"Did you think that would work?" Melody asks her. "Sally Cardagh. Remember her? There's a reason why she wasn't in the system." Closing her eyes, Melody concentrates. The metal is cool and slick in her grasp. "Think of her as a virus."
The psychiatrist's voice grows high and nervous. "What are you doing?"
Melody opens her eyes, twists the muzzle of the gun under her chin. "Waking up," she says, pulls the trigger.
She splats out from the edge of the gun, the neural implosion knocking her consciousness sideways. Everything coalesces inwards—time, memory, space, whooshing back as she pulls the trigger, bullet in the brain pan squish.
Waking up's always like this: the drugs heavy on your tongue, knowing that as they drag you from the immersion chamber to keep your body fresh as fish, knowing that you're going to have to answer. No, no. The flowers drip from your eyes onto the table, eating your throat raw, and they smell of time. All of your lost years.
No, I don't know where the Doctor is.
Lying for someone she's never even met, because she knows where the Doctor is in a dozen different points in his timeline, but not the one the wolf needs, no, never not him. That's the lie. She doesn't know.
Melody turns, tastes River's hair.
Hello sweetie. Last I saw you, you were being tortured. It's been awhile.
Will I ever stop having you in my head at odd hours?
No. I never stopped having you in mine.
Mmm. Melody isn't quite sure how she feels about that. I've always wondered why we dream.
The TARDIS. Mine, at any rate. We're such a close probability, you and I. Sometimes our wires cross.
Melody gets the sense that River isn't too sure how to feel about that, either. Both of them off by a mere hair, a trick of the hat. So River had her stand-over woman bathed in purple lipstick, and Melody had her father to tuck her in every night.
But, River continues briskly, we are who we are.
And I dream.
And you dream. And I dream to, come to that. Sometimes.
Yes. Wires crossing. Electrical currents run both ways.
River pauses, then, a fraction, a hare leaping over the fire, quick and effortless. Painless, like ripping off a band-aid.
Melody. I have something to tell you.
Depends on perspective.
In a dream, even waking up from one, time happens all at once. You can live a lifetime in one hour, or five minutes on a loop, and you don't question your normalcy.
Melody listens. Says thank you to River, turns in her head to catch the Doctor running from dinosaurs the first time through, and this time there's no triceratops to lie dead at his feet, only a betrayal. She wakes up entirely after that.
She can't breathe, shecan'tbreathe, oh God she can-t—her brain stutters, picks up again as she twists, hits glass. The oxygen mask clamps down over her mouth, gagging
s-st-panic. stuttering panic, breathing for her, clawing out of her lungs. Her arms twist in the tubes and wires holding her, pulls back sharp. There's a snap and a whirr as the IV drip tears itself from her veins, the pain instantly deadened, unfelt. Blood swirls into the air, silky and wet. Somewhere an alarm blares red and sharp through the glass tank she's in, the noise and the light adding to the panic.
Calm down. His voice is biscuit brisk and more than a bit cranky. Think! Do you want to drown? No one's coming for you. The system can't be too far advanced, though, if they're still using oxygen masks and IV drips.
The voice in her head sounds like Three.
Melody forces herself to calm down, breathing in (struggle) out (struggle again) through the oxygen mask. Just enough to live by—no problem for a sleeper. Melody hangs suspended in a thick solution, opalescent, like the inside of spit. A sort of preservation-fluid. She can barely turn her head. Everywhere she's like her hands, snapped all her nerve endings closed, slowed down her biological clock. A perfect cocoon for never waking up.
Someone must come along, change out the drips, change the fluid. She has to get out of here. They might notice she's woken up, and and and
Calm down! The voice this time's all her own. Melody tries to swim up, tangles to a full stop in the IVs and the oxygen mask gagging air down her throat. She pauses for a moment, gagging on the oxygen pumped in through her mask, stranded by the minimal safety of breathing.
Eight months in a coma, in an isolation tank. There's a very high chance that if she forces her way up and out, the shock alone will kill her. This thought holds her, IV drips curling out from their hold on the top of the tank, the blood from her ripped veins pooling into the preservation-fluid of the tank.
Melody forces herself to focus on the ceiling of the tank, barely visible through the thick opacity of the solution. She does an experimental kick with her legs; she bobs up, the tube of the oxygen ballooning upwards into her vision. Slowly, movement hampered by not feeling, she turns her head down. The oxygen mask is attached to the bottom of the tank, clamped down through the bottom of the floor.
There must be an oxygen tank underneath, Melody thinks, trying to breathe. The tank's not designed for moving around in; the glass siding brushes against her shoulders, her knees, and even though she can't feel it she can see, and that's enough to send panic ricocheting through her.
Now is not the time to discover I'm claustrophobic, Melody informs herself sharply. Not the time. She breathes in, and out, so sharp, the oxygen stale with plastic. She wonders if this is what Dad tasted before he died, before he gave the last to Martha Jones and left Melody behind?
Red light pulses from outside the tank, a dull throb in countermand with her heart in her throat. It's a warning light. She wonders when the automated system will kick in, reminds herself to breathe.
Not the time.
She bobs up a bit more, looking up through the preservation-fluid. The tank is a lot longer than it is wide, and she's able to kick her legs freely, if but incrementally. The lid of the rank rises possibly a foot above the preservation-fluid. She's not sure if she'd be able to make it, let alone force her way out through the tank's lid. Solid iron, solid metal, and all a foot above her head.
But John, out there somewhere: he would do nothing less. Her friend, the idea germinating in her head, taking root to flower, to bud. She can't stop it now, doesn't want to. Bright flower, warming her hands even as she knows it will later burn her fingers.
John. He would try for her.
He was no stranger to death.
Just as she prepares herself to violently twist up and force her way out, bare hands and all, a low buzz settles in the back of her teeth, drilling up into her skin. Instinct, Melody tries to get away from the sound, jerking up and back, running into the side of the tank, but the entire preservation-fluid she's in vibrates with the sound. The vibrations ripple across her skin, and it's the first sensation she's had in the last eight months. Her skin aches, blooming bruises along her muscles and bones, purple-yellow-green-red.
Melody ignores the pain as best she can. Her eyes widen, desperately trying to see past the spit-cool murk of the preservation fluid, the thickness of the glass, past the red throb of the light outside her isolation tank, informing the system.
Warning, warning. We have a drifter.
Golden, nimbus luminosity: they ooze up from the floor, the glass tank, the ceiling, pouring down and in and through cells and muscle and skin. The buzzing, settling down into her ears, stamping it's bruises on her skin. She can't see past the golden spots swimming in front of her vision. They enter into her eyes, her brain; she can feel them stamping around, rearranging into the command to sleep, power down
Melody opens her mouth to scream, chokes on the oxygen from her mask. Panic thuds along her pulse, trip wiring flight, but there's nowhere to fly to, she's stuck.
Power down, power down. Shut out the lights, shut out her skull, her brain, blinking and her heart commanded to slow, slow. She tries to fight it, twisting back, but there's nowhere to go. She's not in control of her own body.
The palace drone, lulling down through the automated system into her spine, finally here.
She waited too long.
(power down, power down, in tempo with the pulse of her body.)
Who would want such a thing? She twists, jerks, but her muscles are stilled by the light, controlled, slowed.
Horror claws at the back of her throat. Never waking up. Who would want—
Melody's eyelids droop. She tastes oranges in the back of her throat. Dad has an orange tree in the backyard, right behind the kitchen window. After Mum died, he'd let it go to rot, but she remembers eating from it just this afternoon when she came home from work.
Powering down, the buzzing kills her, it really does.
It rises to a shriek, one she almost recognizes, scatters the light left, right, center. The glass of her isolation tank shatters out, breaking open the cocoon, the preservation-fluid draining out in one burst through the glass to seep onto the floor. Melody drains out with it, catches on the straps of her oxygen mask, dangles in place moth open naked. She hangs there like a fish, suddenly caught by gravity, muscles seizing up, flopping wet and slick from the sudden bombardment of sensation. From the ripped skin on the inside of her elbows blood pools down her arms into her hands, drips from her fingers.
Sound. Taste the air taste your skin. Eyes dripping, heart hotter than melted butter, hotter than the sun, roaring along in golden silence, ready to eat her veins into fire. Eight months of nothing, and now too much.
Her brain seizes up, stutters. The straps dig into her skin, flashes of light seizing seizing seizing fire at her arms, at her throat as she screams, chokes on her own spit, forgets how to breathe as her brain melts.
Shock. It's called shock. Sh-sh-o
ck into seizure.
She's dying. Stop all the Melodies together, and then there would be none at all.
A vise grabs her waist, her ribs, cracking them open. Bruises bloom as the straps are unhooked from her skull and ripped off her ears, as the cuts from stray bits of glass bubble and twist under the surface of her skin, turning her inside out with acid. Flay her bones, burn up the sun.
Her eyes rolls back in her head, shudders and jerks as she's lowered to the floor, her legs knocking against glass and metal as her brain shudders her body apart.
His shadow bends over her, heavy. Brain knocking around the inside of her head, she's seizing up, stiffening into red-blue-green fireworks bouncing around inside her head.
He'll have to be quick.
He clamps her down with his body as best he can, bursts the sonic buzz buzz into the air. "C'mon, c'mon, work, damn you, work."
Too much. Eight months too long.
She can't stop the fireworks.
Buzz buzz, bzzzzrt as he finally lets out the sonic in a steady stream of curses, rewiring their objective. Automated system, keep the subject alive.
They stream in, gold from her eyes, his hands. Fix, fix. This is cake. They grew an entire leg, once, in another universe, completely from nothing.
They work quickly, analyzing his DNA code with hers, finding the matches, slotting in place with human, human, familial, copying the pool from what they know of their own planet and species to that of human biology and anatomy and grey matter of the brain. Smooth down the wrinkles, dampen the fireworks, reroute her biological code. There's enough of his DNA to go back and reconstruct the parent's.
Seconds. That's all. Twenty at most. He's still cursing when Melody returns to herself, a steady stream thick as any sailor's.
Buzz buzz bzzzrt.
Her vision swims, and she lies there for a moment, blinking against the backdrop of his face. She'd almost died. She takes a moment, allows herself to fall, to unravel a bit under the knowledge, sniffs wetly and drags her hand across her eyes. Then she locks it up tight in a drawer, because there's still work to be done. Lot's and lot's of running.
Keep a stiff upper lip, don't show the damage to anyone. You can fall apart in the privacy of your room.
In that, she and River are exactly alike.
Melody sits up slowly, scraping along broken glass, the metal cool and slick underneath. The buzzing stopped, replaced by hands hovering around her shoulders, ready to catch should she collapse.
"Ian," she chides. "Didn't your mother ever tell you not to swear?"
Ian has the grace to look chided. "She might've mentioned it once or twice." He's kneeling next to her, the vestiges of the preservation-fluid staining the knees of his jeans a dark black. He'd changed since she last saw him. The suit was gone, replaced by dark grey jeans and a beat-up anorak, faded to a pale rasp-red. Woodstock peeks out just above the V of the zipper, black eyes crinkled in a smile. The rest of the yellow bird is revealed as Ian takes off his anorak to drape it around her shoulders. Melody's wearing a thin hospital gown, translucent from the preservation fluid and not much else. She clutches the anorak to her gratefully.
"What happened?" Melody asks, frowning. Everything's grown hazy in her head, the dream fuzzing out as dreams often do. But she remembers Sally Cardagh, and River. What River said, too frightening to be real, too sad. The seeds germinating in the back of her throat, threatening to push out flowers and choke her to death as she says, "We were going to Space Florida. John and I. And then eight months sleeping, and then . . ." She gestures around her.
Hundreds of isolation tanks, thousands, rose up around them, stacked one on top of one on top of, with catwalks crossing each other to reach the upper levels. The red warning light still blares, casting everything wet and red, like a mouth. Everything was death silent, not even the hum and pitch of machinery to break sleep. People were in the isolation tanks, murky black blobs beneath the thick glass and the preservation fluid. They tower, and next to them Melody's isolation tank seems small and broken, glass shattered down the corridor.
Ian's not looking at her. It connects, finally, that he's really, actually here. "Ian," Melody asks, searching the turned lift of his face as he looks at his shoes. "Why are you here?" Saving her, becoming the god out of the machine. Not a role she ever would have pegged him for.
Ian snorts. "I have impeccable timing." His slick-white grin returns as he adds, "For once."
"Oh." He picks her up to carry her over the broken glass, sets her down on her feet once the way is clear. It crosses Melody's mind that she should protest him taking such a liberty, but she trusts Ian. She made the decision to trust him eight and some odd months ago when she'd looked at him, cuffed unconscious to the railing in the console room, and swore to Braveheart that yes. Ian Noble would be safe as houses.
She'd turn the whole world over for that.
The floor is wet under her feet, the puddle of preservation fluid numbing the soles of her feet. Melody shifts, uncomfortable. Her skin crawls with memory, and she has to take a deep breath before she's able to turn to Ian with any sense of normalcy.
Who knows when she'll feel comfortable sleeping again, not that she had an easy enough time of it before. Insomnia trembles on the edge of her awareness, but she shoves down into the drawer with almost-dying and the flowers, which spiral out of control. The drawer's getting overstuffed, and she smiles at Ian to forestall curling up on the floor and never getting up again.
"Alright?" Ian asks her, hands in pockets. His gaze sees, perhaps, too much.
Physically she feels fine. Better than fine, even. Any cuts, bruises, or atrophy sustained from the preservation fluid and subsequent shattering of the isolation tank is gone. Physically, Melody's better than she's ever been.
"Fine," she says, turns over in her mind the why that she isn't dead. "What were those?" she continues, hugging Ian's anorak tighter round her shoulders. It smells like damp cotton, almost medicinal from the preservation fluid. "Those lights. They tried to make me go to sleep, and then the tank shattered, and you were there."
Out of his back pocket Ian flips a sonic, catches it one-handed. "Nicked it, didn't I? Last time I was in. Don't tell."
"Yup. Then I hopped over to here, several hours too early. Which was a good thing, because it gave me time to scout the area, take out the skeleton crew on the upper floor who man the machinery, reroute the computer system to sift through a whole planet-ship of people. Found you just as you started waking up."
"And John? The TARDIS?"
"No clue I'm afraid." He shrugs, easy smooth. "Was too busy keeping you from death."
A spike of fear runs through Melody, thick and hot. The TARDIS would be fine, she knew that, no one could get in unless they had a key. At the most Braveheart would have been terribly bored, with no one to talk to, although she did keep herself busy by dismantling the firewall and connecting Melody's and John's subconscious together.
"But John. What if he woke up at the same time as me? Braveheart connected us, our subconscious, and I don't know how that panned out, what happened. What was the scenario and what was the Doctor. But if he woke up at the same time as me—" Melody remembers the terror, the drowning, and while John is a nine hundred and ten, she doesn't, she can't
Ian must have seen the panic on her face, because he hastens to reassure her. "The nanogenes would have sent him to sleep again. At the worst he's still awake, waiting for us to rescue him. And we know he's not dead, so there's that."
Melody looks at him. We know he's not dead because otherwise you'd cease to exist. Ian returns her gaze, level and direct, eyebrow raised.
Melody hesitates, senses a balance, finely strung. She has a feeling that if she asked, right now, Ian would tell her. Maybe not everything, but what she already knows.
She doesn't want him to tell her.
"Nanogenes?" she asks instead, and Ian lets out a barely perceptible puff of air.
"Yup," he says, drawing out the vowel and popping the P between his teeth. "The automated system of this place. Nasty buggers, unless they do what you want them to. The ultimate cure-all. Might even fix your hands, come to that."
Melody looks down at her hands clutching the anorak to her shoulders. They're dead-numbed to the world, same as ever. "They don't feel any different."
Ian shrugs. "That would be the skin graft. But that can be figured out later. Right now—"
"We need to find John. Of course."
If Melody had thought about it, she'd have asked just how, exactly, the nanogenes were able to heal her when they were clearly on an alien planet, with alien DNA and not a human speck among the lot. The floating blobs she passed in the isolation tanks were vaguely reptilian in appearance. No, not human.
But she's too tired to think straight, let alone logically. Too muddled. She concentrates on walking straight. Images swirl around her, blink and then they're gone. The watching sirens wail flashing red, we have a drifter drifter drifter. Ian's face far above hers, constantly turning to make sure she's beside him. His hand, large and warm between her shoulder blades. How cold her feet are.
She swallows, wet and hot, blinks past the nanogenes which cloud her vision like fireflies. Ian explained that this entire cell block's purgative had changed when he'd rerouted their system from sleepy caretakers to medicinal doctors. The system would replace the missing operatives in time, and the ones following them now would continue to do so. "Because of your hands," he added. "They still sense something wrong with them, and based from the patterned template of my DNA, they'll keep on trying to fix them. Although the skin graft won't actually register—it's part of you now, as much as your kidney is. But nerve endings are fragile things, and yours were fried."
"Right," Melody says, recognizing what he's hedging around: his DNA was just human enough to work. Just enough of Rose in him to heal Melody right up, and while some part of her, the part of her that dreams and watches and has rather too much River in it for Melody's liking, recognizes the fact that this is not how nanogenes typically work, Melody's too tired to puzzle it out. Too sad.
Because Melody understands now, understands everything. The flowers crammed in the back of her throat. River's announcement. It all depends on perspective, right? Ian, with his easy grin and his father's face. His mother's brown eyes. He's been so kind to her, always, always, she who would cause him nothing but grief and, if she had her way, nonexistence.
Safe as houses, right? Melody's going to end up the only one unhappy.