Previous Chapter: Sixteen
Rated: PG/13 (Note: Trigger warning in this chapter for mention of previous rape)
Summary: A cold and beautiful world, a market, a bolt of silk, and three people walking through the doors of their memories.
Author's Notes: In which Rose meets the other person in Luisa's head, and learns how she got there.
Edited by: My beloved dr_whuh, with help from the incomparable a_phoenixdragon
Previous Chapters: Accessible here
Watching someone convulse is like watching their body make war on them, Rose thought. It’s also guaranteed to make the onlooker feel completely, helplessly, useless. She grabbed a sofa pillow and stuffed it behind Luisa’s neck, hoping to control the girl’s involuntary tremors enough to prevent head injuries.
It didn’t look at all like it did in the movies. It was more horrible. Luisa twitched rhythmically, her legs kicking slightly, her teeth grinding so much Rose could feel it in her own jaw. She would almost — almost — rather have been back in that noisome holding pen.
Just when she was certain Luisa was going to break pieces of her own teeth, the girl quieted; her legs stilled and her soft pant slowed to regular breathing.
Rose didn't recognize the voice. It didn't sound like Luisa ... despite having the same pitch, its timbre seemed rougher, raspier.
Luisa opened her eyes, focused on Rose, then announced "I'm going to be sick."
She was true to her word, but managed to avoid hitting herself or Rose with the thick bile. Wordlessly, Rose handed her an antimacassar she'd pulled from the sofa pillow. Luisa wiped her mouth, coughed wetly, and struggled to sit up.
"You're Rose," she said, her voice still different.
"Yes." Rose regarded the other woman and said, reluctantly, "You're not Luisa."
It wasn't a question. She let curiosity override that queasy realization, one born of all the hints and unsettling oddities in Luisa's comments during previous conversations. Curiosity had worked to get her past much of this ordeal, just as it always seemed to work in situations surrounding the Doctor.
The little blonde didn't answer her immediately. Instead she rubbed her eyes, rubbing grime across her pale cheek as she did. Then she sat up straighter. "No, I'm not."
"Who—" Rose stopped, considered her words. "Do you know who you are?"
"I'm ... I think — Wait. Where are we? We're not at GC, and this isn't my place."
Even her accent was different, Rose thought, although the slur might have been the tail end of the seizure. But the question itself was couched precisely and very clearly.
"We're at the home of a man named Sampaio and a woman named Laowhra," Rose answered, not sure whether to be grateful or worried that neither of them appeared to be around. “Do either of those names ring any bells?"
The other woman nodded slightly.
"She's in my head. Not supposed to be. Someone put her there."
Well, that's probably to be expected, Rose thought, only a little hysterically. This is where the Doctor would know what to say, but you're on your own, Tyler. "Tell me who you are," she finally said.
"Phil. My name's Phil." The woman was wary. Not frightened the way Luisa (Who on earth is — was — she? Does she even exist?) had been. She eyed Rose, seeming to measure her. "How did we get here?"
"We walked. You — Luisa — knew the way. You don't remember?"
The woman — Phil, she'd said; last name or first, Rose wondered — shook her head. "Not really. It's a ... not a memory, not really. But I know she did it. I mean, I guess I know it."
Rose opened her mouth to speak, but Phil spoke again.
"How did we get here?"
Rose looked at her sharply. "I told — " Again she checked herself, changing course instinctively when she saw that Phil's eyes were darting about with complete confusion. She remembered what Jackie told her about talking to Gran in her last days, how to deal with her. Don't contradict her, Rose, she can't remember what she said two minutes ago. Just keep her happy. "Luisa, the, uh, woman in your head. She brought us here. She said it was her father's home."
"Were we in GC?"
"I don't know the name of the place," Rose said. "I'm not from around here. But I was with a friend, visitin', and we got mixed up in something by mistake. We were ... I guess you could say we were arrested. I met you in a—"
"—cage. I was in a cage. Oh my god, he did it. That man did it to me— Sangre, my head!"
Blood started trickling from her companion's nose, puddling on her top lip. It was steady, and very frightening.
"You OK? Keep your head back and ... erhm ... put some pressure on your top lip, right under your nose, yeah?"
She dredged up the basic first aid the Doctor insisted she learn. "How bad does your head hurt?"
"Bad enough. Sera Lumina."
"Alright, just relax. You don't have to talk right now." Rose was frustrated at not being able to get more information immediately, but it seemed safer not to press Phil for details, if thinking too hard about anything put her in such pain. Whoever was in charge of the girl's head didn't deserve any more trauma than she (they?) had already suffered.
Phil shook her head, as determined as Luisa had been timid. "No. I've got to. I can feel her and she's trying to get out, but I need to stay in control. The devil who did this may know what I know. If that's the case I need to … to … alert -” she blinked and resumed. “If he did it, he may ... god, I don't know who to talk to ...."
And as quick as that, confusion once again clouded her gaze.
"I tell you what," Rose said, unconsciously modulating her voice the same way her mother had done around her gran. "Let's get you up off the floor and into a chair. At least get a little more comfortable, and I'll look for something for your head. There's gotta be something around here. Everyone's got pain killers in their kitchen or bathroom, yeah?" Rose knew she was perilously close to babbling, but that was fine; under the cascade of words she was able to gently maneuver her companion up off the floor and over to the same threadbare chair she herself had used during her first visit.
When she put her arms around the girl's shoulders, she got another surprise. Phil, or Luisa, or whoever she was, was radiating heat like a small furnace. And underneath the reek of alley garbage hovering around both of them was a sharp, sour tang. Unbidden, Rose thought of her gran again, in that tiny cluttered room, confused and dying without knowledge or control of herself. She shivered.
“I … think we need to cool you off,” she said.
The other woman closed her eyes, but nodded. “That would feel good. There are towels in the second drawer down in the kitchen. You could wet some of those down.”
“How do you—” Rose shook her head and headed down the narrow corridor. She wasn’t going to ask the question aloud, because she had no idea whether learning the answer would be useful in the least.
She had just found a drawer of clean towels in what was otherwise a rather grubby kitchen when she realized her de facto patient was joining her, walking unsteadily up the hall and learning on the wall to keep her balance. “Lu—Phil, you should be sitting down.”
“Can’t. I might go to sleep.”
The other woman had wiped more blood from her nose; she looked absolutely dreadful, pasty and sweaty under the grime and gore, but she also appeared grimly bent on moving.
“You can’t sleep?”
“I’ll get … lost. I’ll get lost. There’s too much going on in my head.”
The simple phrase nearly undid Rose. She almost dropped the towel she was holding as she kept herself from laughing or screaming, trying instead to hold on to whatever emotional equilibrium she still had. You’re not the only one to have too much going on in your head, girl. She was tired and hungry; she stank, her head was still pounding, she was confused and she needed to eliminate one of those things from her life as soon as possible.
“Here. Take this towel and wipe your face. And then you’re gonna tell me everything you remember, as much as you can, about yourself and about what happened.”
The other woman stared at her, and seemed about to object, but Rose shook her head and continued. “Think about it. If you’re afraid that … that … Luisa is gonna come back, then use your time wisely, yeah?” She knew she sounded harsh and impatient. She didn’t care.
Phil breathed hard; in and out, then again. “You’re not from around here?”
“No. Like I said … visiting. And I just want to find my — my friend.” Which wasn’t quite the truth. As soon as she could find Jack and rescue the Doctor, she wanted nothing more than to do something about the silk dealers. But she wasn’t going to say that right now.
The other woman considered her, eyes narrowed. Then: “So you’re not with Inverno.”
“Who?” Rose was confused for a minute. “Oh. The governor? No, wait, his assistant, right?”
That seemed to satisfy Phil, although she asked one more question. “You military?”
Sometimes, yeah, though the Doctor pretends like we’re not, Rose thought. He’s the general, we’re the soldiers. “Nah. Just visitors, like I said. Tourists. Why?"
“You think fast.”
Rose laughed, just the tiniest bark. “Only when I have to.”
“Which is now,” her companion agreed, reaching for the cloth and doing a reasonable job, all things considered, of wiping her face. “You’re right. Can you help me back to the front room?”
Rose nodded slowly. “Are you sure you don’t want to find a bed to lie down on?”
“No. Can’t stay too long here, because it’s her place and it’ll bring her ….” Phil tailed off.
“Front room, then,” Rose said hurriedly.
She quickly reclaimed the cloth, rinsed it and gave it back to Phil. Arms entwined, the two shuffled down the hall. Phil collapsed into the overstuffed chair and put the cloth across her eyes while Rose pulled one of the other parlour chairs closer.
“Ready,” Rose said, despite feeling as if she really couldn’t be ready for whatever this girl was going to tell her.
“My full name is Meirelles,” Phil said. “Filomena Meirielles. I’m … aaahh … I’m with General Command. Was with General Command, I mean.” She panted slightly, then resumed.
“Cabo-lança Meirelles. Imperador Armada, Lizhbau Legion. That’s what I joined, even if Inverno’s trying to … no, no, stick to the point. Right.” She pulled the cloth from her face, and tried to sit up straighter in the chair.
“I used to be attached to … to … Tenante. The Tenante. Tenante Fahrar. I was attached to her. Tough, but good, that’s what they told me. She’s all that and more. If it wasn’t for … my … my head, it’s hurting more.”
Rose forced herself not to say anything, though her bones ached in sympathy for the other woman. She had nothing for Phil’s pain, and couldn’t afford to feel guilty for wanting to scream at her to get on with it.
“I— no, here’s the thing.” Phil interrupted herself and wiped her mouth. “Inverno and Bohlver, they’re killing Lizhbau. Treasonous, silk-dealing filth. My mother hated it. Didn’t want me to go into the military … look what it did to my dad and my auntie, that’s what she always said …”
“And?” Rose risked the prompt.
“My mother was involved in the opposition. When she disappeared, I knew I had to do something. Sera Lumina … stay out of my head, my head— aauuh …”
“Hold on Phil. Come on.”
Phil shook her head and Rose saw her start shivering, despite the heat still pouring off her. “I feel — I know the other one’s trying to come back.”
“Stay … come on, just stay with me,” Rose said. She desperately needed some information. What could she do to keep the woman — this woman — talking?
Again she remembered her gran, so tired in the last days. Rose seized on the tail-end of something that might be inspiration and went with it. “Luisa? Let me talk to her, Phil.”
Phil glared at her, shocked and betrayed. “No!”
“Trust me,” Rose said, forcing herself forward and touched the girl’s shoulder, ignoring her flinching attempt to ward Rose off. “Please. Trust me.”
Let this work, let this work, don’t have time for it not to. “Luisa, you there, sweetheart?”
“Rose?” The voice had changed again. The diction was different, the delivery was more hesitant. This was Luisa, Rose knew.
“Yeah, it’s me.” She braced herself mentally, then launched into what she hoped was the right thing to say. “And I need you to do something really important. Remember how you trusted me, and I got us out of — out of the cages?”
“Ye-ess. Yes, I remember.”
“And remember how I got us out of the juggernaut after the accident?”
A very small nod, eyes wide.
“And remember how we got here, together, like a team? You an’ me, a team?”
The nod again.
“So you’ve gotta trust me now, like you did then. I know how tired you are. You’re tired, right?”
The other girl’s eyes filled with tears.
“So you need to sleep. Just go to sleep now. Let the other girl take the weight … let her — her name’s Phil, and she’s … she’s my friend — let her take care of you. Like I’m doing.”
Rose was acting on the memory of Jackie sitting next to her grandmother, urging Gran to sleep, calming her confused rages by telling her how wonderful it was to sleep.
Despite her fear that it wouldn’t work, the girl next to her closed her eyes with a sigh. When they opened again, another woman looked out.
Rose tried to ignore the stab of guilt she felt. “Keep talkin’,” she said softly to Phil, as if speaking too loudly could awaken her original companion. “You’re Meirelles. Cabo … uhm — ”
“Cabo-lança Meirelles. That’s me.
“And I looked, I looked for people who thought the same thing I did,” she said, as if she hadn’t been interrupted.
Rose tried to keep up with the conversation. “You joined the opposition?”
Phil’s laugh was as much of a bark as Rose’s had been. “Yeah. For all the good it did at first. We were useless, until Machado came along.”
“Machado.” Rose kept her question to one word.
“He’s the best thing to happen to Lizhbau in years. If anyone can get us back on the Emperor’s path, it’s him.” Rose heard the hero-worship there. She heard it in her own voice when she talked about the Doctor. “He got things going again. Even after they caught him, they couldn’t keep him. He escaped.”
“You met him?”
“Sangre, no. No one knows him, no one I know has ever seen him. But he actually had a plan. And my cell, my group — they needed my cell. They needed me. So when Tenante Fahrar was seconded to the Pit — the prison … FCD they’re calling it now, but it used to be Imperial Regional Headquarters — they inserted orders that I was to stay at GC. And they got me attached to Inverno’s research detail. No idea how they swung it. We’d all heard the stories about agents getting picked off and disappeared for even trying to get into that department. But that’s Machado and his people for you. They were able to do it. The man I talked to, he said this was coming straight from Machado.”
“No idea. Talked to him over scrambled comm lines.” Phil stopped again, licked her lips, and looked directly at Rose. “But he told me why. They needed me to get entry codes.
“And I was able to do it. I was in the labs. The goddamned labs … they got me in as a security third-shift replacement. And I got the codes. I got the codes.”
That was pride, Rose knew, just as surely as she somehow knew the little woman next to her had every right to be proud. “So the opposition could get into these … these laboratories. Where they did … what?”
“They worked with the worms.” Phil’s voice went flat. “The labs were where they kept the breeding stock. That’s why security was so high. But we finally got in. I did. The codes I got will allow … would have allowed … us to get to this year’s entire crop. What my contact said was called the entire generational cohort, whatever that meant.”
“What were they going to do, d’you know?”
“I don’t know. But it would have meant the end of the silk trade. I’m sure of it. They wouldn’t have risked so much to get me in there otherwise.”
She stopped and sniffed. “I smell … augh, I smell - “
Rose grimaced. “We both smell awful.”
“The cages ….”
Phil swallowed convulsively. “I’m going to be sick again.”
This time, nothing came up, but she retched so violently, Rose thought for a moment she’d gone into convulsions again. The heaves didn’t quiet completely; she began to speak again, but the shaking didn’t stop. “I got the codes, so clean it was beautiful. That’s what was so horrible. They didn’t even get me for that.”
“Inverno has some real bastards working for him. One was … real bad. Filhote d’um bruzsha … I wouldn’t go with him. You know? He kept pushing, and I tried to stay out of his way, but eventually I couldn’t. ”
Rose suddenly wanted the other woman to stop talking. “You don’t have—”
“He was a lot bigger than I was. In the end, I couldn’t stop him.”
Rose remembered Jimmy with a lurch of her own stomach. Travelling with the Doctor and Jack had forced her to depend heavily on the tenacity and grit she’d brought with her from Jackie and the estate. It was how she’d got through adventures that she’d never dreamed of having; it had helped her come through her current nightmare. But tenacity and grit didn’t always win, not nearly.
Now was the time for Sampaio to come home, she thought, so she could think about that kind of danger. But no one walked through the front door, and Phil’s gaze was intense. “What — what happened then?” she managed.
“I made him pay.”
“You … injured him?”
“I killed him.”
“What did they do to you?”
Filomena Meirelles shook, but kept going. “The horrible thing was that Inverno wasn’t even upset that his man was dead. He just looked at me when they brought me to him … looked at me the way you’d look at a piece of meat you were thinking of buying from the butcher.
“All I could think of was how badly I’d screwed things up, how I’d never get the chance to get the codes to my contact, how they would probably find out everything, because I know how they use silk in their interrogations.”
The words were coming in a rush now. “I asked him where the advocate was, but he just laughed and said the governor’s research department didn’t work within regular military channels. He even told me I was right to have fought back. He called his own man a pig … but it did call for discipline, he said, because he couldn’t have that type of disruption in his lab — disruption, that’s what he called it. He said he needed to get rid of both causes of disruption, but that it would be a shame to waste me.
“I was sure I was going to die. They held me and he filled me full of the lamia ….” Her eyes were fixed on what Rose didn’t want to think about. “I woke up strapped to a lab table. He just kept talking, sangre, how he talked! He never stopped the whole time. Talking about scientific progress and neurological enquiries and pushing the envelope of silk research and growing markets, always sounding so reasonable that you almost forgot it was crazy.
“There was another table across from me. A woman. She wasn’t breathing. They had her face covered with the silk, and she was tied down, but you could see from where the blood was how hard she’d tried to get away.”
Rose felt her gorge rise in anticipation. “What did Inverno do?”
“He told me he was going to make me into a brand new person.”
As she said that, the tiny blonde’s shakes escalated into another convulsion.
When it was over, a miserable and fear-filled minute later, she was covered in sweat and more blood, some from her bitten tongue and more from her nose. And Phil was gone again. Another woman had taken her place.
Luisa wept. “I’m not even here, am I?”
Rose wept with her.
Inverno looked up from the readouts at the alarm in his second in command’s voice.
“What?” His lips thinned. Yet another disappointment?
“The alien, sir? His core temperature is skyrocketing. And—” He rechecked the gauges, then turned back to the alien’s silk draped body. He picked up one of its hands, then dropped it, turning to Inverno with eyes like saucers.
“His skin is glowing.”
For those interested, Filhote d’um bruzsha translates roughly as "witch's whelp".