Lifeless and cratered, there wasn’t a hint of the world of their birth. Their beloved blue jewel had been replaced by something like the moon’s big sister, a pockmarked and scarred orb where nothing could live, nor ever had.
“Not possible,” Chidlow said.
“Oh, very possible,” Barzelay sounded thrilled.
“No,” Khan protested. “It’s an illusion, or some kind of trick.”
“Like aliens?” Anthea wondered.
“Branes,” Barzelay chuckled.
Anthea scowled, wondering if the old man was poking fun. Maybe he’d taken a knock to the head. “Brains?”
“This proves my theory,” the little man explained. “It’s all tied together, if you’ll allow me to be so droll.”
“What do you mean?” Khan floated to stand over Barzelay with a scowl. “What’s tied together.”
“String theory. Multiple dimensions. It’s the answer to what happened.”
“I know a little about string theory,” Anthea admitted.
“Sounds like scifi to me,” Chidlow said.
“It may have been, but not anymore,” Barzelay said. “I think we’ve stumbled across the first conclusive evidence of a working multiverse.”
“Dumb it down for us space jockeys.” Chidlow said.
“Hmm, I’m not sure I can,” Barzelay said, “but I’ll try. I may have to leave huge gaps here and there.”
“We’re not signing up for the Ph.D. course, Doc,” Chidlow said. “Just give us something to make us feel like we’re not just hallucinating.”
“Physicists like me have been trying to figure out how the universe works since before Einstein’s day. The problem is his work on general relativity, as wonderful as it was, doesn’t explain everything. His theories don’t square with other things we know about how the universe works, a part of science we call quantum mechanics.”
Khan sat with a thump, “You’re losing me, Montie. You’d better try to skip ahead some more.”
“Well, we’ve come up with thousands of ideas over the years on how to unify what we understand into a grand Theory of Everything. One of the branches of theoretical physics that’s shown the most promise over the years is string theory.”
“But how does that get us to the branes you were talking about?” Anthea asked.
“There were several string theories in contention. You might say they all complemented and contradicted each other at the same time. We couldn’t wholly accept or reject any of them. Then brane theory came along, specifically M-brane theory.
“In a nutshell, string theory postulated extra dimensions beyond the three common spacial dimensions and time. Brane theory went on to postulate further dimensions, and begin to give us rules about how those dimensions might behave. When carried out to their conclusion, the mathematics allowed for the possibility of multiple universes, each one layered on top of the other.”
Chidlow rolled her eyes and looked away toward the viewscreens. “Still sounds like scifi to me.”
“Let me see if I get what you’re saying,” Khan said. “Earth, our Earth, exists in one of these layers, and this other moon exists in another.”
“Yes,” Barzelay said, “that’s the general idea.”
“But then explain what’s going on here. It’s like our two layers got crossed or something.”
“Precisely,” Barzelay said. “The layers aren’t like flat sheets of paper stacked in a pile. They’re contorted masses whose shapes are always in flux. These layers might collide with one another anytime. I believe that’s what we’re experiencing, our layer has collided with one of our neighbors.”
“So this is a natural phenomenon?” Anthea asked. “If it is, why haven’t we seen it before?”
“For one, who says we haven’t?” Barzelay shrugged. “There’s unexplained phenomena throughout history, events we’ve dismissed as delusions or hoaxes. I’ve wondered if things like heavenly visions or ghostly sightings might be explained as the result of similar experiences, only on a smaller scale.”
“So it took the entire Earth seeing it to believe it,” Khan said.
“As you say,” Barzelay said.
“I wonder what happened to push their universe into ours?” Anthea asked.
“Based on the evidence, it’s likely the other way around,” Barzelay said. “We were shoved into theirs, and I think I have an idea what might have caused it.”
“What?” Chidlow asked.
“The new Very Large Hadron Collider in Antarctica,” Barzelay said. “It went online a few months ago.”
“You mean we did this to ourselves?” Khan asked.
“That is our tendency as a race, yes,” Barzelay conceded.