Ignoring the throb threatening to split his head apart, Lance stabbed at Red's controls in a near frenzy, becoming more and more desperate for some kind of response as the brutalised control panel refused to react.

"C'mon, Red ... not now!" he ground out, letting a few choice epithets loose as the sickeningly spinning mecha continued its reckless spiral.

He gagged suddenly as his harness straps slammed painfully into his body, barely noticing the eerie light surrounding him - a lurid blue shimmering into magenta - which had plucked his Lion from its free fall.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"No!" Sven sat, stunned, watching as the three Lions were caught in some kind of beam, and reeled in closer and closer to the Skullships.

Using all his strength, he hauled the massive gun around as far as its restricted range of motion would let it go, and began pounding away, hoping against hope that he would strike one of the three ships holding his friends immobile.† Every nerve in his body sung with fear for Lance.

"Come on, come on, get out of there, Lance . . ." He repeated it over and over again like a mantra.† "Damn it, Coran, NOW they could use another pilot out there!"

~ Would you have been able to avoid that? ~ a voice taunted him in his head. †~ Or would you have been paying too much attention to Lanceís flying to even notice? ~

"Oh, shut up," he muttered.† He saw with some dismay that his blasts were falling quite short, as the Skullships prepared to escape with their quarry.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Something snapped inside Lance when he realised what had happened; something he'd thought long dead and completely unnecessary on the team, in light of Keith's strengths as a commander.

They were out here alone, with no commander, not enough Lions and very little backup, what little existed being restricted by the size of the Castle-turn-spacecraft.† Damnit, they needed a leader right now.

Checking that, at least, his communications were still active, he set about changing that situation immediately.

"Status!" he barked, not even recognising his own voice.† Some grim sense of amusement struck him at the look of shock on both Pidge and Hunk's faces, before they shook themselves free of it and their reports came flooding in.

"Tractor beam ... its got all three of us ... can't make out the frequency or strength, Lance ... its too erratic.† The best I can do is pinpoint its location at the moment," Pidge stated, sounding slightly in awe.

"Hunk?"

"Damage report ... Red's taken it bad, but I guess you knew that already.† Green's holding its own, but Yellow's loosing power faster than I'd like.† If we're gonna do something, itís gotta be fast."

"Well?† Are we going to sit here like lumps and let them take us?"

"Hell, no!"† came the instinctive shouts from the other two pilots.

Lance grinned.† "All right, then, team ... Let's go, Voltron Force!"

The grin turned feral as he trained the full stock of his missiles on the target area Pidge had pinpointed, knowing full well his two team mates were doing the same.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Even knowing it was having no effect, Sven could not stop himself from firing at the withdrawing forces.† "Damn you," he cursed, adding some invective in his native tongue for good measure.† He was completely unaware of the tears of anger rolling down his cheeks.

Suddenly, explosions bloomed against the bows of the Skullships.† He paused, and blinked in confusion.† The guns don't have that range, he thought, a bit lost as to where the fire had come from . . .

Then, finally, he saw that it was the Lions, that they were raining salvo upon salvo of missiles on the ships that held them hostage, that they had shaken off the effects of the beam weapon and were fighting their way free.

"Yaaaaahoooo!" he yodeled, grinning like a madman and pumping a fist in the air over his head.† "Go, team!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Hunk!† What've we got left on firepower?"

"A few rounds of missiles each . . . ion knives . . . the lasers, but not for long, though, coz power's running low ... not much else.† Sorry, Chief."† Hunk had the good grace to blush at Lance's pointed glare over that slip up.

"Pidge?"

"One quick strike should take out a few of 'em, if we do now."

"Right!† Let's do it, guys!"

He was just about to fire the propulsion jets to send Red bearing down on their attackers like some god of vengeance, when Coran's voice crackled over the intercom.

"We don't have time for that right now!" Coran's voice wavered slightly with the strength of his emotion.† "The Fleet of Doom has already reached planet Akkarra!"

This time, Lance's curse was caught on the wider communications, earning him a sharp rebuke for language from Coran.

"All right, all right ... we're coming in," he grumbled.† "Lance out."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For many long moments after the Lions broke off pursuit, Sven sat in his turret, letting himself slowly come down off the adrenaline high.† ~ Heís safe, heís safe Ö ~† He ran a hand through his hair, ruffling it, then covered his face, and was startled to find it wet.

He didnít even remember crying, though he knew when it must have started.† He was trembling again, just from remembering the panic that had gripped him, seeing Lance trapped by that beam . . . He shook himself and took several deep breaths, trying to centre himself again.

But his heart was still pounding too loudly in his ears when he pushed himself unsteadily to his feet.† He had to have another go at Coran, to convince him that his skills were not so by the by as the older man believed.† Next time, he thought, a bit shakily, next time, I have to be out there with him . . . I canít stand to just watch . . .

He stepped out of the turret, and collided with a body for the second time that day.† He stumbled backwards, catching himself awkwardly on the frame of the turretís entry, and stared down at the object of all his thoughts.

Instinctively, Lance reached out a steadying hand towards Sven, only to let it fall away as he realised what he was doing.† "Hey," he said softly.

"Hey, yourself."† The words fell from his mouth with no conscious thought.† He let himself devour Lance with his eyes, noting that he looked even more weary, if it were possible, than he had when they started to have it out in the rec room.† He also saw, with a little shiver of dread, that Lance was avoiding his gaze, staring at the floor.

If this goes on, Sven thought, with a sense of desperation, weíll never work anything out, either way.† But that wasnít what finally drove him to action.† Without hesitating for an instant, he grabbed Lanceís arm and yanked him into the turret.

Lance let out a startled yelp.†"Hey!" he protested, giving Sven a quizzical look.† "What's the big idea?!"

Rather than answering, Sven spun him around and pushed him into the chair.† Before Lance could recover, the Swede bent down, captured his face with his hands and kissed him.

For a moment, as Sven's lips ghosted over his own, Lance's eyes flared wide with surprise before slowly sinking shut.† The adrenaline high that had kept him focussed in battle quickly returned, inflaming more than just his long-suppressed yearnings.† Hands quickly slid to knot in dark, silky hair as he opened himself to Sven's devouring lips.

The fingers tangling in his hair did not surprise Sven nearly as much as the way Lance responded to him.† It was if no time had passed, and they were still newly on Arus, still learning about each other.† Instinctively, he increased the pressure, pressing Lance more firmly into the seat. †His tongue took up the invitation of Lanceís open mouth, and dipped inside to find Lanceís own.

Slow down! The thought flitted briefly across his mind, but was overwhelmed by the sensation of just touching the man heíd been without for so long . . .

So much so that the shock was all the greater when Lance pushed him away firmly, extricating himself from Sven's searching mouth with a determination that was chilling.

No more chilling than the hard glitter in Lance's eyes, however.

"I suppose you think you're pretty clever." Husky sensuality warred with cold distaste in Lance's voice.† "But this doesn't change anything, Sven."

With that, he slipped out of Sven's stunned embrace and stepped back into the corridor.

"No, I donít think Iím clever," Sven whispered, closing his eyes and slumping against the wall in defeat.† He didnít care if Lance heard him or not.† "And it wasnít intended to change anything.† I . . I was just so glad you were still alive . . ."

In his despondency, he didn't notice the slight pause in the other's retreating footsteps, or see the solemn, assessing glance sent in his direction.

As it was, neither had time to deal with any ramifications as Coran's voice crackled over the intercom once again.

"Could all required personnel please report to the Control Room.† We are approaching Planet Akkarra's orbit."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sven straightened, as the request echoed away in the corridor.† Was he still required personnel?† He wasnít sure any more.† But he stepped out of the turret anyway, and made his way reluctantly down the hallway.

His thoughts were mostly occupied with Lance, and the fact that heíd probably all but ruined any chance of a reconciliation, much less a resumption of their relationship.† ~ Why, why did I give in to that impulse Ö? ~

The sight of the smoking base on the view screen in the Control Room brought him out of his stupor, though.† The attacks had been merciless; several of the domes had been reduced to rubble, and many of the ones still standing were far from intact.† It looked like it had been a slaughter, almost.

As he stepped up behind Lance, Hunk and Pidge, he heard Coran activate the com.† "Commander, weíre here to help you."

"Thanks, Coran."† The image of a heavy-set man of some years wavered slightly on the screen, replacing the carnage.† He looked frayed, as if he had been awake several days without any rest.† "Theyíre preparing to mount another offensive."

Coran nodded.† "Iíll try to contact Hawkins."† He pressed a few buttons on the console, adding, "Weíll see if their ship is out of the astral belt . . ."

But rather than hearing Commander Hawkinsí familiar deep voice, nothing came from the speakers, not even static.†† Coran bent his head, weighed by this sudden new grief.† "They didnít make it through . . ."

For all that he had known this was a possibility ... heck, a distinct probability under the circumstances ... the impact of those words still sent Lance reeling.† On top of everything else - the battle, Red's little spin, Sven - it was almost too much.† It wasn't until he felt strong, familiar hands settle on his shoulders that he realised he'd been close to collapse.

"I need to get out of here," he mumbled thickly, turning to try and escape.† The body behind him stepped aside to let him pass ... and yet, something made him stop and look beseechingly into the man's impassive features.

"Sven?" he whispered in a husky plea for the other man to join him.

Caught by the misery in Lanceís normally laughing eyes, Sven nodded, knowing what the other needed without anything further said.† "Ja."

He had been surprised, so surprised, to see the colour drain so suddenly from Lanceís face, to see him waver and nearly fall.† He had friends on the Explorer, they all had.† He could see Pidgeís shoulders shaking with heartache he could barely contain, and realised with a start that Chip had also been on that ship.

As he followed Lance from the Control Room, part of his mind was running down the names of the pilots he remembered being on the other Voltron force.† Then his stomach did a flip as he grasped who else must be on that ship, to evoke the reaction the news had from Lance.

The door of the rec room hushed open to admit the two men, sighing as it closed behind them.† Lance sank dejectedly into the soft cushions of the sofa and leaned forward to rest his forearms on his knees.

Sven sat down next to him, and carefully wrapped an arm around his shoulders.† "Tell me about him," he said, his tone gentle.

Some of the tension trailed away as Lance leant into the other man's strength, eyes far off and distant as the words just seemed to fall from his lips.

He talked of meeting Shan in one of his advanced classes, how he'd taken a liking to the older boy and his wicked, Irish sense of humour.† Of lazy weekends just messing around as teenage boys do, and long hours spent amusing each other in Study Hall and of good, honest friendship.

Sven said nothing, betrayed no reaction at all to the quiet words.† He just let Lance derive the comfort he needed, and lightly stroked the other's shoulder and upper arm.

Lance relaxed into the slight embrace more as he continued.

"You know, neither of us ever figured out how it happened," he murmured wistfully.† "I think one of us just ... well, sorta crashed out at the other's place and we just ... well ... woke up together.† And things took their course from there, I guess.† Then one night turned into two, and before we knew where we were, we're your typical teenage couple.† And we had fun.† Oh, so much fun, Sven."

"Did you love him?" Hard as those words were, and regardless of Lance's assertions earlier, Sven had to hear this now.†

A sad look of reminiscence settled over Lance's expression.† "Yeah, in a way.† At the time, he was my closest friend as well as a lover.† But, y'know, now I realise that so much of what we'd thought as oh-so-illicit was really just so damn innocent, it's sweet.

"And, yes ... before you ask, he was my first ... and, if Shan was to be believed, I was only his second.† It was just one of those tender teenage things that never had time to grow beyond what we had.† Y'know, one of those relationships that you think about fondly when you're old and grey and sentimental?"† He looked up, blue eyes wide and begging Sven to understand.

Sven smiled ever so faintly at his earnestness, and nodded.† "Ja."† For a brief second, he squeezed Lance a bit tighter.† There was always a first time for everyone, and his held just as fond a place in his heart.

"And then . . .?" he asked softly.† "He was given his orders?"

"Yeah. Before we knew where we were, the year had passed and he'd been called up to the Explorer, while I sat and cooled my heels another twelve months."† He gave his darker companion a tiny, wry grin.† "And then all my troubles really began."

Sven snorted at that, giving him a smile that felt only slightly out of place.† Inside him, something relaxed that had been coiled up spring-tight for as long as he could remember.† "Oh, really?† Nothing but trouble, am I?"

Lance good naturedly thumped his outer thigh with a half-amused, half-annoyed smirk.† "Have you any idea the hell you put me through?† The whole damn time I was feeling drawn to you, I was so damned confused I'm surprised I didn't shoot myself in the foot at arms practice!"

Sven chuckled low.† "I find that hard to believe," he replied, feeling his smile grow wider.† "You?† The guy who always twirled his pistols before shoving them into imaginary holsters?"† He paused, and added, "And if you only knew the knots you tied in my stomach whenever we were in karate practice . . ."

Lance gave a warm laugh.† "What a pair, huh?"† Slowly releasing a deep breath, he settled further into the crook of the encircling arm about him, snuggling his back against Sven's chest as he had done so many times in the past.

After a moment, Sven slipped his other arm across Lance's waist and pulled him a little closer so he could rest his cheek comfortably against the vibrant, chestnut locks

"Do you think they're ok, Sven?"

Sven closed his eyes.† The question had been asked in a slightly quavering tone that simply begged for reassurance.† For a moment, he said nothing, feeling Lance stir nervously against him.† Trying to soothe him, he held him a bit closer, and whispered, "I donít know.† I hope so."

Lance eventually nodded slowly in reply, enjoying the comfort of having someone there to help him through this.

That thought prompted something else, and he frowned a little.† Turning partially in Sven's embrace, he said, "Do you think we should go see how Pidge is doing?"

Instead of answering, Sven loosened his arms just slightly from around Lance, and asked quietly, "Do you feel up to it?"

Deciding to strike while the iron was hot, so to speak, Lance levered himself up from the couch and held a hand out to Sven.† "Yeah.† I may have lost an old friend ... he could have lost a twin brother.† Sorta puts it in perspective, doesn't it?"

He nodded, and accepted Lanceís hand.† "But itís still not easy to bear, no matter who it is."† He searched Lanceís eyes for a moment, then smiled faintly.† "Letís go."

He was pleasantly surprised when Lance tightened his grasp a little, reassuringly, before leading the way back to the Control Room.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

They found the others much as they had left them in the Control Room.† Coran had moved to man the visual and radar scans, while Pidge had taken up the position at the communications point and was desperately screening the soundwaves for anything that might resemble the missing Team.

"Itís no use." Coran bowed his head.† "They didnít make it through."

"No!† Thereís got to be another answer!" Pidgeís denial was evident.† "Maybe their signalís being dampened by some force field.† Or maybe their communications are out.† Or maybe . . . "

"Or maybe theyíre trying to fool us?" Lance conjectured, trying to sound light and unaffected by any of this.† After all, only Sven knew of his connection with the other Voltron force.

Coran looked up and replied in a very sharp tone, "Lance! This is no time for jokes!"

Sven caught Lanceís wince a second before the Castle adviser.† Instinct made him want to step in and challenge the older man, while his head advised caution.† As it was, he had overlooked Lanceís tendency to make his own challenging comebacks.

"Who said Iím joking?" Lance snapped under his breath, earning him some odd looks from Hunk and Pidgeís directions.

Coran gave him a long, direct look, then sighed. "Youíre right; I apologise.† I guess that was uncalled for. But the simple fact remains, weíll have to fight them alone."

Lanceís bitter expression melded into that feral smirk the others had seen in the last battle.† "All right.† Letís do it!"† With hard, dangerous eyes, he led the way to the Lionís launch area.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Within moments, three Lions tore out into space, heading directly for the joint Drule/Doom command ship.

Damn, you bastards, Lance fumed silently to himself as he took the lead.† You will be paying for this, I promise you.† No one harms my friends . . . no one!

As he checked over the array of lights and gages before him, he thought of Pidge and how much worse he must feel.† And youíll be paying for leaving that kid without what was left of his family, as well . . . never you mind about that!

Settings verified, he focussed piercingly on the event screen in front of him as the dark, forbidding enemy ships loomed closer.† "All right, boys . . . letís get ready to tussle," he announced, eyes glittering feverishly.

Seeing a chance to lighten the situation a little, Hunk grinned and winked at Pidgeís view screen.† "So letís show Ďem some muscle?"

Pidge smirked back, distracted by the game.† "Hey, and some hustle!"

Lance glared at the pair of them.† "Very . . . funny," he growled.

Pidge snickered.† "Hey, Captain . . . when you take the chair, you gotta take the flak that comes with it!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

They didnít have much time for joking after that; it was only a few short few moments to wait before the challenge of their appearance was answered.† One of the many bays on the strangely cumbersome looking command ship opened, and they saw a rhinoceros-like robeast paw the deck briefly before leaping out to attack.

The flurry was on.

Lasers flared every which way, with some deadly near misses as the robeast dodged each one.† In desperation, Hunk tried a sneak attack from behind, but misjudged the beastís agility and ended up trapped between its hulking front hooves.

The explosions from spike bombs Pidge quickly released were enough to rattle the beast into releasing him, but also sent Yellow tumbling head over tail for some distance before he recovered.

Coran monitored this battle, as he had nearly every other since the space explorers had arrived on Arus.† He was studying the rhino-beast carefully, trying to gauge its weaknesses, if any.† His arthritic fingers moved over the console as quickly as they could manage, as he asked the computer to analyse different sections.†

"The rhino-beast is very powerful," he muttered to himself, thinking that the three Lions needed some backup, and he turned to the worried Sven gripping the chair behind him.† "It might be time, Sven."

Sven gave a quick nod and headed for the door.

"Lance . . . hold them back as long as you can," Coran told him over a secure channel.† "Svenís on his way."

Lanceís wavy image on the screen did not look amused.† "What the hell do you think youíre up to Coran?!" he snapped.† "Svenís way out of battle practice."

Sven stopped, barely three steps away from the door.† What? He turned around to stare at Lanceís image in disbelief.† I did not just hear that . . .

It was one thing to doubt himself; quite another to hear that the others felt the same way.† Especially the one he most wanted to believe otherwise.

"And you need the help, young man.† Donít forget who happens to be running this show," Coran countered icily.

"Geez, and here I thought it was me," the Red Lion pilot sneered back.

"Shows you how wrong you can be, doesnít it?† Coran out."† The perpetually unflappable statesman calmly cut the connection, leaving Lance seething in his cockpit.

He turned around and saw that Sven had not yet made it out the door.† There was a rather unpleasant colour to the tall Swedeís usually pale cheeks.† Coran sighed heavily.† "You heard, of course."†

It was a statement of fact, not a question, but Sven nodded, his eyes furious.† "It vould have been bloody hard not tu!" he snapped, his accent suddenly much more prominent in his anger.†

Coran stood, and limped over to where he stood.† "Sven," he began, trying to soothe his anger with a quiet tone.† "Itís a legitimate concern.† You have not been in a Lion for a year.† But," he held up a hand, forestalling the imminent explosion.† "No, let me finish.† Skills get rusty, I know, but there is nothing like the knowledge that you are protecting people who depend on you Ė who care about you - to bring you back up to par."† He smiled as Sven blinked, taken aback.† "Now, go on.† Theyíre waiting for you.† Iíll be right behind in Blue."

Anger much mollified, Sven nodded, and took off down the corridor at a run.

Coran returned to the console for a brief moment, to make sure that nothing dreadful had occurred while he was giving Sven the reassurance he so obviously needed.† He had just found that the other three Lions were holding their own - just barely - when Cheddar raced in and up his coat sleeve.† The mouse started jumping up and down on his shoulder, chittering excitedly.

Hating to spare the time for mousy concerns, the old man asked, "What?" in a rather short tone, then, as the translation slowly wound its way into his mind, looked at the creature in astonishment . . .†† "Theyíre here?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sven had just changed into his uniform - felt so good to be wearing it again - and was about to clamber up onto Black Lionís shoulder when Keith and the Princess arrived in the hangar.†

"Hey, Sven!"

Sven, perched precariously on a joint, glanced down.† Seeing Keith waving at him, and grinning, he felt an odd mixture of relief and disappointment.† But rather than saying anything, he slid back down the Lionís leg and approached his former Captain, hand out, displaying the key.

"Thanks."† Keith took the key, then gripped Svenís arm, giving him a rather wry smile now.† "I appreciate it," he added in an undertone.

Sven nodded, and returned the pressure.† "Better you than me," he replied, his smile somewhat twisted with regret.

Keith grinned, squeezed his arm once, and leapt up to the cockpit.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jinking almost instinctively to avoid the heavy enemy fire, Lance found his thoughts drifting.† Stop that, he told himself firmly, trying to keep at bay the sudden remorse he felt.† Itís only the truth.† He has been out of combat for a long time . . .

But, another part of his mind answered, that doesnít mean that you had say it like that, either.

A short battle raged in his mind as well as outside the cockpit.† No! I'm sorry, Sven, but I can't risk it ... can't risk you getting hurt because of me again.† It's better this way, and I'm not going to feel guilty over this.† I won't risk losing you like that . . . not again . . .

There was a definite smugness to the tone this time.† Oh, really?† Why donít you tell him that, then?

He gritted his teeth.† Shutup!† Just shut up!

Between the continual dodge, slash, burn of their dogfight and the worry about how Sven was going to handle being back in the action, it took a while for Lance to realise that the three of them were still out there alone.

Angrily punching the buttons to open a link, he yelled, "Hey, Coran!† Whereís that damn backup you promised?"

"Itís on its way, Red Lion," Coran called back.

"Donít be so damned impatient, Lance," a familiar voice came over the commlink.† "Anyone would think you were in a hurry or something!"

"Keith!" the pilots of Red, Green and Yellow chorused.

"What?† Donít I get a welcome?" a feminine voice laughed.

"Hey, look whoís here!" Pidge cheered as Blue Lion and Black Lion joined formation right beside Lance.

"Well!† Glad you guys could make it!" Lance said, grinning.

"So are we, Lance.† Right, then . . . letís get this show on the road, Team," Keith purred.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

More slowly than heíd left, Sven made his way back to the Control room.† Inside, he was more than just a little bitter.† Well, there goes my shot to show that I havenít lost it, he thought.† He slipped in silently, and took up his position just behind Coranís chair again.† Keith and the Princess save the day again.† God, I feel worse than useless.

Coran had opened the com to the Lions again, and was urging them with details of the three robeasts weak points.

Three? Sven thought, startled, and looked at the threat screen overhead to confirm his ears were working properly.

Indeed they were; three robeasts were working on surrounding Voltron.† Didnít waste any time.† Good. He nodded in grudging approval at the way Keith had taken charge so quickly.

Just then, a sharp crackling noise out of a nearby speaker made him jump.† He turned toward it, trying to make sense of the static, but no words came through.† The sound stopped as abruptly as it started.

Coran was staring at the speaker in wonder.† "That channel . . . that was supposed to be linked only to . . ." The adviser trailed off, and immediately resumed giving orders and encouragement over the com.

Suddenly, Sven thought . . . he hoped he knew what it was.† For Pidgeís sake, for Lanceís . . . he hoped it was the Explorer, hoped that theyíd made it through the astral belt.

And never mind the way that his insides twisted up even more with dread, and fear, and loss.† All that didnít matter.† As long as the others are happy . . . He closed his eyes and stepped away from the console.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lance winced as the blow of one robeast came dangerously close to him, but quickly pulled himself back into focus.

No time to loose your head now, Lance olí boy, he mentally chided himself, smirking wryly at the unintentional pun.† The odds are still against us.

Back in the thick of battle, he jumped visibly as he was suddenly startled by a harsh, crackling sound cutting across the airwave chatter between the Voltron members.† From the various complaints and curses that abruptly followed, he gathered he wasnít the only one who found the noise somewhat headache inducing.

"What was that, Coran?" Keith called out over the commlink.

"Iím not certain, Keith . . . trying to pinpoint it now."† Another sharp hiss of static hissed across his reply, and all five winced again.† "The best I can say is itís from an external source."† Coran sounded wary, but strangely hopeful.† "Iím going to try and isolate the channel to the Castle direct."

"Make it snappy, Coran," Keith advised, calling out for the release of intercept missiles as he did so.† "That noise isnít helping us any!"

The audible Ďclickí of a sound channel being redirected made them all sigh with relief.† "Ok . . . now thatís over, letís get back to it!" Keith quickly regained their full attention and called for a series of laser, missile and spinning blade attacks.

Perhaps it was because his mind was so actively involved with their struggle for survival, but somewhere in the back of Lanceís consciousness a clear recognition of what that static reception might be struck him like a lightning bolt.

~ External source?† Could it be . . . Oh, Shannon, buddy . . . I hope youíre out there!! ~

Inside Red Lionís dim interior, a light flickered on asking for a private connection.† Lance hit the button quickly, catching a glimpse of Pidgeís guarded, semi-pained expression.† "Lance . . . do you think . . .?"† Lance quickly understood where Pidgeís concern was coming from, but wondered why heíd picked him to contact.

The kid knows something, he realised, then recalled his sudden departure when the news of the lost Explorer came through and kicked himself.† Of course the kid knew something!

"I donít know, Pidge . . .letís just keep our fingers crossed and hope for the . . . Holy shit!!"† Lance stared in horror as the robeast they had currently directed their firepower at caught the spinning laser disks.

"Did he just catch . . .?"

"Yeah. Pidge . . . I think weíre in some serious trouble here!"

Back at Castle Control, Lanceís gritted, "He got us!" as shocks arced through the mighty Defender were the last they heard before Voltron went spiralling to the planet-side.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sven clenched his hands into fists.† How he hated this.† Hated the fact that he wasnít out in the war zone, hated the way his heart thudded in his chest, hated the feeling of utter helplessness that had taken him over.

Come on, Keith, he thought, closing his eyes against the view on the screen.† But he could still hear the pained cries of his former team mates, and they tore his soul to pieces.† Come on, get it together, fight back . . . Lance, please . . .† I need you to come back to me . . . You canít die out there, you canít!

The proximity alarms started to blare again, jerking him back the morass of fear heíd fallen into.† He turned to the radar con and took in the situation at a glance.† "Coran!† Thereís another ship coming in behind the Drule fleet!"