Though he had an honorable career, Nichols was losing his skills with age, becoming unable to perform his duties, and was forced to retire. To complete the time he needed to retire with a full pension, his final posting was as chief engineer aboard the USS Starbound, circa 2359, which was used for a training voyage for Starfleet Academy graduates. In this role, he supervised engineering trainees, who would be called upon to solve engineering problems instead of him.
However, Nichols had no future plans and no income apart from his pension. He was unlikely to get a new job on the reference he would get from Starfleet. He considered buying a business of his own, but couldn't afford one. Therefore, when the Starbound stopped at Starbase 36, Orion agents contacted Nichols and paid him to sabotage the ship.
Accepting the deal in the belief that the Orions merely intended to steal the ship's dilithium and would otherwise leave the crew alone, Nichols installed an incorrect circuit breaker in the charging unit for hand-held phasers in the ship's Weapons Room, rendering many of the ship's type-1 phasers and all of its type-2 phasers defective. Ensign Tasha Yar discovered the defective phasers during an inventory 28 days later, and an investigation by Security Chief Darryl Adin and Ensign George Bosinney of engineering (selected instead of Nichols) discovered the sabotage.
Soon after, the Orion pirates attacked, disabled the Starbound, and boarded the ship. The crew fought back, but were badly defeated without adequate phasers. Nichols manned the bridge engineering console and helped defend the bridge, but was shot and killed by the Orions during the battle.
Adin was framed by the Orions for Nichol's sabotage and subsequently convicted of the crime. Nichols's involvement was only realized in 2364 when Lieutenant Commander Data accessed the Starbase 36 computers and discovered his communications with the Orions while trying to help Adin for Tasha's sake. (TNG novel: Survivors)
|USS Starbound personnel|