There's a place in the darkness that I used to cling to
It presses harsh hope against time…
And I know they are wrong when they say I am strong
As the darkness covers me
Martyrs And Thieves
The room radiated with dusty heat. Sweat raced down her neck and face as her sore hands picked up the pace. A table full of nut-like fruit lay before her, the double shells taking extra effort to remove, slicing her hands time and time again, the acidic juices from the alien fruit burning through the cuts.
But Donna was used to the pain and did not pause in her work, the bosses here were not above physical abuse if quota was not made. She may not understand their strange language, but the beatings spoke for themselves.
After a few violent run-ins, now she tried to blend in as best as she could, but her back and legs bore the scars of the guards' attentions. Her hair color stood out in the sea of dark heads bowed over the endless tables on the factory floor, and the back of a hand or club found her more often than others as a result.
In her mind the last scenes she could remember of a life before this one replayed endlessly until they seemed no more than a bedtime story. There was a beach, sparkling sand, fine like diamond dust getting in her shoes until she took them off and curled her toes in the warm pink grains, endless sunshine glistening on the water.
And a hand. A man's hand with long sensitive fingers, holding hers while they walked along the edge of the waves.
She prayed with each breath for the man to find her, she prayed he was still alive. And as time passed, she prayed he had ever really existed at all.
But as the months wore on she knew her memory was playing tricks on her, and that such a beach couldn't be real. Impossible things had happened that day. For instance she could hear her own laughter as the hand took her shoes she was carrying and managed to squeeze her purple converse into his pocket, leaving not even a bulge.
Sometimes, in the dark of night, she liked to pretend other things had happened on that beach, with the breeze ruffling his brown spiky bangs and his deep eyes on hers as he drew her close when the sun began to set. She would get so lost in the fantasy that she could taste his lips on hers, gentle and shy.
Donna recognized this escapism for what it was, just dreams. Nonetheless, they sustained her when the pain here threatened to overwhelm her, and so she treasured every moment of that day on the beach.
The next thing she remembered was foggy at best. They were separated on a space station, he was telling her to stay in the control room while he settled the dispute with leaders. Within moments after he left she was rendered unconscious by hands unseen and spirited off the space station, then in murky glimpses of what remembrance she could string together, as far as she could understand it, she had been sold to the highest bidder by a slave trafficking ring.
The work on this planet was long and grueling, and yet she still felt lucky to have avoided purchase by the sex slave traffickers. The phrase for a sex worker was one of the first words she had learned here, as she struggled to comprehend the common speech of the other slaves. One of the other girls had been roughly dragged away with much screaming and when she had made inquiring noises to the other women their answering gestures had left little room for doubt where the girl was going.
Some of the other workers here were not sold as sex slaves but they were used this way by the bosses. Donna felt bad for the girls they singled out for this, and earned herself more than a few good kicks trying to defend them, but she was thankful she was not among them. This did not mean the bosses and guards did not grope or pinch but at least aside from the bruises and the welts she did not have anything else to show for it.
There was no electricity here so they worked from sunrise to sundown. From what she could tell this was at least a fifteen-hour day, at the end of which they were herded back into a small windowless building with wooden shelves that served as bunks. Their daily meal was served at night: a ration of bitter soup. Donna did not recognize the taste but it made her sick if she ate more than a quarter of the bowl. This at least gave her something to curry favor with her fellow inmates, trading the remains of her meal for help when needed.
Once the sun went down the temperature dropped drastically. Several people huddled together trying to find whatever comfort they could in each other's meager warmth shared the "beds". She tried to keep track of days by counting the nights and from what she could tell she had been there for at least eight months. With the work, lack of nutrition and the constant abuse she felt her body getting weaker.
It was getting harder for her to remain calm with each passing day, to keep pushing through and not succumb to despair. Staring at the wooden planks of the bunk above her, she could hear the nagging voice in the back of her head chanting that she was a million miles and centuries out of time from her home. The idea of some spaceman rescuing her seemed more like a distant hopeful dream as time marched by her, until one day she realized she knew he was never real at all.
Donna could not say for sure, but it seemed the planet was heading into some kind of summer season, the work days seemed longer and longer, and she was less and less able to handle the exertion, or even to crawl from her bunk in the mornings. The malnutrition was catching up with her and her hands shook from sun up to when she finally threw herself into her bunk at night. The only small glimmer of life here was that a couple of the other workers had taken a shine to her eventually, following one day when she had put herself between one of the slighter girls who was getting harassed by a gang boss and earned a solid cuff around the ears for her trouble.
The shadows of the bruises still made her jaw ache, but the boss had left the girl alone after that so to Donna it was worth all the punishment they could throw at her. Although without the TARDIS she still couldn't understand their language, she had picked up the odd phrase and her attempts to stammer out their words also seemed to endear her to them. It wasn't much, but the occasional smile thrown in her direction was a semblance of connection and warmth in an otherwise inhospitable environment.
In the back of her mind she struggled to cobble together some kind of plan, some kind of solidarity that could be built up between the workers, but then her stomach would growl with the ever-present hunger and another wave of exhaustion would sweep her thoughts away.
She hadn't realized just how bad she had gotten until one afternoon when the bright hot sun seemed to slant at a funny angle through the roof top panels and the next thing she knew she had collapsed on the workroom floor. With a few vicious kicks for good measure the guards had hauled her off to the sleeping quarters, in the middle of the day.
Tossing her unceremoniously on the bed, the men stood over her, discussing something in short, sharp phrases, using the almost staccato speech patterns she was always struggling to understand. Donna watched them warily, seeing that all too familiar speculative look in their eyes as they seemed to realize they were alone here with her. Knowing she was too tired to fight them she lifted one weak arm anyway and pushed at the rough hand of the fatter one when he started fondling her.
Then his comrade barked something, a phrase she did recognize, causing her abuser to drop his hand rapidly with a muttered curse. She blinked, and the room swam around her as the men retreated, locking her in the darkness of the windowless bunk room. Could she really have heard them right? The warning of the guard, it was the phrase for a designated sex slave. Donna shook her head, she must simply be too disoriented to think straight, then she closed her eyes and gave in to the blessed sleep that overtook her, transporting her to better places and a gentler man, awaiting her in her dreams.
By that evening Donna was bleary-eyed as she joined the others for their paltry meal, and by then she was sure she had heard him wrong. It couldn't be that once she was no longer fit for the factory work they would sell her on as a sex slave, could it? Perhaps sensing her distress, one of her friends patted her on the shoulder and they shared a small smile. She wished she could ask her about it, she wished she had the knowledge of languages she imagined her dream man to have, sure would be handy right about now, she mused with a rueful quirk of her lips, and then hurried on to thinking about something else, trying to avoid the deepest fear she held: that she was losing even the memory of that dream. Even though he was just a figment of her over-active imagination, some kind of defense mechanism her mind had created to give her a lifeline of hope, she needed that escapism like she needed air to breathe. She had been here so long now no other reality seemed true.
As preposterous as the idea was that she would be anyone's idea of a sex slave, Donna worked even harder the next few days, forcing herself to stay conscious, willing her fingers to worker faster and her muscles to stop trembling. But when a strong hand closed around her arm at the end of her shift her stomach sank as she was dragged away, the now familiar phrase issued curtly from the guards in answer to questions from her friends, and there was no longer any room for doubt where they were taking her.
Hold on to yourself
for this is gonna hurt like hell
Hold On to Yourself
They brought her back out to the middle of the workroom, and stood her in the last dying rays of sunlight. It took Donna a moment to realize what they were doing but when she followed their gaze up to the glass of the boss's office where it overlooked the factory floor she thought she could see a man looking down at her. But the sun was in her eyes and the tall, shadowy figure turned away before she could be sure he was ever there at all.
The guard's radio crackled into life suddenly and she jumped. Over the air she heard a noise she had come to learn was an affirmation, although of what she didn't know. But the churning of her stomach did know: she had been chosen for some man. She closed her eyes and dragged her feet as they led her away. iNo/i she screamed in her head. No. Not this. Everything else she could endure, could steel herself to get through the day, but not this, please no. And why now? She was a wreck, sometimes her friends had to support her even for the short walk back to her bunk in the evenings, who could possibly want her?
Despising herself for it, she felt hot tears burn their way down her cheeks. She could have coped with this when they first brought her here. Maybe. But now? She didn't think she had any reserves left at all. How much more would she have to endure? Fear burned through her shaking body as she tried to reel in her unfettered emotions.
Donna fought down nausea as they pressed her against a wall in an elevator that seemed to go up and down and sideways all at once. By the time they reached their destination her legs would no longer obey her and one of the guards hefted her up in his arms like a rag doll without even a grunt of effort. He set her down in front of a large suite of rooms, and with that jarring staccato communication, delivered her into the care of a severe-looking matronly woman who stood ramrod straight in the doorway.
The exchange completed, the men waited until she was led into the foyer and the door closed and locked behind them. Donna lifted her chin and regarded the woman, trying to look as defiant as possible.
"I'm nobody's flippin' sex slave, you hear me, lady?"
Her brave words were only slightly belied by her shaking legs, Donna decided. To her great surprise the woman only smiled kindly and inclined her head to her. Donna frowned, confused. The woman began to speak, her words were still the stilted speech of the locals, and completely unintelligible as ever, but her voice was also warm and friendly, although firm in a no-nonsense nurse kind of way.
She indicated for Donna to follow her and started to walk into one of three rooms. Still frowning, Donna pointedly ignored her and turned instead to the door, wrenching the handle with all her might. It didn't budge.
Smiling sympathetically, the matron came back over to Donna, still talking softly, and gently took her by the hand. Wanting to resist but seeing no alternative at this point, Donna sighed and let herself be led into what turned out to be a luxurious bathroom. There was a huge tub in the middle of the room, already full of steaming water, and all manner of soaps and shampoos arranged on a low shelf.
She bit the inside of her lip. How long had it been since she had had a real bath? She literally couldn't remember, the very idea seemed more fantasy than actual memory.
The matron stepped behind a screen and Donna stood irresolute for another moment, not wanting to go along with any part of this voluntarily. But the water looked so inviting.
"Screw it," she muttered, and quickly stripped, sinking into the depths of the warm water. It felt like silk on her skin, raw after all this time working with the acidic juices in the factory. She stirred some kind of milky bubbles into the water to hide her modesty not that the matron spared her more than a quick glance when she emerged from behind the screen.
She wordlessly gathered up Donna's clothes, earning herself an indignant "Oi!" to which she paid no heed, indicating instead a gauzy white smock on the back of the screen. Then she disappeared with a soft click of the bathroom door lock and Donna worried at her lip again.
She spent as much time getting cleaned up as she possibly could, emptying and refilling the bath over and over until every last trace of factory grime was gone. No one bothered her the whole time. Now dressed in the ridiculous robe Donna was thankful that it was long and modestly cut, but it felt so strange to have such soft fabric on her still sensitized skin.
The matron appeared again, with a pitcher of water, and motioned for her to follow into a kind of sitting room. Donna entered the room hesitantly once she ascertained it was empty of anyone else, and perched on the edge of a couch, eyeing the water appreciatively, barely noticing when the other woman started talking, slipping into a tone that sounded like she was delivering a familiar set of instructions.
The woman kept looking at her expectantly and Donna tried her best to ignore her, and to ignore the dawning realization that the woman was telling her what she was expected to do here tonight. Glad for once for the lack of translation Donna sniffed dismissively (although it came out more of a plaintive sniffle) and the woman pressed a tissue into her hand without pausing in her practiced refrain.
When she finally got to the end of her patter, Donna piped up. "Yeah, well, Romeo is just going to have to wing it, Nurse Betty, cause I don't understand a word you're sayin'."
The matron simply looked at her for a moment and then from nowhere produced a hairbrush and began to smooth Donna's damp hair away from her face.
"What, they don't like the bedraggled factory worker look around here then?" Donna tried to sneer but in truth she had no strength to do anything but submit to the woman's strong but careful hands, and try not to cry again; she was being treated so unusually gently it undercut her defenses.
Finally satisfied, the matron led her to the final room, which was the largest yet, and dominated by a huge bed. She motioned for Donna to sit on the bed, an instruction Donna decided to treat as merely a suggestion. She stood in the doorway instead while the woman began matter-of-factly to turn down the sheets and plump the pillows.
Gesturing again for Donna to come into the room and onto the bed, the woman smiled sympathetically when Donna simply jutted out her chin and planted her feet firmly on the floor.
"I want water," Donna announced, and mimed drinking before spinning on her heel and getting out of the bedroom as fast as her trembling legs would carry her.
She got only a few steps into the hallway when there was a knock at the door and she froze in place, her heart leaping into her throat.
Giving her arm a warm squeeze as she walked past, the matron exited the bedroom and headed for the main exit.
"No! Don't, please, no!" Donna followed her as fast as her weak knees would allow, panic flooding through her, but the woman disregarded her and opened the door anyway, with a key she produced from one of her apron's many pockets.
Donna froze. Through the doorway the guards were negotiating something with the nurse, and there was obviously no way to make a bolt for freedom. The nurse turned back and motioned once more for Donna to go back into the bedroom behind her, and this time she did, beyond rational thought, simply wanting to put as much distance as possible between her and whatever man, or (she shuddered) men, who were about to come through that door.
She fled into the bedroom and slammed the door behind her, retreating to the far wall before her legs gave out under her and she sank to the floor, tears prickling painfully behind her eyes again. Out in the foyer she heard the unmistakable sound of the main door closing and locking.
"No," she whispered, clenching her hands and dropping her head to her knees.
"I can do this," she told herself, trying to make it sound real. She closed her eyes and said it again, and knew it was a lie. The sound of footfalls approaching the bedroom made her tremble from head to foot and when she heard the door handle turn she wrapped her arms around her head and moaned in fear.