no chance. Sith’s fourth shot struck him squarely in his solar plexus.

Lance immediately groaned aloud, having never before been beaten by a minor. His friends just laughed and congratulated Sith for his shooting.

"You’re getting soft, Lance," Keith told him, a grin on his face.

"I think you’re giving Sith way too many pointers," Lance returned. But he grinned affably nonetheless, giving Sith’s hair a good swipe.

"Can we play one more game?" Sith asked enthusiastically.

Allura smiled apologetically.

"We’re sorry, Sith," she told him, "but we have to go soon. We’ve already been here for two hours."

"Yeah," Lance agreed, "Isn’t it enough that you already beat us twice?"

"I’m not tired of it!" Sith spoke up, bouncing on his feet.

Keith chuckled as Lance rolled his eyes.

"We’ll come back again soon enough," Keith promised him, "And I’ll be sure to work Lance harder from now on so that next time he’s more of a challenge."

Lance crossed his arms and glared at his best friend.

"Well let’s just see if I buy you a birthday present this year," he retorted.

Sith looked up at Keith with pleading eyes.

"Please stay and play another game?" he begged.

Keith looked down at him, hesitating only for a moment before making his reply.

"Maybe for—"

His next words were cut off by the insistent beeping of his com-unit, sitting on a bench nearby. Keith glanced at the others shortly before hieing over to answer the call.

"Keith here," he replied.

"Captain Keith," Coran’s voice came clearly through the small unit, "There is an urgent message for you that just arrived from Galaxy Garrison. I believe it is from Space Marshall Graham himself."

"I’ll be right there," Keith replied immediately.

He pocketed the unit, then turned to the others quickly.

"I have to go," he told them, "I’ll see you later Sith, kids."

With that, Keith turned and strode off quickly before any of the others could speak. Sith kicked the dirt and sighed. The four remaining Voltron members exchanged glances at their leader’s sudden departure.

"What could be so important?" Allura wondered aloud.

"If it really is the Space Marshall himself," Lance replied, "then it’s gotta be pretty serious."

"Do you think he wants Voltron’s help?" Hunk asked.

Lance shrugged.

"Beats me," he said, "Last time Keith got a call like this…"

His voice trailed off as his thoughts drifted, and the others noticed the far-off look on his face.

"What is it, Lance?" Allura asked.

Lance shook his head.

"We should head back to the Castle," he said, then left before they could reply.

Allura looked at Hunk and Pidge, who both shrugged in puzzlement. Frowning, Allura bade good-bye to the children and orphanage workers, then moved to follow Lance back home. The other two soon followed.

* * *

Keith wasted no time making his way back to the Castle and ultimately to his quarters. He knew it was bad. His gut told him so. Marshall Graham never contacted him under such circumstances unless it was an absolute emergency. The only thing Keith was wondering as he entered his room and went to the back corner that served as an office was whether it was the V’Ki, the Drules, or the Juboouls.

He sat down at his desk and pressed a small button that would put him in contact with Castle Control.

"Coran," he said, "I’m in my quarters. Have the communication diverted here."

"It’s being done Keith," Coran replied.

Keith sat up straight in his seat as he waited for the message to appear on his screen. His shoulders were tense and his teeth clenched as he silently predicted bad news. If it were anything like the last message Marshall Graham had given him, Keith would have a tough job ahead of him.

And then Marshall Graham’s aging visage filled the screen. Immediately Keith raised his hand in salute, a gesture his superior returned. As soon as the Marshall lowered his hand, Keith lowered his own.

"At ease, Commander," Graham told him.

Keith folded his hands in front of him and regarded the older man calmly, waiting for him to speak. Graham’s expression revealed the severity of the issue about to be raised. He did not hesitate long before addressing his soldier.

"The V’Ki have taken Levia-D," Graham told him bluntly, putting aside any preamble, "They have killed eleven Garrison officers, and thirty-three managed to escape. Two have been taken hostage. Commander Tysta and Lieutenant Jordie-Maz."

Keith gritted his teeth, trying not to let the small action show as he retained his calm.

"I need not remind you not only how important that station is to the Alliance, but also how important those two officers are," Graham told him.

Keith nodded. Indeed, he did not need to be reminded.

"We already sent a team in to retrieve them," Graham continued, "but I am afraid they failed. Fortunately, no one was severely injured. We know the V’Ki will not keep their prisoners alive very much longer. It will only take them a matter of days to get enough support to the planet to repel any attack. Until then they have the Commander and the Lieutenant to keep us at bay. We have to get them back within the next few days."

"So this means you’re pulling me back in to Shadow Ops?" Keith asked, knowing the answer.

"You know I have no other choice," Graham said.

Keith nodded, holding back a sigh. He had hoped to be free of any more Shadow Ops missions.

"I have already sent a ship to pick you up," Graham continued, "Detailed information about the base and the V’Ki forces stationed there, as well as detailed schematics of the facilities, are on board for you to study on your way to Levia-D. Your equipment has also been sent."

Keith sat back and crossed his arms.

"What about Arus’ defense?" he asked, "With me gone they won’t have Voltron."

"I’ve taken care of that," his superior replied shortly, "I’ve sent a battleship to orbit with Arus and secure its defense while you are away. Arus will be taken care of. It’s Levia-D you must worry about now."

"Yes, sir," Keith replied.

Marshall Graham nodded in satisfaction.

"Your ship will be arriving at 1625 hours," he said, "This assignment has been classified, so none of your team must know where you are going. You have exactly two days from now to complete the mission. After that the V’Ki will have reinforcements and it will be impossible to get Commander Tysta and Lieutenant Jordie-Maz out alive."

"I understand, sir," Keith told him.

Graham nodded.

"Good luck then, Commander," he said to Keith.

Keith nodded in return, then straightened his back and raised his hand in salute. Graham returned the gesture, and then the screen went blank.

Keith hesitated for a moment at his desk, letting go of the deep and heavy sigh he had been holding in throughout the entire conversation. After a few more moments, he stood and went to his closet to look for his Galaxy Garrison uniform.

* * *

Lance had been waiting impatiently for over an hour in the hallway outside Keith’s room. He knew better than to interrupt Keith while he was in conversation with the Space Marshall, and though he knew the communication must have terminated by now, something held him back from going and barging in on his commander like he had always done before. Somehow he knew that Keith would not appreciate his company, just like he hadn’t the last time.

Keith had not received a private transmission from Space Marshall Graham in over three years, not since before they had first been sent on the mission to Arus. At the time, another one of the Alliance’s enemies, the Jubooul, had secretly built a base on the neutral, unsettled desert planet of Celpha. They had stolen Alliance weapons research data taken from the unknown alien ships that had been found on the ice-planet Deion. With that data the Jubooul were constructing a powerful weapon of their own, one that could take out entire battleships in one blast. After discovering their enemies’ plans, Galaxy Garrison decided to make sure the Jubooul would be unable to complete their prototype.

Keith had been chosen as a member of the Shadow Operatives, a select few who were called upon to complete critical stealth missions single-handedly. Though he was not the best Shadow Operative there was, Keith had been chosen for the mission to Celpha because of his knowledge of Jubooul machinery and his ability to speak their language. Because he was part Guanese himself, he could better pose as one of them than any other operative. Not only do the Guanese people have a learning curve much higher than any other species, but their vocal cords allow them a broader range of sounds, and the guttural language of the Jubooul was difficult if not impossible to duplicate by most other species.

The mission to Celpha had been Keith’s first mission as a Shadow Operative. He and Lance had been rooming together on Terra’s moon outpost when Keith had received the communication from Space Marshall Graham. Once the transmission had ended, Keith had been solely fixed on his mission and had no time for Lance’s inquiries. Not only that, but Keith had not been permitted to discuss any aspect of the mission. He had grown impatient with Lance and almost physically thrown him out of his room.

Lance did not want that to happen again. He knew he had to keep his questions at a minimum, or else Keith would totally shut him out. He also knew that whatever Graham had called him for, Keith would not be too happy about it, which meant he would be in a bad mood. Though Keith was usually civil even when he was in a bad mood, Lance did not want to push his buttons any more than necessary.

Still dressed in casual clothing, with his hands stuffed deep into his pockets, Lance paced the hallway outside of Keith’s room, whistling softly to himself and keeping his head bent so that he could stare at his well-worn shoes. He realized with a mixture of surprise and reluctance that he would soon be needing to replace them with a new pair, ones that didn’t have scuff marks and scratches and a hole over the left big toe. He sighed and shook his head. He hated getting new clothes.

He was in the process of deciding whether or not to get new shoes or have Nanny patch up the ones he had when the door behind him opened and Keith walked out. When Lance turned to face his commanding officer, he hesitated and stared at Keith in surprise. Keith was wearing his Garrison uniform, complete with insignias, bands, and ranking stars. A standard A2X blaster was strapped to his belt as well. Even his hair had been combed to neatness. All in all, he looked very different from the Keith who had been playing dodgeball with a bunch of kids only hours before.

"Lance," Keith said when he noticed Lance standing there, "I thought you’d be out here, though I rather expected you to have welcomed yourself in by now."

Lance shrugged and gave him a half-smile.

"I figured you’d just throw my butt out like last time," he replied.

Keith nodded, not even smiling.

"I suspect you realize that I have to go," he said.

Lance nodded.

"So where is it this time?" he asked.

Keith narrowed his eyes at his friend warningly. Lance nodded and held up his hands.

"I know, I know," he said wearily, "That information is classified."

Keith turned to lead the way to Castle Control. Lance moved to walk alongside him.

"I don’t suppose Voltron can help?" he asked.

"I don’t suppose," Keith replied.

"So what will we do while you’re gone?" Lance asked, "Have Nanny pilot Black Lion? Or maybe one of the mice?"

Keith ignored the humor in his friend’s remark and replied shortly.

"A battleship is being sent to help you protect Arus while I’m gone," he said.

Lance snorted, but did not comment aloud.

They reached Castle Control and walked in to find the rest of the Voltron team waiting, along with Coran. All of them appeared to be a bit surprised at Keith’s ensemble, particularly Allura. She and the others looked up at him imploringly.

"I have been informed by Galaxy Garrison that a ship will be requesting to land shortly," Coran spoke up first, "I take that to mean you will be leaving us."

Keith nodded reluctantly, and immediately questioned filled the expressions of the others, save Lance.

"Why do you have to go?" Allura asked.

"Space Marshall Graham has requested me to take part in a mission," Keith told them.

"What’s going on?" Hunk asked.

"I’m afraid I can’t give you any details," Keith replied, "The mission is classified. All you need to know is that Arus will be taken care of while I’m away. I should be gone three days at most. Until I return, Lance will be in charge of Voltron."

Keith then nodded to them all and turned to leave. Allura stepped forward, frowning deeply.

"Wait!" she called.

Keith stopped in his tracks and turned to face her. He waited patiently for her to speak.

"Can you at least tell us where you’re going?" she asked, "Will there be any way for us to contact you?"

Keith regarded her for a moment, then glanced shortly at Lance, who met his gaze and nodded almost imperceptibly. He then turned and left Castle Control. Allura watched him go in consternation, then turned to Lance.

"What was that about?" she demanded.

Lance shrugged.

"You know as much as I do, Princess," he told her.

She clenched her teeth and glared at him unbelievingly. Lance rolled his eyes.

"Flirting will get you nowhere, Princess," he said, then turned and quickly began to leave.

"Lance!" she called, raising her voice slightly.

Lance ignored her and ducked out of the room. Allura balled her fists and soundly let out a deep breath. She then turned to point her accusing gaze on the remaining two pilots.

"Do you two know anything of this?" she asked.

Both men shook their heads quickly, moving to back out of the room.

"I don’t know nuthin’ about nuthin’," Hunk replied.

"Me too," Pidge said.

Princess Allura watched as Hunk and Pidge walked backwards out of the room, then turned to look demandingly at her royal advisor. Coran returned her gaze calmly.

"Don’t look at me," he said, "I’m not a member of Galaxy Garrison. I know nothing of this mission. Although I must say that from what I gathered, it must be extremely important. Otherwise, I’m sure Keith would not have agreed to it so quickly."

Allura slowly made herself relax and finally nodded to Coran in defeat. She let her shoulders fall and turned to gaze up at the control room’s main viewscreen.

"It’s just that I hate losing a member of the Voltron Force for any length of time, especially its captain," she told him, "I mean, without Voltron—"

"You heard what Keith said, Allura," Coran told her, "It’s been taken care of. Keith would not leave Arus unprotected, you know that. Besides, he will only be gone three days. Try not to let it worry you. Captain Keith will be back before you even realize he was gone."

Allura forced herself to nod, even though she knew it wouldn’t be true.

* * *

Lance found him waiting for his ride in the south docking bay. He knew Keith would not want to talk, period, but Lance’s curiosity could not be contained. He went to stand next to his best friend and commanding officer, clasping his hands behind his back. Keith’s arms were crossed and his jaw was clenched. Lance cast a short glance at him before speaking.

"I thought you had quit Shadow Ops," he said casually.

Keith ignored the comment, like Lance knew he would.

"They wouldn’t have asked you if they thought you would say no," Lance continued.

Lance looked at his friend, whose expression did not change.

"It’s the V’Ki again, isn’t it?" he asked.

Keith made no response, but his frown deepened. Lance recognized the look on his friend’s face. He did not need a response. He just sighed and shook his head in disappointment.

"Keith," he began, "when are you gonna—"

"Just drop it, Lance," Keith interrupted, speaking firmly and irately, "This is none of your concern. Let it go."

"I should say the same to you," Lance retorted.

Keith let out a deep breath and turned his head away for a moment. When he spoke it was quietly, wearily.

"It’s not just that, Lance," he told him, "There’s something else. You should know I wouldn’t let my personal problems get in the way of my duty, especially here on Arus."

Lance looked at him, but Keith still had his face turned away. His eyes narrowed quizzically.

"Is it something we should know?" he asked.

Keith shook his head, facing forward once again.

"You’ll find out soon enough," he said.

Lance nodded. He planned on finding out what was up, and sooner than Keith thought.

* * *

As soon as Keith’s ship was in the air, Lance made his way to Castle Control and sat himself down at a private communications console. He immediately sent out a transmission to a nearby galaxy, hoping to acquire a response without having to wait too long. His wish was granted, as a familiar dark-haired visage shortly appeared before him. Sven smiled widely in greeting.

"Greetings, Lance," Sven spoke up brightly, "What is so important?"

"Hey, buddy," Lance said quickly, "Sorry I can’t make any small talk, but this is important."

Immediately Sven’s smile dropped. Lance never talked that way unless it was serious.

"Keith just got called on a Shadow Ops mission," Lance told him, "He’s already left. I know it involves the V’Ki, but I’m sure the Garrison wouldn’t call him back for your average skirmish. This has got to be something big. You’ve been staying in contact with the military outposts in this area. Have you heard anything about the V’Ki that might force Marshall Graham to send for Keith?"

Sven’s brow furrowed as he settled into deep thought. Lance waited impatiently for his friend to recall anything he heard, tapping his fingers on the console before him. Finally Sven shook his head.

"Nutting I have heard is important enough to make Keith leave Arus," Sven replied, "The V’Ki are not making any major attacks right now, not since their defeat at the Alliance Council meeting. They have some small forces engaged in battle in the Nith and Maroda systems, and there have been reports of a small fleet heading toward the Ladion galaxy, but otherwise—"

"Wait!" Lance suddenly cut him off, sitting up straight in his seat, "Did you say the Ladion galaxy?"

Sven nodded.

"Isn’t that where Levia-D is?"

Sven nodded once again, this time more slowly as his thoughts began to merge with Lance’s.

"Do you think..?" he asked.

Lance nodded gravely.

"Yes, I do think," he said, "It’s crazy of them, but then again the V’Ki were never accused of being sane."

"Wasn't Commander Tysta in charge of the base there?" Sven asked.

Lance nodded.

"Let’s just hope he’s OK," he said, "And let’s also hope that if the V’Ki did manage to do what we think they did, that they haven’t found what they’re looking for."

Sven nodded gravely.

"If anybody can help, it’s Keith," he said.

Lance hesitated in his agreement. He knew Keith could handle whatever mission the Garrison handed to him, but when it came to the V’Ki…

Sven saw the look in his friend’s eyes, and narrowed his own suspiciously.

"Lance," he said, "you aren’t thinking of doing what I think you are thinking of doing?"

Lance made eye contact with his ex-teammate and shrugged.

"Maybe I am," he said.

Sven shook his head disapprovingly.

"Keith will kill you," he told him, "Not only that, but the Garrison will not be impressed."

"None of them will blame me," he said, "I’m not the one who’s going to give the order."

Sven looked at him in puzzlement, then let his eyes widen slightly as he realized what Lance was saying. He immediately shook his head.

"If Keith finds out, he will not just kill you, he will hurt you first."

"Who says he’s going to find out?"

Sven looked dubious.

"Trust me," Lance told him.

Sven gave him a look that spoke highly of his skepticism. Lance just rolled his eyes.

"You worry too much, Sven," he said, "Now just relax and go spend some time with your princess. I’ll call you when we get back."

"But, Lance—"

"Bye, Sven," Lance said sweetly before cutting off the transmission. He then swiveled around in his seat and stood to go make some plans.

* * *

Allura stood stiffly at the window inside the rec room, staring up into the starlit sky, looking out for any signs of a ship. She knew it was futile, since it had only been a matter of hours since he left, but she couldn’t help wanting him to come back right away. She hated being without Keith. Even though Coran and the other members of the Voltron Force were a big help, she couldn’t help feeling that it was Keith who was the one who gave her the most strength, the most support, and the most courage. Without him, anything could happen.

A small noise behind Allura reminded her briefly of the other two people in the room. Hunk and Pidge were sitting at the square table, chatting back and forth and playing a Terran game that Allura couldn’t even remember the name of. She did not know of Lance’s whereabouts. She hadn’t seen him since Keith had made the announcement he was leaving. Allura had to remind herself that his absence was only temporary. She hoped.

The door to the rec room opened, and she could hear footsteps as someone entered the room. Allura knew it would be Lance without even having to recognize his cocky gait. She turned to watch him as he approached her, his expression growing cautious as their eyes met. She put her hands on her hips and stared up at him. Lance just looked at her with infuriating placidity and let his thumbs dangle from the rims of his pockets.

"Now would you mind telling me what’s going on?" she asked, "And don’t tell me you don’t know. I know you know."

Hunk and Pidge looked up to listen curiously. Lance sighed, appearing very reluctant to reply.

"I’m not really supposed to say anything," he stalled.

"Lance!" Allura addressed him in annoyance, "Keith may be a member of Galaxy Garrison, but he’s a member of the Voltron Force too, and a part of my kingdom. And when the Garrison decides to recall him for one of their missions without giving us any warning, that leaves Arus one Lion down, which means we can’t form Voltron. I think I have a right to know what’s going on."

Lance glanced over at Pidge and Hunk, who looked back at him unhelpfully. Lance sighed and scratched the back of his head.

"I’d really like to help, Princess," he said, "but, well, I’m just kind of afraid that you might decide to do something drastic."

She narrowed her eyes at him.

"Why would I do that?" she asked.

Lance looked away, reluctant to continue. Allura took a step toward him, her heart dropping to her stomach.

"Tell me, Lance," she told him, calmly but firmly.

Lance sighed a sigh of defeat and let his shoulders slump.

"All right, all right," he acceded, "but you have to promise not to tell anyone."

Allura did not reply. She just gazed up at him, her impatience growing at the thought of Keith in danger.

"Keith used to be a member of the Garrison’s Shadow Operatives," he told them, "He resigned a few years ago after his last mission, but they called him back for something very important. Have you ever heard of Levia-D?"

"Levia-D?" Pidge spoke up, "That’s where the Garrison’s main outpost is in the Ladion Galaxy. It’s also rumored to hold a top secret military weapons vault buried deep underground."

Lance nodded.

"Well, that’s no rumor," he said, "That vault is where the Garrison keeps all their weapons prototypes, including all the ones that have been banned because of their barbarity."

"Pretty hot items for all our enemies," Hunk said, "Did someone try to sneak in and steal them?"

"Not quite," Lance said, "One of our enemies led a stealth fleet to Levia-D and took them by complete surprise. Most of the ground crew managed to get away, but they took a couple of hostages. The Garrison can’t lead an all-out assault, or the hostages will be killed."

"Who’s the enemy?" Allura asked.

Lance looked at her.

"The V’Ki," he replied.

"The V’Ki?" she asked in a surprised whisper.

Lance nodded gravely.

"There’s more," he said, "I spoke to Sven earlier, and apparently there’s another fleet of V’Ki en route to Levia-D at this moment. They’re about a day away, if that, and Keith doesn’t know about them. On top of that, I think one of the hostages might be Commander Tysta."

"The Commander Tysta?" Pidge asked.

Allura frowned in puzzlement.

"Who’s Commander Tysta?" she asked.

"You know of King Riton of the Deganese people?" Lance asked.

Allura nodded.

"He rules in the Geraia Galaxy," she replied, "The Deganese and the Guanese are close in relation."

"Well, Commander Tysta is actually Prince Tysta," Lance told her, "He’s the only member of royalty ever to become a Garrison officer. He’s also the sole heir to the Deganese throne."

"I’ve heard of him," Hunk said, "He was stationed on Levia-D because it was supposed to be an easy assignment. Hardly anyone ever attacks there because it’s strategically useless."

"I’m sure the Deganese people are in an uproar by now," Lance said, "The Garrison needed to get someone in there fast to rescue the hostages. Once that was done, the Garrison would be free to move in on Levia-D and retrieve it before the V’Ki reinforcement fleet arrived. But the second fleet may be getting there earlier than they thought."

"So Keith’s in danger?" Allura asked, fearing the answer she expected.

Lance looked at her and sighed, shaking his head.

"I wish I could say no, Princess," he said, "but it doesn’t look good. Marshall Graham may have sent him in for a suicide mission."

They all looked at him in surprise and concern. Allura stared up at Lance, looking for any signs of hope in his eyes. But she found none. Lance seemed to be just as worried over his friend’s welfare as she was. She tried not to let her reaction show on her face. Instead she squared her shoulders and swallowed hard as she prepared to speak.

"Can’t Marshall Graham send him some help?" she asked.

Lance shook his head.

"Even if he could, he wouldn’t," he said, "The Garrison doesn’t want to risk any more of their men getting caught. Besides, the Alliance would object to sending regular soldiers down onto the planet. Keith’s on his own."

Allura then hesitated.

"Can Voltron help?" she asked tentatively.

Lance forced back an impulsive grin and kept his expression serious.

"Possibly," he said slowly, reaching up to scratch his chin, "The Garrison would be a little ticked off once they found out, and I’d probably get into a lot of trouble…"

"We can tell them I ordered you to come," Allura told him eagerly.

Lance gave another moment’s hesitation as he looked down at her.

"It’ll be dangerous," he warned, "Those V’Ki may be deadly in space, but they’re no less lethal on the ground. You’ll have to follow my lead and be very, very careful."

"Of course," Allura agreed quickly, "Besides, we’ve all fought with the V’Ki before. It’s the least we can do to help Keith."

Lance nodded slowly, glancing at the others briefly.

"What do you guys say?" he asked.

"I’m in!" Hunk replied shortly.

"Me too," Pidge said enthusiastically, "I’ve always been curious about Levia-D. And Keith needs out help!"

Lance turned back to Allura.

"Well," he said, "We’re all in. It’s up to you to give the order."

Allura returned his gaze and nodded resolutely.

"All right, then," she said, straightening her posture, "Let’s go help Keith!"

She turned and led the way out, intent on going to Castle Control. Hunk and Pidge stood and followed her closely. Lance moved to do the same, hanging back a bit to allow the wide grin lurking beneath the surface to finally emerge out of view of any of his friends. His plan had worked. Within hours they would be on their way to Levia-D to help Keith. Of course, the fact that Keith did not need help did not seem to matter to Lance, who made his way to Castle Control whistling to himself.

* * *

On to Part Two