They did not lose the ship, although Lt. Cruz had a lot of fun trying. When Commander Deary called the bridge to declare that his engines “couldnae take it anymore,” Tonio obliged by taking them from Warp 10 to 1 so quickly that the other ship overshot. He put them back on course at Warp 8, chuckling at his cleverness, only to swear in frustration when Ellie announced the ship was back on their tail.

Mi dispaice, Captain. These guys are good. And that ship…”

“Sir, this power signature doesn’t match any known ship models,” Ellie said. “The level our engines were at when Commander Deary told us slow down? That’s where this ship has been operating from the since we first picked it up.”

“You saying it’s an alien design?” the captain asked.

She shrugged, “Or extremely modified. Something about it just seems…off.”

“Like dangerous?” Lt. LaFuentes asked from the Security station.

Ellie shook her head. “I don’t know. It’s not getting close enough to pick up anything definitive.”

“Well,” the Captain said, “We tried to lose it. Shall we try to catch it, Mr. Cruz?”

Unfortunately, they didn’t have much better luck with that. After several clever and creative attempts, Captain Tiberius called a halt, lest they be late getting their guests to Belon for the vote.

At the end of the shift, they still had their “ghost,” and Ellie was no closer to identifying the ship or why the sensor readings bothered her so. It was one thing to call it “alien technology,” meaning, of course, something alien to the Galactic Union, but this felt too familiar and too different at the same time. She passed on her concerns to her relief, who promised to look into it, too.

Enigo waited for her and joined her in the lazivator. When the doors closed, he said, “I heard your parents took over your quarters. I’m going to work out before I have to get ready for this party. That gives you and Todd about 45 minutes, if he’s got the guts to try anything in my room.”

She snickered, half because she remembered Todd’s discomfiture and half because she was a little embarrassed, herself. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter was, all she wanted was a nap, and she told Enigo so.

“Did you get any sleep?” he asked.

The lazivator’s doors opened on the crew deck and she followed him to his quarters. “A couple of hours. I helped Todd get the janbots online. I just need a half hour to meditate, and I’ll be okay.”

“That Logic thing you do standing on your head?” he shrugged. “I’d rather have a hoodacino.”

“I’ve already had three.”

“Dayum, chica!”

Todd stood when they entered Enigo’s quarters. Ellie all but collapsed into his arms, just for the joy of having him support her. Enigo rolled his eyes in a brotherly fashion, then announced that he was going to change and go work out.

“You look exhausted,” Todd said. He sat on one end of the couch and she lay down with her legs on its arms and her head in his lap, he stroked her hair.

“I’m sorry. I have an hour before I have to go get ready for a diplomatic get-together the Captain is hosting. Want to come? I can’t promise it’ll be interesting. And…my parents will be there. It could get awkward.”

“No worries,” he said, stroking her hair. “As a matter of fact, I already met them, down in Engineering.”

“The tour! Oh, no!” Ellie sat up to face him. “I’m sorry! I was going to warn you, and then things got busy on the bridge and… Was it too awful?”

She looked so vulnerable and worried, so different from how he usually saw her on the ship. He couldn’t help but chuckle. “It was fine. I think I made a pretty good impression, considering I’m the guy who programmed the mind-napping robot. And your mom did come to my rescue from the Gavite ambassador. What’s with the fan, anyway?”

She rolled her eyes, relaxing. “It’s this stupid Chatway thing. We had a whole six weeks’ instruction on it in school. I think I spent half of it daydreaming warp dynamics…or maybe I was planning my escape. Probably both.”

Did she know how cute she was when she multitasked? “Probably both.”

“Anyway, Lord C’jella declared me completely hopeless. Not that I needed to master it, anyway. It’s a useless skill.”

“I dunno. Your mom used it pretty well on the Gavite ambassador. I think I have to go to this party just to see who else she uses it on.”

Ellie laughed and then sighed out the last of her tension. “I love you so much.”

“I love you, too.”

When Enigo exited his bedroom dressed in a tight muscle shirt and loose shorts, his guests were gazing into each other’s eyes and talking quietly about what it’d be like when Ellie was a captain and they were together on her ship.

Enigo left without saying a word. He and Loreli had never talked about the future; they’d been in-the-moment kind of people. Now, he was both relieved and regretful.

He missed his orquidella.