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the law of gravity

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When something crashes in the desert in Arizona, and four days later something else off the coast of Florida, Colleen Holt pays little attention. Her son is approaching two years old and determined to test gravity at every opportunity.

"Our little scientist," Sam often coos.

Sam, of course, does pay attention to the crashes, and talks about them; he's been intrigued by the possibility of alien life as long as she's known him. He cares, so she listens--certainly enough to contribute to the conversation.

Not enough for any details to linger years later when she needs them, though.

There's something that bothers her about the Kerberos mission long before it launches. Nothing she can put her finger on, exactly--maybe she could if she'd tried. But she doesn't want to try. She doesn't want to pry her husband and son away from their life's work.

She doesn't want to find something else to worry about when there's enough that can go wrong already.

The announcement that the mission is lost--which comes through the TV long before it comes over the phone--is not as much of a shock as it should be. It is a shock, but it also feels like a culmination of something that had been building unknowingly in her mind, the last piece in a puzzle that was slowly assembling itself in her subconscious.

If she had only said something.

While Colleen skips straight to bargaining, Katie stays in denial, and for months there is only the grief. And anger--both of them slip in and out of anger, depression, a journey through nearly every stage of grief in no particular order.

Acceptance is harder to come by.

But one morning Katie shoves away her half-eaten bowl of cereal and says, "There's something we're missing, there's something wrong." And Colleen's conviction hardens.

"You find out what the Garrison is hiding," she says. "I'll see what else I can find."

Her research into the moons of Pluto is fruitless and there's not much she doesn't already know, but it leads her to looking into unusual astronomical events--which leads her to her husband's extraterrestrial event collection. She's not inclined to blame aliens but she wants to leave no stone unturned.

Then Katie goes undercover, infiltrates the Garrison as a student in one of Matt's old uniforms that Colleen took in for her. She sneaks some equipment in with her, and before the month is over she's picking up signals.

"I don't know what they are or where they're from," she reports. "But they're definitely not from Earth."

Maybe aliens aren't so unlikely after all.

"Record as many as you can," says Colleen. "We might learn something from them."

And they do--but not much. Mostly they hear one word, over and over: Voltron. She searches every source she can think of, Sam's collection included, but finds nothing.

Her first lead, insofar as it's a lead at all, comes instead during a social call.

"I met my teammates today," says Katie. "Hunk Galeai and Lance Espinosa. And yes, those are their real names, apparently."

"Lance Espinosa," Colleen repeats thoughtfully. "That name sounds familiar."

"I definitely haven't met him before. I'd remember. He's too loud to forget."

"Don't be rude, Katie," she says absentmindedly. In her head she's flipping through her mental rolodex of acquaintances, things she's read recently, TV shows where she might've heard a similar name.

Her mind snags on a memory, though--a TV interview, before Katie was even born, about a UFO crash in Florida. Sam was talking over it, relating this and that tidbit that he'd learned that they weren't mentioning. He'd saved an article clipping; she's read it, recently.

"Mom?"

"Hang on, sweetie." She runs to Sam's office; the clipping is there on the top of the desk, right where she'd left it.

Mirana Espinosa, and her son, Lance. She was right.

"Okay," she says into the phone. "Your teammate was supposedly in a spaceship crash off the Florida coast as an infant. His mother claimed he was half-alien."

"Huh." A pause. "Well, he is pretty out there."

"Katie."

"Just saying. Do you think that's important?"

"I don't know," says Colleen, because while interesting, it doesn't seem related to Voltron or Kerberos. "But I'm going to look into it."

And she does. Googling Mirana doesn't get her far; none of the footage or photographs seem to have been digitized, and by the time the technology had improved she was long out of the public eye. Colleen has only the small, grainy photos in the article--one of Mirana, and one of the wreckage--and those are from near twenty years ago.

Looking up Lance, though, is far more lucrative, for all that it turns up only two results: one, a promotional photo from an Arizona flight school website, and two, a paragraph-long article from the local paper of the little town nearest the Garrison. This has a photo too: Lance in cap and gown, arm around another boy, whom the article is actually about--the valedictorian of the local high school's graduating class a year and a half ago.

His brother, Keith Kogane.

This name Colleen definitely knows--and not from any newspaper clippings or TV shows. She knows it from Matt.

"Shiro's other best friend," he’d called him. "Bit of a loner and kind of awkward, but a nice enough guy. Excellent pilot."

This is a connection--a tenuous one, and it doesn't explain Voltron, but it draws a line between Kerberos and aliens and she can't discount that.

She has to sit back, at that thought, and pause. She's not inclined to think a teenager somehow caused a disappearance--not a crash, they know it wasn't a crash--on a dwarf planet billions of miles away. From Katie's description of his antics, Lance seems a normal teenage boy. For all she knows, he may not even be aware of his supposed parentage.

But it seems like too much to be a coincidence.

And come to think of it, now that she's been digging through Sam's collection, "Kogane" is pinging her mental radar. She's made something of a mess of his filing system but she finds the clipping anyway--a printout, actually, from a conspiracy website clearly from the era of GeoCities by its poor formatting and copious use of clipart. She'd not be inclined to trust it, except that it more or less confirms what she already knows: Mirana Espinosa, Lance's mother, married Mark Kogane, Keith's father.

More intriguingly, the "article" speculates that Mark had some connection to the UFO crash in Arizona a mere four days before the one in Florida--that they got together because their children are not of this world.

It also speculates that Lance and Keith are emissaries of an ancient alien race intent on enslaving the earth via brainwashing, starting with their human "parents," but she's definitely not inclined to trust that.

She still doesn't know if any of this is worth her time, but at least it gives her a direction to search--she needs to look up that Arizona crash, and Katie needs to have a chat with Keith.

"Lance is related to Keith? " Katie asks incredulously when Colleen calls to pass on what she's learned. "I mean, he's mentioned he has a brother, but based on what I've heard about Keith, they're nothing alike."

"Their parents met after they were born."

"That explains it."

"Can you talk to him?"

"No, he got kicked out a while ago."

"...Why?"

"Discipline problems? I dunno, the rumors were already dying down when I got here. I only listened at all 'cause I thought it might be the same Keith Matt knew. Which I guess it is."

Colleen sighs. That doesn't tell her much at all.

"Well," she says, "see if you can't get Lance to talk about his family. It's likely a coincidence, but at the moment, it's all we have."

"Roger that," says Katie. "Love you."

"Love you, too."

When Colleen hangs up, she heads straight back to the office.

There's not much information on the Arizona crash, possibly less so than the Florida one; even so, what there is is intriguing. A local scientist had gotten his hands on a sample of metal--from what, he never saw, though other witnesses reported a ship of some sort--but had been unable to identify it as anything found on Earth before it was seized by the government. An anonymous worker on the cleanup crew claimed to have seen a glimpse of purple fur on the remains that were carted away by men in hazmat suits.

There are coordinates written in the margins in Sam's familiar scrawl.

She plugs them into Sam's GPS, since it's there on the desk still; the location is maybe an hour into the desert from the nearest town, twice that from home. She could drive out there and look at the site herself but it's doubtful there's anything left.

She might as well, anyway, tomorrow.

As far as she can tell from the article, the only provable connection between the crash and Mark Kogane is proximity. She rather doubts Keith--who, in the photo she's seen of him, looks perfectly human--is descended from anything with purple fur, or that there was really any purple fur at all, for that matter.

More than likely, she's only wasting her time.

Colleen wakes up to a voicemail from Katie.

"Turning on GPS tracking on my phone, don't have much time to talk," she starts. "Something came down last night--a ship. I'll send pictures when I can. Shiro was in it but I haven't seen Dad or Matt. Lance, Keith, and Hunk are here--I'll call you tomorrow."

With this, maybe, will come answers.

Colleen wraps her toast in a napkin and eats it in the car. The GPS tracker is stationary, for the moment.

It's moving, though, by the time she reaches the little town outside the Garrison; by the time she gets halfway out into the desert, the signal is gone. She takes a moment to check her phone: she has a text, of dark, grainy pictures of a ship. "Aliens confirmed" is the only caption. Katie hasn't called. She doesn't pick up, either--not any of the five times Colleen tries.

So she keeps driving, faster than she should, to where the signal had been all night. Maybe there will be answers there even if Katie isn't; maybe she can find out where Katie has gone.

She is not going to lose the only family she has left.

Colleen finds, at the coordinates, a shack, and footprints in the sand. The door is locked and no one answers when she knocks.

She tries to call Katie again. Still no response. She texts, "Where are you?" but it isn't even received.

She gets Sam's equipment from the trunk, sets it up in front of the shack to search for signals, anomalies, anything. She's barely finished when a battered Jeep pulls up and a man and a woman step out.

She does not quite recognize either, but she has her suspicions.

They walk up to the porch, watching her, but a sound interrupts before anyone can speak--there's something in the sky. Huge and blue and lion-shaped, unlike anything from Earth, and shooting through the sky fast enough to leave the atmosphere with ease.

Colleen gets a text, her previous finally received: "In a blue lion, I guess? I'm going to find them, Mom." That's all.

She's up there, then. She's leaving, too.

"Come home safe," Colleen texts back.

"I will," comes the response, and then the lion is turning up, off planet, into space. When Colleen turns her attention back to Earth, the woman from the Jeep is sitting shakily into the rocking chair on the porch.

"That ship. That lion... It--it belonged to Alfor," she says.

Intriguing. Colleen lifts her phone to the two, still open to Katie's texts.

"Does this look familiar, too?" she asks.

The woman only looks at the photo blankly; the man, however, recoils slightly.

"Yes," he says hoarsely. "It looks just like Rai's."

Rai--someone who had an alien ship. Who this man knew. And Alfor, who had another alien ship, who this woman knew.

That one conspiracy website is starting to sound just a little less insane.

"Just who are you?" Colleen asks. She has to confirm this--she can't afford to speculate wildly now.

"Mark Kogane," says the man.

"Mirana Espinosa," says the woman.

Yes. Of course it's them.

They have a lot to discuss.

"Nice to meet you, Mark, Mirana," she says, stepping up to the porch and holding out her hand to shake. "I'm Colleen Holt."

Mark nods, like he suspected who she was as much as she did him. Maybe he did. Mirana stands to shake her hand, and clasps it in both of hers.

"I'm so sorry about your family," she says, and from her it sounds so much deeper than the empty platitudes she's been handed so many times before.

These two, perhaps, understand. If not before, then now, as the blue lion ship ascends out of sight.

"Thank you," says Colleen. "The Kerberos mission is why I'm here." There's nothing left for her to do but wait, and hope, and worry, and trust that Katie's stubbornness will carry her through and keep her safe--and search for answers in the meantime. She gestures to Sam's equipment. "I have some questions for you two, if that's alright."

As one, both look to the sky.

"Guess that's alright, yeah," says Mark.

He unlocks the shack, and they file inside. There's a corkboard covered in pictures and pins, graphs and strings, opposite it, and all three take a moment to take it in.

"Keith..." Mirana touches a sticky note on the board. Mark puts a hand on her shoulder and guides her to the dusty sofa; he gestures for Colleen to take the other half, and leans against the counter himself.

"Whaddya wanna know?" he asks, not rudely.

"First," says Colleen, "who is Alfor?"

Mirana tells her about Alfor, about the lions, about Voltron. She tells of time travel and the paladins she never quite met. It's only then that Mark interjects.

"Zarkon," he says. "I know that name. It's who Rai was fightin'."

"Then they were enemies after all," says Mirana.

"I dunno. 'Cause Rai said Zarkon had the whole universe in his control, and it sounds like it weren't so big yet when Alfor was around."

Colleen can only watch, and learn.

"It was a long time ago," Mirana agrees. "Things could have changed--he had to stop time-traveling because of something he saw in the future but he never told me what. And the lion was buried here for a reason. But I don't know how Zarkon could have survived this long."

"How long?" Colleen asks.

Mirana shrugs. "Thousands of years at least. I never knew how many for sure."

"Maybe his species is long-lived."

"No." Mark shakes his head. "Rai told me galra don't live much longer'n us."

Colleen turns to him. "Tell me about Rai," she says, and he does. By the end she's gotten up and is pacing, piecing things together in her mind--connecting the dots.

"Keith and Lance," she says, "are both half-alien."

"Yes," says Mirana.

"And they are all, as far as we know, currently in the Blue Lion, one-fifth of Voltron, built by Alfor. Presumably piloted by Lance."

"Yes."

"And what they'll find, out there, is an empire that's been growing for thousands of years, led by someone equally old--who was once friends with Alfor, and is desperate to find Voltron. An empire that has conquered most of the known universe and is hungry for more--challenged by a hidden rebellion of which Keith's biological mother was part."

She's greeted with silence. Mirana looks pleadingly up at the ceiling. Mark frowns at the floor.

Colleen knows the feeling--the helplessness. Their children are out of reach and there isn't a damn thing they can do about it.

Yet.

"The question is," Colleen says slowly, and they both look back to her, "what are we going to do about it?"