“Inconceivable!” Mudd shouted as he spied the Figure in Black running across the plateau. He turned to Scotty and James. “Give him to me, and catch up with us.”
Scotty frowned. “What do you expect me to do?”
“Finish him your way!” Mudd yelled, keeping his phaser trained on James.
“My way?” Scotty said, upset. “You know, I’m an engineer, not a killer for hire. I dinnae sign up for this.”
“Just hide behind one of those rocks with your phaser,” Mudd growled. “In a few minutes he will come running by, and then SHOOT HIM!” And with that, he grabbed James by the arm and took off running.
“My way is not very sportsmanlike,” Scotty muttered to himself, crouching behind one of the boulders. When the Figure in Black ran by, Scotty aimed for a spot just above the Figure’s head. The Vulcan stopped.
“I would like to point out here,” Scotty said, when the figure turned to him, “that I am an excellent shot and I didnae need to miss.”
The Figure in Black nodded. “I believe that statement is correct. I inquire as to what will happen next.”
“We face each other as God intended,” Scotty said. “No tricks, no weapons, skill against skill alone.”
“I must warn you, I have the superior biology, and you will be bested,” the Vulcan warned. “Hand to hand combat with me would be most illogical.”
Scotty raised his phaser again. “I could just kill ye now, if that would suit ye.”
The Figure in Black merely shook his head. “I accept your terms.”
The each took their stances and slowly circled around each other.
“I infer you are skilled in Terran wrestling,” the Figure in Black commented.
“Yeah,” Scotty said. “Did a little while at the Academy, before I became part of Delta Vega’s research post rejects. They didnae have much in the way of competitive sports, so this is a real treat.”
“You were also stationed in Delta Vega?”
“Stationed? No. Marooned, yes. Apparently one can be a genius engineer, the toast of transwarp theororists, but if ye misplace a beagle, ye are sent packing to the freezing armpit of the universe,” Scotty grumbled.
“How illogical,” the Figure in Black said, making Scotty grin and step out a little from his defensive stance.
“Why are you wearing a mask?” Scotty asked, neither one making a move to attack yet. “Is it a fashion statement, or were you burned by acid or something?”
“Negative,” the figure said, and did not elaborate.
“I think I could look good in a mask,” Scotty mused, leaning to his left a little. The figure adjusted his stance. “I imagine I would look dashing and mysterious.”
“Negative,” other said again, and lunged.
It was a brief fight. The Figure in Black was not exaggerating when he claimed the superior biology. Scotty was able to land one swift blow onto the other’s chest, but it was ineffective. The last thing the Engineer felt was a hand at his neck, and the world went dark.
Commander in Chief Alexander Marcus was alone in his office when he received a message from his most trusted soldier.
“A Klingon warbird has abducted Captain Kirk,” a silky voice said. “An encoded distress signal from the vessel was detected was on a planet in Federation space.”
“A distress signal?”
“Do you think this could be a trap?” the other man asked.
“I always think everything could be a trap... which is why I am still alive. Marcus out.”
He stood up from his desk and sent word that we would be arriving on the Vengeance shortly.
“INCONCEIVABLE” Mudd exclaimed yet again, watching the Figure in Black emerge from the boulders and take off at a sprint in their direction.
“You know, I don’t think that word means what you think it means,” James taunted, trying not to be too obvious about watching the phaser trained on him.
“You, sit,” Mudd barked, gesturing to a rock with said phaser and handing James a strip of fabric from the medkit in his pack. “Here, wrap this around your eyes. Move from that rock, and I will shoot you.”
James took the makeshift blindfold and did as he was told.
The Figure in Black approached, and Mudd pointed the phaser at James. “If you don't wish him dead, you will stand back. I infer you wish to kidnap what I have rightfully stolen.”
“You infer correctly,” the Figure in Black said. “Could an arrangement be made?”
“No,” Mudd huffed. “Take another step, and I will vaporize every cell in his body.”
“It appears we are at an impasse.”
“I’m afraid so. I am no opponent for a physical battle,” Mudd stated, “but you are no match for my wits.”
The Figure in Black tilted his head slightly. “Would you be amenable to a battle of the minds?”
Mudd narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. “To the death? For the Captain?” The figure nodded. “I accept,” Mudd replied and set his phaser on the ground and the Figure in Black did the same. Mudd took a seat on a small boulder and the other took a seat on a log, facing the kidnapper.
“I have two vials,” The Figure in Black said, pulling two glass tubes from his belt. “One contains a deadly poison to all humanoids, native to Fereginar. The other is merely a nutritive supplement. They look identical in every way.” He gestured for Mudd to hand him medkit supplies used to blindfold James and took out two hyposprays. The Figure in Black turned away from Mudd, and then turned back, handing his opponent one of the hyposprays.
“Your test is to determine which of us has the hypospray of poison. It ends when you decide and we both inject ourselves. We will find out who is right... and who is dead.”
Mudd chucked. “But it's so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own hypospray or his enemy's? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own hypospray, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the hypospray in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the hypospray in front of me.”
The Figure in Black merely nodded. “So you have made your decision?”
“Not remotely! Because this poison comes from Ferenginar, you must have visited that planet, and as everyone knows, and Ferengi value treachery for monetary gain and are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the hypospray in front of you.
“Your logic is most astounding,” the figure said dryly.
“Wait until I get going!” Mudd roared, pleased with himself. “Where was I?”
“Ferenginar,” James supplied, still sitting quietly two paces away, blindfolded.
“Yes, Ferenginar. You informed me of the origin of this poison, and must have known I am a well traveled man and have traded with the Ferengi, so I can clearly not choose the hypospray in front of me. You’ve demonstrated superior strength and stamina, so you could've put the poison in your own hypospray, trusting on your strength to save you, so I can clearly not choose the hypospray in front of you. But, I suspect by your biology you are of one of the Vulanoid species, who are all spacefaring and learned, and in studying you must have discovered all humanoids mortal, so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible, so I can clearly not choose the hypospray in front of me.”
“If this is an attempt to elicit an emotional response, I must inform you that you will not succeed,” the Figure in Black said.
“But it HAS worked!” Mudd declared in a manic voice. “You’ve given everything away! I know where the poison is!”
“Then make your choice,” the figure prompted.
“I will, and I choose-- What do you think you are doing?”
And before Figure in Black could turn around, a beam of light pierced Mudd in his solar plexus, sending him to the ground.
“I hope your phaser was set on stun,” James said, ripping the blindfold off his eyes. “I am not sure how much Starfleet paperwork is involved if I were to kill my kidnapper.”
The Figure in Black stared at the Captain, surprised. “You shot him while blindfolded.”
“Yeah,” James said, picking up Mudd’s phaser and stuffing the med kit back into the pack. “He just blindfolded me, he didn’t shackle me in a pit. I thought that’s why you left your phaser so close to me, for me to shoot him. What, did you want to risk get poisoned?”
“I would not have suffered any ill effects,” the Figure in Black said, accepting his own phaser. “I have spent the last few years becoming immune to all Ferengi poisons.”
With a swift move that James couldn’t track, the Figure in Black deftly relieved James of his own phaser, leaving him without a weapon. “I mean you no harm, but do not trust you to not use that weapon against me,” the Figure in Black said evenly.
“Who are you?” James asked suspiciously.
“I am no one to be trifled with. That is all you ever need know. I ask that you follow me to safety.”
Not having much of a choice, stranded on an unknown planet with no means to contact Starfleet at the moment, Jim kept pace next to the mysterious Figure in Black.
Admiral Marcus stared at the viewscreen, centered on the M class planet. One of the bridge crew brought up an enhanced image of the wreckage of the Klingon vessel.
“Captain Kirk and his kidnappers were alive when he left,” Marcus mused aloud. “If Kirk is otherwise when I find him, I shall be very put out.”
The Figure in Black slowed down is grueling pace, and then halted near a ledge overlooking a ravine, allowing James to catch his breath. Jim leaned against a tree, panting and staring at his new companion. “How do I know that you are leading me to safety and not just another kidnapper hoping to cash in on Mudd’s original job?”
“You do not know,” the Figure in Black said shortly, unwilling or unable to give assurance.
“You are carrying a comm?” James asked. The other nodded. “And you are not using it because...” The figure did not answer, and leaving James to infer the worst.
“If you could just contact Starfleet, whatever ransom you ask, you’ll get it. You have my word.”
“I cannot think of any organization I can trust less than Starfleet,” the Figure in Black replied, distaste somehow evident is his neutral tone.
“So you hate Starfleet. You are Romulan, aren’t you?” No answer came. “Mudd was right, you are Vulcanoid, at least. Well, I gave you a chance. The Federation has friends in every corner of this quadrant. They will track that Klingon warbird, find me, and find you.”
“It is a possibility. However, I captain a ship that is highly advanced. When we rendezvous with my vessel, I doubt Starfleet will be able to track your whereabouts.”
“Out of the frying pan and into the fire,” James muttered. The Figure in Black gave him a quizzical look, much like-- and James immediately cut that thought off. Too painful.
“What does the Romulan Empire want with a Starfleet captain?” Jim asked.
“I do not speak for the Romulan Empire,” the Figure in Black said. “We stand apart.”
We stand apart.
James knew exactly where he had heard that line before.
“You,” he gasped, as if he has the wind knocked out of him by a physical blow. “You captain the Narada.”
The Figure in Black- Nero- nodded solemnly, as if honored by the recognition. Before James realized what he was doing, his wrists were held tight, preventing the captain from attacking.
“You will not win in a physical altercation with me,” Nero murmured, hot breath on James’s face. James stared into his eyes of Nero and saw Spock’s eyes. It always hurt to imagine them in the eyes of strangers, it hurt more to see them in the eyes of Spock’s murderer.
“You killed him,” he growled, still struggling, his hands still held in Nero’s viselike grip. He felt like a petulant child, but he was stuck in his blind rage.
“The Narada is responsible for the deaths of many beings,” Nero said calmly. “I do not know of whom you speak.”
“He was mine." Mine forever. He was coming for me. We were to bond. We were going to discover the universe together, side by side. Forever. All of this unsaid, because it was too precious, too special for the ears of this criminal.
“You are Human,” Nero said. “If you have lost one lover, it stands to reason you have found another.”
“You know nothing of the pain you’ve caused. The pain I will visit upon you,” he spat, fire burning in his veins.
“To seek vengeance for someone long gone is illogical, it will do nothing to aid your current situation,” Nero replied, unmoved or uncaring of Jim’s impotent rage.
“Let’s find out,” James hissed, leaning back, forcing Nero’s balance to shift. A split second later James delivered a flying kick to Nero’s chest, sending him stumbling backwards toward the ravine. Nero had a half a foothold on the ledge, arms trying to grasp at air. He looked at James, a moment of panic in his eyes.