I am heir to young adorers dying on a kiss.
I pull up outside Amy's house with a screech of tyres. The window's open, so there's no point in getting out.
'Amy!' I call. 'Amy, do you want to come for a ride? I've got a brand-new car, like I said.'
Well. In the eyes of the law, I suppose it isn't exactly mine, but still. You've got to have some fun, haven't you? And it's not like I don't know the people I borrowed it from – they just don't know I've got it.
No answer from Amy's house.
'Amy!' I shout, louder this time. 'Amy? Rory?'
Still nothing. Rolling my eyes, I open the door and swing my legs out of the car, admiring my new heeled boots. Again – not legally mine, but they were nice and I didn't have the money on me.
I walk up to knock on the door. Really, Amy and Rory could do with some fun lately. They came back from travelling a few months ago, and they wouldn't speak to me for ages. And after that, Amy kept bursting into tears whenever she tried to talk about anything, but she wouldn't tell me why. Neither of them would. But it was weird – it felt like I knew, already, but something was stopping me from remembering it. Whenever I try to remember my early life – pre-Leadworth – it's just a big blur, and then my head starts to hurt and I see a woman with a bitter twisted smile, telling me things that can't possibly be true. And usually, I cry out and I'm angry for a while, but the next time I think of it it's just a blur again. I gave up trying to figure out my early life a long, long time ago.
I've been waiting five minutes, but still no-one's answered the door. I hammer on the knocker, but then I realise something. Last time Amy and Rory went away, Amy told me they were travelling with the Doctor – again, a name that stirs up a mixture of recognition and revulsion in me. Then, the other day, the two of them were talking about crop circles or something – I hadn't exactly been paying much attention. I'd only been bailed out again that morning, and a night in the cells is tiring in a whole different way. But anyway, what if they've gone looking for him? A great big crop circle – what better way to attract the attention of an alien?
I turn on my heel and march down the steps to the waiting car. I can hear sirens in the distance as I slam the door – I don't think I've got much time left with this particular vehicle.
Once off the beaten track, I choose the first field I come to. It seems to fit all the requirements, anyway – it's got corn, and it's got odd sections of the corn that look like they've been run over. I accelerate, and I don't even stop when I see them standing there – Amy, Rory and the Doctor. They all scream, and dive out of the way, and I just slam the brakes on and laugh.
I get out of the car and stand right above the Doctor. If he moves his hands, I'm pretty sure he's going to get an eyeful.
'You said he was funny,' I say, tossing my braids as I look down at him sprawled on the floor. 'You never said he was hot.'
Amy and Rory's anger is immediate and frankly amusing.
'Mels!' Rory shouts, exasperated.
Amy just looks at me sternly. 'What are you doing here?'
I spread my arms wide in an exaggerated shrug. 'Following you, what do you think?'
I turn back to where the Doctor's just getting up, pushing himself up on the car like he doesn't know how to move his limbs. I watch him, fascinated. So many emotions, burning and bubbling inside me. Anger and revulsion and hatred and … and attraction, strangely enough. For a moment, I just stare. Rory breaks my intrigued silence.
'Um, where did you get the car?'
Explaining might take a while.
Well, the bus was late and my neighbours were out, so I may have borrowed their car. And their car keys. And handbag. I might have borrowed a couple of pairs of shoes as well.
I stick to the simple answer.
And just at that moment, I hear the sirens again, a little closer. Rory raises his eyebrows at me and I choose to modify that answer.
Amy sighs heavily. 'Oh, Mels, not again.'
I can just tell she isn't looking forward to having to bail me out again. Who knows, I might even get an actual sentence this time.
Rory speaks my thoughts.
'You can't keep doing this. You'll end up in prison.'
I shrug, but just then the Doctor finally gets to his feet. I'd almost forgotten he was there at all.
'Sorry, hello – Doctor not following this. Doctor very lost.' He turns to Amy. 'You never said I was hot?'
He sounds almost hurt, and for one impossible moment I'm reminded of a puppy – an ages-old-travelling-in-time-puppy, if what Amy used to tell me was right. Amy and Rory roll their eyes practically simultaneously. I stifle a snort, but something's captured my attention.
I turn to the object behind me.
'Is this the phone box? The bigger-on-the-inside phone box? Oh, time travel – that's just brilliant.'
I run my fingers down the side of the box called the TARDIS and I feel a strange shiver running down my spine. A box can't be – can't be sentient, can it? Because I swear the thing knew me when I touched it just then. There was a connection, a spark.
I'm gazing in awe at the TARDIS when out of the corner of my eye I see the Doctor make a what-on-earth-is-going-on gesture to Amy and Rory. I look him up and down flirtatiously.
'Yeah. I've heard a lot about you.' I indicate Amy and Rory, who just look at me like they're tired of it all. 'I'm their best mate.'
'Then why don't I know you?' the Doctor asks. 'I danced with everyone at the wedding. The women were all brilliant – the men were a bit shy.'
I roll my eyes yet again. I didn't go to the wedding. Truth is, I couldn't face all the emotion. A whole room full of fake smiles and an atmosphere so stiff you could cut it like the cake – no thank you. But once again, I stick to the simple answer.
'I don't do weddings.'
And then I hear them again, the police sirens and I know I don't even have five minutes left.
'And that's me,' I say, reaching inside my jacket. 'out of time.'
I pull the gun on the Doctor. He just looks slightly startled, but Amy and Rory go mad. For the first time in my life, I see Rory's attitude to me change from exasperated-oh-it's-only-Mels to scared. Actually, properly scared, and angry too. And that alone nearly makes me falter, but I hold the gun steady as they shout. Amy's almost crying.
'Mels – what are you doing?'
'For God's sake, Mels!'
I ignore them and focus on the Doctor.
'I need out of here, now.'
He wrinkles his nose and flexes his fingers from where he's put his hands in the air in surrender.
'Anywhere in particular?'
'Well, let's see!' I say, suddenly feeling a dozen times more reckless. 'You've got a time machine, I've got a gun. What the hell – let's kill Hitler!'
The Doctor looks at me incredulously, but snaps his fingers, and I march past him into the police box.
My mouth falls open as I take in my surroundings. It's really true – this tiny blue box is bigger on the inside. Somehow I feel as if I've been in here before, I know I have, but that's impossible – I can't have.
Amy, Rory and the Doctor have already jumped up to the console and the Doctor is at work, flicking switches and levers and pressing buttons and typing on the typewriter, for some reason. The TARDIS starts to crash around with a horrible groaning noise and I cling on to the handrail in alarm. The three of them are talking about something, but I only catch odd words.
'… use weapons in here, Doctor?'
'No … temporal grace, you know … not an issue on Gallifrey.'
Hmm. No guns due to temporal grace, right? Might just have to test that theory.
I pull my gun, take aim for the glass column I somehow know is called the time rotor, and fire.
The bullet blasts a clean hole in the glass. Smoke billows out and the ride suddenly becomes much, much more bumpy. I wrap my arms more tightly around the handrail and the Doctor looks from me to his ship, shocked.
'You've shot it! You shot my TARDIS! You shot the console!'
I get a more secure grip on my railing.
'It's your fault!' I yell, a sudden flash of anger making me scream.
The Doctor yells nonsense for a second. 'How is it my fault?'
'You said guns didn't work in this place! You said we were in a state of temporal grace!'
The Doctor runs around the console, pressing things frantically and almost dislodging Amy and Rory.
'That was a clever lie, you idiot! Anyone could tell that was a clever lie!'
The ship twirls and spins out of control across the skies, Amy's screams mingling with Rory's smoke-induced coughs. Suddenly there's a thump, and a crash which sounds like the shattering of glass, and I know we must have landed. The smoke is thick and makes breathing difficult, so as soon as the TARDIS has stopped shuddering we all make for the door, spilling out into a place very different from where we were last.
'Out, out, out, everybody out!' The Doctor shouts, between coughs. 'Don't breathe the smoke, just get out!'
They're asking about where we are, but I know exactly. Well, there's Nazi flags all over the walls, and I did ask to be taken to Hitler, so it's not exactly hard to work out, is it?
I saunter back over to the open TARDIS door but the Doctor intercepts me and takes my gun, pulling me away from the police box. I protest loudly, but he ignores me.
'Bad smoke! Don't breathe the bad, bad smoke. Bad, deadly smoke because somebody shot my TARDIS! '
Rory goes into nurse mode over some guy on the floor, and I wander around the room, exploring. And then I hear a German-accented voice, and I turn round to see the real Adolf Hitler standing imperiously before Amy, Rory and the Doctor. History in the making. I think we saved his life, or something; not really listening.
The Doctor turns to glare at me. 'You see? You see? Time travel, it never goes to plan!'
I roll my eyes. It's not like it's my fault, anyway, is it? The Doctor's lost interest now, and he's talking to Hitler, and then something happens and Hitler pulls a gun and so many things happen so fast I can't think straight any more.
The bullet slams through me, ripping a hole in my side and it feels like my body's on fire. I'm in too much shock to scream. Nobody's noticed me yet, though, so I concentrate on holding myself together while they fuss around the unconscious officer and Hitler. Thirty seconds later, though it seems like an age, Amy glances over, and the speed with which her expression changes makes it seems as though she's the one who's been physically hurt.
'Mels?' she asks weakly, her voice trembling.
I force a smile, but when I speak my voice sounds far too breathy. 'Hitler …'
'What about him?' the Doctor asks briskly.
'Lousy shot,' I start to say, trying to be normal cheeky flirtatious Mels, but then my legs buckle and I collapse. I push myself up on a fallen beam, but my head is swimming and the colours of everything are far too bright. The three of them race over to me, Amy calling my name and the Doctor calling for Rory, who presses his hands to my side.
'No, no, no! I've got to stop the bleeding,' Rory says, fingers exploring the wound.
Amy looks like she's about to cry, and it takes all my energy to notice just that.
'How bad is it, Rory – what can we do?'
'Just keep her conscious. Stay with us, Mels!' Rory entreats me, but I'm finding it hard to focus and I can see even Rory is a bit out of his depth.
The Doctor hoves into view above me.
'Hey. Look at me. Just hold on.'
I smile weakly.
'I used to dream about you. All those stories Amy used to tell me.'
'What stories?' the Doctor says. 'Tell me what stories. Vampires in Venice, that's a belter.'
I remember Amy telling me about that one, but I choose to change the subject.
'When I was little, I was going to marry you.'
The Doctor grins. 'Good idea, let's get married. You stay alive and I'll marry you, deal? Deal.'
And suddenly I feel so much stronger. My head is clearing and I suddenly know what Amy and Rory were upset about.
I'm their daughter. How did I forget that? There's so much I've forgotten of my early life; it's just shadowy figures and angry voices and knowing and then forgetting that Amelia Pond and Rory Williams are my parents. They must have found her – found me, at last. Although they haven't yet made the connection with me and their baby and whoever they found, so I don't know who they found out from.
Not from me, of course. From the Doctor, or from future me or something. So I know exactly what to answer the Doctor's latest statement with.
'Shouldn't you ask my parents' permission?'
He doesn't get it yet.
'Soon as you're well, I'll get on the phone,' he promises.
I think I'll give him another clue.
'Might as well do it now, since they're both right here,' I say, and I watch the three of them exchange glances and begin to understand.
'Penny in the air,' I say, echoing something I said few years ago – oh, how ironic, I got my parents together in the first place.
The Doctor stands up and backs away from me warily. My hands are starting to glow, and I just laugh. 'Penny drops!'
Rory has no idea, bless him. 'What the hell's going on?'
The light radiating from me grows and spreads, and the Doctor grabs my parents.
'Back! Back! Back, get back!'
I get to my feet cautiously, suddenly full of energy.
'Last time I did this, I ended up a toddler,' I say, terrified of the new memories flooding into my head as the fog in there clears. 'In the middle of New York.'
Imagine that. A nine-year-old girl dying alone and afraid in an inner-city alleyway. When she's next conscious, she looks about two years old and she's in a completely different body. It hurt, the first time I died. I hope this time isn't going to be too painful.
Amy shakes her head, like she can't believe it, like she doesn't want to believe it.
'Okay, Doctor, explain what is happening? Please?'
The Doctor looks at me, takes in the golden sunbeams dancing around me. I think he knows, or he's starting to piece it together at least.
'Mels,' he says, facing Amy but with his eyes on me. 'Short for …'
'Melody,' I supply, but that won't help. They know my name's Melody.
And sure enough, Amy just snorts. 'Yeah, I named my daughter after her.'
The Doctor hesitates, like his words could set off an explosion. Well – they probably will.
'You named your daughter … after your daughter.'
I know it's time for me to speak now.
'Took me years to find you two,' I say, though it's difficult to hold on. If I weaken my resolve for just a second, the regeneration will take over completely, and this needs to be said before it does. 'I'm so glad I did. And you see? It all worked out in the end, didn't it? You got to raise me after all.'
Amy's mouth is a perfect 'o' of surprise.
The slight stress of the you're tells me all I need to know. That Amy's thinking no, I don't want her, she's not mine, I want my baby, not her.
'But if she's Melody, that means she's also-'
My eyes are stinging with tears from the implications of Amy's last comment, but I blink them away, making a last-ditch effort to keep my personality, to think of a snappy retort to Rory's confusion as my body dies.
'Oh, shut up, Dad,' I say, and now even I can hear the strain in my voice. I've never called him Dad before, and my voice wavers with unshed tears. 'I'm focusing on a dress size-'
And then I know I've died. All I want is to sink to the floor and never know anything ever again, but some external force is holding me up. The golden light consumes me, building and building until the pressure breaks and light pours from my head and hands, and I scream because the death itself was painless, but this glowing purgatory hurts so, so much.
I scream, unaware of anything but the hell I'm trapped in, and then as quickly as it started, it's over. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, I gasp for air as my head snaps forward and I take my first breath in this new body.
'Right, let's see, then,' I say, startled at the rich maturity of my voice. It seems so low that I look down, trying to work out where it's come from, and then I'm distracted.
'Ooh, it's all going on down there, isn't it?' I run my hands over my suddenly-much-curvier body in approval. My hair's in my eyes, so I reach up to brush it away, but then I freeze. My braids are gone, and my hair feels much shorter, and fluffier. I run to the mirror behind me.
'The hair! Oh, the hair – it just doesn't stop, does it?' Look at that!' I marvel at the unfamiliar face staring back at me. Much lighter-skinned, with blonde curls framing my head. Older, although I know age is relative. And a much fuller figure – I'm this close to bursting out of my dress. I sigh in wonder, and the face in the mirror does too. 'Everything changes! Oh, but I love it, I love it. I'm all sort of mature.'
I turn to face the others, who don't seem to have moved a muscle since I burst into light, and place my foot on the chair, hand on hip. Secretly, I reach down the side of the chair for my gun and push it gently into my belt. It might be handy for later.
'Hello, Benjamin!' I say, fixing my gaze on the Doctor and quirking an eyebrow.
Ah, bless – he's so embarrassed he almost hits himself in the face.
I bite my lip, and – oh, brand-new teeth!
'The teeth! The teeth, the teeth!' I almost shriek the words, and I run to the others, giddy with excitement at this new body. 'Oh, look at them!'
The Doctor's sitting, legs slightly apart, on the desk and I sense an opportunity. I wriggle myself into his lap and push right against his crotch.
'Watch out, that bowtie,' I say, revelling in the feel of my body against his. I turn around, still pressed against him, wiggling my hips slightly as I go.
'Excuse me, you lot. I need to weigh myself!'
I make for the bathroom, almost dancing, but once in there my mood changes straight away and I collapse against the basin, retching. This is too much. It's too much to go through all of this in one go, and all the time I've been exploring this new body, new memories have been flooding into my head. I don't really remember where or when they are from, or who the woman reciting these facts and figures is, but their message is clear.
You will kill the Doctor, Melody Pond. The man of peace who knows every kind of warfare, and you will rise from the deep and strike him dead. Melody Pond, the woman who kills the Doctor. How perfect. What a neat little circle of time the two of you make.
And suddenly that's all I want to do. Kill the Doctor. Kill the evil, evil man out there whose corrupting influence has ruined my mother's life.
I walk back to the main room, just as I hear Rory's strained voice.
'That's River Song.'
No, that's not. I'm Melody Pond, not this other person, whoever she is.
I stick my head around the door. 'Who's River Song?'
Their heads snap around to me instantly, like rabbits in headlights.
'Spoilers,' the Doctor says. And unless I'm mistaken, there's a definite hint of sadness in that voice. A hint of regret.
I breeze on regardless. 'Spoilers? What's spoilers? Oh, hang on – just something I have to check.'
I return to the bathroom, pulling my dress down to fully admire my minutes-old body in the mirror. I stand there for a moment, amazed by the complexity of the regeneration I've gone through today. I thought regeneration was just healing – I didn't really change much, appearance-wise, the first time I did it. I pull the dress back up, reapply my lipstick and laugh.
'Oh, that's magnificent!' I let the words out in a whoop of joy and turn back to the doorway, raising an arm to the top of the frame. 'I'm going to wear lots of jodhpurs!'
The Doctor's face is a picture of bewilderment. And it's been fun, but it's time to stop marvelling at my body and do what I was meant to do. At this moment in time, he won't suspect a thing, so it's better if I kill him quickly.
'Well, now, enough of all that!' I say, pulling the gun from my belt and aiming it squarely at him. 'Down to business.'
Amy and Rory jump and try to hide behind the Doctor. Really, they're safer behind me. I'm not a criminal. I'm just trying to make the world a better place.
'Oh, hello,' the Doctor says, remarkably unfazed. 'I thought we were getting married.'
I walk towards him, swinging my hips but keeping the gun steady. 'I told you, I'm not a wedding person.'
'Doctor, what's she doing?' Rory says. Come on, Dad, I want to say. What does it look like I'm doing? You're every bit as clever as him, you know. He's just got the bravado.
But I don't. I let the Doctor answer. His gaze never leaves me as he speaks.
'What she's programmed to.'
Rory eyes me warily. 'Where'd she get the gun?'
'Hello, Benjamin,' the Doctor says, eyes narrowing.
I raise an eyebrow. 'You noticed.'
I fire three times, but the gun just clicks – it's empty. Doesn't matter. I've got a spare in my jacket, but I don't need to let the Doctor know that yet.
The Doctor smiles smugly. 'Of course I noticed.' He walks towards me, followed cautiously by Amy and Rory. 'As soon as I knew you were coming, I tidied up a bit.
I throw the gun away. 'I know you did.'
Reaching into my jacket, I grab my replacement and aim it at the Doctor.
'I know you know,' he says. He must have switched the fruitbowl around when I picked it up, because I've actually grabbed a banana. Upon seeing my 'weapon', I roll my eyes and make a noise of dissatisfaction in my throat.
'Goodness, is killing you going to take all day?'
He reaches out and grabs my still-outstretched banana. 'Why? Are you busy?'
I smirk. 'Oh, I'm not complaining.'
Is he kidding? I could do this forever! I'm getting such a boost of adrenalin from this, the excitement and exhilaration of trying to kill a man I've just met, while growing in confidence in my new body at the same time. I want to kill him, but I want to talk to him. I want to learn his personality the way I'm learning mine. He's a fascinating creature, the Doctor. And it's hard to admit, even to myself, but … I think I'm falling in love. Talk about reverse-Stockholm-syndrome.
I fight to ignore all these stupid emotions, and snatch up the letter-opener from Hitler's abandoned desk, jabbing it at the Doctor. He just points his sonic screwdriver at it, and electricity runs up my arm, forcing me to drop the weapon with a cry of pain.
'If you were in a hurry, you could have killed me in the cornfield,' the Doctor says, stepping nearer to me. He seems remarkably calm for one whose hours are numbered.
I edge further towards Hitler's desk for my proper gun. 'I'm a psychopath,' I say, delighting in the word, because I know now that's what I am, and I love it. 'I'm not rude.'
I fire with the second gun, but he's disarmed me again, because he just holds up the weapon pack and I growl in fury.
Amy speaks for the first time since I regenerated.
'You were not a psychopath!' she says pleadingly, desperation in her voice. 'Why would she be a psychopath?'
I reach the Doctor, and we begin to circle like vultures. Appropriate, seeing as one of us will be carrion before sunset, and I don't plan on it being me.
I don't take my eyes off my prey when I answer Amy. 'Oh, Mummy, Mummy, pay attention. I was trained and conditioned for one purpose. I was born to kill the Doctor.'
'Demons Run, remember?' he says, and Amy and Rory nod, though I don't understand. 'This is what they were building. My bespoke psychopath.'
I bring our circle closer, ready to deploy my final weapon. Lipstick. I made it myself, weeks ago. I added crushed Judas-tree petals; completely non-toxic, to humans and animals. If you were a Time Lord with two hearts and a respiratory bypass system, like Amy had told me he was, then it was pretty much game over for you. I stand inches before him, looking into his centuries-old eyes.
'I'm all yours, sweetie,' I say softly, kissing him quickly on the lips. To my surprise, he doesn't recoil, but kisses me back, letting me be the one who breaks off the kiss. All the better. If he liked the kiss, then he won't suspect the lipstick until it's already too late.
He looks down at me, smiling slightly. 'Only River Song gets to call me that.'
'And who's River Song?'
He's still looking at me, but the expression on his face is distant. Whoever River Song is, she's a fond memory, long-gone.
'An old friend of mine,' he replies, a silly little grin on his face. If I didn't know better, I'd say he's lovesick.
And because I'm suddenly, irrationally cross at the idea of the Doctor loving another, I throw out a sugar-coated insult. 'Stupid name,' I say with a smirk.
He just smiles sadly, like he knows something I don't, and I leave him and walk to the window. The poison will be spreading through his bloodstream as we flirt; I don't have long to wait before it takes effect and my work is over. Leaning out of the window, I'm filled with awe at history unfolding before me. In a matter of months, half of these buildings will be rubble, and half of the people inside them will be gone.
'Look at that!' I breathe, completely forgetting the three people behind me in the room. 'Berlin on the eve of war. A whole world about to tear itself apart.' I glance at my parents, standing just behind the Doctor. He's flexing his hands, but he won't know what it is yet. 'Now that's my kind of town. Mum, Dad; don't follow me! And yes, that is a warning.'
'No warning for me, then?' the Doctor says pleasantly. It's very subtle, but I think his speech is slurring. Good.
'No need, my love,' I say sweetly. 'The deed is done, and so are you.'
I watch, delighted, as he stumbles. My parents rush to support him, and he clutches his chest, staring at me, aghast.
'Doctor, what's wrong?' Amy exclaims in horror.
'What have you done? River!' he splutters, and I feel that flash of anger again. Who is River? Who is she? She's not me, that much is certain. But if he's calling for her now, she must be important, and he's got to love her.
'Oh, River, River, River,' I say, rolling my eyes. 'More than a friend, I think.'
He collapses to the ground. 'What have you done?'
'It was never going to be a gun for you, Doctor,' I say, as though it's obvious. 'The man of peace who understands every kind of warfare – except, perhaps, the cruellest.'
I let my eyes flicker to his mouth as I speak. He understands, and rubs at the corner of his lips, staring at the substance on his finger in horror.
'Kiss, kiss,' I say, blowing him a kiss and leaping from the windowsill. We're three storeys up, and the wind whistles in my ears as I fall, landing cat-like on the ground.
I stride towards a troop of soldiers, swinging my arms.
They mutter angrily in German and suddenly I have five – no, six, if you count the officer's pistol – six guns aimed directly at me.
'Hello, boys,' I say, my eyes raking over the lot of them. I'm not scared. This is all quite amusing, really.
'What are you doing here?' says the stony-faced officer.
I adopt a sweet-little-girl tone. 'Well,' I begin. 'I was on my way to this gay Gypsy bar mitzvah for the disabled, when I thought gosh. The Third Reich's a bit rubbish – I think I'll kill the Fuhrer. Who's with me?'
The officer smiles sarcastically. 'Shoot her.'
And I don't even have time to feel nervous before a dozen rounds of bullets hit me. I pretend to react, to curl in on myself, but I feel no impact and the soldiers are looking at me curiously.
I wrap my arms around myself to contain the energy that is once again building inside me, and flip my head up, feeling the fluffy curls tickle my ears.
'Tip for you all,' I say to the astounded soldiers. 'Never shoot a girl while she's regenerating!'
I throw my head back and spread my arms, releasing a burst of energy that has the effect of knocking out the entire troop of Nazis and giving me a moment of pure bliss.
'Now that hit the spot!' I say, to no one in particular. I bend down and take the guns from the two most attractive soldiers, slinging the straps over my shoulders and noticing an abandoned motorbike. 'Thanks, boys!' I shout to the still-unconscious soldiers. 'Call me!'
Then I hear the voice I really didn't expect to hear. Amy.
'What are you doing?' she shouts, much like she used to do whenever she found me hotwiring a car or nicking a shirt or booby-trapping someone's chair.
I ignore the painful memories. Even if she didn't know it, Amy's always acted like a mother, and the blank looks she's giving me as her child-who's-not-her-child, are distracting me from what I really want to do next.
'New town, new body,' I say, revving the bike. 'I'm going shopping!'
I zoom off, enjoying the feel of the wind on my brand-new skin and this new even-more-reckless aspect of my personality. I've only been riding for five minutes when I spot a building I'd like to check out. It must be holding some dinner and dance, because there are men standing pompously outside the entrances and violin music floats out from within. I dismount from the bike and wander nonchalantly towards the entrance. The men automatically move together, unwilling to let me pass. I just let my eyes flicker to the guns at my belt, and I see them glance at each other and gulp. I push past them and find myself in front of some heavy wooden doors. Now time for the real fun to begin.
I kick open the doors and fire both guns at the ceiling. Glass shatters, people scream and the string quartet duck behind their instruments. I'm fairly certain one man almost has a heart attack.
'Ladies and gentlemen,' I announce to the room at large. 'I don't have a thing to wear.' I aim both guns forward. 'Take off your clothes.'
People begin to wriggle out of their posh clothes instantly, casting nervous glances at me. I survey them all with a smirk. And within minutes, there's a steady stream of men in shorts and longjohns and women in corsets and petticoats rushing out of the room, and clothes heaped all over the place.
I slip out of my clothes and stand alone in the room in just my underwear. At one table, I spot a naval officer's uniform, complete with hat. I wander over to it, grabbing a black silk slip edged with pink lace from another table, and pick up the trousers, blazer and cap, bringing them back and depositing them in front of the full-length mirror.
'Look at that!' I murmur appreciatively as I pull the dress on. 'Now that's fun from every angle!'
The huge doors bang open and in the mirror I see Amy enter, running slightly oddly. She walks towards me, her face expressionless.
I roll my eyes. 'Now, dear, I told you not to follow me.'
I add the officer's blazer to my ensemble and study my face in the mirror.
'I might take the age down a little,' I muse, prodding my face this way and that. 'Just gradually, to freak people out.'
Amy hasn't moved. 'You killed the Doctor,' she says, and it sounds less like an accusation and more like a fact.
'Oh, yes, I know, dear,' I say breezily, jamming the cap on over my curls. 'I hope you're not going to keep on about it. Oh, regeneration – it's a whole new colouring to work with.'
I take the cap off, preferring my hair without it. Amy persists.
'You killed the Doctor on the orders of the movement known as the Silence and Academy of the Question. You accept and know this to be true.'
'Quite honestly, I don't really remember,' I say, still looking in the mirror. 'It was all a bit of a jumble-'
Amy's mouth stretches wide, wider than it should naturally, and a beam of bright blue light envelopes me. My head feels like it's about to split open, and I'm doubled over with a horrible nauseous feeling, so I shout in pain.
'No, no, get off me!'
'Sorry, did you say she killed the Doctor?' A voice almost makes me forget my discomfort. Amy – who is plainly not my mother; a doppelganger or a robot or a duplicate but not my mother – Amy closes her mouth, and I lean against a chair, breathing heavily and staring at the man who cannot possibly be here.
'The Doctor?' he continues. 'Doctor who?'
'You're dying and you stopped to change?' I ask him, staring incredulously at the top-hat-and-tails combo he's sporting, this man who surely has only minutes left to live.
He twirls and dances down the steps to me. 'Oh, you should always waste time when you don't have any. Time is not the boss of you, Rule 408.' He stops at my robotic mother. 'Amy Pond, judgement death machine – why am I not surprised?' He points his cane at the robot excitedly and turns to me. 'Sonic cane!'
I sigh. 'Are you serious?'
'Never knowingly,' he answers, turning back to the robot. 'Never knowingly be serious. Rule 27 – you might want to write these down. Oh, it's a robot! With 423 life signs inside! A robot worked by tiny people!'
He continues to ramble, and I run through possible escape routes in my head. I need to get out of here, but I can't think straight. My thoughts have been scrambled by that awful ray of light, and my stomach's still turning over.
A strangled yell of pain interrupts my thoughts and I turn to see the Doctor sliding around the floor, gripping his cane in a desperate attempt to stay upright, as my poison takes a tighter hold.
'Oops, sorry, leg went to sleep. Just had a quick left leg power nap, I forgot I had one scheduled. Actually, better sit down. I think I heard the right one yawning.'
He lowers himself onto the marble steps and I'm amazed. I've poisoned him! He's dying, he's in pain – but he's staying calm, and I think it's so I'm not scared by what I've done. Before, the thought of killing him was making me sick, but now … now I don't care. I feel oddly numb, cold and distant like I'm the robot and not my mother. The Doctor is occupied, so I banish the thoughts from my head and make a desperate break for the door. I'm almost there – just a few more metres – when the robot shoots another one of those blue rays of light at me. I close my eyes and ready myself, but it's barely touched me when the Doctor shouts an order for them to stop, sounding for the first time like the warlike man I know him to be.
The burning-hot light changes instantly to a freezing one, paralysing my muscles and stiffening my whole body. I can't move or speak or even cry out; I watch, helpless, bobbing up and down slightly in the drifting movement of this strange glimmering tide. The Doctor and the robot-Amy are talking, the Doctor gesturing at me. He gets to his feet, leaning heavily on his sonic cane. He's still talking, but suddenly he yells and collapses, crawling on the floor like a baby, pain written all over his face. The people inside the robot press something, or do something, because the light around me turns blood-red and I scream in agony.
It feels like a mixture of electricity and fire, and it's tearing at my nerves with the ferocity of a tiger. If I thought regeneration was painful, if I thought the dazzling blue light was going to make me sick, they are nothing in comparison to the agony I'm feeling now. I scream myself hoarse, fighting with all my remaining strength to get out of this hell, to get out and just run away as far as possible. But I can't. I can't see, can't think, can't breathe … I can feel my brain fogging over, and I know I'm going to die soon … at least if I do, the world will be rid of the Doctor, the evil, evil man who is spending his last minutes begging the robot to save me …
And suddenly I can't feel anything any more. I'm dead. No, wait – no I'm not. I let out a small sob of relief, and look down at the Doctor, spread-eagled on the floor. From the look on his face, he's in almost as much pain as I was, yet he still saved me. I don't understand this at all.
'Please,' he says softly, tears in his eyes. 'Now we have to save your parents.' I look towards the door anxiously, and back towards the Doctor. I can reach the door, I can just take off and never come back here again. 'Don't run,' he continues. 'I know you're scared, but never run when you're scared. Rule 7. Please.'
I sit on the edge of a chair, watching nervously. There's a weighty silence in the room. We both remain still, and I can see the Doctor's eyes close. Then, suddenly –
'Doctor, help us! Doctor, please!'
The robot speaks with what is unmistakeably my mother's panicked voice. The Doctor's eyes snap open, and he tries to stand, limping and wobbling but managing to make his way to the steps. He stumbles and falls there, just feet from the TARDIS.
'Doctor, help!' the robot shouts, and I watch the Doctor try to crawl up the marble steps. Why is he doing this? He's dying. In less than two minutes, he'll be a goner – no regeneration. So why is he hurting himself even more during these last moments, just to help my parents? Why?
'Look at you,' I whisper, almost in wonder. 'You still care.'
'Doctor, help! Doctor, help us – please help us!'
'It's impressive, I'll give you that,' I say, watching him in fascination, still trying to reach the blue box.
'River, please…' he whispers gently, and I stand, affronted.
'Who is this River?' I say angrily. 'She's got to be a woman, am I right?'
'Help me. Save Amy and Rory. Help me.'
I ignore him. 'Tell me about her,' I say, a little more forcefully. 'Go on.'
'Just help me,' he says weakly, but I don't move. And finally, he sighs and nods, and starts to speak. 'Yes, she's a woman,' he says, his breathing shallow. 'And she's mad, and impossible, and sometimes she frustrates me beyond belief. She's fiercely independent, but I need her every bit as much as she needs me – no, more. Because when she turns up in my TARDIS and flies it much better than I can, or when she gets herself into more trouble because of that damn gun, or when she makes links almost faster than I can think, I know it will be all right, because I trust her.
'And however distant I seem, she knows that I will always be there to catch her, and I will always love her, and always forgive her. Do you hear, River - Melody? It's very important – River knows – River needs to know – I love – I always did, I … You have to save your parents, Melody Pond, the child of the TARDIS – you are better than this, you …'
His voice trails off and he closes his eyes again. He seems to be hardly breathing at all, and I blink back tears. The Doctor isn't bad. How could I think that – how could I ever have thought that? He has wasted precious seconds telling me about the woman he loves, just to satisfy the curiosity of a selfish … a selfish murderer. For the first time, the word hurts, and through a thick fog I register the full impact of what I have done. Really, the least I can do is save my mother and father. They haven't done anything wrong.
My mind is made up. I walk to the TARDIS. The doors spring open at my wish, and I enter. The doors click shut behind me, and suddenly – it's like the ship is talking to me. There's no sound, of course, but thoughts fill my head, and I know what to do.
She guides me through the entire flight, and the whole time I'm marvelling at the complexity of this machine. I seem to have gained a wonderful ability of clairvoyance, or something of the sort, because I can see exactly what the TARDIS wants me to do next; it looks, in my head, like the spiralling sunbeams of my regeneration energy. The strain of all of this new knowledge and the guilt of the man I've killed push down on my shoulders like physical weights, and my head starts to hurt. Why does everything have to go so badly wrong? I have killed a man who loves, and is loved by, people from across the universe – he is neither wholly bad nor wholly good, but is as human as a Time Lord can probably get. And I've killed him. I'm about to give up, to get out of the doors and just leave when my parents materialise in front of my eyes.
I shrink back, hiding behind the time rotor. What if they don't want anything to do with me? I've as good as killed their best friend. I worry my lip between my teeth, breathing rapidly, and I hear Amy laugh.
'Doctor? Doctor, he did it! He did it!'
They both laugh, both of them, but stop the second they see me appear from behind the console. I realise I'm shaking, and I can't get rid of the feeling that I'm going to burst into tears.
'I – I seem to be able to fly her,' I say nervously, fiddling with a particularly useless bit of the console. 'She showed me how – she taught me.' I feel my voice waver, and make an effort to strengthen it. 'The Doctor says I'm the child of the TARDIS. What does he mean?'
Amy glances at Rory. 'Where is he?'
And I can't hold it in any longer. I burst into noisy, shaking sobs – the huge ones you can't stifle. 'He – he's – I –' I give up attempting to talk and just shake my head, allowing the TARDIS to fly us back to the room we left. I check the scanner. We haven't been gone ten seconds.
We exit the TARDIS. Amy and Rory rush over to the Doctor, now lying supine on the steps. I hover awkwardly in the background, still trying to choke back my sobs.
'You can't die now,' Amy says to him. 'I know you don't die now.'
But he does, I think. He does, and he will, and it's all my fault.
'Oh, Pond,' he replies. 'You've got a schedule for everything.'
'But it doesn't make any sense.' Amy continues.
Tell me about it. I've fallen in love with the man I'm slowly killing.
'Doctor, what do we do?' Rory asks. 'Come on, how do we help you?'
You can't, I think.
The Doctor echoes my words. 'No, sorry, Rory. You can't. Nobody can. Ponds, listen to me. I need to talk to your daughter.'
I was not expecting that. My parents approach me, looking at me expectantly, so that I have no choice but to walk over to the dying man and kneel beside him.
'Find her,' the Doctor says urgently. 'Find River Song and tell her something from me.'
'Tell her what?' I say, my voice still shaking.
He doesn't answer, just pulls on the lapel of my jacket and I bend down, lowering my ear to his mouth.
'It's important, Melody,' he says, his lips barely moving. 'Tell her … tell her that I love her.'
'Well, I'm sure she knows,' I say, but I trail off when I lift my head and find him lying there, still and pale and most definitely dead. Dying on a kiss – that's something new. Normally it's the kiss that saves you.
And I should be rejoicing, but somehow I don't want to. I want to mourn him, and realisation is flooding through my brain.
What if I'm River Song?
The number of times he's called me by that name today, and it wasn't just him – Rory called me River once as well.
The look on his face every time he's talked of her, not to mention how much he seemed to enjoy the kiss.
And finally, he told me about her. Would he have wasted precious time describing River Song to me if it wasn't something I needed to know? The Doctor wouldn't have done anything unnecessary, I'm sure of that.
I back away from the Doctor, towards Amy and Rory, who recoil slightly.
'Who's River Song?' I ask.
My parents glance at each other, and Amy approaches the robot-her.
'Are you still working, because I'm still a relative?' she asks it confidently. 'Access files on River Song.'
The robot makes a string of digital noises. 'Records available,' it says in my mother's voice.
'Show me her,' Amy replies. 'Show me River Song.'
The robot becomes a pixellated grey blur, and then the image sharpens. And I nearly faint and tears spring to my eyes, although I was almost certain of the fact before.
River Song is me.
It's my face, certainly, but older. Wiser. At peace, even. And suddenly I know what I must do. I'm shaking, and my hearts are beating too fast, and I can barely keep myself upright.
'Melody, what did he say? The Doctor gave you a message for River Song – what was it?' Amy's voice is frantic, but she doesn't dare move closer to me.
For me, that's the last straw. Amy doesn't want to know me now. I've lost the mother who never even knew I was her daughter, and it sets something off inside me. My breathing is shallow, and as I watch, my hands start to glow like they did not two hours before. I'm regenerating. Again.
I leave my parents and walk closer to the Doctor.
'What's happening?' Amy shouts quickly. 'What are you doing?'
'Just tell me,' I say, flexing my hands and watching the energy leak from them. 'the Doctor. Is he worth it?'
Amy pauses, confused, but then she sees that there's still a slim chance of the Doctor's salvation. 'Yes! Yes! Yes, he is.'
I kneel beside the Doctor again, and slowly, slowly, bring my hands to his face. He inhales sharply, alive again as the energy diffuses into his skin, and blinks his eyes open. He looks slightly startled at my sudden proximity to him, and who could blame him? I did just kill him, after all.
'River – no – what are you doing?' he whispers, as I move closer to him, my hearts close to bursting with happiness for the first time in a very, very long while. Because the Doctor has saved me. I can push Kovarian's training to the back of my mind, overpower it like I once overpowered the spacesuit. I can forget that part of me, and concentrate on becoming River Song – clever, mad, impossible River Song, the woman who makes the Doctor human in all but species. The woman who unlocks the good side of him, who makes him love. If he saved me with his love, I'm definitely going to try to save him with mine.
'Hello, sweetie,' I whisper, as I meet his lips and my mind explodes into light and energy and bliss. Regeneration energy – his and mine – swirls around the room, filling it with warmth and hope, and I see two minds dancing together in Time, a dance to which the steps must be lived, not learnt. My spirit and the Doctor's spirit, my life and his, bound together by the fabric of the universe. The Doctor and River Song. River Song, not Melody Pond – I'll make sure of that.
I kiss him and kiss him, wanting never to stop, until the light inside my head fades, and all that's left there is a single idea.
I am River Song.