The injection was like liquid fire in his veins, like a blast of mindfire, but inside him, hotter even than his own furnace. This assault from inside was more than even he was capable of generating, more than the system could handle, and he was going down. He felt the heat wash over his brain, drowning his mind in noise, annihilating the signal that was him, felt his eyes go wide and his jaw fall slack as he lost motor control over the muscles there... and he would have laughed if he could have. Before the nanites managed to build a bridge to the Borg network and transfer his memories across, there would be no memories there. Before the Borg took over his consciousness and destroyed his selfhood, his self would be gone.
He thought of Crichton's neural clone, denying him the wormhole knowledge to the last, breaking apart in the heat. A Pyrrhic victory to say the least. Now he thought he knew how the clone had felt. The Borg would have nothing of him that mattered, because by the time their nanites were done with him, he would already have ceased to exist.
He fell, disintegrating.
And then a wash of cold in the overheated darkness, cool balm for the pain of nonexistence, icewater sluicing over his mind. Clarity returned. There was a gap in time. He had no idea how long he'd been down in the dark, but something was cooling him now, something wrapping soothing tendrils around his brain. Scorpius opened his eyes, or tried to. One would not open.
Not essential right now. Assess the damage later. He didn't know how long he had. There were voices whispering far away, a chant like an entire Peacekeeper battalion going through an exercise at the same time, shouting the same words. Not a whisper, actually. Just too far away to hear the shouting. From what he had learned, the assault would come against his selfhood, his individuality, and they would try to absorb everything he was.
He couldn't move. The one eye he'd managed to open could see that the glove on his left hand had split open, and circuitry was crawling up the hand and onto the arm. Rosettes of mechanical implants dotted his arms and legs, breaking the integrity of the cooling suit. So why could he think?
Of course. If he could have controlled his face he would have smiled at the irony. The nanites were improving his internal cooling systems, perhaps even replacing the Scarran heat dispersal structures he didn't have. They were repairing his body for their own purposes; they intended to use it to their own ends once it was complete. But that gave him some time.
He wondered if any other victims of the Borg were accustomed to rebuilding their own mind and memories, their own sense of self, over and over again every time the temperature got too high. It might give him an advantage. Once severed from the Collective, Borg were capable of regaining their individuality and memory. Perhaps he could fight off the takeover of his mind. His sources on the Borg seemed to think that was more or less impossible, but he had little to lose by trying.
He closed the one eye; it was nothing but a distraction anyway. Scorpius concentrated, focusing his mind's eye on the task before him. Remember who and what he was.
The distant chanting abruptly became much louder, a battering wave of voices smashing against his consciousness. That, however, was much easier to deal with than heat. He ran through focusing mantras, remembering the sequence of memory he used to remind him of his identity.
Tauza, standing over him, pouring water on the floor as he gasped in need...
A thousand different aliens bustling about in front of him on his first commerce planet, overwhelming chaos and sweet freedom and so much danger and so much to learn...
KaToya sitting on the floor in front of him as he knelt, speaking of discipline and focus...
Images from a shipboard recording, Rylani Dellos relaxing in the arms of her husband...
Rylani bound and screaming during her rape, and Tauza's voice cruelly mocking her...
Tauza collapsing to the floor, blood and vitreous humor running down her cheeks...
Captain Molayne, hand outstretched, offering a purpose and a home...
The voices grew louder, the chanting too rhythmic, disrupting his focus and dragging him into its pattern. He fought back, whispering a mantra of hate and revenge in his mind, making it pulse to a pattern that countered the Borg chant. A thousand thousand voices tried to crowd into his brain, tried to overwhelm his thoughts and drown him under their chanting. He knew the use of rhythm in brainwashing, though, and he knew how to counter with a beat of his own choosing. He filled his mind with nothing but the cycle of memory images on a loop, nothing but his own chosen mantra of vengeance. His core self, his raison d'etre.
Eventually the sea of voices receded slightly, enough to allow him the smallest respite. In the relative quiet, he was able to hear himself think, to sense things outside his hyperfocus. That was when he sensed things rummaging around in his brain, like spiders crawling through his mind. He'd used neurochips to collect and back up his own knowledge often enough to know what it felt like. To a being with psychic sensitivity, the sensation of an outside presence harvesting data from one's mind was palpable.
They were no longer trying to break his consciousness. But they had entered his mind while he was occupied protecting that consciousness, and now they were stealing his memories.
Rage filled him. He didn't have an overly developed sense of privacy about his own mind; with the need to back up his memories on a regular basis, to keep from losing them to heat delirium damage, he couldn't afford one. But when he chose to yield his memories to the Aurora Chair so that they could be preserved, he chose that, for his benefit. Another entity crawling around in his brain, stealing his memories, was theft and violation, and he would not have it. He focused his attention on trying to block, on forcing the presence out of his mind.
But it was not telepathic. It did not work like a Scarran mental invasion. And it was not focused like the Aurora Chair. It was, in fact, like trying to fight off a thousand different Chairs at once, each at extremely low power but far too many to erect any real defense against. He could split his attention two or three ways, but a thousand places to focus was quite beyond even him.
So let it go. He knew very little, he suspected, that the Borg didn't know already. They didn't apparently know how to use wormholes as a weapon, but then, neither did he -- yet. They knew far faster means of transportation than even a Leviathan was capable of, perhaps as fast as a wormhole would be capable of. There was little they could take from him that would genuinely help them. Let it go. Concentrate on preserving his identity. And on reclaiming control over his body, so he could escape.
He began with his arms. The one that appeared entirely consumed by cybernetic circuitry would not budge. The less modified one twitched when he focused his attention on it. His legs would not move at all. Scorpius focused on the arm that would move, commanding it, demanding that it respond.
Before he was able to make much progress, however, the voices returned. This time they were even louder and more powerful than before. The voices crashed against his mind like a thunderstorm, drowning everything else out. Desperately he refocused on the mantra, trying to hold on to who and what he was.
This time all sense of time, of the existence of an outside world, disappeared. His world was filled with a sea of chanting voices, and he clung to his identity as if it were a bit of driftwood floating in that sea, the only frail aid he had against drowning, and no sign of land anywhere. Nothing but the swell and fall of the waves of alien voices, washing over him, trying to swamp him.
He didn't know how long he hung on, struggling to stay afloat, to stay himself.
And then something changed.
A woman stood before him, in his mind. What remained dimly of his consciousness of body told him that she was not there in the eye that worked. But the other eye could see her quite clearly. She was pale, and bald, and wore black leather like a cooling suit, and she was beautiful.
She reached a hand out to him. "Stop resisting us," she said, her rich voice reverberating throughout his brain. "In the end, we will win."
"I... will not... surrender myself," he snarled at her, too exhausted to control the Scarran rage coming through in his voice.
"You don't have a choice," she said. "Eventually we will break you. But I would rather not. With a mind, a will, like yours... I would prefer you came to us willingly."
His only response was a snarl.
Her voice sang in his mind. And she was Natira, but truly offering the love he'd naively thought Natira offered, once. She was Tauza, who would make him perfect and strong instead of rejecting him for his weakness. She was Rylani, who would embrace and accept him, who valued his unusual biology and his gifts. She was every woman he'd ever loved, every woman he'd ever wanted to love him, and she found him useful, valuable and precious. She would love him... if only he gave in, and gave up everything he was.
For a moment, he wavered, tempted. But no.
"The price is too high," he whispered.
"Is it, Scorpius?"
She showed him the image from his nightmares of Rylani, heavily pregnant with him, kneeling and weeping and begging to die as his gestating form burned her from within. She showed him the memory of the first Peacekeeper woman he had found attractive, the first and only he had dared to approach with an offer of recreation, beating him bloody, as he held back the rage and the strength that could have crushed her easily, letting her beat him because he deserved it for being so stupid as to think a Peacekeeper would want a half-breed. She showed him faces turning blank, desperately trying not to show their disgust to a superior officer.
Rarely did Scorpius acknowledge the awful loneliness he lived with, the certainty that no one understood him or particularly cared about him, that those he would give his life to protect from the Scarrans largely despised or feared him. She made him feel it -- the isolation, the despair he hid from himself most of the time.
"We will accept you."
Unspoken directly, but in the undertones that sang in his brain: We will embrace you. We will love you. All you must do is give us all that you are, and we will be yours as you are ours, and you will live within us forever.
"You don't want me. You'll embrace what I can do for you, but you'll annihilate me."
"Self is an overrated concept," she said. "And is what we ask, and what we offer, so different than the Peacekeepers? They care only that you are useful. They don't know or care who you truly are. You hide yourself from them." She showed him his own memories, of the rage and the under-the-table deals with Scarrans for information he could twist to his own ends and his network of extra-Peacekeeper contacts and boltholes and funds in Shadow Depositories, all to keep part of his self and part of his goals free of the Peacekeeper hierarchy. "Join us, and you will have your revenge; we will take the Scarrans, too, in the end, and they will never harm you again. You will be safe, and you will be accepted. What more do you need?"
Weakly Scorpius shook his head. "I hide from the Peacekeepers to preserve my identity separate from them. You would take that away. And I don't want revenge so that I can be safe. If you consume me, and the Scarrans, and every other race around them, Sebacean and all the others, that neither protects my people nor punishes the Scarrans. I will not be part of that. And I will not surrender myself."
She inclined her head. "So be it. We will have to take what you will not give, then."
And then she was gone, and there was nothing left but a hysterical cacophony of voices screaming in his ears, a million voices battering at him. The last thing he could think, before the single-minded need to resist the loss of his self took away his focus on anything but that struggle, is that she was telling the truth. If rescue did not come, then resistance, in the end, would be futile. He could not hold out forever.
But it did not matter. Until he couldn't any longer, he would resist.