Chapter 4

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Stardate 2255.2223.

The Nerada.

Coordinates unknown.

Spock had been walking when the transporter beam took him. Upon re-materialisation, he managed to halt his own momentum promptly enough to avoid collision with the bars abruptly surrounding him, although his companion wasn't quite so fortuitous. Doctor McCoy swore loudly as he crashed into the front wall of their cage, falling back against Spock in surprise. He then proceeded to thrash about the dark, confined space, radiating alarm.

With his superior Vulcan vision, Spock didn't need to map out his new surroundings through blind fumbling. He immediately took note of the restrictive dimensions of the cage around them, identified James Kirk and Nyota in a similar predicament to their right, and warily observed the three armed Romulan guards standing a short distance away. All this was catalogued in an instant, and he then spared a moment to try and form these disparate facts into a coherent explanation for what had just occurred. He was disconcerted when nothing presented itself.

"Spock? That you? Where the ever loving hell are we?"

"Spock?" repeated Kirk from his respective cage, trying to peer through the gloom. "McCoy?"

It quickly became apparent that none of the Terrans possessed any meaningful range of vision in the dim environment as all three began to call out to each other in confusion, establishing identity and location. It was only Spock who could see their Romulan guards exchanging amused glances.

"Where are we?" Doctor McCoy asked again.

"Best guess?" Kirk drawled. "Romulan ship."


Spock kept his attention on the guards, still determinedly trying to calculate the most likely scenario. Kirk's estimation that they were aboard a vessel seemed accurate, as he could detect the faint vibrations of an engine somewhere beneath them. That it was Romulan was also probable, given their recent presence in the system and the obvious ethnicity of the guards. In fact, Spock's only objection to the assumption was that it made no sense.

He drew closer to the neighbouring cage, lowering his voice. "How long have you been here?"

"About an hour?" Nyota answered.

"Has there been any indication of what they want with us?"

"No, they haven't spoken to us yet, just... left us here."

"You are mistaken," he informed her quietly. "They have not left."

The Terrans fell silent, a frisson of unease passing over them. They had effectively been rendered helpless by the lack of light, Spock realised; prey clustered in the darkness, unable even to sense the nearness of danger.

The doors of the room suddenly slid open, light from the corridor dazzling all of them. Spock squinted against the sting, watching as another Romulan entered. Their three guards saluted sharply at the sight of him. The newcomer ignored them, eyes fixed intently on Spock.

"You're finally here," the Romulan said, sounding almost reverent.

"Where the fuck is 'here' and why do you want us?" Kirk demanded, bristling with aggression. While Spock wouldn't have phrased it in quite those words, he agreed wholeheartedly with the sentiment.

The Romulan didn't even glance Kirk's way, apparently uninterested in anyone but Spock. He made a beckoning gesture. "Get him out of there."

Immediately, two of the guards jumped to obey. They opened the cage door with a swipe of a hand-held device, reached inside and dragged Spock out unceremoniously. When Doctor McCoy tried to follow, he was given a casual shove and crashed back against the bars with a pained groan. Spock found himself manhandled forward and presented to the Romulan as though for inspection.

"Spock. It's been a while."

He raised an eyebrow. "I was unaware we'd ever been acquainted. I'm certain I would remember."

The Romulan only made a sceptical sound and turned to leave the room. Spock was prompted to follow by a weapon pressed to the small of his back. As they left, he could hear Kirk yelling after them with a note of panic in his voice.

"Hey! You can't just leave us here! Come the fuck back!"

The doors slid shut on him, silencing his protests.

They walked in single file, past other Romulan crew who stared with undisguised curiosity. Spock studied them in turn, noting the lack of uniform, the mismatched pieces of armour, the general lack of discipline - until one of the guards jabbed him in the back again, and he turned his gaze forward.

"My name is Nero, by the way. Captain of the Nerada."

Spock filed away the information, but made no effort to reply. He was too absorbed in examining the ship's interior. They had obviously been kept on a lower deck, likely intended for storage and transport if the crates of supplies stacked around the edges of the corridors were anything to judge by. Cables ran loose along the floor, tangled in places and damaged in others. Sometimes whole wall panels had been removed to expose the wiring beneath.

Nero led them to a turbolift and they ascended for several seconds. When they disembarked, it was to enter a room that seemed to function as the captain's quarters. It was barren and sparse, a flat pallet bed on one side of the room and a metal table in the middle.

"Leave us," Nero ordered, and the other Romulans withdrew, allowing the doors to slide shut behind Spock. He stood tense and waiting, unsure what to expect.

"Have a seat," the Romulan instructed, moving to occupy one of the two metal chairs himself.

Spock hesitated for a moment, before realising that little he did or did not do here was likely to restore any control of the situation to him. He complied, lowering himself cautiously until he was eye to eye with the Romulan captain.

"Why am I here?"

"You're here because I demand it. Do you know how long I've been looking for you, Spock? How many years wasted?"

Bemused, the Vulcan tilted his head in question.

"When you didn't join Starfleet in 2250, I assumed you'd remained on Vulcan. I must have scanned that entire sand-blasted planet. I even interrogated a few of your oh-so-logical kin, when I could get my hands on them. Imagine my surprise when not a one among them seemed aware that a half-breed even existed, let alone where I could find him. You're nothing very special in this universe, are you Mister Spock?"

He felt annoyance and quickly pushed it down. "I remain unaware of how you claim to know me."

Nero continued speaking as if he hadn't been interrupted.

"I was starting to give up hope. With this infernal Terran Empire crushing every half-intelligent species under its boot heel, maybe you'd never even been born! It's illegal now, isn't it? Interspecies procreation? You're a strange little abomination to most, aren't you?"

Spock lifted his chin. The anger was harder to repress this time, an old primal thing that had been with him since childhood. He stayed silent, afraid he would betray himself if he spoke.

"And after all my effort, it was only coincidence I finally heard rumours of you. Do you know how galling that is? Took out a Starfleet surveillance ship that came too close to Romulus, swept up the survivors. I've made sure it's always common practice for my men to ask after a half-Vulcan freak when they're interrogating prisoners, but I hardly expected some lowly ensign to start babbling about how he grew up in a Terran orphanage with that very same halfbreed."

Spock frowned. "You are implying that you were responsible for this morning's attack on the juvenile care facility... simply because I was raised there?"

Nero gave a sharp, unpleasant smile. "Oh no, Spock. I blew it up because you were gone already, and they were careless enough not to keep records of where I could find you. I'm afraid my patience these days isn't what it used to be."

The Vulcan stared, struggling to process the admission.

"But it all worked out in the end, didn't it? Starfleet can be wonderfully efficient when you're least expecting it. There I was trying to figure out how I was going to scan that human-infested planet while the entire system is bristling with Imperial firepower - and instead you just... appear on my computer system. A Starfleet conscript. And not just you, but the great James T. Kirk and his associates. I'll admit, I'm curious to meet them."

"I... can only infer that you are mistaken in your perception of us. James Kirk falls short of 'great' by any definition of the word. He is a petty thief and con-artist - not even especially skilled in those fields, from what little I know of him. I fail to see how he, Nyota, Doctor McCoy, or indeed myself could be of any interest to you."

Nero threw back his head and laughed, slapping the table between them like Spock had shared an infinitely amusing joke.

"I keep being surprised by the differences here. You'd think I'd be used to it by now."


The Romulan smiled, cold and slow. "The biggest shock was this... Terran Empire. Tell me, how were humans allowed to become the ruling class in this universe?"

"The Terran Empire was established during the First Contact War almost two hundred years ago. How can this possibly come as a 'shock'?"

"I gather you Vulcans let them steal their first spaceship from you. Typical of your kind - you just can't help but interfere, can you?"

Spock felt like he was rapidly losing the thread of this exchange. He was accustomed to the frequent non-sequiturs and false starts of human communication, but this felt different. It was as though he was missing an entire dimension of the conversation.

"I must ask again why I - we - have been brought here. We have no affiliation with your rebellion, nor have we actively opposed it."

Nero's whole demeanour changed then. The façade of amusement fell away, and his feverish glare bore into Spock with discomforting intensity.

"No. All you did was let my planet burn."

The Vulcan revised his earlier theory. He was not missing anything. Nero was clearly suffering a delusional disorder.

"I was under the impression that Romulus was faring well, taking into account its exclusion from the Empire."

Nero sneered. "You think that pathetic shadow of my world is 'faring well'?" He leaned across the table, lowering his voice to a furious hiss. "I got here to find them grovelling in the dirt to their human masters. Humiliated. Impotent. I've had to drag them kicking and screaming to their freedom. My once-proud Romulus..."

"And how does any of that relate to myself?"

Nero stood up, metal chair clattering backwards. He stalked around the table until he loomed over Spock. "Always the same. Even here, even in this miserable, pathetic version of yourself - that arrogance, always the same." He leaned down, hot breath unpleasant against the Vulcan's ear. "I'm telling you, Spock. It'll get you killed one day."

Jim tried to make himself comfortable, stretching his legs out across the floor until his boots pressed against the opposite wall of the cage. Bars dug painfully into his back as he tried to lean against them, but there wasn't a whole lot of options in terms of space. Nyota sat next to him, her arms wrapped tightly around her drawn up knees. At least, he thought that was how she was sitting from what he could feel of her at his side. He still couldn't make out much in the dark.

"Why'd they have to turn off the lights?" he complained, mostly just for the sake of something to say. With nobody making much sound, he was starting to feel deaf as well as blind.

"It's called sensory deprivation," McCoy's disembodied voice growled from the next cage. "Bastards are trying to loosen us up for something."

"Like what?"

"Hell if I know. I'm still mostly convinced this is all a drunken hallucination on my part."

Unseen, Jim rolled his eyes.

They lapsed again into silence. Without the distraction of conversation, the darkness bothered him. It felt like a physical thing; a weight; a blindfold pressed too tightly on his eyes. He kept blinking in the expectation of clearing his vision, unable to convince his brain to accept the situation.

"Why do you think they took the Vulcan?" he asked at length, needing something else to focus on.

He felt Nyota shrug. "Maybe he knows them? That Romulan called him by name."

"You think he's working with the rebellion?"

McCoy snorted dismissively. "Spock's not a sympathiser, trust me."

"How do you know? He's xeno. Maybe -"

"Not every xeno wants to trade the Empire for Romulan and Klingon overlords. And anyway, Spock got marched out of here with a gun in his back, in case neither of you noticed. Didn't seem like a friendly reunion to me."

Jim conceded the point reluctantly. He let his head fall back in frustration, resting between two of the bars. "Why the hell are we here? Seriously, what the fuck do Romulans want with us? I'm open to wild speculation." One minute they were being packed off to war, the next they were aboard the enemy ship. His head was still spinning. "You'd think unwilling conscription would be the big drama of the day..."

"You got chipped as well, did you?" McCoy muttered. "Robo-cop turned up at the shipyard and got us too."

Jim turned in the doctor's general direction. "What, you and Spock? So it is related to us being here. Too much of a coincidence that we all got implants minutes before being beamed up."

"Well, it wasn't just us. It picked out anyone not 'adequately contributing to society' and injected them on the spot. And Spock just because he's xeno, I think. Automatically a waste to society on this planet."

It still couldn't be a coincidence, Jim thought, although for the life of him he couldn't think of anything that made them particularly special.

"Wait, isn't this a good thing?" McCoy asked.

"How so?"

"Starfleet use these things to track us, right? They'll know we've been taken. Might send help."

"For four unimportant losers?" Jim scoffed.

"Anyway," Nyota added, sounding despondent. "It's far more likely they'll think we're deserters and sympathisers who escaped conscription on a Romulan ship."

Jim winced. She was right.

Nyota huffed a breath. "Well, if I ever was supposed to join Starfleet, there went my last chance."

He felt a twinge of guilt, although he wasn't really sure why. It hadn't been his fault she'd changed her mind. He lowered his voice, trying for as much privacy as their enclosure allowed. "Why didn't you? Join Starfleet, I mean. You said you were going to, when we met..."

She didn't answer at first, but he heard her shifting restlessly. She straightened her legs across the floor, stretching forward like she was trying to touch her toes, and stayed like that for a minute or so as if debating how to answer.

"I suppose it just... felt like a trap," she whispered eventually. "I wanted more freedom than a Starfleet uniform and a lifetime commission. Playing games with you wasn't exactly the limitless easy money I thought it was going to be, but at least I made my own decisions." She gave a bitter little laugh. "Of course, I say that from inside a cage, so..."

"We'll get out of here," he promised, with all the surety of someone who simply couldn't accept another outcome.

The interface on the captain's door beeped twice. Nero glanced towards it, then back at Spock. "Stand up. We have company."

The Romulan rose smoothly from his chair and strode across the room, long leather coat sweeping behind him. He slapped a button on the control panel and the doors slid open, admitting into the room the three guards who had previously escorted him - and standing between them, another Vulcan.

Spock got to his feet warily as they entered. The Vulcan was staring at him, so Spock studied him in turn. In truth, he had never had occasion to see another of his kind outside a computer screen. This one was elderly, deep lines etched across his solemn face. Steel grey hair was immaculately cut and combed above stern, upswept brows and dark eyes. He looked familiar, but Spock supposed that was a consequence of finally meeting someone of his own racial ethnicity.

The older Vulcan looked towards Nero sharply. "What is this? Why is he here?"

The Romulan smiled. "I'm not sure how I should classify this. A family reunion? A self-examination? What do you think, Spock?"

Spock opened his mouth to reply that he had no notion of what was being implied, but Nero didn't appear to be addressing him. He was looking expectantly at the older Vulcan, who seemed anything but amused.

"Return him to where you found him. He has nothing to do with this. Your vendetta is with me."

Nero sneered. "The same act is in the heart of him. He is as capable as you. Why should he not suffer punishment?"

"Because he has not yet acted! Nero, he is not even aware of what we speak."

The Romulan gave a nod of acknowledgement. "I admit, that is a problem. That's why you're here. Show him."

The Vulcan looked affronted. "I will not."

"You say that like you have a choice, Spock." He gave a lazy gesture, and in a heartbeat his men had guns pointed steadily at both their heads.

Spock's thoughts raced, but still he could see no means of gaining any control of the rapidly devolving situation. Nero was unstable, irrational, and quite obviously delusional, and the other Vulcan seemed to be doing little but antagonising him.

When no reaction to the threat was forthcoming, Nero shrugged and drawled, "Shoot one of them."

Almost instantly, one of the weapons discharged with a flash of light. The beam struck Spock's shoulder. He grunted as searing pain spread through him. The fabric of his shirt smouldered, and beneath it ugly green burn blisters broke out across his flesh. He clenched his jaw, struggling not to act on the burst of rage which almost overcame him.

"Shall we take turns?" Nero asked mockingly. "I'm told disruptor burns are quite agonising. I wonder which of you will break first, youth or wisdom."

"Enough." The Vulcan drew himself up as though shouldering a burden. "You have made your point."

"I'm disappointed. I thought that would take much longer."

The Vulcan ignored the taunt, turning instead towards Spock. He stepped closer. "I apologise in advance for what I must do. This will not be a pleasant experience."

And all of a sudden, Spock realised what was about to happen. He backed away until he hit the edge of the metal table. "Do not touch me."

The guards promptly descended on him, grabbing at his arms and burned shoulder. They dragged him forward, thoroughly ignoring his struggles to free himself. He managed to drive his elbow into someone's stomach, and was given a backhand in retaliation. When the other Vulcan came to stand before him, the Romulans pinioned his arms to his side. He turned his face away in desperation.

The Vulcan paused with his hand outstretched. "While this is not how I would have preferred our first meeting to take place, I can assure you that you have no reason to fear me. I do not intend to harm you."

"You are wrong," Spock hissed. "Enter my mind and I will show you just how little I fear you."

The Vulcan looked sad, of all the uncalled for reactions, but it didn't stop him from closing the distance between them and placing his fingers firmly over Spock's face.

"My mind to your mind."

Instantly, Spock felt himself slammed backwards by the alien presence that entered his mindspace. It was massive, immovable, ancient. He threw up mental barriers in haste, but there was no indication the invading presence even noticed them as it broke through and spilled into all of Spock. He recoiled from the violation, spitting and snarling defiance, scrambling away into the darkest corners of his mind in search of escape.

Calm yourself. I do not seek to harm you, the Other repeated.

Spock summoned fury and hurled it at the presence. His own telepathic skills were not nearly well honed enough to communicate in a similar coherent manner.

Muted confusion drifted back to him. You do not believe me? Allow me then to first show you the truth of who I am, that we may proceed peacefully.

He did not know how to brace himself for the sudden influx of foreign memory. A thousand, a hundred thousand flashes of a world not his own poured over him. They were without order or sense. A desert; a starship; a human mother smiling at him as she touched his face. Friends colour coded red and yellow and blue and precious gold. He was a science officer of Starfleet, loyal to a Federation Spock didn't recognise. He was fighting with a phaser in hand, a spear in hand, both hands wrapped around his captain's throat as they grappled in the dirt. Tipsy on chocolate and Vulcan port. He was dying of radiation poisoning, trapped behind glass with his hand pressed to that of his t'hy'la. What was t'hy'la? The Vulcan language rolled off his tongue and Spock didn't understand a word of it. His vibrant, golden captain was tipping a smile over his shoulder and saying with easy confidence, You have the con, Mister Spock.

He reeled away from the torrent of memory feeling like he couldn't breathe.

Do you understand now? the Other asked patiently. I am you. We are one and the same. You may trust me as you would yourself.

It was a lie, Spock thought immediately. A trick, a trap. Whoever this Vulcan was, they were certainly not 'one and the same', and nothing Spock had seen in the flood of false recollection could convince him otherwise.

How do you doubt me? One cannot lie in the meld, you know this.

Spock lashed out, wanting only for the Other to be gone from his mindspace. He formed mental claws and tore into the presence, seeking to wound, seeking to hurt and send it fleeing Spock's head in self defence. He thrashed and writhed and fought with all his will.

And still it was as nothing when the Other clamped down around him, crushing him small and still.

Stop this. You do more damage to yourself than to me.

Spock seethed, completely unable to free himself. He settled instead on projecting sullen resentment.

The Other seemed to deliberate for an uncertain amount of time. Then it said, I must now view your memories as I have shared mine. There is something I must determine before we go any further.

Spock tried to shout a protest, but he was ignored.

Unbidden, Terran children flashed to the forefront of his mind, the ones who had pulled his hair and flicked his ears and viciously pinched the back of his hands when they'd realised they were sensitive. And when he'd retaliated, the horrified expressions of adults all around him; the way they'd flinched back as though he was a small monster in their midst. Spock had seen the truth of humans then, their weakness and fear and petty hatreds.

Then had come the isolation. Sitting at a computer terminal most days listening to recorded lectures on Vulcan culture - what little was known of it. The educational holo-vids were made by Terrans who stumbled over the alien language and filled gaps in their knowledge with pretentious sweeping statements and guesses. They had known that pure Vulcans did not feel emotion, and so a councillor had been assigned to instruct him in the purging and repression of all sentiment. He had failed her lessons often. His telepathy had been something discovered and explored solely through trial and error. Snippets of thought and feeling he stole from anyone he touched. Ultimately, aversion to contact had been the only sensible defence.

A summary of his childhood and adolescence streamed before his mind's eye in this manner, and he was helpless to call any of it back. His humiliations and vulnerabilities were held up for examination by the Other, before being passed over as though found wanting.

Abruptly, the smothering force holding him relented somewhat. It still did not leave his mindspace, but certainly seemed to diminish.

I apologise. I had not realised the true inequality of our telepathic abilities, due to your lack of training.

The Other found and lingered over the memory of what he had done to Smiles, all those years ago. The Terran's blank stare, and Spock's savage triumph in ripping his mind open. He could feel the Other's undisguised horror emanating around their shared mindspace.

I was indeed wrong. You and I are... not the same. I will endeavour to be more careful in my assumptions of you.

Spock waited cautiously. There was a distinct chill to the presence now, a disapproval, even dislike.

Nevertheless, I will share with you the reason for your, and my, being here. I suggest you prepare yourself. Emotional transfer is common.

And that was all the warning Spock had before being plunged into the Other's memories for a second time.

Be calm. I will guide you this time.

Spock was streaming through the stars, across the countless lightyears he had travelled in his long life. Past the hundreds of planets he had set foot on, the worlds he had helped save and change. It was beautiful, and lonely, and felt like home. Then he saw it. An inferno burning in the black void of space.

One hundred and twenty nine years from now a star will explode, threatening to destroy the galaxy. That time is where I'm from.

Spock watched the supernova with something like awe. It had broken free of its gravitational bounds and was roaring free, a stellar explosion set to destroy all in its path.

I promised the Romulans I would save their planet.

There had been little sacrifice in volunteering to take the risk. His friends were long dead, his purpose wavering in their absence. Should he go to join them while performing one last act of reckless heroism - a crime he had often levelled at the captain's feet - then so be it.

We outfitted our fastest ship. Using something called red matter, I would create a black hole which would absorb the explosion

It was new technology, largely untested, but there had been little option but to rely on its success. It had been fitted into his one-man ship and he'd flown off into the light of a dying star.

I was on route when the unthinkable happened. Romulus was destroyed.

The destruction of a planet was horrendous. It crumbled under the blast of the supernova like so much dirt, billions of lives obliterated in a matter of seconds. His guilt was almost numbing. It had taken all his Vulcan self-possession to continue his mission in an orderly, efficient manner.

I had little time. I extracted the red matter and shot it into the supernova. Then, as I began my return trip, I was intercepted. He called himself Nero.

The Romulan mining vessel seemed to appear from nowhere, haling him to demand what had happened. Terrible grief had turned so quickly to fury as Spock had tried to explain that there was nothing he could have done.

In my attempt to escape, we were both pulled into the growing black hole. Nero went through first, and so was the first to arrive in this universe. I understand he has been here a number of years already.

Spock thought of the Romulan ship that had destroyed the Kelvin in 2233, the subsequent Romulan uprising, the escalating attacks on Starfleet and the Empire. All Nero's doing.

But what was years for Nero was only seconds for me. The black hole must have stabilised to some degree in the moments between our passage, accounting for the time difference. I emerged only weeks ago, to find Nero waiting here for me. He took me captive and has held me ever since - for what reason I cannot tell you, although I suspect.

Spock was released from the succession of memories, gently this time. The Other seemed to pause, granting him a chance to acclimatise and integrate the new knowledge. Dozens of questions sprang to mind, though surprisingly few of them actually concerned the destruction of Romulus. What truly perplexed Spock was that version of himself he kept glimpsing - someone who wore a Starfleet uniform with pride; whose expertise and knowledge were held in such high regard; who stood side by side with humans in fierce and mutual loyalty. In what possible universe could he have been that man?

As you can see, my failure is the reason for his hatred of us.

Spock turned his mind from such useless speculation and back to the problem at hand. The disaster of Romulus had been nothing to do with him, he thought adamantly. He was not part of that other reality, he had not allowed a planet to burn.

Hatred is rarely logical.

And then the Other was finally gone, and Spock was left blissfully alone in his head again. He dropped to his knees, unprepared for the wave of exhaustion which broke over him. Green blood trickled from his nose and down his shirt, and pain blossomed behind his eyes.

Little more than a minute had passed.

"Is it done?" Nero asked, standing over him.

"He knows."

Spock levelled a hostile glare at the other Vulcan - the other him. "You are not me," he grated out, stubborn. "Your crime is not mine."

The guards once again grasped his arms and hauled him upright, turning him roughly to face Nero. The Romulan captain looked stone-faced. "As one of the few surviving victims, I believe I reserve the right to that judgement."

"But I have never -"

"Put him back with the others."

They dragged him out, and the last thing Spock saw before the doors slid shut was the look of infuriating, impotent regret on his other self's face.

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