Disclaimer: Star Trek is the property of Paramount/Viacom. This story is the property of and is copyright (c) 1985 by Johanna Cantor. Originally published in R&R #22, Johanna Cantor, editor. Rated PG.

Rendezvous

Johanna Cantor

S'falt surveyed the colorful toy with something he had no name for. An adult -- though not a Vulcan -- might have called it disgust. It was a nice enough toy, as far as it went. But it was becoming increasingly clear to the toddler that that wasn't very far. The attendant had shown him how to hammer the pegs through the holes to make a flat surface. He had done that, conscientiously and well. Then instead of praising his thoroughness and moving on to something educational, she had flipped the toy, indicating her expectation that he should hammer all the pegs back again. He had done what he'd perceived to be his duty. But now she had flipped it again! Wholly illogical! A rebellious pout pushed his lower lip well forward. He had promised to play nicely with the lady. But did that obligate him to make a fool of himself?

"What's the matter, Baby? Don't you like that toy?"

Worse and worse. Logic (not training, as the subject had never arisen) told him that good boys do not pick up hammers and clout playroom attendants. It would certainly displease his mother. But even she would have to agree it was the logical thing to do:

a) He was not a baby. He had learned to walk weeks ago, and now even grandmother 'Manda had agreed he was to have his own chair at table.

b) It was not his toy; it belonged to the liner.

c) It was not a nice toy. It was an extremely dull toy.

S'falt was prepared to go to almost any lengths to "help" (which meant sacrificing what he wanted to do, no matter how brightly a fascinating project gleamed). He was of course old enough to understand that his mother needed to finish a report, so she could "get it in transmission" before they arrived to see Spock. But surely even filial duty had its limits.

He glanced over at T'Pan, hard at work in a carrel just outside the playroom. His mother wasn't even aware of him, so deep was she in her precious report. The pouting lip protruded further.

"Baby?" the attendant smiled, holding out a calculator toy. Now that was more like it! He reached for it with enthusiasm, set it down carefully, and activated it. The attendant gasped, and he permitted himself a look of contempt. Surely the function of that largest, brightest button was obvious, even to intelligence on the order of hers? Carefully he pressed all the red buttons. Lights flashed, kaleidoscopic wheels turned, buzzers buzzed, and there was a satisfactory chiming of an electronic melody. So he pushed all the blue buttons. The same thing happened! Darkly suspicious, he pushed three buttons selected at random, then two. Each time the same thing happened. It was too much. He picked up the cheat, and hurled it.

"Oh!"

Unfortunate that a passenger should have been strolling past the play area at just that moment. Hurriedly S'falt got to all fours, balanced, behind high, then rose to his feet, upright. He clasped his hands behind him and hung his head in the attitude of a logical child who clearly sees his error.

"Oh, isn't he cute! Look at him, Giorgio! Bright as a button!"

"And what a throwing arm!" The young man laughed, holding out the dummy. "Here, Baby."

The attendant was stammering apologies. S'falt steamed quietly. Couldn't they see he was sorry? And he was not a--!

"He's not a baby," the girl said. "Look. He's a Vulcan, isn't he?" She took the dummy. "Well, no wonder. He doesn't want this. He wants something he can work with." She stepped into the play area. "Like this."

"But that's age range three to four," the attendant objected.

"He won't hurt it. Here, Child."

S'falt regarded her gravely. She knelt, and he found himself studying her face. This was contrary to etiquette; he dropped his gaze. Then the young man knelt, both of them urging him to look at the new toy. He gazed at T'Pan; she was still deep in her work. Cautiously he held out his hand. The girl gave him the instrument, and turned it on for him. Now this was a test of skill! Red buttons moved red graphics; blue moved blue. He lined the display up neatly in logical order, and the couple broke into loud (and appropriate) praise.

S'falt warmed to them. "I am S'falt," he confided, knowing this would be of interest.

"I am Sophia," the girl acknowledged gravely. "This is my husband, Giorgio." Sifalt took a deep breath, and fetched a slate. "Draw you," he offered generously.

* * *

T'Pan keyed with daemonic rapidity, maintaining strict concentration. They would be docking at Alganon within two hours. By then her report must be ready for transmission. Her double check entered, she keyed work and display, and closed strained eyes. Fortunate that she had had all her material in rough draft. But it would never do to submit a quarterly report with a flawed entry, a misplaced decimal, or -- the computer buzzed softly; she studied the readout. Then, almost faint with relief, she punched the final entries, and inserted a tape for recording. She would transmit the report directly to Funding -- a victory of expedience over protocol, perhaps, but it would be on time.

She sat back, drawing a deep breath, feeling as though a mountain had been lifted from her shoulders. Her report was ready. She was en route to Spock. Anne and Tony -- true friends -- had promised to look in on T'I and her companion every day, and they would keep the lab in order. The finger of guilt that touched her was to be ignored. Logically, one must sometimes set priorities. Her primary duty -- she looked over at it, then sat up, startled. S'falt was playing an enthusiastic game of catchcan with an attractive, laughing young couple. The light ball glanced off all surfaces harmlessly enough, but still! She looked for the placid attendant for whose services she had paid half again the berth accommodation fare. The woman was sitting reading! Under T'Pan's very gaze she lifted her head, smiled benignly at the child she was being paid to mind, and returned to her display.

T'Pan rose, so close to fury that she instantly checked herself and sat, reining in her emotional response. She had given no instructions that the child was to play only with the attendant; she had merely assumed that that would be the case. She peered around the carrel to study S'falt's unauthorized playmates. They were certainly young, expensively dressed, and attractive. They laughed as spontaneously as children -- in fact, far more spontaneously than S'falt, who was concentrating on the ball with grim purpose. She should recognize that concentration, T'Pan thought, suppressing a smile. Something was tugging at her. Have a care to thy health, Spock. I will be by thee soon. He couldnlt hear, of course. Had no way, even, of knowing she was coming. She would tape from Alganon... Suddenly she felt nervous. A message from a complete stranger... She pulled the printout from her case to reestablish the conviction it had instantly created that she must go to her betrothed. There were several lines of technical data: point of origin, Scoutship Discoverer, the stardate, destination lines, then "Spock is safe. Tape follows asap. Astyanaxiou, CMO." Might Spock have sent for her, had he been able to tape? She would never know; she had begun to plan even as sheld read.

"Dear T'Pan:

"Forgive me if that's not right. I know Vulcan etiquette prescribes exact titles of respect, but I do not know which is proper in this situation. We've never met, but I've known Mr. Spock for years -- ever since the Enterprise's first five-year mission. He asked me to tell you he's safe, and he is. We intercepted a distress signal and got to Karn in time to find them alive. But they were in some sort of swamp for hours. They've both got fever, and a whole syndrome of tropical ailments. It will be some weeks before they're well.

"I'm writing to you because I think Spock asked me to. Actually, he did ask me, but then he changed his mind. His final instruction was just to tell you he's safe, and if that's all that's appropriate, please just forget this. But it seemed to me that what he really wanted was to ask you to come to him."

"Anne," she'd called at this point, in a voice that sounded strange, "would you get the bank? Ask for Teller T'Mot, tell her I want my entire accessible balance in Federation currency. I'll stop by within the hour."

"T'Pan, what's wrong?" Tony stood behind her.

"Spock," she'd answered briefly, turning a little so he could not see the screen.

"If you would care to meet him, we will be letting him and Captain Kirk off at Space Station K-2."

"Tony, would you see what's available to Space Station K-2? One adult, one child. Berth if you can, cabin if you must?"

"Again, if I'm speaking. out of turn, please just pretend you never received this."

"We can get you on today's shuttle if you can catch the next departure from Space Central. Two hours."

"P1ease log the reservations."

"Right. Charge to the 1ab?"

"No -- yes! And -- oh, my report!" She'd almost displayed her agitation, but Tony held up a hand, keying rapidly.

"You're okay, Toots." He hadn't called her that since... "You have a 36-hour layover on Alganon. Transmit from there, and you're home free."

Her hands had begun moving by themselves, punching orders for the printtouts and data tapes she would need. This is illogical, she'd thought. In fact, crazy. But she'd known that logical or not, they were going. "Anne, could you call home? Ask them to pack a suitcase for us? And call the learning center. I'll pick up S'fa1t in half an hour. Please apologize -- family emergency."

"Couldn't they bring your suitcase to Space Central?"

Oh, how tempting that had been. "No. I'll have to go home."

"Right. You and Tony get your work together. I'll go to the bank for you. " That had slotted everything into place. Except -- "Tony, can I get a playyroom attendant on the liner to Alganon?"

He keyed the query. "Yes. It's 250 credits, Federation."

"Order it." She'd turned back to her computer, and paused in dismay as she'd realized every access was taken up with her data orders. A stylus and her scratchboard -- it would have to do. Anne was running to the aircar. "Fly carefully!" she'd shrieked after her, then sat down to the slow work of hand writing a draft. "What's the full amount, Tony?" She'd just managed not to wince. She'd have to liquidate at least a quarter of her carefully accumulated certificates. Briefly, she considered countermanding her own orders and presenting Sarek's credit. He'd left it carefully open to her. But pride rose in revolt, and she decided against taking the time to reason it out. She'd have to use his credit at some point -- the funds she kept accessible for emergencies wouldn't stretch to interplanetary travel. Then the obligatory records check would reveal her legal status. She thrust that aside, as she always did, and wrote out her draft. "Tony, take this to Teller T'Mot first thing tomorrow. It will reimburse the lab for my ticket. Be sure you get it before the charge goes through."

"You got it, Toots. Hey. Spock?"

"He's alive, but very ill. That's all I know." She'd busied herself packing the printouts the computer was supplying at every feedout. Held removed her hands, holding them for a moment.

"You'll let us know. We'll be anxious till we hear. Now you pick up S'falt, and get on home. I'll pack up here and grab a transport, meet you at Space Central. Go."

After that it was all something of a blur. The learning center, politely concerned (and probably intensely curious -- all ShiKhar knew T'Pan had no family but T'I). Home, and a suitcase neatly packed for her, but nothing for S'falt, as she'd somehow expected. The confrontation with a furious TI: if she wanted to go rocketing off on three minutes notice, that was her business, but S'falt would of course remain ... T'Pan had always deferred to T'I, in everything but her work. And Spock. It hadn't been easy. But T'I had conceded finally, unable to risk losing yet another member of her house. When they'd said farewell her wasted hands had gripped, making it clear that they were in parental configuration. T'Pan had lowered her forehead to them, in an obeisance that should have meant that she was obeying (which she wasn't), but that had really been her promise that she would return, bringing the child who was T'I's only link to the future.

T'Pan felt tears rising at the memory of that ravaged face watching her as she ran for the aircar. TI was afraid -- so afraid. Of accident -- she had reason. But even more, of abandonment. She had reason for that too. But T'Pan would never abandon the woman who'd taken in a son's orphaned betrothed, so many years ago, and made room for her in a crowded house and a hectic life. Tiresome, cantankerous, stubborn old woman...! T'Pan rummaged through her hastily packed case. She would straighten and sort at Alganon. But the moment they debarked, even before her report, there must be a tape in transmission for T'I. Something was engaging the catch of her recorder kit. She started to force it, then collected her patience and pried it apart with care. A thick wad of paper fell into her lap. She unfolded it carefully. There were just two words, in Anne's writing: "With love." And a thousand credits in Federation currency.

She couldn't possibly accept -- but of course, a loan! Now she need not present Sarek's credit at all. She had to close her eyes and concentrate fiercely on control. . .. always to present a calm face to the world ...

"T'Pan?"

She snapped to immediately -- a child should always see his mother calm. She reached to lift S'falt into her lap, giving him a quick, surreptitious hug. Then she realized that the young couple had followed him over. She rose, bracing the child on one hip.

"We're Sophia and Giorgio Stefanopoulis," the girl said with direct friendliness.

"I am T'Pan." Should she shake hands? Human cultures differed so widely. She compromised with a human-style smile.

"Oh, I knew you'd be nice!" the girl exclaimed. "Your son is great. We really enjoyed playing with him."

T'Pan bowed, uncertain how to respond. Chimes sounded. Dinner. "It was kind of you to amuse him," she ended the conversation politely. S'falt stirred indignantly, and she tightened her hold to shush him, mentally acknowledging that this was not his interpretation of the facts.

"I wonder," the girl hesitated. "Giorgio?"

"Of course. Why don't you join us for dinner in our suite, Mrs ... er ..."

T'Pan controlled a blush. "I am Scientist," she supplied her former title, as etiquette required. They looked a bit dismayed; that was something of a mouthful for the English speaking. "Would Miss be easier?" She smiled again.

They both beamed. "You'll join us, then? And bring S'falt, of course."

"With pleasure."

"Suite A, then. In about ten minutes?"

"Yes, we'd better be sure the servants have straightened up. Our steward isn't with us, so..."

"Be quiet, Sophia. About ten minutes, then. Give your name to the guard. He'll be expecting you."

T'Pan bowed as they left, then blinked in surprise. Goodness, they were quick. But then, many human cultures were like that. Humans could be on a first name basis while Vulcans were still observing the rituals of introduction. And what would she ever find to talk about, with that gay young pair? A bit flustered, she took S'falt into the fresher and set him to washing his hands (always a sure treat) while she tidied her hair. Her travel suit would have to do (her suitcase held printouts; the briefcase held her clothes). She extricated S'falt, who was scouring his elbows, dried him, changed his shirt, and combed his hair.

"There," she approved.

"T'Pan, what to call them?"

"Mm." That was a poser. "Thee may call them Parentfriend." On Vulcan, that would have been unthinkably presumptuous, but they wouldn't understand it, any more than they would understand S'falt's entirely proper question. Other people, other ways. She tidied their neat berth, locked the still-recording computer in the compartment, and led S'falt toward the suites.

"Have a lovely dinner, Ma'am!" It was the attendant, flustered and excited.

"Thank you. " T'Pan looked at her in some surprise.

"They took a real fancy to Baby! Probably just a passing whim, but you never know, do you Ma'am?" She studied T'Pan's puzzlement, then gave a superior little laugh. "Well, surely you know who they are? Oh, Ma'am. I recognized them right away. They're Sophia and Giorgio, hereditary rulers of Thule! They are traveling as Mr. and Mrs. Stefanopoulis, but you're dining with Sophia and Giorgio Thule. Now what do you think of that?"

Never having heard of the couple, T'Pan did not know how to respond. But there was a practical matter to be settled. "We may be docking when we get back; I may be rushed." She reached for her case; the woman's eyes gleamed.

Ten percent. To fetch toys, and sit and read? But one would not wish to be mean. She calculated 13 percent, rounded it up to the nearest whole bill, and counted it out. "Thank you. "

"Why thank you, Ma'am. And enjoy your dinner."

T'Pan took S'falt by the hand again and they started forward, S'falt looking around eagerly, T'Pan absorbed in consideration of writing a letter to the line. One would not, of course, wish to make trouble for Mrs ... Mrs. Liddy. And since she'd been with the line for l5 years (she said), her work must have given satisfaction. Perhaps it was a different concept of care. On Vulcan, childcare was a highly-skilled profession. But she must not always be comparing things to Vulcan. Perhaps-

"Was you lost, Miss?"

T'Pan looked up, startled. The tone of the question seemed to hold a threat which was oddly independent of its content. She was outside Suite A -- oh, the guard. "I am T'Pan."

"Beg pardon, Miss. Mrs. Stefanopoulis is expecting you."

She was ushered in and greeted gaily. Cocktails were offered; she chose a martini, having learned on Capella 4 to rather enjoy that astringent taste. S'falt was ceremoniously provided with something pink. It was probably mostly sugar, but she blocked her automatic protest in the interests of courtesy. No child on Vulcan would be offered -- but she must not always be comparing --

"We're so glad you could dine with us, Miss T'Pan," the young man smiled. "Oh, yes. You would not believe how tired we've gotten of each other's company!"

It was a little difficult at first to find topics for discussion. But T'Pan soon discovered that the couple could keep any subject going. She had only to throw in a word now and again, or ask a question, or only nod. They certainly laughed a lot. Everything about them seemed gay and bright. Dinner was excellent, and (in spite of her misgivings) vegetarian. Sophia insisted on taking S'falt on her lap to feed him. He was good about it, though the look he gave T'Pan was eloquent.

2350, T'Pan's time sense told her. She rose. "This has been most pleasant. But I'm afraid we must go. We will be docking in 20 minutes. "

Both of them protested, urging her to stay, but she finally got away, she hoped without giving offense. Then she had to hurry. There was no time now for a tape for T'I, but she'd send word of their safe arrival, and tape her later. The report tape was ready, with all calculations still in the computer. She packed it tightly away for safety, putting the tape handy in her suit pocket. She stepped up for a final glance around the bunk.

"Here she is!"

"Oh, good. Now we can help you debark! Here, Child," Sophia held out a first mate's cap. S'falt donned it immediately, almost disappearing under its brim. "Here we go." Sophia picked him up, and Giorgio took T'Pan's arm, swinging her bags toward a porter before she could say a word. The couple's Suite A tickets took them directly to the head of the line. Moments later, the Alganon transporter room took shape around them. "Message Desk," a sign flashed. T'Pan wanted to run to it, but took the time to thank the couple.

"But you have a tape to send, don't you?" Sophia encountered T'Pan's astonished reaction and laughed a little self-consciously. "We saw you taping. Go ahead. We're in no hurry. " She sat down with S'falt and picked up a photoreader.

Stupid, T'Pan scolded herself for feeling uneasy. They were just a friendly young couple, bored with travel, eager for diversion. If their friendliness and gaiety seemed a bit overdone, might that not be her own stodginess? A Vulcan who hadn't been off-planet for years -- and she must not always be commparing everything to Vulcan!

As always now, she had to pay for her messages in cash. The attendant was rueful about it, but finally her messages were en route, and she could return for S'falt.

"Giorgio has the most splendid idea!" Sophia was bubbling. "You know we are here for 36 hours. Would you like to take the jaunt to the Elden ruins? Everybody says they're just magnificent. Oh, do say that you'll come! You just don't know how much we're enjoying your company. And S'falt."

Again, T'Pan had the curious feeling that there was something behind the charm. But the Elden Ruins ... most educational!

"As our guest, of course."

"Oh, no, " T'Pan refused firmly. " I must of course--"

"Well , if you insist." T'Pan was bustled to a ticket counter. A moment later she stood, tickets in hand, wondering how her insistence that she must pay her own way if she went had transmuted into the decision that she was going. "0800," the ticket salesman told her glumly. She glanced at the sign- Overnight tours -- Elden Ruins. Campout. Open fires. Native guides.

"That's perfect, then, " Sophia smiled. "We'll bring Fil, so our party will fill a skimmer. S'falt doesn't count -- as a passenger, of course."

"We'll have to start early, so we'll stay together," Giorgio decreed.

"We're at the Tourister, Miss T'Pan; they tell me they have a reservation for you too. That's lucky -- we don't have to change it. Shall we share a cab?"

This was getting overwhelming. But she had no reason to be openly rude. "Do forgive me, there is a message I forgot. You go ahead. I'll--"

"Oh, no. We're in no hurry. Go ahead."

The clerk managed a smile. "Another one? Goodness!"

"One more. " T'Pan smiled back. "Vulcan, please. Computer Central, access code 5l6 ..."

"Just a minute! Here." She punched in the order and beckoned T'Pan around the counter. "Just punch in your own code, if you don't mind."

"Not at all. May I enter the query too?"

"Sure."

"Stefanopoulis, Mr. and Mrs." T'Pan punched in. "Currently en route to Station K-2. Thule, Giorgio and Sophia. Signed, T'Pan, 5l638l9470009l2."

* * *

Steady on, old man, Kirk encouraged himself. Just a little further -- ah! It felt entirely too good to sit down -- he'd almost bitten off more than he could chew. He waited until his breathing steadied, then swung his legs onto the bed and turned to look at the sleeping Spock. Still looks licked to a splinter. Saving my bacon. Pulled it off, though. Again.

"Well, here you are," Chapel entered scolding. "Who let you out of Intensive?"

"I did." Kirk flashed his best grin. "Looked like you needed the room. How's the kid?"

"He'll be all right."

"You were doing some fancy work there."

"Yes. Well, he wouldn't have much use of his hand if we hadn't. Would you think an engineering student would be stupid enough to--"

"A problem?" Spock queried.

They both jumped. "None. Except that the captain is awol. Come on."

"Now hold on, Christine..."

Spock closed his eyes, hoping to placate his aching head. Sounds of the argument rose and fell. The victor? He turned to look. The captain, he decided.

"We ll, all right," Chapel was conceding. "If you're well enough to give me a hard time, I suppose we can try it." Kirk snorted, eyes closed. Chapel stood fuming for a moment longer, then the message terminal activated. She whirled to it, scanned the screen, pressed Printout. "It's for you, Mister Spock." Her voice sounded odd. "From Alganon."

Spock closed his eyes again. He knew no one on Alganon. Only politeness made him take the printout. The message was a thrifty one line, signed T'Pan.

His ears roared; for a moment he was sure the fever had him again. Chapel supported him anxiously; he gave her a slow, shy smile. She smiled back, seeming quite relieved for some reason, and quickly left the room.

Kirk listened to the departing footsteps. They were the sound of victory. "Doctors," he growled fretfully. "Every one of them. And a doctor who started as a nurse--!" He snorted again. Spock would say something logical now. He always did.

There was silence. Startled, Kirk turned to scrutinize his friend. "Spock?" Spock turned. "Well! Somebody hand you a year's pay taxfree?"

Spock looked at him, unseeing, for a moment, then focussed. "Something like that." He started to punch his pillow into shape, gave it up and lay down to sleep.

"Spock?" Reluctantly, Spock opened his eyes. "You're really feeling lousy, aren't you?"

"I've been better," he conceded. "I'd be better, if I could shake this headache." That was his human side -- complaining, seeking sympathy. He closed his eyes again so he wouldn't have to watch his captain signalling the doctor. Hands touched him gently; there was a sharp intake of breath.

" Krou, for godsake use a tricorder!"

"A moment; headache, neck and shoulders -- ouch! Odd how often sprains grow more painful over time."

The hands left him. Spock sighed in relief. Xanthians were reputed to be touch telepaths, contacting on some level so removed from the mind that Spock could sense no contact at all. But if they felt another's pain as -- he turned to look up at the physician. The extraordinary eyes were amber with distress, but Krou smiled at him. "It is only to be expected," he said reassuringly. "Both of you exhibit half a dozen ailments -- parasites, textbook tropical exposure syndrome. And you, holding on to your captain in that quicksand, for so long -- brrrr!"

"What were they doing?" Dr. Chapel asked indignantly. "I don't understand it at all!"

"Some form of scapegoat ritual, I think," Kirk explained. "Damn it. They seemed so friendly! I should never have sent the Enterprise--!"

"I agreed," Spock interpolated hastily. "We were honored guests." For one night. The next morning they had become pariahs, to be driven into the swamp, and hounded, laughed at, tormented when one was enmired so hopelessly that Spock could only hang on to him, and endure ... "Ai!"

"I know," the physician answered truthfully, his own voice strained with the pain of rubbing pulled muscles. "A heating pad, Christimou. Just here." It lay across Spock's back exactly where it hurt the most. Hypos hissed at his body. "An antipyrin," Krou explained. "A vitalizer. A sedative. And I think, ma mia, a hug."

Softness sheltered Spock. He longed to snuggle in, but surely this was incorrect? But Chapel was an old friend, from the very beginning of that first five-year mission. And the man whose hands rubbed his back was her husband. Under the circumstances, perhaps it was permitted to close tired eyes, resting a hot forehead ... Odd that human women, too, had that lovely cool spot, just where a weary forehead could rest ... illogical. There was no evolutionary advantage in such a sanctuary. There was, perhaps, some survival value in the deeper curve of T'Pan's breast ... T'Pan. He had asked for her, then counterrmanded his own request -- he remembered that distinctly. She was busy. She was always busy. It was illogical ... but somehow, she was coming to him. Soon. To want her this minute was illogical. Therefore the ache in his throat was illogical too. It would pass as he regained his strength and force of mind. He tried to push the pain away. When he could not, he forced himself to accept it. Other aches were swallowed up in weariness. He evened his breathing, trying to guide himself into healing sleep. If only T'Pan were here. He was set gently down on cool pillows, covered, and left to his rest. T'Pan. She is coming to me, he reminded himself firmly. He had only to endure...

"He's going to be okay, isn't he?" Kirk whispered to Dr. Astyanaxiou.

In spite of the turmoil of his eyes, the Xanthian smiled. "Yes. As are you. Get some sleep now." The doctor sat by his human patient until he was satisfied that his orders were obeyed. Now at last he could go in search of his wife.

She was in the outer office, studying at a carrel. Busy, always so busy -- it seemed to be an occupational hazard of husbands. But perhaps it would be all right to go perch on her chair, put an arm around her as she studied the readings human physicians needed to understand their patients' condition. He perched rather gingerly, but her arm came around his waist, holding him to her as she studied. By the time she looked up, he could smile down at her, secure in the knowledge that his eyes were the calm cerulean of content.

* * *

T'Pan looked around the elegant suite, struggling between embarrassment and annoyance. Emotionalism? No! This was illogical. Her berth fare entitled her to a cubicle, not two bedrooms, a receiving room, kitchenette and private bath! "There is some mistake," she told the attendant firmly. "I have berth accommodations."

No mistake, Ma'am. The hotel has lots of rooms just now, see. When it can, the line likes to move passengers into the better rooms."

T'Pan hesitated. She hadn't been off-planet for so long. "This is really too much for us. Could you find a smaller--"

"Well, I hardly know, Ma' am. Pretty crowded jus t now."

"But, you just said--"

"Look, Ma'am. What's your complaint? You're getting much better accommodations at the same price, that's all. Now you just give me your tickets, and I'll get the bill receipted, and then you'll have a record all clear and businesslike."

That was logical. She gave him the ticket; he took it, promising to be back in ten minutes, and left.

The message desk buzzed. It was her answer from Vulcan computer central.

"Stefanopoulis, no record," the unit printed out. That fit in with Mrs. Liddy's information. "Thule, Giorgio and Sophia, hereditary rulers of Thule. Son and daughter of Timon of Thule. Physical description -- not public information. Age -- not public information. Country of origin -- not public information. Citizenship -- Thule."

What followed was nothing more than a long list of popular news stories. The precis were virtually indistinguishable. The Thules, brother and sister, it seemed, were "beautiful people." They traveled the resort areas of the Federation, attending a party here, a royal event there. But why was so much material classified? Undoubtedly to protect them from busybodies. T'Pan blushed.

Her door buzzed. It was the attendant, with the receipted bill and an open hand. She tipped him the proper rate, ignoring his disappointed look (she knew that much, at least) and dismissed him, returning to the message center. The transmission was complete now -- many more articles of the "beautiful people" variety, all totally useless. "See also, Thule, kingdom of; socioeconomic survey of; recent reports from." T'Pan shut it off, close to ill temper at the waste of money.

To work! An order to her bank to reimburse Tony and Anne was already in transmission, but she must write them personally. Then a chatty, and boring, letter home. TI would undoubtedly glance over it, rightly dismissing it as trivial, but she should be reassured by the length of the letter.

S'falt, finished with his explorations, cast his mother a knowing look, and went to retrieve one of his travel toys from the case. T'Pan pushed hold. "We'll go out to dinner as soon as I've finished taping TI," she promised. "And we'll find an arcade, or something."

She shortened the letter for his sake, tidied them both, and left the suite, carefully coding the lock.

"Was you thinking of going out, Miss?" She jumped, probably visibly. It was the guard from the liner. "We are going out to dinner, " she responded politely. "Come, S'falt."

"Hotel room service is very good."

She was tempted to walk away. But perhaps that would be discourteous. "We wish to see something of the city. Good evening."

"Wouldn't stay out too late, Ma'am. Not safe. Lady alone."

Probab ly the man meant well. "Good evening, " she repeated. They rounded the corner and walked to the lift.

They ate hungrily, then sought educational amusement. Most of the sights suggested by the hotel display seemed noneducational, but fortunately there was an arcade. They walked into the wrong side at first; T'Pan got the child (and herself) out of there quickly. But then they found the children's section. Seats with terminals were conveniently near. T'Pan paid for one and settled down to the news summary. The rescue of Captain Kirk was one of the items; she keyed to it eagerly, but there was no new information. She keyed back to page one, and concentrated on the revolt in the New Arabies until S'falt's bedtime.

She hadn't slept on the liner; this was her chance to catch up. She was in bed not long after the child, and soon was sound asleep.

She heard an odd click and roused sleepily. Suddenly light flooded the bedroom. A middle-aged human stood by the activator, phaser in hand. "Who are you?" she exclaimed. The man gasped and hit the activator. In the darkness, she heard the suite door close.

She fumbled at her bedside table, activating the lights, then sprang out of bed, running to the suite door. The hallway was empty. The lock, which she'd keyed so carefully to her own code, stood virtually open, on computer access.

Calming her panic, she searched the suite. They were alone, S'falt still sound asleep. She recoded the hall door, pulled a large desk in front of it, and loaded it with all the bric-a-brac in the room. That would make a fine noise if anyone forced a way past. She left the bedroom door slightly ajar, then barricaded it in the same way. She climbed back into bed, sternly calmed herself, and composed herself for sleep.

* * *

0630. T'Pan woke on the dot and woke S'falt. At 0700 they left the suit. T'Pan carried her computers, the only valuable thing she had with her, and most of her currency in a tote destined for the hotel safe. Maintenance people were scrubbing the rug by the lift with some sort of chemical. She greeted them politely; they responded in kind. She turned her tote over to the manager with a complaint. He was a morose type, obviously expecting trouble; he logged it in visible concern. Then she took S'falt to the diner. She scanned the news quickly while eating, but discouraged S'falt from experimenting with his breakfast. The tour left from the hotel lobby, but it would be most discourteous to be late.

Sophia and Giorgio were already in the lobby as they entered, apparently in the midst of a row. "And as for the lousy cubicles..." Sophia whispered furiously. T'Pan withdrew quickly. Spock said that humans tended to underestimate Vulcan hearing. Spock ... This morning's summary had not mentioned him. No news was good news.

She played finger arithmetic with S'falt until 0755, then re-entered the lobby. By now the couple should have their company faces on. Odd that English must be their native language ("country of origin -- not public information"). And cubicles? The "beautiful people"? But it was none of her business.

"Oh, here you are," Sophia smiled. "So nice to see you. Did you sleep well? Fil is ... indisposed," she went on, almost in the same breath, "so we're taking Gatt." Another large guard bowed slightly; T'Pan nodded a good morning.

"Ready to go?" Giorgio appeared from the doorway. "This way, Miss T'Pan. I'll carry the baby. "

T'Pan heard S'falt take a deep breath, but fortunately he decided against voicing his reaction. A skimmer trip into the Great Gorge, the ruins of Edal, an overnight "campout" - he did want to go!

* * *

"Now you've got to get that fever down."

It was bedside-manner talk, but Spock -- of course -- took it literally. "I have tried, Doctor."

God, he sounds tired, Kirk worried. He usually snaps back faster than this. The captain peered anxiously over at his friend.

"I know," Astyanaxiou gave Spock an encouraging pat. "Don't worry, we'll have you on your feet by the time we reach K-2. Wouldn't want to upset the little lady, after she's traveled--"

"Dr. Astyanaxiou." Spock's tone made it a conclusion. "You sent for her."

"Well , yes, my Christine and I did. She wouldn't have had to come, though. We told her you told us not to." Spock closed his eyes. The doctor hovered nervously for a moment. "Hey. We finally located a supply of genuine kitskin -- got it in this morning. Want it to your feet?"

"Yes."

Kirk watched curiously as the doctor wet the wool, then bound it carefully to soles of Spock's feet. "What the dickens is that?"

"Old Vulcan fever remedy. Want to try it?"

"Sure. How does it work?"

"Well--"

"It is prescientific," Spock supplied. "There is no medicinal value."

"Feels nice, though," the doctor smiled. Vulcan toes were ecstatically kneading the coolness of the "prescientific" remedy. "Here." Soft wetness soothed Kirk 's feet, and was fastened comfortably. "And here." The four-hour round of hypos began. Kirk sighed in resignation, trying to relax and accept. God, he was tired of being sick.

He turned to watch as Spock was injected. The Vulcan lay absolutely still, not responding to the doctor's chatter. Krou shrugged eloquently at Kirk, patted Spock's shoulder, and returned to his station.

A few minutes passed, then a few more. "Spock?" Kirk asked uneasily. "Hey, anything wrong?"

"Nothing, thank you."

It was his most austere tone. Kirk subsided. Dammit! Couldn't I pry, just once? After all these years?

"Jim?"

Kirk sat up carefully. He knew that tone too -- the Vulcan was up against a wall. That almost always translated into some problem with what Spock called emotionalism. "Yes?" No answer. After a minute, he got his padded feet on the floor, then, moving from panel hold to panel hold, got over to perch on Spock's bed. There was still no response, so he took one hand, holding it with both of his. It was a gesture of comfort that went almost as far back as they did. He waited confidently for it to have its effect.

He could sense Spock relaxing. After a moment, the dark eyes opened. "So many years..."

It sounded almost like a question. What was Spock worrying about. "So many years? What?" The hand in his tightened. "You and I?" Spock nodded, searching his face. "I'll be around." There: a flicker of relief. Of course, that was it. "Some things will change, naturally. But the important things..." He shook his head, smiling. "I'll be around."

Spock's eyes closed. After a moment he removed his hand and turned on his side, in his normal sleep position. Kirk made his way carefully back to his own bed, lay down, and looked over. The Vulcan was sound asleep.

* * *

The orange flames of the much-advertised "campout" flickered against dark canyon walls. T'Pan sat nearby, hugging her knees, enjoying the soft night, the bright flame, the guide's talking, and the peace. One felt safe here. Certainly much safer than would have been possible in that large, so-accessible suite. After this, I'll always insist on a cubicle. Coffin shaped and confining the sleeping units might be, but nobody sneaked into them, phaser in hand. "But what about the water supply?" she asked the guide. "Do we know that the aqueducts continued to function?"

That started him off again. This man was a true enthusiast. It was pleasant to listen to such professionalism. Tim on the ruins was like Spock on computers, Amanda on music, Sarek on the techniques of debate ... T'Pan (it must be acknowledged) on her project ...

Tim began scraping the dishes; she rose to help. "Now Miss, that's my job. Why don't you go back to the tent and relax?"

"Many hands make the work light. You say the sonar analysis showed no flaws in the tiles?"

Tim was off again. T'Pan worked with the elderly man, scraping, stacking and listening. She would so much rather be out here listening to archeology than in the tent trying to make conversation. Sophia had verged on the hysterical all day, her bright conversation so edgy that she had seriously threatened T'Pan's already undermined serenity. Giorgio was upset too -- not so overtly, fortunately, but once they were irrevocably launched in the skimmer, S'falt had scrambled off Giorgio's lap back to his mother, politely but firmly refusing to sit with either of the others again.

"I should check on S'falt. Excuse me." She moved quietly to the tent flap. Sophia and Giorgio were in bed -- undoubtedly sulking over their day-long bickering, as they could not yet be asleep. But S'falt was sound asleep on his pallet, so they must have been maintaining silence. An idea struck her; she picked up her blanket roll and carried it out to drop it by the fire.

The dishes were neatly boxed. "Don't you wash them?" she exclaimed.

"Sure we wash them! But," he whispered confidentially, "that's done back up at the hotel. Sanitary regulations require it -- now don't you tell on an old man."

T'Pan knew that her mouth had quirked. "It's all sham, isn't it? The fire, and 'roughing it' with tents and pallets and portable refrigerators, and dishes scraped with sticks then steam sterilized, and -- now that I come to think of it, where are the insects? Surely--"

"Oh yeah, fierce, too. But not at the ruins any more. We instituted a comprehensive insect control program. Hasn't been a stinger in the canyon in thirty years."

"The quiet too. Where are the other parties?"

"Other areas. We guides keep in touch." He surreptitiously produced a communicator. "But folks like the feeling of camping out."

"Illusion." T'Pan shook her head.

"Well , yes and no. It's real enough in a way, Miss. Those skimmers travel by day; the canyon walls really scramble navigation equipment. So we do have to stay here overnight, just like the old days, when we came down by mule. And I'm responsible for keeping things safe. Cooking over the campfire, scraping enamel dishes -- sure, it's window dressing. But the customers like it. A lot of the Colt Corp. people stop here every six months, as the tours shift. They say it's relaxing."

"It is" T'Pan sat down again.

Tim looked at her bedroll. "You want to sleep out?" She nodded. "Good idea. Wish I could myself. But I'd better stay with their -- with Mr. and Mrs. Stewhosiwhatsit. Mr. and Mrs. Painintheneck, to put it no lower."

"Gatt's keeping watch, isn't he?"

"Yeah. Wish him luck. Got about enough brains to change his socks when they're wet. But no one can get at us down here."

"No, " T'Pan answered comfortably, beginning to spread her bedroll. "Want your pallet? I could--"

"No, S'falt's sound asleep. I'll dig a hip hole."

"You know that trick? Okay, Miss. Sleep well..."

* * *

Something was rustling in the top of the tent. T'Pan came half awake to listen for a moment. Some animal, she decided. Odd they didn't have an animal control project. The rustling stopped -- perhaps they did. She drifted off again.

A torch picked her out. She sat up; instantly a hand was over her mouth.

"Don't scream!" A phaser touched her head. She nodded, trying to calm her startlement. "What's your name? Now don't scream. If you scream, I'll have to fire. Don't want to do that." The hand was removed.

"T'Pan."

"What's the baby's name?"

"S'falt."

"What's his personal code?"

"Why?"

"Just give it to me. " The phaser gestured. She supplied the code and the man nodded and rose, stepping back. "Okay, that checks. You're not connected to them at all."

"To -- Mr. and Mrs ...?"

"Prince and Princess, you mean. Giorgio and Sophia, hereditary rulers of Thule."

"Shine the torch on your face. " To her surprise, he complied. "You're the man at the hotel." Perhaps that was foolish. She couldn't prove it, couldn't even be sure herself. But he nodded.

"That's right. Sorry I scared you, Miss. But they set you up. Put you in their room, left you there for me. Used your kid, too. Everyone knows they're brother and sister. Young couple with a kid and a Vulcan governess... But not twice. Once. Not twice. Where's your kid?"

"In the tent."

"Go get him. Be quiet about it, Miss. You get your baby and come back out here, real quiet. Stay to one side, you won't get hurt. You try to warn them, I'll have to shoot you. Don't want to do that. Give me your word. "

"What are you going--"

The phaser gestured again. "Not your fight, Miss. You want your baby safe, you give me your word."

"My word. "

"That's what I like about Vulcans. Logical. Miriam -- she was the best. But logic? Go, Miss. Real quiet."

The phaser gestured. T'Pan walked quietly toward the tent, half expecting to hear the weapon spit. Her back tensed, but nothing happened. She slipped silently into the tent, scooped S'falt up, bedroll and all, and was out again.

"Good. Now come back here and get over there. Don't interfere. If you try, I'll aim for the kid, I swear it. Understand? I haven't come this far..." Someone in the tent sighed and turned over. The man tensed, then touched a control on his belt. The tent roof was pulled off its snaps; the walls collapsed. "Freeze!" the man shouted. A torch above the tent illuminated the pallets and their astounded occupants.

"Gatt!" Sophia screamed.

"No good, I'm afraid," the man was panting. "Giorgio and Sophia, hereditary rulers--"

"Now just a minute," Tim began, getting out of bed.

"Stay where you are, old man. This isn't your fight either."

"I'm responsible for the safety of my party." Tim moved slowly toward Giorgio's pallet. The man's phaser cut a wide scorch mark at his feet; he halted.

"Your party? Party of murderers. Giorgio and Sophia, hereditary rulers of Thule, you have been tried by the people's court and convicted of the murders of thirty-three innocent--"

"Radical lies!"

"We never--!"

"Shut up!" The man was panting; he took a deep breath and began again.

"Giorgio and Sophia, hereditary rulers of Thule..."

He's putting it off, T'Pan thought. Stalling. She began to edge very slowly towards a large formation. S'falt was awake; she melded with him. //Absolute silence, Child. I will put thee behind the rocks. Remain in safety (command).'/

".. innocent members of the families of Caln, Fried, and Gamiel, taken unlawfully as hostage--"

"Who are you?" Giorgio demanded.

The man laughed shortly. "Raoul, of Gamiel." Sophia gasped. "One of your regent's mistakes; when he took my Miriam, he should have taken me too. Miriam got word to me, told me to take the kids and get them to safety. I did, but I didn't really believe her. Hostages for our good behavior? The noblest families in Thule?" The man was beginning to cry. T'Pan set S'falt down and gave a sharp shove. He disappeared obediently behind the rocks.

"Sir, if you have a grievance--" she began. The phaser swung towards her; she stopped.

"A grievance? My WIFE? Her sister and her entire family? Thirty--"

"A vicious lie," Giorgio cut in coldly.

"A lie?" the man screamed. "Where's my wife, you bastard? WHERE'S MY WIFE?" He was sobbing full out now, his phaser no longer steady on the pair. Tim took a step forward. Giorgio grabbed him and pulled him onto the pallet as a shield. The man fired; Tim convulsed and collapsed. "No!" the man groaned. "No! You bastard! You--!"

Giorgio's hand snaked up with the knife from Tim's belt. It struck the man, burying deep in his stomach. He dropped his phaser and grabbed the handle, looking stupidly down at himself. T'Pan darted forward, kicking the phaser away, then whirled. Giorgio was diving under the pallet. He came up with a phaser. T'Pan sprang forward and got to his hand, bearing it back over his head. He snarled, trying to fight her. "Drop it!" She squeezed his wrist hard; he yelped and let go. "Now," she got a knee on his chest to emphasize her logic, "we will radio the other guides, and call for the authorities."

"He's getting away!"

"He is wounded."

"I'm going after him, damn you!" He scrabbled for the phaser; she pushed it out of his reach.

"Giorgio!" Sophia screamed. "Don't leave--" Giorgio got to his feet, gave T'Pan a murderous look, and crashed off after the intruder.

T'Pan stood a moment, breathing for calm, then went to the rocks. "S'falt." He stood and burrowed into her arms. //Hush, Child. It is over. Do not look now (command).// She moved to Tim's body and found the communicator still attached to his belt. She activated it.

"Hello, Tim. What's up?"

"Tim is dead. Murdered. Please notify the authorities and have a responsible person here as soon as possible."

Silence. Then a very quiet, "Yes, Ma'am, we'll be there directly." T'Pan put the instrument down and walked out to the dead fire, working for calm.

The other guides were there almost immediately. They removed old Tim's body, found Giorgio and brought him back, and took preliminary statements. The furious Giorgio and the terrified Sophia were adamant that the man must have been a lunatic. He'd stunned Gatt and burst in on them shouting some crazy story. Poor old Tim had tried to protect them... "Can you corroborate that, Miss?"

T'Pan started. "Yes."

That seemed to be it for the night. Their majesties were profusely apologized to, assured of protection, and settled down in the tent under the watchful eyes of two of the guides whose parties, it seemed, could look after themselves. T'Pan took S'falt and returned to her bedroll. She meditated with the child until he fell asleep, covered him, and sat up to think.

Of her own knowledge, she knew no more than the Thules had claimed. That laughing, gay couple -- could they -- or even their agent -- possibly be responsible for thirty-three deaths? But what else would impel a bumbling little man to murder -- a murder he hadn't been able to bring himself to commit? He had refrained from harming her, and even allowed her to remove S'falt from danger. It was Giorgio who had pulled an innocent man into the line of fire, startling the intruder into firing. The intruder had been shattered by the unplanned death. T'Pan rose and moved off into the darkness.

There was enough light now to make her eyes useful, but her ears found him first. The little man was panting -- he must be in terrible pain. A hunting knife ... "Where are you?" No answer. "It is T'Pan. Where are you?"

"Miss? Oh thank -- over here, Miss. Please, could you help me?" T'Pan moved toward him, wondering just what she was doing here. Logically, she should go back and get the guides, and ... "Oh, Miss!" She dropped to her knees and crawled forward. Her hand touched hair; she gasped.

"Where are you?"

"Some kind of hole. Fell into it. Good hiding place if ... if I'd meant it. His Highness walked right over me twice in the dark." He laughed and moaned aga in. " Should've called to him -- ended it then. Never did have the guts of a rabbit. Miriam knew that. Chose me anyway. Not much of a one for the heroics, Miriam. She was first cousin to the prince, but all she ever wanted was a nice gentle guy, a little house, a baby every other year..." He began to cry, moaning again at the pain. "We had it too. Never did any harm to anyone. Regent started raising the taxes every six months -- Miriam couldn't stomach that. Said it was her duty to-- Oh! Miss, please help me."

"What--?"

"A phaser, a knife. I don't care. Maybe you can find his -- I dropped it somewhere. Please, Miss. I can't stand this!"

"You want -- no!"

"Miss, wait. Think about it. It's logical. I'm done for -- he laid me open and I've lost a lot of blood. Even if I lived, they'd execute me. I'm dead, Miss. The only difference between me and cold meat is that I'm still hurting. Oh Miss, it's awful bad. I'm going to start screaming soon. You don't ... want that. Mi -- Miriam!"

T'Pan sat back, drawing up shaking knees. Could even logic resolve this problem? The man was an assassin. He had stunned Gatt, and probably what the maintenance people had been cleaning were the remains of his contact with Fil. But if he were only trying to bring to justice the murderers of his wife and the others, and now old Tim too ... "I try always to do the ethical thing," Spock had told her. "But that is not always possible. Indeed, it is not always possible to know what is... " Firmly she ordered her mind, and thought it through. Of course, logic was always the best guide. She touched the man's face.

"Thanks, Miss," he breathed, apparently taking this for consent. "Oh. Could you let my family know? My sister has the kids; they'll be all right. But I want them to know. It's pretty hard, not knowing. Miriam..."

"I think perhaps you may be able to see them again," she said. She moved her fingers down, found the juncture and pinched hard. The man gasped and went limp. T'Pan got up, feeling unaccountably pleased with herself. She'd never used the pinch, except in training. She'd never needed to. Spock had gotten pretty frantic, at the worst of it, but he'd never threatened ... now she was stalling, standing beside an unconscious murderer, putting it off. Resolutely she started back to camp. Perhaps one of the guides had a medikit, with something to ease pain. If not, she would stay with him, keep him unconscious. The authorities should be here shortly; they'd arrest the man, then he would have proper care, and a trial. Logically, a trial would get to the bottom of this.

"Who's there?" T'Pan froze. Giorgio was standing over S'falt, phaser in hand.

She took a deep breath. "T'Pan," she answered calmly.

"Where have you been?"

Anger betrayed her into an unwise reply. "That is not your concern."

"The hell it's--" His hand grasped her arm painfully. She clouted him and he fell. T'Pan stalked past him towards one of the guides.

"The intruder is alive and badly wounded. Have you a--" A crashing behind her caused her to whirl. Giorgio disappeared. T'Pan hesitated for a fatal moment, in sheer disbelief. Surely he couldn't be planning, under the very eyes of four witnesses...? She ran after him. The guard grabbed her arm.

"Stop him!" she urged. "We must--"

A maniacal howl cut her off. "I curse you! In the name of Miriam, I curse you! In the name--" A phaser whined, then there was silence.

* * *

"Her eyes are brown, the hair black, of course. It is quite long. She usually ... it is severely back and braided..."

Kirk groaned inwardly. It had seemed a simple question: "Do you have a picture of her?" Spock didn't, of course; all their personal effects were on the Enterprise or long since divided among the Karn. "Tell me about her," he'd said. Five minutes later, Spock had yet to produce a coherent sentence.

"Of average height -- taller than Amanda, not as tall as T'Pring." Kirk jumped at that; he hadn't realized that for Spock, T'Pring had become merely a point of reference. "Well-muscled, she is quite strong. But soft -- ah -- soft..." Spock's hand was describing circles around his chest.

"Where she should be?" Kirk smiled.

"Affirmative," Spock replied gratefully. "Her face is -- again, average. Not plain, not -- but I find her, I mean--"

Kirk took pity on him once again. "A scientist. Biologist, I think you told me?"

"Yes. She heads the Animal Studies Lab, having trained there as a youth under Sarek."

"Oh. You've known her a long time, then?"

"Oh, yes. " Spock subsided. Then it all came out in a rush. "She is a scientist, Jim. A woman with a mind ruled by logic and scientific rigor. And Jim!" He paused. Kirk braced himself for the big one. "She is ethical."

"Sounds great," the captain answered dutifully. "Guess I'll nap for a while. You have something to read?"

* * *

The captain's appreciation of ethical women was mirrored some sectors away on the face of the official interviewing T'Pan. "Now, Miss," he soothed with heavy patience, "I agree it's hard to imagine that a man wounded as you describe could have attacked the prince. But it's your word against his, Miss T'Pan. You can understand that, surely. "

"I believe I do," T'Pan responded coldly. She gave it up. She had given the authorities the facts; to persist would be illogical. "I have accommodations on this evening's liner."

"Yes, Miss. I'll send for a transport; we'll take you back to the hotel."

"Thank you." T'Pan swept out of the room as a younger T'I might have done, collected S'falt and her self-possession, and went back to the Tourister. She claimed her belongings -- they were intact, and she gave the manager a look which conveyed her surprise at that fact; and took the next transport to Spaceport. The arcade there kept S'falt well amused until it was time for his nap. She bedded him down on a bench and sat next to him, reading. To outward appearance, she was a placid Vulcan mother. Anyone daring to accost her would have found himself dealing with a pretty fair imitation of a saber-tooth. When she boarded the liner, Giorgio and Sophia were in the first class line. Both smiled and waved. She responded with a polite nod, and went directly to her berth.

* * *

"Well, thanks again," the captain's best smile was well to the fore. "And let's do keep in touch."

"Indeed," Spock joined the chorus of agreement, and turned the invalid chair toward the door. It activated, and they were safely out. But Spock was worried.

"Jim, are you sure--"

"Spock, are you sure you're strong enough for this? There are no powerchairs, but--"

"I am fine. But you--"

"Okay, now look. It's not one of my better days, granted. But that doesn't justify disrupting your plans, their plans -- oh shit!" Spock stopped the chair. "Left my bars on the table. Wouldn't you know? No, wait -- oh, all right, go get them, would you? I got past those doctors once, but it's foolish to press your luck."

Spock hesitated, wondering if it was wise to acquiesce. Jim was definitely running a fever. Perhaps it would be wiser to... An energetically jerked thumb made the request an order; he started back to Sickbay.

The doctors Astyanaxiou were locked in a fervent embrace; they jumped apart. "Excuse me." He retrieved Jim's bars and left. In the hallway, he turned. "As you were."

Jim snorted with laughter. Spock had to control a blush. He must watch himself today, lest this euphoria draw him into further indiscretion.

"Well, are you coming?" He turned; the captain was wheeling himself down the hall. Spock caught him and pushed him carefully toward the lift.

Once safely in the lift, Kirk leaned back wearily. "Did you get T'Pan's ETA?"

"l240 planet time. But commercial--"

"I know. Tell you what. Park me in the officer's lounge -- wing 7. Then you can go meet your lady."

"I will of course--"

"No, listen, that's best. I can catch a nap, and you and she can talk things over a bit. " The lift opened; Jim wheeled himself forward. "Can you transport us to wing 7?"

"Well, to pad 7-9, Sir."

"Good. Thanks. Help me get up there, will you? Spock, let them do it -- that's an order."

Spock clamped down a protest and stepped onto a vacant grid. There was the familiar moment of disorientation; he emerged feeling decidedly dizzy and glanced anxiously at his captain. But Kirk was already wheeling himself forward toward the ground crew, who reached eagerly to ease him off the pads. "Thank you. Chief, could someone be spared to wheel me down to the officer's lounge?"

"Of course! Catlin?" A young man stepped forward smartly. Kirk reached for Spock's hand and shook it. "Go find her."

* * *

It was l200 planet time. The liner had docked almost an hour early. That was why there was no sign of Spock, T'Pan told herself firmly. She shushed the disappointed S'falt (who had been rehearsing salute and greeting for the past half hour) and found the message desk. There was nothing for her, but the Discoverer was listed on the display: ETA l230. She coded a message for Spock, located the play area on the map, and led S'falt down the corridor to wing 7.

"T'Pan!" It was Sophia. T'Pan hesitated, then stopped. Sophia was standing in a doorway. The sign said "Officer's Lounge," but probably Sophia of Thule had no trouble gaining admission. "I was hoping you'd come to the playroom," she fluttered. "I wanted to explain -- to apologize. T'Pan, honestly, we didn't know we were endangering you. We thought we'd thrown those horrible madmen off. Debarking with you, changing rooms -- we were sure it was just a precaution!"

T'Pan made herself bow acknowledgment, and continued on to the playroom. The door to the lounge activated behind her.

The playroom was a madhouse, with three humans, two Deltans, and five Andorians united against a common enemy -- the playroom attendant. She was young and obviously inexperienced; instead of maintaining order, she was playing with the children. T'Pan dropped S'falt into a playpen, apologizing for the temporary indignity, and went to the rescue. As quickly as possible, she split up the team, engaging two humans and a Deltan of comparable age in computer cribbage, then suggesting substitutes for the noisy dodge ball.

Suddenly there was a confused shouting in the corridor. A phaser spat, and someone screamed.

"Sophia!" It was Giorgio's voice. T'Pan ran to the doorway. Sophia stood in the door of the lounge, questioning agitatedly. "Shut up!" Giorgio snapped. "Take this. Keep it on low or you'll take out the wall. But shoot anything that moves." He advanced on T'Pan and thrust her roughly out of the way as he peered in. "Children? Good. Sophia, anyone in the lounge?"

"Just a man asleep in an invalid chair. Giorgio, what--?"

"In a minute. Got your phaser?" He took it, checked the setting, and handed it back. "All right, get him in here. I'll cover you. Shut up! I'll explain in a minute. Hurry."

T'Pan moved; he whirled on her. She gave him the coldest look she could muster and crossed to S'falt, picked him up, and soothed him. //Hush, Child. I do not know.//

Giorgio stepped aside; a man wheeled himself in. He was smiling, appearing to be in excellent humor, but as he looked around, his expression darkened. "Now look here, young lady. I don't know what you're trying to pull, but you don't need to involve women and children. Let them go. If it's a hostage you need, you've got a fleet admiral. If I may say so without unbecoming immodesty, I believe I will be sufficient for your requirements."

T'Pan hugged S'falt until he stirred in protest. She'd never seen this man, but carefully studied news articles had filled out Spock's memories of his features. "That easy courage ... //It is Admiral Kirk, Child. Spock's captain. Hush.//

"Fleet admiral?" Giorgio demanded sharply.

"Admiral James T. Kirk, at your service."

" We ll ," Giorgio made an admiring bow. "We are truly--"

"Giorgio, for the love of heaven!"

"All right, Sophia." He backed toward her, phaser at the ready. "There' s been some sort of ... uprising on Thule. A bunch of lunatics claim to have taken over, captured Gregorio, and set themselves up as a new government. They're demanding our extradition. We're to be 'returned' to Thule and tried--"

"Tried? For what?"

"The portmaster says the order of extradition has been approved. He's sorry, but he has 'no alternative' to handing us over. Assures us we'll be given a 'fair trial'. By a band of lunatics!"

"That 'band of lunatics' as you call them, made a complete application to the Federation according to the latest transmissions," Kirk supplied pleasantly. "It was a bloodless coup, unopposed except by the regent's personal bodyguard. Seems they've found a mass grave -- some thirty bodies. The new government..."

"Shut up! It's a pack of lies, all of it!"

"They found a grave?" Sophia spoke in a monotone. "Found bodies? Oh, Giorgio, it can't be true!"

"It's not."

"The Federation council seems to think--" Kirk began.

"I said shut up!" Giorgio paced savagely. "Sophia -- Sophia, listen to me. We've got to get to safety. We'll go to -- to Monnes. Soumeini will refuse extradition, I know. See if the intercom works. "

"But Giorgio, we didn't--"

" It's all lies, of course. A bunch of lunatics, agitating, inflaming the people. But if they get us, we won't have a chance. We've got to get to safety til this blows over. Now check that intercom."

* * *

Spock studied the desk display; T'Pan's liner had docked almost an hour early. He glanced around the waiting room, then approached the message desk.

"Mr. -- er, are you Admiral Spock?" He nodded, turning. "Could you come to the portmaster's office? Er, it's an emergency, Sir."

The nature of the emergency was quickly explained. The condition of the portmaster, unfortunately, required no explanation. An old man, nearing retirement, the portmaster was almost in tears. "I never dreamed! How do I - What do I?"

"Order 46 covers the situation," Spock reminded him absently. If the liner had docked by l200, T'Pan was somewhere in the station. But-

"Order 46 doesn't begin to cover the situation! There are women and children in that wing."

"Nevertheless, Order 46 applies." Spock sat down; obviously he was going to need his energy. "Please page all Starfleet personnel, assign a briefing room, and ask them to report to me there. Have communications been established with the terrorists?"

"I don't know that it's appropriate to call Giorgio and Sophia Thule terrorists, Mr. Spock. Surely something can be worked out."

"We will endeavor to do so, Portmaster. Miss--?"

"Emlen, Sir."

"Miss Emlen. Would you be kind enough to check the message desk for any communications for me?"

Her fingers clicked competently over the keys. "Here's one, Sir. Shall I put it on your terminal?"

"Please do."

WE ARE IN THE PLAYROOM SECTION SEVEN T'PAN.

Somehow, he'd expected that.

* * *

"Just what is it you hope to gain?" Kirk was asking reasonably. "Give yourselves up, request Federation protection, Federation observers at your trial. I'm in a position to guarantee you'll get them. Persist in this stupidity, you'll be treated like the terrorists you are."

"Giorgio--"

"No, Sophia. I know what I'm doing."

"He knew," T'Pan concluded suddenly. "If he's returned to Thule, he'll be convicted."

"No!" Sophia whimpered. "No. Giorgio, tell her--"

"I've already told you it's all -- the hell with it! Sophia, for the third time, does that intercom work?"

Sophia only moaned, backing away from the intercom and her brother. Giorgio snarled and bent over the speaker, signaling. T'Pan moved fractionally toward him; a sharp cough arrested her. She looked at the cougher; Admiral Kirk shook his head slightly.

I must find a way to let him know who I am. Let him know there is one he can trust.

"Better get that girl to a chair before she passes out," Kirk said quietly. T'Pan went to Sophia.

"Don't get cute," Giorgio warned. "Take her phaser, and hand it to me, real easy. That's it. Here -- you, Admiral. Get on the intercom."

Kirk wheeled over to it. "Kirk here."

"Spock here, Captain. What is your situation?"

"There are nine children here and two women, besides myself. No injuries. The terrorists are Giorgio and Sophia--"

"Stop that!" Giorgio screamed.

"We had identified them, of course, Can they hear me?"

"Loud and clear."

"This is Admiral Spock. Surrender."

"The hell you say! Let me talk to the portmaster."

"I am in commend here, under Order 46. You are ordered to surrender."

"Oh, no, you don't. I want a warp drive scoutship and safe conduct to Monnes."

"Denied."

"Anybody wants to see these children again, you'd better get me a ship, fast."

"Are you threatening the well-being of civilians in that wing?"

"That's what I'm doing."

"Then it is my duty to inform you that you are committing an act of terrorism as defined by Federation law. You will be dealt with accordingly."

"You get me that ship, or I'm the one who's going to do some dealing. Cut the channel."

Kirk obeyed casually. "You won't get it, you know. Order 46--"

"That'll be all about Order 46. He'll get me that ship or things are going to get rough around here."

"Giorgio," Sophia moaned. T'Pan looked at her anxiously; the girl could barely whisper. "Giorgio, we can't."

"Come on, Sophia, pull yourself together. No one's going to get hurt. They'll get us a ship and we'll be off to Monnes."

"They can't," Kirk warned. "Regulations specifically forbid--"

"Regulations can be broken. They will be."

There was a moment of silence. In the quiet, they heard the muffled thud of an explosive bolt in the wall. T'Pan scooped S'falt up. In a modular structure, they could simply cut off a section and-

Giorgio slammed the intercom switch. "You stop that or one of these children loses an ear. I mean it!" He stood listening, then smiled. "See? That's the way."

"Oh, Giorgio." Sophia began to weep again.

Galvanized by the threat, T'Pan melded with S'falt. //Go to Admiral Kirk. Tell him your name.// She put him down.

S'falt walked carefully over to the chair. "I am S'falt."

"Well, hi there. You -- what did you say?"

"I am S'falt."

Kirk turned a sickly grey; T'Pan could see him fighting for control. I just make it worse for him. She hadn't thought of that. She crossed to him quickly. "You are unwell, I fear."

"Fever," he managed a smile. "Comes and goes."

Automatically, she put a hand on his forehead. It took a moment to recall Tony's normal temperature -- yes, he was far too hot. She gathered strength, setting aside nervous qualms over melding with an unknown alien, and established contact. There was no resistance; he might almost be expecting this.

//Hello, T' -- I'm sorry! How may I call you?//

//T'Pan. You know me.//

//Of course. Spock has--//

"Hey, what's going on there?"

"A moment," T'Pan answered calmly. "He is unwell."

//Can you tell me anything about them?//

//Giorgio is capable of murder. Sophia, I doubt--//

//Right. Better break off now. Follow my lead; back me up. Okay?//

//Of course.// She took another moment to lend him as much energy as she could muster and stepped back. Giorgio was watching them, angry and suspicious. "He is ill," she repeated.

"Tough. Activate the intercom, Kirk. I want to talk to them again."

* * *

Spock steepled his fingers, assessing his options. Only two members of Starfleet, a young married couple, had answered his page. The Exeter III had warped out an hour previously. She was returning, but for the time being, this was what he had. "Miss Emlen, have the parents of the children been located?"

"Yes, Sir. They're all outside. And fit to be tied."

"Understandable. Please send them in."

Almost instantly he was engulfed in a tide of emotionalism -- an excited pair of Andorians, blue-white with anger, a terrified Human couple, and a Deltan father who spoke little, but kept large eyes fixed on Spock as though his concentration might produce his child. "Please!" Spock raised his voice to cut through. "Please be seated. My name is Spock. I am--"

"Mr. Spock! Oh, thank God!" The Human woman burst into tears.

"Madam, please. This is difficult ... for us all. I fear you must resign yourselves to a period of anxiety. But we have trained personnel here, and the Exeter is returning to assist." The stricken look in the woman's eyes impelled him to a further statement of comfort. "It may interest you to know that Admiral Kirk, captain of the starship Enterprise, is among the hostages." There, that did cheer them all up. He took a deep breath.

"We are following standard procedure for a hostage situation. Exchanges will be made, with trained personnel. As -- yes, Sir?"

The Deltan timidly raised his hand. "I -- if they'd take me, in place of my son..."

"Thank you." All the parents drew breath; Spock hurried on. "We must utilize trained personnel." All five of them began to argue. Fortunately, he saw the communications officer slip in. "Yes, Miss Emlen?"

"Prince Giorgio, Sir ... on intercom."

"A moment." Spock faced the parents. "I wish to keep you informed. But we cannot afford any impairment of efficiency. If you want to ... sit in, as it were, I must have your word that you will not interfere." He paused as they all nodded. "Pipe it in here, Miss Emlen."

"Yes, Sir." There was a brief whine. "You're patched in."

"Prince Giorgio."

"Here. What about that ship?"

"Possibilities are being canvassed. We wish to exchange hostages. Two--"

"No."

"Yes, Giorgio! The children at least!"

"Dammit, Sophia!" The intercom went dead.

"Inform me as soon as they re-establish contact, Miss Emlen. Now, please attend. We exploded one bolt in wing 7 and desisted immediately on demand. It is often useful in cases like these to give the terrorists some sense of effectiveness. The next step will be an exchange of hostages, then a negotiation of demands. By that time, your children and all the hostages should be safe. Lt. Jorash and Lt. Jorash?" They rose. "These officers have volunteered to make the exchange. Have you any questions?" No one did. Spock nodded. "Please return to the outside room. We will notify you as soon as there is any word." The parents filed out obediently, and the command team got down to it.

"Can you tell them anything about them, Sir?" Jorash asked.

"Are you familiar with the transmission today from Thule?" They both nodded. "We know nothing much more of use. Neither has a criminal record. However, we received a transmission from Alganon, where their ship lay over. Four murders are somehow connected with them, and the authorities, in view of the circumstances, have informed us that one of their fellow passengers," he loosened his throat carefully, "was T'Pan, citizen of Vulcan, who appears to have traveled with the couple for a time, accused Prince Giorgio of two of them. As there was no corroborating evidence, no action was taken. Now, Portmaster. I will need the station schematics for automatic separation of the wing, just in case. And--"

"Well ... " The man's voice was shaky; Spock looked up in surprise. "We've made some modifications recently, didn't plot -- well, how could I know? I never dreamed--"

Spock controlled his impatience. What was done was done. "Miss Emlen, get an estimated time for scanning the bolts and plotting a separation maneuver. And please check to see if any privately owned scoutships with warp drive are known to be in this sector."

"Yes, Sir. Permission to speak, Sir?"

"Of course."

"There's another factor, if you're doing what I think you're doing. Small-class ships are served here only at specific hours, when wing nine is in solar proximity. The data say Giorgio has a pilot's license; he might know that."

"Next applicable period?" Spock asked heavily.

"Five o'clock, Sir."

His stomach threatened revolt; he subdued it. T'Pan would be safe long before then. "I'm sorry, " he said to the officers.

"We're in no hurry," the young man smiled. "We just want to go in together, Sir," he reminded.

"Understood." He rose, and sat down rather quickly. "Please invite the parents back in; they will want to hear any negotiations." He breathed quietly for a moment, reviewing his strategy, then turned to the communications officer. "Try to establish contact, Miss Emlen."

"Giorgio. We've been trying to raise you. Listen, you--!"

"I regret the inconvenience. We have been in communication with the Maria, a warp-fitted yacht en route to the station. I believe she will suit your requirements. We are negotiating terms for its use."

"Spock, you can't!" Kirk's voice, then a clear sound of a blow.

"Is Captain Kirk all right?" Spock inquired coldly.

"All right," Kirk replied.

"I must impress upon you, Sir, that the delivery of the yacht is subject to recovery of all the hostages in good health. Any violence can only be most detrimental to your efforts."

"And what do you plan to do about it?"

"Giorgio!"

"Be quiet!"

"Is Captain Kirk still there?" Spock cut in, ignoring this.

"Kirk here."

"Please report."

"No change. Everyone is fine."

"Excellent. We have two officers who have volunteered to make the exchange. We will be at the entrance to wing 7 in five minutes."

"Now just a minute," Giorgio cut in. "I haven't agreed to any--"

"Sir, there is no advantage to endangering civilians -- women and children. Any hostages will serve your purpose. I suggest--"

"Giorgio, agree," the woman's voice sounded again, "at least the children. Giorgio!"

"Oh, all right. One on one. Five minutes."

Giorgio cut the channel, looking savagely around.

"Good move, " Kirk approved. "They'll see you're acting in good faith, and they'll be honor bound to reciprocate. As outlined in Order 46, of course. "

"You can save the butter, Admiral."

But Giorgio was quite pleased with himself, T'Pan could see. "Which of the children?" she asked matter of factly.

"Oh the youngest, of course," Kirk replied. "That's what they'll be expecting. S.O.P." T'Pan searched his face and caught the very slight nod. She gave S'falt a tight hug. //Go to Spock, Child. I will join thee.//

//Mother, no!//

//Mind! Remember, thee is to call him Spock.// She broke contact quickly and set him on his feet. S'falt searched her face; she nodded gravely, making it clear that he was to obey. Tears came to the child's eyes; he blinked them away quickly.

"Come, S'falt," Sophia said. She had the Deltan by the hand. S'falt walked to her. She took his hand; he permitted this stoically.

"Send the Vulcan kid's mother out, too," Kirk suggested. "He's barely knee high to a grasshopper."

"Yes, Giorgio," Sophia broke in eagerly. "He's so little."

"I said one on one! Sophia, take the kids and walk them down the hallway. Walk past the replacements, send the kids on, then turn around and follow the exchanges back in. I'll have you covered all the way."

"Unnecessary," Kirk said. "No one will try anything."

"They'd better not." The intercom whined. "Giorgio."

"Spock here. We are at the entrance."

"Everybody stays there except the exchanges. They walk in real slow, hands in the air. The kids will pass them in the corridor."

"Satisfactory."

Giorgio activated the door. Sophia took a firm grip on each child's hand and started out. T'Pan could not resist crossing to the door; Giorgio ordered her back sharply. She retreated. Kirk wheeled cautiously over to her. "He'll be all right."

"Of course." Her throat was wooden; she swallowed. Two Starfleet officers entered and stood, hands in the air, awaiting instruction.

Sophia entered behind them, weeping. "There wasn't a soul there to take care of that baby," she sobbed. "Giorgio, I don't know how you can be so cruel!"

* * *

S'falt stood still until Sophia's hand released his and gave him a gentle nudge forward. He walked on, straight and proud, toward the people in the doorway. The tall man in the middle was Spock -- his mother had shown him a holograph many times. The Deltan boy cried out and ran to his father, who swept him up in the air, both weeping. S'falt gave them a look of disgust, and looked up doubtfully at Spock. A finger was extended briefly -- "Wait," it signaled. S'falt stood still. The door behind him activated, closing his mother away from him. Again he had to blink back tears. But he was not a baby, nor a Deltan, to fill the corridors with sobbing. He walked up to Spock and saluted. "I greet thee."

Spock returned the salute, took him by the hand, and led him to an adjacent room. He looked down at him for a moment, then knelt. "Is it ... permitted me ... to hug thee, Child?"

A bit tentatively, S'falt crossed his arms, extending his palms. The hands that touched his were trembling; it was almost a moment before they steadied.

* * *

"I'm hungry," the younger human complained.

"Hush, Child," T'Pan reproved, crossing to him. "There is nothing here to eat or drink."

"That's ridiculous," Sophia snapped. "They can send food in. Giorgio, ask for lunch."

"No. Let them call us."

"Now that's silly," Kirk roused from a feverish doze. "This is likely to take a while. Why suffer?"

"How long?" Sophia asked dully.

"Well, the yacht has to get here, doesn't it? They'll have to negotiate with the owner -- that may take a while. Then they'll have to work out a procedure for moving you to the dock, and--"

"Oh, for heaven's sake!" Giorgio slammed the intercom. "Get me Spock'"

"Mr. Spock is unavailable."

"Well, get him!"

"Well ... ah ... he's talking to the yacht owner, Prince Giorgio. I understand there is some difficulty..."

"Resolve it."

"I'm sure every effort is being made to do so. Portmaster's office out."

"Well done, Miss Emlen," Spock approved.

"Why--! Er, sorry," the human father -- Mr. Ames -- caught himself. "But, please, why won't you talk to him?"

"We will, of course, Mr. Ames. But until the Exeter arrives, we can accomplish nothing further."

"Is there really trouble with the yacht owner?" Mrs. Ames quavered. "Perhaps if one of us talked to him--"

Spock braced himself. "There is no yacht. Now, please!" He held up both hands. "As soon as the Exeter arrives, we will continue exchanges. Captain Garrovick has hand picked a team of volunteers; they will beam over the moment they are in range. Please be assured that the safety of your children is of utmost concern. But terrorist tactics must never be allowed to succeed. Order 46."

They all sat down again, watching the chronometer with hungry eyes.

* * *

"Why don't they call?" Sophia complained. "It can't be taking that long to talk to the owner."

"Well, after all," Kirk said, "if it were your yacht, would you want to turn it over to a pair of terrorists?"

"Don't say that!"

"Ugly word, isn't it?" He rubbed hi s forehead wearily. T' Pan rose, setting aside the child she was soothing, and put a hand to his forehead.

"His fever is rising."

"Yes." He pushed his forehead slightly against the hand; she braced herself, and melded lightly. //Work on Sophia. Break off, quickly.// She complied; he took her hand in his. "Thanks, Miss. That feels nice."

The intercom buzzed. Giorgio jumped for it. "Spock here. You requested communication?"

"What progress?"

Spock sighed. Kirk pricked up his ears at the uncharacteristic sound, then winked quickly, reassuringly, at T'Pan. "The yacht owner is most unwilling. Faced with the possibility of requisition, she has agreed to continue her journey here. That is all I can tell you at the moment. Is Captain Kirk there?"

"Kirk here."

"Just a minute. We want lunch."

T'Pan stepped closer to the intercom. "You had best send in a doctor. Captain Kirk's fever is rising."

"Ac-acknowledged."

I shouldn't have spoken to him, T'Pan reproved herself, disturbed by the slight stammer.

"However, we have a team of volunteers prepared to exchange for--"

"Now just a minute. There's some catch to this. What difference -- "

"The only difference is that you will be holding volunteers, instead of the women and children you captured."

"I still think there's a catch."

"Giorgio!"

"All right! But one at a time. "

"Very well. Every ten minutes--"

"No. What time is that damned yacht getting here."

"ETA is 5:l5, planet time."

"Every half hour, then. That should keep you on your good behavior."

"Very well."

"And send in lunches."

* * *

The smallest human child was exchanged next, in return for a gold-shirted man and eleven liner lunch trays. T' Pan and the attendant set the children to eating, then T'Pan picked up two trays and walked over to Sophia.

"I'm not hungry!"

"Nevertheless, you should eat" T'Pan opened the package marked VEG and broke out the fork. After a moment, Sophia followed suit. Work on the girl. How? "I believe you did not know of the massacre," she said directly.

Sophia gave her a grateful look. "I didn't, truly! I still can't believe..." She choked down a sob, and put her fork back hastily.

T'Pan turned to look long and hard at Giorgio, who was resisting the admission of a doctor. "No," Sophia whispered, anticipating what she was going to say.

T'Pan shrugged in the manner of one who is too polite to dispute, and steepled her fingers, marshaling her exegesis. "If innocence be assumed," she intoned, using the impersonal grammar of Logic, "the projected course of action is incorrect. A trial would establish innocence. By turning terrorist and resorting to flight--"

"We're not terrorists! We didn't mean for this to happen! Any of this! And no one's going to be hurt. Giorgio, let the doctor in!"

* * *

The port doctor was an elderly woman, gray haired and succinct. She examined Kirk and gave him several injections, then turned an icy look on Giorgio. "This man is seriously ill."

"Thank you, Doctor. That will be all."

"Just a minute." She made the rounds of the hostages, tricorder in hand, resetting for the Andorians, and finally for T'Pan. She clicked the setting again, and returned to the oldest Andorian. "I'm a busy woman. But I'm also an old woman. I'll stay, but let this child go. Nervous activity is nearly 40 per cent above normal."

"Let them both go, " Kirk urged wearily. "There are replacements waiting. As many as you want."

"Oh, get them both out of here," Giorgio answered disgustedly.

* * *

Seven were left. T'Pan's time sense clicked off the slow intervals for her as she played with the children, organizing games, keeping them occupied. Sophia curled up in her corner, weeping and sulking by turns. Giorgio paced, until one of the children accidentally clipped him with a ball. He slapped the child, provoking a diatribe from Sophia, after which he too sat and sulked.

An hour passed. An hour and a half. The human family was reunited now, but T'Pan ached with sympathy for the Andorian parents, waiting out the intervals, praying for the return of their children, one by one.

"May I lie down, please?" Kirk asked suddenly. "I've got to rest." T'Pan went to him without waiting for the answer, wheeled him to a couch, and helped him onto it. "You're doing fine," he whispered. "Keep things cool. I've got to sleep. Wake me at four sharp."

* * *

Another exchange; S'falt moved timidly forward, knowing that he must not disturb ... Spock turned and reached a hand to him. "Not this one." He drew the child close. "Or the next. The children." He eyed S'falt rather dubiously, wondering whether so abstract a concept could be understood. But S'falt nodded, swallowing hard.

"Three?"

"Three, " Spock acknowledged. In spite of everything a thrill of pride swept through him. Here was intelligence, combined with a control surely noteworthy in a child so young. The little face -- T'Pan's face -- quivered, then quickly firmed. Always to present a calm face to the world -- this would be the child's first experience with understanding that that was not always easy. On impulse, he picked S'falt up. There was no resistance, as he'd half expected, so he sat down with his son on his lap. Somehow, the waiting grew a little easier.

* * *

The next exchange was a woman around forty, wearing a red tunic. She paused in the doorway, hands high, as they had all done. Giorgio indicated the silent group of her shipmates, but she remained in the doorway. "I have a hypo for Cap -- Admiral Kirk. He's to get it at 4. Doctor's orders."

"Get it, Sophia."

The yeoman backed against the wall. "From me."

"Trusting, aren't you? All right. Four. "

Precisely at four the woman rose and moved slowly, hands well in sight, toward the recumbent Kirk. "Captain? Admiral Kirk?" she touched his shoulder lightly.

"Captain will do. How are you, Liz?"

"Fine, Sir. How do you feel?" Their voices dropped to a murmur.

"What are you talking about?" Giorgio demanded.

"I was just telling Captain Kirk," she replied icily,"that the yacht owner has finally agreed under Order 46, Provision 3.8. Agreement is expected at 4:10."

"Wait a minute." Giorgio's eyes darkened with suspicion. "That doesn't make sense. You just gave him a message."

"Certainly," she repeated patiently. "I told him that--"

"Can it! It's some kind of code." His phaser leveled on her. "You gave him some sort of--"

"What if she did?" Kirk demanded, sitting up, rubbing his forehead wearily. "What do you think I could possibly -- Oh! Liz, could I have that hypo?"

"I'm sorry!" She took the instrument from her belt, injected him, and rubbed the site gently.

"Thanks. God, I feel awful."

"You should be in Sickbay. Or at least in a proper bed."

"Yeah," he sighed. He lay down again, and the officer stroked his forehead.

T'Pan watched, trying to decode the message. The clock reached 4:10. She tensed and suddenly the room exploded into noise. "OW!" Kirk screamed. He brought his legs up, doubling over, knocking the woman to the floor. Instantly, all the exchangees were on their feet, shouting at Giorgio. A woman stalked Sophia, haranguing her; she covered her ears and shrieked. That activated the dumbfounded Giorgio; he screamed for silence, then checked his phaser setting and fired. The woman by Sophia crumpled to the floor. Sophia shrieked again, kneeling to feel for a neck pulse. Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the noise stopped. Eight seconds, T'Pan thought. Of course, Provision 3.8 -- strategy 3, for 8 seconds.

"Sit down, Sophia, she's all right," Giorgio was panting for breath. "You planned that. What did you do?" His phaser leveled on a blue-shirted man. "What did you do?"

"Provision 3," Kirk said genially. He sat up and extended a hand to the woman on the floor. "Just insurance," he told the glowering Giorgio. "Better get the lieutenant on the couch; I'm afraid she's in for one hell of a headache." Two officers went immediately to take the woman's shoulders and feet and lift her to the couch. "Provision three, Prince Giorgio--" Suddenly Kirk was coldly serious -- "is the separation of a terrorist-held section from the body of a modular unit by the detonation of the explosive bolts used in such constructions." A loud alarm rang in the hall; he paused until it stopped. "There. It's just insurance," he repeated, holding his hand palm out toward the fermenting Giorgio. "If you keep your end of the bargain, there's no problem. But if you kill us, trying to get out fast, or try to use any route to the yacht other than the one you're given, this section can now be jettisoned without endangering the rest of the station."

The officers returned, quietly rejoining the others. T'Pan stared at the officers, scarcely able to connect this obedient, almost bovine group with the fierce shouting of moments ago. Her scrutiny caught the eye of a gold-shirted man; he winked reassurance at her, then resumed his dull passivity.

"I -- it's 4:l5," the attendant spoke up suddenly. She was trembling visibly. T'Pan started for her, but one of the men rose and linked arms with her. "I mean -- isn't it time for -- oh!" T'Pan saw the man's hand tighten on the girl's arm; she stopped.

"No!" Giorgio said suddenly. "I see what you're doing. You're increasing your numbers, getting too strong for me, too many to control. You! Come here!" His phaser jabbed toward the young attendant; she burst into tears.

"Sit down," the man told her. He pushed her toward a woman, who reached out to reassure her, and walked slowly toward Giorgio, hands high.

"All right," Giorgio snarled. He crossed to the intercom. "You stand here. Right in front of me. Now turn your back and keep your hands up." He held his phaser high and carefully moved the setting up. "Any of you tries anything, anything at all, he's dead!" He backed up to the intercom and activated it.

"Spock here. We are waiting to--"

"No more exchanges. I'm sending your people out. All the adults. We'll keep the children. When we get on the yacht--"

"No." It took T'Pan a moment to realize that she had spoken in unison with at least eight other people.

"Unacceptable," Spock said.

"Look, send the children and the civilians out," Kirk said. "It's not helping you, keeping them here. I'll stay. Any of the volunteers will stay. But--"

"None of the volunteers will stay. Spock, your people are coming out. All right, one by one, nice and quiet, and this guy stays right here til you're all out. You two, pick up that woman and carry her."

One by one, hands high, the volunteers left the room. The attendant burst into loud sobbing. "Oh, take her out!" Giorgio snarled. "Now you, real slow." The gold-shirted man started out.

"You too, T'Pan," Kirk directed. "Take the children and go."

"No! The children stay. You can go."

T'Pan's throat constricted. "No," she managed. "Let the children go."

"All right, you'll all stay! Get out!" He barked at the last of the volunteers, still hovering in the doorway. "And activated the door behind you."

* * *

Spock was conscious that his feet were dragging; he was not looking forward to this. The doctor came up behind him, tricorder at the ready. "Please, Madam. It cannot help them to see me under your care."

"Beg to differ with you," she replied briefly, arming a hypo. "You look terrible; they can't help but notice. Much better to be open with them." Spock took a deep breath and activated the door. The entire Andorian family started to its feet, then subsided when they saw he was alone.

Spock's throat seemed to swell. Silently, he crossed to S'falt. "They have refused further exchanges," he managed. The child raised his arms to be picked up, then buried his face and wept. He'd been brave until now, but this! "Courage," Spock whispered, speaking to them all. "All may still be well."

* * *

Time had passed steadily if tediously up till now. Now T'Pan was certain that her time sense and the clock were in league to betray her. She tried to teach the children finger arithmetic, but abandoned the attempt as unwise, realizing that the game would hold little attraction for children this age even under the best of circumstances. The girls, twins, were almost eleven -- where were her wits? "What would you like to play?" she asked, her voice sounding loud in the silent room.

Listlessly, the girls dug out a pack of cards, offering to teach T'Pan something called "gin." Gin -- martini -- dinner with that laughing, gay couple ... T'Pan shook herself. At first she could not concentrate on the game, then quite suddenly, the logic of it clicked in. The next three minutes passed pleasantly, then just as suddenly the game became impossibly simple minded. Grimly, because she had to think about something, she tried to calculate the odds. So many unknown variables ...

"Spock here," the intercom said. "The yacht has arrived and is docking at slip 38 in section 9 at 5:l5."

"Provisions. Safe conduct to--"

"You will find everything in readiness. Captain Kirk?"

"Kirk here."

"You will lead along corridor seven main, past the officers lounge, past the 7-9 transporter pad, and into section 9. No deviation from the route is permitted. Your progress will be monitored by Starfleet personnel. They are unarmed; personal communicators, only, will be used. Please signal when you are ready to proceed. "

"Giorgio--"

"Let's go, Sophia. Admiral?" Kirk rose and got into his chair. T'Pan stepped forward to hold it for him. "Okay."

"Giorgio, wait. I have to know. Did you know?"

Giorgio halted, mid sentence. The color left his face, then rushed back. "It wasn't my doing, Sophia. Gregorio told me there was trouble brewing. I told him to keep the lid on. I couldn't know that the fool -- don't look at me like that! The man's mad, I tell you! Taking hostages to ensure--" Giorgio choked and stopped. "All right, let's go," he resumed savagely. "You first, Admiral. I'll be right behind you. Sophia, you'll be last. Keep your phaser on these three. Come on, move it. Damn it, Sophia, stop sniveling. Do you want to stand trial? Well? All right, let's go."

Kirk was at the door. "Permission to activate?"

"Go." Kirk wheeled out quickly. Giorgio bounded after him. T'Pan took the girls by the hand, gave the stunned Sophia a compassionate, meaningful look, and stepped out of the playroom.

The gold-shirted man was at the hallway head, communicator in hand. He gave T'Pan a friendly nod. "Passing 7-1," he reported. "Door is activating." Once again the loud alarm sounded. Sophia jumped and gasped.

"Pad 7-9," Kirk called out. "Section 9 dead ahead. This way to slip 36." He wheeled up to the closed door and knocked smartly.

"Clown!" Giorgio snarled. The door opened, and Kirk wheeled through. The walls were lined with Starfleet personnel. T'Pan heard Sophia gasp and she had to control a flutter of surprise. Spock stood directly ahead. Behind him, held back by Spock's extended arm, stood an Andorian man.

"S'Ril!" he begged. "Sssaria!"

Something in T'Pan snapped. "Sophia, let me give them to him," she demanded.

"Go," Sophia choked. "No, Giorgio. We have what we asked for."

T'Pan pulled the girls in front of her, shielding them as much as possible with her body, pushing them past Giorgio, toward Spock and their father. Spock's eyes met hers; they were totally expressionless. They were within reach of the Starfleet people; many hands reached out, grabbing the girls, pulling them behind the lines. Someone took T'Pan's wrist, and the next moment she, too, was behind the protective wall of uniforms.

"Well, come on if you're coming," Kirk called impatiently. "All aboard for Monnes and points west."

T'Pan pushed impatiently at the shoulders in front of her. The two officers exchanged a glance, then pulled apart just enough to let her see. "Stay alert, Ma'am," one whispered. "It can be tricky." She nodded a promise.

"Where's the yacht?" Giorgio demanded.

"Dock 36, didn't you hear the man? What do you want," Kirk complained. "A red carpet and a brass band? Sorry! If we'd known you were coming, we'd have baked a cake! " He was wheeling rapidly down the hall, keeping the couple stepping quickly. "Dock 36 is directly ahead; is everybody ready? First turn to your right and NOW! " He braked the chair, leaping forward and out. Several "personal communicators" spat in unison, and Giorgio and Sophia crumpled, stunned, to the deck.

"Get their weapons!" Spock barked. He strode forward, sending the chair spinning out of his way. "Captain? Captain Kirk?"

"Here." T'Pan, pushing forward with the others, was able to see Spock's captain, weary and shaky, but smiling. "I'm okay, Spock. Get me back in the chair, will you?" Half a dozen hands reached out. He grabbed two and was ceremoniously reseated and dusted off. "Thanks everybody, good job." He leaned back in the chair. "Never a dull moment," he smiled.

T'Pan let out the breath she'd been holding. It was over. Now Spock "Spock!" She spoke aloud involuntarily, startled at the apparition of fury striding toward her. "Spock!"

He grabbed her shoulders, fingers biting into her arms. "Why did thee not come out?" he snarled. "Exchange after exchange, but never thee. Oh, no, never. Children, attendants, and half the Federation, but never--!"

"Yes, children!" T'Pan snapped back, suddenly as angry as he. "What would thee have me do, endanger children, to save myself? Go to some other woman and say I saved my child; I grieve with thee?' Is that what thee would have me do?"

He stared at her, anger draining away. "No, wife," he reached to caress her cheek with a gentle finger. "No, that is not..."

"Get a chair!" Kirk ordered sharply, behind them. T'Pan caught Spock as his knees gave, eased him into the chair, and stood behind him to support his head. Spock leaned against her for a moment, then pulled himself together. "S'falt is frightened."

S'falt! T'Pan searched wildly. The gold-shirted officer beckoned her to a door. She started over as he activated it, then braced herself. The flying toddler hit her amidships; she scooped him up, heedless of the smiling onlookers, and hugged him hard. "Yes, Child," she murmured. "It was a long time to be patient. Such a long time to be so brave."

He sobbed for a moment, but T'Pan stroked him, murmuring comfort, and he began to calm himself. "Good child."

Two of the gold-shirted officers were looking at something behind her. They smiled; T'Pan turned. Kirk had wheeled over to Spock's chair; their hands clasped in a congratulatory handshake. Spock slumped a little, but Kirk turned his hand over, holding it carefully in both of his. He looked up and smiled at T'Pan as she hurried over. "He'll be all right."

Spock lifted his head and reached out to her. T'Pan shifted S'falt to her hip and went over to stand behind him again. "It is past time you got some rest. Both of you." She put a hand on Spock's forehead, encouraging him to lean against her, and melded. He was literally dizzy with relief; she breathed quietly, calming them both.

"Spock? Er -- T'Pan? Ma'am?" They parted quickly. "I'm sorry to intrude," Kirk smiled a little uneasily. "Wanted to let you know, I'm checking in to the station infirmary for the night. Doctor here thinks it's a good idea." Spock nodded emphatically and Kirk gave him an affectionate grin. He held out his hand to T'Pan in a human handshake; she took it. "Nice to meet you, Ma'am. Hope we'll have a little time, under more favorable circumstances."

"Indeed, I hope so too."

Spock's captain released her hand and backed his chair. The port doctor took him in hand with an air of authority; he grimaced, but allowed himself to be turned and started down the corridor. His eye caught Spock's, and twinkled. "As you were," the captain ordered.

At least a dozen snickers were belatedly controlled. T'Pan was inclined to be indignant, but Spock shook his head. "I deserved that," he admitted ruefully. "Come, wife. The portmaster has arranged accommodations."

* * *

A nightlight activated in the suite. T'Pan woke, slightly startled, then stretched lazily. Spock was with her; there was nothing to be afraid of.

Two hypos hissed. "Spock?"

"Thee is awake?" He came to her bed, picked up S'falt, and carried him to the elegant crib. He rested his hand on the child's head for a moment, checking that he was asleep and tranquil, then came to her. T'Pan moved to make room for him, and nearly fell out of bed.

"Whoops. Tomorrow, let us see if we can get a double."

"Yes." Spock chuckled as he settled himself carefully. "I should have thought. The portmaster was trying to be helpful."

T'Pan smiled too at the memory of the fussy old man, bustling over to offer his services. "He assumed we wanted singles?"

"Yes, he asked if we wanted a crib, and I said yes. I did not stop to think that--"

"Why--" T'Pan began, but Spock was snuggling down, a hot forehead on her neck. She melded quickly. Fever, aching muscles and limbs ... The shoulders were the worst; she set to work to relax them under her rubbing fingers. //How?//

Spock put a hand on her cheek for comfort and then, just for a few seconds, let her see the long ordeal in the bog, the tormenting Karn... Tears threatened; T'Pan controlled them and concentrated on relieving the pain. Contentment flowed through him, and back to her as he sighed, stroking her hair.

His fever was dropping already, yielding to the medication and the normal temperature of her body conveyed through the meld. She sensed that the pain, too, would ease, and he would be asleep again. She turned on her back and settled him on her breast, drawing the cover over him.

That worried him; she sensed him checking her comfort and opened to him, letting him feel her contentment, how pleasant it was that he had simply come to her, without request for permission or apology, how clearly it was her duty to care for him. Spock gave another sigh. //Hold me? Until I sleep?//

She put her arms around him, kissing his temple carefully in the gesture that was Amanda's special comfort. He was so tired. Tomorrow they would request a double-- //Spock?//

//Mm?//

//Why does a crib mean single beds?//

He chuckled again. //The portmaster is a Protestant. A double bed signifies "sleeping together" which signifies "sexual congress." Therefore if a child is to sleep in the same room...//

//Oh.// Of course, humans were not cyclical. Odd that she forgot that, now that Tony wasn't after her half the time to-- She blocked that thought, but Spock caught it.

He snorted, but there was no bitterness in his reaction. That was pleasant too. She kissed him again.

"Sleep, wife," he murmured drowsily. "Tomorrow we will request a double..."

T'Pan deactivated the light.

THE END