I do not own Voltron, the universe, or the characters.
"Where is that goddam son-of-a-bitch bastard? I am going to fucking KILL him!" The shouting became louder as the irate pilot came closer, the halls echoing with his streams of curses, terrestrial and extra-terrestrial.
"Where the hell is he?" Lance demanded as he entered the team's common room (which was, in reality, the sitting room to the princess's suites that she had been given at Garrison in accordance with her royal visitor status, but was kept open for the team nonetheless), waving a paper furiously. "Where the hell did that" a stream of unidentifiable curses spewed out "run to?"
"Lance," Allura said calmly to the irate pilot, "We have a visitor." A discreet cough jarred his rage just enough for him to turn and see Marshal Wade sitting on one of the couches, holding a cup of tea and saucer in his hands. Lance's eyes glittered dangerously.
"My apologies, Marshal," he sneered, and then turned back to the princess. "Where is he? Where's Keith?" The name was spit out, and venom dripped off the commander's name.
"You got one too, then," she sighed, looking at Wade from the corner of her eye. He studiously ignored the scene before him as he slowly stirred milk into his tea. She knew, though, that he was soaking up every minute of this, reveling in Lance's anger and the breakdown of the Voltron Force. How could he not? His dreams were coming true right before his eyes, and he had not had to do a single thing. Well, beyond arguing with every fibre of his being for the team's disbandment.
"Why the fuck would I be here otherwise?" Lance fumed, anger rolling off his body. "Fucking bastard goes on about honour and fuck-all if that isn't more important than actually being a" another stream of foreign curses rolled out "leader." He then whirled on Wade. "And what in the trice-damned-hells does he mean here," he demanded, stabbing the paper about halfway down as he shoved it in the marshal's face, "where he says that he must 'return what was stolen'? What the fuck is that damn crap!"
Wade's face was, to his credit, impassive as Lance continued to rage, and he shrugged after reading the note Keith had left his friend.
"We did not steal the Black Lion," he replied, handing the note back to Lance. When the sergeant folded his arms and refused to take it, Allura reached out for it. She had a feeling as to what it said– from Lance's rantings, she guessed that it was similar to the one the commander had left her– and took it from Wade.
"The Black Lion," Wade continued calmly, "will be returned to Arus at a later time than the other lions; it has been cleared with the Council. There is some evidence that it was the Black Lion which commenced the attack, and the Council has decided that Garrison scientists and technicians should examine it to determine if it be of any danger to the people of Arus. I came here this morning to inform the princess personally." And show how much the Council still cares about the Voltron Force followed the marshal's words, silken and crooning in its insincerity.
Allura bit back a sharp retort and focused on Lance. "He told you more than he told me, Lance," she said sadly. "We can check with Pidge and Hunk, but I don't think he'd have told them anything more. He's gone, to who knows where."
"Well he can go to the nine hells and burn, for all I care," Lance snapped.
"Language, sergeant." The admonishment caused Lance to spin and glare at the newcomer. The colonel met the stare and held it for a minute before turning to the princess and Wade. "I am sorry, princess, but I must ask Marshal Wade to join me. The Garrison council has called an emergency meeting, and we are both required."
"Not at all, Colonel Hawkins," the princess said, standing. "Marshall, thank you for joining me. You will let us know if you hear anything concerning the commander?" Nodding, Wade turned to leave with Hawkins when a small form shoved its way past them, ignoring all decorum and propriety.
"Lance, please tell me this is one of your stupid jokes!" Pidge's voice was half furious, half pleading. He fairly shook with nerves and anger, and Allura could see that he too had a sheet of paper.
"What is?" Lance snapped, in no mood for any joke right now, and had the paper shoved in his face.
"This!" Pidge practically screamed. "Keith says he took the ship I was working on but it's not done! The navigation's not complete, let alone the jump systems. I haven't put weapons on it and if he's done a run-" Lance's stream of curses stopped the small engineer; Hawkins sighed, and Wade raised his eyebrows.
"Hey, calm down little buddy," came a tired voice from behind the Garrison officials. "Sorry colonel, marshal, but can I get past?"
"Calm down?" Pidge squeaked, "The ship Keith so happily borrowed might explode, and you tell me to calm down?" Allura looked up at Lance, who had balled up the paper and was looking for something to throw it at. Grimacing, he tossed it to her, and upon smoothing it out, she saw that Keith had left much the same note for Pidge, but with the added,
I am sorry about taking your ship Pidge, but I will take care of it, and it will be returned.
"What ship was this precisely?" Wade asked quietly.
"Pidge and I were working on it," Hunk answered, now in the room. "We needed something to do, during the inquiry, since we were sitting around for most of the time, and we had an idea for a recon ship. Keith-"
"The fucking, thieving, bastard," Pidge interjected darkly.
"Gave us the go-ahead."
Hawkins gave Pidge a measured look. "You and McClain both need to watch yourselves," he warned. "What kind of ship is it Garret?" Hunk looked down at his feet and rubbed a toe in the carpet.
"A small, single person transit ship with high-capability stealth enhancements."
The room went silent. Of course Keith would have taken that ship when he disappeared; people running from the Garrison generally did not want to be found, and he had access to a ship not on the Garrison's ship list and with high-quality stealth enhancements. Add to that the fact that they were Pidge's creations in a ship Hunk built, and it was easy to see why the commander had made the choice he did. Pidge, however, did not seem to be thinking along those lines.
"We hadn't finished it!" he wailed, flopping down onto the couch that Wade had just vacated. "It's mostly done, and I'm sure he can figure out the basics as far as operations go, but what if something goes wrong, or breaks? He has no idea how to fix it! And there are no weapons! Where's he going to go with no weapons, the Earth's moon? And the security codes! If he tries to exit the solar system…" Hunk just shrugged when Allura looked at him. Lance looked even angrier, if that was possible, and another outburst looked like it was coming.
"We'll send you a summary of the letters," she promised the two officers. "Please pass the Garrison council my apologies for the incident." Both officers nodded and vacated the room teeming with anger and frustration. Allura watched them leave, wondering how much longer Wade would concede to her requests. Especially now that Keith had gone.
"Shut it, Lance," she said sharply after the doors had closed. But the second in command of Voltron had no desire to listen to anyone, not now.
"Did he even think about what would happen?" Lance hissed. "No way we're ever getting Voltron back now! We might have been able to persuade Wade to give Black back– and how in the hell did he know that bastard of a marshal had even taken Black? And why didn't he tell us?– but not now, now that Keith's off being a renegade-fucking-hero!"
"Black probably told him," Hunk said quietly. "And we wouldn't have gotten him back; Wade's wanted to get his hands on the lions so badly; he's not letting Black go, no matter how well we behave ourselves."
Lance whirled on Hunk, but before he could start yelling again, Allura spoke up.
"Hunk's right Lance. Now all we can do is be on our best behaviour and not do anything rash ourselves."
"Not do anything rash?" Lance's voice was so strained it had risen several octaves. Allura glared at him and he shut his mouth.
"I mean it Lance, don't do anything stupid."
"Right, cause we don't need any more of that," he snarled. "I'm going to get a drink, or several."
Marshal Wade could not believe how lucky he was. First, Lieutenant Commander Keith had gone rogue, earning an additional black mark against the Voltron force. He had been cautiously optimistic when he heard the news; the snake's head was gone, and he could only hope the body would soon die. He hadn't expected the force to disintegrate so quickly.
He probably should thank the hotheaded sergeant for that.
Lance McClain's file lay open before him, and he looked at it thoughtfully. McClain was one of the best pilots to have gone through the Academy. Granted, during his early years as a cadet, he had shown little promise. Oh sure, the talent to fly was there; he was naturally gifted in a cockpit and behind the controls, but the discipline needed to be a pilot… Well, that had been missing until the last few years of his time at the Academy. All that brilliance had been directed towards pranks and getting out of class; Wade had been one of several teachers to fail Cadet McClain. It was a wonder that he even graduated. The fact still was, though, that McClain was good. Good enough to be a flight instructor, even, Wade thought to himself. Maybe the hothead could be convinced to stay, to join him and tell him about Voltron and how the giant robot worked.
But that was being too optimistic, and Wade was nothing if not a realist, so he liked to think. No, rather he should focus on offering the sergeant a job and getting him to take it. That would keep the Voltron Force separated, even with Lieutenant Commander Kogane out of the mix, and if McClain decided to switch sides, so much the better. But it was not something to be planned on; human error and variability only interfered with well-laid plans, and so he would not rely on human actions. Better to go with what he himself could control and guarantee, and everything else would fall into place.
More important at the moment was getting the Black Lion to a safe, easily defensible location, one where Kogane would not be able to get it. The Alliance thought that the Lion was to be tested and then returned; Wade had better ideas. The Lion would be tested, and then it would be copied, the technology reproduced and improved, put to use to further his plans of order and assimilation. The Alliance was too chaotic, too random and inefficient. That inefficiency resulted in failures as much as successes, a fact the recurrent battles with the Drules had proved all too well. Wade, however, planned to fix that. The Drules, cruel as they were, had still managed to achieve great success with robotic soldiers. Their problem, however, was that they had created the Robeasts from living, organic beings, and the transformation process invariably fried their brains. No brain, and all you had was a simple-minded giant robot who could, quite easily, be goaded into making a foolish mistake. A technicality really, but Voltron had turned exploiting that technicality into a science.
Wade's plan involved using the elemental-technology of Voltron to create new, improved robot soldiers, ones who could take commands from a single handler. The handler would not have to be transformed into a Robeast, instantly solving the setbacks faced by Zarkon and Lotor. But the Alliance could not know about this; the Council had been horrified at his suggestion, years ago, at the beginning of the war with the Drule kingdoms, to use robot soldiers, and the years fighting the Drules had not changed their minds.
It had taken him years of distinguished service, with no more mention of robot soldiers, to overcome that misstep. He had done it, though, and gradually rose up to become marshal, with an eye to being the obvious choice for Sky Marshal Hermann's replacement. Part of that rise had involved teaching at the Garrison Academy – some fool had decided that the leaders of the Garrison should first be instructors of the Garrison's next generation– which he endured patiently. He was nothing if not a patient man.
The com buzzer went off. "Yes?" he asked.
"Sir," a voice crackled over the private com. "We've found a moon that'll do perfectly."
"Good. Start setting up; I will come when I have things wrapped up here."
God above he was pissed. How could Keith do this? He was supposed to be the rash, stupid one not his friend. Or his supposed-to-be friend…
Lance frowned into his whisky as that thought passed through his head. Bitter as it was, he could not help but feel it was justified by what Keith had just put them through. His eyes focused on the amber liquid, his hand tight on the glass. Fuck all, he was the second in command; that meant stupid plans to go renegade early were supposed to be hashed out with him, not without! Of course, that assumed the point that Keith had simply moved the schedule forward and had conveniently forgotten to tell anyone.
He doubted that at the moment, regardless of what sort of friend that doubt made him.
Another sip of his whisky cooled his thoughts a bit, but he didn't quaff the glass, as much as he wanted to. His drunken uncle had taught him that; alcohol might cool the fires, yet too much and he'd come out swinging at anyone and everything. It was a fine balance, but a balance he was good at it keeping. There'd been enough night-time liquor raids during his years as a cadet to help him figure out how much whisky he could take before the world went red. On a night like tonight, when his anger coursed through every vein, a molten stream of rage instead of blood, it wasn't much.
Keith was supposed to be his friend…
As he sat there and stewed, a rumbling filled the back of his mind, and some of the rage flowed away from him. His shoulders loosened some, and the bile threatening to force its way up his throat gave up. It wasn't much, but it was enough. Lance sighed and turned his thoughts inward, away from the whisky, the bar, the Garrison, and the shit stunt that Keith had pulled.
Thanks, he called out to Red, and a weak, reassuring rumble returned. Lance bit his lip; a few weeks ago the connection was strong. Now the Lions sat in some specially designed holding container, waiting for their return trip to Arus with the princess and Coran when the hearing finished. Whatever materials formed the container, their connections with the Lions were dampened. The lack of presence from the five mystical crafts had taken their toll on them all, and Lance wished, yet one more time, that this had never happened.
But it has, and we've got the trumped-up, big man himself to thank, he thought sourly. I hate Wade.
"The Garrison has just released an all-points bulletin on Lieutenant Commander Keith Kogane, leader of the Voltron Force. Commander Kogane has gone rogue according to Garrison reports and is to be considered especially dangerous, armed and unarmed. He is to be avoided and not to be engaged with. The Garrison forces appreciate any help that can be given in finding him."
Lance glared at the television screen, willing it to blow up as it shook him out of the tenuous connection with Red. Of course they do. He thought sarcastically. Cause he's got a super-stealth ship that he stole!
"He was in here just the other night, wasn't he?" the bartender mused out loud, looking up at the picture of Keith that hung on the screen. Lance looked at her; she was fairly pretty, an off-worlder with green tinged dark brown skin and a third eye in the middle of her forehead, her striking red hair teased to one side. She turned to look at him. "He was here with you, wasn't he?"
Lance frowned. It was bound to happen, sooner or later. He was hard to forget, especially for the ladies, and Keith had come that night in full dress uniform, fuming, after his 'questioning' by the Garrison Council.
"Fucking interrogation" was what he had called it, and Lance had simply agreed and handed him a drink.
"Yeah," he admitted, eyes flashing in anger. "He was with me a couple days ago. Bastard skipped out."
"Oooh, gotcha," the bartender's three hazel eyes radiated sympathy. "Next one's on the house honey."
Wait… Does she? Damn! Cursing his word choice, Lance almost protested that he and Keith were not a couple, but let it slide. She'd only laugh and not believe him, and he suddenly didn't feel like arguing. He felt more like punching someone, something. Maybe tossing some bottles around. But no… he'd promised Keith and Sven years ago that he would resist the urge to fall into the red hot pit of rage. And he would keep that promise; for Sven's sake, though, not Keith's. Maybe later he would for Keith again, but then again, maybe not. He sighed into his whisky and didn't look up as a large figure took the seat next to him.
"Where's the squirt?" he asked his big friend. Hunk shrugged and called for a pint.
"Decided to mope in the garage. Allura tried to get him to join her for dinner, but he said he was off to mourn the ship."
"Of course he did," Lance muttered into his drink.
Hunk took a long pull of his drink. "Bulletin's out."
"Yeah, already saw it. They put a terrible picture of him up."
The big engineer laughed, "Thought that's what always happened. Heard it over the radio." He took another long drink of beer and looked at the glass thoughtfully. The pint was almost half gone. "Who do you think is paying our tab?"
"No idea," Lance answered. "But as soon as I figure out how I'm going to punch Keith's face in with him hiding in whatever hole he's found, I intend to make them regret it." Cause I'm going to want a drink, a lot of them, when I calm down.
Coran stood, looking out through the window in his room overlooking the Garrison's meticulously manicured gardens. He stood there, unmoving and silent as he thought on the events of the past few weeks, when their fortunes had been on high and then cruelly crushed under an unknown enemy's foot. One night in particular stayed at the front of his thoughts, the night where, suspicions confirmed, he had called the team together to warn them that, while he might not have been the author behind the Lions' malfunction, he was a conspirator. The night where, backed into a corner, they planned who would be the one to lash out first…
"I always knew Wade was off," Lance growled when Coran was done explaining his suspicions. "I think I told you as much Keith."
"He failed you, Lance. Of course you thought he was corrupt." But the commander's heart was not in the rebuke, and they all knew it. Wade had protested to heavily, too frequently, to escape their notice. No, he was up to something.
"Right now," Coran continued, "The plan is simply to chain the Lions and forbid their use." They all winced, but it was not that bad. It was not as bad as it could be. "There is talk, however, that Wade wants to push it further."
He hesitated, and they waited, silent, for him to continue.
"How Coran? What does he want?" the princess asked after a moment, her eyes piercing, demanding an answer.
The councilor sighed. "My sources say that he wants to test one of the Lions, to figure out how it works." He continued before the angry responses could derail their meeting; they had only so much time. "I don't know which, or how he intends to figure out how Voltron works, just that he intends to. We now need to ask how we will respond to this, should it happen."
"And the odds of that?" This time it was the commander demanding answers, and Coran simply looked at him. This answer was all too easy to come by, with or without confidential information. Keith winced.
"Ok, so we need to plan, then, what we do when Wade gets his hands on one of the Lions. Bets on who he chooses?"
"Black," Pidge said instantly, and the princess nodded.
"Green or Blue," Lance said at the same time and traded annoyed looks with Pidge. Hunk shrugged.
"Could be any, really. But if I had to say…" he paused and thought it out. "Black 'cause he's the central body; Green since he's the smallest, and the Alliance won't care as much if Wade gets his hands on him."
"Green or Black it is," Keith said firmly, ending any further discussion. Coran noticed that he had not offered a bet, but then, he thought, the commander's reasoning was likely following Hunk's. Black was the most likely to offer up information– at least, by Wade's probable reasoning– but Green would be less likely to garner complaint from the Garrison and the Galactic Alliance. Keith did not look happy at all that his Lion was up there, but then, Coran mused, the commander probably took it as a personal slight that the marshal would consider taking any of the Lions from his team.
"So, what do we do? What are our official options?" Keith looked at him, and Coran frowned.
"We can lodge an official protest and request for the Lion to be returned. The likelihood of that happening, though, is small. Wade has too much power right now, and I'm exhausting my options just keeping up with him."
"So we go unofficial then," Lance interjected, grinning a bit. Coran winced, but nodded. "Yes, that appears to be our best option. One of you will have to find a way to recover the Lion without following official regulations, and the rest of us will have to cover him– princess, please, you cannot do this– and mitigate the damage as best we can."
"He's right, princess," Keith affirmed before Allura could voice the angry protest on her lips. "You need to be on Arus, with your people. Without Voltron, you are their protector." Allura left her protest unvoiced, but the belligerent set to her jaw indicated that one of them would be getting a piece of her mind later. Keith continued. "One of us has to go rogue then."
"Yes," Coran said slowly, "And, if you want my opinion-"
"Yes," Keith said firmly, "I do." Lance nodded as well. "Coran, we're all terrible with politics. Okay, okay, not you, princess." He raised his hands in defeat as Allura turned on him. "Who'll do the most damage?"
"You or the commander, Lance." No one seemed surprised at that. "Pidge and Hunk aren't considered enough of a threat the Garrison if they go rogue."
"But we are, eh?" Lance was actually grinning; Keith rolled his eyes.
"More importantly," Coran continued, passing over the pilot's zeal for causing trouble, "If either of you defects and the team disperses, the break down will be believable. No one would believe that Pidge or Hunk would leave, let alone cause the break-up of the Voltron Force; but if the commander or his second in command went rogue, and the team imploded…" he paused, and Allura picked up where he had stopped.
"No one would be surprised, though they would be thrilled." Coran nodded.
"I can think of one fucker in particular," Pidge said darkly. Keith kicked him from underneath the table. "Ow!"
"At least try," the commander sighed.
But now everything had changed; the plan had moved forward, the commander was gone, and a bulletin out for his arrest flew across every television screen on Earth and would soon– if it already wasn't– be sailing through the Alliance. The advisor to the royal house of Arus pinched the bridge of his nose, wishing that these times would plague some other era, one which had not already seen the razing of his planet and death of so many friends.
He had known that Keith would run, but his convenient presence in policy meetings and in debates over what to do with Voltron removed him from any additional suspicion. Yesterday's meeting on the giant robot's fate had gone late into the night– he did wonder about the commander's timing on that score– and today's series of meetings had begun early in the morning. All of them had stumbled in, exhausted, but determined to finish the debates. Keith's disappearance had been estimated to the middle of the night, when Coran was still busy arguing for the place of Voltron within the Galactic Alliance. It had been noticed when he was yawning over a cup of the vile brew the Garrison called coffee, trying to argue for a moderate 'rehabilitation' program for Voltron. And now he would have to lament the young man's recklessness when in public.
Keith had come to him the next night, after they had planned that he would be the one to go rogue and find whichever lion Wade would get his hands on. Looking back, he was not surprised that the commander had come to him to voice his concerns. Many times they had met wandering the castle's halls, unable to sleep for worry about an attack from Doom, doubting the peace and quiet. So Keith had come, nerves firing, and asked the question Coran had not wanted to answer.
"What is the likelihood that Wade believes this?"
The answer? He did not know; the other man was a bit of an enigma to Coran, who held the welfare of his planet, his home, above his own and his own interests. Wade did not, a selfishness which Coran did not hold against him on its own, but did not pretend to understand.
"Honestly?" he sighed. "Probably about fifty-fifty, maybe better. I don't know for sure. Wade's going to be suspicious if it's too neat, and the rest of the team will have to maintain the façade so long as they're here. And if he thinks anything is going on, he won't offer a job to Lance, Hunk, or Pidge. I think he'll believe that you went rogue; I don't know if he'll believe that no one knew of your plans or helped you." Keith digested this silently, his blue eyes focused sharply on the wall in front of him. After a few minutes he turned back to the advisor.
"What… what if I were to take off early, to make it look like I had left without anyone else knowing?"
Now it was Coran's turn to be silent and think. It might work, he thought. Well, it all might work; the question was how well?
"You'll have to convince Lance," he hazarded. "If you can get Lance to explode, then I think Wade will believe you, that you honestly defected without telling the others. And then he'll take a chance to trust one of them." Keith winced, but nodded all the same.
"I can do that," he said firmly. "I can definitely get Lance to lose it."
And so you did, Coran thought sadly. He'd kill you right now, if he saw you. But what is done is done, and so the advisor moved forward.
"I need you to take these to the princess," he told the four small figures below him. "No one else is to see these, let alone get a hold of them. Take your time; the important thing is that she get them, not when." Four firm squeaks answered him, and he bent down to hand each mouse a coloured envelope. Chitter was gone, probably ensconced on the ship with Keith somewhere. The leader of the little mouse brigade took his duties as seriously as his human counterpart, and Coran had not been surprised that the robotic mouse disappeared at the same time as the commander. It did mean, however, that he was down a spy, though the other mice had already reassured him that they could take over Chitter's listening duties and maintain their own. He was not sure how they would do so, but he trusted them to find a way. There was no other option; he needed the information on Wade and the other Council members that the little brigade brought him.
The mice each took their package solemnly and then dashed through the ventilation grate to take their loads to the princess. Coran waited until he could no longer hear their claws scratch on the metal shaft and then headed out the door.
He was off to be disappointed in the man trying to preserve his planet.
Pidge knew everyone thought he was moping and didn't care. Let them think that he was more concerned about his ship than his friend. It made it easier to concentrate, to focus on finding out why Keith had disappeared into thin air.
He did not know how, exactly, he felt about Keith's disappearing act. Lance certainly knew how he felt about it, and he had let the whole world know. Or, rather, he let the world know the part he was willing to admit to; space lasers at his eyes would be able to get him to admit how deeply Keith's disappearance had hurt him. It was easier just to be angry at his friend's betrayal and make sure everyone else thought he was simply angry.
Funny how we seem to be taking the easy route, Pidge thought to himself, tapping madly at his keyboard.
Allura had taken it hard too, though she tried to hide it. She had decided, with Keith gone and Lance lost on his tirades, to be the sensible one, the calm one. She was doing well, but Pidge could tell that it hurt her even more, that Keith had forced her to take over his role of mediator. It didn't help either that, well, she like liked Keith and hadn't told him. Pidge knew what that was like; granted, everybody probably did, but that universal fact didn't make things easier for the princess. When he had left, she was lighting the heavy candles she had brought with her from Arus, special candles that had some sort of mystical purpose. Hopefully, it was a mystical purpose that would help her cope with Keith's sudden departure.
Why are we taking this so hard? We knew he'd be leaving, and soon… I mean, this has to be a part of the plan, right? But then, wouldn't Lance have known? And he was pissed… Pidge sighed, trying to make everything fit, make sense. He was faring less than spectacularly.
Hunk kept his cool, as he always did in these sorts of situations. Evil villain? Hunk would get riled, no problem. Something wrong with the food? Same thing. But something like this, where everyone floated, lost, as they tried to readjust and get their bearings, no… Hunk never lost his cool. He became the one thing they could all rely on to stay, well, grounded. Pidge had never been more thankful.
Because right now, Hunk's constant steadiness was all that was keeping him from blowing off course, and he did not have the time to find his way back. Something was off, and he would find out what that was. And while searching, maybe he'd figure out why his stomach felt so odd, why he had felt all out of sorts since he had found Keith's note stuck to one of his monitors. No one had ever left him before, no one close. Okay, well, his birth-parents had given him up, sure, but he never knew them. He hadn't known what it was like to be close to someone until his parents had adopted him, and they hadn't had any choice about leaving this world. Zarkon had made the choice for them.
But to have a friend, a teammate just disappear, willingly? Pidge had never experienced that before, and he wasn't sure that he wanted to again.
"What did you really do, Keith?" he muttered to himself in Baltan. That was it, really. Keith's disappearance and the letters he had left them all, they were off. Not that they didn't sound like Keith; he had definitely written them. And if someone had snatched Keith in the middle of the night, they would have known. One, Black would have been roaring like the world was about to end– And what would Wade have done with that? Pidge wondered absently, fingers racing across the keyboard– and two, there would have been some evidence as to the reason behind Keith's disappearance. A com blazing as the commander fought off his attackers would have been the most likely, but broken stuff would have worked just as well. No, Keith had gone off on his own all right. Something still nagged at Pidge though, a problem yet to be solved, and he was hell-bent that he would solve it.
Hunk had looked at him oddly at first when he declined his offer to go to the bar and the princess' dinner, but then nodded. "Don't blow your brain," he'd said as he wandered off to the bar where Lance was presumably doing his best to look like he was there to get drunk. And Pidge had gotten to work with his computers. Somewhere, there had to be an answer.
A couple hours later, when Hunk walked in, he was still at it. The ship hadn't gone far, he had found, which meant that something was up. Pidge had been overjoyed, until he wondered if Keith had maybe dumped it somewhere to be found later, when he would be long gone in a different ship, one not encoded to blow up if he took it too far from Earth.
Really should rethink those security codes, Pidge frowned as pondered the computer screens in front of him. Keith had managed, somehow, to disable the ship's tracking beacon. Did I leave the schematics lying out? I must have… Another read-out came up, and he shifted his gaze over. "Where have you gone?" he mused, fingers tapping methodically as he examined the readings before him.
"I was at the bar, little buddy," Hunk's chuckled broke into his musings, and Pidge slammed into the real world again. Blinking as his eyes readjusted from the computer screens, he turned to look at his friend.
"Oh, right. Sorry; I was just thinking out loud." Hunk just shook his head and collapsed onto the couch he had commandeered for their hanger. His long sigh and cracking of his neck made Pidge wonder just how much commiseration had gone on at the bar and how much trying to keep Lance from killing anyone.
"How's he doing?" he asked, giving Hunk an opening to vent, if he wanted it. The big man shrugged. Pidge waited.
"He's still pissed," Hunk said slowly. "But not drunk; he's too mad to be drunk. I don't know Pidge, I've never seen him this mad. Anyone, really. It's … it's like knowing a volcano is going to happen, but you're trapped on the top because there's a forest fire all around you. Lance is that volcano and forest fire right now, and I don't know how to fix it. Maybe the princess'll be able to get him to calm down. Hopefully." He then went silent, his face radiating worry. Pidge worried the bottom of his lip.
"He's such an idiot," he muttered. "Both of them, in fact. Why can't they just work logically?"
Hunk chuckled at him. " 'Cause they're human. Can't blame them for that, you just have to work with it."
"Right," Pidge rolled his eyes. "Come look at this then, and tell me if it makes sense to your human eyes. It's given me a headache." He gestured towards the screens as Hunk stood behind him. "This is the data I have on the ship; it cuts out about here, near … Canada? I can never remember. Anyways, it cuts out just before you hit the ocean, but there's no data, nothing indicating that Keith cleared the atmosphere. Did we leave the schematics out?"
"Well, there are some easy crossing gates above Canada, which that is, so it makes sense to head for them… But the trajectory veers a bit…" Hunk mused, eyes flicking across the truncated flight plan. "And yeah, 'cause we lost track of time and had to run to make that fancy dinner."
Their receivers crackled into life, forestalling Pidge's reply as Allura's voice cut through and just as quickly cut off.
"All of you, meet me. Something's up."
"Princess isn't taking any chances," Hunk noted, an eyebrow raised at Allura's brief message. "What do you think's up?"
"Keith's stupid plan," Pidge said, vacating the computers. "Let's go; maybe she knows something we don't and the computers can't tell us."
"Think we'll have to haul Lance away from the bar?"
Pidge winced. "Gods, I hope not." He really didn't feel like dodging any of Lance's punches at the moment.
Fortunately, Lance arrived just as they did. He looked furious, still, Pidge thought, and anger fairly rolled off him. But the look the princess shot at him stopped any tirade; Pidge thought she had improvised the you are getting night shifts for a week look that Keith would sometimes give them, but wasn't sure. He hadn't been on the receiving end. It could just as well have been borrowed from one of Nanny's ice stares.
"Lance be quiet," she ordered sharply and then looked at each of them. Her eyes blazed fiercely, and Pidge started to hope. The answer was coming.
"Now, the Garrison knows we all got letters from Keith, explaining why he left. Honour and all that crap. And as far as they are concerned," she paused and made sure they were listening, "that is all we got. They do not need to know about these."
Four envelopes sat in her lap; four envelopes in four colours. Red, green, blue, and yellow.
The inquiry had been a farce. From the moment Lance, Pidge, and Hunk stepped into the well-lit, long boardroom where the Garrison Council conducted their business, they all knew that it was a farce, that someone was out to get the Voltron Force. Wade's overenthusiasm in crucifying the giant robot during the first round of questioning gave them some good guesses as to who was out to get the Force, but sadly, no proof.
Keith and Allura were to attend the inquiry on the second day, and they planned to make as good of a showing as they possibly could. The entire team spent the evening looking over the tapes of the inquiry– illegally obtained, since the Garrison was not releasing tapes, let alone tapes of the entire proceedings, to be viewed at anyone's leisure. Hunk, however, had rigged their TV to tape the aired proceedings– trying to figure out what exactly was going on, who was in charge of the plan to disband Voltron. Lance even managed to keep his temper in check, though he swore he would be picking a fight the next day. Keith didn't bother to forbid him; Allura thought he would not be fighting alone, should the issue rise.
She and Keith went to the inquiry alone; Coran was allowed to be in the audience, as the delegate from Arus, but he was a part of the silent audience. The real audience, the one that mattered, sat before them, unfriendly and closed. But all the same, it was an audience that, for a brief moment, their entrance cowed as it realized what exactly it was doing. The call announcing the Crown-Princess Ruler of Arus, Allura e Alteana, Commander-in-Chief of the Arusian Forces, Pilot of the Blue Lion and Lieutenant-Commander Keith Kogane, Commander of the Voltron Force, Pilot of the Black Lion, Joint-Commander of the Arusian Forces, and Garrison Liaison to Arus had caused a tense silence to fall over the room. Both of them wore modified dress uniforms, Keith's a combination of the black uniform of Arus and the red of a command Garrison uniform and Allura's the royal dress of Arus muted by the austere flight uniform of the Blue Lion. Both wore ornamental swords at their sides, necessary accompaniments to the full uniforms and permitted only due to their unsharpened nature. Sharpened or not, Keith could still create havoc with it, and he and Lance had spent the past few days teaching her to do so as well. Silence greeted their entrance, silence that kept her chin raised high as she looked at the men and women on the Council bench straight in the eye.
She was the ruler of Arus, a pilot of Voltron, a defender of her people. The decorated men and women sitting in judgment would not break her, would not prevent her from protecting her home. The focused calm from Keith bolstered her resolve, and her fierce commitment smothered any nagging doubts he had as he faced his commanding officers with a steady gaze. He was a soldier of the Garrison, but he was also the commander of Voltron, sworn by his oath to the Garrison and to the princess to protect Arus.
The questions had been painful. The Councilors kept coming back to the same points; how could this have happened? Did you program the Lions? What do you mean you have no idea how this happened; don't you understand how your ships work? Yet within the repeats themes, there was another, more insidious line of questions. Finally, Keith confronted that line of inquiry, bringing it into the open and exposing it.
"Marshal Wade," he answered darkly, his eyes fierce pinpoints of extreme focus, "With all due respect sir, if you want to question my loyalty to the Garrison, please do so directly. Otherwise, I am sure the Council's valuable time would be better spent on questions relevant to the Force's operation and the malfunction of the Lions on 3 May."
Lance was in the bar when this happened and, as the proceedings were being broadcast live within Garrison headquarters, cheered with the majority of the bar's patrons. A number of them expressed a wish to "buy the man a drink!" and his second in command happily noted those generous patrons.
Wade, however, was not impressed. "Then please," he demanded, "Explain your uniform, which does not fall within Garrison rankings."
Keith answered slowly and clearly, his eyes never leaving the marshal's face. "The uniform is within Garrison parameters, sir. Further, upon the need for a dress uniform having been expressed, it was decided that a uniform noting the Force's ties to both the Garrison and Arus would be more fitting, especially considering the royal status of the pilot of the Blue Lion. Consultation with Colonel Hawkins, who formed the original Voltron Force, confirmed our original opinion concerning the validity of combining the uniforms of the Garrison and the Arusian forces."
"So you report directly to Colonel Hawkins, or you did when in training. But no one else?"
"As the Colonel himself reported. We report to Garrison Council directly; we have no superior officer. The Voltron Force is, and has been since its inception when myself, Sergeant McClain, former Sergeant Holgersson, and Tech Sergeants Stoker and Garret were recruited as cadets, outside of regular Garrison command structures. It was to compensate for the lack of easy communication between Arus and Earth when we were deployed, and to maintain a suitable distance between the Garrison and the Voltron Force when dealings with the Drules were concerned." The unspoken reasons hung on the air; the Garrison had not wanted to be closely connected with the Voltron Force. Ties with the Drules were too tenuous, too fragile to risk being shattered by direct involvement with a special force sent to save a planet claimed by a minor Drule kingdom. Far better, it had been deemed, that this special force only have the minimal required contact with the Garrison and no place within regular Garrion command structures for the Drules have an excuse to break the peace.
"But the Drules are defeated," Wade interjected. Allura focused on looking at Wade directly, piercing him with her eyes rather than rolling them at him.
"I have not been given any orders as to the Voltron Force's new position within Garrison," Keith replied, restraining the urge to throttle the officer. Hunk and Pidge, watching from the engineering garage could read their commander's frustration, though his interrogators could not. "As soon as I receive them, I will happily send all of my reports directly to my new superior. As to standard reporting procedure within the Voltron Force," he continued, a veiled asI was about to say in his tone, "I report to Garrison on a regular interval of one Arusian month, a period correlating to approximately three and a half Earth weeks. Any pressing reports are delivered as necessary, all of which follows standard operating procedure."
More cheers in the bar followed that riposte; no one apparently liked Wade, though Lance noted a few silent figures lurking in the corners. Probably taking names, he frowned as he swallowed some more whisky.
The questions then focused more on things the princess could answer, and she gave as good as Keith had. Particularly when the Council asked her about Voltron's origins and the technology that went into its creation.
"The Lions and the composite robot known as Voltron," she answered calmly, "Are the product of Arusian science and elemental mysticism. On Arus, it is not uncommon for the two to be combined, for we found that the combination of the two produced stronger machines that worked with the planet instead of destroying it. The technology was fairly common, though the more advanced the specific technology was, the rarer. The Lions and Voltron are, to the best of my knowledge, unique. As to the specifics behind their creation," she paused, "I'm afraid that the data has all been irrevocably lost." The shifting on the Council bench belayed the Councilors' nervousness at this 'unknown' science, and Allura decided against mentioning the robot mice who had served as key guardians and now as ship mechanics. Wade would probably want to take them apart too, as a precaution against any further damage. But what damage could the mice do? They weren't Haggar's terrible creations; they did not even have laser eyes.
"What do you mean, lost?" Wade's flunky, Colonel Dnesiuk, demanded. Allura looked down on him (which should have been physically impossible, considering the Council was sitting on a raised dais) and gave him a piercing look.
"My planet was razed Colonel. That means the Drules did their best to make sure nothing was left."
The bar went silent, and Lance waited to see what would happen. He wouldn't mind a fight breaking out now, but he had promised Keith that he would try and restrain himself. Then a man stood and held his glass up to the view screen.
"I'd like to buy her a drink."
Lance let out a string of expletives. "I am going to kill him," he hissed as he read his letter. "This is worse than the honour shit that he went on about in the other one. Though," he paused, "there's still a lot of that crap in here."
Hunk chuckled weakly. "Why's this worse? It's the honest reason, and really, the only good one. Wade'll actually believe us now."
"Yeah, that's why. Bastard's right." Lance scowled at the paper, and Allura smiled.
"Oh good," Pidge breathed. "He didn't try to go far." He sank into the couch, all the tension fleeing from his body as the reassurance that the ship was not going to blow up sank in. Allura and Lance looked at him, expecting a clarification, and Hunk answered for the little engineer again.
"Keith told me the same thing, looks like. He said he's going to hole up somewhere nearby, where the Garrison won't think of looking, to finish the ship. He's going to contact us later, and we'll pass along the codes for putting the jump systems online, and Pidge's authorization codes."
"And the exploding?" Allura asked delicately.
"It's my security system," Pidge admitted. "Soon as you take anything outside of, well, basically if you take something out of Earth's Solar System, or the equivalent distance, without my authorization codes, the ship blows up." He frowned. "All of which Keith knew. I mean, he was there when Lance suggested the whole idea."
"Hey! I did not suggest you try and blow up our heroically selfless leader," Lance interjected. Hunk chuckled, "No, but you did say that things exploding when someone took them would be a great idea." Lance tried glaring at him, but gave up and grinned, his temper slowly rising.
"Things exploding are great."
"But he says here he's holed up within the safe distance, and he's waiting for the authorization code," Pidge finished, shooting them both an annoyed look.
"Weapons?" Hunk shrugged at the princess's second question.
"Those never got put on; the system's there, but no actual weapons. We would've needed Garrison permission to put them on the ship, so we never bothered. He's got the names and contact codes for a couple of traders though, and they can fix him up." Allura nodded, relaxing a little. Hunk smiled at her, "Don't worry, Allura. The ship is safe, no matter what the little guy might've said." She nodded, and some of the worry left her eyes. Hunk didn't blame her; he was nervous too. They hadn't expected to be moving forward so soon. Now, though, the plan was in motion, and they would have to adapt to the new schedule.
"Fuck." They all looked at Lance, whose face had set into a scowl again. He kicked the side of the couch and shoved the letter in his pocket before elaborating. "Now I have to suck up to Wade."
Hunk laughed. He couldn't help it; the disgust on Lance's face was too good to pass up. Allura smiled as well, and it hovered just on the line between sympathetic and mocking.
"You won't have any trouble convincing him that you want nothing to do with the Voltron Force now," she offered. "I think the steady stream of swearing earlier did that several times over." Pidge laughed at Lance's sour expression; the pillow Lance threw at him only muffled the sound.
"We've got a reason to not go back now too," Hunk mused. Allura looked up at him.
"What do you mean?"
"Well," Hunk paused as he gathered his thoughts. Pidge and Lance watched him as well, waiting. "See, Pidge's got a reputation from when we were cadets for always finishing his projects, even if it meant staying up for days or working straight through school breaks. And all our old instructors know that I got roped into finishing those projects more times than I can count. So if Pidge says he doesn't want to leave until he gets his hands back on that ship," he shrugged. "No one will think it that odd."
"Nor if you stay," the princess added. "You think they'll remember this, from when you were cadets?"
"Keith did, and he was in different classes than us," Hunk answered and shrugged again. "But yeah, I think they will. I bet Wade's read our files so many times, too, that he's got them memorized. And Pidge caused a couple of incidents-"
"So that'll be in there," Hunk finished, grinning. "And Lance can go on about how all that's waiting for him on Arus now is paperwork." He ducked the pillow that Lance threw at him.
"That's a good idea," Allura looked thoughtful. "I don't suppose there are any incidents between you and Keith in those files Lance, are there?" Lance shook his head.
"I think Keith was the one person I didn't pick a fight with. Even Sven got a trashcan dumped on his head once. Nah, we fought a couple times, but nothing serious; more like him telling me not to be an idiot."
"You?" Pidge asked sweetly and promptly was hit on the back of his head for his pains. "Ow!"
Lance grinned. "Yeah, me. But he pulled me out of a ton of scrapes, and that's in the file." He sounded so positive about it, that Hunk felt he had to ask. So he did.
"Because," Lance grinned even wider, "I broke into the administrative office on a dare final year, right before we got called up for 'special assignment duty.'" He laughed. "I was shitting bricks when Hawkins sent out the call to report; I thought I was getting it for breaking into the office. But when I was there, I had time to read Keith's and Sven's too, but theirs weren't nearly as detailed. So yeah, Keith's in my file for saving my ass, and Sven is too, though not as much."
He couldn't help it, he just had to laugh. Lance looked so smug about that break-in. For a moment, things were normal again. Even the princess broke into a smile, as the cloud that had settled on her since this morning parted a bit.
"What does Keith's file say?" Pidge asked, and the clouds returned. Back to business.
"Some crap about him being prime leader material, and all that." Bitterness crept back into Lance's voice.
"At least we picked the least likely person, by their records, to go rogue," Allura sighed. "Wade won't believe anything that's not written down. We got one thing right."
"Bastard only believes things written down on official Garrison letterhead," Lance corrected. "He didn't buy my note explaining that I had caught an common, but highly contagious, disease and would need to remain secluded for a week to recover." They all looked at him, and he sighed, turning his eyes up to the ceiling. "I tried to pass off pink eye; Sven told me it wouldn't work, but it would have, if Keith had just gotten me the letterhead, like I'd asked him to."
"Why did you want a week off?"
"You know…" Lance stopped and thought. "I don't remember. Just that Wade failed me in retaliation."
Hunk shook his head. How had Lance even gotten to his second year, let alone graduate? The question must have been on his face- Pidge said he was more transparent than glass sometimes- because Lance shrugged and answered it.
"Keith pulled me through, kicking and screaming. When I flew off the handle, he always made sure I got back- wait," he stopped and looked pensive. "What if, instead of complaining about what a prick he was when we met, I said he betrayed me? Acted as if I thought he was only around to make sure I succeeded? Think Wade would buy it?"
"You mean you don't think that?" Pidge only barely dodged Lance's punch; Hunk thought he accomplished that move more because he had started moving as soon as he started speaking, not because he was quick enough to avoid the punch Lance threw at him.
"I think it will work," Allura said quickly, giving them her best behave now or else glare. He decided not to tell her how much it looked like Keith's shut the hell up you two glare; from the tightness in Lance's face, he had noticed it too and decided to let it go unspoken. "Wade's going to be tip-toing around us though, to see who he can reel in. You'll have to be careful Lance."
"Princess, I am nothing if not careful." This time, the pillow hit Lance's face.
Keith pulled his coat around him tightly, trying to ignore the bitter cold. He was tired and depressed, angry at what he had been forced to do, at what he had just made his team go through.
With any luck, he thought sadly, Wade will believe this.
He looked at the ship he was currently leaning against. Pidge and Hunk had done an amazing job on it; the build was sleek and compact, and the ship's systems were flawless. Well, excepting the jump system, which was not online. But that was why he was here, waiting to see if the gamble would pay off while he tried to figure out Pidge's schematics. Hopefully he would not freeze before that happened; Sven had told him that Greenland was cold, but it had not registered then that if his northern friend thought the weather was cold, then it would be cold.
On the positive side, though, the Garrison would never think of looking for him here, hidden amongst the frozen wastes of Greenland's northwestern coast.
A beeping came from inside the cockpit, and he escaped the cold for the slightly-less cold interior of the ship. A series of codes ran across the console screen, and Chitter hopped back and forth, quickly inputting them into the ship's system. As soon as the codes ended, though, something else came up.
You fucking idiot. What the HELL were you thinking?
Keith grinned and took over the keyboard from the mouse.
'That you'd fly off the handle,' he typed back. 'Was I right?'
I hate you so much right now.
'You'll get over it, I'm sure.'
Our interim fearless leader said I should focus on something else. So I'm deciding how I'm going to rearrange your face.
'You have to find me first,' Keith grinned at Lance's threat.
Don't think I won't.
Alright, you two, knock it off. We've only got a set amount of time.
'Aye-aye, fearless leader,' Keith answered, guessing that the princess had elbowed Lance out of the way. 'Codes are in, so I'll be out soon'
Situation is a go here, came the reply; Pidge this time, he was sure. Big-Grey's taken the bait, and Ipcress has a new job.
Keith grinned at Lance's choice of a name. Still want to be a spy, hey Lance? he thought to himself as he typed out his reply.
'Maybe his criminal tendencies can be of use.'
You actually paid attention? Iklqejfckm
Keith stared at the screen, confused for a moment, and then burst out laughing.
'Did Ipcress just get relocated?'
No time left, so yeah. Codes'll get you anywhere you need to; start with getting some firepower on board. Then read the mouse files. Those had the information Coran had been gathering, if their name was anything to go by.
Good luck, Star Gate. Be in touch. And the screen went blank. Keith stared at it sadly. All told, the entire conversation had been less than a minute. It wasn't long enough, and there was no time to apologize, again.
"Well, time to get out of here then," he finally said, looking at the waiting Chitter. "Let's get somewhere warmer." Squeaking an affirmative, the mouse punched in the final codes, and the navigation screen came up, online. Keith plotted a course, one that would take him to the outer parts of the Solar System, where along Pluto's irregular orbit lay a series of floating way-stations. Nominally, they were under Garrison control. In reality, well… According to Lance, rule of law consisted in how much money one had and how fast his or her fist was.
"Hope you're right about this, Lance," Keith muttered as the ship slid out, aiming to follow a large convoy out of Earth's atmosphere, "Your friends better be as helpful as you said they'd be."
"Why Star Gate, Hunk?" Pidge asked as he entered in the last of the coding to establish a secure link with Keith's ship.
The big man shrugged. "Oh, I don't know; it kind of came to me when the princess asked Wade at that council meeting earlier if he considered Keith a sufficient scapegoat or if he wanted the whole team. Scapegoat, S-G, Star Gate. It just seemed to fit."
"Well," Pidge said softly, "Let's hope this scapegoat makes it back."