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[2007: MAR-APR] The Choice


Nemitor
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The Choice

By Nemitor Atimen

Some say deceit is in our blood. The Romulans would say so, so would the Klingons. However, we could say the same thing about them. All people, all species, have lied before. Even Vulcans, with their logic, and the Borg, with their collective mind, all have lied to someone, at some time. Its part of free will, perhaps even the soul – the part of every sentient being that allows them to make choices. This choice is key, and this free will defines us to the core. It is this free will that gives us the chance to experience hate, love, fear, and joy.

----

The joys of retirement. Captain Johnson relaxed in his lounge chair in his ready room. His head was tilted backwards, his eyes staring at the ceiling. A smile was wide across his face, his gray beard following suit. As he stretched his arms, he brought them back down and they skimmed his balding scalp. He was getting old – and this was his last mission – to return to Alpha Centauri and retire. He had been waiting for years for this, and now that it had come, joy had overwhelmed him. No more missions, no more admirals, no more Starfleet. Not that he didn't like Starfleet, just he liked it more before it was run by a bunch of bumbling idiots. Idiots who didn't listen to him when he warned them – idiots who couldn't decide who was the best officer to promote if their lives depended on it. His smile reversed into a frown as he thought about how many mistakes they had made. Hmph. Too late now...

“Captain Johnson to the Bridge.” his first officer's voice filled the room. Sighing, he knew he wasn't done with this job yet. As the door opened, he turned around and looked at the ready room – bits and pieces of memories scattered in material form throughout the room – he needed to pack.

“Captain on the Bridge!” That was his science officer – Lt. Stein. He got along well with Johnson, even though he was one of the newer arrivals. Johnson saw a bright future for Stein, if he ever loosened up a bit. That guy followed protocol to the letter, unless he was off duty – but even then he still was quite uptight.

“Thank you Lt.” Johnson moved to take the seat that his first officer just moved out of. As Johnson got closer to the seat, the first officer's eyes only darted to the side quickly, still staring at the view screen. Staring down at his officer, Johnson was getting annoyed. Shuddering slightly, the first officer rose, and apologized himself while standing up, and took his seat to the right.

“Is everything alright Commander Ole?” Johnson noticed similar occurrences over the last few weeks... he would have to send the Commander to Starfleet medical if it didn't stop before they arrived.

“Yes, Sir, I'm fine. I was just thinking. Its unimportant.” there was a pause, and Johnson considered removing him from active duty... but he scratched the idea – he needed is First Officer, and Ole was still capable of performing his duties. “Sir, we picked up a distress signal from an unidentified ship three light years away from our current position. I have ordered an intercept course.”

“Uh, I just can't have my retirement yet, can I. Put the distress signal on.”

The screen flashed a few times, and a very fuzzy image of a woman was shown on screen.

“Warni...*static* Intercepted... *static*... Severe.. damage to... *static* warp core...*static* sabotage... *static* breach... imminent. *static* Request... assistance.” The screen flickered once more before going black.

There was a pause as everyone seemed to hold their breath. “Current velocity?”

“Warp 8.5”

“Increase speed to warp 9.7” the little ship could take the stress, and not only did he want to help these people, but he wanted to finally retire. Sighing, he raised his hands to stretch, and looked at the ceiling of the small bridge. He hoped this would be a simple issue, and began to day dream about his house on Alpha Centauri. He hadn't been there in years, but he hired someone to fix it up. It was an old house, built a few years after the system was colonized. Made out of wood, it was designed to be a symbol of old Earth civilization, and that was exactly why he liked it. It reminded him about why he was here, and why humans were here in space at all.

“Sir, we are entering sensor range.”

“On Screen.”

The screen flickered, and a small highly damaged freighter appeared on screen. The Federation design was obvious, as was the immense damage to the hull – which appeared to have come from the inside out.

“Life signs?” Stein froze for a second as he tapped the console.

“Two humanoid life signs on the freighter.” More tapping came from Stein's console, “Sir, the core is fluctuating.”

“Bring us to transporter range. Prepare to lower shields and beam them over.”

“We're receiving a communication burst from the freighter – it appears to be encrypted data” Upon hearing this, Ole's eyes grew wide before the right one twitched as he stared at Stein. The Captain didn't notice, his own gaze was focused on the scene in front of him. Ole suddenly spoke his voice rasp.

“Send the communication burst to my console immediately, do not attempt to decrypt the data.” Stein froze before nodding, and Johnson looked at his first officer with confusion.

“Commander?”

Ole didn't shift his gaze, and ignored his superior officer completely, “We are entering transporter range.”

“Prepare to lower shields and beam them over on my mark.” Johnson began counting down as he stared at the damaged freighter. “Lower shields, beam them over.”

Without warning, Stein yelled. “Core breach on the freighter!”

“Shields up!” The screen and the lights flashed as the ship was jolted to the side. Johnson held onto his chair for dear life as he saw Stein fly forward and be tossed around like a rag doll. The shaking slowed to a stop as the lights returned to normal.

“Damage Report!”

“Uh... Severe damage to the forward shields, conduit overload on deck 4, injuries throughout the ship, and some gel packs blew out.” Stein had pulled himself up, and Ole tapped the console like a mad man. Both seemed mostly uninjured, but Stein had a small gash on his forehead, which was bleeding.

“Lieutenant, report to sickbay immediately, and get that fixed. Commander, record a log of the events, and resume our original course. I'll be in my ready room.”

Once in the ready room, Johnson fell into his chair, his head in his hands. His wrinkled hands scratched his bald head as he thought. Something was not right, he just didn't know what. Not only did Ole act very strangely, but the ship exploded right after their shields dropped. And that encrypted packet of information... Something was not right. He decided to continue his plans and send Ole to Starfleet Psychiatry for mental evaluation. Next time Ole acted strangely, he would relive him of command – he can't have any problems, especially on his last mission.

“Captain to the Bridge.”

Johnson stood and went over to the door, straightening (what was left) of his hair. Entering the bridge, he saw Stein was still there, but his gash had stopped bleeding.

“Lieutenant, I ordered you to Sickbay.”

“Sorry Sir, but the turbolifts are not responding.” Johnson walked toward the lift, and the door did not open. He turned around and looked at Stein. His gaze shifted as he looked at Ole, still tapping like crazy on his console.

“Commander Ole – What are you currently working on?”

The commander froze and his eyes darted from left to right. A small bead of sweat fell from his temple, sliding down his face.

“Getting the turbolift online Sir. I believe it to be a computer malfunction caused by the freighter's core breach.”

Johnson stared at him as he debated what to do.

“Very well. Carry on.” He turned to face the Lt. who was now tapping away at the console himself.

“Captain, we have some problems. Internal communications are offline, all turbolifts are offline, and doors are not responding throughout the ship.”

“What?! Drop out of warp and fix these problems! Call up engineering immediately – get those lazy bums working!” Anger surged through the Captain's voice. Something was definitely not right. “I'll be in my ready room”

Stein opened his mouth and began to argue, but Johnson was already gone. Ole was still tapping away.

---

Back in his ready room Johnson fell into his chair to think. Communications, doors, and turbolifts. It was as if someone was trying to stop communication and movement... He froze as he turned on his console and brought up the distress signal.

“*static* warp core...*static* sabotage... *static* breach... imminent. *static*” Johnson listened to it once more before rewinding and replaying it again.

“*static* sabotage... *static*”

Again...

“*static* sabotage... *static*”

His mind jolted, and his body jolted upright with it. Reaching under his desk, he grabbed a phaser and jogging as fast as his old legs could take him, headed to the bridge. It was time to stop this.

Stein looked confused at the way Johnson entered, with his face red and anger obvious, phaser drawn.

“Captain Johnson?”

Johnson ignored him as he stood right next to Ole, his phaser pointed at the man, his hands now in the air.

“Commander Ole – I am hereby relieving you of duty and detaining you under the charge of conspiracy against the Federation. Lieutenant Stein - “ Johnson tossed the phaser to the Lieutenant as he led Ole to the side of the bridge. “If the Commander moves, shoot him.”

“Captain, what is going on?”

“Don't play dumb Stein!” Ole was yelling at the lieutenant now, his face distorted in anger and his hands clenched into fists.

“Calm down, Commander.”

“You can't get away with this Stein! Captain - Stein is a...” a quick line of light flew toward the Commander, and a yell echoed through the deck. The Captain kneeled down and felt for a pulse... there was none.

“Lieutenant! You had it set to kill?” He turned his head to face Stein, and his face went pale in shock. The phaser was now pointed at him.

“Lieutenant Stein, I order you to stand down.”

“I can't do that... Sir.” hatred echoed through is voice as he used the title, his eyes narrowed into slits. “The Praetor would be quite disappointed with me.”

“Praetor?! What the hell are you talking about?”

“This ship is the catalyst – why do you think I was assigned here originally? Was it because it was a good position, and I was a good officer? Ha! No! It was because you are the captain. You, Johnson, live at Alpha Centauri, and are the oldest Captain in the fleet. We knew retirement would come soon, and then we would strike.”

Johnson was now on the ground, his back to the wall. The phaser was pointed at his head as fear filled his mind.

“Do you still not understand? This ship will be brought to Earth under the guise of you wanting to visit the Admirals once more before your retirement. We are being trailed by thirteen Romulan war birds, their emissions are being disguised by the plasma and other particles being emitted by the 'damage' to this ship. Once we enter the system, Earth will be hit without warning, and the Federation will be severely weakened – enough for a full invasion from the Neutral zone.”

Johnson understood now... Ole was trying to protect him and the Federation. Ole knew that telling Johnson directly would only get him sent to the brig – so he tried heading off Stein whenever possible. He just couldn't hide what he was going well enough...

“Why am I not dead?”

“Why? Quite simply, the Federation will not believe your science officer if he tells them you want to visit Earth. They would send a ship to rendezvous, and we would be discovered. We need you to tell Earth that you will be coming, and that the ship was damaged.”

“If I don't?”

“Then you will die a most painful death.” Stein tapped a few buttons, and the Federation insignia displayed on the view screen. “Get in your chair.”

Johnson hobbled over and sat in his chair. He rubbed his bald head, a hundred million thoughts flooding his mind. All the lies... all the pain... what has happened, and what will come. The screen flashed and an Admiral was on the screen. Johnson turned to look at Stein before looking back. It was the choice – the choice between right and wrong – survival and death – the truth or the lie.

Johnson opened his mouth... to speak the truth.

Edited by Nemitor
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