"Open your eyes, Amanda," he said. "Your real eyes, not the orbs in your head. Look. Listen. What do you see?"
And she saw that her body was made of whirling atoms, dancing in a pattern that was chaos derived from order, a fractal dance that never repeated. And she looked at a single carbon atom as it spun, and she saw it back through time, and she saw. It was part of an apple and it was part of the air and it was part of an animal's breath exhaled and it went back, back, back through life and death and life again, until it was at the heart of a star, fused together from hydrogen and helium and hydrogen and helium, and before that the atoms that became the carbon were part of the star and the star came from the monobloc at the center of the Big Bang, exploding forth and becoming the entire universe. And she could hear the universe, a perfect, complex, cold and beautiful symphony of stars and planets and lonely interstellar matter, all dancing in a pavane choreographed by gravity and kinetic motion and the fiery dance at the heart of the stars. And the atoms of her body made her part of that universe, part of that dance, part of that song.
It's too big, she thought, too much, too wide, I'll drown, but she did not drown.
And on those stars and planets and in that interstellar void she heard a murmur, a roar, a rushing waterfall like the beat of a thousand drums against the perfect harmony of the spheres, and it was the voice of life, a trillion trillion trillion beings being born and living and loving and dying, and the shape the atoms of her body made was a shape that went back and back, the DNA the atoms of her body made went back and back, and the pattern of her shape came from small furry creatures from fish from single cells from muck where DNA and proteins formed in a dance of lightning, and the things that formed recombined and grew and evolved and lived and made up part of the roar of life that echoed throughout the universe, and the patterns of her body made her part of that song as well.
It's too much, too huge, I can't see all of this, I can't comprehend it, it will burn me out, and yet she was seeing it, comprehending it. All of the universe, all of life, a panorama in her mind, drawn to her and laid out for her to see and hear by the energy that she was, under her atoms.
And the energy that was her and that coursed through her was a stream, orthogonal to the universe, outside of and yet arising from life, and the stream poured backward to two people, and the two people were part of a different voice, a different song. Between life and the universe, between heaven and earth, between the stately music of the spheres and the chaotic rumble of life, she heard another song, and it was made of a thousand voices singing in tune in counterpoint in harmonious disharmony, a thousand voices speaking at the same time, louder and more distinct than any one sound made by life (though still dwarfed by the sound of all the roaring crowd of life, together), a measured rhythm but with melody. And that song was made by a chorus of voices, and, Amanda realized, she had heard that chorus all her life. In her dreams, in her quietest moments, she had been hearing that part of the song, those voices, since the moment she was conceived.
And his voice had been one of them.
She looked up, startled from her contemplation of the cosmos. "Your voice. I've heard your voice before. I've always been hearing your voice," she said.
Q smiled, and it was the first genuine smile she'd seen from him. "Of course you have," he said. "You've always been one of us, Amanda. You've heard my voice because I'm a part of the Continuum... and so are you. And so you've always been."
And for the first time, he wasn't a strange, obnoxious alien creature demanding that she train with bizarre abilities she didn't understand and didn't really want so she could leave her home and go away to an incomprehensibly different place. For the first time, she felt connected to him, as if he was... family. As if the abilities she was being asked to learn were as much a part of her as the ability to talk had been (strange and alien! Babble sounds, just like the big people, and they do things! She must babble more sounds, and learn how this trick works!... and now that she was thinking of it, could humans even remember being babies, the way she could?) As if the place she was expected to go, when she was done with her training, wasn't an alien world, but home. The home she had never seen, never been to, couldn't even imagine... but its voices had been with her all her life. Its people had been part of her world, and she hadn't even known it, hadn't been consciously aware of hearing them but their voices had always been there, all her life.
Note: The title comes from the following monologue from "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds" by Paul Zindel:
"He told me to look at my hand, for a part of it came from a star that exploded too long ago to imagine. This part of me was formed from a tongue of fire that screamed through the heavens until there was our sun. And this part of me - this tiny part of me - was on the sun when it itself exploded and whirled in a great storm until the planets came to be. And this small part of me was then a whisper of the earth.
"When there was life, perhaps this part of me got lost in a fern that was crushed and covered until it was coal. And then it was a diamond millions of years later - it must have been a diamond as beautiful as the star from which it had first come. Or perhaps this part of me became lost in a terrible beast, or became part of a huge bird that flew above the primeval swamps. And he said this thing was so small - this part of me was so small it couldn't be seen - but it was there from the beginning of the world.
"And he called this bit of me an atom. And when he wrote the word, I fell in love with it. Atom... Atom. What a beautiful word."