In fifteen minutes, at midnight on the thirteenth of Delution, the Guabancexian Parliament will execute the infamous criminal River Song.
The Guabancexian Parliament believes that I am River Song.
I place my hand above my left breast to feel the heart beating fast enough to power a spaceship. But there's nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. I am in a cage of glass, less than a meter wide and two tall. Just enough room for me and my executioner.
Someone strides by without looking in my direction. It's her; I know that sheepskin jacket, khaki pants and unraveling hair as well as my own face. She walks like a queen leading a procession of her vanquished enemies, not a prisoner on her way to execution. River Song: part Time Lord, part human, and entirely unpredictable. Does she look at me? No, she wouldn't notice a stranger in a grey smock, even one with an uncanny resemblance to her.
"We weren't prepared for two of you," the executioner notes. "But we can't risk leaving River Song alive, whether she's a clone, an android or the original."
I force myself to look into her face. Her straight brown hair is styled unimpressively, leaving streaks of grey visible, and her clothing was obviously chosen for no-nonsense comfort.
Clear liquid fills the syringe. "I suppose I should ask if you have any last words." She looks up into my eyes.
What could I say? Someone else had made River the way she was, before I was caught in this trap. Someone took a strand of her three-strandedDNA and turned into our three-strandedDNAand then my three-strandedDNA. The first thing I remember that we don't remember is Madame Kovarian telling me to hunt down myself, the weapon that turned on its wielder.
I met the woman's gaze. Her brown eyes are soft, compassionate even. Like the mother I and we don't remember. She doesn't believe we're monsters. And I see a way out.
I lunge out of her reach, pressing down the intercom button on her wrist. "I am Melody Pond. I hate apples unless they have faces on them. My favorite color is deep blue, like old paint wood" like the TARDIS that always comes when it's needed "I love bowties. I hate the word 'impossible.' I can't sing."
She tries to pull away, but not as hard as she could.
Sobs threaten to overwhelm me. "I've never met my mother. I never had a cold." The memories are mixing now, ours and mine together. "I like cats because they have nine lives. I've visited twelve planets, two asteroids, and five space vessels. As a child, I was never afraid," I was never a child. "As a child, I was always afraid." We were.
I slump to the floor, unable to say anything more. The syringe hovers above the crock of my arm.
She drops it, letting it roll under her foot to be crushed. "You aren't a monster, Melody."
The intercom crackles to life. "What are you doing, Aoede?"
"She's a child, Ramero. Just because she looks like a murder doesn't mean she is one." Aoede nods at me. "How old are you, Melody?"
Does she mean us or me?"
"You, not River."
"One year old." One year of spinning through time, commandeering crumbling spaceships, paying too much for stale information. One wonderful year.
"Aode, this is irrel—"
"This execution is delayed until such time as the evidence can be examined by the full council. You are dismissed, Ramero." Aoede states. "Why did you say those things, Melody? If those were your last words, why didn't you curse or beg?"
"I was pleading. I wanted you to know that I'm a person. Not a photocopy." I glance down at River, wondering if the same rhythm of fear beats in her chest.
The communicator flashes. "They want me to bear witness to the execution. I'd refuse, but it would put your case on unstable ground. Here—" She pulls another communicator from her pocket. "Press the button with the circumscribed circle if you want to reach me. I'd take you with me, but you'll be much safer here."
Fear presses against my chest. "Stay, please…stay."
"You'll be safe here, I swear." Aoede squeezes my hand before the door swings open to let her out.
I cannot concentrate on the preliminaries, not the escorting of Parliament members to the executioner's platform or the political speeches. A children's clown attracts my attention momentarily, for he bears the plastic-smooth features of a drone. Another manufactured human with a purpose, though a prenatal lobotomy removed any chance of revolution from him. Does he have a favorite color? Remember his childhood? Dream of having a pet?
The listing of River's crimes continues, with graphic representations of her charges displayed on holograms. Some of the planets are more or less correct. Clom, for example, and Woman Wept. But they don't include the quiet ones, the beautiful ones that I found while chasing her, the ones where I splintered from we.
L'angel, where I cradled a newborn binary star in my hands.
Florana, where the seas were smooth as warm milk.
Iza Septimus, where waters ranged from finger-high to higher than Everest.
"For these crimes, and many more, we sentence Doctor River Song to vaporization." The air rippled with anticipation.
That's him coming for me now.
My muscles relax before I remember it's her thought, one of the thoughts I keep trying to banish. The pronoun needs no antecedent, no proper name to clarify its meaning. 'Him' means the man we have been training to fight since birth, the greatest foe of all free peoples. The Doctor is coming for River Song; the Warrior is claiming his battle hymn.
She twists, nearly too quick to see how, and one cuff is loose. Soldiers, advisors, governors, guards and drones crowd the platform—there's still no way she can escape.
Even though I can't hear the TARDIS materialize, I can feel it. Our third strand hums with its melody, the nearly inaudible whisper like a cat's purring. Level with the stage, one door swings open. "Jump! " he screams. "I'll catch you."
Ignoring the two-meter drop onto jagged rocks—a Guabancexian precaution against escapees—River leaps from the edge. From my angle, I can't see the inside—the glass floor and stairs, the motor sliding up and down, but no body falls to the rocks. The TARDIS revolves, dissolving into nothing.
Silence is broken by a hundred shouts. Anger, confusion, bewilderment, laughter, all break beneath the weight of terror. They had planned to execute River Song, and she is suddenly gone. She could be anywhere in the universe, any galaxy, any solar system, any planet, any time.
A young boy, no more than eight, turns around, staring wildly. Our eyes meet.
"She's still here! Come on, she's still here."
A woman nearby lifts her head—the boy's mother? "That's her. It's River Song." The cry is carried from her tongue to a neighbor's ears.
"She's still here!"
"We can still execute justice!"
I press the communicator's button. "Aoede! Aoede, they're going to kill me! Help!"
The mob surges towards my cell. I see individual faces—a wrinkled grandmother, a robotic technician still holding a programming unit, a bald teenage boy with a sonic baton, a mother and twin girls with laser pistols, even a visiting Graske.
"Aoede, they're going to kill me!"
"Are the guards still there?"
"They joined the mob," I force my voice to remain even. "And the controls are on the outside, aren't they?"
"Yes. But Melody-"
Maybe her communicator cut out. "Are you still there? Please, tell me you're still there!"
Every limb of my body throbs, protesting the implications. "No. I can't—I'm not River Song! I'm not River Song!"
"I know you are not River Song. And I will remember that, whatever happens."
I tear off the communicator, hurl it to the floor, and stomp on it. What good will it do Aoede to remember me when I am dead? Words buzz through my head river song melody pond the forest's water river pond melody song….
The TARDIS. I am hearing the TARDIS. Its hum still fills my mind. I whirl around, trying to see it. A hint of blue hangs in one corner, a translucent curtain moment I see the glass walls, the next blue panels, but always the blue is stronger. He's going to crash the TARDIS into my cell. I squeeze into the far corner and cover my head with my arms.
Glass ripples like snowflake crystals cascading to the floor. The door swings towards me, held open by a young man in a tweed jacket, suspenders, and a bowtie. The Doctor: our heart sees the words in shining gold against the stars of the Medusa Cascade. The Doctor: my mind trembles as he extends a hand. "Hello, I'm the Doctor."
"Yes," I manage to reply.
"I don't suppose those people rushing towards you are some sort of fan club."
I shake my head.
"Then it would probably be a very good thing if you were not here right now. Fancy a lift?" The TARDIS shakes. "River, what are you doing to my ship?" he calls over his shoulder.
"You said I learn to fly it."
"Not today!" He turns back to me. "Are you coming?"
I can feel the rhythm of the TARDIS like a song in the back of my mind.
"Trust me. I'm the Doctor."
I grab his hand. The TARDIS shakes again, beginning the dematerialization process. We tumble backwards onto the floor, nearly landing on top of each other. I stagger to my feet, walking up to the console. Its hum calls me like a magnet seeking north.
He bounds to his feet, rushing around the panels flipping switches, pressing buttons, and pulling levers. She steps back, watching with a smug smile.
"There we are then. Back into the vortex, and just in time too. I'll have you know the TARDIS isn't a bulldozer or hovercraft, she wasn't built for that. Well, River," his eyes flicker between us. Handcuffs still dangle from one of her wrists, an odd accessory to the wool vest and khaki pants, while my unremarkable grey smock nearly slides off one shoulder. "I always knew you were trouble, but two of you….What have I gotten myself into this time?"
I press my hands against my breastbone, feeling the rhythm of two hearts trying to break through my skin.