Picard’s Choice chapter 2

Sol System

32.34 million km from Mars

The Enterprise’s shields easily warded off the photon torpedoes shot off by the two fighter ships. The other fighters maintained formation while avoiding the ship’s deflector shields.

“No effect on the shields,” Worf said of the fighters’ shots. “Fighters dropping back into formation, flying VERY close to our shields.”

“How close?” asked Picard.

“Sixty meters, sir.”

“Captain. The Independence is charging up its own weapons,” Data interjected. “Their phasers are fully powered, their photon torpedos as well…Captain, they are opening what can only be described as missile bays.”

“Missiles? Photons?” Riker asked.

“No, Commander. Titatium hulls, sustainer engines, all armed with nuclear warheads.”

Picard and Riker shot each other a look of bewilderment. “NUCLEAR weapons, Data?” Riker asked.

“Indeed. Twenty such missiles. All armed, and ready for use…sensors now indicate the Independence has raised her deflector shields.”

“Captain. We are being hailed,” Worf said. “Audio only.”

Picard briefly pondered whether to take Q’s advice and run or respond to the hail. He looked over at Q, who instantly snapped out of his meditative trance and locked eyes with the captain while shaking his head.

“Mr. Worf, we need those fighters away from the ship,” Picard said. “Ensign Crusher, begin plotting a course for Earth. Once those fighters are at an appropriate distance, we leave.”

The Enterprise began firing a series photon torpedoes at the fighters, which moved to avoid being hit. That put them 60 to 110 meters off the Enterprise’s deflector shields — far enough for the Federation starship to go to warp.

“Warp One, heading for Earth,” Ensign Crusher said. “Independence is not in pursuit.”

Q vanished and reappeared in front of Picard’s chair. “Wise choice, Jean-Luc. Now, once you get to Earth, you’ll need–”

“We will arrive at Earth and contact the local Starfleet, or its equivalent,” Picard replied. “Although my preference is to avoid contact altogether, the situation we find ourselves in warrants a different approach.”

“I have an even better idea, mon capitiane. The slingshot effect! You’re going back in time!”

“I beg your pardon?”

Q clasped his hands together and spread them apart, revealing a holographic representation of the Enterprise flying past Earth and its moon. The ship increased speed as it headed towards the sun then broke away close to solar orbit. It then broke through the time barrier as represented by the ship disappearing on one side of the sun and reappearing on the other side.

“If Kirk could do this in a century-old Klingon vessel so can you,” Q said to Picard, poking him in the chest.

Picard bristled at Q’s gesture and sidestepped him. “Mr. Crusher. Set course for Earth at Warp point zero five.” The bridge shook briefly and the stars on the viewer began streaking by as the red alert klaxions sounded.

By the time Data and Worf figured out what had happened the Enterprise was in Earth orbit and not by any means alone.

The Enterprise appeared in the vicinity of tens of thousands of military vessels surrounding the planet, the moon and numerous orbiting stations. Within seconds, dozens had broken rank on an intercept course towards the Federation ship.

“You wanted to go to Earth, Jean-Luc,” Q said into the captain’s ear with a whisper that ended in a shout. “Well…HEEEERREEE’S EAAARRRTTTHHH!”

“Q. Stand aside and do not make our situation any worse,” Picard said, trying to keep his irritation at the being in check.

“Au contraire, mon capitiane. I am here to make sure you get out alive.”

Picard turned away from Q. “Mr. Worf, just what have we been sent into?”

“Captain. Sensors indicate 33,118 vessels of varying sizes, ranging from communications satellites to warp-capable warships, four of which have closed within 50 kilometers of our position.”

Data and Worf explained the use of warp drive, phaser and photon weapons, and transporter technology on the alternate Earth’s ships was similar to current Federation technology from the Enterprise’s own reality. On the other hand, their design seemed derivative from military, civilian and space vessels of Earth’s 20th, 21st and 22nd centuries.

Picard’s next intention was to hail the vessels nearest the Enterprise, as none of them had made any attempt to contact his ship, nor to make any moves to attack.

“I presume none of these ships represent a unified Earth government nor a Federation-type organization?” Picard asked Data.

“That is a logical assumption,” replied Data as Q leered over his shoulder. “Visual scans of the ships closest to our location show political and naval flags of several nation-states we know to be members of United Earth in our reality’s time period.”

“Then we should send greetings in multiple languages, beginning with the ones we picked up when we were near Mars,” Picard said. “Go to yellow alert. Send–”

Picard was interrupted by a bright flash of light, and the appearance a moment later of Q holding a red octagon-shaped sign with the word STOP written in white.

“Mon ami. You can look at the animals but don’t talk to them!” Q said, pointing at the sign which he then shoved in his face. Picard swat it away, then held up a hand to Riker and Worf before getting right in Q’s face.

“Either send my ship back to its proper reality and time or stand aside so my crew and I can perform our duties,” Picard said deliberately, to Q’s amusement.

“Mon capitiane. I’d like to watch you try to talk your way out of this one,” Q replied. “But you already look stressed and I don’t want to do THAT to you–”

“How considerate of you, Q,” Riker deadpanned. “You’re overflowing with the milk of human kindness.”

“Human? You wound me, beardy. Jean-Luc, there is no shame in running away–”

“We will do NO such thing, Q! Mr. Worf, send greetings on all open channels but keep the shields raised.”

“Aye sir,” Worf said.

Moments later, Data noticed an anomaly on his console which very quickly caused him to look up at Q, which didn’t escape Picard’s nor Riker’s notice.

“What are you doing now,” Picard said to the smirking Q.

“Satisfying your curiosity about this place AND giving you a push in the right direction,” replied Q.

The ship’s computer began downloading the entire data bank of one of the Earth ships, the French carrier Tonnerre just as the Tonnerre began charging its own weapons. Q then vanished and reappeared in front of the viewscreen, levitating in the lotus position.

“Q! Q!” Picard exhaled in frustration as the petulant being ignored him. “Mr. Data just what did HE put into our databanks?”

Data took a few moments to review the download and determined Q not only copied every piece of information about the Tonnerre but all historical records from her databanks.

“None of the ships are responding to our hails,” Worf added. “The…Tonnerre has raised her shields and preparing her weapons. Five other ships in the vicinity are doing the same.”

“Shields up, go to red alert,” Riker said, as the bridge dimmed and the klaxions sounded.

“Hold your fire, Mr. Worf, until I give the signal,” Picard said. “Hail the Tonnerre.”

“Sir. The Tonnerre is responding. Audio only.”

“On speakers.”

Picard heard himself speak.

“Pour le vaisseau alien. Je suis l’amiral Jean-Luc Picard du transporteur spatial Marine Nationale Tonnerre, représentant la République huitième de la France. Ce navire est associé avec les forces alliées de la Terre. Nous exigeons que vous baissez vos boucliers et se préparer à être montés à bord.”

Picard turned to Riker, then to Troi. “Apparently, I have a counterpart in this universe,” the captain said, “who wants us to prepare to be boarded. Opinions.”

“I sense that ship and her captain is on edge, as are her sister ships,” Troi said. “They’re prepared for war and see us as a hostile force. Talking with them won’t bear any fruit and in fact we would do well to leave.”

“See? See? SEE?” Q shouted, snapping his head upwards. “This is EXACTLY what I’ve been trying to get through that stubborn bald head of yours.”

“SILENCE!” Picard bellowed as Q returned to his meditative state. “Commander.”

“I have to agree with Counselor Troi. We need to get some space between ourselves and that fleet, and fast.”

“Very well, Number One. Mr. Crusher, find a place within this system that’s empty or close to it and set a course–”

Q vanished and reappeared, this time sitting in Picard’s command chair. “I can help,” Q replied, and the viewscreen again showed stars rapidly streaking past until the Enterprise came to a stop. Glaring at Q, Picard told Data to ascertain the ship’s location: it was in Earth’s orbital plane on the opposite side of the sun.

“Sensors indicate no vessels nor probes of any kind within 1.66 astronomical units,” Data said. “Long-range sensors do indicate ships within the orbits of Venus and Mercury, none of which are currently headed to our position.”

That gave the Enterprise and her crew a brief period in which to regroup, because it wouldn’t be long before the Earth forces found their way to the starship’s location.

Picard wasn’t about to waste the opportunity to address Q, and he wanted answers.

“Answers? I’ve been helping you FIND these answers, Jean-Luc,” Q said as he got up from Picard’s chair and walked back to the viewscreen. “You’re not very grateful for my assistance, however, and I COULD leave you here to your own devices. But I’ve decided to stay, because I’d miss you.”

“Did you put us here?” Picard said. “Is this one of your games?”

Q threw his arms up in mock frustration. “GAMES? I saved your life, Picard, and your crew and your ship. Do you truly want to know where you are?”

Picard stood silently, arms folded.

“Your entire universe has changed, mon capitiane. This IS your universe. What WILL you do now?”

Q vanished and, to the chagrin of almost everyone on the bridge, reappeared moments later sitting in Picard’s chair, displacing the captain. As Worf drew his phaser and Riker demanded to know where the captain was, Picard stormed out of his ready room. Picard’s anger was obvious, but he determined he would not give Q the satisfaction of losing his temper.

“Get out of my chair,” Picard said, evenly and firmly. “NOW.”

Q frowned but got up, turned around a few meters in front of Picard and sat on the floor with his legs crossed underneath himself.

“Are there any ships, military or otherwise, in our vicinity?” Picard said to Data.

“No, Captain. Long-range scanners do show 563 ships in the orbit of Venus, as well as 10,515 relay and listening stations between us and Venus.”

“We don’t have that many relay stations in this region of the solar system in our timeline,” Riker said, as Q looked at him while stroking his chin. “Captain, if we indeed have a copy of that Earth ship’s records, now may the best time to learn about this timeline.”

As Riker finished speaking, he, Picard and Troi flinched at the flash of light where Q had sat.

Q reappeared at one of the consoles behind tactical and began accessing the copied records from the Tonnerre. Worf turned and ran towards Q intending to physically remove him from the console. However, the security chief hit an invisible force field; the impact knocked him backwards into the tactical console.

“Lieutenant Worf! Stand down!” Picard shouted, and the Klingon complied. The Klingon wanted to grab Q and remove him from the console but knew — as did Picard — that bouncing off the force field was useless.

“Do I have to do EVERYTHING around here?” Q said, hands on his hips as he turned to Picard.

“Mr. Data. Scan historical records from the ship, looking for likely points of divergences from our timeline, then summarize this Earth’s history from the point of divergence or divergences,” Picard said.

“Aye, sir,” Data replied. He had the results almost a minute later, unfazed by Q’s appearance and subsequent peering over the android’s shoulder.

When Q vanished and reappeared in an early 21st-century black suit, everyone else dismissed it as more of the being’s pedantics. Data turned from his console and addressed Picard.

“Captain, there are dozens of historical anomalies dating back to this timeline’s 19th century. However, the point of divergence most likely is the absence of the Eugenics Wars–”

“Noooo iiiittt ISN’T,” Q interrupted, speaking in a sing-song voice.

“SILENCE, Q!” yelled Picard. Q feigned hurt feelings at the outburst, and again when his console went dark at Riker’s order.

Picard then told Data to resume his report. The Eugenics Wars never occurred, although Khan Noonien Singh did spearhead the overthrow of the Indian government in 1992. Khan’s empire never grew beyond the borders of India, and the superman and his superhuman allies were killed a year later. Data stopped speaking after Q reappeared in a flash of light between he and Wesley Crusher.

“Oh, the suspense is killing me, Data!” Q interjected. “Tell them about CAITLIN TODD!”

“Who is Caitlin Todd?” Riker said. “Is this person important or is this a red herring?”

As Q produced a red herring fish, Troi spoke up. “I do not believe Q is deceiving us,” she said as Riker was hit in the chest with the fish. “Despite his childish actions, I sense he thinks this person is THE reason the timeline has been drastically affected.”

Riker reached down to pick up the fish flopping at his feet only for it to disappear at the snap of Q’s finger. “I’d like to hear more about the overall changes and judge for myself,” Riker said as Q frowned.

Picard agreed with Riker and told Data to continue.

The United States became the sole world superpower after the fall of the Soviet Union and maintained that distinction for decades. China caught up to the Americans in the 2030s and the rivalry between the two nations intensified. Unlike the old timeline, war between East and West wouldn’t occur until the late 21st century.

The dawn of the 22nd century witnessed China taking its place as the sole world superpower. The U.S. took an isolationist stance while rebuilding its economy while five nations — Poland, India, Brazil, Africa and the Islamic Confederation — rose to challenge the Chinese. By century’s end, the Americans had returned to global prominence, along with a resurgent U.K. and France, while Africa split into two nation-states.

This was the century that saw Earth’s nations venture out into the Alpha and Beta quadrants, initially to Alpha Centauri and Vulcan. It also saw Earth’s nations prevail in the First Romulan War.

The 23rd century saw the Fourth World War being fought mainly off Earth and a newly-restructured League of Nations brokering peace between India and the African Alliance. The Klingon Empire covertly built influence in Russia and Nationalist China and nearly sparked a fifth world war.

The 24th century witnessed peace between Earth’s nations and the Klingons after an American ship sacrificed itself defending a Klingon outpost against Romulan aggressors. It also saw Earth’s powers on equal footing and working together as one — not for global unity’s sake, but to defend themselves against a joint Romulan-Dominion-Cardassian assault.

“No Borg. Research into genetic engineering continuing at a tempered pace. No United Earth,” mused Riker.

“No Federation,” added Picard. “So many questions. Vulcan’s interests on Earth despite Earth’s refusal to unite. The continued prominence of religion along with its worst elements. A warp-capable civilization, socially progressive and yet mired in centuries-old dogmatism.”

Q yawned, loudly.

“They’ve managed to expand out into the Alpha Quadrant but they’re somewhat xenophobic,” Troi said. “They’re distrustful of other species.”

“That would explain their unwillingness to participate in a Federation-type entity that would benefit their world,” Picard said. “Alien life isn’t a cause for exploration and learning; instead it is a cause for isolationism and warfare.”

Q feigned falling asleep and faux-snored VERY loudly, enough to incite a snarl by Worf.

“Do you have something substantial to add to this discussion?” Picard snapped.

With a stretch and another loud yawn, Q folded his arms and stood impatiently.

“The captain asked you a question!” Riker barked.

“You wound me, both of you! And yet you miss the point.”

“The point?” Riker replied. “What point?”

Q spread his arms and a holographic representation of a battle over Earth appeared before him. “Earth may win this battle but WILL lose the war, and the Cardassians will take over this sector. Decades from now, when the Borg finally arrive, the collective won’t meet a peaceful and enlightened Federation. It’ll engage a warlike alliance which will fight for its survival. Eventually within two centuries, the Borg will assimilate all of the Alpha and Beta quadrants.”

The holographic image of a Borgified Earth hung in front of the viewscreen. “YOU have the power to prevent this, Captain. And you don’t have to violate your precious principles to do it.”

“And YOU could help us,” Riker said, as Q cocked his head and mimicked being in deep thought.

Picard reached the limit of his patience with Q and the captain’s response shocked almost everyone else on the bridge.
“I HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF YOUR ANTICS! NOW GET OFF MY BRIDGE AND OFF MY SHIP!”

Even with Q as the antagonist, Picard’s scream was out of character; the captain recognized that himself the moment he finished. Picard wasn’t surprised at all to see Q shaking his head, but he was surprised as to the reason why.

“I can’t,” Q explained. “Jean-Luc, I truly need your help.”

Before Picard could demand an explanation, Worf noted activity on the sensors at tactical. “Captain. Long-range scans show ships enroute to our position…approaching from Venus and Mercury at Warp 5.”

“Military,” Riker said.

“Affirmative, Commander,” Data said. “They will arrive in 9.6 seconds.”

Twenty-seven military vessels representing nine nations warped into the area. They ranged in size from a supercarrier twice the size of the Enterprise to two Federation Surak class-sized frigates.

None of them were in the mood to talk. The Enterprise’s hails were ignored.

“Twenty-one ships are powering up their phasers and photon torpedoes,” Worf said. “Numerous fighters — eighty-four — are leaving the capital ship and are heading for our position.”

“They’re on edge, Captain,” Troi said. “They see us as an invader somehow allied with their enemy. They do not wish to talk.”

“Shoot first, ask questions later,” Riker mused. “Looks like we’re in for a fight whether we want it or not.”

Picard glanced at Q, who seemed very interested in the captain’s response. “Lieutenant. Arm photon torpedoes and phasers and–”

The bridge turned into a blur.

The captain was pinned to his chair and could only clearly see Q, who had his arms stretched outwards towards the viewscreen. Picard could breathe normally but was unable to speak nor move.

About a minute later, the blur disappeared and Picard’s vision returned to normal. He looked around and saw everyone else had a similar disorienting experience.

Then Picard looked at the viewscreen. Earth was partly obscured by the moon, which was pitch black from its visible far side.

“Q!” Picard shouted in a mix of anger and frustration.

“You’re welcome,” Q replied. “Now, Jean-Luc, you get to save the universe.”

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