The air around Craig was different to the worlds he was used to, it was filled with something cold, thick and wet. He thrashed his legs around as his chest hurt and his lungs screamed out in pain. Opening his eyes Craig couldn't see anything but darkness and within his mind he knew something was wrong. He thrashed again with both his arms and legs when the thought occurred to him that he was in fact suspended off the ground. For a moment he thought longer on the subject before he realised that yes, he was most certainly off the ground.
The pain in his chest worsened and Craig opened his mouth to scream in agony. The thickness of the air rushed down his throat and began to fill every inch of himself when he realised that not only was he off the ground, but he was underwater. Craig opened his mouth and screamed for a second time.
The agony built in a way that Craig could not explain, it felt like a thousand needles slowly making their way into his chest and in that moment he was reminded of the spider legged creature that only moments before had straddled his waist and began sticking him like nothing more than a voodoo doll. For a moment longer he wondered if that sensation and this new pain was somehow related when Craig's thoughts were broken by the one thing he never expected.
From high above a light pierced the darkness, it was bright and vivid and Craig felt like he would burn out his own eyes if he was to look directly at it. The light moved down through the darkness towards him and hovered just outside his reach. It was then Craig realised it was not just a light but a hand, a hand that reached for him but could only go so far. He knew that he had to go the remaining distance on his own.
The pain began to grow within him as Craig strained every muscle he could to try and swim through the darkness. It coiled in his gut and started gnawing at his organs before erupting in a splash of heat that burned from inside. Craig was about ready to give in to the pain and sink within the darkness when the hand gripped his and a moment later he was on solid ground; soaking wet, gasping for air and coughing up lungfuls of a black oil like fluid.
Craig didn't understand what had happened, he looked around trying to take in his new surroundings, but still all he could see was shadow and darkness. Shadow, darkness and something else. Something he recognised straight away.
It didn't matter that he had nearly died, it didn't matter that she glowed like a thousand stars against the darkness, and it didn't matter that he knew she was dead. Craig would have recognised her no matter what.
"Anna!" Craig coughed and spluttered as more black fluid erupted from his insides and he vomited into the darkness before him.
"Shh" Anna replied, placing two immaculate fingers over his lips. The black fluid crawled and wiggled from her touch "it's ok, you're with Us now".
Craig scanned the darkness again, unsure of who Us referred to.
"You're special, you know that right?" Anna continued, her voice was soothing and it calmed his worries and concerns "I know you've been having the dreams, I know you've seen me and others like me before, that's why you're here now, with me" She paused for a moment and locked eyes with Craig. For an immeasurably short time Craig was sure he saw something in her eyes, a thousand Hydan and Kratel, each one different to the next. First he saw a Kratel with arms as big as trees each ending in massive scythe like blades, next it was a Hydan who's bone covered cranium had been replaced with a clear glass-like dome from which it's brain floated in a blue like fluid. Then he saw another, a Kratel with no chest, just a head on spindly mechanical legs, and another Hydan this one with a chest encased in metal and wires and tubes connecting his limbs to devices, then two more, then three, four, then he lost count until he saw the humans, some bald, others with thick locks of unwashed hair and then they were gone and he was back on his own again, with Anna.
"You are special" Anna continued "There is something about you that means you hear our song and you could have joined us willingly, but you chose not to"
Craig's mind was awash with memories, he saw them all clearly and he knew she was right. Even before he had arrived at the Outer Fringe he had seen his Anna and had the dreams, but at every stage he had denied himself the truth, put it down as early stages of space crazy; low grav-sickness, and hidden it all from the world and himself.
"You know who we are" Anna continued once more, her voice almost melodic "we are the ones who defy the conventions of life and death, we are the scholars who chronicle every event that has been and the philosophers who predict what will be. We are new, we are old. We are Reborn".
It was then Craig understood everything, he couldn't explain it to anyone, but he understood; the visions he had received were in response to their signal, their song. They called for him to join their legion and become more than he was before via the attuning of flesh with metal. Others had not heard their song because they were not like him, they were not special.
"You have to understand" spoke Anna in a quieter voice "our numbers are small, and we are slowly dying out as our physical shells are destroyed by the new machine from your world" Anna was of course referring to the Network Interface, the AI construct that forced Craig and his fellow humans away from Earth and out to the Fringe.
Anna's face took a sudden turn and she appeared to be almost sad or depressed as she spoke once more "Remember, we wanted you to come to us willingly, but there are those who do not share our patience. They call themselves the Collected Mind and they are at odds with our own will".
The darkness of the room glowed and Anna's light began to dim as her voice began to fade "It was these Reborn who attacked you, took you to the point of death and began turning you into one of them, but I was able to reach you, to rescue you from them if only for a moment" she looked like she would burst into tears at any moment "soon you will wake up, and shortly after that you will belong to them, but know that there will come a time when their control of you will wane, you will have a choice and an opportunity and if you take it you can be with us as we all hoped you would".
There was a blinding flash and Craig was awake, his eyes held open by clamps and struts, he was unable to move any part of his body but he was very much aware of what was happening to him. He clung to what Anna had said, remembered her promise that he could return to her. He saw through unblinking eyes as strips of metal were attached to his naked skin, as an entire leg was removed in searing agony and replaced by a robotic limb that did not feel like his own and as a transmitter was stitched into his throat.
All of this Craig saw and felt, fully aware of every shock of pain and agony but unable to move. He swore in silence that he would do as he was asked, that when the time came he would take his place by Anna's side and make his people proud. Then the optical implant was attached to his face, it's needle going straight into his brain, a series of ones and zeroes overriding his every bit of conscious and Craig stopped thinking all together.
- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley