Written for Purimgifts 2016. "The Outlandish Knight" is one of the variations on "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" in the Child Ballads. I apologize for any inadvertent science fail.


The lights on the containers shone amber and green. Elissa tried to suppress her sense of guilt as she carefully packed them one by one into a carrying case. It was true what John said, that these genetic strains were as much her own work as her mother's. John's employer would pay well for strains designed by the Colvin family. It would let them start a new life together, and Elissa could do the work she had always dreamed of, no longer confined to one small scientific outpost on a remote planet. John had told her to take samples from all of her mother's work, but in the end, Elissa took only the projects she herself had worked on. She would create more, after all.

John was waiting for her outside the shuttle bay, pacing back and forth. "You're late. Did anything go wrong?"

"No, I have the samples here."

He smiled. "Good. Very good." He leaned in for a lingering kiss. Elissa felt her doubts fade, as always in John's presence. She quickly entered the codes to unlock the shuttle bay door, and another set to hide that anyone had been here. Only four people knew the emergency override codes. One of them was the expedition commander; another of the four was his daughter—though he had never meant her to use it for this.

John entered the bay without waiting for her. He strolled up and down the aisles, eying the shuttles appreciatively. "Which one will you take?"

"This one." She pointed. "The Judith." It didn't take long to load their few possessions aboard, the sample case securely stowed. Elissa entered the authorizations, John's fingers danced over the controls, and the shuttle slipped away into the night.

The life-support and navigation systems beeped softly in the background. Elissa let her thoughts wander, tracing the course they would follow. First to Werriwell, where they would leave the shuttle and take passage on a hyperdrive ship, and then—Then away, as far and free as they wished.

She was roused from her reverie by the chiming of the navigational alert. She glanced at the viewscreen and saw that John was bringing the shuttle into dock at a small observation station in orbit around the system's fourth planet, which was uninhabitable by humans but had some fascinating and unusual weather patterns. The station was fully automated, sending its data back to the terminals in the main laboratory, but could be accessed for maintenance.

"We're not taking the Judith to Werriwell?" Elissa asked.

John gave her a pitying look. "Even if you're right that there isn't a tracker in the shuttle, the Judith has its name and 'Colvin Scientific Expedition' painted across the side. We're trying not to draw attention. My own shuttle is docked here, on the other side of the station." Elissa looked down, feeling foolish. It made sense once he explained it, as it always did.

"Take your things," John ordered. "And the sample case, of course."

"Is your shuttle here?" she asked when he stopped. They were by an airlock, she noticed absently, the lights shining green to show that the seal was holding firm.

"No, but we've come far enough." And then he was pointing a nerve disruptor at her, and his smile was not pleasant at all. "Put the case down and step away."

"What?" she faltered. Disbelief held her frozen.

"Far enough, since no one will ever find you. I would rather you step into the airlock yourself, so I can remember how beautiful you looked, but I'll shoot if I have to."

Her fingers tightened around the case's grip. "Did you ever care about me at all?" she asked, hating that her voice shook, "or was this just for the sake of getting at my family's work?"

"You aren't the first brilliant—but naïve—young scientist I've brought here. Now set down the case."

"It won't do you any good," she said quickly, beginning to recover from her shock. "It's locked, and you don't know the codes. That's the standard procedure for transport."

His hand holding the disruptor was steady. "Open it then," he said with a hint of impatience.

She swallowed. "I can't do it here," she lied. "I need a terminal."

He gestured with the disruptor. "Then go to the terminal there and do it!"

She hurried to obey. It was the work of a moment to fasten the leads on the case to the terminal, and her fingers moved quickly over the keys. Her father had designed the software; the manual override should work here. Yes, she could access the program, and it would do what she needed it to. She pressed the sequence for an emergency hull breach.

A final key press, and a force field sprang up across the corridor, dividing it in two. Elissa, the terminal, and the precious samples were on one side, John with his disruptor on the other. He saw what she was doing too late and fired; the beam bounced harmlessly off the force field. "What are you doing?" he demanded in a fury.

She did not look up. You aren't the first, he had said. How many victims had he lured here to their deaths, their work stolen for his own uses? The airlock hissed; the inner seal opened. John stared at her aghast. "Elissa," he said wildly. "You can't—You can't possibly mean—"

She met his eyes steadily as she ordered the computer to open the outer lock. And then if he said anything else, she could not hear it. The force field shone gently blue, shielding her from the cold and vacuum of space.

Elissa remained there for a few moments, her fingers resting gently on the keys. And then she closed the airlock again and lowered the force field—no used in wasting unnecessary energy—and made her way back to her shuttle. She landed the Judith in its home bay again an hour before the day shift started.