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“All available evidence suggests that our universe is merely one of an infinite amount of quantum realities, each one differing to various degrees to the other realities and representing decisions or circumstances which may have resulted in an alternate outcome in that reality. The prevailing theory states that these quantum realities are separated by boundaries referred to as branes.”

Michael had been listening to Xylion’s explanation of their situation but he had a difficult time focusing his thoughts considering what Amaya had told him just moments ago. That in this universe, not only had the two of them been married but that shortly after they had tied the knot, he had perished.

None of it should have mattered of course. This Amaya was not the same woman he knew and more importantly, this version of Michael Owens wasn’t him. And yet it all felt so familiar. Sure, there were some major differences, including the bearded Gene Edison sitting at the very same conference table along with him and the others. But Amaya had seemed just like the one he had known since their Academy days, and the notion that they could have ended up married to each other wasn’t entirely far fetched. Now, contemplating his own death, on the other hand, wasn’t a far more difficult proposition.

“You look like the Commander Xylion I know and you sure as hell sound like Xylion. That doesn’t mean I buy any of this,” Edison said from his chair at the far end of the conference table.

Amaya tore herself away from staring back at Michael for a moment. “We know about alternate universes. So-called crossover events are mandatory reading for every Starfleet cadet. And it's hard to argue its legitimacy when it stares you right in the face,” she said and glanced towards Michael again.

“Right,” said Edison. “So far the only evidence I’ve seen is a few individuals with an uncanny familiarity to people we know. It doesn’t require an alternate universe to accomplish that.”

“You believe we are some sort of imposters?” Bensu said. “For what purpose?”

“For all we know you could be Founders, attempting to infiltrate the Federation again. Or some other hostile species looking to destroy us from within. It would hardly be the first time,” said Edison and pinned Bensu with a stare. “And who exactly are you supposed to be? The other people from your ship seem familiar but you? You are a complete mystery. I’ve never seen you or anyone looking remotely like you before.”

Xylion raised an eyebrow. “You are saying that there is no person matching Bensu’s description on your version of Eagle? Curious.”

“There are bound to be significant differences between universes,” said Michael and then focused on Edison. “We are more than happy to try and lead you back to the transitional space where we discovered the device we think is responsible for bringing us here. If the threshold is located in the same location in this universe, perhaps you can help us trying to get back to where we came from.”

Edison quickly shook his head. “You’re not going anywhere but back to Starbase 123 where we will report all this to Starfleet Command. I am certain they’ll have plenty of questions.”

“We don’t have time for this,” said Jarik bluntly. “We obviously do not belong in this place and need to find a way to return as quickly as possible. Regardless of our circumstances we all still belong to Starfleet and I am the highest-ranking officer on site.”

“Technically, wouldn’t that be Admiral Owens,” said Amaya and glanced towards Michael’s father.

“She’s right,” Jon Owens said.

But Jarik didn’t seem to agree. “I am the ranking active officer.”

“This entire conversation is moot,” said Edison. “I do not recognize either of your authorities. Even if you truly are from another universe, and I still have my doubts about this, I’m fairly certain that rank doesn’t translate to dimensions.”

“Maybe not,” said Amaya as her eyes found Michael’s again. “But I am the senior captain in this universe and I say we investigate this device further.”

“Maya, this is a mistake.”

“Think about it, Gene. If there really is a device that allows people and ships to cross universes, that would amount to a far more significant threat than somebody pretending they are from another reality.”

Edison glared but said nothing, begrudgingly deferring to Amaya’s seniority for now but Michael had a feeling that his compliance was shaky at best. He had no idea about the relationship between these two captains and how far Edison would toe the line.

“We’ve already established that this universe is markedly different from our own. Based on what you’ve seen from us, what are the key differences?” said Jon Owens glancing back and forth between Edison and Amaya. “I know my son isn’t in command of Eagle anymore. Tell me, why is that?”

Neither of the two starship captains seemed particularly interested in offering an explanation out loud and Michael too diverted his eyes, not exactly eager to share what he had learned about his counterpart’s fate.

“I see,” said Owens Senior, understanding the unsaid implications. “How about Matthew, my other son? What happened to him?”

Michael thought this had gone far enough. “This isn’t a fact-finding mission, dad. I don’t see any point in trying to learn about this universe and what may have become of people we’ve known in ours. Let’s just return to the gateway and find a way back to where we belong.”

“Agreed,” said Jarik, briefly pinning Admiral Owens with a stern look. “The quicker we are on our way, the sooner we can focus on the mission we left behind and which remains our priority.”

Apparently realizing that he had stepped out of line, Jon Owens nodded quietly.

Maya turned back to look at Michael. “So then where is this gateway of yours?”

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