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The blade tore through his flesh with cruel ease.

Agony erupted in Spock’s midsection, a red-hot ember blazing at the center of an instantly expanding inferno. He grabbed for the knife protruding from his abdomen, for the hand that wielded it, but as he staggered backward a step under the assault, he reflexively threw his arms wide in an attempt to retain his balance. He knew he had to prevent himself from falling, vulnerable, before his unknown, half-seen attacker. Loosed from his grip, Spock’s handheld beacon clattered to the rocky ground, its narrow beam sending long shadows careering about the subterranean remnants of the ancient Romulan settlement. In silhouette, visage concealed by darkness, his assailant loomed above him, broad-shouldered and a head taller.

Spock struggled to concentrate, understanding on the heels of the ambush that he likely would have little time to defend himself. Seeking to rule the pain screaming through his body, he focused on the other details of sensation. He felt the cool metal of the knife against his now-exposed right side, even as his blood rushed warmly from the newly opened wound. He smelled the musty scent of age and abandonment that swathed the underground ruins, commingled with the fetid odor of the modern city’s sewer system, which ran nearby. The electric tang of copper filled his mouth.

Spock had tasted death before, and recognized it. Intense memories surged in a flash through his mind. Piloting the faltering Galileo above Taurus II, the heat in the smoky main cabin climbing as the shuttlecraft and its crew began plummeting back into the atmosphere. On the planet Neural, hearing the report and then feeling the strike of the lead projectile as it penetrated his back, mangling his viscera. In the Mutara Nebula, repairing Enterprise’s warp drive, and suffering the lethal effects of extreme radiation as he did so.

But then the images slipped, melting away in a flat wash of color. The past faded from Spock’s mind as quickly as it had arisen, and thoughts of the future suddenly seemed unreachable. Only the excruciating present remained, and only at a remove. Loss of consciousness beckoned, and beyond it—with no ready receptacle for his katra—so too did nonexistence.

The would-be assassin closed the small distance, the single pace, that Spock had put between them. The attacker seized the handle of the knife and twisted the blade within the ragged wound, doubtless searching for vital organs. With the pain intensifying, Spock reversed course and reached with his mind for his physical distress, embraced it, clung to it as a means of preventing himself from passing out. He summoned his strength to fight back, only to discover that he had already taken hold of the hand clutching the weapon. As a Vulcan, even at his advanced age—a year short of his sesquicentenary—he possessed corporal might exceeding that of the individuals of many humanoid species. He could not fend off his assailant, though, perhaps owing to his compromised condition—or more likely, he thought, because his adversary enjoyed commensurate bodily prowess.

Romulan, Spock thought, though in the inconsistent lighting, he could not be certain. But the conclusion followed, considering the aversion of the Romulan government—of both Romulan governments—to his efforts to reunify their people with their Vulcan cousins. It also made sense given his current location, deep beneath Ki Baratan, the capital city of Romulus, and the very heart of the Romulan Star Empire. Few natives, let alone outworlders, knew of even the existence of the old dug-out structures, much less how to access them. Buried by both history and the foundations of the present-day metropolis, much of the belowground, stone-lined tunnel system had been converted long ago into sewage conduits.

A patina of perspiration coated Spock’s face as he strained to push his attacker’s hand away, to drive out the knife from where it had breached his body. He could do no more than keep his assailant at bay, but he felt his own vigor continuing to wane and knew that he would soon fold. A haze once more drifted across his awareness. He didn’t know how much longer he could remain conscious.

On the threshold of desperation, Spock peered past his attacker and gauged their distance from the far wall, ascertaining their position within the passage. Then with all the force he could bring to bear, he swiftly raised one hand and brought the side of it down against his assailant’s wrist. The blade jumped within Spock, causing a fresh wave of pain to slice through the lower part of his torso. At the same time, his attacker cried out, his yelp echoing through the tunnel, his hold on the haft of the knife slackening. Spock quickly retreated one long stride, then another, and a third and fourth. Stopping where he judged necessary, he steeled himself and yanked the weapon from his body. More blood issued from the wound, the warm, green plasma saturating his clothing.

Spock reseated the knife in his grasp, its point outward, arming himself. His attacker faced him but made no immediate move other than to reach up and wrap his other hand around his injured wrist. For a moment, stillness settled over the tableau. Spock could hear his own tattered breathing, could feel the rapid throb of his heart.

He knew he would have to act. Though the confrontation had reached a standstill now that he held a weapon, he could not in his condition maintain that impasse for long; soon enough, he would falter. For the same reason, retreat seemed as unlikely a solution.

Spock tightened his grip about the knife, preparing to engage the enemy. But then a tendril of irritation reached him, a fragment of emotion carried into his mind by an empathic projection—a strong empathic projection. At once, Spock realized that he had not been assaulted by a Romulan. He also saw how the truth underlying that fact could aid him with the rudimentary plan he had formed.

He lifted his arm and whipped it downward in a single, rapid motion, hurling the knife at his foe. Light glinted along the blade as the weapon passed through slivers of illumination. Spock’s attacker nimbly jumped aside, turning to watch the flight of the knife as it shot past and disappeared into shadows untouched by Spock’s lost beacon. For an instant, the face of Spock’s assailant became visible in a patch of reflected light: a bald skull, mottled flesh, large pointed ears curling outward from his head, raised brow and cheekbones surrounding sunken eyes, a jagged line of teeth.

The Reman did not chase after the knife, but spun back around, his features receding once more into the gloom. He reached for no other weapon that he might be carrying, but he bent his knees and tensed his body, obviously about to spring toward his prey. Spock knew that the Reman would require nothing but his hands to complete the slaying he’d begun.

With virtually no time and no other opportunity left to him, Spock willfully surrendered his mental discipline. His own fears, both intellectual and emotional, soared within him. Though Spock had long ago accepted the reality—indeed, the necessity—of the feelings his mind generated, and though he regularly allowed himself to experience what he imprecisely regarded as his “human half,” he still sustained considerable control over his internal life. As he faced his own mortality directly and without restraint, though, a surfeit of powerful emotions threatened to overwhelm him.

Instead of battling his fear, Spock latched onto it. He searched for and found the anger accompanying it: anger at the violence perpetrated against him, anger that his death would forestall his attempts at reunification, anger that he would be forcibly and permanently removed from the lives of those about whom he cared. Then he deliberately dropped his mental guard, pulling down the defenses he maintained about his mind that protected him from external forces.

He immediately felt the full, robust empathic presence of the Reman. Spock allowed it to sweep over and through him, to buffet and suffuse him with impatience, frustration, and a determination to kill. Rather than battling against it, Spock added to it, layering it with his own anger. As the redoubled emotions grew into a rage, he redirected it to his attacker.

The Reman flinched, cocking his head to one side for a second. Then he launched himself forward, his body uncoiling as though released from great pressure. He came at Spock fast, lifting his hands before him as he closed the gap.

Spock remained motionless, calculating that he would have but one chance to save himself. He judged the speed at which the Reman moved, the man’s long gait devouring the distance between then, and still Spock waited. He watched the long, bony fingers his assailant clearly meant to wrap around his neck.

Finally, with the tips of the Reman’s curved fingernails nearly upon him, Spock moved. He threw himself backward onto the ground, simultaneously pulling his knees in toward his body. The pain emanating from his midsection swelled to almost unimaginable proportions, and his vision began to cloud at the margins. Still, he willed himself not to stop.

Unable to halt his momentum, the Reman overbalanced, but as he fell forward, his fingers found their target and encircled Spock’s throat. Spock felt the touch of his assailant’s cold, clammy hands on his neck, along with the weight of the Reman’s body descending atop him. Their gazes met at close range, their faces mere centimeters apart.

Spock thrust his legs upward. His feet connected with the Reman’s hips, causing a massive jolt of agony to rip like lightning through the center of Spock’s body. But the action continued his attacker’s momentum, and the Reman hurtled over and past him.

Spock felt his assailant’s hands jerk free from around his throat, then heard a meaty crunch as the Reman’s head struck the near side of the tunnel. Under normal circumstances, Spock would have found the sound repugnant, but in this case, it proved satisfying, and a cause for hope. The Reman slumped to the ground, his right boot coming down hard on Spock’s face. Spock felt the cartilage of his nose splinter and blood spurt from his nostrils.

He waited, not to learn whether or not he had incapacitated his attacker, but because he could do nothing else. He felt enclosed within his pain, unable to escape its un-relenting clutches. If the Reman recovered and resumed his assault, there would be no struggle.

For minutes, both combatants remained still. Gradually, Spock focused on the frayed whispers of his own breathing. As best he could in his depleted condition, he raised his mental defenses and reestablished control of his emotions. He sought to rein in his pain, but met with only limited success.

When at last he felt capable, Spock pushed himself up from the tunnel floor. Dirt clung to the blood on his hands and clothing. Beside him, the Reman did not move.

Once he’d stood up fully, Spock applied pressure to his wound. It still bled, and would until he either received medical treatment, or perished. He possessed no means of sending for assistance. Not long ago, the praetor had sent capital security forces into the tunnels beneath the city in search of the Reunification Movement. Several of Spock’s comrades had been lost, tracked down via their own communicators. As a result, those in the Ki Baratan cell had agreed in the short term to cease carrying the devices.

Spock regarded the man who had attacked him. Half-covered by shadows, the Reman lay prone, one arm bent awkwardly beneath him. A dark pool had formed by his head. Though the movements of his chest seemed shallow, he continued to breathe.

Spock considered ending the Reman’s life—via talshaya, or by taking a rock to his head, or simply by smothering him. Beyond having to answer the moral questions raised by such a choice, Spock didn’t believe he currently possessed the strength to do so. Instead, he followed the lone beam of light in the tunnel to its source and retrieved his handheld beacon. Then he resumed his trek to the present location of his Reunification cell.

Spock had walked nearly half a kilometer before he collapsed, unconscious, to the ground.

© 2011 CBS Studios Inc

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