Chapter 12: The Meaning of the Thunder
"We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown."
T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
He hadn't expected it to feel like this. A sudden rush of unbelievably intense sensation as his assimilation tubules buried themselves in the skin of her neck, skittering along her nervous system, sending back glittering ripples of bioelectric impulses. He was dimly aware that somewhere his life-support systems were scrambling to compensate for cascading physiological changes, biosynthetic glands flooding his bloodstream with adrenaline and tailored endorphins, lungs straining for breath and then shutting down as internal replicators took over pouring out oxygen. Hugh was certain that he was malfunctioning, about to die. Assimilation wasn't supposed to feel like this. It was supposed to be a coldly functional procedure, not like being ripped apart by an ecstatic rush of data.
He came back to a kind of equilibrium, muscles trembling with innumerable tiny spasms of resonant bioelectricity, aware that one tubule was lodged in her carotid artery, nanoprobes streaming into her bloodstream from his own internal factories, whilst the other was webbed against her spinal cord with countless delicate tendrils. He was aware of her body as if it were his own; the stinging and itching of her drying and cracking skin, the slowing beat of her still-organic heart, the coldness eating through her skin and into her muscles, the odd tingling of metal pushing into and melding with flesh…
No pain. She was unable to feel pain. Neural blocking, standard procedure in assimilatory surgery. They'd probably also disconnected her motor functions and some of her emotional responses. Again, standard procedure. He'd need deeper contact to remove those, to free her from the prison her own body had become.
With the utmost delicacy, he unwove the contact tendrils from her spine, and sent the tubules probing up into her brain stem. It took all his self-control to hold back, to search for the precisely right place to link to. Instincts he didn't know he had, shouldn't have had, were screaming at him to plunge straight into her brain, immerse himself in her consciousness.
He bit down on his lip again, the pain dragging him back from the impulse to lose himself in Anastasia's mind. He needed to stay objective, maintain enough of a sense of himself to perform the nanosurgery required to return Anastasia to herself, to give her back her senses and emotions. An involuntary shudder gripped his body at the thought of how potent the link would become once she could feel again. It shouldn't be like this. He shouldn't be having to fight his own intoxication with the sensations of her.
He let the contact tendrils slide lightly into position, feeling them curling in around the edges of her brain, releasing finely calibrated streams of nanoprobes into her cerebral fluid, rebuilding connections, replacing severed nerve fibres with delicate circuitry, exquisitely aware of each sense coming back online, breathing ever more synaesthetic richness through her nervous system and into his.
Still not enough. She wasn't free yet; something was holding her consciousness locked back, unable to reach the outside world, trapped in the dark behind her eyes. Her neurotransmitter was still pulsing with energy, the nerves around it firing wildly. The sensory centres of her brain were boiling with electricity, feeding back on themselves in a phantasmagoria of nerve impulses. He pushed the contact tendrils deeper, feeling the bioelectric impulses flooding back into his own brain, and allowed himself to fall into Anastasia's hallucinatory sensorium.
Her head dropped back, letting her hair stream up like seaweed as she sank into the cold greenish depths of the sea. The whisper of the tides tugged at her, calling to her, calling her to be once with them again. She was losing the feel of herself, feeling her dream-body become as numb as her real body had, feeling the sea seep in through her skin, stilling fear and freezing doubt.
And then, as her eyelids were dropping closed, cutting off the last of her sense… Light. Light from above, from the surface, from the air where things had shapes. Golden and green.
The sound of another voice reached her through the soft beckoning of the sea, a voice from above her and outside her, calling with desperate tenderness.
She awoke, and began to drown.
Silvery needles of rain beat down, glinting in the dull yellow of the archaic sodium lamps, prickling coldly against Picard's scalp. Blinking rainwater out of his eyes, he sprinted down the alleyway between the terraces of Victorian houses, counting the back gates as he passed them, Crusher and Troi at his heels. This one. Rusted iron, opening onto an overgrown lawn and several ratty and unkempt rose bushes, their red and yellow petals spilling in disarray over the path.
Two steps lead up to a once-white door, the window beside it granting a view of white-painted cupboards and cracking plastered walls. No Borg visible. The doorhandle turned easily in his hand, and his feet hit black and white lino. The wreckage of a heavy wooden table lay against one wall, and the door beyond it was ajar. The acrid scent of Borg death hung in the air. So Glass was fighting back, with some success.
He crossed the floor, moving quickly but cautiously, pausing to select a heavy carving knife from the knife block. Crusher nodded with grim approval, weighing an empty wine bottle in one hand. Without phasers, whatever crude weapons they could find would make all the difference.
Beyond the door there was a thud, a clatter and a terrible, human cry of pain.
She clawed her way upwards, struggling against the icy currents pulling her down. Struggling towards the light. There was less green in it now, more copper and red. Fire. Warmth.
There was no pain in her chest, but she knew she had to breathe soon, or die. She wasn't a creature of the sea, although it had tried to make her one. The currents wove around her, like vines, like voices, pulling her back down.
And they weren't just currents now, but creatures, grey creatures spawned out of the sea itself, reaching up for her. She twisted, swam desperately for the surface, letting the natural lightness of her body raise her towards the light.
Her palms met the surface, and touched only dense grey ice, the vision of light and flame made cold and diffuse behind it. Her hands were too cold, too sea-bleached, to make any impact on the ice. The lift given by her last lungful of air was failing, and she was falling again, sinking back towards those green depths and the icy-silky voice that coiled within them.
A sudden access of rage made her lash out, striking at the cold barrier that was condemning her to drown bare breaths from light and air. Driven by the heat of her fury, her hand splintered the ice, weakened as it must have been by the fire beyond. And her hand drove up into the light, and another hand caught her wrist.
She felt the voices below her turn from silk to cold polished steel, as she reached up desperately into the red-gold-copper light, feeling her fingers close about satiny burnished metal, as she pulled herself up with all that was left of her strength.
A sudden, dizzying shift in perspective, and she was hanging from the trunk of a vast tree, pinned by the spear in her side. Golden-green light poured down on her, and the shaft of the spear erupted into white blossom. She closed her hands around the spear, and pulled it free from her flesh.
And then she was lying on short, damp grass under a clear indigo sky, gasping for breath. The air smelt of rain and roses, and hands of smooth flesh and metal were locked around her own.
Picard ran across the hallway, past the shattered wreckage of a cupboard door, swinging round the newel post at the end, as a tangle of human and Borg limbs slid down the stairs towards him, crashing to a halt nearly at his feet. Anastasia's red-haired friend sprawled awkwardly across the limp form of a Borg drone, one of her heavy boots wedged against its jaw, its neck twisted at an unnatural angle, her limbs skewed and motionless. A second drone, its throat and life-support tubes ripped out with some kind of piercing weapon, lay prone beside them in a pool of dark blood and some kind of silvery liquid.
The third of the drones paused halfway up the stairs, turning to regard the Starfleet officers with a coldly predatory gaze. Picard met its stare, heart racing. Everything he hated the most, everything he'd die to defeat, stood above him there. The knife felt pathetically primitive in his hands, as he moved forwards, never dropping his eyes.
"I am Locutus of Borg. Stand down."
The drone's eyepiece clicked onto him, the soft mechanical whirring of its cybernetics increasing in pitch for a moment. Somewhere in the back of Picard's skull, voices coiled around his brainstem, whispering… Locutus of Borg: status, missing, contact intermittent. Instructions originating from Locutus of Borg are now considered irrelevant. New secondary objective: reclaim Locutus. Primary objective remains: locate Nine of Twelve.
The delay was just long enough, the spatiotemporal communications pulse just slow enough. As the drone's head snapped around, its body turning jerkily to reacquire its original target, Picard was standing beside it, close enough to drive the knife up between the abdominal and thoracic plates of its exoskeleton, up to where knowledge that wasn't his told him there would be the primary life-support node…
He released the knife as dark blood gushed freely from the wound, as the drone fell backwards, smoke rising from its twitching corpse, the smell of blood and burnt circuitry filling the hallway. Looking down, he saw Crusher glance at the tricorder again. "Two more, Captain!"
One more Borg. Unarmed, he cleared the last few stairs, swinging round on the landing. Anastasia Glass lay limp in the arms of a kneeling Borg drone, her hair pushed back, assimilation tubules buried in her neck.
Author's Notes: Anastasia's dream sequences continue to be influenced by the poetry of T.S. Eliot – here The Waste Land still, and also The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. The words "Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata," are Sanskrit, meaning "Give. Sympathise. Control." It's from the fable of the meaning of the Thunder in the Upanishads, also quoted in The Waste Land V: What the Thunder Said.