They don't tell me or us or any of us who volunteer for the faster-than-light travel and the tanksleep, that there are dreams, or anything at all like this...
I dreamed of fishes in the deep sea, and they swam through the dying light of the sunset. Their scales flashed, silver and crimson and golden, the colors of the sky as the day sunk under the horizon, and I saw them fall like so many glittering stars. Somewhere, far below, there is an ocean, my mind reeling at the vast size of it and the green shimmering off the rolling waves to a nonexistent shore.
Wait. There is no ocean, but I'm choking on goo in this tank, my hands flexing, fighting, sliding off the slick metal of the surface, the latchless prison...
Back into dreamtime again, and the sky is the ocean, the ocean is the sky. Treading water with the fishes, feeling the salt in my veins, the shuddering under my skin, the prickling. Far below, something tugs at my feet, like seaweed snaking around my ankles, and a thousand doves (seagulls?) take flight against the evening sky. There are fires on the deep.
Something deep below is glowing, and I am drowning with the song of sirens and doves in the endless green and blue and black. Somewhere above, the tank is beeping, furiously as I settle back in the fluid. There is nothing now but the salt, nothing now but the ocean, and it is everywhere. My hands drift above, my hair drifts in the tide, in the undercurrent. Something is flowing here, flowing in my veins and the water.
There are lights on the lid, cycling slowly, in a line of red: first failure, error, then to orange, caution. One by one, they go red, then orange, then green. One by one, the stars in the fish-wreathed sky go out, flashing with the last light of the day
There is something new in my back, and as a great shell swallows me up and a tail blooms from my legs, and I join my siren sisters, I hear myself singing. The hinged lid beneath the sea is closing as it opens elsewhere, and the lights are green, and the deckplating here is old and rusting, and the ten other voices, singing raggedly their song of transformation cry out, echoing back against the metal. Something skitters in my veins, then flows like water, and my voice joins their own as my back erupts in agony.
The liquid in the tanks churn as one by one, we, the sleepers, awake, and our backs bloom with ephemeral traceries of nanobots. Like mercury, the veins and bones and the ghost of feathers grow, and the tank beeps again. Again.
As the tanks send us, the sirens, the cyborgs, our dose of pain blockers, we curl in, knees to chest, the ocean flowing between us, the salt on our lips, the network in the tanks, in this laboratory, in the faster-than-light messages between stars and ships passing through us. We are the ship, we are ourselves (and laughter passes between us, weak, and shaky - I am Amanda, I am Meiko, I am Talya, I am, I am...), and we feel, as one, the muscles in our backs trembling. They are agitating with nanobots as we flex our wings, our minds, and our entirely human, inhuman network all at once.
In the perception, in the dream, there is a great ocean of data, and we, I, the sirens rise now, one by one, calling out to the others. The tides lap slowly to the shore and against the buoys, and far away, the silicon and golden circuits catch our tones and echo back. Slowly, they too begin to grow wings.