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A moment of startled silence, while they stared at each other in surprised admiration for however their Vulcan First had maneuvered that particular gambit.

Then, "That means McCoy's still on board, too, and at least able to access a terminal," Garrovick pointed out gleefully. "Because as Chief Medical Officer, he's the only one who can re-certify you fit to take command after being relieved due to medical incapacitation."

"There's a reason Bio-Medical tells newbies to run for cover if their department heads ever find a common enemy," Riley quipped. "They're a force to be reckoned with, that's for sure."

Garrovick glanced again at the computer screen, which was still cheerfully winking at them in silent readiness. "So we know for certain we've got two ranking officers aboard in relatively good condition, in addition to the three of us. Against…what does it look like, maybe two dozen Klingons? Give or take a few odd ones in the corridors."

"I'll play those odds," Jim declared, grinning from ear to ear. "Shall we re-take the Bridge, gentlemen?"

Lieutenant-Commander and Chief Engineer of the U.S.S. Enterprise Montgomery Scott was not having a good day.

As if it wasn't bad enough, being routed out of bed at the ungodly time of 0200 hours by a batch of Klingons trying their dead level best to blast them out of the stars, to then be subjected to the indignity of a pathetic excuse for a cell aboard one of the Klingon Birds of Prey just piled ignominy upon reproach.

As if one of these buckets of bolts could hold a candle to their silver lady, under battle conditions! A Klingon Bird of Prey barely held a crew complement of twenty-five, one reason why they always hunted and patrolled in pairs or trios - and their firepower was only a fraction that of a constitution-class Federation ship. (1) The Enterprise could destroy an entire planet with only two-thirds of its firepower; a Bird of Prey could barely take out a waste scow, and even then would risk serious damage from the exploding impulse engines. The only way the Enterprise would even be threatened by such a force was the manner in which she had been; surprised, from a cloaked assault, and taken unawares at the worst possible time with the addition of a highly-powered backup force.

Captain PetaQ had evidently heard of him, for Scott had been one of the first crew to be transferred aboard an enemy vessel. He had been informed by a hulking Klingon lieutenant that they were taking no chances on his being able to work some devilry on the Enterprise's Engineering quarters, damaged though the ship had been in that section particularly, and had been promptly taken on a tour of the Bird of Prey's engine rooms (apparently the Klingons' bizarre perception of professional courtesy, or perhaps to demonstrate that the ship was in perfect working order and to rub it in) before being tossed into a cell in the depths of the Qeh's brig.

He gave the closed cell door and deserted corridor beyond one incredulous look, and then began methodically hauling various tools out of his waistband and boots, shaking his head at Klingon stupidity. The poor fools hadn't even bothered to search him after confiscating his phaser.

Really, with such overconfidence, they were just asking to be left a little present in their weapons banks circuitry, now weren't they?

It was almost too easy, Garrovick thought with well-controlled amusement. Jim Kirk had played the Klingons for years, and he knew their thought processes far too well. After raiding the closest storage compartment, it was the work of two minutes to have Riley boot up the transporter and transport him and Kirk directly onto the Enterprise's Bridge and its surprised occupants.

Three well-placed phaser blasts dispatched the trio of officers standing at the communications panel, and Garrovick picked off another who was only half-visible under the Engineering console, obviously trying to find a way to wire the computer to their commands.

Phaser in each hand like some Wild West desperado, Kirk gestured curtly to the single remaining Klingon, who was frozen in place in the command chair. "You called for me?" he said blandly.

PetaQ growled a string of harsh syllables, guttural and menacing.

"My, my, what a filthy mouth you have, my dear," the captain tsk-ed disapprovingly, moving to stand in front of the scowling Klingon. "Now get out of my chair."

"I would rather die, Kirk!"

"Oh, please." Kirk rolled his eyes. "We both know this little venture of yours wasn't sanctioned, officially at least, by your government, PetaQ. And if the Organians get wind of what you've just tried to do with my ship, well…we both know how that will end for your people. Would you prefer to return to them with no one the wiser for your failure to bring back the Enterprise, or with everyone knowing you're responsible for breaking the Organian Peace Treaty and bringing their retribution upon your people?"

The Klingon glared balefully at the shorter man, but finally moved off the command dais.

"I've nothing against you personally, PetaQ," Kirk said affably, seating himself with a definitive thwock. "It was a worthy tactic - just a bit too late. And my First Officer's a bit too smart for you," he added, grinning beatifically at the incensed Klingon. "Garrovick, how's the transporter situation."

"Ready when you are, sir. All stations appear normal, ready for your voice activation."

"Has Riley given you a report about the situation in Engineering?"

"Affirmative. Reversing the airflow vents into decompression did the trick, sir; all Klingons unconscious from lack of oxygen, according to internal scans."

"Excellent. Pinpoint the rest of the Klingons for me around the ship and do the same, if you please, unless there are our own men in the vicinity for some reason. Now then, Captain." He swiveled the command chair to face the disgruntled Klingon. "Shall we set the example for our peoples and negotiate?"

"A Klingon does not Sutlh," PetaQ spat contemptuously, as if the word itself left a foul taste in his mouth. "If your filthy Federation teaches its captains nothing but such nuch wIy Dup (2), you will never earn the respect of a warrior race!"

"Yes, well, I'll take my chances," Kirk replied dryly. "And I'd suggest you stop bluffing and start dealing, Mister, or I may just forget about diplomacy and turn your 'mighty warship the Qeh' into so much space jetsam. Which would be entirely justified under Starfleet law, may I point out, since this peghmey Hargh (3) is in clear violation of the Organian Peace Treaty." (4) PetaQ's eyes widened imperceptibly at the unexpected Klingon wording and its lingual implications.

"Come, come, PetaQ, there's no need for heroics," Kirk continued with a gesture of impatience, as the Klingon's chin jutted out defiantly. "As one captain to another, I'm offering you a sizable consolation prize, you know. No one need know you failed in your original off-the-record intent."

PetaQ regarded him shrewdly. "What sort of prize?" he asked suspiciously.

Kirk gestured wryly to the viewscreen. "Strictly off-the-record, would you like to take three pirate frigates' worth of contraband tech off my hands, Captain? I do hate doing paperwork."

After the captain had unlocked the internal scanners, Lieutenant Kevin Riley began running shipwide scans to pinpoint exact stats on who was still aboard and where. He'd just finished the upper decks, finding only a handful of scattered crewman in little groups, probably hiding in private cabins and that blasted bowling alley no one ever used, when the alert from Engineering signaled that all life signs there had just dropped to nearly hibernation levels. He hastily reversed the decompression vents to re-instate the flow of oxygen, at a thin enough level to keep the unconscious Klingons alive but not awake. Until they could get a crew down there to take over, that was the best they could do on such short notice and short-handedness.

He'd just begun scanning the saucer section for Klingon life-signs at the Captain's instruction when suddenly the transporter whirred into life below his hands, lights flashing and chimes whistling to indicate an incoming transport. Taken completely aback, he was still fumbling awkwardly for his phaser when the figure materialized, shimmering into existence on the transporter pad before him.

"Hunh," Scotty muttered, looking just as surprised. "Mark it doon for research, laddie, that actually worked."

Captain PetaQ was not pleased with the terms.

"I will not surrender one of my ships for your schemes, Kirk!" he shouted, loud enough to rattle the turbolift doors.

"You'd prefer to surrender both of them, then?" Garrovick observed coolly.

Eyes flashing golden fire, Kirk stood, hands on hips and glaring down at the Klingon captain. "Let's get one thing straight, Mister; if you didn't have my people on board, we wouldn't be negotiating with you at all. You'd be space debris before you could even get your shields up. Now. Call. Off. Your. Crew."

PetaQ glared murderously at the young human.

"As we speak, Captain PetaQ, I'm beaming back all life-signs that aren't Klingon from your secondary vessel, the DeghwIj. Once they're all away, I'm blowing that ship into pieces." Kirk's eyes hardened, glittering with menace. "Whether or not your crew is still aboard when she goes is of course, your choice."

"Transporter Room One to Captain Kirk," a familiar Scottish burr resounded through the comm-channel, and Garrovick raised both hands in a silent whoop of excitement.

"Mr. Scott, you've no idea how glad I am to hear you!"

"Aye, laddie, an' ye'll be even more glad to know I left our little friends on the Qeh a wee present," Scott replied cheerfully.

Kirk grinned, as the Klingon captain stiffened beside him. "What sort of present?"

"Oooh, nothin' too fancy, just a bit of a bug that'll keep their shield modulators havin' a fit for a while yet. Managed a remote transporter access for m'self while I was at it; their security is a crime against nature, sir."

"Beautiful, Mr. Scott. Stand by with Mr. Riley and let me know when transport from the DeghwIj is complete. Well, Captain. Still think you can out-maneuver me with nothing more than one crippled Bird of Prey?" Kirk asked cheerfully.

Evidently Klingons utilized the same sorts of gestures humans did, because the meaning of that one was quite universally vulgar.

"Ah, well. Mr. Riley, how close are you to completion?"

"Twelve more, sir. Two transports, then you're clear to blow this baby to kingdom come," the young man chirped.

"PetaQ," Kirk said quietly, gesturing with a phaser to the command chair's armrest controls. "I am a man of my word, and my entire crew has been put in serious danger due to your illicit actions today. I will not hesitate to give the order to destroy your ship and the crew remaining on board; I give you fair warning."

The Klingon folded his arms across his massive chest. "Then they at least will die with honor, Kirk!" he spat, glowering.

All mercy vanished from the young man's face, stress lines hardening into the stony resolve of a starship captain. "So be it. Mr. Riley?"

"Transport complete, sir; we've got our twenty-six people from the DeghwIj, starting on the Qeh now."

"Mr. Riley, that is your primary task, at the cost of all else. No matter what happens, what you hear, get our people out of those ships as fast as you can. Mr. Scott, get to Engineering; I'll need you there. I want a report on what you can give me in the next ten minutes." Kirk straightened in his seat, swiveling with determined intent back to the viewscreen. "Oh, and grab an oxygen belt on your way," he added, after thumbing the channel again. "It's been decompressurized to get rid of a little…infestation. Bridge out. Mr. Garrovick?"

"Ready, sir," the ASC reported from behind them, where he was trying to balance one of Communications' earpieces and those controls with still keeping an eye on Spock's science station readouts.

"Open all channels except the frequencies the Orions are using."

"Channels open, sir."

Leather creaked as he settled down in his well-loved chair, at home for the first time in months.

"Attention, Klingon vessels. This is Captain James T. Kirk of the Federation starship Enterprise. The reports of my incapacitation…have been highly exaggerated."

Ten decks below, in a solitary cell of the Enterprise brig, the ship's intra-comm suddenly blared the captain's message to the Klingon ships, and Spock permitted himself a very small, very human, smile.

Just seconds later, a trio of somewhat disheveled red-shirted personnel burst through the security doors, taking down force-fields as they went.

"Mr. Spock, Sir!"

"At ease, Ensign," he said dryly, and felt a reflective ripple of relief in his mind as McCoy sensed the turn of tide in their favor. "What of the crew?"

"Lieutenant Kyle just got back from the DeghwIj, he's in Transporter Room Three helping Riley get the rest of our people out of the Qeh, sir," Matthews reported, snapping off a salute as a clear afterthought. "From what we can hear on the comms, Kirk's going to blow one of the warbirds to get the Orions' attention, but Captain PetaQ won't allow his men to evacuate, something about dying with honor and all that Klingon rot."

Spock strode past the now-open cell door to the wall-comm. "Brig to Transporter Room Three. Mr. Kyle, do you read."

"Kyle here. Yes, Captain - er...Commander? Who the heck's commanding this thing now, anyway?"

Matthews snorted with laughter, belatedly remembering that he had just referred to Captain Kirk without his title, and made a note for future reference.

"That is unimportant, Lieutenant," Spock barked curtly, clearly in a command tone. "Are you capable of performing a Security beaming under the Enterprise's damaged conditions?"

"Meanin' can I transport Klingons right into the brig? No, sir, not with the damage that's been done to the system. The security overrides to get past the brig's lockdown measures would take too long -"

"Never mind, Lieutenant. Are you capable of beaming persons from the Klingon ships into, for example, one of the shuttle bays?"

"Aye, sir, I could do that!"

"Do so, beginning with the crew of the ship the captain intends to destroy shortly. Dispatch a Security detail and lock the bay doors with Mr. Scott's override. Spock out."

"Um. So…who exactly is in command of this thing, sir?" Matthews asked as they all bolted out of the brig, blithely unaware of the look of death the Vulcan was aiming at the back of his head.

While Garrovick didn't trust the Klingon captain as far as he could throw him, PetaQ appeared to be contemplating nothing more dangerous than being belligerently cooperative even as Kirk calmly ordered a full destruction of the DeghwIj, which then exploded in a brilliant blast of photon torpedos. Not batting an eye, the Klingon merely ordered his remaining ship to come about and prepare to come to the Enterprise's aid against the Orion pirate frigates.

"That got their attention all right, sir! Two frigates coming about," Garrovick called, trying to sort out the panicked transmissions coming from all four remaining enemy ships. Too bad they couldn't have blown one of the Orions instead, but the frigates were protected by so much stolen tech there was no guarantee they'd even be damaged, besides the fact that three-fourths of the crew were still on board them.

Keeping one eye carefully on the enemy captain for signs of treachery, Garrovick did his best to juggle the combined duties of an entire Bridge crew in the tense, packed few seconds he knew was all they had, funneling reports to the command chair in a matter of moments and at the same time listening to the transmissions from the Orion ships.

He could have wept with relief when the turbolift door opened and a squad of familiar faces appeared.

"Permission to come aboard, Captain," Spock said with unruffled equanimity, and Garrovick rather thought he could be forgiven the high-pitched giggle of hysteria which bubbled up in his throat at bone-dry Vulcan humor. A swarm of Tactical and Security officers soon relieved him of his station at the helm for navigation and piloting, letting him move back to Communications as the remainder then spread out to cover Engineering and Environmental Controls.

The wattage in Kirk's smile could have powered every console on the Bridge.

"Spock, we've got about thirty seconds to come up with a plan here," was the young man's greeting to his First, whose single raised eyebrow clearly said Surak help me, again I must clean up after a reckless child. "How long would it take you to create a virus that could wipe out the Orions' shields?"

"Twenty-three of those thirty seconds, sir," was the dry reply, even as the dark head bent over his scanner, both hands already typing on the console controls.

"Mr. Scott, report," Kirk spoke into the armrest.

"I kin give ye impulse power, no problem - but anythin' higher than that isna gonna happen until we can effect some repairs. We got blasted pretty badly, sir, and the port nacelle is still venting plasma. Risking a warp jump in that condition could rip us apart, an' half o' space and time with us."

"Can you give me full shields and phasers, at least for a few minutes?"

"Phasers, aye, sir - they're locked into the same algorithms as the torpedo banks. But shields…I will do what I can, Cap'n, but they're not likely to withstand heavy firepower for long. Whatever y'do, do it quick."

"Understood. MacMillen, isn't it?" he called to the back of the new navigator's head.

"Aye, sir!"

"Plot us a course that scoots us right between those two portside frigates, letting us end up on the opposite side of the Klingon Bird of Prey. Mr. Nowitz will have to execute a half Mallorian-roll at the apex to get us between their nacelles but we should be able to squeak by."

"Sir?" the young man looked nervously back at him. "There's only a .002 margin for error in those calculations between the frigates, and the trajectory computer is still off-line!"

"Ensign, I have seen your certification scores. You are more than competent to perform those calculations manually, and I have every confidence in your abilities," Spock droned from his station, without looking up, and then Garrovick saw the sudden tenseness which stiffened the Vulcan's posture, betraying his realization that he had just answered for his newly re-instated captain.

Kirk's eyebrows went up as the young ensign blushed to his ear-tips and hastily bent over his data-padd, but the captain made no further comment on the misappropriation of command response.

"Mr. Spock?"

"Nearly finished, sir. It will require an accelerated tachyon burst of two-point-four to the fifteenth power to penetrate the shielding level in place on the closest of the frigates, in order to travel through the interference to their data processing core."

"Mr. Garrovick, instruct Mr. Scott accordingly and have him modify a phaser bank. Mr. Nowitz," he continued, glancing at the pilot who was nervously filling Sulu's shoes, "lock your targets onto the two portside Orion vessels, as close to their central core as you can safely get without endangering the occupants of the lower holds. Our aim is, first and foremost, to prevent them from warping away with three-fourths of my crew."

"Transporter Room to Captain Kirk," Riley's voice crackled through a brief burst of static.

"Yes, Mr. Riley?"

"All our people are off the Klingon ship now, sir; bringing our current crew complement up to one hundred seventeen. The rest must be on the Orion ships, sir."

"Well done, Mr. Riley. Disperse all able-bodied crew to their stations and any who need medical attention to Sickbay, and await further instructions. We won't be able to make more transports once our shields snap on for battle formation."

"Sir, the Orions have stopped trying to hail the remaining Klingon vessel and are now hailing us," Garrovick reported, one hand holding the earpiece firmly in his ear and the other relaying internal messages.

"Ignore the hail for a minute, Lieutenant. Your people did well, PetaQ," Kirk said directly, receiving a belligerent growl in response from their captive Klingon. "Now." He depressed the inter-comm. "I think it's time we woke the old girl up, don't you, Mr. Scott?"

"Aye, Captain." The grin was audible in the Engineer's voice. "Givin' the Orions a wee bit o' surprise, are you?"

"Indeed. Mr. Spock?"

Spock stood slowly from his station, though no one but Garrovick, who was closest to him, saw the stiffness of his posture which indicated an unfortunate interrogation session with Klingon brutality. "Virus uploaded to modified sensor banks. We must be within closer range for the tachyon burst to penetrate their defensive shields."

"Well, let's get to it then. Mr. MacMillen?"

"C-course set and laid in, sir," the young man answered readily enough, though he visibly swallowed hard. "Should put us right between them and end up protected on the other side by the Bird of Prey." The unspoken I hope hung for a moment in the air, and Garrovick felt a bit sorry for the kid, flung without warning into a situation like this, where usually the primary Alpha shift crewmen would be performing, and with the aid of a navigational computer.

"Execute maneuver."

"Executing, sir. Give me half-burst thrusters until my mark, MacMillen," the pilot replied steadily.

The ship's powerful engines suddenly thrummed to life deep below them, as the remainder of the sleeping consoles woke suddenly with a chorus of happy chirps. The captain sat in his chair, smiling despite the situation, as he felt the slumbering ship wake up around him, no doubt surprising the Orions, who had assumed all systems to be down in the wake of their close shave with the Klingons.

"Incoming phaser fire," MacMillen shouted, over the sudden wailing of a red alert as their shields snapped on.

"Full power to forward shields!" Kirk barked. "Ready tachyon blast, Mr. Nowitz."

The ship rocked sharply under them, rumbling a protest as a warning phaser beam glanced off their hull.

"Shall I return fire, sir?"

"Yes, but only if you can steer clear of their holds - we don't want our people injured or heaven-knows-what contraband blowing up in our faces," Kirk replied, wheeling slightly to glance at his First. Spock nodded. "Mr. Nowitz, you will have three seconds' leeway from the time you execute the Mallorian roll, to fire the tachyon blast."

"Understood. Targets acquired and locked. Full impulse power," the young man said, gaining more confidence as adrenaline shoved down his initial shakiness.

The ship jolted into life, sailing at what seemed an alarming pace toward the primary two frigates barring their way.

Kirk thumbed the inter-comm without having to look at the switch, eyes fastened tensely on the looming pirate frigates. "All hands, brace for possible collision conditions."

"Annnd thank you for that vote of confidence, Captain," he overheard with amusement the young ensign at the navigation console mutter under his breath, with a resolved exhale of increased concentration.

"Cut power to half impulse…now," Nowitz counted out, and promptly executed the Mallorian roll with perfect textbook accuracy.

"Fire tachyon beam."

"Beam fired, sir. Give me full impulse now - now, MacMillen!" Nowitz half-yelped, as the grinding of metal indicated they had cut the maneuver a little too close, scooting between the nacelles of the two looming frigates.

The ship shuddered suddenly, creaking alarmingly in the tension of the Bridge. A warning light blinked into existence on the science console, accompanied by a too-cheerful voice saying Danger. Danger. Danger, indicating a slight rupture in one of the Botany labs's outer hull. Garrovick hid a grin as Spock impatiently punched the button to cancel the annoying little chirp, breaking its plasticene cover in the process. Somebody was on his last Vulcan nerve.

The maneuver in general, however, was genius, Garrovick agreed with Kirk; because while their firepower was considerable and shields were virtually impenetrable, Orion frigates were notoriously graceless in the depths of space, so difficult to maneuver in battle that they were known for retreating from one and losing a prize, rather than risking a smaller ship getting lucky due to its maneuverability. Even though one frigate was only half the size of the stately Enterprise, it still held less maneuverability than the starship. By detouring through the bulky frigates they both got close enough to dispatch a virus to take down the ships' shields, and also shielded themselves in the process as the frigates could never move quickly enough to target them without hitting each other.

"Emerging from maneuver now, sir," Nowitz muttered, almost to himself. The young man's tongue poked out from his lips in concentration as he counted down the seconds to the second half of the roll, to emerge behind the Klingon Bird of Prey (which Garrovick suspected Kirk had no compunctions about using as a shield).

Spock bent over his scanner as they gracefully glided up behind the Klingon ship, and straightened up after a moment with satisfaction glinting predatorily in his eyes. Garrovick shivered, and returned to monitoring transmissions. "Shields at seventy percent and dropping in the first two frigates, sir."

"I doubt that they'll want to play ball with us once their shields are non-existent. And that means the last one's all yours, Captain PetaQ," Kirk said to their Klingon guest, who turned a toothy growl toward the viewscreen. "Hey, and no destroying it, either," he warned, not at all joking. "At least not until my people are off it. Just play with them a little, hm?"

PetaQ grunted, making a motion of scoffing disgust. "You pathetic humans and your sentimental attachment to your soldiers," he spat, arms crossed. "I shall not give the order to play with that ship, Kirk! Were my crew aboard, they would glory in the knowledge that they were about to be destroyed for The Cause!"

Garrovick had been expecting non-cooperation at a critical moment, so he wasn't really surprised; he just sighed and started inputting coordinates for a full torpedo spread on the third pirate frigate, which was now awkwardly wheeling around to place itself between its two defenseless fellows.

"Instead of which, your crew is currently entertaining themselves as prisoners in our primary shuttle bay, where we had the foresight to beam them prior to destroying the DeghwIj," Spock spoke up calmly, ignoring the incredulous look he received from the command chair. "If you wish to retain even a vestige of honor to return to your comrades, Captain PetaQ, rather than permitting them to remain as prisoners of the Enterprise crew, dishonored by your government for a far too easy capture, I would highly suggest you comply with the captain's demands."

Kirk's sandy eyebrows were knitted together, the unspoken we will be having words about this later, Spock clearly audible to everyone who knew them. Watching the silent exchange, Garrovick wondered absently when during the proceedings today Kirk had jumped a few more years in age, because suddenly he looked far closer to thirty than twenty.

"Uh…sir, the, uh…the Orion ship is powering up its torpedo arrays," MacMillen broke in nervously.

Kirk wheeled back to the viewscreen. "Disable it any way you can short of hitting the cargo areas," he snarled, clearly furious at the Klingon's refusal to abide by the negotiated plan and more than a little irritated at what looked like Spock's circumventing a command decision. "I don't care how you do it, just do it - and use the Qeh as a shield if you have to!"

Obviously Spock wasn't the only one who was on his last nerve, Garrovick reflected warily, though God knew they all had reason to be a bit on edge by this point…

"What the…sir! Captain, the arrays just went down - torpedo power zero," MacMillen suddenly shouted, startlingly loud in the tense half-silence. "And -"

"And their shields are dropping, too, sir," Nowitz reported, staring incredulously at his scanners.

"Open a channel, Garrovick."

"Aye, sir. Channel open."

"Orion ship, what is your status?" Kirk inquired, worrying at his lower lip as he stared at the viewscreen.

Garrovick frowned. "Weird, sir; I'm just getting a bunch of nonsense, static and interference…like there's no one manning the comms station aboard her."

"Speculation, Mr. Spock?"

"A ploy, possibly," was the slow, contemplative reply. "An attempt to lure us in, either to negotiate or attack. They are a species most adept at deception and guile."

A sudden gentle laugh swept over the Bridge from the now-open channel, and it was the most welcome thing Garrovick had ever heard in his life.

"And good afternoon to you too, sugar," Lieutenant Uhura said with obvious amusement. "Didn't your mama ever tell you it's not nice to stereotype, Mr. Spock?"