Fandom: Voltron: Legendary Defender
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Characters: Pidge (Voltron), Hunk (Voltron), Keith (Voltron), Lance (Voltron), Allura (Voltron), Coran (Voltron)
Additional Tags: Angst, Thriller
When Hunk and the other paladins respond to a distress call from a remote planet, they find themselves in a race to find four missing cadets. However, sometimes some missions hit just a little too close to home.
It all started with a distress beacon.
The Castle let loose a long, strangled tone and then fell silent. The silence stretched on just long enough for its inhabitants to drift back towards sleep.
It returned just long enough for the alert system to activate once again. And again, silence.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me.” Hunk groaned after that second alert, half awake, pulling his pillow over his head.
Just a few hours ago, they’d liberated another planet from the Galra. It’d been a tough battle, but nothing they couldn’t handle. This time, the Galra had tried disrupting their systems. It was desperate and it actually worked, but Pidge, Coran, and Allura had a workaround pretty quickly.
It seemed as though they had all only just calmed down enough to sleep. The Castle-ship’s systems had been rebooted, flushed, and repaired. He had been about falling asleep on his feet when he finally gave up and went to bed. No one had protested, so Hunk assumed all was well. He’d finish his part of the repairs in the morning.
The Castle’s communication system didn’t usually click or crackle like those on Earth, but it was a subtle muffling of sound that would sometimes telegraph an alert. It was doing that now. Hunk held his breath and waited.
Nothing happened; normal sounds resumed. Hunk relaxed, taking a deep breath and letting it out again. He rolled to face the wall and felt himself drift towards sleep.
No sooner than he did that, then the alert reactivated, this time lasting for several moments before cutting off as abruptly as it had the previous times.
Hunk groaned again. It had to be a glitch in the system. Reboots or whatever aside, there apparently was something still messed up. He supposed it was like bubbles in a fluid system: it would take a while for them to work themselves out.
He was almost back to sleep again when another strangled tone woke him back up. His body hated even the thought of leaving his bed; and, if he got up, his stomach would soon demand food. Plus, what if it was someone like Shay and her family?
Hunk tossed back his blanket and rolled out of bed with yet another groan. Worst case Pidge or Coran would announce it was a glitch. He’d go get a midnight snack to make his stomach shut up and go back to bed. Worse worst case, it wouldn’t be a glitch, he’d grab a quick breakfast and he’d be on his way to his lion. Worst-worst case, he’d be on his way to his lion without breakfast.
He wasn’t surprised to find Coran and Pidge already on the bridge. They were staring at a point on the map indicated by a faded red distress beacon. The circle covered almost an entire system, but the indicator seemed to be between planets.
“Scanners don’t show anything at those coordinates,” Coran was saying. He typed a few commands into his control panel, the map zoomed out and back in. No ships, no asteroids, nothing but open space. “Though the Aclori star system is a relatively young system, so it could be interference. Pidge, are you getting anything?”
Pidge was known for sleeping wherever she had been working. She simply nodded off and resumed her work when she woke up. Lance often joked that Green must have told her to move in for all the times she slept with her lion. Tonight, that must have been in her seat on the bridge. She’d been sitting there when he went to bed, sifting through endless lines of error codes to determine if any of the systems needed additional work.
At the moment, she had up each coordinate the beacon had seemed to originate. Hunk leaned over her shoulder to read. Granted, this was more Pidge’s thing than his, but those coordinates looked pretty useless. She pushed her glasses up her nose, “Unless the beacon lasts longer, we won’t be able to pinpoint an exact location.”
The doors sighed open. Hunk glanced up as Keith trudged in, barefoot, more asleep than awake. He sank into his seat and rested his head on a lightly closed hand. Keith had been out searching for Shiro again, just like he’d done every night since that last fight against Zarkon. Hunk knew the other paladin was only here to make sure that distress beacon wasn’t actually Shiro.
“Coran, are you sure this isn’t just another glitch?” Pidge asked.
Coran twirled his mustache thoughtfully and pulled up a screen on his panel, “System status shows no errors in the communications system; the transceiver is clear; navigation clear…”
“Unless it’s not on our end.” Hunk blurted out. He shrugged as they looked at him, “I mean, if they crashed… maybe it screwed up their beacon? Maybe they’re trying to fix it? I dunno…”
Pidge seemed to consider that a moment, as she always did, “That would explain why it’s doing that.”
“Though there isn’t much we can do in the meantime, unfortunately.” Coran yawned, “I think I’m going to retire or I won’t be much use later.”
“I’ll stay up,” Pidge offered, looking up with her usual half smile. “You guys go back to bed.”
“I’ll stay up too, keep Pidge company.” His stomach rumbled as though reminding him, “Just gotta get something to eat first.”
And with that, it was decided. Leaving the bridge in Pidge’s capable hands, they began making their way back to the castle-ship’s living area.
Keith was asleep on his feet, not that he was the most talkative guy under normal circumstances. Eyes half closed, his gaze vacant, only moving because he was determined to get to his bed. Ever since Shiro vanished, he was either raging or silent. Hunk wasn’t even sure if Keith actually slept anymore and didn’t just eventually faint from exhaustion.
Coran shot him concerned look and Hunk shrugged in response. Keith had always been temperamental, but his temper had a hair-trigger these days. The days where Hunk had been able to get him laughing were long gone.
They had no idea what happened to Shiro. All they had were theories and speculation based on what they knew about the Black Lion. And that wasn’t much. The lion itself was still lifelessly slumped in its bay, apparently completely without power.
There wasn’t much they could do.
As he arrived in the galley, the alarm gave another strangled tone. Hunk hoped whoever was on the other end was okay. Each planet they helped seemed to be in worse shape than the last.
“Hunk!” Pidge yelped over the intercom, “I might have something!”
Hunk whimpered, having not even gotten a bowl yet much less a chance to fill it. By the time he got back to the bridge, the distress beacon was going off again, this time indicating a section of the Aclori star system. It could be originating from one of two planets.
Pidge tapped a few buttons on her panel to open a hailing frequency and took a breath. Instead, a loud, shrill screech of feedback filled the bridge. Static crackled and the tone fluctuated between shrill and a deep, bass rumble.
Another shriek, static, and then a quavering, distorted voice, “…Zulu-Six-Two-Echo...”
Pidge hurriedly pressed another set of buttons, “Attention unidentified craft: This is the Castle of Lions, are you in need of assistance? Over.”
The distorted signal screeched once again, painfully shrill. Distortion mangled whatever the other person was saying, clearing only long enough for a single word to slip between the bands of static: “Crash.”
“Unidentified craft, can you repeat? We’re getting a lot of distortion. Over.”
The person on the other end took an audibly deep breath that the distortion made into an oscillating warble, “This is Zora Saito aboard the Kestellian Royal Academy of Science transport ship, Archer Zulu-Six-Two-Echo. We were,” the rest of the person’s words were drowned out by a crackle of static and another wail of feedback. It cleared, just enough for, “crash landed…” to be plainly heard.
“Archer, repeat? Hello?” Pidge exclaimed. The person on the other end seemed to be repeating, but the distortion was only getting worse. Only brief syllables were making it through.
More feedback, more static. Between waves, they could hear that the person on the other end, Zora, was nearing panic.
“Hey, can you repeat? Are there any injuries?” Hunk echoed, not exactly calm anymore himself.
A staticky trill followed by a distorted, “casualties.”
“Archer, can you send us your location? Over.” Pidge said slowly, carefully emphasizing each word as she spoke.
Zora said something that at least sounded like they received the message, it ended with the right sound, at any rate. What else they might have said, he couldn’t be sure.
Hunk held his breath as the ship registered an incoming packet. Fifteen percent; thirty; sixty; and then it hung at eighty-one percent. The Altean symbol for an error flashed on the screen. He glanced up at the main viewport, “We got it, but it was corrupted. Try again?”
“Copy,” Zora said again, momentarily clear. Clear enough, they could hear them faintly whispering “come on” over and over. And then a whimper, “No, no, no-no. No…”
“Stay calm and try again,” Pidge said evenly.
“Something keeps,” Zora said before static drowned out their next words. It cleared just long enough for a sentence to finish with, “a short somewhere.”
“I find com systems respond well to corporal punishment,” Hunk chuckled weakly at his own joke. He half expected Pidge to turn around to glare at him, but she was focused on her own monitor.
Zora must have heard it. There was a loud bang of metal on metal and the static momentarily cleared.
“Transmitting…” The signal was so clear, they could hear the tremble in Zora’s voice. The pops, crackles, and metallic groans from a dying ship, a distant bark and hiss of a fire suppressor, and much closer someone was moaning weakly. “Going to lose reserve power soon…”
Suddenly cold, his mouth dry, Hunk realized this was a real crash. A real ship; with real people. The person on the mic, Zora, sounded young. His age, maybe younger. Sounded… not unlike his friends. Not unlike his classmates at the Garrison. A shiver of icy electricity ran up his spine even as the incoming packet registered, downloaded, and the coordinates automatically loaded into the navigation system.
“Planet Golf-Eight-Eight-One-Sierra of the Aclori system. Is this correct? Over.” Pidge’s finger hovered over the intercom button.
Zora’s “affirmative” popped and warbled amidst the staticky squeal.
Hunk tapped the matching button on his own console, “Allura, Coran – we have coordinates to that distress call! Can someone Altean get up here to move the ship?”
“We’re coming to assist you, do you copy?” There was a reason Pidge was a com-spec and it was showing. How was she keeping her voice so even?
Feedback and then the tone dipped low, barely audible. They could briefly hear Zora’s voice but not what they said.
“It’ll be okay, Zora,” Pidge said quickly. Hunk hoped his voice had been as calm and even as Pidge’s as she added, “Sit tight, we’re coming.”
The distress beacon flickered out.
Within moments of launching from the castle, Hunk decided the Aclori system was one of those freakishly scary systems.
Several planets were barely formed into something that could be considered a planet. They were really just hot, dense balls of molten rock that hadn’t cooled yet. Another planet looked more like a random metallic storm that just happened to form into a neat ball. Another was a cool donut shape. It even looked like it had an awesome mirror glaze, except the Yellow Lion’s sensors warned him those pretty colors suggested it had a highly toxic atmosphere.
And finally, planet G881S. Previous surveys had found it to be just a plain, hot, lifeless, round rock of a planet.
Hunk didn’t know much about how surveys were conducted out in space, but whoever did it either didn’t enter the designation code correctly or they were hiding something.
For a plain, lifeless rock, it was pretty green. As they descended into the atmosphere, it was clearly vegetation. In fact, all along the coasts and deep into the interior was just thick, lush jungle. An entire subcontinent was solid green, save for one jagged, yellow tooth of a mountain sticking above the treetops.
“Uh... Pidge, are you sure we’re in the right place?” Lance sounded as confused as he felt, “Because this definitely isn’t a desert planet.”
“These are the coordinates Zora sent,” Pidge stated a little defensively as the Green Lion swooped low and then paused. “The crash site should be a bit west.”
Within moments, they found themselves over a glaringly white hardpan. Thick, white deposits as far as the eye could see, all glittering in the sun. The Yellow Lion’s sensors informed him it was blisteringly hot too.
Hunk looked up just in time to see a brown furrow marring the glittering surface. He pulled his lion around first in one direction and then the other. There was jagged rock not far below the surface. It would have been like landing the ship on a washboard.
“Aw, man.” Hunk whispered, almost sick from even imagining the landing. Bits and pieces of ship littered the furrow. Thermal tiles, metal scraps, the occasional cable.
“What… happened here?” Keith breathed.
They fell silent as they drifted down the scar in their lions. The ship had bounced a few times. A wing here; a sizable chunk of fuselage there.
And then, there was Archer Z62-E. Or what remained of it. It resembled more a dead animal, picked clean by scavengers. Tattered wires and scraps of insulation swayed in the scant breeze. The rocks were littered with papers, supplies, and equipment. The entire undercarriage was blackened and charred, the panels melted together from impact and fire.
There was no sign of anyone.
“Zora, are you there?” Pidge broadcast from her lion.
Hunk tapped a few buttons to check for lifeforms. The scan started and quickly came up negative. He said in dismay, “Guys, I’m not showing any signs of life.”
“They left a door open. Let’s set down and check it out.” Lance’s voice wasn’t usually that soft.
The lions stirred up a cloud of white mineral dust as they set down. Visibility dropped to near nothing.
“Please-oh-please, let this just be salt,” Hunk muttered to himself as he prepared to step out. However, as soon as he stepped out into the hot air, his suit informed him the air contained superfine particles of various chemical compounds including alkanes and nitrate salts. They might as well be in a field of xanthorium. “Whoa, yeah – I don’t think we want to be breathing this stuff.”
“Well, this is fun,” Lance remarked sarcastically.
“Keep your guard up,” Keith replied. “I’m going to scout along the perimeter.”
“Or maybe we should stick together,” Pidge said, tearing her gaze from the projected interface from her gauntlet to glare sidelong at him.
“I totally agree.” Hunk said quickly. As if she needed to say it: This was super creepy. “Is it just me, or are you guys getting serious Alien vibes here?”
Keith, as usual, ignored them and walked away.
“I bet twenty-five cents and some pocket lint he turned his radio off again.” Lance joked. It probably wasn’t true, he hadn’t turned his radio off since that one time, but there was always the chance.
“Okay.” Pidge said firmly after a notable sigh, “If their training was anything like ours, they should know to stay inside the ship and wait for help.”
He looked up the ship’s ramp and into the black void that waited for them.
Inside. In the dark. Where anything could be waiting for them. Another icy shiver ran up his back. Pidge was about to say they needed to go inside a ship with no power, maybe dead bodies…
It was on the tip of his tongue to quickly volunteer to check out the exterior of the ship. The memory of Zora’s panic-stricken voice over the com stopped him. Hunk hadn’t been able to tell much about Zora from the brief exchange over the com, but all he could picture was someone like Shay.
Hunk gulped and followed them inside.
After a short hallway, they came into what was probably the passenger area. Neat rows of comfortable, upholstered seats. They went row by row, looking for anything that might give them an idea of what happened.
Motes of dust were all that greeted the lights from their gauntlets.
“I’ve got a duffle bag here,” Lance said from the other side of the room. He lifted the bag onto a seat and over the mic, Hunk could hear the zipper.
He took a deep breath, held it a moment, and let it back out. He began making his way down the next row.
Something squished under his boot. Soft. Squishy. Slippery. Hunk leaped back, certain it was something he didn’t want to see! A body. Or a hand. Or a piece of someone! He yelped, “I knew this was a bad idea!”
A donut. At least it had started out life that way; before he stepped on it. With frosting, sprinkles, and some kind of fruity, purple filling.
“Ugh, Hunk…” Lance groaned, “Give me a heart attack, why don’t you?”
“My bad,” Hunk said with a relieved laugh. An upside-down pink box was under one of the seats. Donuts were scattered across the floor. He desperately wished he could try them. Alas, his helmet wasn’t going to let him open it to find out. He paused to honor the ruined pastries with a moment of silence.
A half-eaten donut stuck to a napkin was further down the row. A bottle of some kind of drink was in a cup holder a few seats beyond that. The arms were flipped up, as though whoever sat there had taken up a bunch of seats.
Another duffle bag, exactly like the one Lance found, rested on a seat. Clothes had been removed from it, strewn about. Tee-shirts with some kind of alien writing, some bearing unfamiliar cartoon characters. Some had been torn up.
“I found another,” Pidge said from across the room. “Comic books and some kind of chips too.”
“I think whoever was in here was our age,” Lance said grimly. He was holding something that looked like it might be a photo. They made their way back to the center aisle to take a look.
Aside from the fact they were all aliens, it might have been a photo of four cadets from Earth. The uniforms were gray, white, and blue rather than orange, but they were still school uniforms. One of the kids, a redheaded guy, might have passed for human. Another, a tanned girl with dark purple-blue hair and almost Asian features might have passed if no one looked too closely. The final two were either Galra or some other blue- or purple-skinned race; one with pale hair, the other with dark hair and glasses. All smiling, proud, and happy.
“Guys,” Keith said over the mic. There was a tone to his voice they hadn’t heard before. Unexpectedly vulnerable, somber, maybe even scared. “I think you should see this.”
The feed from Keith’s helmet appeared. He was outside some distance from the crash, up a steep embankment, and looking back at the ship. He panned back around. Three long mounds of rocks came into view.
Hunk felt his stomach fall and his heart rose into his throat.
They were looking at makeshift graves.