“There is no way — no way whatsoever — that I can pull you back out of there,” Rory said, raising his voice above the grinding of the thing’s fleshy gears. “I’m sorry, Doctor.”
Amy’s initial irritation at the Doctor’s rash decision to examine it more closely than was prudent — the researchers had warned him that it had evolved to actively grab at victims as protein rich food, but did he listen, no, he did not — was now edging over into fear. How on god’s green earth were they going to get him free?
The Doctor had initially tried to talk to the creature, despite the conversation being muffled because he was enveloped in its mouth. The beast had stubbornly refused to show any signs of sapience. After deeming that effort a failure, he’d tried to wiggle backward out of its mouth, but that had only triggered a tightening of its grasp. Now he hung motionless, unwilling to risk further damage from a multitude of small but saw-like teeth.
He’d also stopped talking. Amy, who could see his face if she knelt down and cocked her head at just the right angle to peer past his tweedy shoulders, saw he was now decidedly white around the lips. The last time she’d asked him something, he’d just shaken his head, his expression grim. That look, and his silence (which was creepy, Amy decided; she liked her Doctor loquacious), told her more than she wanted to know about the situation’s severity.
“Hold up, Doctor, I’m going to talk to Rory for a bit. Don’t go anywhere while I’m gone, OK?” She willed him to respond to her false cheerfulness. He managed a wan chuckle, and Amy decided that was good enough.
She caught Rory’s eye, then jerked her chin in a direction further into the growing darkness. He nodded and joined her, then asked softly, “What are we going to do?”
“We could try heading back to the campus, and convincing Artemas or Castor to get help; maybe with more muscle, we could pull him out of the beastie,” Amy said.
Rory shook his head. “That won’t work. For one thing, Artemas was furious with the Doctor for even seeking this thing out.”
Amy grimaced. “Not to mention showing him up in front of the bursars.”
“Yeah, that too,” Rory agreed. “Now? If the Doctor was on fire, Artemas wouldn’t spit on him.”
Before Amy could respond, Rory added, “We’ve got another problem. Curfew went into effect about 15 minutes ago, so neither Artemas nor Castor, nor anyone else for that matter, are going to be around. We’re on our own.”
With Rory’s mention of the curfew, Amy became truly alarmed. The last thing the three of them needed at this point was for one of the roving paramilitary patrols to find them. They were obviously alien to this world, and one of them couldn’t move, which would make them really easy pickings for those thugs.
“Bloody hell,” she muttered to herself.
Just then, Rory’s eyes went wide and he snapped his fingers. “Got it!”
“Think I’ve got an answer.”
“What answer?” Apparently the Doctor had heard Rory’s shout.
“A minute, Doctor,” Amy said, turning to Rory. “And? What is it?”
“Give me your mobile, will you?” Her husband held out his hand. Amy glowered at his lack of a direct response. But she tossed the phone to him; she’d learned that when Rory got that sort of gleam in his eye during their adventures, it was usually for a good reason.
“Who are you calling?”
“ River? ” Amy didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. They never knew where or when their time-scrambled daughter might be in the broad universe. Equipped with a sophisticated vortex manipulator, and willing to travel almost anywhere to find adventure and xeno-archaeological sites when she wasn’t stubbornly ensconced in Stormcage, River was almost always impossible to get in touch with.
As if he could anticipate her thoughts, Rory said, “Look, remember a few weeks ago, at dinner? When she let slip that she always keeps a jiggered-up 21st century mobile on, ‘just in case,’ then wouldn’t explain?”
“Yeah,” Amy responded cautiously.
“Well, what if she keeps it on in case we need her help?” Rory’s gaze darted between Amy and the hind end of the Doctor. “I’d say this counts.”
“But … we’re always in trouble. Why take time to help us now?” Despite her words, Amy felt a flicker of hope, one she tried not to let grow too large.
“Yeah, but the Doctor isn’t always being swallowed by a carnivorous bubble thing,” Rory said, impatient. “Let me call her and tell her what’s going on.”
The Doctor’s strangled whisper told her more than she wanted to know about the strength of the creature’s grasp.
“Do it, Rory,” she said, and then headed back to where she could kneel down and see a bit of the Doctor’s face. “Yeah, Doctor?”
“Amy, listen … You two … have got to … get back to the … TARDIS,” the Time Lord managed.
“Without you? Not likely,” she said.
“I … can handle … this.”
“No, you can not handle this. If you’d handled it properly, we wouldn’t be out here in the middle of nowhere watching you get digested by an alien football!” Amy was glad to be able to yell at him. It was comforting. When he didn’t give her a retort, the comfort evaporated again. She wondered if she should tell him that Rory was calling his wife; she didn’t think he’d want River to see him about now.
“Amy, she’s on her way!” There was no mistaking the joy in those words.
Moments later — although it seemed like hours to Amy, as she listened to the creature’s attempts to drag the Doctor further into itself — she heard the tell-tale pop of a body arriving via vortex manipulator. When she turned around to greet her daughter, she gawped for a moment, but elected not to ask questions.
River was not dressed for the desert brush that surrounded them. In truth, she wasn’t dressed, as such things were normally measured. She was strategically adorned with what appeared to be silk ribbons, a view that would undoubtedly have made the Doctor grin, had he been capable of seeing it.
“Thanks for coming,” Amy said. She started forward to give River a hug, but the older woman jumped back and shook her head.
“Sorry, Mum. I have a small force-shield around me; it’s what’s keeping the ribbon in place. You might get a bit of a shock if you got closer.”
“I’m getting a bit of a shock right now,” Rory said, looking anywhere but at his offspring. “What happens if you turn off the shield? No, don’t answer that. Amy, here’s my coat. I’m going to turn my back and River can turn off the force shield and wear the coat.”
Amy and River exchanged glances, then River nodded. “This isn’t really the place for a stripper, I suppose.”
“ Stripper? ” Her father choked.
“One of the best ways to get valuable information out of drunk men,” River said, without explaining further. “Dad, you’re a dear, you know that?” She shrugged her way into Rory’s car coat, then hit a button on the manipulator. The coat visibly sagged onto her shoulders, just as the ribbons slipped to the ground. “Alright. Let’s see what we’ve got here.”
“What’s going … on … Who’s out … there?” Even muffled, the Doctor sounded suspicious.
“River?” The outrage came through quite clearly.
“Yes, dear. And what do you think you’re doing in the gullet of a Greater Louloudi-Thirio?” She sounded as carelessly cheerful as she usually did, but her eyes were narrow and measuring as she walked around the thing. “I didn’t suppose you were the type to waltz into the heart of what’s essentially a mobile Venus fly-trap.”
As she spoke, she crouched down, and gingerly touched the Greater Louloudi-Thirio — Amy decided she’d look up the name once they were back at the TARDIS — at several points around its circumference. To Amy’s disgusted surprise, River then stuck her fingers in her mouth, licking them carefully before spitting on the ground.
“We’re in luck, Mum.” She stood up. “I’m going to pop back and get something we need. Shan’t take a minute.”
She hit the manipulator again, and disappeared in a suck of light and air.
Rory and Amy looked at each other. They had no idea what River was planning. They didn’t have to wait long to find out, though; River reappeared, with another pop. Amy thought she looked a little green around the gills. Manipulator travel was hard on the gut, especially multiple trips.
She had two lipstick tubes in hand and brandished them triumphantly, just as another half inch of Doctor disappeared into the Louloudi-Thirio’s mouth. “Mum, take one of these, and start outlining the aperture. Don’t touch the lipstick, though.”
“You mean —” Amy’s eyes went wide.
“Oh, yes. I checked the Louloudi-Thirio’s metabolism to make sure it would be susceptible to the hallucinogen. The Doctor’s not the only one who has educated taste buds,” River said smugly.
Rory, who’d stepped back nervously at the sight of the lipsticks, stopped and grinned. “Time-head powers?”
River grinned back, and nodded.
“River! What … augh … what are you … thinking?”
“Hush, dear. Mum, smear it on heavily. Don’t be afraid to use it all up.” She obeyed her own order on the other side of the Louloudi-Thirio. Within a minute, much of the pale green border of the thing’s aperture sported a festive and rosy red border. Amy and River quickly used up all the lipstick and got farther away.
“How long will it take?” Amy asked.
“If this was Earth-based fauna, it would already be working. If it was Earth-based flora, it wouldn’t work at all. It’s a hybrid, or at least that’s the easiest way to think of it. Or think of it as something like an extremely smart cephalopod living on land. There’s enough brain that it has awareness. That’s all we need; its senses will get scrambled.”
“What happens then?”
The constant rumbling of the creature’s attempts to pull the Doctor in and grind him up abruptly stopped. After 10 seconds of silence, the Louloudi-Thirio started to whistle as it took in and expelled air from some of the smaller openings around its body. Next it began to heave itself back and forth, which threw the Doctor just as violently back and forth.
“River! Stop! What are you doing!” Amy noticed he was speaking with less effort. Something must be going right, she thought.
“Getting you out of there. I should think that was obvious,” River said.
Even as she spoke, the Louloudi-Thirio gave a final brobdingnagian heave and disgorged the Doctor with such force that he landed a foot or so away, face down in the dust and covered in alien plant drool. Amy hadn’t thought he could look less dignified than he had with his booted feet hanging from the creature. She was wrong.
Much, much later, when he had taken a shower, changed his clothes, and simultaneously hugged and hectored his wife for her unorthodox rescue methods (“Your lipstick could have killed it!”) the Doctor looked up at her from where his head lay in her lap. He smiled, and Amy and Rory, who were sharing a love-seat nearer to the fire, relaxed. It looked as if major fireworks had been avoided.
“Wife, I have only two questions.”
“Why did you come when Rory called you? Why, when you won’t come when I call you?”
For a moment, River’s face showed the hard and false cheer that Amy privately thought of as her “River Face.” Then it softened. River looked serious, as she said, “Because my dad called me to say that my husband was in danger. Because he trusted me to save you. And because you normally can save yourself, and everyone else around you. I have my own life to live, and you don’t need me very often.”
The Doctor’s smile was crooked. “Says you.”
“Says me,” she said, firmly. “The second question?”
“Can you show me how those ribbons are attached?” Now his grin was goofily salacious. Rory colored, and even Amy coughed a little before giggling.
“Get a room, you two,” she said.
Which was precisely what they did.