When Pidge was upset, she buried herself in her projects. Keeping her head focused on coding and technology, which were methodical, organized, and followed a logic that was easy to grasp helped her avoid dealing with emotions. Those were messy, disorganized, and didn’t follow any sort of logic. At least not the kind that made sense to her.
Right now, however, she was so distraught she found she couldn’t even focus on the most basic of code. Even the Altean vocabulary words she had printed out on flashcards were running together in her head. She felt hot and cold at the same time (not actually possible – it must be psychological), then felt sick one minute and dizzy the next. She wondered vaguely if she might be sick, but a quick scan with one of the medical scanners in the infirmary confirmed what she was feeling was purely psychological. It didn’t surprise Pidge, really, but the more she thought about the cause, the more awful she felt.
So she dissociated, stubbornly shuffling through her flashcards and forcing her brain to focus on the words in front of her.
Gedra. Noun. Country. Wait – no, that’s the word for glue. Country is gidea. Wait, that’s not right, either. Is it?
Pidge felt like her brain was overheating, like a computer using up too much CPU trying to run a complicated program. Except this wasn’t a complicated program, it was a deck of stupid flash cards. With a cry of frustration, she leaped to her feet and hurtled the stack at the nearest wall just as someone came around the corner.
She locked eyes with Lance while the cards fluttered and skipped to the floor between them.
“Um, okay,” he said, blinking rapidly a few times. “Should I leave, then?”
“If you’re just here to offer sympathy, again, yes,” Pidge snapped. “If you somehow managed to find me a giant jar of Skippy peanut butter, then no. And I mean the real stuff. Not the weird blue spread Hunk found on Utox.”
Lance frowned. “Sorry, fresh out of peanut butter. But I do have some news that might be just as good.”
Pidge gave him a skeptical look. Couldn’t he see she just wanted to be left alone? She couldn’t afford to get her hopes up again. They’d been so close to getting her father back! She couldn’t handle another failure. Whatever news Lance had would have to be exceptionally good in order to override her brain’s current settings.
At the sight of her face, Lance smirked. Pidge wanted to hit him. Couldn’t he see she couldn’t handle any more news about her dad? She didn’t need another reminder of how badly the exchange had gone.
“We just got a call from some rebel scouts,” Lance said. “I guess they found the ship your dad was in with those Galra generals.”
Pidge’s brain short-circuited, prompting a hard reset. “They found it?!” she sputtered after a momentary pause to recalibrate. Fleeting memories of her father’s image flickering as she lunged at it – the exact moment she found out they’d been duped – crossed her mind and she angrily sent them away. She felt tears at the corners of her eyes and when she reached up to wipe them away she found she was already following Lance out of the lab and down the hall towards the elevator.
“Where? Is he okay? Do they have him?”
“They found the ship entering Coalition airspace on one of our occupied planets. Kaxoin, I think. The ship crashed, but as far as we know, nobody was injured. It was just the generals and your dad. Where’s Matt?”
Pidge stopped her processing long enough to think about her brother.
“His room, probably. Haven’t seen him since this morning.”
“You head up to the bridge,” Lance said, already turning and heading back down the corridor. “I’ll go let him know.”
Pidge nodded her thanks, her brain whirring too quickly to form words.
When she arrived on the bridge, the faces of Coran, Hunk, Hope, and Allura greeted her with mixed expressions of pity and careful hopefulness. Shiro, stoic as usual, was frowning at the main screen where an alien’s anxious face was framed. Pidge recognized the slender, pale face as belonging to Thrippa, one of the Coalition leaders in charge of the Veilad system.
“Pidge, there you are,” Allura was saying. “We just got news from our base on Kaxoin that rebels there found the ship your father was in.”
“Tell me everything,” Pidge demanded, her voice steady despite her shaking hands. She sidled up to Hunk, suddenly drawn to his large, warm presence. She needed something familiar, something grounding, otherwise her head might just overload and shut down altogether. From where she was standing on Hunk’s right, Hope flashed her another sympathetic look. Pidge tried not to grimace back and instead focused on what was being said.
“My scouts just apprehended the two Galra officers who were aboard and have placed them in custody,” Thrippa reported. “No one else besides Commander Holt was aboard. All three are being treated for injuries sustained in the crash now.”
“Do we know what caused the crash?” Shiro asked.
“Or what those three generals were doing apart from the main fleet?” Allura asked.
“The cause is still unknown. We are analyzing the ship’s hull and data box now. All we know right now is the ship entered Kaxoin airspace approximately 45 dobashes ago and crashed in a nearby field shortly after. No sign of the main fleet.”
“Did they make any transmissions?” Hunk asked. “Any SOS pings?”
“None on any Coalition frequencies. We’ll know for sure once we mine the ship’s communication logs.”
The hissing of the elevator at the back of the bridge signaled the arrival of Matt and Lance.
“Lance is saying you found Dad?” Matt asked, coming over to Pidge and Hunk and placing his hands on his sister’s shoulders.
“We’re trying to sort out the details,” Allura answered. “At this point, all we know is the ship Commander Holt was on somehow separated from the main Galra fleet and crashed on Kaxoin. They have the two crew members in custody, but it’s still too early to determine what happened.”
“Then why aren’t we on our way to Kaxoin right now?” Matt demanded.
“We were just about to set course,” Allura said. “Coran, please set a course for the Veilad System.”
Shiro spoke up. “There’s a good chance Zarkon’s fleet will be arriving soon to retrieve the ship. He won’t want to sacrifice his precious bargaining chip.”
Allura nodded. “I agree. You should begin evacuating the base at once. We will meet you just outside the Veilad System.”
“Understood, Princess,” said Thrippa. “I’ll give the order immediately.”
“Excellent,” Allura replied. “We will be there in a little over a varga.”
“Thank you, Princess. Swift travels.”
The transmission ended and the screen went dark. Pidge found she was holding her breath. She forced herself to breathe, concentrating on Hunk’s safe presence beside her and Matt’s hands gripping her shoulders. Her mind went over a list of the events that had transpired in the last 24 vargas.
Prisoner exchange went badly. Zarkon double-crossed us. We know he would. The shuttle with Dad and those two generals was a hologram to begin with. They never actually brought Dad. Zarkon had his actual ship hidden from our radar. Followed us back to the Castle and we fought him off with the Lions. Zarkon got away. The ship where they held Dad crashed on Kaxoin. Coalition Territory. He’s safe. He’s safe. We’re going to see him now. He’s safe. Dad’s safe.
In the back of her mind, Pidge wondered if there was some key feature she was missing. Some important piece of the puzzle. What had caused them to go to that dusty, desolate planet in the first place? Pidge decided it didn’t matter right now. They were on their way to get her dad. Nothing else mattered.
Matt’s hands were still on Pidge’s shoulders, and he squeezed them gently before coming around to face her.
“We’re going to get him back, Pidge,” he said, his face hardened and determined. “And this time, no Galra fleets, princes, or generals will stop us.”
Pidge froze, her mind snapping the missing puzzle piece into place with a flash of realization. In all the excitement, she’d never once thought about Lotor and what had become of him. She vaguely recalled seeing him with that third female general (the only one not a hologram), and she’d marched him off… somewhere. What had happened to him? Once Pidge had realized the shuttle was a hologram, nothing else had mattered except finding where the real one was.
She supposed she should feel a little bit bad for forgetting all about Lotor. After all, if he hadn’t been in the Castle, they never would have gotten the chance to exchange him for her dad. Even though the exchange had gone badly, the events surrounding it had led to the eventual crash and later recovery of the ship that held her father. So she supposed, barring any more complications, it all had worked out after all. They’d fought off Zarkon as he tried to take the Black Lion again and they’d gotten rid of another threat to both him and Voltron.
Nope. She decided she didn’t feel the least bit bad. Everything was turning out in their favor, provided the evacuation went smoothly.
Pidge followed Matt, Lance, Hunk, and Hope downstairs to suit up, putting all thoughts about Lotor aside for the time being. Her brain only had so much processing power, and she needed all of it to focus on bringing her dad back. She couldn’t waste energy on trivial matters.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
A heavy silence filled the small fighter ship. Lotor tried to keep his head high and his shoulders proud, but as the dobashes wore on and he grasped the reality of his situation in full, he found it harder and harder to maintain his appearance of apathy. At least Zarkon’s back was to him at the moment. It was only Axca facing him; sitting on the small flight seat opposite his, examining the gauntlets on her hand with about as much interest as a child would a piece of homework. The silence that had ensued after Zarkon had been driven away by Voltron was deafening, and with each passing dobash the blood pounded louder and louder in Lotor’s ears as his inevitable doom drew nearer and nearer. He tried to moisten his chapped lips, but found his mouth was dry, too.
He should have known this would happen. The paladins should have foreseen Zarkon would pull a fast one. He supposed they had been ready for something – they weren’t entirely stupid – but they couldn’t prepare for every eventuality. At any rate, they seemed completely willing to discard him as soon as his purpose had been served. No one thought twice about him the moment the shuttle was revealed to be a hologram, and that had allowed Axca to lead him quietly away in the ensuing chaos – away from the only hope he had of a safe refuge.
“I’m not letting you out of my sight until we’re back at the fleet.” Zarkon had said just before engaging in battle with Voltron. “I should never have exiled you to begin with. You’re hardly worth the space you occupy, but perhaps I can still use you to show the empire that I am still as strong as ever.”
Axca and Lotor had then been forced to brace themselves and trust their restraints to hold them in as they were knocked and jerked around the cabin. Zarkon’s attempt to capture the Black Lion again gave little thought to the poor souls in the back of his fighter, and Lotor suspected that was part of the plan. He still felt queasy, and Axca had actually thrown up a little. But now the cabin was silent and still except for the dull rumble of the engines. Lotor almost missed the combat. It was better than the silence that crept around them like a foul mist. At least then the nausea in his stomach had come from dizziness and not from nerves. If he vomited now, Zarkon would know just how terrified Lotor really was, and then the last stronghold of defiance he held against his father (however small) would be gone.
If I am to die by your bidding, Father, then I will die knowing that my failure in your eyes is surely a sign that I am nothing like you. That is the only comfort I have left, and you cannot take it from me.