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Jim Ausfahl

June 5th 2262

Captain Christopher Pike stared at the starscape on the main viewer, somewhat absentmindedly. Patrolling Federation space was often fraught with peril and excitement, but on the whole it was mostly mundane and, frankly, boring. What was it that one of the professors at the Academy had said? "All forms of endeavor are characterized by periods of the mundane and boring, interspersed with moments of the bizarre and frightening. All that changes is the proportion and type of mundane and bizarre, and the stakes." After a few moments, he concluded it had been Doctor Dimitrius Aiglekdos that had said it—it was the sort of crusty commentary on life that he was known to produce. Pike sighed. Whether Professor Dim had been right or not, Pike wasn’t sure; all he knew for sure was that he was definitely in one of the mundane periods. When his communications officer sat up, clearly receiving an incoming message, the captain was hopeful of a change in activity.

"Incoming message, Captain."

"Put it on my viewer, Lieutenant Forrester."

Pike swung up his gooseneck viewer as a dark haired, rounded face appeared on the small screen. "Captain Pike?"

"Captain Smith, I presume? Marc, you old scalawag, I haven’t seen you since we were in Command class at the Academy. What’s up?" Without intending to, Pike allowed his face to split into a half-amused, half-wicked grin.

Smith chuckled. "The usual: Galactic North, Klingons’ dander, that sort of thing. Good to see you, Chris. Look, I need a hand, and you seem to be the closest ship."

"I’ll do what I can. Patrol can get pretty boring. What do you need?"

"Delivery of some sentient cargo. We’ve got a young lady from Illyra; she’s at an age about equivalent to Human mid-adolescence. Until something got into astronavigation, we were taking her to Vulcan. She’ll be at their Science Academy at ShiKahr." Smith shrugged. "They’re going to tow us to a starbase; you get to tote her to Vulcan."

His face suddenly serious, Pike shook his head, as if clearing it of confusion. "That’s odd. According to the information I’ve got, you’re on the Charlemagne; you’ve got a Miranda-class ship. They’re pretty stable. Reading between the lines, I get the hint she’s just a bit headstrong, maybe a bit spoiled, and possibly willing to do anything it takes to get her way."

"Her daddy’s the richest being on Illyra, and she’s an only child, Chris. Sehiume’s pretty much gotten whatever she’s wanted essentially all her life, up until now, and she really doesn’t want to go to Vulcan. What makes it even worse is that she’s apparently a prodigy, even for Illyrans; that makes her one phenomenally bright being. Figure it from there, however you will."

"Good enough. I think I see what you’re driving at, my friend." He turned to the navigation console. "Mister Tyler, do we have the coordinates?"

"Logged and ready, at your command, Captain. He’s about two hours away."

Pike turned back to the screen. "Two hours, give or take, and we’ll beam her aboard."

"Thanks, Chris. I owe you one."

"Like I’ll ever get a chance to collect..." Pike returned. "Enterprise out." He turned to the helm. "Let’s go rescue my old classmate, Number One."

For a few moments, Pike sat quietly, thinking. Finally, he turned to his communications officer. "Lieutenant Forrester, is it possible for you to password lock every access to the computer?"

"Easily, Captain. If you let me use the last seven characters of the ID code of the individual as the entry code, I can even limit what they have access to, as is appropriate for their duties."

The tall brunette woman who served as Pike’s executive officer turned from her console interrupting Forrester. "Captain, I would suggest adding something else to the password, something the crew would know, but might be specific to the individual."

"Such as?"

"I would suggest either the middle name or the individual’s mother’s maiden name." She thought about it for a brief instant. "All of our crew have middle names, Captain, except Mister Spock and he could use his mother’s maiden name or that unpronounceable family name of his."

"Excellent. If you would let the crew know, Number One, and have it going in one hour, Lieutenant Forrester?" There was a satisfied look on the captain’s face as both women nodded in acknowledgement.

"Yes, Captain. If I may be so bold as to ask…?" The executive officer let the question trail off, unfinished.

"Call it intuition, if you wish, but I’m willing to bet that I know why the Charlemagne is having trouble with navigation, and I’m equally suspicious that it’ll disappear shortly after we get our passenger aboard." Pike winked. "I’m sure you can guess what I’m thinking, Number One."

Her eyes widened slightly, then narrowed. "Oh, yes." She turned to her helm console. "You’re not letting a spoiled brat mess with your starship."

He nodded. "Precisely, good lady. I do believe that if she did, Mister Scott would kill her barehanded. That is, if she were very, very fortunate. I don’t want that on my conscience, you understand."

The executive officer chuckled. "I don’t blame you, Captain." She turned to her console, working swiftly.


Pike, his chief science officer Spock and his chief engineer Montgomery Scott stood in the transporter deck, patiently waiting. The Scotsman looked up. "Ready to transport, Captain."

"Bring her over, Scotty."

The characteristic sparkle of the transporter formed, then faded, revealing an Illyran female, surrounded by a small mountain of luggage. She looked around herself. "Well, at least this ship is obviously recently refit. I hope the amenities are better than they were on the Charlemagne." The voice came from the voder that she, like all Illyrans, wore to drop the frequency of their voices to where it could be heard by most humanoids.

Pike looked Sehiume squarely in the face; Marc Smith hadn’t exaggerated. "Perhaps so, Sehiume, but the Enterprise is, first and foremost, a military vessel, not a pleasure cruiser. The facilities will indubitably be less than those to which I assume you are accustomed."

She rolled her eyes in a nearly universal gesture of obvious, abject adolescent agony. "What is with the Federation? Don’t they even know what the basic needs of a civilized woman are?"

"I’m sure that the Vulcans will have suitable accommodations for you when you arrive; I expect that will be only about thirty-six hours, unless we have difficulty with our navigational system." Pike kept his face absolutely neutral as he spoke, which was no mean feat. "Until then, I’m sure you’re mature enough to make do with the limited resources we have."

Semiume’s face registered resentment at the captain having backed her into a corner, by making any complaint appear to be indicative of immaturity. Her hand disappeared into what Pike assumed was a purse. She sniffed in derisively. "I suppose. You’ll have my baggage transported to my suite?"

"Unfortunately, madam, it appears that there is more baggage than we can realistically expect to put into your quarters with you, unless we remove the furniture. I would suggest selecting those things that you are sure you will want over the next day and a half, and allowing us to put the rest in a cargo area."

"I want it all," her voder’s volume and pitch increased slightly.

"I see. Then you will have to go with it into the hold. Unfortunately, there are no beds, toilets or bathing facilities there, so you’ll have to make do without such amenities until you reach Vulcan." Pike kept a tight, poker face on. "Personally, I wouldn’t recommend that, but you’re welcome to do whichever you prefer."

"You are so, so… so totally unreasonable." Sehiume’s fury was unmistakable. "I demand that you find another solution."

The captain allowed himself a thin smile. "Your request is noted. At the moment, I have a few other things to attend to before I can address your request; I estimate it will be at least two or three days. Until then, would you rather take a few bags to the guest quarters or stay in the hold with your entire supply of luggage?"

There was no doubt that Sehiume had never faced anyone as happy to stonewall her as Pike was. Frustration and fury almost oozed from her skin, her hairless pate and backswept, pointed ears turning red with it. Without warning, her hand flew out of the bag it had been in, carrying a moderately-sized, nearly clear globe. The arm cocked back as if she were going to throw the sphere at the captain. Before she could release it, Spock and Scott had their hand lasers out and aimed. Eyes wide, Sehiume looked at the Vulcan and the Scotsman. "You wouldn’t dare."

"Your statement is quite illogical, Sehiume." The voice was Spock’s. "If you throw that, I will be forced to destroy it with my laser pistol."

"Aye, and I might just aim at you instead of what you’re throwin’, lass." Scott’s forehead furrowed. "You’re threatenin’ my captain; I’ll not stand for that."

The tight smile on Pike’s face widened slightly. "To be blunt, young lady, they would dare. Just moving as if you were going to throw that at me is enough to get you put in the brig and I guarantee you, if I have to put you in the brig, you’re not going to have any of your luggage with you. Do I make myself adequately clear?"

"Abundantly. I’ll just choose a few things, and you can tote the rest to the hold. Tyrant."

The captain bowed. "That’s Captain Tyrant to you, young lady. ‘Captain Tyrant, sir’ might be advisable, under the circumstances." He turned to his science officer. "Mister Spock, if you would escort this young lady to her assigned quarters?"

"Of course, Captain." The Vulcan turned, seeing the Illyran selecting a few pieces of luggage to take with her. "I think four pieces would be as much of a load we can realistically take with us in the turbolift. They are of limited capacity."

The Illyran shot Spock a thoroughly angry look, and went back to rummaging in her luggage without further comment. After a few moments, she had four bags. Spock took the two larger ones and moved toward the turbolift. Sehiume followed him, empty handed.

"May I presume, Sehiume, that you have decided two bags are enough?" Pike’s face wore a gentle but firm smile. "Or have you forgotten them?"

"You don’t expect me to carry them, do you?"

"They appear to have wheels. I think you can roll them along the floor without carrying them." The smile disappeared from his face, making it look almost stern. "If you’re not willing to roll them along with you, I’d say you didn’t really want them enough to inconvenience my crew delivering them to you."

The Illyran adolescent was clearly aghast. The notion of actually having to do something for herself was clearly a novel one. Pike stood there, impassive, hands on his hips. Finally, she walked back to her bags, rolling them to the turbolift, her face clearly registering resentment at the effort. Without further comment, she disappeared into the turbolift.

Scott looked over. "She’s a rare one, indeed, isn’t she?"

Pike sighed. "Not half so rare as I wish she were, Mister Scott. I have the feeling that there are children like her all over the Federation, on almost every inhabited planet other than, perhaps, Vulcan. I’d better get back to the bridge, I suppose. Three will get you eleven that she’ll be calling the bridge in a titanic rage when she finds out she can’t access the ship’s computer."

The Scotsman returned his laser pistol to its holster. "I’d not bet against that. Granny would have tanned that bairn’s hide."

"I thought you said your granny didn’t believe in spankings, Mister Scott."

"I didn’t say Granny would spank her, Captain. I said she’d have tanned the child’s hide. She’d have skinned it off her first." The engineer nodded to himself. "There were certain forms of childhood behavior that she thought merited the child being removed from the gene pool, so to speak, before even entering it. That child showed most of ‘em."

"As much as I share her, and I presume your, sentiments, we have orders to deliver her to Vulcan, and I’m assuming they mean alive." He looked at the now-closed turbolift door. "So don’t put temptation before me, my friend."


As the captain exited the turbolift, returning to the bridge, his executive officer looked up. "Our guest has already called, complaining about her lack of access to the ship’s computers, Captain. I suspect that you were expecting this."

"I sure was, Number One. What access does she have at the moment?"

"None, sir. You did not authorize any, and I thought it might be appropriate, all things considered…"The dark-haired woman let the statement trail off into silence.

"You’re a wise woman, Number One. Lieutenant Forrester?"

The communications officer turned. "Sir?"

"Set our guest up with read only access to non-secure material only, and no access at all to the programming that controls the ship. When you have that done, if you’d connect to her cabin, please?"

"Done, Captain. Connecting."

"Bridge to Sehiume, Captain Pike speaking."

"What is the meaning of this? I have no access to the ship’s computer." To say that the young Illyran sounded angry would have been an understatement. It was amazing how much emotion the mechanical sounding voder could convey.

"You do, now, but your access is limited—read only access, and to non-critical files. Being an Illyran, and thus a mathematical prodigy from birth, I cannot imagine that you would require the computational capacity of our humble computer. Rumor has it that you’re a prodigy among Illyrans; I figure that means you’ve even less need of a machine to do your thinking for you." Pike paused only briefly, for emphasis’ sake. "I’m quite confident that you were solving computational problems more difficult than our computer can when you were in the Illyran equivalent of second grade. Correct me if I am wrong."

"I am not accustomed to having my activities limited, and I don’t particularly appreciate this sort of treatment. As your passenger, I..."

"This is a military vessel, madam. Everyone’s activities are limited on this ship, on occasion, even mine. You’re no exception on that score. Surely you’re mature enough to handle the discomfiture for a brief period."

"You’re implying any complaint I make about my condition is evidence of my being immature. I’m not amused by that ploy, you know." The anger in Sehiume’s voice was progressively poorly controlled, and not at all hidden by the voder.

"That’s good; it was not intended to be amusing." Pike’s face started looking stern, even though the connection was audio only. "We are not here to amuse you, young lady. We are to deliver you to Vulcan. That, we will do. As much as we are able, we will make the trip pleasant for you, but let me be perfectly clear on one thing: you will not be allowed to jeopardize the function of this vessel. My position is, I hope, crystal clear?"

"I don’t want to go to Vulcan. Am I being crystal clear?"

"You certainly are. However, I don’t have the authority to deliver you anywhere else, so you’re going to go to Vulcan, whether you wish to or not." The captain leaned slightly forward. "I suggest that you make the best of things, unless, of course, the brig appeals to you."

"Fine." The single word was followed by a hypersonic sound that the ship’s communications system brought down to audible range.

The connection terminated. Pike shook his head. "It’s going to be a long trip, isn’t it?" He leaned back in the command seat. "Mister Tyler, set course to Vulcan, please. Number One, get us there on the double, preferably as quickly as we can go."


Sehiume looked around her cabin, seeing the mess she’d created with the tantrum she’d thrown when the captain refused to give her what she wanted. Reflecting on her interactions with him, she realized that he probably would not let anyone in the crew clean up the thrown belongings and overturned furnishings; rather than tolerate the mess, she decided to clean things up herself. Having to do menial labor herself did nothing to reduce the Illyran’s determination to get her way, one way or another.

Sitting at the readout, she began to study the ship’s layout, looking for whatever resource she could find. Resources seemed comparatively thin, but not impossibly so. She quickly memorized the layout of the ship and made her way to the turbolift. There was more than one way to get the access to the ship’s computers that she wanted, she was sure, and she was determined to find one.

Moments later, she found herself on the engineering deck. The area around her was abuzz with activity, experienced starship engineers, technicians and even a few cadets moving from place to place doing tasks that seemed to need doing. Assorted individuals were accessing the computer from assorted readouts, clearly not bothering to load in access codes. Sehiume smiled to herself, the tips of her pointed, backswept ears drawing slightly closer to her large, bald pate. The general structure of the programming of the Enterprise, she was sure, would be essentially identical to that of the Charlemagne, which she still remembered quite clearly. The trick would be to find an unattended, somewhat secluded terminal.

Trying to look nonchalant, she wandered down into the midst of the organized flurry of activity before her, peering over the shoulders of assorted individuals and asking what she hoped were questions displaying interest without revealing much about what she already knew. Slowly, but systematically, she made her way toward a semi-concealed readout, watching closely and being sure that those accessing it were still not having to key in an access code. Patiently, she waited her opportunity. When it came, she moved rapidly, keying in the programming that she wanted to insert into the ship’s systems. Only a few moments were needed to get the job done. She tapped the key to upload it into the target area, only to find that the system refused to upload it.

Astonished, Sehiume bent close to double check the control commands she had entered, wondering if she had made a typographical error. She hadn’t. Again, she tried to insert the program code into the ship’s systems only to be rebuffed. Puzzled, she began to search through the computer’s memory to find out what was happening. Before she could delve to any degree she felt a tap on one shoulder. Surprised, she turned to find herself face to face with Montgomery Scott.

"Surely ye don’t think I’m as na ve as all that, lassie. Long before you reached the readout, I’d seen you makin’ your way to it, and had isolated it." The Scotsman shook his head as if he were disappointed. "You really shouldn’t underestimate seasoned veterans in the service. My cadets have done a better job sneaking around and getting up to pranks."

The Illyran touched a control on the readout. "A pity that you’ve no evidence. I’ve just erased the file I was creating."

As she spoke, a cadet arrived at Scott’s side. "Sir! Here is the data chip with the contents of the file on it, sir, as you requested. Copies have been forwarded to Mister Spock and the captain. Sir!"

Scott nodded. "Good work, Cadet. Thank you." He turned to face the Illyrian adolescent. "I suggest that you report to your quarters and stay there until we learn the captain’s pleasure over your apparent attempt to sabotage the ship. I’ll be talking to him shortly."

"You wouldn’t dare." Her voder conveyed her incredulity with perfect clarity.

"Wouldn’t I?" He turned to the cadet who had brought the data chip. "What d’ye think, lad? Would I dare turn her in?"

"Permission to speak freely, without reprisal?"

"Of course, lad. Speak your mind." The chief engineer smiled.

The cadet turned to face Sehiume. "Madam, he would indeed dare turn you over to the captain, if you’re most fortunate. If you are not so fortunate, he’ll deal with you himself. You’d rather face the captain."

"Oh, pooh." Sehiume tossed her head in derision. "I don’t believe you."

The cadet shook his head. "Your choice, kid. Just don’t say you weren’t warned. The man’s brutal, when circumstances demand it. I’d rather face a shipload of angry Klingons than Mister Scott in a rage. No disrespect intended, sir."

Sehiume’s eyes widened. The chief of engineering stood, smiling more and more widely as the cadet spoke. Finally, Scott turned to the face Sehiume again. "I appreciate the compliment, Cadet. As you were." He turned to face the Illyran. "Lassie, I’d be moving to the turbolift, if I were you. If you’re not there in one minute, I’ll be forced to dispense summary justice for the attempted sabotage of a starship."

Next to the Scotsman, the cadet paled in fear, quickly moving to whatever other duties he thought he had.

"Now move," the engineer said in a low voice.

It didn’t take long for Sehiume to decide that discretion was the better part of valor; she dashed for the turbolift, disappearing into it. As the door slid shut, Scott heard her say, "Guest quarters."

Inside the turbolift, the young Illyran female considered her options. There was no question in her mind that Pike would consign her to the brig; equally, there was no question that she had no desire to find herself on Vulcan. She stepped out, entering her quarters. Only one option seemed viable. Swiftly, she emptied the largest of her wheeled pieces of luggage, quickly filling it with those things she was sure she would need, but not find easy to replace elsewhere. The suitcase filled, she departed the cabin again, moving down the corridor with the case, entering a turbolift at some distance from her cabin. Unseen, she entered the turbolift. "Shuttlecraft hangar deck."

Obediently, the lift took her to the hangar deck. Sehiume looked out of the lift, finding it empty. As quickly as she could, she scanned the controls; she’d made a point of memorizing how they worked, and it was only a matter of a few moments effort to program them to let the shuttle exit on the shuttle’s signal without notifying the bridge or the flight control office. Hurriedly, she made her way to the warp shuttle Copernicus and loaded her one bag and herself on board. Engaging the ship’s power supply took hardly longer, and she was out the shuttle bay doors into free space.

Lightly, her fingers danced across the shuttle’s navigational helm, programming in a sequence of maneuvers, then triggering it. Warp drive engaged, sending the shuttle on its way. Exultant, Sehiume leaned back in the pilot’s chair. She was free.


Captain Pike turned, as the turbolift door opened onto the bridge, to see who was arriving. Scott stepped out. "Hello, Scott. You look like you’re seriously considering committing mayhem. What’s on your mind?"

"It’s that young lady we brought aboard, Captain. I caught her trying to modify the ship’s programming down in Engineering. I’ve looked over what she was trying to do; it would have changed navigation so that we’d have been doing tight circles no matter what we loaded into the system. ‘Twas a frank attempt at…" Something caught the engineer’s eye; his jaw tightened in a cross between anger and frustration. "Och, wonderful. It looks like yon spoiled brat has stolen our warp shuttle."

Spock looked at the science console briefly. "It would appear, Captain, that she is making a direct path away from Vulcan. I suspect, however, that the present trajectory is a ruse."

Pike nodded. "I agree, Mister Spock. Scotty, is the shuttle fully fueled?"

"Aye, Captain. The moment a shuttle returns to the ship, the engineerin’ crew goes over it from stem to stern, to be sure it’s fully operational, and then runs it up to full fuel reserves. She could go a long ways on the shuttle."

"Far enough, Captain, that she could get outside high resolution sensor range, then change her direction. I conjecture that her plans hinge on our not noticing that she has gone." The Vulcan turned to his console again. "It is my belief, however, that we can monitor her progress without tipping our hand, so to speak, if we give chase without getting too close to the shuttle."

"Good." Pike turned to the helm. "Keep a respectable distance from the shuttle: outside of the shuttle’s sensor range, but inside ours." He turned to Scott. "Is there any way that we can shut the shuttle’s engines down from here?"

"I’ve argued that there should be, Captain, but up until now, no one seems to have taken the thought seriously. Perhaps the brass will listen now."

"I hope so. Whether they do or not, I want the remaining shuttles on this ship set up so that the Enterprise can take over their navigational console at my command, and I want the warp shuttle modified the same way when we get it back."

"Captain, if I may interrupt?"

"Yes, Mister Spock?"

"There is a new factor in the problem. It appears that the warp shuttle has started evasive action, as we expected. Unfortunately, the evasive action has brought it into range of an Orion trader just before Sehiume powered the shuttle down, presumably to make discovery more difficult. It appears that the shuttle has been taken on board the Orion ship, being mistaken for abandoned debris."

Pike shook his head in agony, staring at his feet in frustration. "Wonderful. First Sehiume overrides our security protocols and steals the Copernicus, then she gets herself kidnapped. Spock, can you track the Orion trader?"

"Unfortunately, they have moved beyond sensor range. The ships Orion traders use are usually small but remarkably fast. Clearly this craft was one such." The Vulcan straightened up, turning to face the captain. "I conjecture that the craft will go to one of their planetary bases, from which we will likely receive a ransom call. If I may suggest it, setting up a sensor grid to try to triangulate their ransom call might be prudent."

"It’s worth a try. Mister Scott, get on that, first priority."

"Aye, Captain." Scott headed back to the turbolift.

"Mister Spock, I suggest that you prepare for the very probable issue of the Orions using multiple, shifting transmission sources to try to confuse the signal. See what you can do to produce a guess as to where they might be based on that."

"Naturally, Captain. I am already working on setting that up, sir." The Vulcan remained bent over his console. "It should be possible to add in the information about a possible volume of space that the Orions could have reached, based on the known capacities of their ships and the length of time between their taking the ship and making the ransom demands."

"Good." The Captain leaned back in the command chair. "Now all I have to do is figure out how to tell Starfleet Command and her parents that she’s managed to get herself kidnapped."


As far as Sehiume was concerned, her plan was infallible: go exactly the direction they would expect, far enough to get beyond the sensors’ ability to detect the shuttle, move along another direction for a modest distance, and then play dead for a while to evade detection. Being from a race of extreme mathematicians had its advantages; she had no trouble calculating the length of time the air would remain breathable in the shuttle and the shuttle would remain warm enough to be comfortable. Long before that, she knew, she could restore power to the life support systems and hide a little more comfortably.

While she was busily congratulating herself for a clever escape, the warp shuttle jerked violently. Rather than restore power to the shuttle, the Illyran adolescent looked out of the forward port. To her dismay, she saw the one thing she hadn’t accounted for in her calculations—another ship, mistaking the shuttle for an abandoned craft. Carefully, she studied the markings on the craft; it looked to her like it might be an Orion ship. There were, contrary to what her parents seemed to believe, some significant points to having a practical turn of mind; she’d read a text on the Orioni language and script, and having an eidetic memory, still retained it all.

The obvious course would have been to bring the shuttle back to full power and call for help; there was no question in her mind that the Enterprise would be able to rescue her. Equally, she was sure that would be a ticket to Vulcan, which was not at all where she wanted to go. Acting the part of a dumb kid seemed to be the most prudent course, at least for the moment. The craft’s identifying marks memorized, she curled up in the pilot’s seat, waiting to be discovered.

Slowly but inexorably, the tractors pulled the shuttle into the gaping maw of the Orion ship’s hold. To her surprise, the hold contained stacks of cases and cartons; the atmosphere must have been evacuated before the hold had opened, or the contents would have blown into space. The craft was hardly in place before the huge door pivoted downward and slid into place. Air began filling the hold. Moments after its arrival, numerous green colored beings streamed toward it. Sehiume decided it was time to make her grand entrance, and moved toward hatch. Nothing happened. It was several seconds before the fact that she had cut power to the shuttle registered: the power ran the door, too. Restoring power, she made her entrance, somewhat less grandly than she had planned.

There was no mistaking the astonishment of the Orions around her as she debarked. One looked her square in the face. "Welcome aboard our ship, young Illyran. You and your shuttle are now our property, under the laws of interstellar salvage."

Her bald head tilted slightly, the tips of her backswept, pointed ears deepening in color. "I believe we are both well aware that such laws only apply to inanimate objects and non-sentient life-forms. As the daughter of the wealthiest couple on Illyra, I expect to be treated with some respect."

One of the other Orions nodded. "Good material for ransom, Rahaj. I’ll bet her old man will pay a pretty penny for getting her back intact."

The individual who was clearly Rahaj nodded. "No doubt about it, Gendel, no doubt. You and a couple of others get in that ship and see what you can find to prove that we’ve got our precious little bundle when we call her daddy."

It was time for quick thinking. She tossed her head, a gesture rendered considerably less impressive by her total lack of hair. "Don’t waste your time. You’ll have to use my hand print. Do you think I’ve got anything else that unique with me? Really, you’d think I was emigrating, not taking a brief trip." She rolled her eyes in what she hoped would be interpreted as adolescent agony.

"She’s got a point. Cherrak, Gendel, get both of her handprints scanned, and we’ll send the demand for ransom." Rahaj turned back to the adolescent. "I trust you can tell us how to contact your parents, can’t you?"

"For that sort of thing, there are servants, right? I mean, really, that involves manual labor. Not my style." She was lying through her teeth, but she hoped the bluster would work. It did.

"Great. So how do we manage to get you ransomed? General broadcast?"

"Use your brain, will you? I escaped from the Enterprise. Call them and let them contact my father." She shook her head in what she hoped would be interpreted as imperious indifference. Internally, she realized that her behavior had been sufficiently obnoxious that the captain and crew of the Enterprise would probably not want to rescue her, but she hoped that some spark of forgiveness might surface and move them to come for her. Her home behavior flashed across her memory; she wasn’t at all sure her father would be willing to ransom her. All that she was sure of, suddenly, was that she didn’t deserve rescue and wanted it badly, very badly, even if it meant Vulcan.

"Don’t like that, Boss. Risky."

Rahaj turned to face Cherrak. "I can’t say that the idea thrills me either, but I don’t have a better idea. Unless you do, I guess we’d better try hers. Use a source concealing transmission protocol—say, with three to seven broadcast units. Maybe that’ll buy us enough time to collect the ransom and scoot."

Even to Sehiume, it was clear that Cherrak didn’t like the thought, but knew he had to carry out orders. "Seven units it is, Rahaj. Want to pull into base before we make our demand?"

"There’s a concealed base nearby, I think. Sow the broadcast units, then we’ll run them from the base. Let’s get moving." He turned to Sehiume. "Come along, little girl. Let’s get you checked into some nice quarters."

"Judging from what I see, I think I’d rather stay on the shuttle." She wrinkled her nose. "If I recall correctly, what you folks eat isn’t quite I’m used to."

"Your choice." He turned to his other subordinate. "Gendel, make sure she can’t signal for help, or try to fly the bird through the hull, will you? But leave her with life support."

"You got it." Gendel disappeared into the shuttle, returning with a couple of components. "This ought to keep her grounded and quiet. And when her daddy coughs up the ransom, she can have ‘em back and figure out how to get home on her own." There was no mistaking the evil undertone in Gendel’s chuckle as he walked off. "Better get on board your craft, lady. Make yourself as comfortable as you can."

Rather than argue the inarguable, Sehiume returned to the shuttle, closing the door. For the first time in her life, Sehiume found herself trapped in a situation she couldn’t manipulate, and it was turning out to be more unpleasant than she could imagine. There was one possible avenue; it was risky, but she knew her hand prints wouldn’t convince anyone. With a little modification, she realized, her voder might just help things a little bit.


"Incoming signal, Captain."

"Thanks, Lieutenant Forrester. My viewer, please." Pike raised the gooseneck and turned to face its screen squarely.

"Audio only, I’m afraid."

"Spock, do your best to triangulate it. On speakers, Forrester."

"Enterprise, we have your shuttle, and the Illyran girl. You’d better tell her parents that they need to cough up a hundred kilos of gold in the next twenty-four Federation hours, or they’ll never see her alive again, unless they plan to visit the slave auctions on Xantharus. Attached is a scan of her handprints to confirm her identity." The voice was clearly distorted, presumably to prevent its being recognized.

"You’re going to have to give us more than that, you know." Pike knew Spock would need a little longer to triangulate the source, especially if effort was being taken to hide it. "Little issues like where to trade the girl for the gold would be helpful. And something better than just her handprints would help; you could get those off a cadaver."

"Here she is herself. Maybe you’ll believe the voice."

The distorted voice was replaced by an all too familiar female voice. "Really, these people are barbarians. You just have to get me out of here; they don’t even have decent primping facilities. I mean, what is a girl supposed to do? Walk around like a…"The voice was cut off, to be replaced by the mechanically distorted one.

"I take it you recognize the voice?"

"It’ll need matched against her file here, but it sounds right. Still, all voders sound about the same to me, which may make things a bit more difficult." Pike turned to Forrester, gesturing to have the pickup muted. "Did they include the hypersonic frequencies Illyrans talk in?"

"Yes, Captain. I don’t think the hypersonics match the voder output. I’m separating out the hypersonics now, and will run them through linguistics computer."

Pike nodded for the pickup to return to activity. "I’ve checked with my communications specialist; we should be able to achieve a match shortly. We’ll need an hour to be able to fully confirm, so you’ll need to contact us then. There’s the issue of where to make the exchange, still."

"That can be arranged then. We will call again in about an hour. Out."

Pike turned to Spock. "Any results, Spock?"

"Not as precise as I would have hoped. They must have been using at least five and possibly seven broadcast units to confuse the issue. The location is down to one of three star systems." The Vulcan turned to look at his console, then looked back up. "Two of the three, however, are of lower order probability, lacking a planet that has an atmosphere Orions can breathe."

"That assumes they’ve gone to surface, Spock." Pike’s lips tightened. "How likely do you think that would be?"

The Vulcan nodded. "Under the circumstances, it does appear more logical that they would choose to avoid landing. It would make them substantially harder to find, at least in theory. A second communication would greatly aid in locating them, assuming that they are stationary."

"We’ll have to wait for that. Lieutenant Forrester, could you connect me with Sehiume’s parents?"

"Working, Captain."

Before him, Pike saw the face of an Illyran male. "Nehoeheh here." The being stared straight forward, as if stating his name was sufficient.

"You are Sehiume’s father?"

"Yes." Nehoeheh was clearly not longwinded.

"She has been kidnapped, I’m afraid, and the kidnappers are demanding a hundred kilos of gold for her release."

"Interesting. What did she do, steal a shuttle to try to avoid going to Vulcan?"

The captain winced. "Exactly, Nehoeheh. Before we could catch up with her, she was taken, shuttle and all."

"Well, well. Do let me know if you find her, will you?" Nehoeheh turned as if to end the conversation.

"There was the issue of the ransom. They were demanding a hundred kilos of gold."

The Illyran’s image turned back to face the captain. "I heard you. Frankly, the child is rather a perverse little pest; she simply refuses to stick to the point with her math, getting all wrapped up in intensely practical matters rather than staying with pure theory. Tell them to go away and leave me alone. They’re welcome to the little brat as far as I am concerned. Now, I’ve a theorem in polydimensional set theory with which I’m working to which I should like to return. Goodbye." The viewscreen snapped back to the star field.

Number One’s head tilted to one side. "She must be a prize stinker at home, too, Captain."

"Stinker or not, we still have to do what we can to rescue her and deliver her to Vulcan. Lieutenant Forrester, what did you find on the ultrasonics? Did her voice prints match?"

"The patterns matched with the samples that we have, Captain. What didn’t match was the voder output; her ultrasonic speech held a different message." The lieutenant looked at her console. "She gave us an approximate position, as best she could compute it, and the Orion ship’s identification." She looked up again. "I’d guess she reprogrammed her voder to give a recorded message while she gave us what we might need."

"Spock, do the coordinates match anywhere in what you computed as the probable area of source?"

"Slightly off center, Captain; certainly very credible. Certainly more credible and resourceful than I would have expected, given her behavior on the ship." One of Spock’s eyebrows lifted. "Seeing the Enterprise arrive might induce precipitous flight, or other, equally undesirable behaviors."

Pike’s executive officer spoke again. "I would recommend sending a surreptitious sensor probe to the site, to confirm and monitor."

"Excellent, Number One. Get on it, Spock. Miss Forrester, see if you can raise the kidnappers. Maybe we can negotiate on the amount."


Sehiume pouted, doing her level best to be as obnoxious as she could without pushing the Orions into violent behavior. "Well, I hope you’re satisfied. And I need something to restock the food dispenser in that miserable little shuttle. It’s all but empty. Unless you’re planning to starve me until Daddy coughs up the gold, which at the horribly high price you’re demanding just isn’t likely. I just don’t know what you’re thinking. Really!" She rolled her eyes.

"Don’t push your luck, kid, or you could end up doing research on explosive decompression instead of being sold into slavery. I give you three guesses as to what you’d be used for as a slave." Gendel leaned close. "You’ve already made a real pain of yourself, you know. I shall certainly delight in dealing with you if your daddy won’t cough up the ransom."

Leaning close was a mistake Sehiume had been hoping for: at that close of a range, her high-pitched voice made a nice weapon. She let loose with an ultrasonic shriek at a frequency she had computed would cause resonance in the Orion’s sinuses, and thus considerable discomfort.

Gendel jumped back, clearly in pain, proving that her computations had been accurate and the volume quite sufficient. "What in space?"

"I wouldn’t know, you ugly little beast. Maybe it’s the universe reminding you to stay out of my face. And if I were you, I’d consider reducing that ransom request. No way is Daddy going to be able to cough all that up." She decided it would be wisest not to add that her behavior had been such that he probably wouldn’t have, even if he had it.

"Knock it off, brat." Rahaj moved as if to get in her face, then decided better. "He’s the richest guy on the planet. He’s got to have plenty."

Sehiume did her best to look like a petulant brat. "Oh, please use whatever brain you might still possess. He’s the richest man on a planet of totally gullible, utterly theoretical and unbearably impractical people. It’s like that requires big bags of resources. Really! You’re demanding ten times what Daddy can manage." She snorted derisively, an action that the voder failed to handle adequately.

"You’d better hope not. Vacuum isn’t healthy to breathe."

"Daddy may not be over-supplied with precious metal, greenface, but he’s a monster at getting his own back. Vengeance is almost as much his thing as theoretical math. I’ve been on the receiving end of that. Not a pleasant thing." Sehiume knew she was lying through her teeth, but she was equally sure that the Orion wouldn’t know it.

"I hear you. He has to find us first."

"Considering his mental prowess with theoretical mathematics, I’m not figuring he’ll have a lot of trouble finding you if he turns his mind to it." That much was truthful; if he turned his mind to it, she was sure he could find her. The trouble was that she doubted that he would bother.

"I’ll bear that in mind. Now go to your little ship and be quiet."

"Then stock the food thing. And the water thing, too. And I really need a shower; you need to let me use one of those, preferably soon."

"That’s one I won’t quarrel with." Rahaj leered obnoxiously. "Just don’t try anything funny; my crew can get a little quick on the trigger. Accidents do happen, and for now, it might be better if you weren’t one of them. Catch my meaning?"

Sehiume sniffed derisively, which she immediately regretted: Rahaj needed a shower worse than she did. Trying to look as imperious as she could, she stood her ground, waiting to be taken to the shower.

Rahaj broke the brief silence. "Little miss, if you want a shower, I’d recommend getting yourself something to change into, unless you fancy putting those dirty clothes back on. Showers on this ship don’t have a laundry built in, and we’re not going to be running around acting like your body servants."

"Well, fine. I’ll be back as fast as I can. How utterly inadequate!" Before Rahaj could answer, Sehiume scuttled to the shuttle.

Rahaj shook his head in annoyance. "Gendel, I’m beginning to think the ransom thing wasn’t too bright. She’s more trouble than a Klingon with an attitude."

"You got my agreement there. Want I should head down to the hold and escort her to a shower when she’s done picking out her new outfit?"

"That’s better than her coming back up here and whining. Maybe she’ll need some help picking out her new outfit; I’m sure you would be of great help." Rahaj’s face clearly gave the lie to his words.

Gendel laughed. "Indeed I could, but she wouldn’t like my suggestions." The Orion trader hurried off after the Illyran adolescent.

Rahaj sat down in the command seat, contemplating the prudence of shifting locations. Before he could make up his mind, the communications officer looked up. "Incoming message, Captain. I’m guessing it’s probably from the Enterprise. Let’s hope they’re asking about where to leave the ransom."

"On the speakers, Peldur." Rahaj waited until Peldur nodded to indicate the channel was open. "Yes?"

"This is the Enterprise. We have confirmed the identity of your captive, and communicated with her father. He flatly refuses to pay the ransom."

"Yeah, the girl said he might not have that much. See what he says about fifty kilos of gold."

"We will try. One hour?"

"Call us in one standard hour. Out." Rahaj turned to Peldur. "This isn’t working as planned."

"No kidding. I say sell her into slavery and strip down the shuttle for parts to sell."

"Not a bad idea. If the callback weren’t coming, I might just do it. As it is, we’ll still have the shuttle to strip for parts, right?" Rahaj shook his head. "Some days, an honest crook just can’t win, you know?"


Nehoeheh’s face filled the gooseneck viewer again. "Allow me to clarify my point, Captain. They took her of their own free will. I refuse to pay to help them solve their self-made problem. Is there anything about my statement that remains unclear?"

"The possibility that she may be sold into slavery or killed does not change your mind? We have reason to believe the kidnappers are Orion traders and fully capable of either." Maintaining a calm face was a strain for Pike, but he managed.

"Both thoughts have occurred to me, too, Captain Pike, and I confess that I have been sorely tempted on both of them myself. I have researched the literature on child prodigies among several dozen cultures; the one unifying theme I find that transcends cultures is the frequency with which the prodigy’s parents wish to throttle the prodigy. In some species, the parents do kill such offspring." Nehoeheh looked forward, blinking passively. After several minutes, he spoke again. "Is there anything else?"

"I guess not. Enterprise out." Pike snapped the gooseneck back into place as he looked up to the main viewing screen and the stars before the vessel. Pike turned to his chief science officer. "Spock, do you have the location?"

"Yes, Captain. Sehiume’s coordinates appear to be quite accurate."

"Good. I want to know of any change in status of that ship." Pike sat, deep in thought for a few moments. Finally, he straightened. "Lieutenant Forrester, I need Scott in Engineering."

Overhead, the familiar Scottish brogue filled the bridge. "Engineerin’, Scott here."

"Scotty, I’m looking for someone in Engineering to volunteer to join me in an attempt to get Sehiume back. I’ll need someone who can pilot, and potentially repair the shuttle. It’s going to be risky, so I’ll want a volunteer." The captain took a breath. "Get back to me when you find someone, will you?"

"I’ll do it m’self, Captain. I’ve a better idea how to get the shuttle going than anyone else, and I’m an old hand with flyin’ them, if needed."

"After she tried to sabotage the Enterprise? You surprise me, Mister Scott!" The tone in the captain’s voice was kindly, almost pleased.

"Och, she’s a damsel in distress, Captain. She may need her attitude altered, and she may be in trouble of her own makin’, but..." Scott sighed deeply before continuing. "But she’s a damsel in distress nonetheless. Granny would haunt me if I refused to rescue her. We can deal with her attempt at sabotaging m’ bairns when we’ve got her back safe and sound."

"You never cease to amaze me, Montgomery Scott. Prepare for two hours from now." Pike turned to the helm. "I’ll need a volunteer to pilot a shuttle with Mister Scott and I aboard. Any takers?"

"I’m your man!" The voice was Tyler’s, Pike’s navigator. "What’ll you need?"

"A glib tongue, Tyler. How good are you at stalling?"

The navigator grinned. "Is there any particular reason you ask?"

"Because I want to know, of course."

"Would there be a reason that you really want to know? I mean, so I can tailor my answer to fit your needs most appropriately, you understand. I…"

"Okay, okay, you’ve made your point." There was no mistaking Pike’s amusement. "You could probably stall sunrise." He turned to communications. "Lieutenant Forrester, raise the kidnappers. We’re going to move in with the ransom."

"Captain?" His exective officer turned from the helm, clearly puzzled. "I doubt that there is as much as five kilos of gold on the ship, let alone fifty."

"The kidnappers don’t know that, after all, Number One. All we want is to have them close enough that we can beam from the shuttle to their ship and let Tyler stall them."

"I see."

"How’s that call coming, Forrester?"

"Connecting, Captain."

"Enterprise to the entities holding Sehiume."

"We’re here. You ready to make delivery?"

"We are. Might I suggest that we bring the Enterprise to just beyond weapons range and send a shuttle?"

"You might. We’ll transmit a location, and you be there. Don’t try anything clever, though. You bring in other ships, we disappear and the girl gets sent to the slave market."

"Don’t worry about it. It’ll be this vessel and the shuttle. We don’t want any trouble." The captain crossed his fingers as he spoke. "Navigator, do you have the coordinates?"

"Yes, Captain. Less than an hour." Tyler donned a predatory smile.

"One hour, then. Twenty-five kilos?"

"Fifty kilos, refined gold. Nice try, but not a winner. One hour." The connection broke.

"Take us to position, Tyler, and meet me on the hangar deck. I need to talk with Engineering to plan things in detail."


Sehiume had long since decided that sulking in the Copernicus was a poor investment of time. There was every reason to suspect that she might need somewhere to hide, hoping against logical reason that the crew of the Enterprise would come for her, or that her father would pay the ransom, so she began making her way around the hold, looking to see what nooks and crannies might be available for hiding in, and how she might shift from one to the other without being seen, if the circumstances dictated it. Thankfully, the computer had some limited data on written Orioni that she had taken the time to absorb, containing a great deal of useful vocabulary she had not picked up in the book she’d read; she was able to interpret even the more exotic labels. Several of the containers were mundane matter: cloth, foodstuffs and other trade items. Others contained the frankly illegal, particularly illicit drugs or weapons. One modest sized container was labeled trimagnesite; definitely not one she wanted to hide near. She kept on looking. Busily being a busybody, she was unaware of the door opening.

Rahaj stepped into the hold. "For your own sake, little miss, you’d best not pry too much. We’ve made a rendezvous appointment with the Enterprise in about fifteen minutes. Stand ready to be rescued. If you’ve got anything you want to take with you, better get it in your luggage."

"I’ll need some help with that. I’ll want to take your hide with me. For all of me, the rest of you can stay here. You have been so annoying."

Rahaj’s face tightened in clear anger. "You’re no prize yourself, brat. If you want all of your fingers and toes still attached when you’re ransomed, you’d best adjust your attitude."

While Rahaj spoke, Sehiume started the ultrasonic shriek that had caused Rahaj considerable pain earlier. Rahaj backed away. "How you’re doing that, I don’t know, but you can easily be rendered unconscious before you’re returned, or sold into slavery if this is a trick." He left, quickly.

Slavery was one option Sehiume was not willing to tolerate, and she wasn’t about to take any chances. Swiftly, she packed what she had brought with her, and waited, calculating how long and at what pitch she would have to feed ultrasonic energy into the container of trimagnesite to set it off.


Tyler, Scott and Pike sat quietly in the Enterprise’s only Mark III shuttlecraft, the Patton, waiting for the Orion ship to make contact for them to rendezvous. Pike turned to his chief engineer. "The weak point of this is still you and I beaming aboard the Orion ship. I’m confident that we can detect which hold the warp shuttle is in, and that you can get it running and out; it’s getting there without their realizing that we’ve made the trek that worries me."

"Don’t sweat it, Captain. Just leave it to me." Tyler tilted his head to one side, his left hand making a depreciating gesture. "I hope they do detect you going over; if I play our cards right, I may be able to buy plenty of time with that. If not, well, I’ll just stall some other way."

Neither of the other two seemed convinced, which made no difference to Tyler’s serene confidence. Before any further conversation could happen, the Orion trade ship hove into sight.

Tyler gestured for silence and flipped on the communicator. "Hello, Orion trader. This is the shuttlecraft Patton from the starship Enterprise. What brings you here?"

"A little business deal: gold for the girl. Simple enough."

"Just making sure you’re the right Orion trader, fellows. We’re going to have to pull closer; the transporter on the shuttle isn’t going to reach to you. You want to move, or shall I?"

"You move. But don’t try anything tricky, or we’re gone and the girl goes into slavery."

"No tricks—that’s for sure. Look, just don’t panic if I get close; this thing’s got limits."

"Just get in range, okay? Coordinates for the gold will follow."

Tyler smiled, waving his companions to the small transporter. The two stood, back to back, with their laser pistols drawn and ready to use. Tyler moved the vehicle as close as he dared, using the shuttle’s scanners to be certain of the location of the other shuttle. "Okay, guys, let’s see if I can get this thing to work. Hold on."

At a touch of a small contact, Tyler sent the captain and the engineer to the targeted hold. He went back to the communications console. "Okay, I’m a little uneasy about the settings on this transporter; it was sort of a jury-rig job, and I’m not one hundred percent sure that it’s up to snuff."

"No gold arrived. Recheck your settings, then."

"Let me just look at the transporter here for a sec. Maybe they forgot to hook up some wire or other in the control area." Tyler knew he was lying through his teeth, but he hoped that the Orions were clueless enough to buy it. "Okay, here it is—a couple of connections on the targeting control system are in backwards. Gimme a sec; I’ll see if I can retrieve the gold and get it to you once I get them straightened out." He banged on a couple of panels on the side of the shuttle, just to make a convincing noise. To make the delay sound even more believable, he threw a couple of tools down, following the impact with a noise of frustration. Finally, when he thought he had put in as much delay as he could, he re-activated the transporter, this time to an area just outside the Orion ship.

"Will you get it straight?" The voice was clearly getting frustrated. "You almost took off the front end of the ship."

"Sorry. Loose contact, I expect." Tyler made more noise he hoped would be interpreted as his making an effort at repair. There was no telling how long it would take the Orions to decide that there was something inappropriate about his leaving the communications system on while he was banging things; the helmsman hoped that there was enough time. The stall was beginning to get a little thin. "Okay, good. Hey, I still have to retrieve the stuff I tried to put on your ship, you know. Let me do a quick scan to see if I can find it and get it to you. Don’t go away."

"Bah, there’s nothing in our sensor range that even remotely looks like a block of gold of the size promised. I think you’re stalling."

Desperation drove the helmsman to new heights of creativity. "Look, maybe the Enterprise can locate it. It’s not like we’ve got all that much gold on board that we can scrape together what you want a second time." Tyler flopped down to the communicator. "Enterprise, how about a hand on this? Do you see our little gold brick?"

"Negative, Patton." The voice on the communicator was Spock’s. "We will attempt to collect up a replacement ransom. This will take some time."

"Forget it. You guys are just stalling. The girl can go to slavery." Sensors on the heavy duty shuttlecraft indicated warp engines were powering up.


Pike and Scott materialized in the hold, the warp shuttle within a few meters of them. No one else seemed to be present. "See if you can get the shuttle going, Scotty. As soon as you do, we can hunt for Sehiume."

"No need to hunt for me, gentlebeings." Sehiume emerged from hiding, her wheeled suitcase rolling behind her. "Look, I’m sorry for being the lowlife I was being on the ship…"

"Save the apologies for later, lass. Into the shuttle with you; we can discuss that once we’ve got you rescued." As he spoke, Scott was entering it himself. "I’ll have this thing ready to go in no time, I’m sure."

The Illyran entered the ship, only to turn back. "Captain Pike, sir, don’t you think it would be wisest to enter the ship?"

"Not yet. If any Orions come in, someone has to keep them busy until Mister Scott has worked his engineering magic. That’s my job. Get in and be safe." The man didn’t turn his head from watching the entrance to the hold as he talked.

"We’re sunk, Captain." The voice was Scott’s. "I’ve got her powered up and ready to go, but the Orions must have caught on. The power to the controls on the door has been cut."

It was one thing that neither man had a plan to handle. Pike ducked into the shuttle. "Think we can ram the door and get out?"

"Not a chance. The hull of the shuttle would crumple, I’m afraid. It’d take half an hour or more to get a decent hole in yon door with both our laser pistols, and they’d be on us long before we got out."

"Does this thing have tractor beam projectors?"

Somewhat surprised, both men turned to face Sehiume. Scott answered. "Not ones powerful enough to open the doors, little lady; they’ll pivot well enough, but there’s an interlock to hold them in place—not to mention the air pressure holding it against the seal. Nice try but…"

"There’s a crate of trimagnesite in the hold; I calculate it’s got to have fifty or more kilos of the stuff. Would that be enough to get the job done?"

Scott nodded. "I’d say it would be a pushover. Where is it?"

The Illyran ran out of the shuttle, pulling the box into view. "Okay, make that closer to seventy kilos, by the heft of it. It’s not as protected as I had expected." She hustled back into the ship.

"One problem, Scott. It’s got to be ignited. Laser pistol?"

"That should do it, Captain, but I’ll need you to be ready to fly the ship the instant we have clearance; I’ll be running the tractors. I’m not sure that…"

Without speaking, Sehiume took one of the laser pistols. "You guys do what you have to do. I think I can hit a target that large with one of these things. Hitting that won’t take a sharpshooter. I owe you guys at least that much."

"Get to it, Scott." Pike moved to the pilot’s chair, as Scott moved to the controls for the tractors. Sehiume tied herself to a projection near the door, then picked up the pistol.

Slowly, the carton labeled trimagnesite moved toward the hold’s cargo door. Sehiume hit it fair and square with her first shot. Nothing happened. She fired again, holding the laser in place long enough that the metal of the crate began to melt. All that came out was a fine powder. Pike looked at the scanner. "Great—it was purposely mislabeled. That looks like it’s leaking almost pure neococaine. We’re sunk."

Sehiume looked at the ceiling; there were sensors, but nothing to respond to fires. "No we are not. I’m not going to let the Orions take us. Slavery is definitely not any of our styles." Sehiume turned the pistol on a stack of containers supposedly holding bolts of material. "I’m betting that these guys did the obvious in terms of fire protection in this hold." She fired; the crates promptly burst into flame. The aim of the pistol shifted again, igniting a second, then a third stack of goods.

Whistling once in a hypersonic stream toward the computer station in the cargo hold, the Illyran jumped back into the shuttle and triggered the door closure, the door through the hull started opening allowing the atmosphere to vent.

Pike started the shuttle moving. "Smart thinking, Sehiume. The ship’s programmed to use the vacuum to extinguish the fire. Let’s just hope that it opens widely enough to get the Copernicus out."

"Even if it’s not intendin’ to open that wide, Captain, I can force it with the tractors," said Scotty.

"I, uh, suggest we hurry, gentlemen," urged Sehiume. "We don’t have a lot of time."

Scott’s face shifted to solid determination, as if his scowl alone would move the door, which it almost appeared it might. Slowly, almost ponderously, the hold doors continued to open. Pike moved the shuttle toward the opening, waiting for room. With a screech of metal against metal, he took the shuttle out of the ship, to freedom, and accelerated toward the Enterprise as fast as possible with the Patton running alongside all the way back.

The Orion trader leaped in pursuit until an explosion near their cargo hold sent the ship tumbling. Suddenly, its impulse engines fired erratically making the tumble even worse. With a flash, the ship jumped wildly into warp and vanished from the system.

Aboard the Copernicus, Pike and Scotty turned to the Illyran youth with raised eyebrows.

Sehiume chuckled almost audibly enough to be heard without her voder. "I had a lot of unsupervised free time, Captain. I just, um, thought I might use it working on the Orion ship’s navigational computer. I guess the program didn’t improve their navigational ability."


Comfortably ensconced in the command chair, Captain Pike heard the turbolift door open. He turned, seeing Sehiume enter. As she walked to take her place before the captain, Scott moved to stand behind and to one side. Like a convict walking to her execution, she stood between Pike and the helm.

There was an uncomfortable silence that Pike finally broke. "I’m interested to hear what you have to say, Sehiume."

The adolescent Illyran took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, clearly trying to calm herself. "Nothing in my defense, Captain. All I have to offer is a sincere apology for my behavior from the instant I materialized on your transporter deck. By my self-centered, arrogant and self-willed behavior, I nearly disabled this craft, and by stealing your warp shuttle, caused you, Mister Scott and Mister Tyler to put your lives in jeopardy for no other reason than to save my undeserving hide. I am grateful that you did it, because as I look back at my behavior at home, I’m absolutely sure Daddy would have paid to have the Orions keep me rather than return me. I stand ready to accept any punishment given. As far as I can tell, I probably deserve more than your kind souls will inflict."

Briefly, Pike’s eyes locked with Sehiume’s, then his Number One’s. The raven-haired woman nodded. Pike looked at Scott. "Montgomery Scott, I’d like your input before I make any decisions."

"I’ll give you this, Captain, she did use some awfully poor judgment. Her little program to improve the software for the warp nacelle controls, now—she forgot to get it written for both, leavin’ one set to a constant. An oversight, I’m sure, and I’m figuring she was going to try it on the warp shuttle, which has only one warp field generatin’ system when she got caught. A pity she didn’t check wi’ me first; I could have spared her a lot of grief." The Scotsman’s face was very serious and grave as he spoke. "It’s what comes of being too cock-sure of yourself, I expect."

"I don’t believe I’m hearing this. Captain Pike, what is this?"

"As I heard him, it appears to me that Mister Scott is being an outstanding gentleman, missy, and he’s covering your behind." The captain’s face wore a tight smile. "Pretty much everyone needs a second chance; you’re being offered one, if you’ve the courage to take it."

Slowly, the young Illyran nodded. "I think I understand." She turned to face Scotty. "Sir, I feel like a prize chump for forgetting to deal with the issue of multiple warp nacelles, and I am thoroughly thankful that you caught it. If you’ll work with me on it to make sure I don’t overlook anything else important, I’ll be most pleased to finish what I’ve started."

"I thought you might, lass. It’ll not take you long to make the change, and I’ve tested it against the current algorithm and even though it’s more compact, it’s a sight faster." Scotty smiled. "I’m lookin’ forward to testing the full blown program, lassie. If that’s a sample of what you can do, I could make a decent engineer out of you in six months."

"A pity I have a commitment on Vulcan to keep, isn’t it?" For the first time since she arrived, Sehiume smiled. "Perhaps they’ll teach me a little bit of engineering." She shifted position slightly, facing the captain again. "Sir, if it is permissible, I should like to speak to my father, Nehoeheh."

Pike looked over to Number One, nodding. "It is permissible. Turn around."

Almost as quickly as Sehiume could turn, her father’s face filled the main viewing screen. "Sehiume, I see you are ransomed."

"Rescued, not ransomed, Father." Her head tilted a little to one side; had there been any hair on her head, it might have even looked coy. "I want to apologize for the behavior I’ve shown lately, Father. It has been horrid, and really unconscionable. This little episode has taught me a good deal."

"I rejoice to hear it, Daughter. You still have a commitment to fulfill." Nehoeheh’s face registered a stern, essentially uncompromising attitude.

"I know I do, Father, on Vulcan. I will honor it."

"You have matured, my child. I am glad of that, though I must confess it will reduce my income." Nehoeheh sighed. "I will no longer be able extort large ransoms from your kidnappers to take you back."

The whole bridge crew, including Sehiume, dissolved into laughter.

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