River is on the command ship by the time she comes around. There are bars in the place where a wall should be and for a moment she thinks she might be back in Stormcage when she remembers she hasn’t been a prisoner there for decades. The room is quite similar, however; empty and cold save for the lumpy mattress she’s laying on.
She tries to sit up only to grimace at the ache that courses through her body. It’s an ache of newness and lack of use, like shoes that resist the divots of the wearer’s feet. Her muscles don’t seem to remember how to sit on her bones the way they used to.
She forces herself to sit up anyways. The scratchy blanket falls off her torso revealing a greyish cloak haphazardly thrown over her. She suspects her captures weren’t expecting to be required to dress her and acquired the first piece of cloth available to cover her. Apparently, they couldn’t be bothered with cleaning her since browning blood stains still smear her thighs, redder and fresher closer to her center.
Somewhere beside her, she hears shifting of chain on chain. Three, no four other women sit wordlessly in the cell with her. They’re all dressed in off-white, thin robes. Some of them have drying stains on their clothes matching the ones on River’s legs.
The woman closest to her shifts and gives River the smallest of nods. She starts to slowly pull something from the folds of her skirts but a noise from the hall startles her into concealing it further.
Outside the gated wall, a man stands to attention, staring at River like she might try to escape at any moment. (Smart, since she would if she could move more than a few inches.) He’s dressed in what she can only assume is a uniform with all the armor plating. It takes her a moment to realize the reason he’s standing so straight isn’t because of her, but because someone is coming down the hall. The Stormcage guards used to do this as well when the warden came around.
The newcomer comes into view and looks a little more impressive than a warden; a circular, golden headpiece adorns his shoulders like some sort of halo, though River doesn’t credit any divinity to him.
“To what do I owe the pleasure, Lord President?” Her voice comes weak from her throat, though she’s impressed that she was able to speak at all. River frowns as she says the words—It feels like she’s said them before. Yes, she must have, but her memory is a bit too foggy at the moment to remember when.
“You are an abomination,” says Rassilon calmly, like he’s telling her the time of day.
“Thank you,” River hums.
“You are an atrocity.”
“I do try.”
“You are not one of us,” he continues on a sigh like he’s tutting at bad weather. “You are beneath our race and you are beneath me.”
“Well, only if you buy me dinner first.”
Rassilon falters at that but only just. “Retrieving you from the datacore was a mistake and a waste of resources.”
This time it’s River who finds her words stuttering to a stop in her mouth. “The what?”
He waves his hand dismissively and regardless of the enormous amount of exhaustion within her, River finds it relatively easy to find the energy to be annoyed.
“It’s rude,” she starts slow and icily, “to keep your guests in suspense, you know.”
“Suspense?” Rassilon sounds genuinely confused for a moment until something clicks behind his eyes. “You really don’t remember do you? Of course, you wouldn’t, your brain is still hybrid ,” he hisses the last word like a swear.
River’s frown only deepens. “And the rest of me?”
“Do you really think we’d bother to make your new body as disgusting as your last?”
“My last?” she echoes her own confusion pressing down like a weight. There’s something she should be remembering. Something she should know just beyond the fog of inaccessible memories.
The noise that comes out of Rassilon’s mouth is something between a scoff and grunt, but just as patronizing as the wave of his hand. “I don’t have the time to explain this to you, Professor Song, and it’s not my obligation to. You’ll be in the matrix soon and it won’t matter anyway.”
“The matrix ?”
Flashes of history pass through her memory; books with strange circular patterns, libraries that smell of ancient dust, and a story of a tradition long lost. Someone had told her, hadn't they?
River can almost remember a voice and almost remember words—moonlight, the color blue, and song on wind floating gently over the hushed whispers of a pair curled up in bed. “ A storehouse of knowledge made of living… well, dying Timelord minds,” he’d said. Who had said that?
Rassilon makes the patronizing noise again and says nothing more to River. Instead, he looks at the guard, who straightens up a little more for it, and drones, “Bring them to the med-suite when we land. I want all traces of her analyzed and cataloged before she’s uploaded. The child will be found.”
“The child… My…?” River starts, hands drifting down to her belly where the soreness is concentrated. The soft bump has long since gotten smaller—not exactly to how she used to look, but certainly lacking the distinct protrusion of pregnancy.
Her hands start to wander in search as if the familiar movement of growing life might reappear if she just adjusted her hands. She looks over to the women who, in turn, watch her silently.
The woman closest to her, River can remember her face just barely. A face smeared with dust from running. Yes, they’d been running, hadn’t they? River and all of the women in the cell with her—they’d been helping her. Yes, she’d found them. Or maybe they had found her?
River closes her eyes, trying to chase the memory as far as it will take her. She’d been screaming, hadn’t she? Alone as contractions came one right after the other— she’d been hiding in that barn for at least two days. And on that second night when the labor pains were so strong she was sure she would die before sunrise, they’d come like a blessing to help.
And River had cried when the woman finally held up the wailing, pink infant to the humid air. She’d told herself she wouldn’t cry and had managed to keep dry eyes until that moment. Why had she wept?
There are the obvious reasons, but River dismisses them as the memory turns her gaze to the small leather device that sat next to her on the floor of the barn. She’d shakily picked it up and handed it to the woman who held the baby. “Take it to Him. Please.”
There had been no questioning and only a second of hesitation before the woman silently wrapped the device around her wrist and disappeared with her child.
It gets blurry after that.
Rassilon has left by the time River opens her eyes, and if they’re a little wet no one comments.
The woman closest to her starts to pull the item out of her skirt, revealing the old leather device. River takes in shakily, fitting the familiar thing around her wrists.
“...What about the rest of you?”
“We’ve done our part,” says the woman. “The rest relies on you.”
“But-But he’ll kill you.”
“Perhaps. We have faith, Night Song.”
River pauses at the name, unsure of why she’s calling her that. Before she can ponder much, the guard bangs a hand on the cell door. “Hey! What is that! What have you got!”
Panicking, River slams the vortex manipulator and disappears.
She lands on stone, scrapping her knees and hands as she does. Where ever she is, it’s freezing and wet from a light rain. The blanket, luckily, had made the trip with her. River starts tearing it, making a few makeshift holes for her head and arms, then puts it on like a poncho. At least she wasn’t completely naked now.
Looking around proves nearly another useful. She can hear waves and wind in the distance. Shivering, she catches a glimpse of a lit window in the distance. It’s better than nothing.
Standing is quite a challenge. She’s not sure how long it’s been since she’s had food or water, but judging from the weakness in her bones, probably at least a few days.
She can barely stay on her feet, but she moves forwards anyways in a half walk half crawl when she stumbles. She ignores the pain in her body, keeping focus on the potential sanctuary ahead. It’s all she can do to keep from curling up on the ground and letting herself pass out.
Her mind swims with all that’s happened. Words from Rassilon echo in her head; Matrix, datacore, baby, hybrid… she knows those words from somewhere, doesn’t she? She knows him, she thinks. He has power and the bad kind and he’s from… a planet. An important planet but she can’t remember the name. She can barely remember having a baby—the evidence of her worn body is the main reminder of that. Why had she run? From who and to where?
It’s all too much to think about, but she knows she has to keep it in her mind or she’ll forget again. She needs to write this down. Her hand reaches instinctively for a pocket, but the blanket doesn’t have pockets. What was she reaching for? Blue, paper, blue… something blue. That’s all she can remember