Disclaimer: Star Trek: The Next Generation is not mine, fairly obviously. It belongs to Paramount, and was created by Gene Roddenbury, may he rest in peace. All entities inhabiting said continuity, including the Enterprise and its crew and the Borg, among others, are merely being borrowed. I promise not to spill coffee on them before I give them back, and I am not attempting to make any money out of them nor pass them off as my own. Oxford here is a kind of patchwork of Oxford-Reality interwoven with the fictional Oxfords belonging to, among others, Colin Dexter and Phillip Pullman. Said Oxfords will also be returned undamaged to their original owners. All denizens of Amaurot-Oxford, and certain elaborations of the Trek universe, are creations of my own warped imagination, and are not based on anybody living, dead, or risen from the grave.  All quotations and homages are referenced, either within the text or in the notes at the end of each chapter.

Warning: This is dark, gory and horrific. There are moments of violence, some very disturbing imagery, and a good deal of relatively mild swearing. I advise you to give it a miss unless you're over 13 and not easily disturbed

Chapter 1: A Fragment

"Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.

The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,

The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy

Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony

Of death and birth."

                                - T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets: East Coker                                                              

The Delta Quadrant, 2367

The planetoid is undistinguished - endless plains of cold grey sand, punctuated with outcroppings of black rock, under the clear black sky given by the barest wisp of atmosphere. Normally, such a ball of rock would have been beneath the interest of the Borg - it has never sustained life, except the most primitive bacteria deep beneath the surface, certainly never a technological civilisation. Which makes the object that is the reason for their presence even more remarkable.

The object stands within a huge canyon, deep enough that only its very topmost spires appear at surface level. The energy readings it gives off indicate that it is some kind of machine, something that even dormant is drawing on vast reserves of energy. Sensor scans from the orbiting cube revealed veins of the same crystalline, semi-organic material that composes the machine underlying and penetrating the entire crust of the planetoid, together with a far greater than normal amount of energy being generated deep within the core. The planet is, in effect, little more than a housing for the machine. For the first time in centuries, the Borg have come across technology even more complex than their own.

Assign Trimatrix 753 to initial surface reconnaissance.

The twelve drones materialise within the canyon that holds the visible body of the machine, and approach. The spires of pale crystal tower above them, as high as the central atrium of a cube, flickering with occasional dim pulses of grey-gold light. The drones spread out, circling the central machine, pausing to study the sweeping crystalline ridges that spread like roots away from the central tower.

Seven of Twelve reports: Detecting anomalies in the crystalline material suggesting synthetic origin. Variable optical/electrical conductivity, forming a self-correcting neural net.

Three of Twelve reports: Detecting capillaries and vesicles within the structure filled with a carrier fluid.  Detecting multiple types of nanotechnology of semi-organic crystalline structure.

Nine of Twelve reports: Detecting structure of 99.62% similarity to Collective access interface port.

Nine of Twelve is to attempt interface and transmission of data.

The drone's arm moves up, as slick black tubules slide from its hand into the crystalline port.

Nine of Twelve reports: Interface initiated. Accessing data.

Five of Twelve reports: Detecting increase in power consumption of a factor of 6978.47.

The spires begin to blaze with a frosty white-gold light, as panels of crystal shift from frosty translucency to transparency, revealing the sparkling carrier fluid flowing and bubbling behind them. A patch of gunmetal grey is already spreading from the access port, as Borg nanoprobes filter through, converting quasi-organic nanites for their own purposes.

Nine of Twelve reports: It's… it's assimilating back

Fine tendrils of something as smooth and clear as molten glass loop down from the machine, whiplashing through Nine of Twelve's exoskeleton at wrists, throat, temples, spine. The drone is pulled up into the air, hanging limply from the fragile-seeming crystal filaments. The flow of data from Nine of Twelve disintegrates into a chaotic mass of emotion: vast, inchoate longings and ancient pain.

A panel of crystal slides to one side, and the drone is pulled inside the machine, which is already beginning to alter, dully gleaming black metal spreading across one side, white-gold light turning chartreuse.

A shockwave of data blasts into the collective. A sudden, vertiginous sense of great age, and loneliness, and yearning for new ideas and new purpose tears through every drone. It is so very similar to what drives them, but infinitely rawer, infinitely more passionate. And behind the shockwave comes a terrible hunger, sucking information from the minds of the drones but never sated by  it.

Until the wave of data breaks on the rock that is the Queen, and her icy certainty comes through the ravaged drones, to command what only she can ask.

Disconnect Nine of Twelve.

Dimly, she who was once Nine of Twelve becomes aware of a fine web of something that feels a little like glass, a little like cobweb and a little like nerve tissue covering her face. There is an odd, not unpleasant throbbing at her wrists and temples. She is floating, suspended in some kind of dense fluid. The voices of the others are gone from her mind. It occurs to her that she ought to be distressed by this.

She is not aware of time passing, as she dreams within the machine. She dreams crumbling stone for it, and rivers, and trees. She dreams rain, and wind, and apple blossom. She dreams the cool smoothness of marble, and the copper-red-gold of dead leaves, and the smell of rooms full of old books. She is not aware of the machine's slow transformation, as the fluid around her becomes green that is a shade away from black, as dark cables and sheets of black metal form over and through darkening crystal. Nor is she aware of her own transformation, as her exoskeleton peels away, as bioimplants sink under her flesh to be covered without a trace with smooth pale skin.

The collective watches as the machine is assimilated. The survivors of Trimatrix 753 continue to collect data, but no further attempts to interface are made. Under the calm guidance of the Queen, alterations are made in the command pathways, in order to protect the collective from the machine until it can be made part of them.

She shifts within the dense liquid, a creation of the machine and her own long-buried dreams now. Her eyes (eyes?) open, and she becomes aware again of her surroundings. The crystalline web is gone, replaced by cables and tubes that resemble those in a Borg maturation chamber.  She has no sense of orientation, but the opaque green-black fluid is clearing to reveal the transparent wall of the chamber. She turns her head to watch, momentarily surprised by the thick black mane of hair that billows around her neck like seaweed. Her arms are crossed over her chest, hands (hands?) curled into fists. Beneath them her body, although still slight and almost androgynous, is that of a grown woman and not the gauche and lanky adolescent she remembers being the last time she was able to look at herself.

The fluid is clear enough to see through now, and she makes out the patiently waiting drones outside. She is still dimly aware of the collective mind watching her, aware of their coldly predatory interest. They want her back. She should want nothing more then to rejoin them. She should not be horrified by them.

And she feels something ancient and vast uncoiling and sliding into action, something which never used to be part of her but feels more familiar than her own muscles and bones. The planetoid shimmers under her, and the drones are gone.  She tries to recoil in shock, but the embrace of the machine holds her pinned like a fly in amber. Cavernous reaches of memory and sensation are opening up in her mind, her own body feeling weak and helpless compared to this new technological part of her that encompasses the whole planet. The flood of information and power should be euphoric, this sudden entire mastery over her surroundings, this becoming of her own surroundings. Instead, it terrifies her. She recoils from her apotheosis with the horror of a child in a nightmare. She wants nothing more than to flee, to run home and hide under the bed as she used to when she was a frightened, hurt little girl.

She curls in on herself, remembering and imagining Home as it was before she left, its layers of faded beauty and memory, the source of her dreams.

A sigh of aeons-old longing and melancholy sweeps through her mind, and the tubes and cables pull free from couplings that in their turn sink smoothly and without trace into her flesh. The crystal panel slides open, and she is carried forwards in a tide of emerald fluid.

Spluttering, she pulls herself up on her elbows. She is lying on short, damp grass under a clear indigo sky. The machine is nowhere to be seen, but there is music in the distance.