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Jim Ausfahl

February 22, 2298
in the evening

Lieutenant Commander Ken Reichard stepped out of the turbolift, arriving on the bridge of the Hyperion rather earlier than necessary, hoping to have a word with Captain Uhura before he started his tour of duty on the Beta shift. As he moved toward the captain, his eye caught Sam Ingram’s as the former Beta shift weapons officer sat next to Lieutenant Marsden.

Uhura swiveled the command chair to where she could see her counterpart. "You’re early, Ken. What’s up?"

"I’ve got a request, Captain, if I could discuss it with you."

"I’m open."

Reichard shuffled his feet a little. "Well, it’s about the weapons officer on Beta shift, Captain, the Illyrian who replaced Joe Tucker."

"Is there a problem with Ensign Diskartedor’s performance?"

"Not really, though we really haven’t had any combat situations to test her metal, so to speak. It’s just that Ensign Blakesley and Ensign Ingram were becoming a pretty tight team, and I really hate to see it broken up. Jeff and Sam were starting to integrate extremely well when we lost Joe and Sam moved to Alpha shift." Deanna O’Doul, the Beta shift communications officer stepped out of the turbolift, moving to T’Soral’s side. Briefly, the lieutenant commander’s attention shifted to the new arrival on the bridge, then back to the captain. "I was wondering if I could have Ensign Ingram back, and let Ensign Diskartedor shift to Alpha."

Uhura turned to Ingram. "Sam?"

"If the captain saw fit to let me go back, I’d appreciate it." Ingram looked over at Marsden. "If you didn’t mind, I mean."

"Maybe I could shift to Weapons, Captain," Marsden offered. "Seems to me that an Illyrian might be better suited for navigation. The way that I hear it, the math for warp navigation is child’s play to an Illyrian."

The turbolift slid open, and the Illyrian in question arrived just in time to hear the last of Marsden’s remark. "Warp navigation’s not really child’s play, Lieutenant Marsden. It’s almost that tough, but not quite. It’s only line integration along a ten dimensional loaded catenary, for pity’s sake. You’re definitely not talking challenging math, here."

Uhura rolled her eyes. "May I assume that you would be willing to consider transferring to the Alpha shift as Helm Officer, Mister Diskartedor?"

"I’ve picked up the nickname Diskar, Captain; it’s easier to say, and I sort of like it. I’d be willing to make the shift, Captain." The Illyrian’s voder, transducing the ultrasonic pitch of her voice to the Human range, clearly expressed her enthusiasm. "I’m adequate, I think, handling the weapons, but I’d be a lot more comfortable with the navigation. That is, if no one else would be inconvenienced by the shift."

The captain turned to her second in command. "Sounds like everyone’s comfortable with your plan, Ken. Get started on that immediately."

"I have the orders necessary all ready for your signature on an administrative padd, Captain." O'Doul stood up from where she had been half crouching next to the Vulcan.

"Why does that fail to surprise me? If you’ll bring them over, Deanna, I’ll sign them. Diskar, you can start with the next Alpha shift, if that’ll let you get enough sleep."

"Not a problem, Captain."

Ensign O’Doul moved swiftly to the captain, padd in hand. Too swiftly, in fact: she missed a step, turning her left ankle under her and sending the padd flying forward. Uhura and Reichard responded almost immediately, Reichard, being closer to O’Doul, moving to catch the falling crewmember, Uhura to rescue the flying padd. The captain succeeded; the lieutenant commander did not. O’Doul crumpled into a heap on the floor.

T’Soral rapidly moved to O’Doul’s side, looking the ensign’s ankle over. "It appears to be injured, Captain; I believe Ensign O’Doul may have broken her fibula, and possibly also her tibia."

"You’ve been hanging out in Sickbay too much, T’Soral. Giac’s starting to affect you." There was a twinkle in Uhura’s eye as she spoke.

"He is my husband and bondmate, Captain. It is logical. I am surprised that you have not learned considerable amounts of medicine, being married to Doctor M’Benga."

O'Doul tried to rise, Reichard assisting her. Struggling to her feet was an effort; hopping around on one good leg was unbearable.

"With the captain’s permission," Reichard offered, gently lifting O’Doul, "I’ll take the ensign down to Sickbay and let your husband patch her up."

"I’ll hold down the bridge until you’re back, Ken." Uhura turned to her Vulcan communications officer. "Would you mind handling Communications until she gets back, T’Soral?"

"It is the logical thing to do. My husband usually is not prompt in his return to our quarters from his post in Sickbay. No doubt this will delay him more than usual."

Reichard stepped into the turbolift, carefully avoiding unnecessarily moving O’Doul’s foot. "I’ll be back as soon as possible, Captain." The turbolift door slid shut.

Ingram surrendered his chair to Diskartedor as Marsden surrendered his to Blakesley. "Y’know, I could have taken her down, and let the lieutenant commander stay here and man the bridge, Captain."

"You know Ken, Jim." The Bantu winked. "He’ll find any excuse he can to go down to Sickbay and flirt with Nurse Webb. I’m surprised we haven’t seen a ring on Marie’s finger yet."

Marsden looked at Ingram. "Man, we’d better hightail it—she’s starting to do the matchmaker thing, now." A turbolift opened. "Rescued! C’mon, Sam! Let’s beat a hasty retreat!"

Both men disappeared into the turbolift in mock terror. Uhura turned, noticing that Ensign Ginpili, the Beta shift science officer, had arrived on the bridge, but rather than leaving, Drevan had pulled his Beta shift counterpart into something he was poring over at Science One.

Curious, the captain interrupted. "What’s got you two so focused, Drevan?"

"Anomalous readings, Captain. For a second, it looked like it might be a cloaked Klingon or Romulan ship, but judging from what Ginpili and I can tell from what little we can see, it’s probably just a local anomaly in the microwave background. If it’s a ship, it’s certainly not at all similar to anything we’ve got on file." He turned to the Tellarite ensign at his elbow. "Although there’s a small, anomalous neutrino flux, here, Gin. We’re beyond the edge of exploration, even if we’re still in the Beta sector, in completely unfamiliar territory. It looks like the scatter from a matter-antimatter reactor that’s barely ticking over."

"You’re right, Lieutenant." The Tellarite leaned closer to the console. "Don’t see any evidence of significant activity, though. Maybe an old hulk that just hasn’t run out of fuel?"

"Does it show any sign of being a threat to navigation, gentlebeings? If not, I would suggest logging its position and what you’ve learned." As usual, Uhura took the practical approach to the situation. "I figure that Ken and Deanna should be back..." The captain’s comment was interrupted by a sudden sound from the communications console. She turned, looking at T’Soral, who was holding onto the communications console’s edge firmly; the noise Uhura had heard had apparently been the Vulcan grabbing on for support. "Is there something wrong?"

"It appears not, Captain. I had a moment of vertigo, but it has passed. I do not detect any indication of disease in myself at this point."

"Be that as it may, when Ensign O’Doul is back on the bridge, I want you to head to Sickbay and get checked out. By my husband, not yours."


Reichard stepped out of the turbolift, surprised to see Doctor Eletto and Nurse Webb waiting near it with a litter. "Deposit Deanna for us, Ken. T’Soral warned me you were coming."

The lieutenant commander shook his head in amusement. "Any excuse to talk to her man, eh?"

Eletto ignored the remark, turning his mediscanner on the injured crewman. "You really did a number on that ankle, woman. Marie, we’re going to need the orthopedic operative field, here; looks like a trimalleolar fracture of her left ankle."

"Yes, Doctor." She moved to get it. "If the lieutenant commander doesn’t mind, perhaps he could help you get Ensign O’Doul onto the medbed?" There was no mistaking the fact that the nurse was in no greater hurry to see Reichard go back to the bridge than he was to go.

Gently, the two men lowered the wounded ensign where the nurse was pointing. As Webb moved the operative field in place, Eletto tapped a couple of controls on the medbed. "That feel better, Deanna?"

"It’s not a hundred percent, but it is better, Doctor." O’Doul straightened her clothes slightly. "It’s a lot more bearable."

"That’s all we can ask. There may be a little discomfort as we get things set and stabilized. Marie, if you’d take your side of the field, next to Reichard?"

"Happily!" As Webb moved into position, she caught Reichard’s eye, pointedly staring at O’Doul’s hand.

Reichard got the hint, gently taking the hand near him. "If it gets too annoying, you can squeeze my hand, Deanna. Marie says you have her permission, right?"

"Just don’t hurt him, girlfriend." The nurse winked at her wounded crewmate without taking her attention away from the task at hand before her. "We’ll have you to rights in a couple of moments."

Three or four minutes passed as the physician and nurse worked with the orthopedic operative field, Eletto mumbling under his breath over the severity of O’Doul’s fracture. Finally, he straightened up. "That’s got it, Marie. Let’s get this contraption out of the way, and let the poor woman try her newly-repaired ankle on for size."

Gingerly, letting Webb and Eletto assist her, Ensign O’Doul sat up and stepped onto the deck. Her weight had barely shifted onto the once wounded ankle when all four Humans disappeared.


"Well, whatever it was, Lieutenant Drevan, it looks like it’s gone." Ginpili took the seat Drevan had abandoned. "Didn’t leave anything behind itself either, other than a few scattered neutrinos."

The Andorian looked over the Tellarite’s shoulder. "Look at that, Gin; it’s not a familiar signature, but it almost looks like the pattern of a low power warp drive engaging. Offhand, I’d guess that we were being snooped on by a ship from an unfamiliar race."

Ginpili wrinkled her hog-like, Tellarite snout in irritation. "They sure did a good job of hiding themselves, then. There isn’t a hint of significant shipboard activity. Pity we didn’t catch on sooner, isn’t it?"

"If they want to communicate, Gin, they’ll manage." It was the captain again. "Speaking of communicating, I’m starting to get a little worried about Ensign O’Doul. They’ve been gone longer than they should have been. T’Soral, get me Sickbay, please."

Overhead, Davids’ voice filled the bridge. "Sickbay, Lieutenant Commander Davids at your service. What’s happening?"

"Are Reichard and O’Doul still down there, Hardav?"

"Nope. When I got here, oh, four or five minutes ago, they’d left. Only person here was Doctor M’Benga. What’s up?" The curiosity in the physician assistant’s voice was obvious.

"I don’t know, but I don’t like it." Uhura looked over at T’Soral. "See if you can find Doctor Eletto or any of the others."

Rather than touch her console, the Vulcan let her eyes flutter closed for a moment. "I would recommend a search to confirm it, but I do not believe that he is still on the ship."

"I heard that." It was Davids’ voice. "Captain?"

"Yellow alert." The Bantu woman was suddenly all business. "Drevan, I want you and Ginpili to tear that scan of whatever that was you were looking over apart, and extract what you can from it. I want to know where that ship went, and how fast."

"We’ll do what we can, Captain, but there isn’t going to be a lot to work with on that score." Drevan moved to Science Two, his fingers tapping the controls.

"With all due respect, Lieutenant Commander, it isn’t as hopeless as you think." Andorian and Bantu both turned to face the weapons console. "Well, it isn’t." Diskartedor shrugged. "All you have to do is get a good scan of the direction the neutrinos emitted from the matter-antimatter reactor along, oh, a dozen three dimensional angles, and let me look at the results. It’ll be a little bit challenging, but I can probably deduce enough about the direction the ship warped out to give us an approximate search cone."

Uhura nodded. "You heard her, gentlebeings. Diskar, get on the math as soon as you can. Marsden, park this ship in the middle of where that other ship was, and take the conn. I’ll take communications, T’Soral; you can go meditate. Under the circumstances, with your bondmate being among the missing..."

"Thank you, Captain." The normally emotionless Vulcan voice sounded full of gratitude. She swiftly disappeared into the turbolift, Uhura taking her place.

"Captain, I’ve finished the personnel check." It was Davids’ voice again. "The ship’s systems can’t locate Eletto, Webb, O’Doul or Reichard."

"Acknowledged." The captain’s voice had a sharp edge to it. "We will initiate search activity as soon as we have some useful search parameters. Bridge out."


Eletto felt someone shaking him vigorously as he regained consciousness. He opened his eyes, seeing Ken Reichard’s face. The physician blinked a time or two, trying to get his bearings. "What happened?"

"We’ve been transported to an essentially featureless room." Reichard shrugged. "All of us were knocked out by whatever did it. I figured I’d wake you before I woke the ladies."

Gently, Eletto assumed an upright posture, retrieving his mediscanner from his belt and turning it on his three companions, then himself. "Well, none of us seem harmed. Why don’t you go wake up Marie? I’ll wake up Deanna."

"No need, Doc." O'Doul sat up, shaking her head. "I’m awake. Someone want to give me some input on what’s happening here?"

"Looks to me like we’ve been kidnapped." Eletto furrowed his brow. "Any of you folks have any training in what to do in abduction situations."

"It’s standard stuff for all Star Fleet Personnel, Giac." The voice was Reichard’s. "For now, we lie low, doing as we’re told; on the whole, for the first couple of days, kidnappers tend to be pretty nervous, no matter what their species. Nervousness tends to make them trigger happy."

"That’s what they taught us back at NASA, when dirt was new." Eletto winked. "No unnecessary antagonizing of captors. Any other major inputs, folks?"

"I hope they have sanitary facilities we can use." O’Doul looked around the room. "I don’t happen to see anything like that right now. There’s only one door that I can see, and I’ll bet that opens to the corridor."

"Point made, Deanna, but we’re going to have to make the best of this room for now. Let’s spread out and see if there’re any other doors we can find. Everyone take a wall, and check." Reichard moved toward one wall as he spoke, beginning to move his hands across it.

Before he could make any significant amount of headway checking the wall out, the door to the room opened, allowing a being to enter. The creature was clearly exoskeletal; its body looked rather like a light green turnip to which someone had attached arms and legs, its head looking rather like a radish driven root downward into the turnip’s top. What seemed to be eyes were faceted, almost insect like; from the top of the head, increasing its radish-like appearance, there sprouted four antennae. The four Humans moved together, facing it. Eletto stood a little in front of the others, staring at the creature, noticing that there were several other such creatures standing in the hallway outside, at least two of which were clearly looking into the room, aiming what appeared to be very business-like weapons at the doorway.

A somewhat tinny voice came from a small box seated on the being’s shoulder. "You are now our prisoners. You will cooperate. Do you understand?"

"We understand. You have taken us captive. We won’t give you any trouble." Trying to remain as calm as he could, Eletto continued to stare at the creature, surreptitiously doing his best to let the mediscanner gather what information he could.

"That is wise. You are feeble endoskeletal beings. You do not have the strength to resist."

The physician’s eyes narrowed slightly, and his jaw tightened. "It seems to me it’s not where a being wears its skeleton that decides who is stronger. You might be surprised the strength we have, even if we are endoskeletal."

In response to the remark, one of the green creature’s arms lashed out, the three-clawed hand at its end striking Eletto squarely on the side of the face, knocking him over. "You are weak."

Eletto stood again, bleeding from the blow. "Am I? Among my kind, it is said that it is not how often a being is knocked down that matters—it’s whether or not the being can keep getting up." Carefully, the Human moved to where he felt comfortable that the being to whom he was talking effectively shielded him from the weapons outside the door. "I’m standing again; that says I am not defeated." As he had expected, the being lashed out again. This time, Eletto parried the blow, almost effortlessly, the exoskeleton cracking slightly where his hand had connected. "That I let you hit me once doesn’t mean I have to do it again. Now listen, this room is not going to work as quarters for us. We need a toilet, for one thing; for another, this room is too cold for our kind. And we need a window to the outside; we don’t do well cooped up like this. The fact that you snatched us says that we are valuable, either to you or to whomever it is that gives you your orders. If we sicken and die for lack of necessary amenities, someone is going to be in trouble." As the physician spoke, a dark green fluid oozed out of the cracked area in the alien’s arm, hardened and turned almost the color of the being’s body.

Backing toward the door, the being spoke again. "You will have more suitable quarters soon. We rendezvous with our mother ship shortly." As the creature finished speaking, it backed out of the door, allowing it to shut.

Webb moved quickly to Eletto’s side, inspecting his injury. "What were you thinking, Giac? Didn’t you just say the smartest course was not to antagonize them?"

"I did, but we’ve at least learned something—at least on one front, their psychology is comparatively Human." The physician winced as Webb wiped an antiseptic cloth she had pulled out of her medikit across the wound. "I don’t suppose you brought any of our little gadgets for closing this, did you?"

"You didn’t warn me I’d need one, Giac." She inspected the wound a little more closely. "That’s a pity; it looks like it might scar if it doesn’t get closed decently."

Reichard moved to where he could see Eletto face to face, and where the two women could clearly see him. He touched his ear then waved his finger around. All three nodded; the gesture clearly meant that they had to assume that they were being listened to by their captors.

"Just a sec, Marie." The wounded Human foraged in his medikit, producing a roll of tape. "Primitive, but effective. Ken, if you’d give Marie a hand, she can put strips of this over my wound to hold it together. It’ll improve the appearance of the result, anyhow." Eletto tapped his ear, offering Reichard a chance to exchange whispers.

Reichard moved close to Giac, taking the tape. As Nurse Webb worked, Reichard leaned forward a little, whispering. "Looks like they’re fragile."

Lifting his medical tricorder up, Eletto studied it briefly, then nodded a little, trying not to disturb the effort to restore some semblance of normalcy to his cheek. "They’re adapted to a gravity about 85% Terran, with an atmosphere of about 23% oxygen, 73% nitrogen, a smattering of CO2 and a couple inert gases, and a temperature of about 10oC, which is probably why this room is so wretchedly cold." Webb finished her ministrations to his cheek. Eletto shifted his voice back to a normal level. "Thanks, Marie. You and Keme can do a better job when we get back to Sickbay."

"When and if, Giac." It was O’Doul. "I know the folks on the Hyperion are resourceful and clever and determined and all that, but I can’t imagine them having enough to go on."

"C’mon, Deanna, no need to be so negative." It was clear that the nurse was struggling to remain hopeful. "We've rescued missing crewmembers before. Remember how we got Hardav out of that mess on Bacchus Three? And we had virtually nothing to go on there."

"Deanna’s right, Marie," Reichard pointed out. "We only had a limited surface area of a planet to check; the search volume for us is a lot larger. Correct me if I’m wrong, but none of us has a subspace locator beacon implanted in us like Hardav. I know I don’t, and I don’t have my communicator on me. Do any of you?" All three shook their heads. "Then we have to be realistic. Without doubt, our shipmates are going to look for us, but their chances of finding us aren’t the best. Since we got snatched without there being any alerts on the ship, I’m willing to bet that no one on the Hyperion knew there was a ship within transporter range."

Webb’s lower lip began to tremble slightly. Eletto decided to intervene. "The Hyperion may have tricks that not even you know about, Ken. Don’t discount Drevan, for instance, and there’s that new Illyrian on board—think of the math crunching power she represents. And if you think that T’Soral is going to leave a stone unturned hunting for her bondmate, you’re being completely illogical."

"Giac’s got a point, I guess." Neither Webb nor O’Doul looked tremendously consoled by the thought, but it clearly gave them a semblance of hope. "It’s too early to give up. Yet, anyhow."

"Okay, I’ll grant you that there is still hope. Now what?"

Eletto shrugged. "I think the best thing to do now is wait. If you caught it, the creature that I clipped made it sound like we were going to dock with a mother ship. That’s our first chance of learning something else that may be useful. I think, for the moment, escape is probably out, unless one of you happened to bring a warp drive and some life support with you."

O’Doul chuckled. "Right. I didn’t even get a chance to grab my medikit, Doc; the portable escape unit just totally slipped my mind." The rest joined her in her amusement. "Frankly, I wish I had brought my medikit; I usually at least have a pack of cards in it. We could play gin rummy or something to pass the time. We may have a good deal of it to kill, the way I see it."

Eletto shrugged. "You guys fill the time with whatever you want. This old man needs some sleep. Wake me up if they bring us food, now—don’t you guys hog it all." Eletto planted himself in the corner by the door, and in moments, was clearly asleep.

"I’m beat, too, Ken," Webb said, moving closer to Reichard. "I guess the stress of the situation is draining me. Maybe we all should get some rest. I know this is the start of your shift, but maybe you could keep me warm?"

A smile flitted across the man’s face. "Well, I suppose I could try." He got serious again. "Deanna, maybe you could join us, or join Eletto?"

The ensign shrugged. "I’m not tired, yet. I’ll keep watch. Someone has to chaperone you two."

Webb giggled, slightly embarrassed. "For now, anyhow."

"Enough of that, Marie. It’s going to be a while before we face that sort of thinking. Deanna, forget keeping watch. Why don’t you plant yourself next to Giac; Marie, you can get close to Deanna, and I’ll take the outside post." He looked at the physician. "He looks like he’s not going to notice, anyhow. That’s one man that is out for the count."


How long the four of them slept, none of them was sure. Without warning, the ship they were on lurched. Eletto was on his feet immediately, waking the others. "We must have docked with the mother ship. Be prepared; I’m hopeful they’ll let us walk to our new quarters. Just don’t try anything on the way. Credits to crackers they’ll have armed guards. And keep your eyes open while you’re walking; no need tripping over anything, right?" The physician winked, touching under his open eye and waving his finger around; the hint to look out for anything useful was clear enough to all the others.

As expected, before long the door slid open. Two of the green creatures entered, one brandishing a weapon. "You will come with us. You will be taken to better quarters."

"Good. Single file, or can we walk as a group?" It was Eletto being practical.

"Single file. We do not waste room on our ships." The being gestured towards the door. "Get moving."

Obediently, the foursome moved forward, following the being that was clearly intended to be their guide, the physician in the lead, the executive officer in the rear and the two ladies between them. As they exited the craft, Reichard made a point of getting a good look at it, to be prodded by the armed creature behind him. Their guide led them through a maze of corridors and elevators, ultimately ushering them into a more spacious room, one that was considerably warmer than the one they had left but still without any furnishings. One side of the room sported a modest window; another side had a half open door with sanitary facilities clearly visible beyond it. Their captors exited the area, clearly not happy about the warmth, the door to the room closing behind them. O'Doul made her way to the lavatory, as Eletto stared out the window, watching intently as the stars moved past him. Reichard stood near him. "Doesn’t look like we’re moving at any huge speed; maybe warp two at the outside. Just a guess, but it gives me some hope that the Hyperion could catch us."

"Yeah." The physician seemed less than impressed. He lifted one hand, his index and great fingers crossed. "But how’re they going to track us, Ken? There’s an ever-increasing volume of space to be searched. If I were these critters, I’d hightail it home as fast as this tub could go, taking the shortest path I could. All evasive tactics are going to do is shrink the search volume for the Hyperion crew and make it easier for them to find us and exact bloody vengeance for the kidnapping." He turned to face the lieutenant commander. "Either way, we have to survive to be rescued, Ken. That’s the big priority." Eletto stared out the window again. "It’s not easy playing the craven, at least not for me, and I can’t figure it is for you either. I want to fight, to break free. I guess that’s the natural thing to do. But unless something unexpected opens up, that’s a one-way trip to being dead."

"I guess. But I don’t have to like it, Giac."

"I know." The physician tore his eyes away from the window. "Maybe I’ll sleep better here; at least I’m going to try. Wake me if anything happens." Eletto planted himself against the wall next to the door they had entered through. "At least sitting here, I’ll know when the food arrives, right?" He grinned briefly, then dropped off.


Uhura stepped up to the door of the cabin that T’Soral and Eletto shared, letting the annunciator declare her presence. T’Soral’s voice came through the small speaker, bidding the captain enter. As the door slid open, Uhura was surprised to see the room was all but dark, its main illumination being supplied by the deep red glow of the embers in the firepot that sat in front of the Vulcan. In its wan light, she could see the half-visible outlines of furnishings and decorations, some clearly Human in origin, others, Vulcan. Stepping into the room revealed yet a second surprise: as she walked in, the captain felt the sensation of climbing a slope that stepping into a room with a higher gravity gave.

T’Soral answered before Uhura could ask. "Giac and I discussed it; he felt that he could adapt to Vulcan gravity easily enough if we increased it a little at a time. He seems to have adapted well. It is logical to hope that he may also be willing to adapt to the temperature and humidity, but I do not think we will try that in the near future."

"I see." Gratefully, Uhura sat down on a cushion her friend had indicated.

"Meditate with me for a few moments, Captain. Stare deeply into the firepot and let the embers calm your katra. Judging from my husband, it seems to be helpful for Humans, too."

Willing to oblige, but not expecting much, the captain fixed her gaze on the glowing coals in the firepot, her eyes slowly adapting to the low light level. With the passage of time, she found that the gently varying levels of light produced by individual coals produced a pattern that was pleasing to the eye, and as her Vulcan companion had predicted, soothing to her troubled mind. When T’Soral finally spoke again, it was almost startling.

"For the moment, they are all safe, Captain. My husband was wounded, but not severely so; I put him in the Human equivalent of a Vulcan healing trance, and the injury is adequately, but not perfectly, resolved. No other has been hurt. They are in a larger ship; the one that kidnapped them was approximately equivalent to a Federation corsair." The Vulcan covered the firepot and restored the lights to the room as she spoke. "I have a sketch of the appearance of the stars outside the window in their room, from one point four three hours ago and another one from fifteen point six minutes ago."

The Bantu stood, taking the padd T’Soral offered her. "Thank you, T’Soral. I’ll get Ensign Diskartedor and Lieutenant Marsden on it immediately."

"It will not be easy, Captain." The Vulcan’s face was almost stony in its lack of expression. "There is grave uncertainty about the precision of the positions and the precise spectral class of most of the stars represented."

"It’s better than nothing." Uhura looked at T’Soral; though the woman’s face was carefully controlled, there were still visible hints of the stress the Vulcan was enduring. "I’m sure we’ll be able to use it to speed the search considerably. Worry is illogical."

"I agree." T’Soral stood silently for a moment. "Thank you for the company, Captain. It has made the separation less difficult."

"Sleep well, T’Soral. I have the feeling we’ll need you on the bridge at your top form before long." Clutching the padd, Uhura made her way out the door and directly to a wall communicator. "Ensign Diskartedor?"

"Yes, Captain. If you are curious concerning the search cone, I have done what I can. Mister Blakesley has the result, and is plotting a search route."

"How’s your memory on stellar positions?"

The Illyrian was silent for a moment. "I would need to use the navigational database, Captain. Crunching numbers and equations and such is one thing; remembering immense lists of data is quite another. Would my fortunes be such that you might have further data with which I can work?"

"Yes. Two sets of sketches, with known time delay. What can you do with it, Diskar?"

"Try, madame; that’s all I can guarantee." There was a noise on the other end that sounded as if it might be the Illyrian version of laughter. "But if the maps are any good, perhaps the search cone could be dramatically narrowed. How soon can I see this new data?"

"How soon can you be in the ready room, Ensign? I’m on my way there. Uhura out."


The door to the cabin holding the four Humans slid open, revealing one of their captors who entered the room, pulling a moderate-sized cart behind himself. He looked at the Reichard and the two ladies. "Were there not four of you? They said there were four, but I count only three." Silently, O’Doul pointed at the still-sleeping physician. The being turned, seeing Eletto. "Ah, I see. He is not dead, is he?"

"He’s just asleep." It was Reichard. "I don’t mean to be annoying or anything, but is there any chance of food? Humans don’t live on air, you know."

"We Partan do not, either." The being foraged in a drawer in the cart, extracting a plastic-like strap that he laid on Eletto’s chest and abdomen. "However, it might not be altogether prudent for you to feed on what we eat. Don’t you think it might be safer for me to figure out what is and is not safe for you to eat, hmm? Wouldn’t want to poison such excellent specimens as you appear to be, oh my, no." The being looked at what seemed to be a readout on the cart, nodding and selecting another object from a drawer, removing the plastic strap and waving the object over Eletto, focusing mainly on his head. "You’ll forgive the caution, I’m sure."

Webb nodded. "I see your point. You’ve already told us you call your kind the Partan. What do others call you?"

The being looked up from his labors. "Mostly things I would not choose to repeat. I am the ship’s life sustainer, or pruner as needed. I am not overly popular; the pruning, you understand. My friends, few though they are, call me Olloo. Will that do?"

"Thank you, Olloo. You can call me Ken." Reichard pointed to the physician under study. "He goes by Giac." His finger pointed to each of the ladies in turn. "That’s Deanna, and she’s Marie."

"Very nice to meet you and know your names, I’m sure." Despite talking, Olloo kept focused on studying Eletto. "I’ll need to study you three as well, you know. Looking at Giac, here, I assume he’s not an egg-layer, so if I could study an egg layer next?"

"Well, we don’t exactly lay eggs, you know." Nurse Webb decided to take the lead. "We bear our young live, instead. Deanna and I are probably as close to an egg-layer as you get. I’ll go first."

"Ah, live bearers. Haven’t seen a lot of your like." It was clear that Olloo was very much the scientist at heart. "This should be interesting, at the very least. Most interesting, yes indeed."

As Olloo approached Webb with his various and sundry instruments, the woman noticed that his exoskeleton was not at all as even in appearance or texture as that of the first several Partan she’d seen; the hard tissue had an almost cracked and glazed appearance, and was rough, almost ridged in places; it all suggested that the being was of considerably greater age than the others. Patiently, she let him do his examination without resistance. "What is to become of us, old one?"

The being looked up. "You are sharp of eye and wit, live bearer."

"Thank you." The nurse smiled, her guess confirmed. "I’d still like to know what is to become of us, though."

"You will be put on display, where we can watch you live your lives as normally as possible." Olloo turned to Reichard, shifting his exam to the second Human male. "You will, of course, be allowed to do meaningful work; we have learned that such is necessary for you to maintain yourselves. For the most part, though, we will do nothing to you but supply your needs and watch."

"Then we’ll be specimens in a zoo?" The voice was O’Doul’s.

"I should prefer to put it rather more gently than that, but I’m afraid that you are essentially correct." The exoskeletal physician continued his labor. "If you think of it as being given a chance to display the value of your kind’s cultural structure, perhaps it will be more pleasant. Or perhaps think of it as being on a planet in a very, very small colony; that has the advantage of being closer to the truth." Olloo shifted to O’Doul, going through the same examination with her as he had with all the others. "Do you suppose one of you might wake up the one you called Giac? I should dearly appreciate a chance to scan him awake. There is an anomaly or two compared to the rest of you, particularly involving the electrical activity of his brain, and I should like to clarify things a little."

Reichard snorted with amusement. "I’ve said there was something wrong with that boy’s brain for years. I feel vindicated."

Pointedly ignoring Reichard’s gibe, Webb turned to the Partan. "You might want to stand back. I can get him to full alertness quickly." Olloo moved a little back, waiting for the nurse to do as she had promised. With the Partan out of the way, she turned to face Eletto. "Medical emergency! Wounded alien life form!"

Without warning, Eletto exploded to his feet, snatching his medical tricorder off his belt and training it on Olloo. Only a moment’s time was needed for him to realize that he wasn’t in Sickbay. The three other Humans were having a laugh at his expense. Oddly, Eletto failed to join the amusement. He looked Olloo in the eye, as best he could. "You are gravely ill."

The laughter died almost as suddenly as it began. The elderly Partan’s antennae bent toward the Human physician. "Is that so? Well, well. And what makes you say such a thing about me?"

He looked down at the mediscanner. "I’ve surreptitiously scanned several of your kind. There is a rather large, malignant-appearing growth off the lower third of your digestive system that none of the others show. You need surgery, soon."

Olloo stared briefly. "Your instrument tells you that? The little thing in your hand?"

"Of course it does, Olloo," Webb answered. "Giac’s pretty sharp with that thing, really."

"Marie’s telling the truth, and so am I." Concern for the being was clearly written on Eletto’s face. "This looks like a cancer; it needs treated, before it spreads. Don’t you believe me?"

"Oh, I believe you; I’ve known about it for some time. Surgery is not possible until my next molt; cutting through my outer shell is too dangerous otherwise." Olloo’s antennae drooped slightly. "Though I expect that it will be too late by then."

"Just let me get you to my sickbay, and I can do it in a trice. We’ve got technologies you clearly don’t know of, ones that will let me get that thing out of you without perforating your shell." There was definite earnestness in Eletto’s voice. That Olloo was part of the crew that was holding him captive seemed not to matter at all: this was a sentient being with a dire, but treatable disease. "Please. Your life depends on this."

One of Olloo’s arms swung to the side in what appeared to be a dismissive gesture. "I’ve heard it all before, you know. Once you were back on your ship, you’d forget me, even if you had that sort of technology, which I honestly doubt that you do."

"Trust me, Olloo; it’s there, and Giac’s the man to do it, him and M’Benga and Davids and Marie here." It was Reichard’s voice joining the discussion. "We’re used to handling members of assorted species; it wouldn’t be much of a problem at all."

"No doubt, no doubt, but there is no way you’ll ever see your ship again to prove the point." Olloo moved to his cart and began sorting things out on it, putting the various implements back in this or that drawer.

Reichard’s jaw dropped slightly, then snapped back into place. "We’ll see about that. I’m hopeful you will be able to feed us soon."

"Yes, of course I shall, I shall indeed. Nourishment will be a little bland, I’m afraid, until we get to our home world, Chaagh. You will fare much better there." Olloo looked over at Eletto. "A pity that you will never be allowed to prove your story, but you will at least have the opportunity to care for others in our little display. I hope your skills cover many species." The Partan pulled the cart behind himself exiting. "It will be a few days, I’m afraid. Until we’re on Chaagh, I mean; the food, I hope to bring to you shortly, and water as well."

The door shut behind Olloo, leaving the four Humans to stare at each other. O’Doul spoke first. "I’m not sure I like the idea of being on display in a zoo."

"Doesn’t seem to me that it matters a whole lot what any of us like, Deanna." Webb hugged herself in frustration and fear. "Unless a rescue materializes, we’re stuck with it. I’m still doubtful about that happening, to be honest."

"Trust me, Marie." Eletto stood by the window, staring out it at the star field outside it. "They will be doing everything possible to find us. I have absolutely no doubt that they’ll succeed."

"You’re crazy, Giac." It was O’Doul, this time, starting to get hysterical. "There’s no way they can find us. We’re sunk, I tell you. We’re not going to get out of this one. They’re going to watch us do everything, and we won’t have any privacy for even the most intimate things and..."

Rechard’s voice shifted to a tone of sharp command. "Get hold of yourself, Ensign O’Doul. Phasering your own brain isn’t going to get any of us anywhere. We’ve got to..."

"Easy for you to say! At least you’ve got your woman. Running Bear’s still on the Hyperion." O’Doul backed away from Reichard, managing to bump into Eletto as she did so.

The physician pinioned the woman with his arms. "T’Soral’s still on the Hyperion, too, Deanna. Believe me, I know Running Bear better than anyone on the ship, other than perhaps you. I know how he feels about you. They’ll find us, Deanna. There’s no way they’ll rest until we’re found." Having had his say, he let the woman go.

She spun around, angrily looking Eletto in the face. "You’re so cock-sure, and you don’t know one thing more than the rest of us do. All you’ve done since we’ve been kidnapped is stare out that stupid window, and sit on your fat rear end, sleeping and spouting empty assurances about our being rescued. What makes you think you can say that, other than stupid, overly emotional, wishful thinking? You have no right to make claims like that!"

For a moment, it looked like the physician was going to strike O’Doul, but rather than hitting her, the arm he swept up and toward her face touched it lightly, the fingertips touching the side of O’Doul’s face in the characteristic points of contact of a Vulcan mind meld. "Oh, yes I do, Ensign, more right than you seem to realize. Now control your emotions." His hand dropped from her face, and he moved to the window. "I have complete faith in my wife and the Hyperion’s ability to find us. And if you don’t settle down, I’ll settle you down; she’s taught me the nerve pinch, and I have no compunctions about using it if you become hysterical again. Have I made myself sufficiently clear?" The words sounded almost angry, but the physician’s face showed a combination of hope and uncertainty.

O’Doul’s jaw dropped in surprise. Webb’s hand went up to her mouth in surprised realization. Reichard slapped his forehead, looking like he was about to speak, but Webb put one finger to her lips, clearly signaling for silence. The lieutenant commander, realizing the prudence of her imperative, let the response die unspoken. O'Doul made her way to where Eletto was standing, gently putting her hand on his shoulder. "Giac, I’m sorry—I guess I just got so wrapped up in my own misery that I forgot that there was anyone other than me who might be suffering. It was just that I couldn’t believe your confidence that we would be rescued."

The physician turned slightly. "You’re just admitting you’re Human, you know. Welcome to Humanity, Deanna O'Doul." He turned back to the stars outside the window. "But you have to realize that I’m not as confident of our rescue as I am of this ship being found. One of the things that I was taught again and again, back when I was at NASA, was that if kidnappers get caught and have the opportunity to do so, they’ll usually destroy all evidence of their crime. We’re not out of trouble until we’re on the Hyperion, Ensign." He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "Hopefully we’ll have some sort of advance warning so we can protect ourselves if we’re found and our captors decide we’re too dangerous to let live."

Reichard looked at the ceiling, making a great display of crossing his fingers. "No chance of that, is there, Giac? I guess we just need to hope things don’t go sour if we’re found. Maybe these Partan are more civilized than ordinary kidnappers."

"I’m not banking on it, Ken." The physician nodded, as if to himself. "All I’m going to bank on is that this Olloo fellow will be back with food and water soon. He, she or it seemed like a reasonable enough being, anyway. I’ll lay you long and strong odds that he’ll want to monitor one or all of us as we eat and digest. Anyone taking that bet?"

O’Doul smiled, just slightly. "Not a chance, Doc, not a chance. I think you’re right. I just hope that he gets here soon. I wouldn’t mind a bunch of something to munch, and something to quench my thirst."

Webb looked like she was going to reply when the door to the room slid open, revealing the sensor cart being pushed by the being of whom they spoke. The elderly Partan pushed it into the room, pulling a second cart behind him. This one was laden with an assortment of bars and several containers full of what seemed to be water. "I bring food and water." He pointed to the cart he was pulling. "The water is distilled, I’m afraid; it probably won’t be particularly to your tastes. It isn’t, for most species, anyhow. You may be the one exception. I won’t make any promises about the food bars, either. It will be needful to observe one of you in your digestive process, to be sure how well these work in your systems. A volunteer would be most appreciated." He looked at Eletto as he spoke, or at least so it seemed.

"I get the point. I’ll let you strap me up and watch as I eat." The physician moved toward the cart. "You’re probably wanting to check me out a little more because I look a little anomalous compared to the other three, right?" He turned his medical scanner on the bars and the water. "Doesn’t look like there’s anything harmful in the bars or the water."

"Indeed so." Olloo began applying the sensors to Eletto’s body, connecting them to the cart he had with him. "I would appreciate your volunteering; your center of cognition is quite odd compared to the others."

"Well of course it is." It was Webb speaking. "Do you have any idea how much older he is than the rest of us? I mean, he’s seven, maybe eight times older than we are. Think it through. He’s got to be the oldest living member of our species there is."

"Ah, perhaps that explains things. I shall want to study him a little more, either way." The Partan gestured to the bars on the table. "Please, all of you, partake!"

No one needed told twice. Despite the bars mostly being bland, the foursome consumed them all with enthusiasm, Olloo patiently watching the data acquisition as the bars disappeared. Eletto grabbed one of the jugs. "Did you bring glasses, or do I chug it out of the container."

"Just a moment, please." The being foraged, producing a relatively reasonable cup. "Will this do? It was made for our grasping members, not yours, but perhaps you may be able to adapt."

Eletto beat Reichard reaching for it. "I hope you have more!" He filled the cup, then offered it to O’Doul. "I’m pouring, folks!" More containers were produced, to be filled and emptied a number of times. "That’s better. Olloo, are you satisfied?"

"Satisfied? Not quite." The being busied himself with the assorted readouts before him. "Besides being bland, the bars are only partially digestible for your systems. Not up to adequate standards, not at all." Eletto looked like he was going to speak, but Olloo held up one clawed hand. "Yes, yes, yes, I know you need some indigestible material to keep your digestive tract happy. Never met a species of any size that didn’t. Does your species recognize the concept of too much of a good thing, hmm?"

"Point made, Olloo." It was O’Doul. "Bottom line, one of us gets monitored at the next meal, too, right?"

"You are quite correct. I shall modify these little nutrient bars a bit, and see what I see. How soon will you need nourishment again?"

"Five or six hours," Reichard answered. "Unless, of course, I’m asleep, you understand."

"Excellent, that will give me time to adjust the bars. Perhaps I can even make them more palatable."

"They’re better than some things I’ve choked down." Webb shrugged. "And they’re a whole lot better than nothing."

Olloo pushed his sensor cart to the doorway, which obediently slid open. "Hopefully the next batch will be considerably better than the ones you just consumed." The being’s antennae swayed gently. "Must remember to make more than I did this time, though. Yes, indeed, must remember that." Mumbling to himself, the being pushed his cart out the door, leaving the cart with the water jugs behind.

All four Humans looked at each other. Reichard was the first to yawn. "There must have been a ton of carbs in those bars, folks, and they went right to my head. Time for a nap. Wake me if anything exciting happens, which I’m quite confident won’t." Reichard planted himself, his back against the wall. Almost as quickly as he did, he was fast asleep.

"You guys grab a nap." The Human physician moved to stare out the window again. "I’ll join you all in a few minutes." He watched as Webb took her place next to Reichard, gently and affectionately snuggling against the sleeping Human’s side. As O’Doul took her place next to Webb, she saw the glint of a tear in the physician’s eye.


Having arrived on the bridge a little earlier than necessary, Uhura settled into the command chair. She had barely made herself comfortable when Ensign Diskartedor entered the bridge and settled into the seat at the helm. The Bantu stared at the being for a moment before speaking. "Diskar, don’t you need to be working on finding the probable location of our missing crew?"

"No, Captain." The Illyrian swiveled to look her in the eye. "With the last sketch tendered by Lieutenant T’Soral, I’ve got the trajectory of the ship pinned down fairly closely. I await your orders."

"How long will it take to intercept them?"

"They have just over a twenty-three hour lead, Captain. I estimate that the ship is moving at a rate equivalent to Warp 1.86 with an error of not more than fifteen percent." The Illyrian wrinkled her forehead which, given the scarcity of hair on it, was impressive. "Throwing in a fudge factor for having to hunt for them, and all, we can get there in just under an hour at Warp 5."

"Captain, what about letting me deploy a handful of probes at max warp, and following along behind at a lower pseudovelocity—maybe Warp 3.5 or so?" It was Drevan speaking.

"Diskar? Give me a time estimate for that, please?"

"Ignoring search time, just under an hour and a quarter. Lieutenant Drevan, what’s the fastest those drones will crank?"

"If no one minds burning out their drives, they can do Warp 6 for about half an hour. Time enough?" Drevan’s antennae stiffened and straightened, belying his excitement.

"Plenty; at that rate, it’s less than ten minutes." The ensign began tapping in a course. "The only problem will be keeping track of them once the probes have found the ship. We’ve got to assume that they’ll detect the probes and do evasive maneuvers."

"Not a problem. Use a limpet pinger." Marsden turned around. "I’ll bet that Indri and Running Bear could modify a probe to act as a subspace limpet pinger in a heartbeat."

"Limpet pinger? What on space are you talking about?" Uhura clearly didn’t recognize the term.

"A subspace locator that clings to the hull of a ship like a limpet clings to a rock. They were huge in the early days of interstellar combat, but they fell out of use when crews got good at detecting them and disabling them from inside the ship." Marsden gestured dismissively with one hand. "It seems to me to be pretty unlikely that whoever’s nabbed our shipmates will be onto the concept."

"Good thinking, Ken. If not original, it's completely outside the box." Uhura turned to T’Soral. "Engineering."

Silently, the Vulcan tapped the keyboard. Overhead, Indri’s voice filled the bridge. "Engineering, Indri here. How may I help?"

"How long will it take to equip a set of probes to act as limpets so we can trace a ship?"

"I’ve got two ready, and Running Bear’s finishing the third. We decided to tweak them to max out at Warp 7. It’ll burn out the drive, but not the power supply. Will that do?" It almost seemed that there was a hint of amusement.

Uhura smiled. Her officers were almost too adept at anticipating her orders. "It’ll do fine. Prepare to deploy them, Indri. Ensign Diskartedor will give you the trajectories. Bridge out." Uhura turned. "Drevan, get those probes going. Diskar, get us moving, Warp 5." She settled back in her seat. "Marsden, as soon as we’re within range, I want that ship’s warp drive disabled without otherwise harming the ship, assuming that’s possible."

"Probes deployed, Captain." Drevan turned. "Rather than disabling their warp drive and potentially putting our people at risk, may I suggest nailing them with a tractor? I’d be willing to bet they’re not going to be powerful enough to tow us, especially if we’re dragging against their drive with ours."

"I like the idea. Make it happen, Mister Marsden." The captain stared at the rapidly moving starscape on the viewer in front of her. "But if they show even the least hint of resistance, see to it that they don’t repeat their mistake."


Reichard, O’Doul, Webb and Eletto had wakened and were sitting on the floor, idly talking as they waited for something new to happen. The door to their cubicle slid open, Olloo and a cart laden with food bars and water coming through it. Behind the Partan, the door slid shut. He turned to Eletto. "If it wouldn’t be too burdensome, I should like to study you as you partake, again. I think I’ve got these things right, but it never hurts to check. You surely understand."

"Expected it, Olloo." Eletto stood up. "Wire me up and let’s get going, gentlebeing. Time’s wasting, and my stomach is clamoring for food."

Carefully but quickly, the being applied the sensors, then handed Eletto a bar. "I think you will find this one quite pleasant."

Cautiously at first the physician took a bite of the bar. His eyes widened, and he took another one. "It’s delicious. I’m not sure what to compare it to, but it’s amazing." Eletto greedily finished the bar. "Any more like that?"

The Partan bowed slightly, in a very Human way. "Several, but you might want to try some of the others, as well." The others snatched bars and began feeding themselves; all were clearly pleasant to the taste. Olloo watched his readouts carefully, then straightened. "Excellent, very definitely excellent. I don’t think they could do better, even back on Chaagh. I..."

Eletto suddenly straightened up, dropping the bar in his hand and ripping the sensors off himself. "Ken, with me." The Human physician pointed to the far side of the door, taking the other side and plastering himself as tightly to the wall as he could. He gestured to Webb and O’Doul to head for the wall as well. For a moment or two, Olloo looked from one Human to another, clearly puzzled. Without warning, the door slid open and an armed Partan entered. Before the being could collect its wits, Eletto had brought his fist down on its forearm, knocking the weapon loose and breaking the arm. Reichard caught the weapon in the air, planting his other palm in the being’s chest and pushing it back into the hallway. A moment’s study told the lieutenant commander enough about the captured weapon that he could fire it; when he did, a projectile rocketed out, ricocheting through the hallway.

Eletto turned to Olloo. "Is there a way you can shut this door?"

The Partan tripped a contact on his cart; the door obediently slid shut.

"It’s light metal, Ken. Think we can jam it?"

Rather than answer Eletto, the man threw himself against the door, bending it slightly. Eletto did the same, bending it yet further. Only instants after the second blow, the door tried to open. It moved only a centimeter or two, then stopped. Reichard nodded. "I think we succeeded. That’s not going to be enough, though, Giac; they’ll be back with cutting tools. What’s going on?"

"Either the Hyperion’s shown up, or they’ve detected the probes sent to find us. Either way, it looks like the crew doesn’t want to leave any incriminating evidence behind, like us. We need to buy time." One corner of the door began to glow cherry red. "Cutting tools are present and accounted for. Ideas?"

O’Doul moved rapidly to Olloo’s cart. "This is metallic; maybe if we ram it against the door, they’ll weld it in place as they try to cut through. It might keep the door shut for a few more minutes."

Grabbing one end of the cart, Eletto helped O’Doul maneuver it into place against the door, taking care to make it as minimally visible through the crack as he could. Even as they moved it into place, a rivulet of molten metal ran down the left side of the door, collecting on the surface.

Olloo pointedly retreated to one corner, making himself as minimal a target as he could. "You are all remarkably foolhardy. There are hundreds of my people on this vessel, and only four of you. You cannot hold out forever, or indeed for long."

"You might be surprised," Reichard said, keeping his eye on the door as he spoke. "They have to get into the room, and they can only get in one at a time through the door. That gives us a tactical edge."

"And on top of that..." The ship lurched, interrupting Eletto. "On top of that, the Hyperion has us in its sights, now. That jolt was the ship locking on with tractors. We just have to hold out until they find us."

To the dismay of all four Humans, the cart proved no problem to the Partan opening the door. One entered, to have his weapon snatched from him. As the being looked around in confusion, Eletto’s hand swept up, grabbing and jerking the being’s antennae. Almost immediately the being dropped, apparently unconscious. The physician smiled grimly. "Figured that’d work on them like it would on an Andorian."

There was hardly time to make the comment before another Partan stepped over the fallen comrade, intent on erasing the evidence. This one found himself hurled into the room, to be grabbed by Webb and O’Doul and rammed into the wall. Reichard aimed his projectile weapon out the door and triggered it; nothing happened. Eletto did the same, to only minimal effect. The echoes of the ricocheting pellet were hardly dead before another Partan forced its way in, pushed forward by a second behind it. As Reichard and Eletto tried to deal with those two, a third and a fourth entered, brandishing weapons, trying to find a target on the Humans without injuring their fellows.

One weapon fired, grazing Reichard’s arm. Lifting his adversary, Reichard hurled the Partan against the two armed ones, sending them staggering. Webb snatched one of their weapons, shooting into the thorax of the other. O’Doul snatched the dying being’s weapon, firing it into the corridor as the nurse did the best she could to staunch the flow from Reichard’s wound. Having dealt with his opponent, Eletto turned to the door to see further Partan streaming in. Before they could fire, he hurled himself at their legs, bowling several of them over but not staunching the flow for long; O’Doul and Webb plied their stolen weapons with deadly precision, but the weapons rapidly ran out of pellets and none of the incoming Partan seemed to be carrying a weapon that could be stolen.

The tangled pile of Partan Eletto had bowled over were sorting themselves out and rapidly managing to immobilize the physician, despite his determined efforts. Just as all seemed lost, an area in the center of the room began to sparkle. Hardly had Wills Greggson and his security detachment materialized than their phasers began to spit energy and turn the tide. Sam Ingram looked over at Reichard. "Catch, Ken." A communicator flew across the room; Webb caught it and flipped it open, disappearing into the transporter beam almost immediately.

From the back of the security team, Running Bear suddenly appeared, moving rapidly toward O’Doul. She waved him to the throng holding Eletto. The Illiniwek needed no further input. Wading into the throng, phaser in action, he cleared his friend of the grip of the Partan, as Ingram and Greggson moved out into the corridor to hold the door secure.

With Eletto extracted, Running Bear prepared to trigger his communicator. Eletto shook his head. "Just a sec. I need to collect something, then you can get us out of here." Fluidly, he moved to Olloo, lifting the being and moving back to where O’Doul and Running Bear were waiting. "Let’s go."

"Wills, Sam, we’re heading back." As he shouted, Running Bear flipped open the communicator and the foursome disappeared. Moments later, the remainder of the security detail returned to the room and did the same.


Running Bear, O’Doul, Eletto and the surprised Olloo materialized on the transporter deck. Eletto put the Partan down, turning to face him. "Come on. I made you a promise, and I intend to keep it." He looked up, seeing Indri and T’Soral. Swiftly, Eletto descended quickly, the index and second finger of his hand extended. "It is good to see you again, my wife."

"I am glad to see you again, my husband." The Vulcan’s face remained impassive; only Eletto knew of what went on within her as their fingers touched. "You have made a promise; you must keep it. Supper will be waiting in our quarters at the end of the shift." Her hand moved to Eletto’s cheek. "Your poor cheek. Perhaps you could attend to that after you have attended to this one?"

"It is logical." Eletto turned to Olloo. "Please, come with me."

"I am old, Human, at least by the standards of my people. I will not molt again; surgery is impossible." The Partan made a dismissive appearing gesture with one hand. "Do not waste your time."

O'Doul looked at the being. "He won’t be. Go with him. By your own admission, you’ve little enough to lose, you know. What’s wrong with calling what you’re sure is a bluff?"

"Nothing, I suppose. Lead on." Olloo moved toward Eletto, moving slowly because of the higher gravity. "Let’s see if you’re as good as you claim."

Saying nothing, Eletto led the way to the turbolift and then to Sickbay. When he led the way out of the turbolift, Webb and M’Benga were waiting. The chief medical officer nodded. "We’ve been expecting you both. Medical scanner, Giac. I want to review what’s on it before things get rolling."

Surrendering the medical tricorder, Eletto moved the Partan to the medbed, snatching an extra pillow from the next medbed over. "Lay down, Olloo, and try to be comfortable. This won’t take long, I don’t think."

The purloined Partan looked around himself, half amazed by what he saw, and clearly uncomprehending. Obediently, he lay down where Eletto pointed, meekly allowing Webb to roll a surgical field in place. M’Benga walked over from a readout. "It looks strictly localized, Giac; all we need to do is a simple field resection with anastomosis. As near as your scan lets me tell, there’s plenty of redundancy of the gut to allow that, and the tissue regenerators should seal the anastomosis nicely. Let’s get to work. Marie, take your place. Giac, you got us into this, so you keep the promise yourself; I’ll assist."

Nodding, Eletto moved to the surgical field and began tapping controls. He nodded to M’Benga and to Marie, his hands moving with a calm, determined speed. He looked up at M’Benga. "Think the tissue regenerator will work on his exoskeleton?"

"Probably. Works on Andorians, and their structure isn’t that different. Can’t do any harm; might be of benefit." M’Benga tapped a few controls, then allowed the surgical field to slide upward over the being. Admiring the results, M’Benga nodded appreciatively. "Cleaned things up nicely. Let’s get this fellow up and get your face fixed."

Olloo turned to face M’Benga, then Eletto and M’Benga again. "That is all? It is done? I don’t believe you."

"That’s fine." Webb moved the surgical field back off the bed. "Don’t believe us. No skin off my nose. You’ll find out soon enough once you’re back on that ship of yours." She smiled, offering him her hand as assistance to get up. "Before you let your skepticism get out of hand, you might look in the mirror over there. You might be surprised."

Taking the offered assistance, Olloo rose and slid gently off the bed. To his surprise, the reflection that greeted him in the mirror showed virtually none of the glazed and cracked appearance it had shown less than an hour before. To those watching, even despite the difference in species, seeing Olloo stare at the mirror and touch his repaired exoskeleton made his astonishment clear. Eletto moved in beside the being. "There’s no trick here. That’s really you, and you without the tumor. If I don’t miss my guess, you might be useful on the bridge shortly. Let’s get up there."

"Not so fast, fella." The voice was M’Benga’s. "Your face is bad enough without the added scar. Onto the medbed with you. Once that’s done, you can escort this gentlebeing to meet the captain."


"Talk about slow learners, Captain; this batch takes the cake." Drevan turned to face Uhura. "As I read the scans, they just burned out their warp drive trying to break the tractor, and they seem bent on burning out their version of impulse drive."

"Sounds like it’s time to see if they’re open to reason. T’Soral, hail the ship."

"Working, Captain. They should be able to understand us; they were able to communicate with the abducted crew members well enough." With a final tap on the console, the face of the Partan ship’s captain appeared on the forward screen.

"I am Ardart, Captain of Shiaulley. I demand to know why we are being held against our will."

"I am Uhura, Captain of the Hyperion. I demand to know why you kidnapped four of my crew and have the unmitigated gall to think you can get away with it without having to deal with the consequences." She leaned forward. "You might just consider waiting for us to return the member of your crew that ended up on our ship, too."

Antennae straightening slightly, the Partan captain pointed at the screen. "You will return him immediately or face the consequences."

Marsden looked at the captain. "Request permission to teach this creature some manners."

"Hopefully that will not be needed. Shields up." She turned to Ardart. "Let’s see what consequences you have to offer."

"Missile with chemical warhead approaching at sublight velocity. Request permission to deal with it." Marsden’s eagerness was obvious.

"Eliminate it."

With almost childlike glee, Marsden ran his fingers across the console. The forward phaser reduced the missile to ions in an instant without even detonating it.

Smiling slightly, Uhura turned to face the forward screen again. "Was that your best shot? If so I must confess that I’m not overly impressed. In fact, I’m not at all impressed. Care to try again?"

The stiffness and straightness of Ardart’s antennae made it clear to all watching that the Partan captain was furious. "Release us."

"Well, I was considering offering to tow you to your home world, since it seems like your warp drive has burned out, but if you insist, I suppose that we could let you hang dead in space until someone comes along and rescues you." She allowed herself to sit back in her chair and rubbed her chin pensively. "Depends on where you’re from, of course, but that might take a while. Might take quite a while to find someone willing, considering your habits with snatching other intelligent lifeforms for zoo specimens."

"I emphatically deny any such activity on our part." There was no question about the emphasis in the being’s denial.

Uhura turned to the communications station. "T’Soral, is Olloo able to join us on the bridge?"

"He is in the turbolift with Doctor Eletto, on the way here, Captain. They should be here momentarily." As if to add emphasis to the Vulcan’s remark, the turbolift door slid open, allowing the two beings out.

"Hello, Captain Ardart." It was Olloo speaking. "Thank you for waiting for my return."

"What are you doing on that ship, Olloo? You were not given permission to leave the ship." The Partan captain was definitely unsure what was going on.

"I was brought back by one of the beings we kidnapped, actually; the being next to me, in fact. He is a healer, and has technology to perform surgery without waiting for a molt." Olloo’s antennae swiveled toward Eletto slightly as he spoke. "I would counsel a conciliatory attitude, Captain. From what I can see, they are a kind and forgiving species."

The translator produced a series of noises that it could not reproduce as words. Finally, Ardart managed to control himself enough to speak intelligibly. "How dare you talk to me like that, Olloo?"

Before the Partan could answer, Eletto took control of the conversation. "If you don’t like hearing it from one of your own, listen to me. You took me and three other members of the crew of this vessel against our wills. According to galactic law, that is an act of war." The physician’s eyes narrowed. "Offhand, what I saw of your technology while I was on the ship seemed pretty feeble to me. This ship could take on a squadron of ships like yours and turn them into scrap. With your having tried to separate me from my spouse, I could very easily find it pleasant to watch that happen to your ship. In your shoes, I would find a way to lose the arrogance before we find it necessary to crush it out of you. Have I left anything unclear?"

"Control yourself, Lieutenant." Uhura's tone was surprisingly sharp. "I want something left with which I can negotiate. Marsden, on my signal, deliver a lesson in etiquette." She turned to her chief communications officer. "Just in case, T’Soral, let da Mole loose on their data."

"Working, Captain." The Vulcan’s fingers flew rapidly and surely on the console before her. "The entire contents of their computer memory has been transferred to our semantic computer. Analysis is in process; I estimate not more than four point six seconds will be needed to deal with the data."

Marsden looked up eagerly. "Target acquired, Captain. On your order."

Uhura nodded to Marsden. A lance of energy hit a group of sensor booms on the Partan ship, vaporizing them. The Bantu woman nodded. "What were you saying, Ardart? Something about what we would not dare?"

Behind the Partan captain, there was a flurry of activity on the ship’s bridge; beings were clearly trying to ascertain whether or not their ship's integrity was intact.

"So, do we need to select a more vital target to make our point, Captain Ardart? We could very easily, you know..."

"You have made your point." Antennae drooping slightly, Ardart stared forward. "You do not fear us, and you have no respect for our safety. May I presume that you intend to leave us here to die?"

"We do not fear you, Ardart, but if we had no respect for your safety, I’d have had my weapons officer breach a critical area of your hull. As for leaving you to die, I suppose I should, but I won’t." The captain turned to Science One. "Drevan? Is their ship towable?"

"As far as I can tell, yes, and they’ve sealed off the compartment that have decompressed. Minimal leakage of atmosphere. It just boils down to latching onto the right place—which would be almost anywhere that’s not close to that gaping hole in their hull." The Andorian turned to Marsden. "Nice shootin’, man, nice shootin’." He turned back to the captain. "Looks like Marie, Deanna, Ken and Giac were their only trophies, by the way. Just thought that you’d like to know that."

"Thank you, Drevan." Uhura turned to face the view screen. "Are you willing to be towed home?"

"You might as well leave us here to die. The homeworld is wilting." The Partan made a dismissive-appearing gesture with one hand. "There was a rogue planet, several decades ago; it came close to our home world, distorting its orbit, letting it slowly settle into an orbit nearer our sun. Naturally, the planet is warming—in fact, it’s getting too hot for us. Better to die swiftly here than slowly roast at home."

A thin smile crossed the Bantu’s face. "Better to solve the problem than to give up in despair."

"It was in hopes of finding a solution we could not see that we were assembling a collection of sentient beings. Our actions have been fruitless so far, and now that we are discovered, there is no further hope." Ardart’s posture made his dejection clear.

"Maybe there is an alternative approach you haven’t considered, like asking for help rather than trying to force beings to help. Did that thought ever occur to you?"

"Why would you help us? Why would any species bother?" The Partan shrugged. "Why should they?"

"Ensign Diskartedor, do you have coordinates for the home star?"

"I do, as transferred from the Partan ship’s memory banks by--" She glanced at the communications officer, thoroughly impressed. "--'da Mole.' Ready to plot a course at your command." The Illyrian nodded without turning around.

"Get us there. Ardart, you’re about to get a lesson in interspecies relations." Uhura relaxed into her chair. "Hyperion out." She swiveled to face Science One. "Drevan, what can you offer me as a solution?"

"Not sure, Captain, but I’ll work on it." The Andorian began working furiously. "It’s going to have to involve increasing the planet’s albedo, I think, without getting it too high."

"Begging the captain’s pardon, but I have a thought." It was Marsden.

"I’m open," Uhura responded. "And curious."

"What if we turned an asteroid into dust—a nice band of dust around the planet? How much would it take to do that? Put it high enough that it’d last a while, of course, and adjust the density to take care of the change in albedo."

Drevan turned. "Good thinking, Jim. And use a nickel-iron object, so that the stuff coalesces into dust that’s nice and shiny. Wouldn’t take much, depending on how much of an increase in albedo we need. Do it, say, at three thousand kilometers above the surface, maybe a couple of centimeters thick. It’s a pushover. Can’t fail."

"One little problem." Diskartedor turned to face Drevan. "Even talking about only a two centimeter thick shell, and filling only one percent of the volume, you’re talking a nickel-iron asteroid with a radius of 614.4 meters. Then there’s the energy needed to shatter this thing. It’s..."

"It’s irrelevant, Diskar. If we need more energy, we turn some of the iron into antimatter and run it through the reaction chamber." Uhura turned to Drevan. "You wouldn’t have to cover the whole planet, would you?"

"Oh, probably only fifteen or twenty degrees above and below the equator. It’d be much less volume. The only problem is that if we get enough to cool the planet fast enough, we’re going to start a new ice age." Drevan’s antennae curled slightly in frustration. "Didn’t think of that."

"That’s not a problem, really," Diskartedor pointed out. "The particles will start decaying out of orbit within a few years. It will need to be renewed periodically."

"And if we need to clear things a little, we can just run a mobile magnet through the stuff." Marsden grinned. "Maybe a whole bunch of them going through it, I don’t know. The point’s still there."

"Enough, already!" Uhura threw her hands up in mock despair. "Ensign Diskartedor, how long before we reach the system?"

"Towing that ship, it’s going to take about eleven point two hours, Captain."

"Then I would recommend that you and Drevan get together with Indri and plan the details after your shift ends." She settled into the command chair comfortably and confidently. "Saving planets; I guess that’s what we do, isn’t it?"

T’Soral nodded. "It is the logical conclusion, based on our experience, and it seems that we are getting plenty of it."

"Right about now, T’Soral," Uhura responded, "I’d be perfectly happy to vegetate in orbit around something nice and peaceful, and get do some serious science." She stared at the starfield moving in front of her. "This world saving gig is tiring."

"Perhaps tiring," offered Marsden, "but remarkably soul satisfying."

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