"Don't pull on it so hard!" Lance exclaimed.
Shiro's hands recoiled from Kaltenecker's udder. The cow just snorted and continued to chew on her cud. Her ears twitched as she flicked her tail back and forth. Lance was trying to show Shiro how to milk her. The process was revolting. Nayni didn't understand why humans would be interested in consuming another mammal's milk. It was disgusting. Her ears drooped as she watched the Black Paladin lean forward. Shiro seemed more frustrated with the process than Nayni was.
Nayni had grown fond of Kaltenecker. She reminded her of the bovidae from her parents' ranch. They were long gone now but she could almost feel their soft trunks beneath her fingertips and smell the rich earthy aroma of their dung. Oddly enough, Kaltenecker's droppings smelled very similar. It appeared no matter what planet large farm animals came from, their poo all smelled the same.
Being on the Holodeck was a nice break. They'd been patrolling the galaxies for a while now and Nayni had forgotten what a nice blue sky with fluffy clouds was supposed to look like. The artificial grass held no scent but it felt like real grass. There was even some heat radiating from this false sun. It made her olive-brown cheeks feel some warmth which was a nice change of pace from the cold of space.
Shiro's tuft of white hair fell in his face as he repositioned his hands. The Black Paladin had been plagued by night terrors as of late. Nayni really felt for him. Lance said back on Earth that farm work had actually proved to be rather therapeutic for soldiers like Shiro. Working with one's hands could be relaxing. Nayni had found punching the Gladiator during combat training to be more relaxing than shoveling bovidae dung.
Lance was leaning over Shiro. The tan-skinned boy had actually become a bit more reserved now that he had the Princess on his arm. He still was cocky enough to make her cringe on a regular basis though. Nayni had expected him to be a bit more boastful about it but he seemed to be wrangling that back now. Allura had definitely rubbed off on him. She'd been a bit too nosy about their relationship. Allura was a young woman, it really wasn't any of Nayni's business but it was hard for her to smother out those old instincts to constantly look after her.
“Be more gentle with the nipples,” Lance said.
“Lance!” Shiro snapped.
The Blue Paladin chuckled to himself. Shiro turned a little red in the face as he wrapped his fingers around them.
“This may be hard to believe but I've done this before,” Shiro said. “Like once---”
Nayni did find that hard to believe.
“This doesn't seem to be very relaxing,” Nayni said. “Maybe just give her a nice brushing? All animals like a good brushing, it doesn't matter where they're from.”
Her advice wasn't very helpful. The bovidae hadn't had any fur but they did enjoy a good scrubbing after a mud bath.
“No, I've committed to this. I'm doing it, Nanny,” Shiro said.
“Well no need to get huffy with me about it,” Nayni said.
He'd been so testy lately. She understood he'd been through quite a bit but at this point, they'd all seen some very peculiar and traumatizing things. Nayni could still hear The Advisor's cackle in her nightmares.
Shiro tugged on one of the nipples and a bit of Kaltenecker's milk squirted out into the bucket. Nayni wrinkled up her nose. Lance sniggered.
"C'mon, Nanny, it's not that gross. You guys must've done stuff like this on Altea," Lance teased.
Nayni couldn't really watch as Shiro milked the cow. It was making her feel a bit nauseous.
“We did not consume other creature's milk,” Nayni said. “That's foul.”
She struggled to fold her arms over her ample bosom.
“Then why did you keep---bow-vuh-day?” Lance said.
He had to concentrate a bit to enunciate it. Shiro tugged a little too hard on Kaltenecker and she let out a deep, angry moo of protest. The Black Paladin pulled back nervously. He seemed very hesitant to start up again.
“Bovidae were farmed for their tusks,” Nayni said. “They spent an entire deca-phoeb growing them and then they'd shed them during winter. We used their marrow for quite a few different purposes.”
Sliced up bovidae tusk also made a very delicious soup. It had been considered peasant's food in ancient times but it was so delicious. She missed that. Lance craned his neck around Kaltenecker. Coran had said the boy was always fascinated by Altea but now that he was with Allura, he seemed even more curious.
"You guys were okay with using tusks that fell off of an alien cow thing," Lance said. "But using their milk grosses you out?"
He kept comparing the bovidae to these cows from Earth. She'd explained that they were much shorter, plumper and had thick hides with stout trunks and bright eyes. Some of Nayni's crueler childhood companions used to make rather insulting comparisons to the creatures due to her height and build. These cows seemed quite a bit different.
“The bovidae were getting rid of their tusks no matter what,” Nayni said. “We weren't taking it from them without any reciprocation either. We also tried to restore a bit of their quintessence---”
“Yeah yeah yeah yeah but if you don't drink milk what else are you drinking?” Lance teased.
She was not going to walk right into one of his vulgar puns again. Nayni wasn't sure how but she knew he would turn this into some sexual quip about her and Coran. He so enjoyed pushing her buttons.
“Mister McClain, you're lucky Allura is so fond of you or I'd beat you to death,” Nayni snapped.
“Guys---” Shiro sighed.
She mimicked throttling the Blue Paladin and all he did was laugh. Lance drove her mad. All of these little quiznackers drove her mad but she loved them desperately.
The Castle's intercom system crackled on and a grin crept across Nayni's face when she heard Coran's voice come over the speakers.
“Nayni, could you report to the bridge?” Coran said. “I need some assistance with something.”
He most certainly did not and that fact made the tips of her pointed ears turn red. The green markings on her plump cheeks were already prematurely glowing. Her husband never needed her assistance with anything involving the Castle. She could tell by the mild look of horror on Shiro's face that he knew Coran was summoning her for much less innocent purposes. Nayni straightened out her uniform and flashed Lance a grin.
“Well, enjoy your barbaric animal abuse,” Nayni said. “I'm needed elsewhere.”
Shiro scrunched up his nose. It appeared he found milking Kaltenecker to be a better distraction than focusing on why Nayni now had a bit more of a spring in her step. She heard Kaltenecker bray as the doors to the Holodeck closed behind her.
She still found the well-lit halls of the Castle to be comforting. This was home now. The distant memories of fleeing from The Advisor as he stalked them through the dark halls still haunted her. Coran had boasted about how she'd kicked his evil doppelganger in his wimble but her husband had been the one to safely navigate them through the maintenance tunnels to freedom. And it had been Allura who had swooped in and saved their lives.
It had been so terrifying but things seemed so normal now. There was still a war raging with the Galra and a good chunk of the universe still needed liberating. It had been quiet for a bit too long. These periods never lasted for much time. There'd be a night soon when the Castle alarms would start blaring or they'd get an emergency transmission. There was always something. At least they only had Zarkon to deal with now and with Lotor as their ally, the Galra Empire's days were numbered.
Nayni rounded a corner to the elevator. Pidge emerged from the lift. She seemed to be in just as much of a hurry as Nayni was. The Green Paladin was just a hair shorter than Nayni. After meeting her brother, Matt, Nayni knew this wouldn't last for long. She'd grow and Nayni would be the shortest person around again. The Guard Captain did enjoy having at least one person on the Castle who was of equal stature.
“Hello, Miss Holt---” Nayni said.
“Is Shiro still on the Holodeck?” Pidge pressed.
“Yes, Lance and Shiro are still torturing Kaltenecker,” Nayni said.
She pushed her glasses up the bridge of her tiny nose. Pidge's brown eyes narrowed. She was tough and she tended to wear her emotions on her sleeve.
“Is he okay?” Pidge asked.
They were all a family. They'd been a family long before they'd pulled Nayni out of that cryopod. She knew Pidge's father and brother had worked with Shiro back on Earth. It seemed that the bulk of their relationship had been developed after their journey as Paladins had begun though. Nayni's ears perked up.
“He seems fine,” Nayni said.
She didn't like discussing his nightmares with anyone. It wasn't her business to share. They were all aware of it but she wasn't one to gossip. Pidge just nodded her head. The Green Paladin didn't seem to be perfectly satisfied.
“Are you okay, Miss Holt?” Nayni pressed.
"Yeah, it's just---" Pidge began. "Ya know he's been so tired lately. I'm worried."
That was not all there was to it. Pidge wasn't the best at masking her feelings. Nayni knew when it was appropriate to pry and when it wasn't. Shiro was their leader. He was their Black Paladin and it wasn't a surprise that they were concerned for him. Seeing him in distress probably troubled Pidge a great deal.
“I need to get to the Bridge,” Nayni said.
She was giving Pidge an out so this awkward questioning could come to an end. Pidge forced a smile. It was atrocious.
"Right, I want to go see how the 'torture session' is going anyway," Pidge said.
The Green Paladin marched off before Nayni could get another word out. Everyone was in a huff today. Maybe it was how the stars were aligned. Coran had sounded rather chipper when he summoned her. He always sounded that way though. The Castle could be engulfed in flames and he could be cradling Allura's severed head in his arms and he would still put on the facade that everything was fine.
She managed to dodge the others on her way to the Bridge. That was all well and good. Nayni hadn't had much private time since they'd returned from their---what was it called? A honeymoon? That was a very pleasant Earth tradition that Lance had explained to them. It had been a nice little getaway to that tropical moon but all Nayni really remembered about it was how the ceiling of the hotel room looked.
She crept up to the archway to the Bridge. Her heart was already racing. Coran Hieronymus Wimbleton Nordontu Smythe was her husband and it still amazed her. It was a ruggling mouthful now but he'd insisted on taking that title. Altean tradition had called for Coran to take her surname since she was the one who'd asked for his hand. But, she'd also been rather keen on becoming a Smythe. So they'd just taken each other's titles. What a scandal. No one was around to stir up a ruckus over it though.
Coran was bent over the main control panel. By Groggery, his rump looked fantastic in those tight slacks. He was humming the Altean national anthem to himself as he fiddled with some of the wiring. The maintenance panel was hanging open exposing the mechanical guts of the controls. His hands were buried in the nest of cables. The aquamarine display kept flickering as he toyed with the various mechanisms. Nayni cleared her throat.
“You actually do need assistance,” Nayni said. “How disappointing.”
And here she thought they'd have a frantic tumble on the polished floors of the Bridge. He turned around. He had such a wicked grin on his face. The edges of that perfectly trimmed orange mustache were pulled back in a smile. He had a devious glint in those violet eyes of his. His blue markings were definitely shimmering a bit too. Coran leaned against the control panel. He twirled the end of his mustache.
Nayni swallowed hard. Coran sauntered over to her. He was such a tall, glorious, lean muscled man
and she was a short, broad-shouldered woman who could most definitely snap him in half.
“I dropped my frurntil,” Coran cooed. “Would you mind fishing it out for me?”
He leaned in. The tip of his prominent nose was brushing against hers. She was already quite flustered. Her hands were thick, clumsy things and she wouldn't actually be of much use. There was no way she'd be retrieving one of his tools from the cramped interior of that control panel.
“If you want to get me bent over, you don't have to play these games,” Nayni said.
She did enjoy them but all of the Paladins were stomping around the Castle. They didn't exactly have the time for it right now.
“Simply asking my dear wife to present her rear end to me isn't exactly romantic though,” Coran said.
“And the whole 'Oh my, I've dropped something' line is somehow better?” Nayni teased.
Coran just shrugged.
“And what if I want you to present your rear end to me?” Nayni said.
"Oh I find ways to flaunt it in front of you quite often," Coran said. "I do believe you only catch it half of the time though."
Heat rushed to the tips of her pointed ears and Nayni bit her bottom lip. Quiznack. She knew he'd been doing that on purpose from the very first dobash she'd met this foppish red-head.
“Just shut your quiznack and ravish me,” Nayni snapped.
She started to tear off her gloves when a rather angry looking alert message appeared on the main display. Of quiznacking course. The universe had spectacular timing. The field of stars spread out before them looked so serene. There weren't any physical signs of ships approaching but that didn't necessarily mean they were in the clear.
Coran scrambled over to one of the other control panels. He waved his hand over the display. A grainy image of the Terrapin Elder erupted across the screen. The reptilian alien still appeared to be exceptionally grumpy. He blinked his one eye. Even on this pixelated image, she could still see the wrinkles of his scaly skin.
“Orange One of Voltron,” The Elder said.
His voice was raspy and deep. He sounded very irritated but from what Nayni remembered the Terrapin always sounded irritated.
“We have your Red One,” The Elder said.
“I'm sorry? Red One?” Coran said.
“Yes, we have the Lion,” The Elder said.
Coran furrowed his brow.
“I'm afraid that's not possible,” Coran explained. “The Red Lion is with us and I don't think it snuck out for a little midnight romp.”
Coran chuckled and Nayni found herself smiling. The Terrapin Elder just stared at them blankly as his image flickered on the display.
“We have Lion,” The Elder pressed.
He was serious. Coran's ears perked up.
“Would you mind terribly sending over some evidence?” Coran asked.
The Elder snorted. He craned his neck out of the camera's view and snapped at someone. The wrinkles of his neck jiggled as he turned back around to face them.
“You will see. We do not lie,” The Elder said.
A few images spilled across the secondary monitor. There was definitely a Red Lion and it was in dire straits. It was completely powered down and engulfed in its scarlet particle barrier. Something about it seemed slightly different though. Coran glanced at the time stamped on the images. It was possible that they'd fabricated this whole affair but the Terrapin really didn't have a reason to do such a thing.
“That is definitely the Red Lion,” Coran said.
He got that look in his eye again. Coran was thinking of just what he should and shouldn't say. This was a bit of an alarming situation they found themselves in now. The Red Lion was safely tucked away in its hangar. They could see that on the video feed from the security cameras. But there was also a Red Lion sitting in a Terrapin hangar.
Coran cleared his throat and put on his best, blank, serious diplomat face.
“How exactly did you come to acquire the Lion?” Coran asked.
“Crashed here,” The Elder said. “The pilot is still in a healing pod.”
Nayni had just seen Lance on the Holodeck. He was perfectly fine and being just as sassy as he always was. Unless someone had snuck a clone version of him aboard, he wasn't the one piloting that Lion.
“We guard the Lion with our biggest sticks,” The Elder said. “No ill will befall them while we stand watch.”
She was already reeling from the possibilities. Both of them kept their expressions stone cold. She couldn't let the Elder see how much this terrified her. Coran had been through so many more of these negotiations than she had. He was much better at masking the thoughts that were running through his head.
"We'll have to discuss this before we plot a jump," Coran said. "I can't begin to express how thankful we are to have you on our side. Your assistance is deeply appreciated."
Nayni must've been hallucinating because she thought the Terrapin Elder actually smiled. Coran beat his fist against his chest and the Terrapin seemed even more pleased. He banged against his shell in response and the feed cut. Coran's ears drooped as he looked at his wife.
The Bridge was filled with the chatter from the Paladins again. It had happened so much that it was a borderline annoyance. This was the nature of war and the mysteries of the universe. It required a great deal of discussion and planning. Hunk found the images of the Red Lion on Terrapin to be deeply disturbing. Pidge, unsurprisingly, couldn't stop asking questions.
“So, now there's two Red Lions?” Pidge asked again.
“Yes,” Coran said.
“And a pilot we know nothing about?” Pidge asked.
“Yes,” Coran said.
Hunk looked away from the monitor. He was toying with his fingers.
"Do you think it's like more evil versions of everyone again?" Hunk stammered. "I really hope not---no offense but you were really terrifying as a bad guy, Coran."
Coran actually seemed a tad proud of himself. Lance cracked a grin.
“If it is then who cares?” Lance said. “Allura whooped The Advisor's ass. She could do it again, no problem.”
The Blue Paladin was blushing a bit and was doing a rotten job of hiding it. His girlfriend found this to be deeply amusing. Allura couldn't wipe the smile off her face.
“Let's not make too many assumptions,” Allura said. “What we do know is whoever is piloting that Lion is in dire need of our help.”
“We are definitely the only qualified beings in the universe to help them out,” Nayni said.
If it was another version of Lance piloting that Lion she might go mad though. Dealing with two of those quiznacks sassing her might result in a double murder.
Shiro had been fairly silent for most of this discussion. He flexed the fingers of his cybernetic limb as he mulled it all over. This was a rather jarring occurrence yet he seemed to be a million lightyears away. He was the leader of the team. He usually was able to come up with solid plans.
“What're your thoughts, Shiro?” Nayni asked.
He snapped out of his trance. Shiro focused on the blurry images spread across the secondary display.
“We'll have the Terrapin to back us up if anything goes south,” Shiro said. “We need to get there and figure out what's going on.”'
Well, that was obvious. Nayni exchanged a glance with Coran. They'd always had this unspoken understanding but the strength of it had evolved. Sometimes it felt like he was standing right next to her even when they were on completely different sections of the Castle.
Coran started typing into the main control panel.
“I'll set a course for the Terrapin system,” Coran said.
“I think---I'll go lay down,” Shiro said. “If someone could wake me up when we get there---”
His handsome face was scrunched up. It looked like it was a great struggle for him to even speak. Lance furrowed his brow.
“Yeah, man, I'll come get you,” Lance said. “No worries.”
They were all pretty worried about him. Shiro was trying to keep his struggles to himself but no one was going to allow that. Everyone was trying to hide that from him. Nayni knew he'd be deeply ashamed if he realized that everyone was looking out for Shiro instead of him being the caretaker. Lance was good at coming up with excuses to try and ease his troubles. Hunk was terrible at lying so he'd tried to stay out of it. But with a potential new crisis before them, Nayni wasn't sure if they could afford to keep dancing around the matter.