“— But the eggs kept growing, and by the time we got to outside the palace walls, Victoria had to borrow a wheelbarrow to carry them all in.”
“So you kept it,” Rory concluded, hands on the handlebars of said wheelbarrow. “But you still haven’t explained why we’re using a wheelbarrow for this instead of something more sensible.” He looked at the wheelbarrow full of what looked like broken hardware. Transistors, wires, a broken flashlight, and somewhere underneath that, a pair of bowling shoes. “We have to take it upstairs. Don’t you have an antigrav lift or something?”
“Very intelligent question, for someone who claims to not have watched much sci-fi.” The Doctor inspected a cracked teacup, then tossed it in as well. Rory flinched, but the thing didn’t break.
“They had antigrav lifts at the hotel we blew up two weeks ago.”
“Don’t look at me like that, we only blew it up a little. One room. Suite.”
Rory rolled his eyes and shook his head, secretly amused by the look the Doctor was giving him. “So why are we using this wheelbarrow?” he repeated his earlier question.
“Because we’ll need it when we get to the Green.”
“The Green?” Rory repeated.
“You’ll see. No golfing, though, I promise. Oh! The golf clubs!” The Doctor turned and after a bit of rummaging reappeared with half a set of golf clubs in one hand, and a plaid, fuzzy caddy bag in the other hand. He looked like he was about to try putting all the clubs in in one go, no matter that they were splayed in an awkward handful, but then something behind Rory got his attention and he dropped them instead, his eyes big.
Rory turned around and gaped as well. “Under other circumstances I think it’d be appropriate to ask where on earth you found a bikini this time of year, but I don’t have to, do I?” Amy gave him a look, her hands on her hips. “Right.” His throat felt a little dry. “How about why you’re wearing it, then? The pool’s downstairs.”
“Pool,” the Doctor repeated.
“The Doctor never did get us to Rio,” Amy said. “He’s managed plenty of battlefields, spaceships, and one admittedly very pretty frost planet. But I think it’s time for a proper beach.”
“Beach,” the Doctor said.
Rory glanced at him. The Doctor hadn’t moved. “I don’t think the Doctor can agree to anything if you break him first.”
“Says the boy who fell over the first time I kissed him.”
“We were on a dance floor! There were — people,” he finished lamely.
“Whatever. Beach,” Amy repeated, and moved to join them under the deck. She waved her hand in front of the Doctor’s face and he blinked.
“Beach,” he repeated again. “Pond. Yes, right.” He looked at her again. “After the Green. I’ve got a few errands to run, and I think we could all do with some fresh air.” He handed her a golf club and nearly ran up the stairs.
“Are you trying to break him?” Rory asked.
“More like build up a tolerance,” Amy replied, and handed him the golf club.
“Just don’t give him a heart attack first.”
“You know CPR.” He gave her a look, and snapped one of the straps on her top. “Oi!” She tweaked a nipple in retaliation.
Rory was about to strike back when the Doctor called down “The two of you had better come up here, or I’m only going to take you to a beach that requires you to wear that bikini, Pond, and not one of the bikini-optional ones.”
Amy was up the stairs before Rory had fully interpreted the Doctor’s sentence. He followed more slowly. Maybe Amy hadn’t broken the Doctor’s brain quite as much as he’d thought.
“Behold!” the Doctor said, striding out in front of them, arms spread wide like a showmaster. “The Green.” He seemed fully recovered from his earlier stupefaction.
Rory stepped out of the TARDIS behind Amy, cautiously testing his footing on the sandy dune. “Um, Doctor, I hate to break it to you, but —” he paused, then went ahead and stated the obvious. “— it’s not very green.”
“Looks like the planet from Dune,” Amy said, shading her eyes with her hand as she looked around. Nothing but sand in every direction, rising and falling in shallow hills under a clear blue sky. Very definitely no beach.
“Very astute, both of you,” the Doctor acknowledged, grinning. “Sand dunes as far as the eye can see. Which is farther than it can on Earth, by the way — larger planet means a larger distance before the curvature of the surface comes into effect. Not a drop of water in the ecosystem. Above-ground, that is.” He winked and patted the sand with one hand, then brushed his hand off on his coat. “Below the surface is a whole different matter. But it makes it a bit difficult to attract outworlders, all this dust, so they’ve — rebranded themselves, you could say.”
“It’s like Greenland, yeah?” Amy said. She pulled a pair of sunglasses from somewhere and put them on. Rory eyed her jealously. “Name the icky place something nice, and the nice place something icky. So where’s the Brown, then?”
“No Brown in this case, but otherwise correct. And no colonizers here, either, just the original inhabitants, trying to set up an economy in a slow part of an interstellar empire.”
“Empire?” Rory asked. In his experience with the Doctor, empires didn’t tend to be good things.
“One of the good ones. Or, well, good enough, for the next thousand years or so. We’re not here to topple any dictatorships. We’re here for the shopping!” The Doctor set out walking, and they followed, Rory apparently in charge of trying to navigate a wheelbarrow over sand dunes.
The Green, the Doctor explained, functioned largely as a trade economy, everybody bartering and haggling, exchanging work for items for food for time for money. The market spread out over several square miles and multiple levels of the underground cavern system, which had been carefully carved out of the rock, purpose-designed. It felt entirely organic, not hard or dark at all — it was well-illuminated and open, though when Rory looked up he could see no apparent means of support in what looked like sandstone to his untrained eye. But nothing was falling down on their heads, even with hundreds of people moving about, so he put it aside to concentrate on the items in the stalls.
After an hour or so the Doctor had traded enough items that the wheelbarrow was more hindrance than help, so he traded that too, making them all carry items until he found a satchel he liked instead, and now he carried that, seams bulging with lumps and hard edges, but everything seemed to fit. If they’d brought it with them, Rory would have wondered if it wasn’t a bit like the TARDIS, or the Doctor’s coat pockets. “Feel free to speak up if anything takes your fancy, we’ve got plenty of time and I’ve got plenty to trade with, and a few of the stall owners here owe me favors, besides.”
“Don’t romanticize it, Doctor, you’ve got a reputation here, don’t you? The whole planet probably owes you a favor.” Amy said. She was looking around the stalls with interest.
The Doctor hemmed and hawed as they walked down the sloping path. “You make that sound like such a bad thing, Pond. I’ve been here a time or two, maybe, that’s all. It’s a nice location for some of the harder-to-find things I need to keep the TARDIS in good repair.”
“Like the ketchup dispenser?” Rory asked pointedly.
The Doctor shot him a look. “Like the internal 11th-dimension manifold relay, Mister Pond.”
“Ketchup dispenser,” Amy clarified, looking smug.
“It only looks like a ketchup dispenser,” the Doctor protested, looking sullen. “In reality, it’s a very delicate mechanism for processing quantum flux when traveling through the 8th-dimensional substrate in order to manifest it in higher levels of reality.”
“Whatever you say, Doctor, it still produces red stuff that you put on your chips.”
“I like chips,” the Doctor replied. “And the shops never give you enough ketchup.”
Rory didn’t say anything; he preferred vinegar on his chips. He just smiled and threaded an arm through Amy’s. He thought for a moment about trying to do the same to the Doctor, but the hallway was crowded, and the Doctor was already moving forward.
“Anyway, now I’m hungry. What do you say we get something to eat?” The Doctor led them in the direction of the food stalls. Unlike the food courts Rory was used to at shopping centres, the food stalls here were interspersed with the regular shops, no rhyme or reason — that he could see, at least — to the layout of the place. He supposed there was some order to it, because as they had drifted from level to level, inspecting bits and bobs, the smells of cooking food had changed subtly. Right now the air was sharp and spicy, smoky in a way that reminded him of Indian food, and the food they bought did actually look like some sort of curry — lumps that were definitely vegetables, on a bed of cooked grains. Rory tasted it, and it did actually taste a lot like tikka masala, but hotter. There was no meat in any of the dishes, though, and he wondered if maybe they were on the vegetarian level. He distinctly remembered the smell of roasting beef at one point.
The curry was served in what turned out to be basically bread bowls, though it was flatbread, and tasted kind of minty. They sat on a bench near the main thoroughfare, watching people from a hundred cultures walk by, and passed a flask of sweetwater between the three of them. It was, Rory thought, remarkably pleasant. Probably the nicest shopping trip he’d been on in ages.
Which was, of course, right when someone four foot tall and dark green darted in and made off with the Doctor’s satchel.
“Oi!” the Doctor shouted. “Give that back!” He was up in an instant, chasing after the thief. Amy was hot on his heels. Rory looked at the partially finished meals, sighed slightly, and tipped them in a rubbish bin before taking off after them. No point in pretending there’d be time to eat. He kept hold of the flask, though.
There was no chance he’d catch up to the others — they had a fair head start, and no one could run like the Doctor — but it was easy to figure out which direction they’d gone in. They’d left a trail of chaos in their wake; obviously whoever had nicked the Doctor’s bag was counting on knowing the ins and outs of the stalls more than speed or stamina. A handful of overturned tables pointed the way, and as he jogged after them, confused looks and stirred up conversations made it easy to follow even where there was no property damage.
“Rory!” He looked up. Amy waved him over from the other side of a wide aisle, and he hopped over a set of benches and dodged between a few pedestrians to meet up with her.
“Where’s the Doctor?”
Amy shook her head. “Still chasing — whoever that was. He said to double back, just in case the thief did, but I don’t see how —” she was cut off as the two of them were bowled over, by a small, dark figure, and the larger, wiry frame of the Doctor.
“Gotcha!” the Doctor crowed. He had a hand on the jacket of the thief, and Rory automatically put a hand out to help restrain him.
“Let me go!” Her? Rory automatically loosened his grip, and the person almost broke free, before Amy stuck a foot out, catching the girl’s ankle. “I said let go!” Rory couldn’t tell from the voice if it was a girl or a young child.
“Here, we’re not going to hurt you,” the Doctor soothed. “I just want my stuff back.” He helped the girl sit up, brushing the cape off her shoulders so they could see her clearly, coaxing his satchel from her grip, all the while keeping one hand on her at all times, in case she decided to bolt again. “What’s your name?”
“Mardel,” she said, half reluctantly, half defiantly. The girl kept a tight hold on the bag, despite the Doctor’s best efforts. But at least she wasn’t trying to run off again. Rory looked at her. She looked — not like a fairy, but like something out of a fairytale. Or maybe Tolkien. Her skin was a ruddy brown, and rough, crackled, like bark. It faded to a mossy green in patches, almost like freckles, and her hair was a mess of green leaves. There was no other word for it. He was looking at a tree. Tree-person.
“Hello, Mardel, I’m the Doctor.” The Doctor smiled at her. “You’re a long way from home, aren’t you? Cheem don’t like the Green — not enough sun and water in the same place.”
Mardel swallowed, but didn’t say anything.
“Can we help?” the Doctor said softly. Mardel shook her head violently, trying to curl up on herself. Rory looked around, but they didn’t seem to be drawing a crowd. Surely this kind of thing couldn’t be common… “All right, then,” the Doctor continued, “if you don’t need any help, we should at least get you back to your family. There’s no way you’re here on your own; you’re barely more than a sapling —”
Mardel burst into tears. The Doctor looked at her in consternation, and Amy swooped in, giving the girl a tight hug.
“Hey, hey, it’s all right. He didn’t know. You lost then?” She patted the girl’s hair, which shook like leaves in a rainstorm. “The Doctor’s great at finding lost stuff, even people, I’m sure we can help you.”
Mardel shook her head again, scrubbing her tears away. “He said if I didn’t get what he needed from the market, he’d use them for reactor fuel. And then you took the last argon compressors before I could —” she lost her composure again, voice rising in pitch as she lunged at the Doctor, lurching out of Amy’s grasp. “And now they’re going to die —” She thumped the Doctor solidly on the chest, and reached to do it again.
Rory and Amy both leaned in to intervene, but the Doctor stopped her first. “No one’s going to die, not if I have anything to say about it.” He smiled. “And I always have something to say about it.” He looked around. “Here, let’s get out of the street and get you some water, and you can tell us exactly what’s going on.”
They found a bench next to a textile stall, and the Doctor appropriated the flask of sweetwater to give to Mardel, giving Rory his satchel to hold instead. Rory slung it over his shoulders. Mardel watched all this with a wary eye, but she took the drink when offered, and after another moment of settling down all around, she began to tell her story.
“We were traveling to the Gemini sector — my brothers and me — to look for a new place to live. Alger, he’s the oldest, he’d heard there were some uninhabited systems out that way that were full of open land. Mum and Dad still live in the Field, but Alger and Brome have wanted to leave for as long as I can remember. Brome says he’s sick of being treated like a plant. They want to go somewhere new, where people don’t remember us as trapped in the soil.”
“And what do you think?” the Doctor asked. Rory was still trying to wrap his head around how a tree could evolve to look like a person. Plant people he could understand, yeah. He’d just thought they’d look more like — plants.
Mardel shrugged. “I wasn’t even a seedling when the Forest woke, that was a long time ago. I just want to see new places.” She looked over her shoulder. “Mum called us rootless, but I don’t think she really meant it.”
“That’s just mum talk,” the Doctor reassured her. “Trees like to spread out. So what happened to land you here? The Gemini sector is parsecs away.”
“Parsecs away if you’re taking the straight path,” Mardel said. “But we don’t have a ship of our own, and Brome was trying to save as much money as he could for when we arrived in the Gemini sector, so we could buy a nice big plot of land. So we were chartered for a long series of passenger ships. It’d take about a month, he said, but it cost half as much as a direct flight. And we could see some new systems, meet new aliens that didn’t come to the asteroid field, so I didn’t mind too much.” The sparkle in her eyes dimmed a little. “But Alger started to get darksick. The artificial lighting on the cruiser we were on wasn’t good enough, he was starting to wither. We tried to take as much time as we could planetside, and we bought extra energy packs, but he wasn’t getting better fast enough. When our ship stopped here Brome decided to take Alger to a doctor, but I think he was tricked.” Rory thought about it. Just three young people, alone in a part of space they knew almost nothing about. If it weren’t for the Doctor, he and Amy could’ve easily fallen prey to one of a dozen alien scams. Then again, sometimes Rory wasn’t convinced his wallet was safe when he went to London, let alone the Green.
“They didn’t come back when boarding was called, and I waited on the ship, but when last call came and they still weren’t back, I left the cruiser rather than get separated from them.” Here Mardel started to sniff again, and Amy put an arm around her shoulder. “So now we don’t even have any of our things. I can still access our funds, but I don’t want them to know that — obviously Alger and Brome didn’t tell them they had access to their accounts, so they don’t want them to know. But it means they’re letting them push us around!” She was frustrated now.
“Who?” the Doctor asked.
Mardel hesitated. “They called themselves the Hopper brothers. But they never referred to each other by a name, and when I tried to go to the stall coordinator, she hadn’t heard of anyone by that name. I think they operate out of their ship.”
“Can you show us where that is?” Mardel nodded, and led them through the market, in the direction of the spaceport.
Rory pulled the Amy back a step as they walked. “Are you sure we should be doing this?”
Amy grinned at him. “Stopping bad guys? Uh, yeah.”
“It could be a trap.”
“Set by bad guys. And we’ll stop them.”
He couldn’t really argue with that, so he just held her hand. After a minute, a grin slid onto his face. “Tree people!”
“Tree people!” She grinned back, and they hurried to catch up.
They hadn’t parked the TARDIS in the spaceport, obviously, so this part of the Green was new to them as well. It was at least as large as the market, probably bigger, but instead of a vast maze of open tunnelwork, this was one massive hangar, with berthing ports in the walls for ships to rest, leaving massive open airways for them to fly though. None of the ships looked very big to Rory, though. Only large enough for a dozen people at most.
“The larger cruisers and starliners stay in orbit, of course,” the Doctor explained as they looked around. “The smaller ships ferry people back and forth from the planet to the ship. Or they teleport — that’s finally starting to be economically feasible in this section of the galaxy at this time, so you might see a bit of that.”
“I think the Hopper’s ship is just small,” Mardel said, hand still in the Doctor’s, leading the way. “Looks a bit like an old Company ship, but with some heavy modifications. But then half the privately owned ships I’ve seen are.”
“There are no rules for privately owned craft other than that they pass flight inspection at their point of origin and any destination. Which leaves a lot of wiggle room,” the Doctor explained.
“There’s two of them, but the ship’s big enough for maybe six, with a large cargo area. They converted part of it into a medbay, but I don’t know if any of it even works,” Mardel said.
Rory still wasn’t any good at identifying spaceships, they all looked pretty much the same to him — and, used as he was to traveling in a blue box that was bigger than outside, he tended to not put much stock in what a ship looked like on the outside. Also, he drove a third-hand Mini Cooper, so who was he to judge? The ship Mardel showed them to looked like it could house more than six people, but then again she’d said cargo area, and he still didn’t know how big stuff like the engines were. He wished he’d been more interested in sci-fi as a kid so he’d have some sort of comparison, but it was hard to be when Amy was hanging over his shoulder telling him how Captain Picard was doing everything wrong, and why did he have a British accent if he was supposed to be French? Amy was, surprise surprise, not too big on most sci-fi.
The Doctor wasn’t one for judging, though, he just walked right up to the door of the ship and whipped out the sonic screwdriver. The door flashed open, as compliant as you please. The ship was surprisingly clean on the inside. Which, Rory supposed, made sense if it was supposedly masquerading as a hospital. The interior was an off-white color, tinted slightly green, with light coming from some indistinguishable source where the walls met the ceiling — he couldn’t tell if the walls were glowing or if it was recessed lighting or some combination of the two. Somehow he’d expected it to be dirtier.
“Let’s see if we can’t find your brothers first,” the Doctor said. “Can’t be too much room in a ship this size. Cargo bay’s this way, yes?” He pointed.
Mardel nodded. “Yes, that’s where we stay. The brothers have the only quarters. Everything else has been converted for storage.”
“Storing what?” Amy asked.
Mardel shrugged. “All the doors are bolted. Whatever they can steal, I think. They trade with all sorts of people.”
The Doctor frowned. “The Green doesn’t like to deal with thieves. They try to keep all their traders as above-board as possible. I doubt they’re doing too well here.” He tapped the screwdriver to his mouth. “In fact, why stop here at all?”
“Well, you stopped here,” Rory pointed out. “It must have a fair amount of stuff you can’t get anywhere else.”
“I suppose,” the Doctor said. “Though there’s not much here that you couldn’t get on the black market, either.” They stopped outside the door to the cargo area.
“Excuse me,” a deep voice said from behind them. “What are you doing on my ship?” They whirled around. Facing them was a reddish-colored man, with a shock of yellow hair combed over his forehead. He didn’t look pleased to see them.
“Ah.” The Doctor smiled up at the other man. “This is your ship?”
The man nodded. “Javin Hopper. The 77X belongs to me and my brother Gren.”
The Doctor looked around. “No fancy name, then? For the ship, I mean. Callisto, Epipheratus? Bounty?”
Javin Hopper just stared at him. “You still haven’t explained what you’re doing on my ship.”
“Right.” The Doctor presented the psychic paper for inspection. “Trade Inspector. This girl was accused of shoplifting. Obviously not true, she’s much too young for that, but we’re obliged to return her to her ship in any case.” The Doctor tilted his head. “You are responsible for her, are you not?”
The man shrugged. “More or less. Her family is dead, we’re looking after her until something can be arranged.” Rory saw Mardel cling tighter to Amy’s hand.
“Now, that’s not what she told us. Are you sure —”
“Look, you, you have no authority on my ship. We’re not here as traders, we’re here solely to receive goods for sale elsewhere. This is a simple portage stop.” The man reached for the gun at his side, which Rory hadn’t noticed before.
Quickly, the Doctor reached up behind him and slapped at the controls for the cargo bay. Nothing happened. He turned and tried going after them with the sonic.
Mardel shrieked as Hopper grabbed her. “Let her go!” Amy shouted. She grabbed at the girl, trying to pull her away.
“Amy!” Rory shouted. He reached out to help her, but the Doctor pulled him away and shoved him through the doorway as he finally got it open. He then grabbed for Amy himself, but Hopper had finally got his gun out of its holster and shot at the Doctor, who pulled back with a wince. Hopper must have hit the control panel, because the door started to descend again. But his pulling away to shoot also gave Amy a chance to give Mardel one last tug, pulling her free. The door was closing too fast for the two of them to chance diving through, and the last Rory managed to glimpse of them, they were heading back in the direction they’d come.
Rory growled and punched the door. Which hurt, a lot. He shook his fist out. “Brilliant. Now what do we do?”
“Oh, shut up,” the Doctor said, turning away. “We still have Mardel’s brothers to find. And Amy can handle herself.”
“It’s not Amy I’m worried about,” Rory said, following the Doctor. “This ship only has one door, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, and it also looks like the type to have individuated environmental controls. If the Hoppers really wanted to stop us, they could have pulled all the air from the room by now. That’d certainly slow you down, don’t you think?”
“‘You?’” Rory asked, brain catching on the singular pronoun. The Doctor didn’t answer. He sighed, giving up on it, and picked up his pace slightly to catch up with the Doctor. “Actually, my worry was whether or not there’s another way out of this ship, if that door’s broken.”
“Of course there is,” the Doctor replied easily. “I did say that transporters were around, but this ship is too old to even be equippable with modified ones. Cargo has to move onto the ship by hand. We came in through the internal doorway. There’s got to be a garage door somewhere.” Fair point.
There was no order to the cargo bay, which didn’t make much sense to Rory, until the Doctor pointed out the glowing disc on every container, about the size of a 5p coin. Rory had thought they were just locks, but they were more than that — they had RFID chips embedded in them, or the 37th-century equivalent. The Hoppers could just punch into their computers what they were looking for, and the corresponding box would beep or could be traced. Certainly made packing much easier. But it did mean the whole thing was open, and there weren’t too many places two full-grown men could be hidden.
“Hello, I’m the Doctor!” The Doctor stepped forward cheerfully into the alcove made by several tall boxes. It was a sort of medical cubicle — from the outside it just looked like more shipping crates, but the room, which only had three real walls, had regular walls on the inside, a similar white to the hallways. There were two men inside — obviously Mardel’s brothers, they had the same bark-like skin and flecks of moss-like freckles running over their arms. One of them — Alger, Rory guessed — was seated in a hospital cot, directly under a bright light. His skin looked drier, more brittle, more bark-like, but Rory couldn’t really guess how sick he might be. He was a nurse, but he didn’t know as much about plants.
They didn’t seem too pleased to see them. “You don’t look like a doctor. What are you really doing here?” the other spoke up. His posture wasn’t actively aggressive, but it wasn’t relaxed either.
The Doctor smiled and shook his head. “Not the medical kind, unfortunately. More the getting you out of here kind. Amy’s with Mardel, they should be making their way off the ship now. We need to follow. You wouldn’t happen to know where the cargo exit is, would you?” he asked, a blameless grin on his face. The two brothers looked at each other, obviously unsure.
Suddenly, a horn blasted and a bar of lights in the ceiling started flashing. “What’s going on?” Rory asked. “Did they change their minds about not chasing us down?”
“No, nothing like that,” the Doctor replied, “though it’s not anything much better.”
“What?” Rory asked, trying not to panic.
“They’re starting up the engines.”
“What!” Rory asked again, this time louder, and a lot more panicked.
“Well, if you can’t get away from the authorities, get away with the authorities.” The Doctor shrugged. “They’re criminals, they’re just going to bust out of here. Fortunately for us, they still do have to get permission to bust out, in a hanger this size. So we have a couple minutes.” He turned to the brothers again. “Now quick, which way to the exit? I’d rather take you along, but either way, we need to get out of here.”
“It’s this way,” Brome said. He helped his brother out of his chair — the other man was visibly weak, but able to keep up with the rest of them with his brother’s help. He pointed out the general direction of the cargo doors, and they started towards them.
Alger paused. “What about the others?”
“Amy will make sure Mardel gets off the ship, they’ll be fine,” the Doctor said, encouraging him to start moving again. The ship hadn’t actually started moving yet, but it was definitely powering up, more lights coming on, the rumble underneath the flooring plates getting louder.
“No, the others on the ship. The other people the Hoppers have taken.”
“Sorry, what?” The Doctor threw a look of consternation over his shoulder at Alger, but he didn’t stop moving.
“The two of them aren’t just extorting people,” Brome explained. “I don’t know what they are doing, exactly, because it’s not prison and it’s not slavery, but they’ve got people locked up in the crew quarters. I overheard something about some contract they had to fulfill, but I didn’t catch the rest of it before they caught me and sent me back down here.”
They had to get out of here now, Rory thought. “Mardel said there weren’t any crew quarters. Why were the two of you in the cargo bay instead if there were?” he asked, all the while not sure why he was asking.
“They’re locked off, and not labeled as quarters, but I’ve seen ships like this before,” Brome explained. “I’m not sure why we’re here; maybe they ran out of room. That was the only time I managed to get a look at the rest of the ship.”
Rory looked over his shoulder at the Doctor, but it didn’t look like the other man was ready to give up on getting out of the ship and just go for taking it over instead. Which could only be a good thing.
“We’ll get the two of you out of here first,” the Doctor said at last. Rounding the final corner, he started to work on opening the cargo bay door. It was big enough to drive two cars through at the same time, but a way out was a way out. “Once you three are safe, we can always come back and take another look.” The door flashed open and the Doctor winked at Rory, who sighed heavily, but then nodded in agreement.
The floor bucked underneath them, and outside the ground dropped about an inch. “They’ve got the engines started!” the Doctor said. “Come on, out! Out!” He pushed at Brome’s shoulder, and as soon as the door had risen high enough for him to duck and crawl under, Rory skipped around and popped out ahead of the brothers, helping Alger, who really didn’t seem spry enough to bend at all.
“Get them back!” the Doctor shouted to Rory, turning to reach through the doorway again to close it from the outside. “The engines are on our side of the ship, it’ll be too hot for them!” Rory put his arm around Alger’s other side, and he and Brome moved as quickly as they could away from the ship, ducking around the nearest vehicle, using it as cover from the exhaust. There was a loud whoosh, and a roar of heat close enough to warm Rory’s skin and ruffle his hair for a moment, and then the ship was simply gone.
“Amy!” The Doctor shouted, from closer to where the ship had been. “Mardel!”
“Doctor!” Mardel ran into the open from the opposite direction, and the Doctor caught her gently. “Where did they go?” she asked.
“Conceptual space,” the Doctor replied. “Didn’t even use the dock. At least it’ll make them easy to follow, not that they know that.” He tapped her on the nose. “Most people can’t trace it. Where’s Amy got to?”
Mardel shook her head, looking sorrowful. “She couldn’t get off the ship. We got away from Javin, but he caught up with us again at the door, so Amy ran the other way again so I could get away.”
“Doctor —” Rory started, but then Mardel turned and saw them and he didn’t get a chance to say anything else as the three siblings were reunited.
The Doctor made his way over, moving slowly. “We’ll get her back, Rory. We’re not done with the Hoppers yet.” He put a hand on Rory’s shoulder, and spoke a little louder. “But first I think we ought to get the three of you back on your way. If we take my ship, we should be able to catch you back up to your last cruiser without too much harm done. You’ll be back on your way with almost no time lost. And Alger, I think we’ll even be able to take care of your case of darksickness — the Hoppers were taking the edge off of it, to be sure, but I believe I can do you one better.” He kept looking at Alger and Brome, but he squeezed Rory’s shoulder tighter, and Rory let himself lean into him, just a little, before the Doctor moved away. He was starting to miss the days when it was him who got captured.
What was he saying miss, he thought to himself as they headed towards the TARDIS. That had been last Tuesday.
The brothers couldn't supply any additional details about what the Hopper brothers might be up to; neither of them had been able to move around the ship enough to have a good guess. For once Rory was glad of the Doctor's tendency to just go after a problem rather than ask the authorities for help, which Rory might have objected to if Amy wasn't missing as well. Time traveler or not, the Doctor wouldn’t solve the problem by avoiding Amy being taken in the first place, but at least they didn’t waste any more time with bureaucracy.
The Doctor did use the time machine to catch the Cheem up with their ship and belongings. To the crew, it appeared that the three had simply been in their room the whole time, and had just missed the response bell. He admonished them to be careful, though, and reminded Alger to spend time on deck even if it made him a little spacesick. Better than being darksick again.
"Right, let's get after Amy, then," the Doctor said at last. He clapped his hands together once, then turned to the console. "First of all, back to the Green so I can take some readings." The TARDIS started up, the engines settling into a low background hum when the Doctor didn't park them, but instead set them in a sort of sub-temporal orbit. "It's like we're circling the parking lot," the Doctor explained. "Hmm. Remember they didn't take off into space, they simply disappeared. That means they've got a conceptual drive. Which still doesn't excuse their taking off without permission, especially with a local officer on board, but it does explain why they weren't too concerned about shaking us off."
"Conceptual drive," Rory repeated. "The TARDIS has got that, yeah?" He remembered that, with the two Amys. "So you know how to trace them there?"
"You can't trace someone through conceptual space, Rory, it's an eighth-dimensional plane. It doesn't have vectors for up and down. What it does have," he held up a hand, spinning the plotter around and typing something incomprehensible into the typewriter, "is a very distinctive signature when it reemerges into regular space. That I can find. Traveling through conceptual space is tricky, as you well know," the Doctor pointed out. "Without the normal dimensional regulators, it's pretty much impossible to lock onto an object while it's in conceptual space, I wouldn't be able to land us on the ship 'til they emerged anyway. This way we can just meet up with them where they come out, say hello that way."
Rory nodded, though truth be told he didn't understand most of what the Doctor meant. He got the gist of it, though, and other than the fun of there being two Amy Ponds, the danger of their last encounter with conceptual space was reason enough to be cautious.
“Now, let’s see. They’re probably locals, not much else with a ship that size. Only two or three readings in the local cluster, conceptual drives are still pretty tricky right now,” the Doctor rambled as he searched, more to himself than to Rory. “And of course, if they’re running like that they won’t be going anywhere nice, so that takes out the Demeter system. But oh, here we go!” The Doctor stabbed a finger at his readout, looking pleased with himself. “Huaranos V. Tricky little system, Huaran. No one’s claimed it, even though it’s on the edges of two of the biggest trading routes in the area. Sun’s set to go nova sometime in the next twenty years or so.” He wavered his hand a little. “Give or take. But it means no one controls the system, officially. Which makes it perfect for the sort of outfit the Hoppers seem to deal with.”
He grinned at Rory, bumping his hip companionably as he moved around the console. Rory didn’t realize how close he’d got. “Let’s catch up with them, shall we?” The engines roared up again as they took off properly.
“You sure you’ll be able to land us inside their ship?” Rory asked. The Doctor’s aim wasn’t always that good.
“I need to put a steering wheel on this thing, so the next time somebody says that to me, I can pop it off and hand it to them, saying ‘here, you give it a go, then.’” The Doctor didn’t look up.
Rory sighed. “Fine. I just meant, you know, it’s a small ship, and it was kind of crowded —”
“No you didn’t.” But the Doctor didn’t seem irked at all. “What you meant was ‘ooh, Doctor, you’re so sexy and good at flying the TARDIS.’
“How about just ‘ooh, Doctor,’” Rory replied, shoving the Doctor towards the door. Sometimes he didn’t know what to do with the man. How had he managed to fall for someone who did their best flirting when they were being attacked?
The interior of the ship was much as they’d left it. They’d landed in the cargo bay. There was no sign that the Hoppers knew yet that the Cheem family was gone. “Phone,” the Doctor demanded, then reached into Rory’s trousers himself to retrieve his phone, and punched in the number. Rory thought about trying to protest, but it was already too late. “Yes, hello Amelia. You’re where? They won’t open? Right. Well, we’re making our way out of the cargo bay. Try and meet up with us. Otherwise, we’ll get there as soon as we can.” He hung up, and put the phone back in Rory’s front pocket.
“You wouldn’t use your own phone even if we got you one, would you?” Rory asked.
“Nope,” the Doctor replied easily. “Amy said she managed to evade capture by crawling into the ductworks. Both of the Hoppers are too big to fit in there, so she’s safe. But they might have blocked the exits. I doubt they’re watching the exits, though, so if they are blocked we should be able to get her out fairly easily.”
They had almost reached the internal door to the rest of the ship when it whooshed open. Rory and the Doctor ducked back around the corner, hiding in the mess of boxes. Two sets of footprints were audible, walking into the room.
“Not only are we behind schedule now, we’re under quota,” Javin’s familiar voice said. “That was a stupid stunt you pulled.”
“I didn’t have a choice. You telling me you expected something like that?” Probably his brother.
Javin didn’t reply to that. “We’ll have to find something else to give in trade. We can’t afford to lose the Ferrin. They don’t accept substitutes easily.”
Their footsteps faded away again as the Hoppers moved further from their hiding place. The Doctor waited a full two minutes before leading them forward again. “We’re going to have to get out of here quickly and follow them from a distance,” he said. “I don’t like this, but they’re sounding a little desperate, and are bound to be reckless.” He kept looking further down the tunnel, even after they’d found the crate blocking Amy’s escape.
It took both of them to move the crate out of the way, and after that the Doctor still had to sonic the lock. “There you are,” he said, lifting the grate out of the way. “Come on out, Pond.”
There was some grumbling from inside as Amy sort of slid out. “Urgh. Think I was sitting on my legs too long — all pins and needles,” she explained, swinging around on the edge so she wasn’t sitting on them any more, testing them against the ground. She didn’t look too steady, though, and when Rory offered his arm she took it, kicking and shaking her legs to get the circulation back. “Right then,” she said, brushing a cobweb out of her hair. “Where to? Up to the bridge, take over the controls? Or the engine room, disable the engines?”
“Back to the TARDIS, actually,” the Doctor corrected, pointing the two of them in the right direction. “I’m not interested in leaving my ship on another ship with a conceptual drive; one touch of the controls and they’re on the other end of the galaxy, and we’re without the TARDIS. No, they’re going to land the ship, they said something about a trade of some sort, so we’ll just do another short hop and meet them there.”
The quick jog back to the TARDIS was without incident. The Doctor paused briefly outside the door that indicated the crew quarters, but then he looked back towards the cargo bay and shook his head.
“Cautious for once,” Amy said, by now standing on her own. “I think that’s a first for you.”
“The TARDIS has been through a lot lately,” the Doctor said as he unlocked it. “I don’t really want to leave her someplace unsafe.” Amy shook her head, but didn’t look like she was actually protesting. “She may open her doors with a snap of my fingers these days, but that’s a long shot from coming when called.” The Doctor shook his head, setting them to flight. “That’d be a sight. I’d end up meeting my second regeneration or something, I’m sure —” the TARDIS jolted hard, all the lights going black, cutting the Doctor off.
“What’s going on?” Rory asked, clutching the railing. The lights flashed on and off, almost strobelike, before going out completely again.
“Doctor?” Amy called.
“The ship is going back into conceptual space!” the Doctor explained, running from one control to the next. Rory couldn’t see him, but he could hear rushed footsteps and various controls moving on the consoles. The engines screamed, the sound physically painful. “They shouldn’t be doing that, not when they’re just going further into the solar system.” The lights came back on and the entire room took a sudden tilt ninety degrees, and Rory found himself hanging onto the railing for dear life, trying to bring his legs up to wrap around the metal bracing. He looked around for Amy — she was clinging to the stairs, arms wrapped through them. “There’s no point to it, and besides it’s highly dangerous to do something like that —”
“Doctor, they took off in the middle of a crowded docking station before that,” Rory interrupted.
“Now is not the time to have a point, Rory. I’m trying to feed the TARDIS enough information to break us away, but I’m having to take additional systems offline in order to give her enough power.”
“Can you give her something other than the gravity?” Amy asked.
“Well, there’s still gravity, it’s just oriented over there right now,” the Doctor pointed out, his voice almost a growl. But the ship did slowly seem to right itself. “I can turn off a couple of the more minor systems, but I’ve done a lot of crosspatching over the years, and I’m pretty sure a lot of the things I’d normally throw in first are connected to some pretty important —”
Two things happened at once. Well, three things. The TARDIS slammed to a sudden halt, lights coming on to full strength and the engines stopping abruptly, like they’d landed on the side of a cliff and slid down, nearly taking them all with it. And the Doctor started speaking in tongues. He was still working at the consoles, flipping switches and pumping levers like absolutely nothing was wrong, but his voice was a rising and falling chatter like a song played backwards, fading in and out of the range of audible hearing, lips sometimes moving soundlessly, then spitting out unintelligible words again, not even the shapes they were making sensible. But he was grinning and smiling like nothing was wrong.
Rory sat up slowly. Amy was doing the same, and she looked just as confused as him. “Amy?” he asked, moving over to her.
“Yeah,” she said, and Rory felt his stomach settle some. At least he could understand her. “What’s wrong with the Doctor?” she asked.
“I don’t know — I can’t understand a word he’s saying.”
“Me neither.” Amy shook her head, then spoke up. “Oi, Doctor!”
The Doctor stopped speaking, but he looked confused as he turned to look at them. He said something, but again it just sounded like nonsense.
“What’s going on?” Amy asked. “Is the TARDIS not translating any more?”
The Doctor’s frown deepened, and he came closer, just staring at them. Rory stepped back a hair, feeling a little uncomfortable. “What? Um —”
The Doctor sighed and stepped back. He reached into a pocket and pulled out the wallet with the psychic paper. He concentrated on it for a moment, then handed it over to Amy. I may have broken the TARDIS’ translation matrix, it read.
“Are you serious —” Amy started, then caught the Doctor’s confused shake of his head, and she redirected her glare at the paper. Are you serious? I thought you said it was psychic. And anyway, how do you really not know English?
Well, why would I need to if I’ve got the TARDIS? The TARDIS knows almost every language in existence. Except I think I just deleted the psychic inhibitor, and the safeties have gone into effect.
Safeties? Amy rolled her eyes at Rory as she handed the paper back. “This is like texting from across the room, only stupider.”
Sorry, there’s a character limit on this thing. Tiny paper. The TARDIS can’t control how much info to transmit or how, so she’s stopped. I’ll have to rewrite the protocols, and check for physical blocks.
It’s a really old system. Fixing it might actually be a little complicated. Actually, a lot — and then there were some symbols like Rory had seen on some of the parts of the ship.
Obviously some things are a bit too complicated to be translated. Well, can we help at all?
I’m not sure. Why don’t you two see if you can still find the kitchens, and I’ll take a peek under the hood. The Doctor gave them both his most reassuring smile, but it didn’t look as sincere as it had before.
“You get the feeling that maybe he meant that to be a lot more reassuring than it turned out to be?” Rory asked. The Doctor continued to smile.
“Oh, definitely,” Amy replied.
The sonic paper, while it worked well enough for shorter conversations, didn't work too well when Rory and Amy were halfway across the console room and the Doctor decided he wanted something. The Doctor would forget that they couldn't understand him and would call out, their names the only thing recognizable in the bulk of syllables, and they would stare at each other for a moment before he would come over and grab whatever tool it was he needed. He'd tried to teach them the names of a few of the things, but the words all sounded the same to Rory, and not even really like words at that. They'd tried to teach him some English in return, but the Doctor started calling everything a spanner then, even them, so they gave up on it.
"What are we going to do if he can't fix it?" Amy asked Rory. They'd taken the Doctor's advice and gone to get some food, but half of the items in the kitchen were now covered in alien writing, so they'd made sandwiches using items they were already familiar with, and brought it and some tea back up to the control room. They were sitting on the steps, watching through the transparent floor as the Doctor worked.
"There are plenty of species out there who translate without a TARDIS," Rory replied, thinking carefully. "I'm sure there are translators you could buy."
Amy didn't look so sure. "But he's the last of his kind, there's no way anyone's got Gallifreyan programmed into their translators."
Amy was probably right. Gallifreyan was pretty strange, too, compared to the Earth languages Rory knew, or had even heard at all. Besides the fact that it had a pitch range greater than human hearing, it didn't have any sort of recognizable cadence, and Rory thought it might not even be linear — there were some bits where it sounded like the Doctor was making two or three noises at once, all with vastly different jaw movements. He'd asked Amy if she was really sure the Doctor really looked like that and it wasn't some sort of alien skin suit, and she'd smacked his shoulder pretty hard.
Amy sat up a little. "Though hey, does this mean you can speak Latin again?"
Rory had been unnerved to discover that while on the TARDIS, it would translate his Latin for him, even if he didn't want it to, like it knew it wasn't his native language or something. It was really bizarre to know he was speaking in one language, but to hear different sounds coming out of his mouth.
"Probably," he said. "Pulchre, Doctor, ceves," he said, gesturing to the Doctor’s arse as he walked by in search of more tools. The words felt right in his mouth, and the sound matched. He couldn't help but grin. "Wow, that's better."
The Doctor stared at him. "Say that again," he said, in schoolbook Latin.
"Woah, did you fix it already?" Rory asked, but Amy shook her head.
"You can speak Latin, but you don't know English?" she asked. Rory repeated the question in Latin for the Doctor’s benefit.
The Doctor scrunched his head for a minute, then carefully replied, his syntax a little rustier, “I know a little. I spent some time as a teacher, once.” He shrugged one shoulder.
“And yet you never learned English,” Rory repeated.
“Never had to teach that,” the Doctor replied. “Good, this means you can help me properly now.”
It really didn’t. For one, the Doctor’s grammar was terrible — it was like the graffiti scene from The Life of Brian. Rory gave up on correcting the Doctor after a while, since he could usually parse out most of what the Doctor meant. But the other problem was that no matter what he’d said about teaching — and Rory was beginning to doubt it, or it had been quite a long time, considering the state of his grammar — he couldn’t describe most of the things he needed in half as much detail as he normally did. Part of it, Rory thought charitably, as he looked for ‘the green one with the oval at the end that heats up don’t turn it on,’ was that while Latin had the word ‘circuit’ and the word ‘board,’ it didn’t really have the word ‘circuit board,’ not in the same way. Or ‘phase resistors.’ So it was still slow going.
Another hour or so, though, and the Doctor leaned back in the swing, pushing his goggles up onto his forehead. “Doctor?” Rory asked, but the Doctor just shook his head and started up the stairs, so Rory followed him.
The Doctor was drinking tea, seated cross-legged on the floor across from Amy, who was holding the psychic paper in her hand. “What do you mean, you don’t think you can fix it?!” She pushed the paper back against the Doctor’s chest, shaking her head.
It’s not just a software problem, he explained. Trying to get us out of conceptual space without a — something the paper couldn’t translate — and it blew out a bunch of the physical routing. I don’t have all the gear I need to repair it onboard.
Should we go back to the Green? Amy asked. She looked at Rory as well. Maybe pick up some regular translators?
The engine might be a little fried as well. The Doctor grimaced as he handed them the paper to read. We’ve landed on Huaranos V, our best choice is to go out there and see what we can find here.
“And by best you mean only,” Amy said, nodding. Let’s at least try finding translators first, so we’re not trying to trade with pirates via interpretive mime?
The TARDIS sounded the same as ever, at least, Rory thought to himself. The ship didn’t ever speak to them, obviously, but it did stuff sometimes, small things, moved objects or rooms around so he was pretty sure it could understand them. If it was psychic, hopefully that meant it still could. It still sounded the same to him, and that was important.
“Do you think he has any idea what he’s doing?” Amy asked, coming out of the adjoining bathroom, wrapped only in a towel.
“Not like you to doubt him,” Rory pointed out. He leaned back against the dresser to watch her.
“And he isn’t usually so quick to give up. If he thinks there’s the slightest chance, he’ll hold onto it, worry it to the ends of the Earth — further,” she said. She picked up a novel from the beside table, and showed it to him — it was in Chinese. It hadn’t been yesterday. She set it back down and sat on the edge of the bed, feet kicking at the carpet. “It didn’t take him long to decide he couldn’t fix this.”
“Hey,” Rory said, sitting down next to her. He wrapped an arm around her, pulling her close. “He said he didn’t have the stuff to fix it now. We’re gonna get the stuff, okay? It’s just going to take a little more effort than usual, but there’s no way the Doctor’s giving up on this. I bet right now he’s working on something, like another translator, or he’s gone down to the library to find a Latin-English dictionary or something.” He grinned. “What do you want to bet he had the components, and traded them away this morning?”
Amy laughed. “We should check and see if it still says ketchup.” He laughed as well, and kissed her, and for a bit they could pretend everything was normal, wrapped up in each other. Then there was a low knock at the door, and they pulled apart.
Amy went to answer it. The Doctor obviously didn’t mean to talk — he’d abandoned his coat somewhere, and the psychic paper with it. He gave Amy a questioning look, which she shot to Rory in turn, and he nodded. The Doctor, for all that he leapt into things both-footed, was still often hesitant when it came to this. It was usually them who went to him, not the other way around. Of course he was here now when they couldn’t talk properly. Amy pulled the Doctor into the room and closed the door, pressing the Doctor against it. He pulled her to him, kissing her desperately like he was trying to express now all the words he couldn’t manage to get out.
Rory let them, sitting back a little and watching. He’d been afraid, before he’d really properly met the Doctor, not just been dragged along in his wake, that he’d lose Amy to the other man. He’d grown used to Amy, to how she was terrible at saying things with words, was better at showing, doing, was crap with expressing emotion. He’d learned to read the subtler hints. And she hadn’t been sure how to make the bigger ones, without using the Doctor as a metaphor. Sometimes literally. And he was just the opposite, so terrible at doing things properly, expressing himself without tripping over himself. They did manage to communicate well enough on their own, really they did, but with the Doctor, too — it was like learning how to do it all over again.
Rory could never compartmentalize like the Doctor could — oh sure, the Doctor would touch, flirt. But he was rarely passionate unless they were in the bedroom. His energy would be directed elsewhere, so that when he did say something, it usually left Rory searching for a conversational handhold. He always felt there must be some connection somewhere he was missing, so he watched. He watched a lot, trying to figure out what the Doctor meant with each touch and word, to him, to Amy, what it meant when he touched his hip, his chest, licked his way into his mouth, went down on him, clutched his shoulder, blew a breath across his ear. What touches he could match to other touches, meanings to meanings, what he could say — do — in return, and be sure to get the meaning right.
He was grateful for every moment of that now, because none of them were saying anything, they just were, and it felt so much better, so much clearer than the muddled attempts to communicate with language upstairs. Amy was on top of the Doctor, hips rocking in easy circles as Rory kissed his neck, one hand sliding up Amy’s knee. The Doctor gasped, groaned, rocking up into Amy, tugging Rory closer. They kissed breathlessly, teeth and sharp edges and the Doctor licking at the hollow of his throat.
Amy ran her hands up his sides, over his chest, demanding. The Doctor had one hand on Rory’s cock, pumping in time with his hips as he arched up into Amy. Amy shouted something incoherent, fingers clenching down on him, and he kissed her, kissed them both, breathless and a little high.
Rory fell asleep with Amy half on top of him, half on top of the Doctor, and the Doctor’s arm wrapped under his shoulder. He had to fight to close his eyes.
Huaranos V was the desert the Green was pretending not to be. It wasn’t a desert in the Sahara sense, but it was very rocky and the only plants were a few hints of scrub here and there. Like the whole planet was the moon. Or maybe, Rory thought, looking at the other spaceships scattered around in no particular orientation, a massive parking lot.
“Yeah,” Rory said. “What are we looking for, exactly?” he asked the Doctor.
“Follow the other ships,” the Doctor said, pointing.
At first Rory thought the Doctor meant theft, which surprised him, then he realized as they kept walking that they were passing more and more ships — the parking lot getting more thickly populated as they got closer to the stores. Though stores might not be the right word. It was more like an open market. Like someone had taken Portobello Road and laid it out flat, then crumpled it together again. The Green had had no organization to it at all, but this was very distinctly divided into categories — and also, Rory suspected, looking at some of the people fading into shadows and behind awnings as they approached, levels of legality.
“Isn’t it kind of weird to find two planets so close to each other that basically provide the same function?” he asked, repeating the question in Latin. They’d abandoned the psychic paper as confusing and probably suspicious-looking in front of others, so Rory was the de-facto translator.
“Most of the planets with this level of tech that we’ve been to have an area like this,” Amy said. “Not really a junk shop, but you know, the garage.”
“We’re only close in the local sense,” the Doctor reminded him at the same time. “And Huaranos V is closer to different shipping lanes. And services a very different level of customers, unless I miss my guess.”
Rory nodded. “Yeah, I was getting that impression.”
“Why don’t you and Amy head that way and look for some translators — the tech section is divided into a couple sections, and the handheld gadgets are that way. Ship’s tools are this way.” He pointed in another direction. “I’ll be over there.”
Amy eyed the two of them. “Making decisions without me again, are you? You know that only gets you in trouble.”
“We’re not making the decisions, the Doctor’s telling us what to do. You want to get your hands on some translators, don’t you? And the Doctor’s the only one who knows what he needs for the TARDIS.” It all sounded perfectly reasonable to him.
Amy shook her head. “Oh no. I’ve had enough being chased about. I’m perfectly fine on my own, we’re not being chased after —”
“Amy, we’re not exactly back home. The Doctor said this planet isn’t legally overseen by anyone, these people could be doing anything —”
She shook her head again. “I’ll be fine. Our mobiles still work, if you’re that worried.”
The Doctor watched the two of them going back and forth, but didn’t butt in. “Amy, the TARDIS can’t fly anywhere, either. If something happens —”
“Rory, I’ll be fine on my own for fifteen bloody minutes, all right? Every time I’m out of your sight, I’m not in trouble. Calm down, or you really are going to have a heart attack before you’re thirty.” She put a hand on his chest.
He sighed. “You have to admit, a good portion of the time you are in trouble.”
“There’s very little chance anyone here’s going to be speaking Gallifreyan, or Latin. Now, I don’t know about English, but it’s our best of three, and do you really want Mister Bow-Tie over there trying to communicate on his own.”
“All right, you have a point there.” He turned and explained Amy’s point to the Doctor, sticking mainly to the part about the Doctor probably needing a translator.
“All right,” the Doctor replied. He handed her the psychic paper. “You’d better take this, then. Don’t know how we’re paying for stuff yet, so this’ll help you more than me.”
“I won’t be gone too long,” Amy said. “I mean, either I’ll find it or I won’t, yeah?” She leaned over and kissed Rory on the cheek. “See you soon,” and she took off into the crowd.
Rory and the Doctor watched her go. “She accused you of babysitting her, didn’t she?” the Doctor asked. Rory made a noise that wasn’t really a yes or a no. Mostly because he wasn’t sure.
“We can’t speak the language, we’ve got no money, and the TARDIS can’t go anywhere if something happens,” Rory pointed out.
“You could say the same thing about France back on Earth, but people go there all the time,” the Doctor pointed out. He used the proper Roman name for France, and Rory blinked.
“I don’t think the speaking Latin is really helping the desire to keep Amy where I can see her,” he said hesitantly.
The Doctor put a hand on his shoulder. “She’s perfectly capable of looking after herself. Come on, I’m looking for something about this long, the ones they’ll have here will probably be metallic, but they come in ceramic — or close enough, it’s —” the Doctor gave up on explaining what he meant, obviously frustrated at reaching the limit of his vocabulary “— at least ten ports on it, looks a bit like an inside out silencer.”
Rory nodded and repeated back the description, automatically correcting the Doctor’s grammar. The Doctor nodded, though Rory didn’t think he’d gotten the hint that he still didn’t know how plurals worked.
Rory liked cars, but only from the outside. He was more comfortable fixing a person than poking around inside a car. He suspected it was the sort of thing that you were supposed to bond with your dad over, but his dad biked ten miles each way to work and had warned Rory to watch out and make sure he found a good mechanic and that had been it. So he could change a tire or wiper fluid, but nothing more complex. But the Doctor had asked him to help out now and again with the TARDIS — mostly just handing him tools or whatever, so Rory had a vague idea of the kind of things that seemed to fit into the TARDIS. Yeah, the console was all weird stuff, typewriters and phones and ketchup machines, but that was all surface. All the machine-y bits, the insides that stayed in place and weren’t supposed to be mucked with, those were proper tools. Everything else, Rory suspected, had once been tools too, and the Doctor had nicked it to fix the more important stuff. There was a sequence of connections he’d seen that were held together with keys used as wire ends, as if the Doctor had nabbed whatever used to be where the typewriter now stood. Or maybe it had been a two-for-one deal, and the Doctor just didn’t have anywhere better to store the second typewriter he hadn’t stripped for parts yet.
He didn’t see anything that looked like it would work with the TARDIS — everything looked too neat, or like it was part of a set of something, and Rory got the feeling that anything that looked like it belonged on a spaceship probably didn’t belong on the TARDIS — and he was starting to get a little bored wandering up and down the aisles. He thought about texting Amy to see how she was doing, but she’d been right, he was being kind of clingy. He kept his phone firmly in his pocket, but his gaze started to wander from the table, looking at the people around them. There was a massive awning covering this section of stalls, and his eyes slowly adjusted to the dimmer light.
Unlike the Green, where every stall sat backed on a wall as the entire complex of tunnels wound its way through the ground, the entire complex here was visible, row after row, with every other aisle being wider, big enough to let the antigrav pallet jacks and small freighter vehicles through with cargo. One of them pulled up about five rows away and Rory realized with a start that the driver was Javin Hopper. His brother soon exited from the back.
“Doctor.” He nudged the man, pointing out the Hoppers.
The Doctor looked over, frowning for a moment. “Later,” he said, and turned back to investigating something a merchant had handed him.
Rory exhaled noisily. He was surprised the Doctor wasn’t interested. The Hoppers had been up to something, and this was probably their best chance to figure out what. Well, barring the language difficulty, of course. But if it was big enough to be kept away from the other cargo, and had needed a freighter to transport it here, obviously it wasn’t counterfeit bills or illegal drugs or something. It was something big. Rory tried to pretend he was still interested in the items on display as he drifted closer. He couldn’t cross the aisles, but hearing didn’t matter so much when you couldn’t understand the language anyway. He concentrated on getting somewhere where he could see inside the lorry.
Someone had come up and was talking to the brothers by the open back of the lorry. He was mostly humanoid looking, though nearly eight feet tall, and his bright green hair was starting to recede. He was wearing a long coat — not really trenchcoat-y, more like a dress shirt that just didn’t stop ‘til about knee-length, but it had wider lapels and several pockets. Rory couldn’t see what was in them. He did pull some sort of notebook or datapad out of one of them, though, and was looking back and forth between it and the Hoppers as they spoke.
Rory looked back at the Doctor. He was trying to talk to one of the salesmen, mostly just in Gallifreyan, but throwing in a few phrases here and there that sounded different — probably phrases from other languages that he was hoping would be recognized, but mostly he was just miming things, pointing to different items out on display and gesturing in the air. The salesman had a polite but confused look on his face, like he really wanted to sell the Doctor something, but couldn’t even figure out what he could suggest. Rory didn’t see anything that looked like it would fit in at his gran’s house, so the man was probably out of luck.
The lorry, on the other hand — he could see in the back of it now, and it was full of huge crates. The smallest was about the size of a steamer trunk, and the biggest was as tall as the TARDIS, but twice as wide. They were all made out of some dark metal alloy, so he couldn’t see inside them, or get any clue as to what was in them. They didn’t look like any of the boxes they’d seen in the cargo bay, but then they hadn’t explored much. They all had panels on them with blinking lights, too, but pretty much everything in advanced societies had blinky lights on them, so that didn’t help any. There was also one of the antigrav pallet jacks tucked under one of the crates, which suggested to Rory that they were all quite heavy.
The guy with the green hair was arguing with the Hoppers now. He looked angry about something, and the Hoppers were beginning to look short-tempered. Rory thought about backing off, but this was their best chance to see what was going on. It was funny, he thought to himself, how much he had changed since meeting the Doctor. He leaned forward a little. The green guy said something else and then jumped up into the lorry, opening up the smallest crate before Javin, lunging for him, could reach him. There was a huge shout as the crate opened and — something jumped out of it?! Whatever it was was about three foot tall, bright red, and running through the stalls. It was shouting the whole time, though obviously Rory had no idea what it was saying, but he could follow its progress as it skidded under tables, wares thumping and rattling as it banged into legs or nearly knocked a table over in its hurry to escape.
Because, well, escape could be the only word for it. The Doctor was running after it now, and he shouted over his shoulder to Rory: “Don’t let them block the exits!”
“What exits?” Rory yelled back. “It’s an open-air market!” He thought for a moment about following the Doctor, but the man obviously wanted a distraction at the least. For lack of anything better to do, Rory hopped over the rows of tables, shoving them around in an attempt to block in the lorry. The lorry — there were people in those boxes, there had to be. If he could get the other boxes open — but both Gren and Javin had their weapons out now, and it was only the fact that Rory was on the other side of the lorry that kept him from being their first target. Javin was staying by the lorry; he had one hand in the green-haired man’s jacket and was threatening him with the gun, but Gren was heading for the end of the aisle and the Doctor.
Actually, Gren wasn’t waiting until he hit the end of the aisle. He raised his gun, aiming for the Doctor, the taller of the two targets. “Look out!” Rory yelled. He ran straight at Gren. The man had nearly twice his mass, he had no chance of knocking him down, but all he had to do was mess up his aim. Rory hit him square in the shoulder with most of his weight, and Gren spun wildly, his shot going harmlessly into the air. Rory didn’t wait, he just kept running, hopping over one of the tables and sending it flying. “Sorry!” he called back to the shocked owner. Who was getting out their own gun. Never mind.
Another blast, and this time Rory ducked under a table. One more row, and he reached the Doctor at last. “How do we get out of here?” he asked, out of breath. “There’s no cover anywhere. We’re screwed.”
The Doctor nodded. “We might have a chance if we can get to the vehicles.” He didn’t look very hopeful.
Rory looked around. “Where’d the little red person go?”
“The Zocci. Also not a local, but they’re part of a spacefaring federation, so a little less surprising than the Cheem. Still —” The Doctor shook his head. “He couldn’t understand me, obviously, but I told him to find Amy. She’s our best bet right now.” The Doctor tilted his head in the direction Amy had gone.
Rory nodded. That sounded a lot like the Doctor didn’t think they were going to get out of here the easy way. His stomach tightened slightly. “Should we try and make a run for it, at least?”
The Doctor grinned. “On three.” Rory steadied himself. “One. Two.” The Doctor flicked on the sonic screwdriver and pointed it at one of the machines he’d recently been examining, sending it exploding in a shower of sparks. “Three!”
There was a shout from somewhere, but Rory ignored it, putting on an extra burst of speed as they cleared the last of the tables. It was a good twenty meters to the first of the vehicles — plenty of open space. Possibly too much, Rory thought, feeling the heat of a near-miss over his back. Then he was at the first vehicle in the line. Rory grabbed at the edge, getting a grip on the paneling and using it to swing himself around the corner. Only to be faced with another one of the market sellers with a gun.
“Oh,” he managed, then the Doctor crashed into his back, sending them both to the ground.
“What — why —” the Doctor started, trying to pull himself away from Rory. Then he saw the gun. “Ah. Hello.” Rory sighed as the Doctor smiled at the man. “It’s all right, we’re the good guys. In fact, we’ll just be on our way, and —” The man turned his head and shouted something, still pointing the weapon at them, and the Doctor gave in as Gren rounded the corner, a broad grin on his face. “And this would be why I didn’t want to confront anybody on what was likely to be their home territory,” he said, though he sounded resigned to it.
“Sorry,” Rory murmured, managing to sit up at last.
“Not your fault,” the Doctor said. “I was keeping an eye on you. If it’d been something less innocuous than trafficking in intelligent species, I would’ve pulled you back before you did anything, but —” he shrugged. “You weren’t the one who started running after the Zocci.”
Rory shrugged. The Doctor had a point, but he was the one who’d started it, getting bored on a planet where they couldn’t even communicate with anyone.
Speaking of. Gren was saying something — gloating, probably, from the look of it. They both watched him for a minute, a little struck by the absolute theatricality of his rant. Then he stopped looking at them expectantly, and for a moment Rory had to fight the urge to clap.
“I’m sorry, I’m sure it was lovely, whatever you just said,” the Doctor said calmly, “but I’m afraid we can’t help you in any way. Not that we’d probably want to, of course, if we knew what you were doing, but as you’ve probably figured out by now, we don’t actually speak your language any more. Not that we technically ever did, of course, which —” the Doctor was cut off abruptly as Gren punched him solidly in the jaw.
“Oi!” Rory shouted. “Sod off!” He put a hand on the uninjured side of the Doctor’s face, encouraging him to turn it so he could check him, but the Doctor pushed him back a little.
“I’m fine,” he said quietly. His teeth were tinged red — he’d probably bitten the inside of his cheek.
Gren said something else, and the Doctor said, a little harder this time, “I told you. We don’t understand you.” He said a couple other things Rory couldn’t recognize, though not all of it the now recognizable lyrical Gallifreyan. Probably the same message, though. “So if you want to interrogate us — which is the best option, bar letting us go, which you could also do — then you’d better take us somewhere where there’s a translator, all right?” He glared up at Gren, somehow managing to look demanding even from the ground.
Gren was not impressed, however. He growled something else, then shot the Doctor in the chest. The man flew back against the side of the lorry, and Rory was on his feet, charging straight at Hopper. He didn’t make it more than three paces, though, before Gren turned the gun on him as well, and everything went black.
Before he even opened his eyes, Rory was aware of a pounding headache. The light was too bright, and he frowned, throwing an arm over his eyes, but it didn’t make enough difference. And it was too late, he was definitely awake. He thought about burying his head in the pillow and trying to get back to sleep, but if he was up, he should really get up. There was something important he’d been doing, wasn’t there?
Rory sat bolt upright, definitely awake now as he remembered what had just happened. But opening his eyes didn’t help anything at all. He looked around in confusion. He was in a bedroom, but he didn’t recognize it. The Doctor was asleep in the bed next to him, arms crossed over his chest. He’d been dressed in something white, he looked like a corpse, and Rory had to stare for a moment before he saw him breathe. He sank back a little and looked around the room some more, trying to figure out where they were. Everything was a kind of painful white, like you got in hotel rooms, so everything could be thrown in one large industrial washer. The bed was large but plain — two pillows, what looked like cotton sheets, and a blanket, also white, as the rest of it folded over the edge, made of a thicker material. The temperature in the room was also neutral; not cool enough for the blanket, but not so warm that Rory had been uncomfortable under the sheet. He realized, with a sudden start of discomfort, that he was no longer wearing his own clothes either. Instead he wore a plain white tee and white boxers. He frowned and looked around the room, but there was nowhere their clothes could be hiding. There was no closet, no dresser. There was a small table a few feet away from the bed, but it didn’t have any drawers, and was too small to hold clothing anyway.
There were no lighting fixtures, either. About a third of one wall was taken up with a window, and Rory moved to look outside. The padded carpet was thick against his bare feet. Twitching back the curtain, he looked at the most anonymous landscape in the world. Add a couple of hills and it could be the desktop on his computer. He looked at the perfectly even green grass spreading out as far as he could see, and shook his head. There was no way that grass was natural. He stepped back from the window.
Rory eyed the doorway dubiously for a moment, but then decided caution was the better part of valour when waking up in a strange room in strange clothes. He moved back to the bed and shook the Doctor’s shoulder.
The Doctor’s eyes shot open and he grabbed Rory’s hand, grip fierce for a moment before his eyes focused and he relaxed. “Ah. Rory. Hello.”
“Hey.” The Doctor sat up, giving the room the same inspection Rory had just done. “I don’t suppose you remember anything between now and getting shot on Huaranos V,” he said.
“No,” the Doctor replied. He moved to the window. “We’ve been unconscious for nearly fifteen hours, which is enough time for us to get any number of places, assuming a physical drive. If we were simply drugged and then taken somewhere on a ship with a conceptual drive, then we could easily be anywhere. Hopefully I can tell where we are once we get outside.” He headed for the door and Rory followed. He noticed that the Doctor had lucked out and got trousers instead of shorts — soft white pajama bottoms.
In the short hallway, the first room they found was a bathroom. Again, basic white, no lighting fixtures. Could he just not see them? He wasn’t looking forward to trying to take a piss in the dark. There was an empty room opposite of the bathroom that looked like a closet, but there were no shelves. Rory shrugged to himself and closed the door again. The hallway then opened up into another room, about the same size as the bedroom had been. It had a table, a sofa-thing, and a chair.
“Okay, this is the only room that doesn’t make me think ‘prison,’” Rory said. “Though it does make me think creepy waiting room, which isn’t much better.” One wall had a large window, and another held the only other door, a sliding glass one. Both were curtained.
The Doctor nodded, and sat down on the chair, sideways. His feet were bare. “I don’t think it is a prison, not officially. This day and age they’re pretty big on making sure you at least know why you’ve been incarcerated — not necessarily whether or not you did it, but definitely that you’re in a jail for however long. No one’s tried to communicate with us, not even a note.” He waved a hand at the counter. No kitchen, Rory realized. “So it’s not an official prison. Which might make it just that much harder for Amy to find us.”
“We’re not going to try and get out on our own?” Rory asked. That wasn’t like the Doctor.
“Oh, I certainly intend to try. But at the moment, Amy has more resources than either of us.” The Doctor counted off the items on his fingers. “She’s probably got herself a translator by now, she’s definitely got the psychic paper, and she’s got the TARDIS. Which, even broken, is enough to give her an advantage over everyone else in the sector.” Rory doubted that was true, if Amy couldn’t even read the displays, but he decided to go with it anyway. “If I had my screwdriver, I could set it to ping the TARDIS and give her a signal to follow, but that’s been disappeared, along with our clothes.” The Doctor looked at his plain clothes unhappily. “White hasn’t been my color for a long time.”
Rory stifled the urge to say something sarcastic. Instead he just asked, “So what do we have? Some furniture and a turf farm?”
“Let’s at least take a look at the turf farm before we dismiss it,” the Doctor said. The door slid open on soundless tracks and they stepped outside.
“Huh.” Rory looked around. They were on the other side of the small building from the bedroom, but the view was exactly the same. And the air was the exact same temperature and humidity out here as it had been inside. It was as if they had just stepped into a much bigger room.
The Doctor peered around the corner, then stepped back to where Rory was. “Well, a turf farm it isn’t. This is definitely a projection. We’re indoors.” The Doctor hopped up and down a little. “Artificial gravity. So not a planet. And I don’t hear any engines, but that could be part of the environmental engineering. Or they could be very far away. Still, it’s not a bad projection, if lacking in creativity. Somewhere I haven’t been before, nice.” He gave a tight, false grin.
“A projection? They knock us out, change our clothes, and put us somewhere we don’t recognize, and still bother to make a projected reality? Why?” Rory asked. He looked in the direction the Doctor was still staring.
“I think we’re in a zoo. Or possibly an elaborate testing ground of some sort, but they’ve changed too many variables for that, I think.”
“That’s not funny,” Rory said, startled. Though if anyone would have experience differing between the two when waking in a strange situation, he supposed it’d be the Doctor.
“Of course it’s not, they think I’m the same species as you,” the Doctor said, and moved back around the corner again.
“Still not funny!” Rory called, but the Doctor didn’t answer, so Rory followed after him. “What the hell is that?” he asked. About twenty feet away several large diaphanous blobs floated in the air, like electrical jellyfish. A small one darted away from the group, coming closer. Several tentacles rose on feathery stalks, reaching towards them gently. A forcefield tickled at it and it stopped, appendages splayed out against the field like an open hand.
“I told you. Zoo.” The Doctor tilted his head. He tapped at the forcefield, trying to match his fingers up to the tentacle-tips, and the thing bunched up and zipped back behind the group it had been with. “Possibly some sort of research facility, but I’m much more inclined towards zoo, between the small ones —” the Doctor nodded at another group of three sparkly things, throbby green like stormclouds “— and the lovely Photoshopping on the side of our habitat.”
Rory turned to look. He blinked, then stared some more. “That’s not my chest,” he managed at last. The entire side of their habitat, the only one without windows, was covered in some sort of mural. It looked like one of those photorealistic paintings, done by a machine, but the Doctor said they’d only been out for hours, so it was probably something else, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that it was a kind of collage of images of the Doctor and Rory, like snapshots pasted together. Except they were of things that had never happened. The two of them walking in a park with blue grass; holding hands on a mountainside; kissing; naked except for a couple of strategically placed bits of bed covering. Rory’s eyes couldn’t help but return to that one. The Doctor’s hand was low on his stomach, the touch looked soft, careful, in a way the Doctor rarely was in reality.
“And that’s not my chest, either,” the Doctor said easily. “So they either have other humanoid species somewhere in this zoo, and their art department is particularly lazy, which I’m not counting out, considering the decorating job we got; or they know we’re sentient and they just don’t care.” The Doctor’s voice flattened out a little at the end. “I’m hoping it’s not that second one.”
“Well, if it is the second one, maybe we can at least convince them we’re not, uh, boyfriends?” Rory said.
“Well, technically —”
“Technically, yes, though I don’t think that’s really the appropriate term,” Rory said, hastening to reassure the Doctor. Why were they actually talking about this? “But we’re not boyfriends in the sense of a ten-foot-tall photoshopped montage of us doing various activities while being shirtless. And holding hands. And, uh, stuff.”
“That one in the corner?” The Doctor asked, moving to stand next to him and looking at the mural as well, though in a different direction to where Rory’s gaze was still caught. “No, I don’t think that’s sex, I think that’s us playing Pyramid Ball.” He looked at Rory. “Though I could grab your arse if it’d make you feel any better.”
He looked so sincere that Rory just had to laugh. Then the whole thing caught up with him and for a minute he couldn’t stop, and the laughter got a little ragged. The Doctor put a hand on his arm, looking concerned. Rory managed to get his breathing under control after another minute, but the Doctor’s arm remained. “We lose the ability to communicate with anyone and end up as an exhibit in a zoo,” he said.
“On the bright side, Amy’s not here with us,” the Doctor reminded him.
“And how’s she going to find us?” Rory asked. He saw, out of the corner of his eye, that the jellyfish things had drifted closer again, and he stepped away from the Doctor.
“She knows how to use the TARDIS’s scanners, even if she can’t fly it. We’ll take a look around and see if we can’t get out on our own, but it’s definitely going to have to wait until after closing hours.”
“You mean you’re just going to sit here and let random aliens stare at us?”
“Well, we can certainly stare back,” the Doctor pointed out. He headed back in the direction of the observing aliens — the green things had drifted off — and tapped at the forcefield. “Try to see where they’re going, or to communicate with them somehow. I wonder if they know Morse Code.”
“Do you know Morse Code?” Rory asked, curious.
“Y— oh, no, I guess I don’t any more. Lost the alphabet.” The Doctor sank back. “But you do, right?”
“Yes,” Rory said with a sigh. He hated Morse Code — years of it being beaten against the inside of his skull whether he wanted to hear it or not would do that, after all. “But I really doubt they do.”
The Doctor didn’t respond to that. The little jellyfish was up against the glass again, and it looked like the Doctor was playing a complicated game of tag with it. The thing had about twenty tentacles spread out against the forcefield and was tapping a few at a time against it. The Doctor tapped back. Rory stared at him for a moment. It looked like the Doctor was actually enjoying this. Like a vacation or something. He was sure that wasn’t actually true, or he hoped it wasn’t, but it really looked that way. He didn’t say anything about it, though. He doubted the jellyfish thought they were communicating, though. Or at least, not in any intelligent way.
Rory kicked at the grass, trying to find an edge to the sod. Maybe if they could pull some of it away, they could write out a message or something. Or maybe some math? He tried to think of what they did in movies when they were trying to communicate with the really weird aliens. No playing music, that was out. Writing might not even work — there was the giant collage of fake images of the Doctor and him, but it had no text that Rory could see. None of the aliens watching them looked remotely humanoid. They all fell on the ‘blobby smudge on the camera’ end of the spectrum. He gave up on his inspection of the turf — the whole thing was solid.
The Doctor had moved away from his earlier spot, and seemed to be leading the little pink jellyfish and something that looked, frankly, like a very large blue amoeba on a chase, moving about twenty feet in one direction, then coming back again. Rory realized as the blue thing shot too far and had to overcorrect and come back, that he’d found the edges of the viewing area. Too far on either side, and the creatures faded from view, going fuzzy — fuzzier — for just a brief second, then gone.
Leaving the Doctor to entertain the aliens, Rory kept exploring the area they’d been placed in. Circling it, he found that twenty feet from the house, all around, was a forcefield. The grass looked the same in every direction, an endless sea of perfectly-cut green, and he suspected it was an illusion. The sky, too — there was a nice handful of clouds in the sky, but none of them ever seemed to pass in front of the sun, which crawled slowly across the sky. He found himself trying to trace its path and figure out the time of year based on the rate. He shook his head and looked back at the house. Finding the date based on the sun’s position was something he’d played with for a couple of very boring decades in the 800’s, but he doubted the skill translated to a fake alien sun. And he didn’t have a clockwork brain or undamageable eyeballs any more.
The house was unremarkable as well. Painted white brick, slatted roof, the recognizable three windows. Absolutely unremarkable. No gutters, which were of course unnecessary in an artificial environment. It was like a little tiny Monopoly house. And white. Boring white.
He didn’t really feel like going back and being stared at by aliens who weren’t actually trying to communicate with him, but the dullness of the setting meant he’d explored everything he possibly could after only an hour or so. Fortunately, when he returned back to the viewing area of the yard, the Doctor seemed to be alone. He was sprawled on his back in the grass, arms behind his head.
“Find anything interesting?” the Doctor asked.
“Just more of the same,” Rory said, sitting next to him. The grass didn’t tickle, which was strange. “Almost literally so. Couldn’t they have had a little more variation on this landscape? If it’s a zoo, you’d think they’d want us to have something to do.”
The Doctor sniffed. “I suppose. Though I’ve found that if you’re going to put sentient creatures in a zoo —” ah, so he had been speaking from experience earlier “— it’s best not to give them a lot of tools with which they can communicate that fact to anyone observing. Imagine if a cheetah started scratching out complex sums in the dust in its enclosure. It’s also part of the reason that the dimensional portal there —” he nodded at the area where all the aliens had been visible earlier “— is soundproof. It’s actually a factor of the dimensional scaling, but you can work around it if you really wanted to.”
“So it’s more like they’re watching us on TV? Then why do we see them?”
“No, they’re actually there, but they’ve been dimensionally reintegrated to a more convenient size. The portal is sort of like the TARDIS, but monodimensional. If a Tythonian was really here, it would be much bigger — think blue whale, not something the size of my hand. Though it was nice, actually — most Tythonians are quite nice, but it’s hard to interact with something that massive.”
“It’s bigger on the outside.”
“There you go.” The Doctor smirked. “I bet every habitation has a similar dimensional portal, and that would be too unstable to leave outdoors, exposed to the elements. But the artificial environment they’ve made is very near to the real thing, like the Night Room on the TARDIS.”
Rory liked the Night Room. It looked like a quiet hillside on a cloudless night. Amy had encouraged Rory to just try going out the front door, until Rory had pointed out it was a lot easier to make out on a hillside than try to keep from floating too far away from the only source of air. “So how do we get out?”
“Wait for the sun to go down,” the Doctor replied. His hair fluttered into his eyes as the wind blew at it, and he puffed up his cheeks, blowing it back out of the way.
“What, that’s it? We’re just going to sit here and wait?”
“You used to be a lot better at waiting, Rory Williams,” the Doctor replied easily, surprising Rory by using his real last name.
“Two very different situations,” he replied tersely.
The Doctor reached up and executed a clumsy pat on the head. “What I meant was that, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, the sky is as unchanging as the rest of the landscape. But the sun is moving in the sky. In a few hours they’re going to have to change that. The sky’s going to be at its most mobile, it’s our best chance to look for flaws in the projection system.”
“Oh,” Rory said. He looked at the Doctor again. Maybe there was more tenseness in his shoulders than he’d thought. And there were familiar wrinkles of worry around his eyes and forehead. “Sorry,” he said.
The Doctor put a hand on his elbow and tugged at him until Rory gave in and laid down next to him. “What’s really wrong? I’ve seen you a thousand times calmer than this while sitting in a prison cell awaiting execution. You’re very jumpy, especially for someone who used to live in a museum.”
“I didn’t live in a musuem,” Rory snapped, but then sighed and gave in. The Doctor had hit it on the head, and knew it. “Maybe after eighteen hundred years of being on display for strangers, I don’t want to do it again.” His chest was tight for a moment. “I’ve never been outgoing like Amy. I don’t know why people would want to watch me, I don’t do anything interesting — guard duty aside,” he added hastily, before the Doctor could interrupt. “I know you get a kick out of being the center of attention. But not me, I like to blend in. When people are paying too much attention to me,” he swallowed, “there’s always this feeling in the back of my head that insists I must’ve done something wrong.”
“Of course you haven’t,” the Doctor replied. “And, you have to keep in mind, I think zoos are pretty boring — all the animals have to do is sit around all day, maybe play some games. Boring for them too. Better to go and see them in their natural habitat, yeah? Though I have to question this zoo’s acquisition methods.”
“You think they’re in on the Hopper’s trafficking operation?”
“Even if they aren’t directly, they’re certainly not doing a fair job of finding out who we actually are and where we’re from.”
“Do you think they really think we’re from the same species?” Rory asked. The Doctor just projected that aura of ‘not quite right,’ and though externally they looked similar, it didn’t take five minutes to find clues that there were differences under the skin. He remembered the first time he’d felt that double heartbeat under his hand.
“I don’t know. I’d like to find out. I’m trying not to make too many assumptions before I find out what’s actually going on. I’d like to see what they’re doing from their end. Better than just guessing — never underestimate the skill of communication.”
“Oh, believe me, I’m not. First thing I’m doing once we get the TARDIS fixed is making you actually learn English so this can’t happen again.”
The Doctor smiled at him. “You’re doing fine.”
“I am. Your grammar is terrible.”
The Doctor just laughed. “Don’t let them hear you say that.”
Rory narrowed his eyes. “Oh my god, are you doing it on purpose?! What, do you think they’re listening in on us?”
The Doctor shook his head. “Nope. I just think it annoys the hell out of you.” The Doctor’s grin turned wicked and he pulled Rory close enough to kiss. Rory relaxed and let him, ignoring for the moment the thought of puffy little jellyfish watching them.
The Doctor kissed lazily, like he had nothing better to do right now than lie on the ground and snog Rory stupid. Which, all right, if they were waiting, he didn’t. But there wasn’t even that tension of waiting — he had a plan and this was probably part of it. Rory realized the Doctor was also probably partly doing this to distract him, and if he was, it was working. He put a hand around the Doctor’s neck, stroking the soft hairs at the nape of his neck. The Doctor hummed slightly, or it might have been a whisper of Gallifreyan. He rolled them both over, so Rory was pressed to the grass, one of the Doctor’s thighs rubbing between his own, still lazy, but with definite intent. Rory groaned and tried to push the Doctor off of him, but instead he rolled his hips up into the Doctor’s, then again.
The Doctor started to push his shirt up, sliding his hands up his ribs, but Rory grabbed at them. “Woah, sorry, not in front of the —” he jerked a head towards the viewing window. Something blue hopped and wobbled out of the corner of his eye.
The Doctor’s thumb stroked against his, but otherwise his hands didn’t move. His eyes were dark with lust. He licked his lips, and Rory almost changed his mind. “All right,” he said, removing his hands and smoothing down Rory’s shirt again. “But let me know if you change your mind.” He made to shift over but Rory stopped him, holding him in place until he settled down again on his own, though their positions a little more modest this time. The Doctor rested his head on Rory’s chest instead, eyes closing, like a giant cat taking a nap in the sun, and Rory couldn’t fight the surge of affection at the sight, and he closed his own eyes as well.
Eventually the sun got low enough on the horizon that the Doctor decided it was time to start watching the sky again. Rory wondered if hyperintelligent amoebas knew what a hickey was, but was interrupted from that train of thought when he realized the Doctor was trying to get up onto the roof. “What are you doing?”
“Best way to get an uninterrupted view of everything around us,” the Doctor replied. “Give me a hand up.” Grumbling, Rory did so, and then the Doctor turned around, lying down on his stomach to help haul Rory up in turn. “House isn’t really built to spec if it was actually freestanding, either,” the Doctor said casually. He knocked on the roof. “I don’t think there’s enough room between here and the ceiling for proper insulation and HVAC.”
“Maybe.” The slope wasn’t too strong, and they had no problem moving carefully up to the peak, seating themselves there. Amy had hauled him up to the roof of her house a couple times, and based on that, Rory figured they’d have a couple hours before it got too uncomfortable to stay up there.
The sunset was remarkably unspectacular. It wasn't jerky, or uneven. It was more like the sky was a television screen, and someone slowly pulled all the color out of it, leaving it black as a result. And then, a minute later, the stars popped into view, twinkling one by one into brightness.
"Well, that was weird," Rory said at last.
"Possibly not all that strange," the Doctor replied. "It'd look a lot better if you didn't perceive color." He shifted a little along the line of the roof. "They've done a better job programming than I'd hoped. Still, there were a few odd glitches." He patted the roof on either side of him. "What's underneath me inside the house?"
"I'll go look," Rory replied. The Doctor kept up a light thumping on the roof, which was still audible inside the house, and Rory found where he was easily. "You're over the closet," he reported.
"The closet," the Doctor repeated, and hopped down from the roof as well. "The odd closet with no shelves." Rory followed the Doctor as he went back inside and stared at the closet. He stood inside it, running his hands along the walls, looking for anything out of place. "I'm an idiot," the Doctor said at last. "How could I miss this? No, I know how I missed it, but I'm still kicking myself." He looked at Rory. "It's not a closet." He'd guessed that by now. "It's a teleport chamber."
"What, just for getting us in and out?" Rory asked. "If it's an artificial environment, there's got to be an easier way to do that. We were unconscious after all."
"There's still plenty to do besides transport us in here," the Doctor replied. He started banging on the roof, and to Rory's surprise, part of it slid open. "Ah! The habitat might need altering, medicine might need to be delivered, food definitely does, I'm ravenous."
Rory suddenly realized he couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten. "Maybe they keep needing new exhibits for their zoo because energy blobs don't know we need to eat."
"Energy blobs," the Doctor repeated, and laughed a little. "We've got to get you more acculturated to alien life, Mr. Pond. I doubt 'energy blobs' would create a structure so optimized for use by aliens that look like you or me." He had most of his head inside the opening he'd created, and pulled back now to stick his hand inside instead. "Think I've got it. No, there are a fair number of the more, ah, amorphous species that have symbiotic relationships with the various bipedal and tripedal species of the universe. My money's one of them. Now hold still, we're going to be taking a quick hop."
Rory was about to ask him what he meant by that when his legs dissolved. And his torso. And, well, all of him. He had a distinct moment of being aware that he couldn't feel his body, and then he blinked — except he didn't because he couldn't feel his eyelids, or his eyes — and when he could see again he was whole. And his stomach wasn't too pleased about it. He put a hand to his mouth.
"Well that was singularly unpleasant," the Doctor said, not sounding much happier than Rory. Possibly less nauseous, though. "Sorry. Thank you, universal safeties."
"What did you just do?" Rory asked. He looked around, trying to figure out where they were now.
"May have crossed a couple wires. Hard to see what I'm doing when I'm recircuiting by hand in a space too small for me to get in there with it. Still, we're here, and largely in one piece — each, which is even better!" The Doctor grinned. "I've brought us to the other part of the zoo. Backstage, as it were."
It looked like a warehouse. Bare sheet metal overhead, harsh industrial lighting. They were standing in a square of carpet that matched — or might have been — the one in the habitat. The rest of the flooring was simple poured concrete. No one was around.
"What, did everyone go home?" Rory asked.
The Doctor shrugged. "Why not? The animals don't normally go wandering the zoo."
"You haven't been to New York recently, have you?"
The Doctor ignored him. “Control area, control area — here we are!” He hurried over to a bank of consoles, centered in a cluster around an operating station. “Control system for the teleport.” He started tapping away at the keys. “Well, it’s a bit small, as zoos go. Only about fifty specimens. And no penguins. What kind of zoo doesn’t have any penguins? Those nice little tuxedos. Oh well, probably easier for us to get this sentient-species-only zoo emptied out than to get penguins to overthrow their oppressors.”
“Where are the other habitats?” Rory asked, looking around. He’d half expected to see a bunch of enclosures all lined up when they’d teleported, but there was nothing like that around.
“It looks like —” the Doctor peered at the screen. “Ah ha! Now this is very clever. We’re not on a planet, we’re on an asteroid. A hollow one. Well, hollow-ish. It’s been blasted into a very specific shape. The habitat enclosures have been placed around the inside of the asteroid’s interior ring. And the dimensional field that the visitors use to see into the habitats goes through this channel here.” He pointed at something on the screen that Rory couldn’t make out. “They’re creating an energy field. Most of the creatures we’ve seen either put off energy naturally, or are made up of it, and this field siphons it off. I don’t see what they’re using it for, but it’s a marvelous system.”
“That’s great, but how can we get everyone out?” Rory repeated. “We can’t just transport them up here without warning. And I’m sure there’s no way to communicate with them, either.”
“And nowhere else to go, at the moment,” the Doctor pointed out. “This station doesn’t have any way to contact anyone off of the asteroid. We need to find a way to communicate with the rest of the universe, for a start. Get some help, see if Amy’s on her way.” He gave a little sigh. "There's nothing for it, we'll just have to take control of the asteroid."
Rory stared at the Doctor, barefoot and in pajamas, and then looked at himself, dressed much the same. They couldn't even speak to each other properly, let alone anyone else. "Yeah," he said at last, voice flat, "guess there's no other option."
"The zoo is just the draw to get the energy. The energy processing area is where they must control operations for the entire asteroid. That's where we need to get to." The Doctor tapped at the computer for a minute more, then moved back, looking satisfied. "There we are. Come on."
They moved away from the control area, heading down a dimly-lit hallway. Rory didn't notice any signs they were getting anywhere more populated, though, and he was surprised when the door the Doctor opened at last revealed a closet.
"What? I thought we were going to the energy processing area."
The Doctor started rifling through boxes, tossing the contents everywhere. "Yeah, we are. But I'm tired of wearing someone else’s trousers." He pulled out a familiar bundle of clothes, and handed them to Rory. Then he pulled out his own clothes as well, and started putting them on.
"You stole those," Rory pointed out.
"Years ago, would you get over that?" The Doctor pulled his shirt off and put on his own. Rory followed suit and redressed in his own clothes as well. Turning awkwardly in the small space he was aware of the Doctor’s eyes on him as he stepped into his jeans and he felt his cheeks redden a little. He concentrated on tying his shoes, now feeling hyperaware of the Doctor watching him. There was something absurdly comforting about having his shoes on again. He wriggled his toes.
The Doctor fished in his pocket and pulled out the sonic screwdriver. He tossed it and caught it, the satisfaction almost palpable. The green light on the tip flashed. "There we are. Now we can really get started."
This time, their progress was clear. The lights got brighter again, and eventually the Doctor led them to a lift. He inspected the buttons for a moment, then tapped the top one. The lift shot up with a tangible shift in gravity. “Now, we’re going to have to be careful, we don’t know who we’re dealing with yet. I doubt it’s a military installation, they definitely would’ve left someone on guard duty downstairs.” They exited the elevator. “Look for anything that looks like a comms center. Or just anything with lots of buttons. I feel like pressing some buttons today.”
Behind them, Rory could hear heavy footsteps, coming closer. “Someone’s coming,” he said. They sped up, but the corridor just continued, no doorways in sight. The whole thing was on a curve, Rory hoped they hadn’t ended up on the exercise level and there was nothing up here but the lift. The feet were still coming — definitely more than one person. “Hurry!” He hissed at the Doctor.
“I know, I know!” A door appeared at last around a curve in the corridor. They skidded to a halt in front of it, but it was locked. The Doctor pulled the sonic out and started trying various settings. Rory positioned himself in front of the Doctor, wishing he had something to use as a weapon. The footsteps kept getting closer and closer. The Doctor growled something.
“Is it deadlocked?” Rory asked, his heart hammering in his chest.
“No, it says it’s open, but it won’t budge. I —” The Doctor slammed a hand on the door and nearly fell forward as it opened. “Oh. Well then.” He grabbed Rory and tugged him inside, the door closing again as soon as they were through. “Ah.”
Rory turned around. “Oh.” Well, they had found the communications center. Or the whole, populated, command center for the asteroid, actually, from the look of it. There were about ten people in the room, all staring at them. They had the same green hair as the man Rory had first seen talking to the Hoppers, and were equally scarily tall. “We should probably just —” Rory made to take a step back, and the door opened again, two more people standing in it, looking just as surprised as everyone else. “Um. Doctor?”
“Yes, yes, Rory, I see that. Hello, I’m the Doctor? You don’t happen to speak Latin, do you?” One of the aliens pointed a gun of some sort at the Doctor and growled something. “No, I thought not. Shame it died out, it’s a lovely language.”
One of the aliens in the doorway raised a weapon as well. “Um, look,” Rory said, trying English. “You probably should’ve realized kidnapping people was a bad idea, and it was bound to make some people cranky. People are going to notice that we’ve gone.” The alien shook his head and gestured towards the wall. “Right, right,” Rory said, raising his hands. “Against the wall. Got that bit.” The alien turned then and was saying something to the one still standing in the center of the room — who Rory mentally dubbed the captain — when the whole room shook hard. Lights started flashing everywhere, and suddenly no one was paying attention to them any more. “What’s going on now?” Rory asked.
“It looks like we’re under attack,” the Doctor said.
“Attack?” Rory repeated. “The good kind of attack, or the bad kind?”
“The good kind, I think,” the Doctor replied. “There’s a status screen of some kind over there, and all the damage seems to be nowhere near the interior part of the asteroid. Whoever it is knows what’s here.” An image flickered and appeared on the main screen. It was a fierce-looking woman, almost skeletally thin, though it was hidden under the mass of feathers flowing from her head. “A Dethak! I haven’t seen one of them in a long time.” She started speaking to the aliens in the command room, an argument of some kind breaking out quickly, though her calm tone suggested she had it well in hand. “Definitely not a species to mess around with.” She turned to speak to someone behind her, and then Amy popped on the screen next to her.
“Hello boys! Sit tight, we’ll have you out of there in a minute!” She waved, then moved off somewhere they couldn’t see her, apparently satisfied that they were out of danger now that she was here. Which was probably true, since Rory could actually feel his stomach relaxing.
“Oh my god, I have the best wife ever.”
“Well — yes. Yes, you do.” The Doctor looked a little surprised by this, and clapped a hand on Rory’s shoulder.
“Looks like I was right,” Amy said, sidling up next to Rory in the now-empty command room. “I’m fine off on my own, but obviously I can’t leave you two alone for ten minutes without the both of you getting into trouble.”
“That’s —” Rory thought about it. “Unfortunately accurate.” He wrapped his arms around Amy and she returned the favor, kissing him soundly. “Thanks for rescuing us.”
“At least you admit you needed rescuing. The Doctor still refuses to admit that, though he was very glad to get the psychic paper back.” Amy grinned. The translator Amy had gotten her hands on before the Vocci had found her translated Latin into English well enough once Rory had helped program it, but Gallifreyan was lost on it.
“What’s he doing? I thought he would’ve been happy to get out of here and leave all the negotiating to your friend Peth. Even psychic paper isn’t useful enough to translate everything he goes on about.”
Amy shrugged. “He’s also a control freak. Probably wants to make sure everyone knows how to get home from here, and that Peth isn’t actually going to disembowel the Ferrin. Also, somebody still has to figure out how to explain to the poor energy aliens that their zoo is closing. Maybe that’s what he wanted the camera for. He said there weren’t any written signs inside the zoo.” Amy laughed. “I can’t believe you two were in a zoo.”
Rory stiffened. “A camera? Oh crap, he’s going to take pictures.”
“Of what, evidence? I think they’re calling in the space police or something. Peth said the Doctor convinced her to report this to the authorities instead of enacting vengeance on their entrails.”
“No, there was —” Rory squirmed. He hadn’t realized until now that he hadn’t planned on Amy finding out about the stupid sign. Of course the Doctor would’ve told her about it right away, why hadn’t he thought of that? “Well, the Doctor was right, there are no written signs — I guess energy-based creatures don’t have written language.” They were probably telepathic, if anything, but that couldn’t have been allowed or the visitors would’ve known what was going on. “So they had pictures. Big collages.” He’d seen some of the other ones while they were opening up all the habitats. “You saw the Ferrin. They weren’t going for accuracy or anything, they just wanted a big draw. So there was a lot of photoshopping and made up crap in those images, but yeah, end result, I think they were trying to portray the Doctor and I as a couple.” He said the last part of his sentence in a rush. He could feel his cheeks reddening.
Amy laughed, almost a downright cackle. “What?! That’s hilarious! The two of you —” she put a hand to her stomach, unable to control her laughing. “Oh god, that’s too much. Oh, he’d better take pictures of that. I want to see that.”
“Why?” he asked, honestly confused. “It wasn’t actually us, it was our heads on someone else’s bodies. It wasn’t real. It was like living inside a tabloid.”
“Yeah, but it’s still my boys. I can never get too much time ogling you.” She winked.
Rory blushed. “Again, not actually us. I don’t hang around shirtless all the time.”
“Doing all right, then, the two of you?” The Doctor appeared out of nowhere, wrapping them both up in his arms and squeezing. Rory noticed that his Latin wasn’t actually any better. “We took apart their energy collection system, I think I’ve found a few things to help me fix the TARDIS. Peth seems to have everything well in hand, and that Alpha Centauran definitely had enough opinions on the whole thing that I’m sure it’s going to help Peth out whether she wants it or not, and I don’t want to be in the middle of that dust-up.”
“We’re fine, Doctor,” Rory said. “Though we should probably get back to fixing the TARDIS. I think Amy’s about done with needing her own personal translator.”
“Too right,” Amy said. “Come on, you two. The TARDIS is in Peth’s ship — though we ended up not needing it to find you lot. Let’s get going, you’ve had your fun being boyfriends.”
“Of course I did.” The Doctor let Amy lead the way. “You told her about that?” the Doctor asked. “I wasn’t going to bring that part up.”
“I thought you were taking pictures of that stupid mural,” Rory replied. “What were you doing with her camera, then?”
“Oh, I was, but I was going to delete them off her camera before giving them back. Still, I’m not too surprised you told her, you’re terrible at keeping secrets.”
“She is right here,” Amy reminded them both. Idly Rory wondered when she’d found a leather vest. It was kind of corset-y, and didn’t look familiar. “And yeah, Rory tells me everything, eventually.”
“We were in a zoo,” Rory said.
“As a breeding pair,” the Doctor put in. He put an arm around Rory’s waist and pulled him to him, kissing his cheek. Their hips bumped together awkwardly.
“Oh, that definitely would’ve upset him,” Amy said. “It took him ages to admit to me that he liked blokes too — though that might be partly my fault, since I thought he was gay for the longest time.” They stepped into the TARDIS, and the Doctor immediately tossed his jacket onto a railing and hopped into the jump seat, back to work at fixing his ship.
“That’s not what upset me,” Rory said. “Why does everyone keep thinking it’s the stupid mural?”
“Well, it’s certainly what you’ve been the loudest about,” Amy replied. “And now I’m just going to have to ask Peth to send some pictures to me before we leave, that’s all. I’m still seeing it.”
“It’s all right, Pond,” the Doctor called up. “I was lying about planning on deleting them. I just wanted to make Rory feel better.”
“Oh, thanks,” Rory replied, not actually upset. “No, it’s just, you know, what I said earlier, Doctor. I’ve had more than enough of being put on display for strangers for one lifetime.” Several, if you wanted to get technical. “And the thing about the display wasn’t that it was there at all.” He thought it through as he said it, trying to tease it out of his own head and into words. “It was that it was wrong. It’s easier to be on display when you’ve got an air of mystery to back you up, but being on display when you can’t alter the story being told about you? Sure, a thousand years in, people had a lot of details wrong about the Centurion — including the idea that I was a centurion — but I was there, I had a say. This, no one knew or cared that it was wrong.” Not even the Doctor.
“Well if nobody knew who we really were, not even our names, why would it bother you so much?” the Doctor asked. “People forget you anyway — there are hundreds of places I’ve been to that if you went back a few months later, most people, if any, wouldn’t remember me. How much do you remember of your last trip to a zoo, Rory?” Not that much, he had to admit.
“Right,” Amy declared, “so if you ever well and truly piss me off, I can sell you to a zoo, but you have to be allowed a hand in designing the signage, that’s what you’re saying.” She tugged at him until he joined her in the wide chair, pretty much on her lap, since the chair wasn’t actually designed for two. She kissed his cheek.
“You’d have to let him talk the ear off all the visitors, too,” the Doctor said. Through the transparent floor, Rory could see sparks fly briefly, and he decided to take it as the TARDIS admonishing the Doctor on his behalf.
“How about,” he said, speaking slowly and enunciating every word clearly, “we don’t put me in a zoo for strangers to stare at.”
“I guess I’ll have to do all the staring, then,” Amy replied.
“Oi!” the Doctor called. He tossed something at them and it bounced off the ceiling.
“Yeah, you can stare too, Doctor,” Amy called back. “Though really, this whole ‘boyfriends’ debate has me thinking that I don’t get to see nearly enough of the two of you together.”
Rory felt his face go red as the Doctor laughed. “Why don’t you two clean up and get something to eat. I’d like to finish repairing the TARDIS first, if you don’t mind. I’d like to be able to use proper nouns again and be understood fully.”
“Don’t think the TARDIS can help with that one,” Amy replied, and pushed at Rory until he stood up.
“There’s a reason I never learned English, either. All your languages are so temporally stunted. Now go wash up.” He shooed them away, and this time, they went.
The Doctor must have finished his repairs quicker than anticipated, since he was waiting for them in the kitchen when they emerged from the shower. He was pouring tea into the ‘matching’ cups that they normally used. They matched only in the sense that they were all proper teacups, and were florally themed; but one had violets on it, another forget-me-nots, and the third a riotous bunch of daisies.
“The TARDIS’s language systems should be all sorted now. Good as new. Or close enough.” There was a different quality to the Doctor’s voice, a warmth to it that Rory hadn’t realized had been missing until just now.
“That’s great,” Amy said. “Now you have to promise to never break it again.”
“I promise, believe me. Didn’t even know that system could break.”
“All the same, I really think you should try actually learning some English.”
The Doctor shook his head. “You heard Gallifreyan. You’ve seen it written. The part of the TARDIS that broke, the psychic inhibitor? Is for languages like mine. The TARDIS could translate something like Bulgarian for you just fine, and that’s got thousands of verb tenses. Gallifreyan has nearly twice that many verb tenses, and that’s before you go into causality, which also effects the gender, position, emotion, and relative intensity of the subjects of any sentence. If I was reading a copy of War and Peace in Gallifreyan, it would take up a tenth of the number of pages, but have a thousand times as much information in it. Even if I knew English better than a native speaker, I wouldn’t be able to communicate as clearly.” He paused, expression fragile for a moment. “Sometimes I think not all the things I say make it through the TARDIS’s filters.”
“Try using smaller words,” Amy said, aiming for teasing, but her voice slightly too soft for that.
Rory put his teacup down, shaking his head. “Or just show us. Amy’s not really big on the conversation thing, anyway.”
“Hey, that’s not — well, no, maybe it’s a little —” Amy was cut off from finishing as the Doctor leaned over the table to kiss her, nearly knocking the teacups over. She made a little noise of surprise but opened up to him eagerly, holding on to the collar of his jacket to keep him close. After a minute he let go, and slipped around to join them on their side of the table before giving Rory the same treatment.
“I love you both,” he said. “And I will miss you when you go.” Rory’s brow furrowed, but the Doctor held a finger up. “And that’s not me being sorry for myself. 900 years old, and hardly done living. It’s a fact. I’ve a lot of people I miss. Because I meet a lot of wonderful people, the two of you included. Very little is actually permanent for me. But the first part of that sentence is.” He traced a hand through Amy’s hair. “You brought the universe back to life.” He looked back to Rory. “And you — you wouldn’t know how to take the easy path if someone gave you a map.” Rory was about to argue this when the Doctor cut him off again, this time with a kiss, quick and dirty. “And you are not boring, Rory Pond. I can think of two people off the top of my head who could watch you all day.” He kissed Rory again, pressing him against the table, grinding against him, messy and a little desperate. Rory grabbed at his hips. “Do you see what I mean?” he asked when he pulled away at last, leaving Rory breathless. “English just doesn’t — not everything gets through.”
“I think we’re getting the picture, though,” Amy said, for both of them, sounding a little breathless herself. “I think we should probably get out of the kitchen, though, before you knock it over next.”
“Table’s probably not the most comfortable surface for this, yeah,” Rory replied, recovering a little. He tried to find a position that was comfortable, but his cock informed him that wasn’t happening as long as his trousers were still on.
“First you don’t want to have sex outside, and now you don’t want to have it inside,” the Doctor said, leaning back with a sigh. He looked entirely edible, a thought which surprised Rory slightly.
“More specifically, in front of strangers or on a picnic table,” Rory clarified. “Outdoor sex where no one can actually stumble upon us I’m okay with.” He patted the table. “And I’m not okay with splinters, either.”
“You’re making it very hard for me to show off,” the Doctor grumbled.
“Sorry.” He shrugged. He really was. “Show off to Amy, then.”
“That’s what I’m trying to do,” the Doctor replied. “Fine, fine. Come on.” Rory just barely escaped being picked up as the Doctor hurried them down the hall, though he did lose his shirt, at which point he started going after the Doctor’s clothes as well, tugging off the stupid bowtie and shoving his braces out of the way. They were both down to just their trousers and shoes, which was more than either of them had had coordination for while walking, by the time they hit the bedroom. The Doctor shoved Rory down onto the bed and started going after his jeans. Rory stared upwards, distracted for a moment.
“Is that a ...mirror?”
“Yes.” The Doctor didn’t look up. “Because really, you should see how entirely gorgeous you look when someone’s fucking you.”
“Okay,” Rory replied, faster than was probably allowed.
Amy laughed, and Rory looked up. He hadn’t forgotten about her — impossible to do — but the Doctor was making it hard to concentrate on anything else. She’d settled into the overstuffed chair in the corner, down to just her bra and panties, and was watching them with a heavy-lidded expression of lust. “He’s right,” she said. “You get all — happy.”
“Well, I’d hope so—ooohfuck.” The Doctor had gotten his jeans at last and yanked them and his underwear down almost to his knees, and swallowed down his cock before he’d even had a chance to recognize the change to pantslessness. The Doctor’s mouth was that weird slightly-cool temperature it always was, which was somehow always a surprise, and his hips jerked, first in surprise and then again because it felt really good. The Doctor, the bastard, managed to somehow laugh while sucking on his cock, swallowing more and more down in one long, agonizingly slow move, until he had almost the whole thing in his mouth. Rory cursed, falling back into Latin. He moved his hips harder, impatient circles as he fucked the Doctor’s mouth, wet and eager and clever. Then something slick pressed against his arse, stroking for a quick moment before pressing in, up, there.
“Fuck.” He managed. “Fuck. Fucknnnnnnngh.” He rocked back and forth, harder now, caught between the delicious feeling of the Doctor’s mouth and the heat and pressure of the Doctor’s fingers inside him. He leaned back, trying to get a better angle to hit both, he needed both, and he saw himself in the mirror. He looked utterly blissed out, and, okay, slutty, but fuck that, who wouldn’t? And — oh. Amy, he could see Amy. She’d kicked off the panties, too, and one hand was cupping her breast, the other on her pussy, fingers pressed deep inside herself, rocking in time with him, looking just as blissed out, mouth open, focused on him. Then the Doctor pressed harder and Rory shouted, saw red for a moment, and came, hard, feeling like he’d just been struck by lightning.
Amy came too, her hips doing that short little stutter it always did, her hand going faster, faster; he could see how wet she was, even from here. The Doctor leaned over him, and he pulled him even closer, a hand tight in his hair so he couldn’t get away as he kissed him. The Doctor tasted like himself — he never tasted like anything else, no matter what — and Rory turned a little, trying to make sure Amy had a good view.
The Doctor’s cock slid up against his arse, a bit of a friendly ‘hello’ and a bit of a question. Rory slid his legs further apart, bending one knee a little. “You are surprisingly good for the stamina,” he said.
The Doctor laughed, and placed a kiss just under his ear. “It’s all the running around. Does more than just build character.” He slid into Rory slowly, both of them still slick enough from before that it didn’t burn, just a steady pressure. Rory groaned and pressed into it, pulling the Doctor closer.
“The visuals are A+,” Amy said, voice hoarse, “but I’ve got to complain about the dialogue.”
“Sorry,” Rory said, and grabbed the Doctor’s arse solely because he could. The Doctor let out the dirtiest groan he’d ever heard from him.
“That’s closer,” Amy said. She was stroking herself again, short little motions, just the tips of her fingers, that he could barely make out. Rory removed one hand from the Doctor’s arse long enough to pop two fingers in his mouth, then slid them up to press against the Doctor’s hole, an imitation of the man’s own move earlier.
“If you do that now, you’re going to regret it,” the Doctor said, stilling his cock inside Rory. His voice sounded very unsteady.
“Really?” he asked, pressing closer.
“Maybe.” Definitely unsure.
Rory placed a sharp, biting, almost-kiss on whatever part of the Doctor’s skin was closest to his mouth, and slid his fingers in, and clenched his arse at the same time.
The Doctor shouted something the TARDIS definitely didn’t translate, and bucked, hips fucking wildly into Rory again and again, pressing him into and up on the the mattress, until he almost couldn’t even see Amy any more, and came, a sudden burst of heat Rory could feel somehow, inside himself.
They all laid there, panting, for a minute or two, trying to recover even the barest level of brain function. Rory stared up at the suddenly-mirrored bed, seeing the strongly muscled back of the Doctor between the curve of his own shoulders. If he turned his eyes a little, which was the most he could manage, he could just make out the left side of Amy, tilted even more in the chair, now entirely naked, one strap of her bra still caught around her arm. He tried to grin at her, but he wasn’t sure if she could see it.
Amy was the one to recover first, though, which wasn’t surprising. She made her way on mostly-steady legs the short distance to the bed, sinking down again in the mostly-empty area over Rory’s head and shoulders. She smelled like sex, and Rory leaned up to kiss whatever part of her skin he could reach. Amy patted vaguely at him in return. “More. Yes. In a bit. Once you can move all of you again.”
The Doctor made an incoherent noise.
“Might be a while,” Rory managed to offer after another minute.
“It’s all right,” she said, voice still low. “I can entertain myself in the meantime, and it can be your turn to watch.”
All things considered — including that he couldn’t feel his thighs — Rory thought this sounded like a pretty good plan.