Ponds Don't Run
Chapter Seven: One for a Million
Melody felt like she was floating.
The sensation only lasted for a second, but it seemed to her that every particle within her was separating and that she was only able to hold herself together through sheer force of will. It was terrifying— like she might fly away and never again be able to put herself back together again
. Then it was over, and she felt the sensation of something solid against her back. There were things stuck to her temples, her forehead, her wrists and ankles. Her heart, too, had something covering it.
She blinked open her eyes and saw green. It covered everything in an emerald film; there were what looked like a row of windows across from her, but she couldn't see through them. Weakly, she reached out hand and encountered something solid. Glass, maybe? She was looking through green glass.
For the first time, she realized that she was being held upright in a narrow cubicle. She began tearing stickies off of her body, realizing that there was a cluster of wires all around her. Claustrophobia made bile rise into her throat; it was as though she were in an upright coffin or sarcophagus. She began hitting her palms against the glass, furiously trying to get out.
To her surprise, the front swiveled outward with a hiss rather like a door. Cautiously, she took a step forward and nearly collapsed due to the weakness in her limbs. It felt like she hadn't moved in months. She found herself wondering why she didn't feel at all hungry or thirsty, but she couldn't afford to dwell on that now. She turned around to find that her own prison was lined up alongside many others. Unlike the ones across from her, she could see inside these ones, which were full of numerous other aliens. Melody didn't recognize any, but she figured that they had to be fellow prisoners on Baravan.
"Stasis chambers," came a hoarse voice from down the row. Melody stumbled towards it, recognizing it as Oswin's. Her friend was leaning against a strange-looking computer terminal, looking as though she, too, was struggling to hold herself up. "Luckily, this place has teleportation, or else it would've taken me ages to get to you. It's massive."
Melody stared. Oswin was no longer wearing her signature red dress, but was instead dressed in a red skirt, leggings, and a black leather jacket. It was fashion from the year that she'd come from: 2013. Looking down, Melody realized that she was wearing the t-shirt and jeans that she'd been arrested in. She reached up to touch her hair; it was long again, and in the ponytail it had been in before it got cut.
"Was it all an illusion?" she asked. Her own voice was raspy, too. "Where are we?"
"Beats me," said Oswin. "Some kind of huge space station. I've been through the databanks; every prisoner I've ever met on Baravan is here. I'm trying to figure out what they did to us now. I just need a minute to catch my breath."
She sank to the floor slowly. Melody, noticing that her legs were trembling, did the same.
"So, what's a stasis chamber?" she asked.
"It's meant to keep us alive," Oswin explained. "Time Lord technology. Basically, they make it so that time doesn't pass inside there. You don't age, you don't get hungry, you don't get thirsty. At least, that's the gist of it. I didn't bother to look into it too much once I understood the basics."
"And in the meantime, our unconscious minds were dreaming of Baravan?" Melody shook her head. "No wonder we had no inclination to escape. It would've been easy to program us that way."
"But that doesn't make any sense either," countered Oswin. "Why have us all sharing the dream? Why not just give us the illusion that we're still living normal life back on Earth? Then we wouldn't think about escaping at all. Why convince us that we're living on a prison planet?"
Oswin stared blankly at the floor for a few moments before hoisting herself to her feet. "I'm going to keep digging."
An alarming thought occurred to Melody. "If the bring prisoners here, won't they find us?"
"Nah. I checked; the newest prisoners are put in chambers a long way away from this area."
Melody felt as though a light bulb appeared over her head. "Can you get video surveillance on there?"
Oswin gave her a quizzical look. "Yeah. Why?"
With what felt like a tremendous effort, Melody pushed herself up. "We can use it to see what it is they do to us when we arrive."
Oswin's jaw dropped. "I can't believe I didn't think of that." She scrambled around the terminal, typing in something quickly. The screen above them fizzled to life, showing them footage of the arrival of the newest prisoners.
The Time Lord police were carry them, unconscious. They were thrown unceremoniously in a heap next to a machine that looked rather like an operating table. Melody and Oswin watched as the first prisoner was carried over and hooked up to multiple wires, not unlike what they had both pulled off themselves after waking up. Next to the machine was a great big vat of… something. Melody couldn't tell what it was.
The moment the Time Lords were finished one of them moved out of view and must have activated something, because the next thing Melody knew the vat began to bubble furiously. It was like watching some kind of terrible science fiction movie; first a hand appeared out of the brew, then an arm, then an entire body. It was an exact copy of the prisoner on the table, right down to the stitch of clothing. Like the original, the clone was unconscious. The Time Lords pulled the copy from the basin and dragged him out of the room, out of view. Very soon, the original was taken off the machine, too.
Oswin switched off the video, looking ill.
It took Melody a while to get some words out, but she finally managed it. "They cloned us?"
"I don't think so," Oswin said, now typing frantically. "That's too simple. A clone has its own thoughts, dreams and emotions, but we definitely felt like us on Baravan. So we really were on a different planet, just… not in our bodies. Ah! Here we go: the Flesh project. Good thing they have archives."
"What is it?"
"Listen to this: 'To ensure the safety and docility of prisoners of Gallifrey, a new program will be implemented for the holding and control of them. Using advanced technology sanctioned by the President, the Flesh have been introduced. It is a type of matter that can be manipulated in any way chosen and can harbor a living mind until such time that the connection between the Flesh body and the living body is terminated. The mind of the prisoner is also susceptible to outside suggestions; this will be used to dissuade any from escape attempts or too much violence against other prisoners.'"
"I don't think that last one worked," muttered Melody, remembering all the fights. "Who knew that the Time Lords would go to all this trouble?"
"But it's like you said." Oswin sat down again. "This way, there isn't any need for guards and such. Time Lords are vain; none of them want to waste all their time with prisoners. They're so confident that it works, they don't even have a security system here, either."
"For me it was a few months," Melody murmured. "For you, three years. What about the people who were there for ages? Wouldn't they have realized that something was wrong when they didn't age?"
"That was probably something else that they programmed our Flesh bodies to ignore," Oswin said wryly.
"They did have to feed us," Melody pointed out.
"An automated system. I checked. Flesh are meant to act like living bodies, apart from the aging thing."
Melody took a deep breath. Her head was reeling from all that she'd learned in the past few hours alone. The idea of prison had always seemed straightforward to her, but it had suddenly become a lot of more complicated. She suddenly felt angry; the Time Lords didn't even think it was worth their time to keep an eye on their prisoners. Well then— whatever happened next, it was on them.
"We have to figure out how to free everyone else," she said.
Oswin nodded. "You're right. There's no point if it's just the two of us. I've pulled up a map of the facility. There's a room that looks like the main control room near the top of the place. I'll head there and see what I can do. Meanwhile, you should head to the communications room and see if you can't get into contact with someone who might be willing to come help us." She pointed at another spot on the map, which was far on the right. "The nearest teleportation point to it is here. If you get over to the 'porter, I can send you there now."
"Got it." Melody hurried over to where Oswin pointed, noticing the teleporter for the first time. She stepped inside it, feeling as though she was in Star Trek. She gave Oswin the thumbs up.
"See you later," Oswin said, pressing the button.
The Doctor glanced at Sally and Rose out of the corner of his eye. Rose didn't seem to be the least bit bothered by the TARDIS' interior. She seemed right at home, despite the fact that a spaceship that was alive usually disturbed people. Sally, on the other hand, was looking every which way as though determined to find some kind of trap or hidden soldiers. She was far too wary for her age.
Smart girl, he thought.
After all, if either of them knew exactly who it was that they were travelling with, they probably wouldn't be so willing to let him live. Well, maybe Rose would, but Sally would shoot him down in a second. He decided that if ever there was a time when he needed that to happen, he could count on Sally to help him. Even now she was watching him darting around the console, her hand twitching towards the blaster that they both knew she kept in her pocket.
She was the most distrustful person he had encountered from Torchwood— which meant that something had happened to her that was worse than what had happened to the others.
He checked the monitor in time to see that they had arrived at their destination. Mentally, he prepared for the plunge; after this, his people would have the proof they finally needed to prove him a traitor. If they had not already betrayed the universe itself, he might have felt guilty about it.
"Right!" he exclaimed. Rose turned her attention to him (he had Sally's already— in fact, he suspected that he'd had it from the moment she'd met him). "Welcome to… whatever it is we're on. There's some long, complicated Gallifreyan designation for it, but we don't really have time to go over that, so I'm just going to call it Satellite Five."
"It'd have to be broadcasting some kind of signal for it to be a satellite, wouldn't it?" asked Rose, joining him at the console.
He grinned at her, unable to help it. No matter how naïve he thought her, he couldn't deny that she brightened his day like no one else. "Exactly— and it is. Not just one signal, though; there's about a million different ones being sent out as we speak. And they're all being sent to…"
"Baravan?" Sally guessed.
"Right again," said the Doctor. One thing he could say about Torchwood: they weren't stupid. Unless you counted that they were willing to fight the Time Lords. "So, let's have a look outside, shall we?"
He almost offered Rose his arm on an impulse, but he managed to restrain himself. Those days— the days when he brought humans along with him for the ride, to enjoy adventuring through time and space— were long gone. They no longer even existed since history had been rewritten by the Time Lords, but he could still remember them all: Ian, Barbara, Sarah Jane, Ace, Romana (she remembered it too, but… his gut twisted), Jo, Polly, Leela… they were all still there, in his memory alone. But this wasn't some exotic planet that he could share with Rose, as much as he wished it was.
She would have loved it, he knew. He could've taken her to so many places, to so many wonderful times in Earth's history. He wanted to see the radiant smile that would appear on her face when she got to try a new kind of food, or meet a fascinating species of alien, or see a wondrous monument. In all the time that he'd known her, he'd never gotten to see a full-blown smile from her. It was always a little half-smile that she usually only gave when he made some kind of joke. He'd even bring Jack along, if it made her happier. Or Mickey.
Not Jackie, though; the line had to be drawn somewhere.
Rose nodded at his suggestion, heading for the doors (though not before she drew her own gun, he noticed with a pang) and slipping outside. Sally remained, staring at him.
"This is sick," she said in a low voice. "I don't know where you get off making it sound like some kind of adventure, because it's not."
"I know that," he snapped, glowering at her. "I fought in the war, remember? Don't think I don't know about life and death, Sally Sparrow. I've already learned that it's not something you want to hold in the palm of your hand."
"I'm not sure you have." Sally sighed, tugging on her ponytail. "Look, I know that Rose seems like the last person to be fighting a war, but she's been through more than most of us. There's a reason why she's in such an important position in our ranks. But it's not my story to tell; I'll let her explain it to you. The point is you can't keep treating her like a child."
"You are," said Sally. "I see it every time you look at her. You're idolizing what you believe to be her innocence, but you're wrong. What she has— what's making you so smitten with her— it's not innocence. It's hope."
He wasn't usually one for silences, but for once he couldn't think of anything to say.
"You still don't get it," she said. "I shouldn't be surprised. Time Lords: most hopeless species in the galaxy. You've nothing left to look forward to."
Still stunned, he opened his mouth, then closed it again. When no words were forthcoming, he got himself together as best as he could and marched out after Rose, aware of Sally's footsteps behind him and her gaze burning into his back.
When he didn't see Rose right away he nearly panicked, but Sally's words came back as though mocking him and he forced himself to calm down. He caught sight of her quickly, walking past a row of green-tinted glass with a look of horror mixed with morbid fascination on her face. He moved closer to one of the windows as well, and felt his gut wrench when he realized that there was a person inside.
It wasn't hard to figure out what the set up was for once he took out his sonic screwdriver. "Flesh technology."
"Come again?" asked Sally.
"The Flesh," he repeated. "Long story short, it's a bunch of goop that can create exact copies of any DNA it comes into contact with. The real body is kept unconscious and the mind is transported into the Flesh body through a signal. Must be what all the signals coming from Satellite Five are for."
"So… they copied the prisoners," Rose said slowly, "And sent the copies to Baravan. Why?"
"The body itself isn't the only thing that can be programmed using the Flesh," said the Doctor. At least, that was the case with the Time Lord version of the Flesh. The human version that he remembered from the original timeline had had no such capabilities.
"They were able to brainwash the copies," Sally surmised. "Into doing… what, exactly?"
"I dunno," he replied. "But the Time Lords must be pretty confident that no one would ever cut the connection and set them all free."
"Arrogance?" asked Sally.
The Doctor opened his mouth to answer, but Rose beat him to it.
"Maybe," she said. "Or maybe they really do have something else under their sleeve. I'll tell you one thing, though: there doesn't seem to be anyone else here."
"Easy enough," called the Doctor. "I can check communications from the TARDIS."
"Yeah," agreed Rose. "Or…"
She pulled out her tablet and held it up to her comm device. "Mickey's had this rigged to get into any nearby communications automatically."
For a moment, all they could hear was static. The Doctor was certain that they would get nothing, unless you counted the Time Lords dropping off new prisoners, but to his surprise a woman's voice spoke up through the crackling. She was speaking quickly, so she was a bit difficult to make out at first.
"…can't get in, and I've tried everything. The problem is that the matrix keeps changing every time I try to hack into it, so basically I'd have to have six arms in order to keep up with the changes long enough to actually gain access. On top of that, the passcode would be
Gallifreyan— which neither of us speak in the first place…"
"Well, I don't have anything to say that sounds nearly as smart as all that," came another woman's voice. "Just that the communications room looks very pretty, and I'm having no luck getting into contact with anyone."
Rose let the connection go, turning to face Sally and the Doctor. "Escapees?" she asked.
It shouldn't have been possible; it would take immense willpower to overcome any brainwashing techniques that the Time Lords, but he was already figuring out that human beings were experts at defying the odds.
"We should listen in a little more before we take any action," Sally advised. "Just in case."
Rose nodded, brandishing her tablet like a weapon once more.
"Come on!" Oswin yelled, her voice echoing through the communications room. Melody winced.
"Hey, I'm not having any luck either," she said, "but I'm not trying to blow your eardrums off, am I?" Pressing the button once again, she spoke into the microphone: "This is Melody Pond, former Baravan prisoner. We are in need of rescue immediately. Please respond."
Nothing but static.
She felt a little foolish because really— who in their right mind was going to help a prisoner of the Time Lords? Still, she had to keep trying; there was no way that she was going to die on some space station in the middle of nowhere. At the very least, she wasn't about to let Oswin down. It sounded to her as though Oswin could use a little good news; she'd clearly never been stumped like this before.
"Wait, so it's not a passcode?" Oswin muttered, probably more to herself than Melody. "Oh…"
Sighing, Melody repeated herself and added, "You want to tell me what's going on, or are you going to keep oh-ing?"
Very quietly, Oswin said, "I've made a mistake."
Melody waited for her friend to continue.
"I assumed that there would just be a passcode to access the controls to the Flesh. But there's a failsafe, because the Time Lords didn't even trust themselves. No way around it that I can see. I was thinking it over earlier: why wasn't there more security in the space station, at least? What if rebels happened to stumble on it with the goal of freeing everyone? Why were the Time Lords so confident that no one would ever be able to do it?"
"What d'you mean?"
"Time Lords are vain, Melody." Oswin sounded… afraid? That couldn't be right. "I guess that they think that no one would be willing, since none of them would ever do it…"
"Can you just tell me, Oswin?" Melody said, more loudly. Something in her voice was making her anxious.
"The central computer will only accept one thing in order to deactivate all the Flesh avatars and free the prisoners," explained Oswin.
Stunned, Melody fell silent. There was a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, like the ground was falling out from beneath her as she realized just what it was that Oswin intended. Distantly she wondered if Oswin had suspected this all along, and that that was why she had insisted that they split up. She was certainly brilliant enough to guess that it would happen.
"Oswin," she said, finding her voice at last and trying to ignore the way it trembled. "No. I know what you're thinking, but you… you don't have to do that. Just… we'll meet up somewhere else. We'll figure something else out. Either that or…or… wait for me there. I'm coming right now."
She stood and hurried to the door, only to find it wouldn't budge.
"Oswin!" she shouted, her composure breaking completely. "Open this damn door!"
"Don't you see, Melody?" Oswin asked, as though Melody hadn't spoken at all. "The Time Lords are vain. They'd never dream of giving up one of their regenerations, even if it was to free millions of lives from a lie. One life ending to jumpstart a million others. It's worth dying for, but they'd never see it because they don't understand that."
"There's some kind of terminal that I'm supposed to put my hand in." Her voice was trembling too. "I wonder if it'll hur"
"Oswin please, just listen," begged Melody. She sank to her knees, staring at the ceiling as though it could offer some sort of reassurance. "You can't do this. We were going to escape together, remember? We were going to go and find our families once we got out. I want to meet your mum. She sounds like a fantastic woman. And all those stories you told me about your dad. You have to be able to see them again. Remember that?"
"Melody, my family's dead."
A feeling of horror and helplessness settled into Melody's bones. No wonder Oswin had become so hesitant whenever Melody talked about escaping to get back to her parents. No wonder Oswin had been desperate enough to do something like dismantle the government with one computer. No wonder she had never questioned Melody's own actions in attacking Yvonne Hartman.
No wonder she was willing to give up her life so readily now.
"Mum went quietly," Oswin continued. "She got ill. Pancreatic cancer. There's almost no chance of surviving it. Dad… got taken. To Africa, apparently. I never saw him alive again, but I eventually received a formal notice that he was dead. The body came back two days later. What they did to him… I don't know, but it was definitely him."
"You don't have to do this!" insisted Melody. "Just let me come up there, and we'll figure something else out. We're friends, Oswin. I need you, here, with me. I can't just keep going alone."
"You can," snapped Oswin. "You have to. This is my decision; you can't make it for me. Listen…"
"Shut up!" Melody all but screamed. "Just shut up!"
"My real name— it's—"
"Clara. Clara Oswald. I wanted you to know it before there was no one else to tell you."
Melody let out a sob. They were hysterical tears, because how could you feel sadness for something that hadn't happened yet? Clara Clara Clara. That name was going to ring in her ears for the rest of her life, she knew. Clarity, light… it fit her so perfectly. Oswin— Clara— had always been able to see what the right thing to do was far better than Melody ever did. She could picture Clara now, standing in front of the terminal with a white but determined face, her brown eyes shining more brightly than they ever had on Baravan.
"It should be me," she gasped out. "Clara, it should be me. What have I suffered, compared to you?"
"No, it shouldn't," Clara said. She sounded calmer now. "We both know that. I can't waste any more time, Melody."
Something was in her chest, ripping her heart to shreds. "Please…"
"Good luck, Melody. Goodbye."
In that instant, Melody could feel a great big thrum throughout the space station. It seemed to swell and grow, and she knew that it was the minds of the prisoners being returned. To her, however, it sounded like a clamoring wail of mourning as the brightest star in her life suddenly, irrevocably, flickered out.
There was a shocked silence as the comm chatter stopped.
Before Rose could even think of how to react, she was blinded as every one of the containers suddenly emitted a bright light, followed by a loud humming sound. She shielded her eyes as best as she could, dimly aware of Sally's alarmed shout. When her vision cleared once again, she could see disoriented prisoners climbing from their pods, looking around in confusion. Murmurs echoed through the room.
She knew she should be feeling triumphant, and she did, but it was tainted by what she had just heard. That the Time Lords would go so far as to demand a life for freeing the prisoners… actually, that didn't surprise her so much. Still, she was startled by the wave of sadness that swept over her, even though she had barely known the woman. Oswin, Clara, whatever her name was.
She knew that someone had to take action, though.
She set up a connection to Torchwood headquarters. "Operation Cracking the Egg has been a success. I repeat, Operation Cracking the Egg is a success."
"You serious?" came Larry's surprised voice.
"Yeah, I am. We're gonna need a lot of transport, though. There are about a million prisoners here."
The Doctor seemed to snap out of his reverie at that. "I can take about a thousand at a time," he said. "I could probably get them all out of here at once, but that'd take a while. Unless…!"
He darted off to who knew where. Rose pressed the button on her communicator again. "Hold that thought."
Before she could hurry off after him, her comm unit beeped again, and a distorted voice said, "Bad wolf." She huffed; it was the twentieth time she'd gotten that message. Hadn't Larry fixed it yet?
She couldn't afford to dwell on it for long; instead, she ran after the Doctor.
"If I'm right," he said to her, "then it'll be easy to get everyone out of here. This space station was built with Time Lord technology, right?"
"You'd know better than I would."
"Well, it is," he said. "So there's probably some kind of emergency transport system in the main control room."
Rose's jaw dropped. "What? For something this huge?"
They wove in and out of the prisoners as they spoke, ignoring the strange looks that they got. "Don't you get it, Rose? It's a Time Lord space station. So it's bigger on the inside."
There was only one word to describe the main control room: beautiful.
It was an artistic technological achievement. The computer core glowed a bright green, as did the many wires that snaked out from it. Various terminals surrounded her, all giving off soft, colorful lights. They illuminated the body on the floor in front of her, making it look as though it were just slumbering.
She could see the spot where Clara must have placed her hand. For a very brief moment the idea had occurred to her that she could put her hand there, too, but her instinct for survival derailed that train of thought quickly.
Her cheeks felt slightly sticky from dried tears. Melody sat, hugging her knees to her chest, staring at the body of someone who had quickly become a lifeline for her. Thoughts clamored for attention in her head, but she batted them away like flies, unable to look away from Clara Oswald. A part of her wanted to reach out and stroke Clara's hair, as though that would offer any comfort, but the rest of her screamed in protest against the action. To touch the body would mean that it was real— that Clara was, indeed, dead.
How did it come to this? she wondered distantly. I just got her back. Don't take her away from me. Not again.
"I wondered if I might find you in the middle of it."
Melody didn't acknowledge the voice, though she recognized it dimly as Vastra's. The Silurian padded almost silently to stand next to her, staring down at Clara's still form. Melody expected to hear wariness and hostility in Vastra's voice, but there was only a quiet respect.
"She did it to save us all," she said. "She barely knew us. We shunned her. And she did it anyway, even though we hardly deserve it."
"You're right," Melody said hoarsely. "You don't."
She was aware of Vastra looking at her, probably with pity. "Melody—"
There was a pause, then a soft shuffle told her that Vastra (while she didn't leave) backed away a respectful distant and began a vigil alongside her.
Several times, Melody looked down at her chest and was surprised to see that there wasn't a gaping, bloody hole where her heart should've been. It felt like there was. It had felt like it was bleeding out of her chest while she grieved on her knees in the communications room, repeatedly calling out Clara's name into the microphone in the vain hope of an answer. It was worse than when her grandfather had died; at least then, there was someone to be angry at, someone to blame. Now, however, she had little choice but to redirect that anger inward, at herself. It should've been me. It should've been me. Why wasn't it me?
Gradually, she became aware that someone was kneeling beside her, putting an arm around her shoulders and guiding her up. She struggled furiously when she realized what was happening ("I won't leave her!"), and it took the other person slapping her to stop her. While she stared in shock at the blond woman in front of her, the woman said, "We're taking her with us, don't worry. She deserves a proper ceremony."
And so Melody was taken away, out of that awful room, past hundreds of oblivious prisoners celebrating their freedom, past a man in a leather jacket who looked at her curiously, past another blond woman with slightly longer and dirtier hair, and into a blue box.
The moment she was inside, she was greeted by a sudden warmth in the air, as though someone was trying to wrap their arms around her. Without warning, exhaustion overcame her and she collapsed, grateful for the oblivion.
A/N: How many of you hate me now?
I'm going to keep this short: this is not the same Satellite Five from season one; it was just a shout out to that. Now you finally know what was up with the prison. Yes, I always planned for this.
Thank you for reading.