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"Okay, what've we got, people."

"Vulcan and human life-sign readings in the brig, maximum security section," Riley reported absently, scrolling rapidly past the single sensor array he'd been able to bypass due to a misplaced end bracket in Spock's rapidly-typed firewall. "A few scattered human life-signs across the ship…static blanket over Sickbay, which I suspect is under lockdown judging from the fact that I can't get access to any internal sensors there. Multiple Klingon life-signs, centered primarily on the Bridge and Engineering. They either haven't bothered to search the guts of the ship or they've done it already."

"How many human life-signs are we talking about?" Jim asked sharply.

"Nowhere near enough," he reported, flicking a glance over at his silent Assistant Security Chief. "My guess is that they divvied up the crew among the enemy vessels. It makes the most tactical sense."

Garrovick silently nodded in reluctant corroboration, and their young captain swore a blue streak that would have done their irascible CMO proud.

"So whatever we do, we can't make it visible to the other ships, or they'll warp away with 80% of my crew, in other words?"

"That's about it, sir," Riley agreed dismally. "Besides, we can't do anything aboard until Spock lifts the lock on the central computer; I was lucky to access this single sensor array, there's no way I can get at anything else. Not even your skills can hack past a Class One-A acting captain's security lockdown."

"Besides which, they're all out looking for you," Garrovick added matter-of-factly. "The minute you pop up on any grid the game will be up for all of us; you trying to bypass Spock's codes would throw up an alert to anyone monitoring us internally."

"Are the Klingons that smart?"

"They may not think of it, but I can guarantee an Orion pirate frigate will have stolen tech that will flag any change immediately," Garrovick replied with certainty. "I'm just surprised they haven't differentiated your life-signature yet somehow. God knows you have to be putting off weird types of energy from that re-transformation thing."

"And even if we re-take the Enterprise, that doesn't help us get the rest of our crew out of the Klingons' hands, not to mention the Orions'," Riley agreed, leaning back against the wall of their deserted corridor.

"Orions are scavengers, and they're careful to only gamble on sureties. If we can divide them from the Klingons, they're likely to tuck tail and run rather than shoot it out with all of us - the danger is getting our people out of their cargo holds before they decide to retreat," Jim mused, pacing in a tight circle. Frown lines creased his youthful face as he scowled absently at the floor, wheeling about in perfect military turns. Suddenly he halted, and whirled in Garrovick's direction.

"How familiar are you with alien transporter tech, Lieutenant-Commander?"

"Expertly so, sir," Garrovick replied instantly. "It's part of Mr. Scott's explicit requirements to anyone who wants to be a transporter tech aboard the Enterprise. We must be intimately familiar with any known transporter tech in standard or discarded Federation and non-Federation use, circuitry patterns and bypass codes included, before he'll let us even step foot in the transporter room to actually beam down a landing party. That's why there's only two dozen redshirts who can currently do it aboard, and another ten working on certification."

"Then if you were aboard one of the Orion frigates, you could work their transporter with little to no difficulty?"

"There's a remote chance they could be using stolen alien tech that I've never seen before -"

"How remote?"

"Less than one percent chance, I'd say, sir. But then Mr. Spock is the percentage guru, not me."

Jim cracked a brief slit of a smile. "Tell me what would be involved in mass transporting our people back aboard the Enterprise, or at least to the Klingon vessels from the Orions. Positives and dangers from either end, to start."

"Without the stabilizing aid of a transporter pad, the transporter can still lock onto any object known to be in the possession of the target, provided it's giving off an appropriate signal that stands out above interference, electrical or otherwise. A communicator is the preferred option for a lock-on, though at times it's worked just fine with a tricorder. However, in emergencies, one can lock onto a life-sign and beam it aboard, though the larger the target the riskier the transport."

"Then you'd be able to beam my people off the Orion ship back here with no difficulty using their transporter, but you wouldn't want to try it blind using ours because there's no stabilization pad on the other end?"

Garrovick nodded. "Correct, sir. Provided we can unlock the computer, I could lock onto life-signs aboard the frigates and beam them aboard, but I'd have no way of knowing if they were human, Orion, or otherwise. In addition, without the stabilization on the other end, I'd never be able to attempt a mass transport. Maximum six bodies without double-ended stabilization; otherwise the patterns begin to degrade or even combine in transport, they'd never re-materialize correctly."

"And say they've divided 400-odd crew among five ships, that's eighty people to a ship," Riley interjected. "Not practical at all. You'd need a mass transport with stabilization on both ends, meaning you have to originate the transport on a stable transporter pad on the Orion ship, which would be both impossible and take forever, or else come up with a Plan B."

Jim absently rubbed his thumb along his lower lip, frowning in concentration. "In your opinion, Lieutenant, are eighty crewmen sufficient to overpower and assume command of an Orion freighter, provided we can give them a little distraction?"

"Negative, at least not without more help than one man could give them, sir," Garrovick answered reluctantly, already having toyed with the idea of giving himself up as a prisoner in hopes he would be taken aboard one of the frigates and be able to take charge of a frightened and possibly injured crew complement. "Security on a slave ship is even more paramount to traffickers than their own life support systems. You can be sure our people have already tried anything that could be tried. I'd be more concerned for their safety if they made the attempt, than optimistic regarding their success. Orions are ruthless, and they are extremely jealous of their cargo."

Jim swore under his breath, visibly resisting the urge to slam his fist into the nearest durasteel wall. "I need into this computer! I can't do a thing without it!"

"Leave that end of it for now, then," Riley said, laying a hand on the young man's tense shoulder. "Once the computer's unlocked, we can worry about getting our people off the Orion ships. We can't do anything about that right now, since there are no Orions aboard. What we can do, is figure out how to take back the Enterprise. Even without a crew, she still has vastly superior firepower, so we need to take her first."

"Without the aid of the computer?"

"Man did get along without them for several centuries, you know," Garrovick chided him gently. "And there's no telling what trick Mr. Spock has up his sleeve for that, anyhow."

As if in answer to his remark, the shipwide intra-comm suddenly blared, the only system aboard which was never included in a shipwide lockdown for security reasons.

"Captain James T. Kirk, this is Captain PetaQ, of the mighty warship Qeh," the guttural sounds of challenging Klingon reverberated down the eerily empty corridors, amplified by the absence of life aboard their nearly-deserted starship.

"Kirk, I know you are still aboard, hiding like the little be'Hom you are," PetaQ sneered. "You will be pleased to know that your First Officer has refused us the information we seek, and denied us the pleasure of escorting your ship back to the Klingon Empire as a prize of war."

Garrovick winced, and sent out a silent prayer that Spock hadn't suffered for that decision. He chanced a glance at his captain, and found the young man with his eyes glued to the wall-comm, dark fury building in their hazel depths.

"You have one hour to show yourself to us, Kirk, before he dies for his treachery, only the first of many if you refuse to face usI shall take pleasure in executing your crew one by one, Kirk, and i will do it over an open communications channel for you to hear. Do not presume to defy me. PetaQ out."

"Somehow I don't think that's a bluff," Riley muttered to himself, but loud enough that the other two heard.

"I'll see him burn in hell before I'll let him lay a finger on any of my people," Kirk snapped, such brittle anger tingeing the words that for just a second, the image in front of Garrovick's eyes wavered, shifted into the thirty-odd-year-old version of his captain, before sliding back to the slighter young man standing opposite him, hands on his hips in his most belligerent of body language.

"You're not going out there to turn yourself in," he warned coolly, well knowing the young idiot's self-sacrificing tendencies, which did not get better as he aged.

Kirk turned such a ruthless, wolfish grin upon him, that it sent a shiver of anticipatory dread down his spine. "Not just yet, Mr. Garrovick," the young man agreed dangerously. "Gentlemen, we have little time to lose. Let us begin."

You didn't have to make it look so real, you cold-blooded son of a…Vulcan, McCoy growled mentally, as he staggered back, gasping, from the furious grip of what looked to be an incensed Acting Captain Spock.

Commander HoQ, the Klingon guard who had come running when the hostilities broke out and had subdued Spock with a nasty crack on the head, now looked at him curiously.

"Took you long enough," he managed to wheeze out from a bruised throat, throwing an entirely genuine glare at Spock, who was just now picking himself up from the floor, looking more than slightly stunned.

"You are injured, Healer Mak-khoi?" the Klingon inquired, casting a dubious look at the Vulcan in the adjoining cell.

"Nothing too bad," the human declared sourly, scowling as he yanked his collar away from his throat. "Might've been nasty if you hadn't showed up, though. Guess I should thank you, even if y'are my jailor."

HoQ bared his teeth in what evidently was supposed to be a companionable grin. McCoy forced down a shudder and returned the gesture with a curt nod.

"Why should two so prominent Starfleet commanders be, as you say - at each other's throats?" the Klingon asked, obviously suspicious.

"Because neither I nor the captain accept treason from any crewman aboard this ship," Spock replied curtly. "The penalty for treason under conditions of war is death, as we all know."

"It's not treason, you infernal walking encyclopedia! Just because you think it's a 'good day to die' doesn't mean I'm gonna let you get the rest of us killed for no reason!" McCoy shot back, glaring venom out of the single eye he could still see from.

"Aiding the enemy constitutes treason, Doctor," Spock declared coldly.

HoQ's ears pricked up.

"Look," McCoy turned to their guard, employing his best of what Chapel called his 'deviously innocent baby blues'. "All I said, was I'm willin' to unlock Sickbay. And just because I want to see to my people inside, you heartless machine!" he fairly screeched at the placid face in the adjoining cell.

Spock never even twitched, but somehow managed to look even more disgusted than before.

HoQ regarded him thoughtfully. "Why should you wish to help us, Mak-khoi?" he inquired.

"I want to help the innocent people I locked in there nine hours ago, you big galoot," the human retorted testily. "If it helps you in the process, well hooray for you. I don't see how that constitutes treason, but apparently our First Officer doesn't quite see things in that light."

"You know the penalty for aiding the enemy during a condition of war, Doctor," Spock warned, his voice imbued with quiet menace.

The human's eyes widened comically. "Look, y'all seem to be a reasonable bunch, Commander," he said quickly to the bemused Klingon standing outside. "Let me see to my people in Sickbay, will you? Get me away from this inhuman excuse for a Starfleet officer for just a little while, huh? Before he kills me," he added, half-seriously. "Besides, it'll look good for you if there's one area of the ship at least you have under control, right?"

HoQ's teeth bared again in a wide grin. "In another twenty minutes, it will no longer matter, Healer Mak-khoi," he answered, fingering the long dagger at his side meaningfully.

"It may matter to the patients I have locked down in Sickbay!" McCoy snapped, clenched fists rattling the bars of the door. "If you have any hope of Medical cooperating with you, you'd better get me down there before someone dies, or I can promise you there's not a nurse or physician aboard who'll lift a finger for you, now or ever!"

The Klingon growled something unintelligible, and leaned a fraction closer into the physician's personal space. Lightning-fast, the human's hands shot out and wrenched, slamming the guard's head into the bars of the door with a resounding clang and then belting the hulking figure across both ears. HoQ roared, twisting away from the pain, but McCoy had danced backward just out of reach, arms folded firmly across his chest and chin hutting forward in a picture of utter defiance that belied his seriously quaking nerves.

"Take me to Sickbay," he snarled. "Now."

HoQ glared at the small human from under a mop of shaggy, dark hair, and then nearly took the door off its hinges with a roaring fit of coarse laughter that caused Spock to imperceptibly relax and McCoy's knees to start shaking.

The cell door swung wide before him, and he dared not look back at Spock's simulated expression of polite disgust.

"You have a warrior's spirit, Mak-khoi," the Klingon declared with loud joviality, giving him a friendly cuff to the head that nearly sent him sprawling, grimacing with pain, down the long corridor.

Remember, should something go wrong, I will be with you, Doctor, Spock's shared consciousness within his head said, he would almost think gently - if it weren't Spock saying it.

If that's your idea of comfort, I can see why your people only have 'emotions' once every seven years, he muttered tartly, and received a ghost of a thought-smile in return.

"You are totally out of your mind. Sir," Riley added belatedly, as their young charge turned such an icy look upon him that he quailed instinctively, seeing a decade-older starship captain in the dangerous glare.

Garrovick quelled the urge to grin uncontrollably at the change in the young man's demeanor from his previous indecision, mostly because he privately agreed with his subordinate about Kirk's wild scheme.

"Sir, it's my duty to tell you that I think you're being unduly careless with your own safety," he said instead, putting as much respect in the tone as he could.

Kirk's eyes darkened slightly, though he took the opinion with apparent level-headedness. "That is your prerogative as Acting Security Chief, Mr. Garrovick."

"I understand the need for Mr. Spock's release and rescue, but have you considered that we're cutting it too close - that the Klingons are going to get him in fifteen minutes anyway? Breaking him out at this point would put us smack in their way."

"I agree with you, Mr. Garrovick; but I don't see any other option, and we must have his override for the computer," the young man answered, poring over the diagram he'd hastily scrawled on a wall. "Now if I had computer access, it'd be the work of a few minutes to get Mr. Spock out of the brig, but without it -"

"Sir, even you can't break out of the maximum security brig, or deactivate the security measures in place without both Mr. Spock and Mr. Scott's override codes," Riley protested.

Hazel eyes glinted with humor. "Gentlemen, after our refit the brig was tested against Mr. Spock and myself. When even with all our combined ingenuity escape still proved impossible, do you really think I wouldn't take some sort of precaution against this exact eventuality?"

Garrovick's eyebrows brushed his hairline. "You planted a failsafe for yourself in your own brig?" he asked incredulously.

"Not for myself, precisely," Kirk replied, apparently unperturbed at his ASC's horrified fascination with the breach of protocol. "I am aware there may be a time when the safety of the ship is compromised by myself and such a holding cell will be needed; however, to know that one's central command staff could in theory be detained in one without an avenue of escape, and not do something about it, is foolhardy. There is an override in place to deactivate the security measures and unlock the brig cell doors; however, it must be given by both myself and Mr. Spock simultaneously."

"Which doesn't help us, since Spock can't even unlock the computer from within that cell, much less deliver a security override," Riley sighed.

"Exactly. Therefore, we will have to stage a rescue of our own before the Klingons get tired of waiting for me to show myself," Kirk declared.

"I still think you are taking an unnecessary risk, sir," Garrovick warned.

"A diversion will be necessary if you are to break Mr. Spock out of the brig with minimal interference from our enemies, gentlemen. Who better to cause that distraction, than the target of their search?"

Garrovick didn't much like it, but he did know that the kid was right; if anyone could lead the Klingons in a merry chase 'round the ship, it was the captain of said ship. And if they were going to have a chance at anything, they had to get Spock out of the brig to unlock the computer, and therefore out from under his own death sentence.

He was about to at least force their single phaser upon the brash young man when Riley suddenly gave an exclamation of disbelief and hunched over the console he'd been trying to hot-wire.

"What is it?" Kirk asked sharply.

"I…no, that's not possible. There's no way," the young man muttered, staring at the scrolling figures on the screen.

"Report, Lieutenant!"

Riley started at the curt tone, but looked up, an expression of utter confusion on his face. "Sir, I don't know how, but apparently Mr. Spock has adjusted the computer lockout."

"That means a complete reworking of the computer scripting, at least ten minutes' worth of coding," Kirk protested. "He couldn't do that from within a cell."

"I know that, but he's still done it," Riley protested. "Look - the scripting's changed, and the firewalls have a new outlet point that can be voice-activated to override the codes."


"Meaning, Captain," Riley answered eagerly, eyes shining, "that that sneaky Vulcan of yours just overrode the previous program so that it can be activated by one person's voice recognition."

The young man's eyes widened.

"Exactly," Riley continued with a grin. "He's fixed it so that the Enterprise's central computer will respond to, and only respond to, voice recognition from Captain James T. Kirk."