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He had found it exceedingly difficult to be in the same room with Westren Frobisher while he talked at length about the end of the universe and pay no attention to the fact that this man--a version of him, at least--had caused him such pain and suffering.

It had been Jon Owens who had talked Michael into letting the man explain himself and his theories. It led him to believe that Frobisher may not have been responsible for the death of his oldest son in his home reality. Or, and Michael found that the less likely scenario, this Jon Owens was far better at compartmentalizing his emotions than he was.

Apparently, still recalling their rather heated first encounter, Frobisher had declined the offer of beaming onto Eagle to lay out his knowledge and theories of the superstructure he referred to as the Massive Omega Collider. So instead, Michael had asked Xylion, Hopkins, and Garla to join them in the workshop on the surface, the latter because Frobisher had confirmed that the Krellonian Outlanders were in control of the area of space where Cygni-98 was located and the sentinel was still their subject matter expert on everything related to the Star Alliance.

It had also not escaped Michael’s notice that the woman had gotten increasingly frustrated as of late and he couldn’t entirely blame her, considering how all her long-held plans had seemingly evaporated after they had turned out to be based on the lies she had been fed by her erstwhile allies, the subspace aliens.

“Wait, so you’re telling me Outlanders are running the Star Alliance here?” Garla said with noticeable disbelieve after Frobisher had briefly outlined the geopolitical landscape of the sector. “How is that even possible?”

“I have to be honest, I am no scholar of Krellonian history, but I believe that the Outlander Alliance at one point turned on their former masters and conquered their homeworld,” said Frobisher. “That would have happened at least a century ago.”

“Sounds only fair to me,” said Lif Culsten who these days seemed to be permanently attached to Garla’s hip, mostly since Star had insisted that he kept a close eye on the highly-skilled intelligence officer at all times. He glanced at his still stunned aunt. “The Outlanders always outnumbered us throughout much of history. The only reason they were kept in servitude for as long as they have is because they seemed to be more eager to fight each other than us. If they had allied themselves, as they did here, we wouldn’t have stood a chance.”

“We were decades ahead of them in every technological measure,” Garla said, apparently finding it difficult to comprehend that her people were in a subservient role in this reality.

“I suppose that proves that it’s not about how many ships and weapons you have. Some things are stronger, like the desire for freedom. Human history--the history of a great many races actually--is ripe with similar examples. Take the Bajorans for instance,” Culsten said. “I say, good for them.”

But Garla just shook her head.

“What about the Federation,” said Hopkins who was particularly mesmerized by a technical diagram outlining a quantum-based propulsion system, but still managed to tear herself away for a moment to ask the question. “You said it never existed in this reality?”

“No,” said Frobisher. “Humans did reach for the stars after Cochrane gave us the warp engine but we didn’t get very far until we ran into other spacefaring civilizations. Our leaders spurned offers of assistance from other, more advanced races, and we realized too late that we were entirely unprepared for what awaited us. We pushed too far too quickly and what we found nearly wiped us out a few times. Earth and its handful of colonies were no match for those powers that sought to exploit us. Today, we are not much better off than the Krellonians. There aren’t many of us left and most are scattered across the Alpha and Beta quadrants. As for Earth, the less said about its fate, the better.”

That cast a sorrowful quiet over the small group, particularly the humans. Just like Garla had found it difficult to contemplate a galaxy in which her people had achieved great things, Michael too realized that he had always carried with him a tinge of pride at how far humanity had come over the centuries and found it a bitter pill to swallow indeed that there were universes where his people had never reached the heights he had always taken for granted.

“Fascinating,” Xylion said with a raised eyebrow. “It would be interesting to study the effect on human development and the galactic geopolitical landscape if there had not been a first contact with Vulcan on Earth.”

“I remember reading stories of xenophobic human groups such as Terra Prime in the early days of Starfleet who were furiously against any involvement with non-human races and determined that humanity should go at it alone,” said Louise Hopkins. “I suppose this reality shows what a terrible idea that would have been.”

Michael nodded in agreement and couldn’t help think of all those people he had read about in those early days who had been so bitter about the perceived notions that the Vulcans had held Earth back in developing faster and better warp engines to reach deeper into space after they had taken a prominent position in advising Earth’s nascent interstellar polices. Volumes had been filled by those critical of Vulcan interference in human affairs, including such noteworthy early Starfleet pioneers as Jonathan Archer, who had eventually embraced Vulcan ideals as a principal architect of the Federation.

“Indeed,” said Xylion. “However, it is also worth noting that without human influence, the chances of the successful creation of the Federation appear to have been far smaller, based on the development of this quantum-universe.”

Michael offered his science officer a small smile. Coming from a Vulcan that seemed to be high praise for humanity and it helped make him feel marginally better about his own people. That was until he remembered that contemplating the history of this reality wasn’t why they had come here. “Let’s focus on the issue at hand,” he said and found Frobisher again. “Why don’t you start by telling us how you’ve come to learn about the Ring. The supercollider.”

The scientist nodded and walked over to another whiteboard, this one showing designs of a device Michael was marginally familiar with, although for all the wrong reasons. “Some years ago, Matthew and I started to look into a new type of technology that we believed could revolutionize space travel.”

“The dark anti-matter transporter,” Michael said, doing his level best not to recall how it had been exactly that technology that had led the Frobisher of his universe to kill his brother.

Frobisher nodded. “We eventually agreed to abandoned developing it as it turned out to be far too dangerous and unpredictable, however, during the course of our work we discovered some unintended side effects.”

“Such as allowing somebody to travel into other realities,” said Jon Owens who Michael realized had first-hand experience with this as well.

“I am not too proud to admit that I continued to explore this new avenue of research mostly without Matthew’s knowledge, but, differently from him, I was always fascinated by quantum mechanics and the many-world interpretation theorized by people like Hugh Everett and Bryce DeWitt.”

Michael couldn’t quite get a read on Frobisher and if he was truly remorseful about working behind Matthew’s back or if he was far more focused on the outputs of his research. Since he had known what his Westren Frobisher had been capable of, he tended to lean toward the latter.

“About six years ago I had my first breakthrough, using our dark anti-matter tech I was able to definitively confirm the presence of the quantum-verse, and not long after I made my first ventures into other universes,” he said, sounding noticeably excited about this accomplishment.

“And all this without Matthew’s knowledge?” Michael didn’t hide his skepticism.

“Matt knew that I had my own work I indulged in occasionally. We’ve always had our pet projects.”

“One hell of a pet project,” Jon Owens said.

“Anyway,” he continued. “Soon after I began to realize that this sector of space seemed to be some sort of focus point of quantum events. It was almost as if countless universes were weaved together here. At first, I thought that it may have been due to the strong gravimetric attributes of the Amargosa Diaspora but I quickly learned that there was a very different reason for this.”

“The supercollider,” Michael said.

Frobisher quickly erased one of his many whiteboards and began to frantically draw on it, starting with a central ring shape and then drawing numerous lines all directed at its center. “I realized that this structure acted like a magnet, a focal point of quantum reality with energies exceeding anything that could be measured by conventional means.” He started to rub out some of those lines. “And that it was using that power to wipe out universes.”

“You are suggesting that the supercollider has been responsible for annihilating quantum universes for years?” Xylion said.

Frobisher nodded eagerly. “Maybe even decades,” he said and then scribbled a long mathematical formula underneath his drawing which quite frankly went way above Michael’s head.”

Hopkins, however, seemed to understand and her eyes opened wide. “You cannot be serious.”

“Interesting,” said Xylion. “And quite alarming.”

Michael shot the three scientists an annoyed glare. “Perhaps you could explain this to those in the room who don’t have a degree in quantum mechanics.”

Hopkins stepped closer to the board. “According to this,” she said. “The rate at which quantum-reality is destabilizing is far quicker than we previously assumed.”

“I don’t understand,” said Jon Owens. “I thought we had established that the Ring activates every forty-seven hours.”

“May I?” Xylion asked Frobisher, gesturing for the pen he still held in his hand. He passed it to the Vulcan who began to write his own formula onto the board, this one even longer and to Michael, impossibly more complicated. “My estimates were based on observing two universe-ending events.”

“I’ve seen twelve of those,” Frobisher said.

Xylion regarded him with a raised eyebrow. “Fascinating,” he said and then quickly rubbed out part of his formula and amended it with the new information. “Based on all available data, the rate at which the supercollider is annihilating universes is not exponential as I had first postulated.”

“Wait, isn’t that good?” said Nora who, just like Michael, was hopelessly out of her element.

Hopkins found another pen, this one was red and quickly began to draw a chart with two axes containing a sharply upward moving curve. “This is exponential growth and we assumed to be somewhere here,” she said and drew a little marker halfway along the curve and well before its more dramatic upward trend. She drew another curve, this one spiked up just after the marker and reached far beyond the scale. “According to these new calculations, this is what we’re actually dealing with. Tetrational growth.”

Michael didn’t need a mathematics degree to understand that what they were suggesting was that the Ring was about to wipe out universes at a head-spinning pace.

“But isn’t the quantum-verse infinite?” said Jon Owens. “I thought the theory is that it continues to grow constantly and at a massive pace?”

Frobisher indicated toward where the curve had moved beyond the axis scale. “Once we get to this point, growth will reach a stage beyond our ability to measure. Wiping out universes far faster than new ones are created which will lead to a quantum cascade and eventually a total collapse.”

His head had already been spinning before but now Michael felt the need to sit down.

“I still don’t see what the subspace aliens have to gain from all this?” said Garla. “They exist in subspace which forms the layers between universes. Once all universes are gone, wouldn’t the layers also disappear?”

“Brane theory, which concerns itself with subspace functioning as borders separating the quantum-verse, is not fully understood,” said Xylion. “It is hypothetically possible that eliminating the quantum-verse could lead to a singular subspace state. A single, infinite brane.”

“What you’re saying is that all this could be just about territory?” said Culsten, who differently to Michael had given in to his urge to sit down to digest the proposed hypothesis of the end of all reality.

Michael couldn’t help but think about his dark vision of Bensu. “Or perhaps, the subspace aliens aren’t really the ones driving all this.”

Everyone in the room turned his attention toward the starship captain.

“We’ve seen these subspace aliens up close,” he continued when those questioning looks didn’t produce any actual inquires. “They didn’t exactly strike me as the kind of masterminds plotting the destruction of every universe ever.”

“We should remain careful not to prescribe specific behaviors and motivations to a race as alien to us as the subspace creatures based merely on our initial observations,” Xylion said as he clasped his hands behind his back.

Under normal circumstances, Michael would have been quick to agree to such a statement. He was a firm believer in keeping an open mind. But it was difficult to ignore what he had seen and felt as they had transitioned through the gateway.

“What the hell is going on here?”

The sudden voice came from the other side of the room and caused practically everyone to jump and turn into that direction, even Nora and her security team who prided themselves in always remaining vigilant had been so mesmerized by what had been discussed here that the appearance of the new arrival had caught them entirely by surprise as well.

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