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>pop!<

Familiar darkness. At least this time you’re actually asleep, or at least you think you are. It’s easier to deal with than the times Voice takes your consciousness when you’re awake.

“earthdeirdre.”

“Hello, Voice.” Speaking with Voice is always fascinating, and in its own way, humbling. Voice is the growing sentience of what just might be an entire planet. You command a faction, but next to Voice you feel small.

Speaking with Voice is also frightening. Especially recently. Not because you fear the dreams or what happens in them; but the avatar of an awakening Planet is ancient, and childlike, and powerful.

“idea we. your human nodes, together think no. this earthdeirdre has told we. dependence not.”

“That’s right,” you say. “But…” The last time Voice brought this up, it was followed by fungal blooms and mind worm attacks on several Morganite bases. You’re worried that telling Voice that other humans don’t “togetherthink” with you has led Voice to think it’s okay to kill them. You’re not on good terms with Morgan, and no doubt he has aggravated Voice greatly, but it is still worrisome. “Humans are independently thinking life-forms,” you start.

“yes, yes!” Voice cuts you off. “independent synapse. but think we, human synapse, together could be. dependent, could be. from human think we learn much. from togetherthink, perhaps you learn much.” Fungus grows around you.

“What?” A bolt of alarm strikes you, the first time you’ve felt truly alarmed in these dreams since the very earliest ones, when you didn’t know what was happening. “Voice, I don’t think I can be part of your togetherthink, and I don’t want to, either.”

“togetherthink not with we. possible, we know not.” The fungus pulses. You tense.

“Lady Skye.” You turn around, and there is Corazon Santiago, standing in a fungal bloom, frowning. She looks focused, but not terribly concerned. The incongruity takes the edge off of your fear.

“earthsantiago,” greets Voice.

Santiago blinks. “This sort of dream, then,” she says, staring at you. “I suppose it’s only natural you get these too.”

“Indeed,” you say. “I’d never expected to see anyone else here.”

She raises an eyebrow. “You’re not the only one who knows how to listen.” She nods at the fungal growth blossoming around you both. “But I wasn’t expecting you in my dreams either.”

“dream share you,” Voice whispers. “thought share you.”

Voice’s intention hits you. “No!” you shout. “Don’t —”

>pop!<

You open your eyes. You’re lying on your back, in your own bed. The fungus is nowhere to be seen, but the fear still lingers.

You open your eyes. You’re back in your quarters, several hours before you had planned to wake up.

You turn and look out the window into the gardens below. It’s morning.

Windows in your personal quarters were too much of a security risk, so you can’t verify with your own eyes, but the interface says it’s two hours before dawn.

Seeing the sunrise, and the flowers below, always meant more to you than any threat to your safety.

A short wave of your hand brings up the lights.

You squeeze your eyes shut, then open them again. You drag yourself from bed and stagger to the window.

You grit your teeth. This is a distraction.

Nausea roils in your stomach.

You don’t get nauseated.

You do.

You do get frustrated. With effort, you unclench your teeth.

You press your palm to the cool glass. How could Voice do this to you?

You think that’s a very good question. There were empaths, there were ways to interface with the mind, but humans didn’t have… this.

No, not… You bite your lip as you realize your question was rooted in a sense of betrayal, not curiosity. Once you understand that, you also understand how silly a concept that is. For all you know, Voice thought she was helping you.

Or maybe Voice thinks that we can join Voice, next. You retrieve a fresh set of clothes and begin changing into them.

Gaia’s Landing stretches out before you; this window is one of the best viewing points of the entire base. Your eyes seek out the grove of tall white pine, planted not all that long after Planetfall. You knew humanity would change when you came here. You knew you would change. You welcomed both, for if you repeated humanity’s old mistakes, what was the point? So there were compounds here that preserved Planet’s native life, too.

You had never envisioned this.

You would have thought she would take it in stride. You move to the bathroom and quickly brush through your hair. Next, your fingers move through practiced, efficient motions, braiding it. When you glance into the mirror, the face that looks out is yours.

It isn’t yours.

It is yours. But you turn away so that the cognitive dissonance stops hitting quite so hard.

Cognitive dissonance. Yes, that’s an accurate term for what’s happening right now. You’re not sure what’s worse: the dissonance, or the idea that if you adjust to this, if you adapt, it might stop feeling so dissonant.

Your fingers slow, near the bottom of the braid. You must adapt.

How can you adapt? Even Yang, whose followers proudly claimed the title of “Hive,” would balk at this, you’re sure.

You must adapt, or you cannot survive.

If you adapt to this, the you who survives may no longer be you.

You sneer. Who is she, Miriam? You had thought she was stronger than this. Certainly she knew how to listen to Planet. The Deirdre Skye you knew did not fear Planet, but protected it, harmonized with it. And so it blossomed for her. Witnessing her people command mind worm boils to their bidding had made you take a step back, re-evaluate. You’d started listening to Planet too, and dreaming of Voice, and training mind worms of your own.

It’s not Planet you fear. It’s losing yourself to this. You’ve always been curious about Voice’s perpetual “we,” but you didn’t want your mind cracked open and another poured in.

You finish the braid. There is no going back. You must move forward.

You close your eyes. There is no going back. Even if Voice could untangle your minds, you still wouldn’t be the same as before you dreamed. With every minute that passes, you tangle together more.

This is likely irreversible. But you will survive. This is a fact of existence: you must survive.

You don’t want to just survive. You want to live. You want to see humans and Planet live in harmony. You must ensure humans and Planet live together in harmony, or you will die apart.

So we will live together.

You open your eyes.

You are not so different that this dream is incompatible with yours.

Your breathing slows. If this is the path to your dream, then you will walk it.

You look in the mirror. The face that looks out is yours.

The face that looks out is yours.