My apologies to the original readers of this story - the POV changes have now been fixed.

Chapter 1: Stowaway

"Sometimes, Ship, I don't know why I kept you. You're constantly falling apart or getting too far behind in technology for me to fix you!" Gertie Andrews wrestled with the food processor, trying to find the problem with the dispenser. For the past three meals it had occasionally dispensed food without plates, and though the children thought it was funny at first, eventually they had grown tired of it. She picked up the micro-circuitry welder and ran it over several of the chips scattered in front of her.

"Ah, ha! There you are, you little wretch! I could've sworn I fixed you for good last year," she mumbled to herself. She re-welded the trouble spot, placed the chips back into the unit, and sealed everything back up.

"Well, you piece of junk, let's see if you work now." She dusted off her hands and, selecting a menu disk from the box on the table, slipped it into the slot. When she opened the door, there stood a steaming bowl of split pea soup. She smiled to herself and took the proffered bowl. After grabbing her tools, she headed first to the bridge to check on the ship's status, then took her midnight snack back to her cabin.

For once the ship was quiet in the artificial night. Her name was the Plymouth, named after Gert's father's favorite town on Old Earth. He had bought the ship seventy-five years before and for the last twenty years Gertie had held the captaincy. The ship was an old style trader, modified when her father had purchased it with the new warp drive, and she was capable of making Warp Five in an emergency. Since that first modification, she had been added to and upgraded until she truly looked like the hodge-podge she was.

When Gert took over the family business, she had started out alone, with no crew. One day she had come across a motherless set of Vulcan twins whose father was dying. She had promised him she would take care of them, and had – ever since. After that instance, she had discovered numerous orphans throughout the Galaxy and each time had been unable to turn them over to the conventional orphanages. The crew complement now numbered eleven with three Vulcans, a Klingon, two Andorians, three humans and a Sehlat.

o00o

Karx, the Klingon child, stared at the darkened ceiling above her bunk. She could not get to sleep. Earlier that day, when they had stopped off at the space station to refuel and pick up supplies, she had run across a stray Siamese cat. They had taken to each other immediately and Karx had managed to smuggle the animal aboard without anyone seeing. At dinner that evening she had succeeded in sneaking some food out of the cafeteria. Unfortunately, her conscience was getting the best of her right now, and she was wondering what Gertie would say when she discovered the stowaway feline. She huddled under her blankets while her mind worked out all the punishments that would come her way. As she mulled over the possibilities, they became increasingly worse to her overly active imagination, and the fact that it was dark didn't help matters at all!

Finally, Karx couldn't take the pressure anymore and so, to feel better, she got up to check on her new-found pet. Silently she tiptoed to the closet and opened the door. There, hidden in the back, was a box filled with an old soft shirt. Karx reached into the box and felt around. No cat! Quickly she checked around the rest of the closet and room, but the cat was not there.

She left to check the rest of the ship, feeling panic beginning to settle like a cold lead weight in her stomach. The ship was small, so she did not have much area to cover; however, since she had to be quiet, it took longer. Eventually she ended up on the bridge and there – on the control board – sat the cat, calmly washing its face, tail lazily twitching to and fro across the switches. Slowly, very slowly, Karx approached the station.

"Here kitty, nice kitty. I'm not going to hurt you." As she reached out for the cat, he jumped off and ran around the room. "God damned cat! Come back here!" Karx cried while chasing after the erstwhile critter. The cat was having too much fun! He would sit sedately in one place, cross-eyedly watching the child, and then at the last possible moment, jump free of her hands.

Karx finally caught the cat, but he didn't want to be caught just yet! He clawed his way out of girl's arms and jumped onto the control board again, hitting the autopilot to the "off" position. The Klingon did not notice this as she recaptured the errant cat, and kept a firm hold on him while heading for the turbo lift. However, she was not going to have a chance to make it back safely to her quarters. When the door opened, there stood Gertie.

"What, in bloody galaxies, is going on up here?! Karx, what is that you have?"

"A… a… a… a cat," she answered timidly.

"A cat." Gert repeated, flat voiced. She was trying very hard to keep a smirk from her face. "Where did you get him?" her mother pressed.

"At the space station, ma'am," came the quiet answer.

Gert just looked at her, then her eyes softened. "All right, go on back to bed and make sure he stays in your quarters this time! And see to those scratches on your arm!"

"Yes, Ma'am!" Karx brightened and rushed to the turbo lift, a tight hold on the beast.

The captain quickly scanned the bridge and, seeing nothing apparently wrong, turned and followed her charge to the next deck below.

o00o

Next morning found Gertie up and around, early as usual. She headed for the bridge to check on the morning reports from her young charges. Stepping off the lift, she found chaos.

"T'Pem, report!"

"Captain, we're off course. The autopilot was shut off when we came up this morning." The twelve-year old Vulcan turned to the viewscreen to display the quadrant map. "We're supposed to be in this quadrant and we're actually in this one… I think."

"You think?" she asked with a bit of bite to her tone of voice.

"Ma'am, there's nothing to correlate our position."

"Let me see those readouts." In her mind Gertie saw Karx chasing the Siamese around the bridge.

T'Pria, T'pem's twin, gave her foster mother the required information. She quickly scanned the sheets and let out a low whistle. "I knew the equipment was rotten, but not this faulty!" she mumbled to herself.

At that moment a spark flew from the navigation board, throwing T'Pria off balance. As she picked herself up, she looked at the smoking ruin of a console. "That's it, Gert. The board is shot to hell."

"It can't be!" Gert cried. She got her welder from her tool belt and tore the cover off the board. For fifteen minutes there was practically pure silence; the only sound was that of the welder going over the circuits, attempting vainly to fuse them back together. Slowly Gertie pulled away from the board and with a sudden rage, threw the welder across the bridge, hitting the tail of Karx's cat as they got off the lift. The cat gave huge yowl and scrambled out of the girls arms, streaking away, mumbling to itself as it huddled over it's wounded member.

"Oh, shit!!" She took a kick at the console and turned to her charges, breathing heavily. "Alright," she said more calmly, "We don't know where we are and our computers seem to be on permanent shut-down, so… since no one can fix this junk, it looks like we are temporarily stranded; now's the time for a good old-fashioned distress signal. Karx?" She turned to the Klingon girl.

"Yes, ma'am?"

"Since part of the problem stems from last night and your cat's free run of the bridge, you shall be the one to send the signal."

"Yes, Ma'am." Karx turned dejectedly to the communications panel. "To any ship, please help. Repeat, please help. This is the trader ship Plymouth. We are stranded and unable to compute our position. Repeat…" Karx kept that up and had it spread across all known channels. Meanwhile, the rest of the ship's complement trailed onto the bridge.

o00o

Captain Kirk leaned back in his chair, sipping a cup of coffee that his present Yeoman had brought him. This past month had been boring; routine patrols resulting in no skirmishes and only standard disputes quickly settled. The crew was getting a little restless after this and wanted some action.

Uhura broke into his thoughts. "Captain, I'm picking up a distress signal."

"Patch it in to the nav computer, Lieutenant."

"Done, sir." The woman's nimble fingers played across her board as the captain turned to the navigator.

"Sir, it's coming from ten mark twelve."

"Turn her toward it, Mr. Sulu, scanners on."

"Scanners on, sir," the Science Officer reported.

"We'll be there in ten minutes, sir," came from Navigation.

"Sir, I'm still receiving the signal."

"Let's hear it, Uhura."

o00o

"Repeat, please help. This is the trader Plymouth. We are stranded and unable to compute our position…" Karx kept on talking as Gert and the twins tried vainly to get something working. The Klingon stopped for a moment as a red light flashed on her board.

"Gert, someone's responding!" She patched it into the speakers as Gertie stopped working.

"Plymouth, this is the Federation Starship USS Enterprise. We have you on our scanners and will rendezvous in six point five minutes. Are you in need of medical assistance?"

"Negative, negative," Gert responded. "No one's hurt, except our pride and one cat's tail."

"What is your situation, Captain?"

"Our navigation, science, and helm computers are knocked out, and our equipment is so old that we can't compute our position." She hated admitting that to a Starfleet officer – but he asked!

o00o

Kirk looked to the heavens asking for deliverance from these ancient freighters. "Assemble your crew for the transporter and prepare your ship to be towed. Kirk out."

He turned to his Science Officer. "Any readings, Spock?"

"I get strange life form readings on the ship, sir."

Kirk perked up. "Strange?"

"Yes. Apparently there are children of several different origins aboard that ship and only one adult. There are also a cat and a sehlat."

"That's it? One adult?" Visions of another Harry Mudd came to his mind – one that sold children. Kirk turned in his chair. "Uhura, have a security team standing by in the transporter room. Spock…"

"Captain, we are in transporter range," Sulu announced.

"Thank you, Lieutenant." Kirk stepped from his command chair. "Spock, come with me." He turned to the turbo lift. "Lieutenant Uhura, tell McCoy to meet us in the transporter room and call the Plymouth to make sure they are in position."

"Aye, sir."

McCoy entered the room and saw Kirk and Spock standing by the console.

"Transporter on," Kirk commanded.

As the technician pulled the levers down, six small forms began to materialize in the chamber. As they solidified, the doctor looked on wide-eyed as the three Humans and three Vulcans stepped off the discs. T'Pria led the others off as the technician set the system up again and beamed aboard the rest of the crew compliment: a Human adult, a Klingon child, two young Andorians, a Siamese cat, and a sehlat. As Karx picked up Spacer the cat, Gertie herded the rest of the kids towards the officers. T'Pem gave the Vulcan salute to Spock while her sister went to lead the sehlat off the disc.

Gertie walked over to Kirk holding her hand out, "Gertrude Andrews, sir, and these," she motioned to the kids surrounding her, "are my children."

"These are all yours?" Kirk looked at them and then at her incredulously, as he shook the offered hand.

Gert smiled, "Yes, sir. I run an orphanage, you might say."

Silently, Kirk breathed a sigh of relief. "Quite a mixture, Captain Andrews."

"Yes, it is, but they are also some of the smartest ones around. They grow up on a ship, learning to run it, and they have a first hand view of their galaxy."

Kirk eyed her for a moment and then turned to McCoy. "Bones, why don't you and the guards escort the children to Sick Bay for a look-over and then meet us in the briefing room on Deck Twelve."

"Right, Jim. C'mon, kids." He started out the door and with an affirmative nod from Gertie, the kids followed. The twins smiled as they left, due to a little slap on the backsides by Gertie. Spock raised his eyebrows and looked off into space.

o00o

"Ms. Andrews, please tell me, to the best of your knowledge, what happened." Kirk asked a few minutes later in the briefing room.

"We were in quadrant five niner, sector niner zero as of last night. Karx, my Klingon daughter, had smuggled aboard a cat yesterday afternoon and it got loose last night. In the resulting chase I suppose the cat knocked the autopilot off, setting us adrift. Since we were at the junction of three adjoining quadrants, we didn't have any idea where we were. The twins and I attempted to fix the problem but were unable to. That was the situation when you picked up our signal, Captain." She leaned back in her chair – obviously weary from the day's events.

"I see. Ah, Bones!" Kirk said as McCoy walked in with the children. He was carrying Laurie, the three-year-old Human, on his shoulders while she sucked on a lollipop.

"Down you go, honey," McCoy said as he lifted her down. She ran over to Gertie and wiggled onto her lap. "They're all in tip-top condition, Captain," he reported.

"See what the nice man gave me, Mommy?" Laurie showed her mother the sticky, dripping confection with a huge smile on her face. Gert smiled down at the child, whispering something special in her ear, and Laurie smiled as she stuck the sucker back into her mouth and snuggled back into Gertie's arms.

Meanwhile, the rest of the children trooped in and settled in chairs behind their mother. The Captain spoke quickly with McCoy and his other senior officers then turned toward Gertie.

"Captain Andrews, I am sorry for the inconvenience we have caused you these last few minutes, but I am sure you understand the procedures in such instances."

"Oh, of course, Captain," she replied amiably.

"Good. Then may I offer you the hospitality of our ship until such a time as we can repair your ship?"

"You're most kind and I accept it, thank you!" She reached over Laurie to shake his hand while the kids all heaved a collective sigh of relief.