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Tazla Star had made a good argument for him to stay on the ship, rather than follow the unexpected invitation to return to the surface, had even quoted back to him some of the exact same words he had used on her earlier about avoiding any mistakes that could lead to their failure of stopping the Ring from once more destroying an entire reality.

She hadn’t been able to entirely mask her irritation over the fact that he had already beamed down onto the planet once before to chase down his father while she had been trying to convince Calvin Hutchinson to help them.

Perhaps, surprisingly, it was the man who until very recently Michael had believed to be his father, who had ultimately swayed him toward having to return to the surface to find out why Matthew Owens had summoned them after the way their last visit had ended.

Jon Owens had argued that they knew next to nothing about this universe and that they needed an ally, or at least somebody who could give them the lay of the land, and if that could be somebody who at least had some form of connection with them, all the better.

It wasn’t the strongest argument, Michael understood that, in fact, it was heavily biased since it was coming from the man who had apparently made it his life’s mission to find a way to reconnect with his sons whom he had lost in his universe. But it didn’t take a counselor to know that Michael desperately wanted one last chance to see his brother again, even if he was only superficially that same man, deep down he also knew that if he didn’t take this chance, he’d likely never get another one again.

In the end, a compromise was reached. It hadn’t relieved Star of all her concerns but it had given her at least some reassurance. He’d be accompanied to the surface by Nora and a security team and the away mission would be kept as brief as possible, at the very least, Michael committed to being back on Eagle as soon as the repairs to the long-range sensors and weapons systems were complete, to continue their mission back toward the Ring, with Matthew’s support or without it.

The team led by Michael and consisting of Jon Owens, Nora Laas, and security officers Stadi and McIntyre materialized at the exact same spot they had last time. Since the sun had come up since their previous visit, the away team arrived during a pleasant early afternoon.

He also got a slightly better view of their surroundings this time. The buildings which were apparently part home and part workshop to Matthew and Wes Frobisher were larger than he had remembered them, one of them looked big enough to be a hangar. It wouldn’t fit something as significant as Eagle, but it looked as if it could accommodate at least a couple of runabouts.

“Lovely spot,” said Nora Laas who had not been to Arkaria before. “Nicely secluded as well. Do we know what it is your brother does for a living?”

Michael shook his head but Jon answered. “He’s a scientist, just like he was in my universe. Except here they work for themselves. Mostly on starship enhancements and other tech that they can sell to whoever can afford it.”

They set out toward the building containing the workshop. “You seem to know quite a bit about this Matthew Owens,” Michael said, unable to hide his suspicions.

“I had a chance to speak to him before you arrived last time.”

But Michael didn’t fully buy it. “You knew he was on Arkaria. You knew even before we arrived here. That’s why you were so insistent that we set course for this system.”

Jon said nothing as they closed in on the building.

Michael grabbed him by the arm to stop him and the other Owens turned to face Michael. “How did you know?”

He seemed pained to have to answer this question.

“You said you made a deal with Altee. Did that include the means to locate other versions of your sons across the quantum-verse?”

“There were some candidates I considered to be more receptive to the idea of reuniting as a family,” he said.

“Like me? You thought I was going to be receptive to this insanity?” he said, almost spitting the words.

“You had just lost your father.”

“Because of you,” he said, the anger he had tried so desperately to quench beginning to build up again. “Because of you and Altee.”

But Jon shook his head. “If you believe nothing else I’ve ever told you, you must believe that I had nothing to do with your father’s death. I didn’t even know about it until Altee made me replace him.”

Michael uttered a humorless laugh at the notion that this man had been forced into the role of his father. As far as he was concerned, there should have been nothing to stop him from turning down the Deltan. But apparently, the draw of seeing his sons again had been too strong. Michael darkly mused how that made him inherently different from his real father since he could not recall a single time when that man had ever put his family first.

“If you knew all along that a suitable Matthew Owens was here, on this planet, in this specific universe, what are the chances that we just so happened to arrive in this reality?” Nora said who had been paying close attention to their exchange even if she was probably still playing catch-up.

Michael considered her for a moment. “If Xylion were here he’d likely tell us. And it would probably be infinitesimally small considering the immeasurable nature of quantum reality,” he said and then turned back toward Jon with anger glaring in his eyes. “Which means you brought us here on purpose. Makes sense, now that I think about it. You were the one in control of the Prism.”

“Control is too strong a word.”

“But you could have tried to take us home. Instead, you brought us here because you thought that you could convince Matthew to do what? Join us? But clearly, you didn’t understand him nearly as well as you thought, seeing how he responded to us.”

“We could stand here and discuss all the foolish things I’ve ever done and we’d still be here next week,” he said with far more defiance than remorse. “Or we can deal with the situation we are in now and try to make the best of it. Besides, it seems that I may have gotten through to him after all.”

Michael wanted to shoot back that they wouldn’t even have been in this situation if it hadn’t been for him but he also understood the futility of that kind of reasoning. Time was not on their side.

He walked past Jon Owens. “I’m not entirely sure why I even brought you along but just to be clear, I’m going to do the talking,” he said just before he entered the workshop.

He found it in much the same state as the last time he had been here. The same diagrams and technical drawings on the walls and the whiteboards and the same disturbingly creepy severed and partially dissected Borg head with its prominent cortical array stuck in its eye socket on display. The head made Nora do a double-take but otherwise, she seemed less distracted by the sight than the away team had been last time.

There was no sign of Matthew anywhere.

“Perhaps he’s in the living quarters,” Jon said.

“We don’t have time to go and look for him,” Michael said. “Matthew,” he shouted, much to the consternation of his security chief who clearly didn’t favor such conspicuous methods within unfamiliar territory.

A side door opened. “Good, you came. Thank you for being so prompt.”

But it wasn’t his brother.

It was Frobisher.

Nora had her phaser out in a flash and aimed. Michael remembered that she had been part of his unsanctioned mission four years earlier trying to hunt down the Westren Frobisher of their universe and had actually come close to apprehending him before he had escaped into the past.

Michael forced himself to ignore his powerful apathy for that man upon seeing him once more. He was only partially successful. “Where is Matthew?” he said sharply.

Frobisher took a few small steps forward, his hands in the air and his eyes carefully observing the weapon pointed at him. “There is no need for that.”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” Michael shot back. “Now, I ask again. Where’s Matthew?”

“He’s not here.”

Michael was losing his patience rapidly. “What have you done to him?”

Frobisher looked surprised. “Nothing. It’s Tuesday. He’s gone to town to barter for supplies. He won’t be back for a few hours.”

Michael wasn’t sure he understood.

“Matthew didn’t call us, did he?” said Jon. “You did.”

Frobisher nodded and indicated toward his still raised hands. “May I?”

Michael gestured for Nora to lower her weapon. She did but she stopped short of holstering it altogether.

“I apologize for the ruse but I was certain you wouldn’t return if I had asked. And Matthew does not want you here,” Frobisher said as he began to relax slightly.

“So you pretended to be him just to bring us back down here. Why?” Michael said, feeling extremely conflicted about this situation but also, he had to admit, somewhat curious.

“Because I know why you are here.”

“What?” Michael had no idea how to respond to that.

“Maybe this will help to explain,” he said as he walked over to one of the many whiteboards set up in the workshop. This one seemed to contain a technical drawing of what looked very much like the dark anti-matter transporter system his brother and Frobisher had developed in his universe. But Frobisher flipped the board around to reveal the backside of the board.

Michael’s jaw dropped upon seeing what had been drawn there. It was unmistakably a sight he had seen before. One which had haunted his nightmares as of late.

“You may have another name for it but I call it the Massive Omega Collider. I know it brought you here and I know that it is the single largest threat the universe--all of quantum reality--has ever faced. And if we do not stop it, all life, and all things in existence will come to a permanent end.”

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