"The Choice"
  Issue Number 33

Writer: Unknown
Artist: Alberto Giolitti
Stardate: 17:01.02
Issue Date: September 1975
Cover Price: 25 cents

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Cover Blurb:
   KIRK vs. KIRK! A duel to save the Universe from OBLIVION!


Synopsis
   After a two-week leave on the resort planet Lado, the Enterprise is ordered to "Quadrant Mark I" on a scientific expedition. Federation scientists have pinpointed an area of radiation that they believe to be the site of the Big Bang; the birthplace of the universe! Spock explains the Big Bang theory for the ship's log: Once, all the matter in the universe was contained in a compact ball of particles that formed a single atom. For some reason, the atom exploded, sending gas and light across the universe. As time passed, the gasses cooled and formed stars, planets, moons, etc. Within 20 billion years or so, the blast will expend itself, and the universe will begin to collapse in on itself again. It will again shrink to the size of an atom, eventually explode again, and the process will repeat itself.

   As they approach the region, Kirk asks Mr. Spock if they will encounter any unusual effects in crossing through space "that has not changed since the dawn of time". Spock explains that they are likely to encounter "primitive matter" which will prove unpredictable. At that moment, the ship goes to red alert and they are called to the bridge. Sulu tell the captain that the red alert was an automatic response from the ship's computer. It had sounded because all the scanners went dead! Uhura reports that sensors are also inoperable, and Mr. Chekov cannot locate anything on the view screen. Kirk asks Spock for an analysis. "I am working on it, Captain, but I will need more data imput" says Spock. (A rare typo.)

   Mr. Scott reports that the dilithium crystals have gone cold for no apparent reason. Spock suggests that natural laws may not pertain here. "Any idea where 'here' is yet, Mr. Spock?" asks the Captain. "Based on rudimentary facts and a quick computation of the figures available Captain, I would say we were precisely nowhere!" replies Spock. He explains that they may have arrived at a place where parallel universes meet.

   Chekov reports that a small capsule has been located floating outside the ship. Kirk, Spock, and Lt. Nova board an "extravehicular repair pod" in order to investigate. Lt. Nova tells the Captain that the power packs in their space suits have stopped operating, just like the dilithium crystals. "Assuming the multiverse corollary is correct, Captain" says Spock, "there is no resistance to thought in a void!". He tells them that will power alone will be sufficient to survive. The three exit the Enterprise, recover the mysterious cylinder using the repair pod's gripping arms (The pod is a blatant rip-off of the type seen in 2001: A Space Odyssey), and return it to the ship.

   As the crew examines it, the cylinder opens. A duplicate James Kirk steps out! McCoy runs medical readings on the man. He is identical to Kirk in every way. "But that's impossible!" Kirk says, "There can't be two beings exactly the same in the whole universe!". "How true, Captain Kirk" the double replies, "but, you see, I'm not from your universe! I'm from the universe before this one!". He explains that the universe doesn't just explode and collapse once; It keeps doing it over and over again! Every time it does, things happen exactly the same way each time, and that nobody has any choice in the matter. However, there is a single instant of variation each time, that one individual can control. His universe had missed theirs, so he volunteered to be placed in suspended animation inside the capsule so that at the proper time, he could emerge and warn the only being in this universe who possesses freewill about the choice.

   The duplicate Kirk demands that the Enterprise be turned over to him so that he can reach the being with free will, and that Kirk take his place in the capsule. Otherwise, he says, "the universe is doomed to repeat itself, into eternity! Kirk refuses to give up his ship, and tells his double that he will not believe that he is not the master of his own fate. "I'll give you a choice!", says the duplicate, "Either you take my place in the cylinder... or we have a fight to the death! What do you say Captain... are you game?". "I'm game!" Kirk fires back angrily.

   The two Captains meet on the recreation deck wearing fencing gear. Kirk (the 'real' Kirk) chooses Mr. Spock as his second. The duplicate Kirk waives his second. Spock offers the duplicate his choice of weapons. He takes a phaser set on kill, and then suddenly attacks the Captain and Spock with his fencing foil, catching them off guard. As Kirk tries to fend him off, another red alert sounds. Sulu reports over the intercom that the Enterprise is under attack from... another Enterprise! "My Enterprise, Captain!" says Kirk's double, "Scientists in my universe anticipated your resistance and supplied me with a decoy to control mentally!".

   The two duel with foils briefly, and then the duplicate Kirk runs away. The Captain orders Spock to go to the bridge and defend the ship, while he chases the intruder. Kirk fights a running battle with his double throughout the ship. Mr. Spock reports over the intercom from the bridge that the duplicate Enterprise is maneuvering, but all he can do is rotate the shields. "We're like sitting geese!" he says. Kirk orders Spock to have Lt. Nova come to the helm and plug her "cybernetic helmet" into the ship's entire guidance system. Spock warns that the strain on her senses will be too great. "Just do as I say!" yells the Captain.

   While continuing to fight his double, Kirk orders all crew members to join hands and channel their mental energy through Mr. Spock to Lt. Nova. It works, and the Enterprise comes to life - no longer helpless against the other star ship. Kirk tracks the duplicate to engineering, where he discovers Scotty, bound and gagged. While he attempts to free him, the duplicate sneaks up behind Kirk and knocks him down. He holds his foil to Kirk's throat and asks him if he will reconsider his offer. "Spock!" yells Kirk, "Drop all shields now!". The ship shudders, and the duplicate Captain is thrown off-balance. Kirk takes his phaser and holds him at gunpoint.

   "Go on, Kill me! Get it over with!" shouts the duplicate Kirk. The Captain pulls the trigger, and the other man falls to the floor. As soon as he is unconscious, the second Enterprise disappears. Kirk explains to Scotty that he had never set his phaser on kill. The duplicate Kirk is loaded back aboard the cylinder, and set adrift in space once again. "I estimate we never will know if he actually was who he claimed to be!" says Spock. "Then there there very well might have been a man in our universe who held the key to the future?" asks McCoy. A ghostlike image of the other Kirk appears in the room. "You were the man with free will, Captain, and the moment came when you decided not to kill me! You've made your choice Captain and now, I salute you!". And with that, the image disappears.

   Kirk orders the entire crew to join hands yet again. The crew funnels their mental energy, and the Enterprise is hurled clear of the "void" in space. As the ship heads back to starbase, Kirk asks Spock if it's possible that everything that happens in the universe has been done before. "Not only possible, Captain, it is highly probable!" says Spock. "Then why do it at all?" asks Kirk. Spock replies, "Do we have any choice, Captain?".

(Summary by Mark Lookabaugh)

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