Back to Reality, Part II

Epis­ode Num­ber: 4×09

Writ­ten by: Fred Love

Dir­ec­ted by: Jon Crew

Trans­mis­sion: 29th June 2024

It’s been four hours since the last report from our away team inside the Pinicon Belt, and I’m forced to con­clude that some­thing has gone wrong with the mis­sion. I’ve ordered the ship to yel­low alert, and we’ve trained our sensors on the aster­oid field in search of any sign of the run­about. The sheer dens­ity of the aster­oids pre­vents the ship from delving deep­er into the Pinicon Belt, and I’m hes­it­ant to send in anoth­er away team, for fear it may run into whatever haz­ards may have befallen the first. For now, I see little choice but to keep waiting.

Cap­tain’s Log: Stard­ate, 30354.1, supplemental

Plot: While explor­ing an unusu­al aster­oid belt, Zepht, Azon­an and Quinn come face to face with their coun­ter­parts from a much less for­tu­nate universe.

The ‘A’ Plot: Zepht and Azon­an man­age to broker a truce with their altern­ates. The oth­ers explain that in their uni­verse, the Borg have assim­il­ated most of the galaxy, and that they are look­ing for a weapon with which to defeat them. A legendary cul­ture is reputed to have built a device in this aster­oid belt that can alter real­ity, and the altern­ate away team intends to find it.

The alt-team pro­poses that the two groups should work togeth­er. They are will­ing to share an algorithm that has improved their sensors, so that they can see through the quantum inter­fer­ence in the belt, mak­ing the dimen­sion­al fis­sures vis­ible, and trans­port­er use safe. The Lex­ing­ton party agrees, but Azon­an ana­lyses the algorithm in detail to ensure there are no “back­doors” or oth­er booby-traps, before installing it.

With the sensor upgrades, the mys­ter­i­ous device is soon loc­ated, in a large space sta­tion in the centre of the Pinicon Belt. The two run­abouts approach the struc­ture, their occu­pants not­ing its three spher­ic­al mod­ules and that sensors are pick­ing up no power or life sup­port. The Trave heads for one of the end mod­ules, which sports a large hole, while the alt-Trave approaches the sur­face of the cent­ral sphere. After check­ing that the approach is safe, Quinn steers the ship through the open­ing into the sta­tion prop­er. With­in, a vari­ety of massive machinery clusters around a large crys­tal, and as they get closer, sensors indic­ate that their coun­ter­parts have beamed into the cent­ral sec­tion of the station.

Azon­an stud­ies the machinery, com­ing to the con­clu­sion that it is a power gen­er­a­tion, stor­age and dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem. A com­plex device pro­duces an immense amount of energy that is then channeled into and stored in the crys­tal before being dis­trib­uted to oth­er sys­tems, includ­ing those sus­tain­ing the power gen­er­at­or. While the whole sys­tem is cur­rently powered down, he thinks an infu­sion of energy to the crys­tal will restart the gen­er­at­or, allow­ing them to ener­gise the rest of the station.

They decide to go ahead, trans­mit­ting energy dir­ectly from the run­about’s deflect­or into the crys­tal. As pre­dicted, the power gen­er­at­or soon starts up, and Zepht des­cends to the deck in an envir­on­ment suit to invest­ig­ate what appears to be a con­trol con­sole. The inter­face is very simple, con­tain­ing only a num­ber of sym­bols which appear to depict vari­ous sys­tems, such as life sup­port and force field gen­er­at­ors, as well as two he can­not fig­ure out.

Warn­ing Quinn and the alt-away team to be ready for any dis­turb­ance, he activ­ates the grav­ity gen­er­at­or, an emer­gency force field to cov­er the gap in the hull, and life sup­port, then waits as the sta­tion begins to warm and fill with a breath­able atmo­sphere. He real­ises one of the uniden­ti­fied sym­bols rep­res­ents a com­puter sys­tem, but can­not fig­ure out the oth­er, a cluster of sev­en inter­lock­ing circles. He turns them both on anyway.

After check­ing the rest of the cham­ber for any­thing else of interest, the team heads into the cor­ridor con­nect­ing it to the next mod­ule. This cham­ber con­tains a pecu­li­ar struc­ture made up of huge glow­ing crys­tal rings encirc­ling a cent­ral con­sole, which their coun­ter­parts are invest­ig­at­ing. They are hailed by alt-Zepht as they approach, ask­ing if they were respons­ible for turn­ing the power on. Unfor­tu­nately, he explains, they still can­not access the con­trols. The con­sole appears to be very simple, but is attached by cables to a met­al hel­met, sized for a humanoid skull. Azon­an the­or­ises that it is a neur­al inter­face, but when Zepht tries it on he detects noth­ing out of the ordinary.

Leav­ing the oth­er team with the sys­tem, they head on to the final mod­ule, where they find anoth­er huge crys­tal, sur­roun­ded by some kind of com­puter sys­tem. The floor is covered in what appear to be four-fingered hand­prints. After some dis­cus­sion, Azon­an touches one of the prints, and finds him­self trans­por­ted to a vir­tu­al envir­on­ment, sur­roun­ded by small rep­res­ent­a­tions of galax­ies. He is greeted by a rep­tili­an humanoid with four-fingered hands who introduuces him­self as the Cus­todi­an, the arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence act­ing as an advisor to the sta­tion’s operators.

Azon­an asks who built the sta­tion, and the Cus­todi­an responds by describ­ing the unfor­tu­nate his­tory of the Sculptors, who built the sta­tion to enable their obses­sion with cre­at­ing and explor­ing new quantum real­it­ies, before its over­use des­troyed them and their coun­ter­parts in all real­it­ies. He explains that the Appar­at­us in the cent­ral mod­ule can make minor or major adjust­ments to any quantum real­ity, if the user is strong and clear-minded enough to con­trol it. He also points out that using it without care could wreak hav­oc across the uni­verse. In the mean­time, it seems simply talk­ing to the Cus­todi­an has attuned them to be able to use the system.

Zepht real­ises that this is what their coun­ter­parts are look­ing for, a device that could des­troy the Borg, but that the side-effects of such an action would be unpre­dict­able. None of them are con­vinced that the oth­er party has enough self-con­trol to restrain them­selves. After debat­ing the pros and cons of doing any­thing with the sys­tem, they decide that they can­not give the oth­ers dir­ect access to this power.

Return­ing to the Appar­at­us in the cent­ral sphere, Zepht explains that while he has learned how to use the sys­tem, he feels that the trauma they have suffered will affect their chances of bring­ing about their aim: so he offers to do it instead. There’s quite an argu­ment about this, but even­tu­ally, the oth­ers agree to Zeph­t’s terms. They explain that their aim is to erad­ic­ate the Borg com­pletely, but he opts to undo the event which brought Star­fleet into con­tact with them: Q’s inter­ven­tion. He says that this will give the altern­ate Star­fleet a chance to devel­op their tech­no­logy more, before they do meet the Borg in the course of their nor­mal expan­sion. Alt-Quinn loses his tem­per, fir­ing his dis­ruptor rifle in ran­dom dir­ec­tions before Azon­an stuns him.

Zepht goes on to cre­ate a fis­sure to allow the oth­er crew to return to their real­ity, then seals it off com­pletely from the Hub’s own dimen­sion, to ensure they can nev­er come back. They briefly debate wheth­er they should des­troy the Appar­at­us, but none of them can bring them­selves to oblit­er­ate such a cre­ation. They leave it intact as they return to their own real­ity, hop­ing that the next people to dis­cov­er it will have the wis­dom to use it properly.

The Arc: While there appears to have been some con­tact between between the Sculptors and the Tilikaal, it appears they were not dir­ectly con­nec­ted. The Cus­todi­an dis­misses the Tilikaal as “lim­ited thinkers, with no artist­ic ambition”.

Obser­va­tions: The Sculptors were an advanced rep­tili­an spe­cies, who reached their peak around 10 mil­len­nia ago. Rather than cre­ate warp drives and explore space, they focussed their atten­tion on quantum dimen­sion­al mech­an­ics. In one quantum real­ity, they used this know­ledge to build the Hub. The Appar­at­us with­in enabed them to cre­ate new quantum real­it­ies, or altern­ate dimen­sions, fine-tun­ing them to their spe­cific­a­tions, then explor­ing them. The Cus­todi­an indic­ates that they viewed this as their highest art form. Their use of this tech­no­logy, how­ever, brought about their doom, as it weakened the fab­ric of this region of space across all dimen­sions, lead­ing to its col­lapse into a mass of tangled quantum fis­sures and des­troy­ing both their world and their spe­cies, across all of real­ity. The res­ult was the Pinicon Belt, with the Hub at its centre.

The Hub is the only remain­ing arte­fact of the Sculptors, a space sta­tion about 3 km long, made up of three spher­ic­al mod­ules moun­ted on a cent­ral spindle. One sphere has a large hole in it, with machinery vis­ible with­in. Each of the spheres is hol­low, with vast machines loc­ated at the centres of the two end mod­ules, and the out­er shell mak­ing up the floor. A cent­ral cor­ridor of cir­cu­lar cross-sec­tion con­nects the spheres through the spindle, requir­ing a right-angled “flip” to enter. One of the end spheres con­tains the Cus­todi­an, an arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence able to scan its immense data store to advise on the best way to use the Apparatus.

The Appar­at­us is loc­ated in the cent­ral sphere, and con­sists of huge con­cent­ric rings loc­ated around the out­er shell, with a basic con­sole at the centre, equipped with a single human-sized inter­face hel­met. When activ­ated in the cor­rect man­ner, it is cap­able of a vast range of manip­u­la­tions, from mak­ing fine adjust­ments to a quantum real­ity, to cre­at­ing new real­it­ies in their entirety. The only lim­it­a­tion seems to be the capa­city of the con­trol­ler­’s mind.

Dia­logue: Zepht tries to find a clear way to con­tact his coun­ter­part: “Lt Cdr Zepht from a dif­fer­ent real­ity, this is Lt Cdr Zepht from my reality.”

Ref­er­ences: Alt-Quinn, alt-Azon­an and alt-Zepht are from a real­ity where the Borg have assim­il­ated most of the galaxy. It seems likely that this is the timeline briefly seen in the Star Trek: the Next Gen­er­a­tion epis­ode “Par­al­lels”.

Zeph­t’s change to the altern­ate timeline takes place at the point when Q trans­por­ted the U.S.S. Enter­prise to Borg space in “Q Who”.

Ques­tions: The Hub remains out there, and may be used again. Will there be any ser­i­ous reper­cus­sions from Zeph­t’s manipulation?