I was on the edge of life. That's how they like it. I don't know who they are or where they're from, but this I know: they just keep me. Days like this, I welcome death. I am broken, a shell of the person I once was. They search me, search my mind and soul, but what they want is so guarded in there I can't even me to suffer so that I can give them what they want. But I can't remember. I just can't. I live and breathe. That is all. They don't need to feed me; I am in some sort of stasis cell that maintains my vitals but leaves me with only pain to keep me conscious. It hurts. So much.
They tell me of a Doctor, someone who hovers at the edge of my mind that I can't quite place. They want me to know about him, telling me terrible stories of the things he has done. I don't even listen anymore. They cannot make me believe anything these days; my mind has no capacity to be anything but in agony.
Today's method is still a mystery, but I am sure I can guess what it is. Last week they had a particular affinity for a certain hot poker. Just yesterday they had gone back to water, a favorite of two months back. I have been trapped for 136 days and can remember every single thing they have done to me; that is all I can remember. I can't see their faces anymore, can't see the walls around me or any escape. I just see the fire, the water, the dirt, the chains, sharp things scratching and clawing me until my skin hangs off me. Then the sick beauty of the stasis cell kicks in, closing me up, only leaving scars that look old and ruined.
If this Doctor is real, I am not sure if he is my friend or enemy. I have lost all recollection of my past; any life I may have had before this one has locked itself away inside my head. I know the past 136 days of consciousness, but nothing before. I function on instinct and survival, something I can't even do without the stasis these days. It is sad to think that there may be no one out there that cares enough to save me. This is why I beg for death: there may be no one coming. Ever.
Yet, today is different. My body tells me it is late in the day as I sense the people outside my cell are settling in for a nap. I should be getting my routine dose of adrenaline cocktail into my direct line chest tube, something the sadistic folks holding me invented so that I may never sleep, forced to be aware and conscious at all times. But that familiar burning in my chest as the chemicals enter never comes. Almost instantly my body begins to black out, as it is so used to routine that going one night without it may send me into endless hours of sleep-catch-up.
My cell door explodes with light. There is much noise around me, and I think I am supposed to move, but I am just so tired… I need to stay though, the stasis hasn't healed today's wounds…
Time passes slowly now. I fade in and out, vaguely conscious of something touching me, unfamiliar movements and smells entering my awareness. That awareness fades more, and for the first time in 136 days, I sleep.
i dream of three things: a man, a woman, and a boy. there are others there, but those are the most important. they do not have faces. they say strange words. there are things.
fire. water. dirt. metal. noise. burning. burning. burning.
ever so many.
the boy. his name. not there.
the man. no name.
the woman. more than one name.
I am in an actual bed, and it smells clean. This is such a drastic change that I sit up immediately, then regret it. My head throbs. The man next to me shouts, "River! Frem! She's awake!" The words mean nothing to me except: awake. I am awake. I am alive, out of the stasis cell.
The man is almost crying, and he reaches out to gently touch my face and kiss my forehead. "What hurts?" He searches my eyes. "Just lie back down, the head rush will pass. You've been sleeping for five days, you're going to feel a little out of it, but no worries! You'll be back saving the universe in no time! We got you out as soon as we could." He swallows, closes his eyes. "I am so sorry, Ariadne. I will never forgive them for what they have done to you." A smile twitches out of the corner of his mouth. "I love you. So much. I'm so glad you're safe again."
Safe again would imply being safe before, but I can't remember a time when I have been safe. To my disappointment, I can still only remember those 136 days. But this man, this tearfully happy man in front of me is a stranger. "Who…," I try to speak, but speech other than tortured screaming feels strange, almost painful in my throat.
"It's okay, take it easy. I've given you something for your throat, you wore it out pretty good and had some sort of infection. The antibiotics took care of it, you're still recovering." That makes sense. It is comforting to know I am being taken care of then.
I try again, "Who… are… you?" I manage to get out without too much pain.
"What? Wait, nevermind, don't try to speak again. Did you ask me who I am?" He spoke in a frantic panic, pulling out a strange device that flashed green as he passed it over my head. "No. Please, no. Ariadne, please tell me you remember. Please! Don't do this to us." I am silent. He spins around once, clutching his head in his hands. He takes a deep breath with his back to me. "Ariadne…," he whispers, to himself I think.
"Is that my name?" I think it is. "Ariadne." It sounds right as it rolls off my tongue. "Yes, it is. I'm… I'm so sorry." It feels like the right thing to say, as he looks so terribly sad that I don't know him.
"Don't apologize to me Ariadne, never. This is all my fault entirely." I don't say anything to that. "I'm the Doctor," he says, and my eyes widen. He seems to want to say more, but pauses, catching the recognition in my eyes.
"They talked about you," I explain, "You… that was the only name I ever heard. The Doctor. They were trying to… to ask me things… but I couldn't… I didn't know who you were." I shuddered involuntarily. "They didn't believe me when I said I didn't know. Those were the water days…" No. I was not ready to talk about the pain yet, not while it was still fresh. My cheek felt wet and I realized I was crying. I reached up to feel the tears with wonder- I had not cried since day 54. That was when I just lost the capacity for it.
"It's my fault," he repeated, a mask of mute horror on his face. "They wanted you… well it seems at first they just wanted information. Because they're smarter this time around. They were timing it better." I didn't understand a word of his mutterings, but I feel like I would, if I could remember who I was before.
"Who are you though? I know you're the Doctor. But who are you to me?" I had a sinking suspicion of the answer, putting things together, and it made me feel that much worse for the poor man.
He smiled dryly, his old eyes reflecting many years of wise sadness. "I'm your father." I let out a small sob, trying to apologize but he stopped me. "It's not your fault, it's okay." He reached out to wipe the tears off my cheek, and I let him because he was my father, even if I didn't remember that or the fact that he looked nowhere near old enough to be. He leaned in to wrap his hands around my shoulders to give me a little squeeze, which was when I let out a small scream. hands coming towards me, holding me down by my shoulders, forcing me underwater, nails piercing my skin.
The Doctor jumped back, confused and concerned. It only took him a moment to understand. My mind was outside my body as I curled into a tight ball, crying and screaming, clawing at my shoulders to where hands would have been. "Oh no no no I'm sorry I didn't realize… It's okay, you're safe, it's only me… I know, I know it's hard. Ah, this is my fault I should have known you'd have some post-traumatic stress triggers…" I listened to him talk, letting the steady rhythm of his voice pull me back to reality, where I was safe and with my father, the Doctor.
I took a few deep breaths and opened my eyes again. He was nearby, but not too close, looking tentatively at me with worry. I shook my head to clear it and shakily sat back up. "Doctor," I began unsteadily, fighting for control over all my instincts, "Can you make me remember?" I wanted it so bad, anything to stop hurting the man in front of me who I didn't know, yet felt so much affection for.
He considered this, moving his eyes back and forth, calculating. "I don't know, Ariadne." He moved closer to me, slowly taking my hand. He met my eyes, boring into them so sincerely that I could almost feel his regret. "Are you sure you want to remember?"
"I remember everything about the past 136 days, Doctor. All the things they did to me, every word they ever said to me. That is my life right now. That is all I know. The only thing that can save me is my past, because I believe that there is more to my life than that neverending pain."
He nodded once. "I'll be right back. Do you think you're up for two more visitors?"
I wasn't actually sure, given how much effort it took to sit up straight and talk right now, but I nodded anyway. As he was leaving, I had a thought. "Hold on," I called to him, and he paused in the door frame and turned. "Where am I? I know I'm safe. But where?"
The Doctor smiled. "We are in the TARDIS. Time and Relative Dimension in Space. It's a space ship and a time machine. Right now, if you look out that window there, you can see your planet, Earth. We're in orbit." He said it as if he had said it a million times, but it sounded so impossible that it must be the truth.
With amazement, I twisted around in the bed to pull back the blue curtains of the small white room. There it was. Earth. I had heard them talk about Earth in relation to me, as my place of residence. I had never imagined it to be so beautiful. I was utterly speechless. I turned around to face the Doctor, to thank him for showing me, but he was gone.
I couldn't help but feel slightly off-put at being alone in this strange space ship, but I concentrated on the huge planet to calm me down as I waited for whoever was coming to visit.
Whatever happened from here, the only thing I wanted in this moment was to remember. When a woman and a younger man entered the room with that same sad look the Doctor had worn, I wished with everything that I had to recognize their faces, but I could not. The woman touched my hand, stroking it soothingly, holding back tears. "My name is River Song," she said, "I'm your mother. How are you feeling?" Mother…
All that pain, all that hopelessness… there really were people out there looking for me, caring about me. I just wish I knew who they were. "Hello," I said, smiling a little, flexing muscles in my face that felt sore and strange to use again. "I'm just a bit tired, that's all." It was hard to assess my injuries which, last time I checked should have gotten blood everywhere, when I had an obvious amount of painkillers in my system. The stuff wasn't really agreeing with me, and I felt a bit sick. River noticed the face I made and said, "Yes, that stuff is a bit hard on the stomach. Does wonders for headaches, though." She smiled and stroked my hair. "Listen," she started, looking into my eyes and I listened because I trusted her already. "I love you. I do. And I am so glad to have you home. I know you don't know me or know that this is home but… just know this, for now: You have been so very brave. I know it doesn't make up for everything you've gone through but I swear to you that you will never have to endure that again, Ariadne."
Too much. Too much. That, that… incarceration I lived through for months and months was brave? It was heroism? "I didn't feel very brave," I told her solemnly, staring right back at her numbly. "But thank you. Thank you all for saving me."