Voltron: Defender of the Universe:

Rescue

"Wow!" Pidge exclaimed, "I thought Coran would really blow his top this time."

"I’m just glad he backed down and let us go," Hunk said, "I wouldn’t want him angry at us."

"The Princess handled herself very well," Lance said in a congratulatory tone, then turned to her visage on his viewscreen and said, "Keith would be proud of you."

Allura spared him a short glance as she flew her Lion.

"I just hope he’s still all right when we get there," she replied, her voice somber.

Lance frowned and looked at her closely. She appeared genuinely worried over their absent leader. He wondered if maybe he had acted up his part a bit too much and scared her.

"I’m sure he’s OK, Princess," he assured her, "Keith knows how to handle himself in situations like this. He’ll be just fine when we arrive. A little irate, maybe, but fine nonetheless."

"I’m sure you’re right," she replied, though her voice betrayed her uncertainty.

"Hey," Hunk spoke up, "Just how close are we to the Ladion Galaxy?"

"It’s very close," Pidge replied immediately, "It’ll only take us an hour at top speed to reach the outer edges of the system Levia-D is in. But from there on in we have to be careful. The V’Ki will have patrol ships orbiting the planet. We’ll have to sneak through to the surface."

"How will we find Keith?" Allura asked.

"We’ll just head for the base and look out for the V’Ki," Lance replied, "When we find them, we’ll probably find Keith, too."

"The hostages will still be in the base," Pidge spoke up, "The V’Ki will need them to get the codes to the vault. Keith will most likely be heading there."

Allura nodded, taking it all in. Lance had to smile at her determination.

They made their way to the Ladion system and quickly found their target. The V’Ki had a half-dozen small patrol ships circling the small, foresty planet. Fortunately their tactual equipment was of inferior quality, so Pidge was able to guide the Lions through a small window in their sensors. The four mighty Lion ships discreetly lowered themselves to the planet’s surface a distance from the Garrison base so as not to alert the V’Ki of their presence. Once they were settled down among the thick foliage covering the ground, the four pilots climbed out of their cockpits. All of them were wearing dark colors as camouflage.

"How far to the base?" Lance asked Pidge.

The young scientist pulled out a small device from one of his pockets and read the tiny monitor.

"Three-point-four miles, in that direction," he replied, pointing.

"Maybe I should just stay with the Lions," Hunk spoke up, reluctant to make the long hike.

They all looked at him.

"In case of an emergency," he continued.

Lance nodded.

"Fine, Hunk," he said, "You stay in your Lion and keep in contact. Monitor the ships over our heads and let us know of anything important. We’ll let you know as soon as we find Keith."

Hunk nodded, relieved to get out of the substantial trek. The others followed Lance away from the Lions. Each of them had a blaster strapped to their side. Lance also carried a long, thin laser-machete that sliced through the thick greenery blocking their path like butter. But the thick, bushy terrain was not their only obstacle. Though the temperature on the planet was bearable, the animal-life was not. Large flying insects twitted about their heads, buzzing at their faces and ears. The four pilots had to use one arm to shoo them away and the other to brush away any leaves or branches in their path. The going was slow and painful.

"What are these things?" Allura asked as another blue and yellow bug attempted to land on her nose. She swatted it away, and it buzzed back at her angrily, encircling her head as if a vulture to its prey.

"They’re some kind of alien mosquito," he told her.

"What’s a mosquito?" she asked.

"A really annoying insect on Terra that likes to suck your blood and leave a nasty welt behind," he replied.

She stared at the back of his head in shock. He glanced back at her and grinned.

"Don’t worry," he told her, "These guys don’t go for blood."

"What do they go for?" Pidge asked.

Lance frowned and scratched his chin.

"I can’t remember," he admitted, "But whatever you do, don’t let one bite you. Whatever happens, I’m sure it’s not very pretty."

Allura and Pidge looked at the flying insects warily, making doubly sure not to let one get close enough to bite.

"Hey Pidge," Lance spoke up, calling over his shoulder, "You be sure to let me know the second you pick up anything on that device of yours."

"I’m not picking anything up close-by," Pidge replied, "The V’Ki foot patrols are restricted to within fifty yards of the base’s perimeter. We won’t be seeing anything for a long while yet."

Lance nodded.

"Just keep me posted," he said.

They traveled most of the distance in silence, paying the majority of their attention to keeping the insects away and not getting their feet tangled up in the forest floor. It took them well over two hours to get within two hundred yards of the Garrison base. Once they got into a position that gave them a good view of the simple gray windowless buildings, they settled down to form a strategy.

"So what now?" Pidge asked.

Lance peered closely at the large set of steel. There were guards grouped singly patrolling the outer edges of the compound, and more on the inside. Fortunately there was no wall or fence around the place, which would make their entry that much easier.

"Everything seems to be calm," he said, "Which means they probably don’t know we’re here yet."

"It could also mean that they haven’t found Keith yet," Allura spoke up hopefully, "Right?"

Lance nodded quickly.

"We’ll take out that guard there," he said, pointing at the one passing directly in front of them, "Then we’ll be able to get inside the perimeter."

"What happens when they find out he’s missing?" Pidge asked.

Lance shook his head.

"The V’Ki don’t communicate with each other a lot," he told them, "As long as we hide him, they shouldn’t notice for a while. Enough time to get us in to look for Keith."

Lance pulled out his blaster and held it ready in one hand. Allura and Pidge followed his lead.

"Don’t start shooting unless I say so," Lance told them, "We’ll try to take this guy out quietly."

They both nodded. Lance returned the nod, then moved to lead the way toward the base. Allura followed right behind him, and Pidge took up the rear. They quietly made their way through the brush. Lance had abandoned his cutter to keep down the noise, so now they had to go extra slowly. The closer they got to the lumbering V’Ki soldier, the slower they had to move.

At one point, when they were only ten yards away, Lance had them stop while he went on ahead. Allura and Pidge watched as Lance crept up slowly behind the larger V’Ki, pulling a small pen-like device out of one pocket. Before the alien even noticed Lance’s presence, the Voltron pilot stuck the pointed end of the device into the back of his thick neck, penetrating the rough, dark-toned skin. The V’Ki let out a short, muted cry before he slumped to the ground, unconscious. Lance then waved the others in as he bent to take hold of the sleeping alien’s shoulders. Lance had to use every ounce of his strength to drag him into the underbrush.

Holding his blaster in front of him, Lance led the way as they crept onto the base’s grounds, keeping a lookout for any more V’Ki soldiers. His companions remained close behind him, both more than a little apprehensive about being in a base filled with savage V’Ki soldiers. Lance himself was a bit exhilarated about the present danger. He hadn’t been on a good ground stealth mission for years.

They moved quickly to find some cover among the large domed buildings, finally resting behind a large metal shed. Lance peeked out from behind it and spotted a V’Ki footsoldier patrolling nearby. The alien enemy turned around and began tromping toward their hiding place. Lance could tell by his eye movement that the soldier was not really paying attention to his surroundings. It would be easy to take him out, just as soon as he got close enough. Lance turned around to address the others, lowering his voice to a whisper.

"There’s a V’Ki coming this way," he told them, "As soon as he comes, I’ll jump him. As soon as I do, you two come out and we’ll head over to that doorway over there." He pointed to the large, heavy steel door about thirty feet away that led to the main building. There were no guards in front of it.

"I can get that open, no problem," Pidge assured him.

Lance nodded, then turned his attention back to the V’Ki, who was slowly getting closer. Lance knew he’d have to move fast to take out this one without making any noise. He switched his weapon to his left hand, intending to use it only if necessary. With his right he reached behind his back to grab the laser-tipped knife he’d brought along. He hefted it in his hand, regaining his feel for the simple weapon. As long as he got a clear jab at the soldier’s neck, he could pull it off without alerting the others. Lance grinned to himself cockily. He knew he could do it.

He tensed his muscles as he peered around the corner, waiting for just the right moment. Pidge and Allura were just as tense as they waited for Lance to take care of the V’Ki soldier. The Princess bit her lip and balled her fists tightly as she watched the back of Lance’s head anxiously. Then they both jumped slightly as Lance suddenly darted out. But before he had even disappeared from view, he turned and darted back in again. Allura and Pidge looked at him in puzzlement.

"What’s wrong?" she asked.

Lance looked at her.

"Someone else got to him first," he told her.

Before they could ask who, a figure suddenly appeared from around the wall, making all three flinch slightly. The man was dressed all in black and green, including a mask covering his entire head. He had a laser rifle aimed squarely at Lance. The three Voltron members looked at him in surprise. Then the man lowered his weapon after a second’s hesitation. He glanced around him quickly, then grabbed Lance roughly by his collar and dragged him past the other two toward the door to the shed. He slung his weapon over his shoulder and opened the door with his free hand, immediately and unceremoniously shoving Lance inside. He then grabbed the other two and pushed them in, following behind them and shutting the door.

Lance was, by this time, working on his innocent expression as the dark man turned and faced them. He reached up to pull off his mask, revealing Keith’s familiar face. His hair was sweaty and sticking up in all direction, making him appear a little bedraggled. But his eyes were on fire as he glared at his teammates. He aimed his gaze at Lance, then frowned deeply and grabbed his best friend roughly by the collar.

"What are you doing here, Lance?" he demanded angrily.

"Um, helping?"

Keith’s jaw clenched as he tried to retain his calm.

"You had no right to bring them here," he told him.

"Lance didn’t bring us here," Allura spoke up, defending her friend, "I did."

Keith turned to her, his eyes narrowed in suspicion. He turned back to Lance.

"I left you in charge of the team," he said.

"What can I say?" Lance replied with a shrug, "I can’t say no to a Princess."

Keith gazed at him for another moment before letting go and taking a few steps back. He ran a hand wearily over his perspiring face, then ran it through his hair, causing even more strands to stand up. He then shook his head.

"I don’t have time for this," he said, then looked up at them, "I’ll help you get out of the compound. As soon as you’re out, go back to the Lions and return to Arus. That’s not a request. Understand?"

"But I can get us into the main bunker," Pidge spoke up.

"I can get into the building, Pidge," Keith told him mildly.

"But we can help--," Allura started.

"No, Princess," Keith told her, interrupting, "This is no place for you, any of you. You’re leaving now."

Keith turned and pushed open the door a crack, peering outside for just a moment before turning back.

"It’s clear outside," he told them, "Let’s go."

Without another word to them, Keith crept outside and stood by the door to cover them as they filed out. As soon as they were clear of the building, Keith led the way back to the forest-line. They stuck close to the bland steel wall of one of the two domed building adjoining the main bunker. Keith came to an abrupt halt as they came into view of another V’Ki. The others watched as Keith reached into his vest and brought out a miniature-sized blaster. He stretched his armed, took only a short moment to aim, and fired. The dart hit the V’Ki on the neck, sending him toppling to the ground instantly and noiselessly.

"Knock-outs," Lance commented, "Nice shot."

Without even acknowledging the remark, Keith waved them on and together they sprinted for the forest-line. Once they were safely inside the underbrush, Keith turned to them.

"Now go," he told them, "I don’t want to see any of you again unless it’s back at the Castle on Arus."

Before they could respond, Keith up and left, running back to the compound with his head bent low. Lance, Allura and Pidge all crouched in the forest and watched him make his way quickly to the main building, to the door they themselves had planned on entering through. As they peered closely, they could see Keith opening the manual controls for the doorlock and begin punching at the keypad.

Allura managed to tear her eyes off Keith long enough to glance over at Lance.

"But he still doesn’t know about the second fleet," she told him.

Lance gave another of his helpless shrugs.

"We can’t give him help if he doesn’t want to take it," he said.

Allura turned back to watch Keith, who was still working on the door.

"I think we should do what he says," Pidge spoke up.

The other two ignored him as they watched their leader from a distance. Seconds later, Keith managed to get the big steel doors opened. A few moments more, and he had disappeared inside, the doors closing behind him. Once he was gone, his three teammates stood to leave. As they turned, Lance opened his mouth to speak, but he was interrupted by an immense explosion that knocked them off their feet.

A part of the building Keith had entered had exploded, causing huge metal chunks to go flying in every direction. Dirt and rock were also strewn about, covering the three downed Voltron pilots in a thick dust. Lance, Allura and Pidge all covered their heads as debris fell to the ground around them. Fortunately there was no fire along with the explosion, so the trees and other greenery nearby were not in danger of being set aflame.

As soon as they were able to pick themselves off the ground and spit the long grass out of their mouths, Lance and the others turned to see a quarter of the main compound had been completely destroyed, including the section Keith had just entered. Steel chunks had been dislodged and tossed everywhere. One particularly large piece had landed only a few feet from where they were sitting. Thick black smoke billowed from the compound, gathering in the air overhead. The three Voltron members stared in shock.

It took Allura only a few moments to recover and realize what had just happened. With a sickening feeling in her stomach, she scrambled to her feet and began running toward the compound, all rational thought behind her. Lance heard her whisper Keith’s name once before she was gone. He cursed to himself silently as he struggled to stand on his feet. He was a bit wobbly, after his knee had knocked against a branch as he’d been thrown down in the blast. He winced at the pain, but moved to follow the Princess nonetheless. Unfortunately, she had quite a head start, and did not have his handicap.

Lance managed to limp through the thick foliage and reach the edge of the compound before he stopped dead. He watched helplessly as Allura ran right into a small group of armed V’Ki soldiers, who intercepted her and brought their weapons up to aim at her. He could tell Allura wanted to keep going, but she unwillingly stopped and raised her hands. Clenching his teeth and digging his fingernails into his palms, Lance watched as the V’Ki led Allura away and out of view.

Pidge hurried up behind him and caught just a brief glimpse of their captured Princess before they disappeared. His face registered shock as he looked up at Lance.

"What do we do?" he asked.

Lance let loose a disgusted noise. He shook his head, then started forward once again.

"We find Keith, then go rescue her," he decided.

Pidge moved to follow him, his expression puzzled.

"But I thought Keith was…"

Lance shook his head.

"He’s OK," he said confidently.

They reached the wreckage of the main bunker. The steel door Keith had entered only moments before was half-melted and sitting flat on the ground, thirty feet away from its original position. Lance and Pidge walked past it and climbed over the wreckage, trying not to lose their footing. They started picking through the wreckage to search for their missing comrade. They worked together to move the larger chunks, straining at the effort.

Behind them, a figure approached slowly. He watched them for a few moments before making his presence known. He cleared his throat soundly, causing the other two to spin around in surprise. At the sight of him, Lance let out a breath of relief, and Pidge grinned.

"You made it!" the undersized pilot exclaimed.

Keith looked rather good for having just survived an explosion. The only signs of wear and tear were the scuffs on his face and a wound on his right hand slowly oozing blood. He took a good look at Lance and Pidge, then looked around searchingly.

"Where’s the Princess?" he asked.

Immediately Lance and Pidge frowned.

"She was captured by the V’Ki," Lance replied in a quiet voice.

Keith looked at him sharply, his frown in full swing. Lance avoided his eyes guiltily. Keith took another step toward them.

"I’m going after her," he told them, "I want you two to stay in the compound. If you see a V’Ki, take him out. I assume Hunk is with the Lions."

Lance nodded mutely.

"Have him come here and help you secure the area above-ground," he told them, "I should have Allura and the others back within the next hour. Don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone this time. Got that?"

Both Lance and Pidge nodded. Keith nodded in return, then turned and quickly hurried away. Lance watched him go, his expression revealing his remorse. He hadn’t planned on things going so wrong. He especially hadn’t planned on Allura being caught. He had only wanted to help Keith and make sure he didn’t get out of hand among his enemies. Lance knew how Keith could be with the V’Ki, more than anyone else. Now he just hoped that the ugly alien race didn’t give Keith another reason to hate their guts.

* * *

Allura winced as the soldiers pushed her roughly into the dimly lit room. She stumbled and almost lost her balance, but she managed to steady her feet before her head met the cold metal floor. It didn’t help that her hands were bound behind her back. One of the V’Ki grunted something to her in his native language that Allura didn’t understand. She turned just as the door slammed shut, locking her inside. She closed her eyes and swallowed hard. She was in trouble, and she knew it.

A soft noise behind her made Allura turn around to find she was not alone in the cell. There were two other prisoners inside, both hidden among the shadows in the far corner. One was lying prone on the floor, with the other crouched over him. As she stepped closer, Allura saw that it was a man and a woman, and that they were both badly beaten, especially the man, who was unconscious. The woman looked up at her in curiosity.

"Who are you?" the woman asked her.

"I’m Allura," she replied, "I’m the ruler of planet Arus. Who are you?"

"I’m Lieutenant Jordie-Maz," the woman replied, then nodded down to her unconscious companion, "This is Commander Tysta. What are you doing here?"

"Galaxy Garrison sent a good friend of mine to come rescue you," she told them, "I was led to believe he needed help, so my companions and I came to help."

"Who is the one they sent?" Jordie-Maz asked.

"His name’s Keith," Allura replied, a small catch in her voice as she said his name, "Cap—Commander Keith."

The woman raised an eyebrow.

"And you thought he needed your help?" she asked.

Allura looked down despondently.

"I suppose we were wrong," she admitted, "Now it looks like we messed everything up."

"Don’t worry," Jordie-Maz assured her, "I know Keith. He’ll get us out."

Allura nodded, then took a seat against the wall near her cellmates.

* * *

Keith ducked down a narrow, darkened hallway. The power in that section of the base had been cut off because of the explosion, so only dim emergency lighting lit the building. V’Ki soldiers were running around in a frenzy, looking for the intruders. Keith had little trouble in taking out any enemy he saw. He hoped Lance and Pidge were able to do the same outside.

Careful to step over any fallen debris, Keith made his way toward the central command structure. He knew that both the hostages and the V’Ki commander would be located there. As soon as he got Allura and the others out safely, he would be able to take out the enemy commander to make it easier for the Garrison fleet to take back the base. He planned on taking the V’Ki leader in alive - just so long as he didn’t hurt Allura.

Noises behind him brought Keith to attention, and he cocked his head to one side to hear more clearly. He estimated a half dozen V’Ki soldiers, give or take one or two, were making their way down the corridors in his direction. Without a second’s hesitation, Keith reached into one of his pockets and pulled out a tiny circular device. He attached it to the wall right next to him and pressed down the small button right in the front. He then quickly darted out of the corridor into the next section of the building. Seconds later the bomb went off, causing a slight tremor under his feet. Satisfied, Keith continued his advance.

* * *

Lance kicked a tangled piece of metal with his booted foot, sending it careening over the pile of loose debris. He and Pidge had been waiting only twenty minutes, but it seemed like forever. So far they had dealt with four V’Ki soldiers and one storm probe, which Pidge had detected early with his equipment. They had already contacted Hunk and got him up-to-date. He was waiting just outside sensor range with Yellow Lion, not wanting to alert the V’Ki any further. If the V’Ki sensed an enemy ship nearby, they would surely kill the prisoners.

"I wish Keith had taken a communicator with him," Pidge spoke up. The little Green Lion pilot was becoming just as impatient as Lance.

"The V’Ki would be able to trace our communications," Lance told him, "It would give away Keith’s location."

Pidge nodded.

"I know," he said, "I’d just like to know what’s going on."

Lance nodded.

"Me too," he said.

He was about to send another piece of scrap metal on a little trip when a laser blast whizzed past his head, singing his unruly hair. Lance and Pidge immediately whirled and returned fire at the pair of V’Ki soldiers. Their boredom would be postponed, if only for a minute or two.

* * *

Allura fidgeted around on the floor, the hard steel making her backside ache. The rest of her wasn’t doing too well either. But she knew her companions were a lot worse for wear. Commander Tysta still had not regained consciousness, and the Arusian Princess could tell that Jordie-Maz was becoming increasingly worried of his welfare. She held his head in her lap and stroked his face to try to revive him, with no luck. Allura watched her with sympathy in her eyes. She remembered being in a similar situation only a few months ago, on a small, icy planet.

"How do you know Keith?" she spoke up suddenly. She wanted to take Jordie-Maz’s mind off her commander.

Jordie-Maz looked up quickly, startled. Then her face cleared.

"I graduated from the Academy a year after he did," she replied, "I only met him a few times in passing then. But then, a few years later, he went on a Shadow Ops mission to a spaceport called Kra-mi. A group of Garrison soldiers had been spying on a Jubooul base located on a nearby planet when they were captured and taken to the spaceport. Keith was sent after them. He almost didn’t make it."

"Was he able to rescue them?" Allura asked.

Jordie-Maz gave her a small smile.

"I wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t," she replied.

Allura shifted position to face the other woman.

"Has he done many missions like this?" she asked.

Jordie-Maz shrugged.

"I know only of the one," she admitted.

Allura settled back against the wall, nodding. After a moment’s thought, she turned back to her companion.

"Do you think—"

Her question was cut off when the door to the cell suddenly opened and half a dozen V’Ki poured in. Allura and Jordie-Maz were both jerked to their feet by large, rough hands and propelled to the door. Behind them, two other soldiers dragged the fallen commander. The two women reluctantly allowed themselves to be led though the narrow corridors and into a large elevator, which took them up two floors. Once they got off, they found themselves just outside the main control room. Allura and Jordie-Maz were shoved inside once the doors slid open.

As she was led to a chair, Allura looked around the room. It was similar to her own Castle Control, though much smaller and filled with Garrison equipment. Strangely enough, there were no V’Ki manning the controls. Just a single figure standing in front of the viewscreen, watching the feedback from sensors positioned around the base. Allura set her gaze on him as she felt her hands being shackled behind her back. The tall V’Ki leader had his back to them, but even from that angle, she could tell he was an imposing figure. Nearly as imposing a figure as Lotor.

Hearing a painful grunt beside her, Allura turned to see the V’Ki putting shackles on Jordie-Maz’s wrists. Jordie-Maz winced at the pain in her stretched arms. Beside her, Tysta was propped up in a chair and shackled as well. The older man moaned softly as he began to regain consciousness. Jordie-Maz turned to him immediately. Commander Tysta’s eyes fluttered open, but they were glazed over and unfocused.

A movement in the other direction made Allura look to see the V’Ki commander turn. He was indeed just as ugly as his subordinates, but much smarter and dangerous-looking. He glanced coolly at the prisoners before ordering his men out of the room. Turning back to Allura and the others, he took a step forward. He narrowed his eyes at Allura and looked her up and down. Allura tensed under his gaze, trying not to reveal her apprehension. The V’Ki then turned to Tysta, and grunted softly.

"A very poor attempt at a rescue for you, commander," the V’Ki commander Gadez said.

Tysta looked up upon hearing the voice of his enemy, a frown appearing on his mangled face. He was still too groggy to make a response.

"My men are almost finished breaking the seals on the lower vaults," he told them, "By the time your rescue party picks themselves through the rubble, we will have the ultimate weapon in our possession."

"You won’t win," Jordie-Maz warned him angrily, "The inner vault is protected. Not even the commander can get in."

"I am not your commander," Gadez told her, "Your precious weapon is protected by steel, and steel is not indestructible."

"What ultimate weapons is he talking about?" Allura asked, "I thought this base contained only old, unused weapons."

Gadez chuckled.

"You mean you don’t even know what you came here to protect?" he asked mockingly, "This base is the home of the infamous Ujhei na-wagt."

Allura frowned in puzzlement.

"Ujhei na-wagt," Jordie-Maz told her, "Weapon of Terror."

"Weapon of Terror?"

Gadez grinned smugly.

"Nicknamed by the space pirates who managed to survive its death-blast," he told her, "The alien ship that was found on the ice planet, capable of mass destruction greater than anything ever before witnessed by any living race."

Allura’s eyes widened in recognition. She glanced quickly at Jordie-Maz for confirmation. The other women just glared up at their enemy with hatred. Beyond her, Tysta seemed to be regaining his senses. His eyes were more focused as he looked up at his captor.

"Even if you do get it," he said, "It’ll never work for you."

"We will see about that," Gadez replied without concern.

Jordie-Maz spoke up.

"By the time you get it working…"

"By the time we get it working," Gadez broke in, "Both the Alliance and Galaxy Garrison will be in such turmoil because of your deaths that a retrieval mission will be the last thing on their weak little minds."

Allura swallowed as Gadez turned, diverting his attention back to the monitor. She fidgeted in her seat, which was not any more comfortable than the floor of the cell. Beside her, Jordie-Maz and Tysta remained quiet, both weary from being held captive. All they could do was wait for a rescue. But Allura knew better. She had seen Keith enter a building just before it exploded, so she had her doubts to their rescue. She knew something had to be done. She adjusted the position of her arms, which were getting sore from being held behind her. And then she discovered just how they would escape.

* * *

Keith made his way to the entrance of the central command building, moving stealthily to avoid detection not only by the V’Ki patrols, but by the sensors that the Garrison had stationed around the base. Keith knew that the V’Ki would be monitoring them. Fortunately most of them had been destroyed by the explosion. But the closer he got to the command center, the more surveillance equipment he encountered. Ducking underneath another security camera, Keith held his weapon in both hands as he crept along the floor, hugging the cracked metal wall and keeping his eyes and ears alert.

Noises in front of him alerted him once again to a team of V’Ki approaching. Only this time, he had no more mini-bombs left. Just his weapon, which was getting low on energy. Keith clenched his teeth as he waited for them to come, knowing that doubling back to escape them would only slow him down. Allura and the others wouldn’t wait, and neither would the V’Ki commander.

The firing erupted just as soon as the first V’Ki came into view. Keith blasted accurate shots to the group of soldiers, striking the two in front. But then the other four began firing back. Most of their shots landed well clear of Keith, who was crouched by one of the walls. Trying to evade blasts from four enemy weapons made it hard for Keith to get off his own shots. But then something happened to make that inconsequential.

Some of the V’Ki laser blasts struck the ceiling above Keith’s head, causing it to collapse. Before he could even react, large slabs of metal came tumbling down on top of the Voltron captain, pinning him to the floor. His weapon was knocked out of his hands. With his legs trapped underneath pieces of ceiling, Keith was an easy target to the remaining V’Ki, who were left untouched. Once they realized Keith’s predicament, the four enemy soldiers began grunting at each other in amusement.

Breathing heavily, Keith assessed his situation. His weapon was beyond reach, having landed over ten feet away. Keith felt through his pockets as the V’Ki mocked him. He had only two double-edged stars left, which would solve half of his problem. But he would still have two more V’Ki to deal with. He searched around him quickly for anything that could help. His enemies, noticing his movements, only grunted louder, a sound that grated at Keith’s nerves. He tried to ignore them.

Then they slowly started advancing toward him. Keith noticed their approach and reached into his pocket with careful movements, pulling out the two small stars and hiding them in the folds of his hand. His enemies did not notice the danger. They continued their advance, raising their weapons to fire point-blank at Keith.

With swift movements, Keith let loose the two deadly little weapons, aiming for the two men in front. The V’Ki didn’t even realize they were being attacked until two of them went down, blood pouring from their throats. They fell backwards, on top of their comrades. All four dropped to the floor heavily. Immediately Keith put his hands firmly on the metal chunk on top of him and began pushing with all his might, his whole body going tense. He knew he had to free himself before the two remaining V’Ki picked themselves up.

As the surviving soldiers pushed away the bodies of their dead teammates, Keith ignored them and concentrated all his thoughts and efforts on freeing himself. Noticing what he was trying to do, the two V’Ki scrambled to their feet and moved quickly to ready their weapons. Keith managed to edge the metal slab away from him slightly. He increased his efforts as the V’Ki stood and raised their weapons to point straight at him. With a loud cry and a burst of pure force, Keith mightily pushed the piece of metal off his legs and straight at the V’Ki, causing them to lose their balance. Their weapons went off, but the blasts struck the walls harmlessly.

Struggling to his feet on wobbly legs, Keith immediately lunged at the V’Ki, knowing he stood no chance of outrunning them. He landed on top of the first one and wrestled with him for his weapon. The V’Ki growled angrily as he fought back. Fortunately for Keith, V’Ki soldiers were not trained very well in hand-to-hand combat. They relied too much on their own weapons. Though the V’Ki were physically superior, Keith was quicker and smarter. With moves learned at the Academy, Keith stole the weapon and used it on its owner.

As soon as he turned around, he had only a split second to react as the last V’Ki fired his weapon. Keith tried to duck out of the way, but the laser blast caught his left leg. Though it was only a flash wound, it stung deeply. Keith winced at the pain, but quickly recovered and squirmed around on the floor to return fire. He managed to hit the final soldier with a mortal blast before the enemy could fire again.

Keith hesitated on the floor for a moment to catch his breath. Peering down at his leg, he saw that it was bleeding. He shrugged off his outer shirt and ripped off a strip of cloth to wrap around the wound. Satisfied, Keith then grabbed the V’Ki weapon and slowly pushed himself to his still unsteady feet. Then once again he headed in the direction of the control center.

Finally he reached the outer door that would take him through the short tunnel leading to the main control building. The tunnel was aboveground and had viewports every five meters. Keith glanced outside of the first one to check on things. Then he stopped dead in his tracks, all thoughts of getting to the control center gone from his mind.

* * *

Allura winced at the pain traveling up her arm. She tried to keep her feelings from appearing on her face as much as possible, but the soreness in her wrists kept getting worse as she worked to free herself. Though the binders trapping her hands were loose and obviously meant for someone with less delicate features, it was still a job to free herself from them. She could tell that she had already broken the skin, as her wrists started to feel very wet and sticky. But she kept going nonetheless.

Commander Gadez kept only one V’Ki soldier in the control room with him. The others were either chasing Allura’s teammates or working on breaking the seal on the inner vault. From the way the V’Ki leader was acting, Allura could tell they had almost succeeded. She had to hurry, before Gadez no longer needed any prisoners.

Suddenly Allura’s wrist came out of the binder’s sockets. She did well to hide her excitement, knowing it would only give her away. The V’Ki soldier stood right beside her, weapon in hand, making sure the prisoners didn’t move or speak. With careful movements, Allura worked to free her other hand. It did not take nearly as long. Just as she freed herself of the last bond, the V’Ki commander suddenly turned around.

"It is done," he told them, unconcealed smugness covering his dark, matted face, "We have the Weapon."

Without a moment’s hesitation, Allura slid down in her chair and swiftly lashed out with both feet, hitting the V’Ki soldier and knocking him to the ground. Quickly Allura pounced on him, elbowing him in the neck to stun him and then twisting the weapon out of his hands. She had learned these moves only months before from Keith. Allura quickly turned the weapon on the V’Ki commander, who stood still and watched her coolly. Keeping an eye on him, Allura grabbed the keys from the soldier and moved around behind Jordie-Maz to free her.

Once Jordie-Maz was free, she immediately grabbed the keys from Allura and used them to free her own commander. Commander Tysta was more alert now, though still a little unsteady as Jordie-Maz helped him to his feet. She walked him out of the room and Allura followed them, walking sideways to keep an eye on Gadez, who watched them escape with narrowed eyes and a barely concealed sneer. Then, as soon as they were gone, the sneer curled up into an evil grin.

* * *

Keith burst out into the fresh air, watching from a distance as Allura, brandishing a V’Ki laser rifle, led the other two hostages away from the control building and toward the forest-line. At first he couldn’t believe his fortune. Then he looked around them and frowned. The docking bay was located in Allura’s path, and the massive doors on top began to open. Moments later a ship emerged. It was a small V’Ki transport ship. Keith needed only make one guess as to what was inside.

As he quickly made his way to the escaping ship, Keith watched in surprise as Allura waved on the two Garrison officers she was protecting, then frowned as he saw her approach the enemy’s ship. Muttering under his breath, he could only run faster. He was halfway there when Allura ducked behind the ship, which had settled on the ground beside the docking bay. A group of V’Ki soldiers, including their commander, was running toward the ship away from the control building. Keith quickened his pace.

Just as he was almost on top of them, the V’Ki noticed his presence and began firing. The footsoldiers stayed behind to deal with Keith as the V’Ki commander continued on to the ship. Keith quickly dropped down on one knee and took aim at the enemy soldiers, firing eight shots in quick succession. One by one the V’Ki fell to the ground. Keith stood and ran for the ship, which was still sitting on the ground a few yards away.

"Captain Keith!"

Hearing his name being called by an unrecognizable voice, Keith looked up to finds its owner standing over fifteen feet high on top of the wing of the transport. As soon as he saw the V’Ki commander, he frowned. His frown turned troubled when he saw that Gadez had a hostage. Allura remained still, trying not to appear scared as Gadez pressed his hand-weapon to the side of her head. She looked down at Keith, thankful that he was alive and wishing there were some way he could make things right. But as she looked into his dark brown eyes, she knew there was nothing he could do.

"Drop your weapon, or I will kill her," Gadez instructed him firmly.

Torn between killing his enemy and saving his friend, Keith gritted his teeth and clenched his weapon tightly in both hands. Then, with a look passing through his eyes that Allura couldn’t interpret, Keith threw his weapon to the ground.

Commander Gadez grunted, then aimed his weapon straight at Keith’s chest and fired.

"Keith!"

Allura’s eyes widened and filled with tears as she saw her captain fall to the ground, arms and legs sprawled at his sides. She began to cry, ignoring the V’Ki’s grip on her neck. Gadez glanced at her briefly and grunted once before tossing her to the hard metal shell of the ship, causing her to bang her head. She struggled to her hands and knees and felt her forehead. When she looked at her hand, she saw fresh blood.

She heard the V’Ki commander behind her speaking alien words. She turned to see him talking into a communicator. Moments later the ship moved beneath them and began to rise slowly into the air. Allura attempted to rise, but found herself dizzy and fell back on her rear. Gadez grunted at her, in the V’Ki form of laughter, then raised his weapon to kill her.

"Thanks to you I did not have the honor of destroying Tysta and his betrothed," Gadez told her, "But I will receive at least a little solace in destroying you and your teammate."

Allura closed her eyes as Gadez began to squeeze the trigger. But then a figure suddenly jumped out of thin air and landed on top of the V’Ki commander. Allura opened her eyes and recognized Keith wrestling with Gadez. The two men fought on almost equal terms, both commanding years of training and experience. Keith managed to push Gadez off him, and the V’Ki leader landed only a few feet away from Allura. Still a bit dazed from the hit to her head, Allura couldn’t even defend herself as Gadez suddenly shoved her over the side of the ship.

With a cry, Allura fell over, grasping desperately with her hands. She managed to grab onto a thick metal bar and held on tightly. She looked down to find herself several hundred feet above the ground. She closed her eyes and gripped the bar tighter.

"Hold on, Allura!"

Above her, Keith lunged for Gadez. He fought hard, trying to faze his enemy long enough to pull Allura up to safety. But the V’Ki commander was resilient. He knew what Keith was trying to do, and he ducked out of Keith’s reach every time the Voltron captain moved in to strike at him. Keith started to become annoyed, knowing Allura couldn’t hold on much longer. Gadez grunted and sneered at him, sensing his inner turmoil. Keith lunged at the larger man, who quickly dodged the attack. Keith fell on the hard metal wing, using his forearms to break his fall. He looked up just in time to see one of Allura’s hands slipping from its grasp.

"Keith!" she cried helplessly.

Ignoring his enemy, Keith scrambled over to the side of the ship and grabbed Allura’s free hand. He then pulled with all his might, raising her over the side of the ship onto her belly. Once she was safe, they both sighed with relief. But then a few loud guttural noises coming from behind them made them all too aware they were far from safe. Keith and Allura turned to see Gadez looking down at them smugly. He had retrieved his weapon and now had it aimed down at them. Allura grabbed Keith’s arm as she looked up at him. Keith just stared back at his enemy in hatred.

"Looks like I win," Gadez said.

"Not so fast, lizard-breath!"

The three people on the wing of the transport turned to see Yellow Lion hovering before them not twenty feet away. Keith and Allura both relaxed visibly. Gadez frowned deeply, hesitating.

"Drop your weapon and tell your men to land the ship right now," Hunk ordered the V’Ki commander. Yellow Lion’s Tail Laser was aimed straight at Gadez.

The V’Ki curled his mangled lips, then dropped the weapon to the ground and radioed his men to land the ship. Keith then stood and helped Allura to her feet. Gadez watched them out of the corner of his eye. Within seconds the transport ship discontinued its ascent and began to lower itself back to the ground slowly.

"Atta boy," Hunk said encouragingly.

And then suddenly Gadez reached into his cloak and pulled out a hand-laser, which he immediately aimed at Keith and fired. Before the others knew it, Keith stumbled back and fell off the edge of the transport. Allura tried to reach out and grab him, but her attempt was futile. Keith began to plummet to the ground, hundreds of meters below. Reacting to the attack on his commander, Hunk fired his Tail Laser, hitting the V’Ki commander and sending him lifelessly over the side. Then he and Allura could only watch as their commander fell to his doom.

Suddenly a red blur appeared before them, and a silver paw extended out underneath the falling captain. Allura and Hunk both felt relief when they saw that Red Lion had caught Keith in midair. Down below the transport, Keith struggled into a sitting position. Though Red Lion had saved him from a nasty collision, the lion’s paw wasn’t exactly a nice soft cushion. Keith winced at the bruises already forming on his body.

"You all right, Keith?" Lance asked from inside his ship.

Keith nodded and waved up toward Red Lion’s cockpit. He was OK, but he wasn’t smiling.

* * *

As soon as all the ships were landed and everyone was safely on the ground, Allura wasted no time going over to Keith, who was still standing a little unsteadily. Lance, Pidge and Hunk joined her. Since Commander Gadez had been killed and his men captured, Garrison forces were free to land on the base and take back control of things. Commander Tysta and Lieutenant Jordie-Maz were now safe and being taken care of by Garrison medics. The alien ship, Ujhei na-wagt, was safely retrieved and back in the hands of Galaxy Garrison.

As soon as she reached him, Allura embraced her captain lightly, forgetting about propriety and etiquette. She was just glad that he was alive, after thinking he was dead three times in one day. Keith hesitantly returned the embrace with one arm, then smiled down at her when they parted. Allura smiled back, then frowned as she looked him over. Round black char marks covered the front of his once-white undershirt, remnants of the laser fire he had received. Allura looked at it in curiosity.

"How come you weren’t killed?" she asked.

Without saying a word, Keith pulled up the bottom of his shirt to reveal a thin gray vest underneath. The laser blasts that had hit him hadn’t gone through it.

"Standard issue blast-proof vest," Lance spoke up, "A necessity for all ground troops, footsoldiers and Shadow Operatives."

At the sound of his voice, Keith turned his head to regard his second-in-command calmly. Lance immediately shrunk under his gaze, remembering his own recent deed. He tried to look as innocent as possible, but knew it would not work on Keith.

"You, my friend," Keith addressed him, "are in very big trouble."

Before Lance could defend himself, Allura spoke up for him.

"Don’t blame him, Keith," Allura told him, "Lance and the others came here on my orders. It’s completely my fault we’re here, and if you want to punish someone, punish me. But after we found out about the second fleet of V’Ki ships that were on their way to Levia-D, I just couldn’t stand to let you come here alone without—"

"Wait," Keith stopped her, frowning, "Who told you there was a second fleet of V’Ki ships?"

Allura paused, puzzled.

"Well, Lance did," she replied.

They all turned to Lance, who was slowly and inconspicuously sneaking away from them. He stopped as he noticed four sets of eyes on him. He grinned weakly.

"My mistake," he said quietly.

While Allura frowned and Hunk and Pidge shook their heads, Keith glared intently at his old friend, his feelings in his eyes. Lance avoided his gaze and stared down at the blackened earth. Keith took in a deep breath and let it out slowly.

"So what’ll it be?" Lance asked, "Ten laps around the Castle?"

Keith narrowed his eyes at him.

"Twenty?" Lance amended.

"I’ll decide upon methods of discipline later, after I’ve had time to think it through," Keith told him calmly, "For now, we’re going home."

Dejectedly, Lance hung his head and turned to return to his Lion. The others watched him go. Lance, with head bowed and feet dragging, looked like a child sulking because he was caught. As soon as he reached his Lion, Keith turned to the others and addressed them sharply.

"All right everyone," he told them, "Let’s go back to Arus."

Keith walked with Hunk to Yellow Lion, while Allura and Pidge walked in the direction of their Lions, sitting side-by-side. Lance, Hunk and Pidge had brought all four Lions to the base once the outside perimeter had been secured. As they walked, Allura continued to frown.

"I don’t understand," she said to Pidge, "Why is this Lance’s fault?"

"Because, Princess," Pidge told her, "There was no second V’Ki fleet."

She looked over at him in surprise.

"You mean…?"

Pidge nodded.

"Lance lied just so he could get us to come here."

"He lied about it?" she said aloud, "About…"

Her voice trailed off and she stopped in her tracks as she realized how Lance had used her. Confusion turned to anger. She whirled around to face Red Lion, fists clenched at her sides.

"LAAAANCE!!"

* * *

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