|15/12/2011 Doctor Who - Breaking All the Rules (R)|
I was sitting in the library 27 comments - feed the addict
not doing theoretical physics and this idea with Daleks and dragons in it stepped into my head proclaiming itself to be The Biggest Library Fix-It Ever. Whether or not it deserves that title is for you to decide ;)
The Doctor turned up on River's doorstep with a new haircut and a suit. He took her to Darillium to see the Singing Towers… and indeed, what a night it was. The Towers sang, and he cried. He couldn't tell her why but he knew it was time, her time, time to go to the Library. He even gave her his screwdriver.
And then he dropped her back on her doorstep in 51st-century Oxford and kissed her goodbye.
"Goodbye sweetie," she said with a wink. "Until the next time."
"Yes," he said, swallowing. "Until then."
She went inside and the Doctor walked back to the TARDIS. He slowed and stopped in front of the doors, contemplating the paintwork. He kicked at the loose earth on the ground. He gritted his teeth and looked up at the stars.
And then the Doctor found himself running back the way he had come.
"Why are you telling me this?!" River repeated for the third time since he had started his spoiler-extravaganza.
"So that we can prevent it," he explained. "Somehow."
They were in her living room, and although he had made sure they were both sitting when he had launched into his lengthy explanation of what was about to happen to her they were both standing now, she in front of the empty fireplace looking increasingly incredulous with her hands on her hips and he – well, he wasn't standing so much as pacing, he supposed. He was prone to pacing. River didn't usually mind as long as he kept off her antique rugs.
"You can't be serious," she told him.
"Of course I'm serious – look, forget rule 27, I'm not going to just let you walk off to your death without trying to do something about it. I would've thought you would understand, River. Remember Area 52?"
"Oh, I remember it well. I especially remember how thoroughly you told me off. I have to die to preserve the timeline!"
"No, no, no. I have to think you're dead, your data ghost has to be preserved in the screwdriver, and Donna and the others have to be freed from the computer. Those are three completely separate things, none of which have to involve you actually dying."
"So what do you propose I do instead?"
The Doctor licked his lips. "I haven't quite worked that out yet," he admitted.
River sighed, letting her arms fall to her sides. "Oh, Doctor. You've had how many hundred years to work this out?"
"Well. Almost four."
"And in all that time you haven't come up with a solution?" She raised her eyebrows.
The Doctor made a face. "I've come up with lots of solutions! Just… none that seems viable. Yet."
"My love." River stepped closer, reaching out to take his hands in hers. "Doesn't that tell you something?"
"Yes. I need to think harder. You could help, you're good with the thinking."
"Or…" She tipped her head to one side and her mouth twitched into a small smile. "There is no solution."
"Why are you smiling?" he demanded. "How can you smile when you say that?"
"I'm smiling, sweetie, because I'm very touched that you care so much. But if this is my fate, then so be it. It's not like I haven't had a good long life, my dear. Longer than most people."
"There's no such thing as fate, River."
"Says the man who had to die at Lake Silencio or time would collapse."
"That was different," he protested.
"Not that different, my love. If I don't die in the Library, it sounds like you could, so you wouldn't be able to die at the lake. Who knows what would happen?"
"Let's find out!" the Doctor urged.
That, surprisingly, seemed to get through to her. She let go of him and looked away. Then she laughed. "I can't believe I'm being the sensible one."
"Exactly!" he exclaimed, latching onto this chink in her armour. "Stop being sensible, River, it doesn't become you. But you know what does? The way your cheeks flush when you're running from Daleks. The way you twirl your gun when you're done shooting Cybermen. The way you grin when you're jumping off buildings. You can't tell me you've had enough, River. I've never met anyone who enjoyed life more than you."
"Doctor…" River rolled her eyes and smiled. "You're a terrible influence on me, do you know that?"
He returned the smile and recaptured her hands. "And you on me, River Song."
River sighed, shaking her head. "Fine. Okay." She pressed her forehead against his and closed her eyes for a moment. "So, you impossible man," she said, and when she looked up at him there was a twinkle in her eyes. "What next?"
Daleks, as it turned out.
“Daleks?” said River. “Really, Doctor?”
“Look, they weren’t part of the plan, alright?” he replied, busily sonicking the data storage device they had come here to find. “Just distract them for a few more seconds, then we can escape.”
“You do realise that the TARDIS is on the other side of the approaching horde of killing machines, don’t you?” River said, reloading her gun.
“I’m sure you’ll work something out.”
“I hate you,” she muttered, squeezing off a shot at the eyestalk of an approaching enemy.
“No, you don’t. Ah!” the Doctor beamed, packing their prize into his jacket pocket. “All done.”
“Right then.” River grabbed his hand. “Run!”
They ran, and it was glorious. Through dark and narrow corridors full of Daleks, all bent on exterminating them but none succeeding thanks to River’s deft ducking and weaving amongst them and her clever strategic fire. Swinging on a chandelier across a crowd of them, gone before they were even noticed, and out into the open air. Down a slippery slope to the swamp, clutching the underside of a very vexed flying Dalek to take them across the water and then leaping through the waiting doors of the TARDIS, both of them running for the controls and then collapsing, laughing, on the floor once they were underway.
“Ahh,” River sighed happily. “That hit the spot. I could do that all day.”
“Oh, I know you could.” The Doctor grinned, holding up the little device they had just risked their lives for. “I hope you know how to read this, because I haven’t a clue.”
“Just ask the TARDIS, dear.”
“Right.” He went to stand, but the sight of River sprawled on the floor next to him, flushed and grinning, made him think twice.
"Later," he decided firmly, and sank back down to kiss his wife.
“Well, that’s a problem,” the Doctor declared later – much later, examining the schematics they had finally managed to decode.
“You really don’t think we can scale it down?” River asked, looking over his shoulder.
“Not without losing capacity, and since capacity is the reason we need this thing in the first place...”
“Right. The digital memory.”
“The hard drive as it is here is not going to fit unobtrusively in the little space around that chair,” the Doctor mused. “But it needs to be there so we can hook it up to the computer in place of your brain.”
“Does it really? Couldn’t we put it somewhere else and hook it up by remote?”
“Perhaps... but where? Most of the Library will be full of Vashta Nerada. We don’t want them interfering with the signal. Besides which, we haven’t got a transmitter with that kind of signal width.”
“Doctor...” River was looking at him with her I’ve-just-thought-of-something-clever face. That was promising.
“Why don’t we put it in the TARDIS? We could cloak her and park her in some unobtrusive corner not too far away, and just wait to leave until past you has gone.”
“That’s... perfect.” He shot her a grin. “Still doesn’t solve the transmitter problem, though.”
“Oh, I think I know where we can get something which would work. Might involve some breaking and entering, though,” she said with a hint of delight.
“River Song, are you proposing we engage in criminal activity?”
“Darling, we’re breaking all the rules already. What’s a little theft going to hurt when compared to using spoilers to cheat death?”
She did, he admitted, have a point.
She was also incredibly attractive in her black catsuit. “Is this your standard breaking-and-entering outfit?” the Doctor enquired – mostly in an attempt to distract her from the fact that he couldn’t keep his eyes off her chest.
“Yes it is, sweetie. Why do you ask?” She was doing something with the scanner. He wasn’t quite sure what, but he didn’t really care – the way her curves were accentuated with her arms raised like that seemed far more important.
“It’s... very nice,” he told her.
“I’m sure you’ve seen it before, my love.”
“Yes, but... I’m not sure I’ve quite appreciated it properly.”
River grinned and let go of the scanner. “If you’re very, very good I might let you peel me out of it later,” she promised. “Now, have we got everything?”
“Everything?” The Doctor blinked. “Oh. Yes.” He reached into his pockets. “Screwdriver, psychic paper times two, and a scooby snack.”
“Good.” River tucked the screwdriver and one piece of psychic paper into her utility belt, then strode over to the doors and pulled them open. “Let’s do some crime.”
They stepped out of the cloaked TARDIS into a deserted corridor on a 53rd-century military base. River pecked him on the lips and strode away with a wink and a wave over her shoulder, applying lipstick as she went. The Doctor straightened his bowtie and walked in the other direction. Decoy, was his mission description. He flattered himself that he would be able to accomplish this easily and with flair.
It wasn’t long before a man in a military uniform appeared around a corner and caught sight of him.
“Ah!” the Doctor declared enthusiastically. “I’m terribly sorry, sir, but I seem to be lost. Do you think you could show me the way to the base commander’s office?”
His request was fulfilled most promptly, if you interpreted show me the way as give me a large, armed escort. Very soon the Doctor found himself in a chair opposite a large desk, behind which was a bank of security monitors. The base commander – and, it would appear, everybody else in the room – was not paying much attention to these, but the Doctor had already spotted telltale signs of River’s presence on at least three. He grinned an admiring grin which, given the number of weapons pointing at him, was perhaps not too wise.
“Who are you?” the base commander demanded as River put another camera on a loop.
“Hello!” the Doctor said cheerfully. “I’m John Smith, here are my credentials.” He flashed the psychic paper in front of the man’s eyes and was nearly shot at. “...Oh. Sorry.” He tucked it back into his jacket rather more slowly. “Anyway, as you will have just seen, I’m a food standards inspector, highest authorization of course, and I’ve come to take a look at your catering arrangements.”
The commander’s eyes narrowed. “Catering,” he repeated in a gruff voice. Clearly he was not impressed.
“That’s right!” the Doctor declared as he saw River flash her own psychic paper at a guard on one of the monitors – and promptly disappear as that camera too was tampered with. “You see, the food standards research team has recently discovered a new superfood – cost-effective, nutritious and extremely tasty. If I may?”
The Doctor reached into his pocket more carefully this time and produced a small brown biscuit. He laid it reverently on the desk. “Decades of work from the best brains in the industry have gone into this. Many multiples of your yearly budget have been spent on it. Gentlemen, may I present to you... the scooby snack!” He gestured at the little biscuit with a flourish.
His presentation was not met with much enthusiasm.
The base commander shifted in his chair and fixed him with a rather intimidating look. “Is this some kind of joke?” he asked slowly.
“Well...” the Doctor licked his lips. Then a silent breeze tickled through his hair and he grinned, standing. “Yes.”
Fortunately the commander’s wrath was tempered by his reaction to the glowing blue box which had suddenly appeared in his office. Just sometimes, the Doctor had to admit, it was useful to be able to park the TARDIS quietly and unobtrusively.
The door opened and River leaned out holding her very largest gun. “Hello, sweetie,” she said. “Have you been getting into trouble again?”
“Not at all, dear,” the Doctor said, sneaking towards her before the armed guards could get over their surprise enough to react. “Everything according to plan.”
“Glad to hear it.” She pulled him inside. “Thanks for keeping an eye on him for me,” she told the rest of the room, and closed the door just before it was shot at.
"How did it go?" the Doctor enquired once they were underway.
"Splendidly, thank you." River nodded at the jump seat.
The Doctor was a little taken aback by the sight of its occupant. "River… that's a Cyberman's head."
"I know, sweetie."
"That's… very clever," he admitted. "Yes, of course. The Cybermen use more of the brain than almost any other species. And they can communicate all of what is going on in that brain in one short, wide-spectrum burst."
"Using an ingenious transmitter which should fit our needs nicely," River confirmed. She picked up the head and regarded it smugly. "We'll have to dig it out of the surrounding tissue, mind you."
"I'll leave that to you," the Doctor said quickly.
“What I don’t understand," he said later, elbow-deep in grey matter, "Is even with the psychic paper, how you convinced that guard to let you through when you were wearing that.” He looked up at River, who was still wearing that, much to his frustration.
“Oh, that was the easy part. I told him I was his birthday present. Specially authorized, of course.” She grinned. “Poor dear was probably expecting more than just a kiss.”
"So was I," the Doctor muttered.
"What was that, sweetie?"
"Could you sonic this nodule here?" the Doctor replied brightly. "Don't want to get bits of brain all over my screwdriver."
"Of course." River knelt down beside him and released the final nodule from its surroundings. The Doctor pulled hard and, with an interesting squelchy noise, the transmitter came free.
He held it aloft triumphantly. "Ah-ha!"
"Let me see," River said, reaching for it. "It looks intact. Well done, sweetie."
"Thanks," the Doctor said absently, looking for something to wipe his hands on. His trousers were the best option, he decided.
"Doctor, that's disgusting," River commented.
"Have you got any better ideas?"
"You can take those off, for starters," she declared, putting the transmitter down on the console. She walked towards him and reached for his braces, unclipping them with an outrageously exaggerated slowness. Not that he was complaining, mind. "And then," River told him, "I'm going to push you into the shower and scrub you clean."
"Can I scrub you clean too?"
"Oh, sweetie." River grinned. "You can try."
“So we’ve solved the problem of the memory needed for the download,” River mused, propped up on one elbow and tracing little patterns across his chest with the fingers of her other hand. “The neural relay in the screwdriver should work the way it is. That means the only thing left is to find a way to convince you I’ve died a flashy and heroic death.” She looked down at him, smiling. “You know, it sounds like a hell of a way to go. Are you sure you want to deny me the opportunity to make such a noble sacrifice?”
“Yes,” the Doctor said firmly. “Seeing as we’re soon going to render it completely unnecessary.”
“Go on then,” River prompted. “How are we going to fake my death?”
“Holograms,” he replied smugly.
“Holograms? They’d have to be pretty advanced to achieve the desired effect. I imagine an overload like that would create quite the heat wave, for one thing.”
“Which is why we’re going to acquire them from the planet of the holograms! Big rock, surface covered in projectors and air filtration devices – but you couldn’t tell from looking at it. Sometimes it’s a tropical paradise, sometimes it’s an ice planet, sometimes its populated by cavemen and sometimes by futuristic aliens. All fantastically realistic. Very impressive, really.” He cleared his throat. “The only trouble is, they guard the secret of their technology very closely.”
River raised an eyebrow. “Are we committing more crime, Doctor?”
“Quite possibly,” he admitted.
Her fingers ceased their movement across his skin and she leaned in closer, a slow smile creeping over her face. “Oh, you know just what to say to a girl.”
The planet of the holograms was as spectacular as he remembered it. Currently the entire world was programmed to resemble medieval Europe, populated by handsome knights and damsels in distress. And dragons. He wasn't quite sure if the historical inaccuracy was intentional or not, but they were certainly impressive.
River clearly agreed. "Oh, that's incredible," she breathed, watching from the hilltop where they had parked as a great scaly green beast destroyed a village.
"I should have known you would like fire-breathing monsters," the Doctor said, watching with equal fascination.
"Pity they're holograms, or I could take one home as a pet."
"How? You'd never be able to get it into the TARDIS, it's a hundred times taller than the door."
"Doctor, if we pull this off I'm going to feel I can do anything."
"Really? I always got the impression that you felt that way already."
"Oh, shut up."
River adjusted her headdress. "Are you sure you're not going to dress for the occasion, sweetie? You'd look very handsome in a nice suit of armour."
"Yes, and have my mobility severely impaired. I haven't even got a horse to ride."
"You can always ride me." She arched an eyebrow in a way which made him very tempted to pull her back inside and put off this adventure til later.
"River Song, you are incorrigible."
"I know. It's my greatest failing."
"As failings go I rather like it, actually," he confessed, allowing himself to admire the figure she cut in her damsel in distress costume. The flowing blue and white skirts accentuated her waist perfectly.
"Thank you, sweetie." River hitched up her skirts and indicated the slope in front of them. "Shall we?"
They had two tasks to accomplish here: to find a holographic projector they could liberate and, perhaps more critically, the accompanying software. The projector should not be too difficult; the planet's surface was covered in them, though they were hidden to the naked eye by the holograms they were projecting. The software would be more challenging. The computer which drove the simulations was somewhere deep underground, and the Doctor had not been able to determine its exact location. He had identified the planet's deepest tunnels, and now all they could do was hope that he had made a lucky guess.
He offered River his arm and they began to walk towards the nearby castle.
"So all of this is holographic," River said, her eyes still fixed on the dragon.
"Down to the grass beneath our feet," the Doctor confirmed.
"It feels real."
"Yes, they use some kind of force field to simulate the texture."
"So that dragon could still kill us, right?"
"Oh, easily," he replied.
"Only I think it's coming this way."
The Doctor looked around and saw that this was rather an understatement. The large scaly monster seemed to be heading straight for them at breakneck speed, nonchalantly setting fire to a tree as it swooped downwards.
"Perhaps we'd better run," he said faintly.
"Yes," said River. "Let's." She grabbed his hand and ran to meet the dragon.
"I meant run away!" the Doctor yelled, pumping his legs furiously to keep up with her.
"Where's the fun in that?" River yelled back. She yanked him to a stop as the beast slowed above them, setting its hind legs down on the ground and leaning its head back to—
The Doctor yelled again as River pulled him away from the plume of fire and around the dragon's legs. Then she let go of him and grabbed onto its tail.
"You can't be serious!" the Doctor declared.
"Don't be such a baby!" she said, reaching out to pull him up behind her.
The dragon clearly did not like having its intended victims hitching a ride on its tail because it began thrashing about in an effort to shake them loose. The Doctor hung on for dear life and River—
River was shimmying along the dragon's tail to its back.
"River! You're insane!"
She looked back and winked, then leapt onto the dragon's neck, where she grabbed hold of its ears and…
The Doctor watched, mouth agape, as she managed to convince the dragon to fly them towards the castle. He could make out the guards on the battlements now, pointing and gesticulating excitedly at the woman riding the dragon.
River Song: Dragon Rider, the Doctor thought. Why was he surprised? How was it that she continued to surprise him so?
And then she went and did it again a moment later when she jumped off the dragon's back and onto the castle roof.
"River!" the Doctor cried, horrified. "Don't leave me here!"
She shot him an exasperated look over her shoulder as she picked her way across the tiles and down to the battlements. Then the dragon circled down to the other side of the castle and he lost sight of her.
"River!" he cried again, to no avail. He tightened his hold on the dragon's tail – its scales really did not offer much grip and his stomach turned just a little at the thought of even attempting the stunt that River had just pulled. Instead he held tight as the giant reptile swooped and turned above the moat, hoping very much that River had some kind of plan to rescue him.
He needn't have worried.
The dragon completed its circuit of the castle and he saw, silhouetted against the sky, a skirted figure carrying two swords leaping off the battlements and diving down towards it.
There was only one person that could possibly be, the Doctor thought affectionately.
She came down hard, driving the point of one sword into the dragon's back until it was embedded to the hilt, to which she clung tightly as her momentum pulled her around. The creature screamed and thrashed, losing height fast, and the Doctor held on tight as it fell headlong into the moat with a tremendous, muddy splash.
The dragon's tail still thrashed and twitched in its death throes, and when the Doctor finally judged it safe to let go he found River standing over him, sheathing her second sword in a scabbard fastened above her decidedly muddy skirts.
"I think you can get up now, sweetie," she said, offering him a hand.
"You killed your pet," he said dazedly as she pulled him to his feet.
"Oh well." She shrugged. "Like you said, it never would have fit through the door."
They were welcomed into the castle as great heroes. Well, River was anyway, and he was allowed to tag along. A great feast was put on for them, though of course none of the food was real.
"It's really odd," River commented. "It has texture, but no taste."
"Would the Dragon Slayer prefer a different dish?" enquired the lord of the castle politely.
"Oh no," said River. "Thank you, I'm quite full with your splendid food. However," she continued with a grin, "What I would really like is a tour of your dungeons."
The man – a Duke or a Baron or something – was a little taken aback by this request. "The dungeons, my lady?"
"Yes. My favourite part of any castle, Baron" she said with relish.
To his credit, the man only hesitated for a moment. "Of course. I will show them to the Dragon Slayer personally."
"Dragon Slayer," River murmured as she stood. "I like it."
"You would," the Doctor murmured back.
They were led down some narrow stone steps to a ring of cells overlooking the moat through barred windows. Only one of these was occupied.
"A stable boy caught thieving," the Baron explained dismissively, urging them down another flight of steps.
Another ring of cells much like the first presented itself to them here, though these had no windows, the outside walls being underwater. Again, one cell was occupied.
"My cousin," said the Baron, squinting through the cell door's little grate. "Tried to kill me."
"How unfortunate," River said.
The Baron shrugged. "Such things happen, my lady. Was there anything else you wanted to see? Our dungeons are not as extensive as some."
"No, thank you my lord. My only request would be for us to be left alone here for a while."
The Baron stared.
River cleared her throat.
"Right!" the man said. "Of course, my lady. Whatever you desire." He shot a nervous glance at the Doctor and scampered off back up the stairs.
River broke into laughter as soon as he was out of earshot. "Oh, I wonder what he's thinking," she said, eyes twinkling.
"Probably something very much along the lines of what you're thinking, if I'm any judge," said the Doctor, stepping closer to her.
River leaned back against the wall. "And what might that be?"
"You're thinking," he said, bringing his mouth closer to her ear, "that we're surrounded by chains and shackles and other interesting… equipment, and we're all alone." He paused. "Well, except for the Baron's cousin."
"Oh, I'm sure he'd enjoy the entertainment."
"Not half as much as you," the Doctor said, scraping across her earlobe with his teeth.
"Probably not," River conceded.
The Doctor stepped back. "Pity we need to go and find that computer core, isn't it?" he said, producing his screwdriver.
"Doctor," River protested. "We're not in a hurry."
"Aren't we? I'm fairly certain that someone is going to notice that there's a dead dragon on top of what is hopefully the entrance to their top-secret facility."
"You're such a tease," she said.
"I don't know what you're talking about. Ooh, what's this?" he said, reaching out to pull a loose paving stone from the floor.
"I hate you," River muttered, kneeling down beside him.
"No, you don't."
They pulled aside more stones, revealing a metal grid keeping them in place, and underneath that a vertical shaft about a metre wide.
"Well," said the Doctor. "I wonder what's down there."
"Go on, then." River grinned, her hatred for him apparently forgotten. "Let's find out."
The Doctor climbed in first, bracing his back against the side of the shaft and supporting himself with his feet. He shimmied down a few feet and River climbed in after.
"Are you looking up my skirts?" she enquired. "Because that would be most un-gentlemanly."
"No!" he protested. "Besides, it's too dark to see anything."
"You dirty old man," she said affectionately.
"How long do you think this thing is?" he asked, trying and failing to see anything in the gloomy depth below him.
"It's more than long enough, sweetie, don't worry."
"And you call me the dirty one," he muttered. "You know perfectly well I meant the shaft."
"Is that what we're calling it now?" she said, descending farther.
"Stop that," he said, gingerly climbing downwards.
"Oh, you know you love it."
They descended in silence for a while, the only sounds made by their small shuffling motions and their controlled, concentrated breathing. Pretty soon the last of the light faded and they were climbing in complete darkness.
"Perhaps it just goes on forever," River commented, her voice echoing down around him. "Or perhaps we'll climb right through the world and find ourselves in another dungeon on the other side."
"That's impossible. We would die of starvation first. Or we would fall asleep and plummet to our deaths."
"You know," River said pensively. "I'm not sure it would kill us to just let ourselves fall."
The Doctor stopped. "What do you mean?" he asked, as River climbed down to brace herself beside him.
"Well," she said. "Why would they have this shaft here in the first place if it's not meant to be used as a way down from the surface, or a way back up to it? That's probably its very purpose. In which case, it wouldn't make much sense for whoever uses it to die if they happen to lose their footing."
"River…" the Doctor said uneasily.
He felt her squeeze his hand, her lips brush against his so that he could feel her grin.
"See you down there, sweetie," she said, and let go.
"River!" the Doctor cried, fumbling for his screwdriver to illuminate the sight of her falling beneath him, grin still firmly in place as she plummeted and… slowed.
"Sweetie?" Her voice echoed up to him. "It's alright, I'm still ali—"
She disappeared from sight.
"River?" he called uncertainly.
There was no reply.
The Doctor jumped.
The bottom of the shaft was, as it turned out, not very far.
Neither was the containment cell next door.
“I seem to be in prison again,” River remarked. “And I’m not sure if it’s your fault or mine.”
“I’m not sure that you can technically call it a prison if it’s just one cell,” the Doctor replied.
They were sat on the bunk which was the only furniture in the small space, a tiny room bounded by four walls and a heavy-looking door.
“It feels like a prison to me. Trust me, I have experience in such things.”
The Doctor paused. “I could probably sonic the lock.”
As it turned out, this was not necessary. A man in a suit strode through the door, followed by two others who were slightly less well-attired but much better-armed.
“Good afternoon,” said the one in the suit. “I’m Mr Fothergill. And you seem to have broken into my facility.”
“Yes,” confessed the Doctor, standing. “Terribly sorry about that, won’t happen again. We’ll just be on our way.”
“I don’t think so,” Fothergill replied confidently. “I think first of all you’re going to explain to me exactly what you’re doing here.”
His guards raised their guns menacingly.
“Oi!” the Doctor protested. “None of that, if you please. Besides which I’ll have you know my wife has a swor— Oh.” He hesitated, turning to face her.
“Not anymore, sweetie,” she confirmed. “Hologram, remember?”
“Right,” the Doctor said, slightly deflated.
“As I was saying,” said Fothergill. “I would very much like to know why you’re here. We’ve had a lot of your sort lately, mostly looking to sell our technology on the black market. But I’m sure that wasn’t your intention,” he said, the implication clearly being that he thought that was exactly their intention. “What’s got me really curious, though, is that neither of you appears to have paid an entry fee and arrived on the planet by official channels. Considering the official channels are the only channels, that’s quite remarkable.”
“Well...” The Doctor licked his lips, shooting a glance at River. She inclined her head ever so slightly. “My ship,” he continued, looking back at Fothergill. “It’s very advanced. Doesn’t need to use official channels – or any channels, really. As for why we’re here... it’s to save my wife’s life.”
There was an imperceptible flicker in Fothergill’s eyes. “How could you possibly need our technology for that?”
“We need a double,” the Doctor explained, wondering how best to avoid the timey-wimeyness of the full story. “Certain people need to see her die, but she needs to be... not dead.”
Fothergill’s eyes narrowed. “You seek to avoid execution, is that it?”
“Yes,” said River before the Doctor could reply. “Something like that.”
“For a crime she didn’t commit!” the Doctor declared, on somewhat firmer ground now. “They think she killed me, but she didn’t, because here I am!”
“Surely you would only need to show these people that to stay their hand?”
“If only it were that simple, Mr Fothergill.” He sat back down next to River, taking her hand in his and trying to look pitiable. “Alas, that is not the case. If you can’t help us, she will die.”
Fothergill was silent for a long moment, carefully sizing them up. Then he sighed. "I lost my own wife a few months ago,” he told them. “I would have done anything to save her. Perhaps the least I can do is to help save yours." He nodded at them. “I watched you slay that dragon, you know,” he said to River. “That was... quite impressive.”
River grinned. “Thank you. And thank you for your help.”
“Don’t mention it.” He winked. “To my bosses, I mean.”
They made River stand in a complicated-looking scanner so that they could replicate her appearance as closely as possible – right down to the internal organs, the technicians declared proudly. They instructed the Doctor on how to add the details of the spacesuit at a later date, and River got the hang of the motion programming with characteristic ease. He left her flirting with the head programmer while he went to fetch the TARDIS, then bundled her and their newly-gifted technology through the doors as quickly as possible, with a promise to return the hardware once it had been successfully implemented.
“Well,” River declared. “That was easy. Though you did promise me crime, Doctor, and now we’ve gone and got it all legally.”
“I’m not sure it was legal for Fothergill to help us out like that without informing his superiors,” the Doctor countered, pulling the lever to send them back into the time vortex. “Though admittedly we weren’t the ones committing that particular crime. But we never did pay our entry fee.”
“Skipping out on an entry fee,” River said, removing her medieval headdress and shaking her hair free. “We’re so bad.”
“Come on,” the Doctor said. “We had fun. You slew a dragon!”
“And you were mercilessly mean in that dungeon,” she pointed out, poking him in the chest. “I’ve got half a mind to think up some sort of revenge, you know."
"I look forward to it."
"Oh, you really shouldn't." She pecked him on the lips. "Now, I'm going to change, and then I'm going to play around with the hologram." She leaned forward to whisper in his ear. "And you're not invited."
He tinkered around with the hologram while she was gone, trying to work out how to add the spacesuit. The TARDIS produced an image of it readily enough; it was just a question of transferring that image on to the River-image. He easily managed to get her out of her medieval damsel costume – almost as if that function were designed to be particularly user-friendly. But then he couldn't get her in the spacesuit or back in the costume, and he was fairly sure that the real River was going to reappear any moment n—
"What are you doing, sweetie?" came her amused voice from the top of the stairs.
"Nothing!" He quickly jumped in front of the naked hologram, trying to hide her from the original's view.
"Rule one, Doctor." River bounded down the stairs and pushed him aside. "My, my," she said, admiring herself. "I can see why you want to save me."
She reached out to touch herself. "Ooh, very realistic."
"River, I wasn't—"
"Oh, but think of the possibilities." She reached for the hologram's controls and the Doctor found himself being caressed by a collection of photons and force fields that felt disturbingly like her fingers.
"River, this is really quite creepy," he protested, backing away.
"You really need to learn to be less uptight," River said, stepping in to take his place as the object of the hologram's affections.
The Doctor covered his eyes. "Right. I'll just. I'll go and build some cabinets or something."
"I don't think so, sweetie," she said, suddenly behind him, and the Doctor felt something cold and metal close around his wrist.
"What are you doing?" he squeaked, as she handcuffed him to the railing.
"I did warn you, Doctor," she said, wandering back to where the hologram was standing waiting for her. "This is my revenge."
She grinned, and kissed herself.
When the Doctor had finally recovered – and it took a while, especially with River being so smug about it – they began to assemble their various bits of technology so they would work together as a coherent whole.
Everything needed to be triggered when River connected the wires. Her vortex manipulator needed to activate, transporting her safely forward in time to a point where his younger incarnation had left. The hologram needed to activate instantly to mask the telltale flash of light with one bigger and brighter, and to give the impression of her body in the chair for a few seconds longer. At the same time the transmitter needed to connect CAL to the memory lodged in the hard drive they were now building.
"Pass the screwdriver, dear," River said from somewhere underneath the pile of circuitry which would eventually, hopefully become a large chunk of empty digital memory.
"How's it going?" the Doctor asked, handing it to her through a gap in the mess of wires.
"Tediously," she replied. "But I think we're getting there."
"Good." The Doctor looked at the schematics again and connected some bits to some other bits.
They worked in silence for a long time, passing the screwdriver and schematics back and forth, occasionally ducking out of each other's way when they shifted positions. The Doctor crawled down into the small space beside River and they lay side by side, weaving together the tapestry of electronics above their heads.
Then the Doctor dropped his screwdriver on River's nose.
"Ow!" she complained. "Doctor!"
"Sorry, sorry," he said. "Not on purpose!"
"Liar," she said, throwing the screwdriver back at him. He tried in vain to catch it and it clattered across the floor somewhere behind him.
"You," he said, wagging his finger at her. "You'd better go and get that."
"Or what?" River replied mischievously.
"Or…" the Doctor threatened. "Or I'll drop more things on you."
"Like myself," he said, grabbing her shoulders and rolling over to pin her body with his.
River laughed. "I can hardly get your screwdriver now, can I?" She looked him up and down, a grin playing on her lips. "You've got me quite trapped, my love."
"Are you complaining?"
"No," she confessed, and wrapped her arms around his neck.
"Good," he said, and kissed her.
She pulled him closer, grabbing firmly at the back of his jacket, and he felt the familiar rush of excitement as she shifted underneath him. He kissed his way across her cheekbone to the hollow under her ear, and paused. His brain was kicking in at a most inopportune moment, pointing out to him all the thoughts in his head which were just a little bit terrible. Thoughts like, we're lying under my wife's life-support system.
River raised a hand to cup the back of his head. "What is it, sweetie?"
He sighed quietly, pressing his cheek against hers. "I don't want to lose you," he admitted. Somehow it was easier to say when he wasn't looking at her.
"You won't, my love," she whispered back, and he felt her lips press against his temple. "That's what all this is in aid of."
"It might not work."
"It better do, after all the time and effort we've put into it. I could've spent that time doing other things, you know." She slipped a hand under his jacket and began to untuck his shirt from his trousers.
"I love you," she whispered, and put a finger to his lips. "Now hush."
He opened his mouth then to nibble at her finger and she laughed, a cascading reverberation that echoed over their heads. They kissed again more urgently, all rough tongues and sharp teeth, and River pushed his jacket off and threw it across the floor after the screwdriver. He ran his thumbs along the sides of her breasts as she unclipped his braces, using her legs and feet to help push his trousers off after his shoes. Hers she kicked off easily, and she wrapped her legs around his waist, her arms across his back pulling him so close he wondered how she could breathe.
Perhaps she couldn't, because she was gasping as she looked up at him, raising her lips to his for a surprisingly tender kiss. He ground against her and she grinned, bucking her hips underneath him.
"You," he told her, "Are still wearing far too many clothes."
"Then you'd better take them off, sweetie. My movement is still rather restricted down here. Not that I mind."
He obliged, rolling off her briefly so that he could divest her of her dress and underwear, and finished undressing himself while he was at it. He shoved the clothes into a corner as River watched and raised her arms above her head, stretching herself out like a smug cat. The Doctor lay down beside her and reached out to touch her again, tracing slow lines down her arm and across the curve of her hip. She mumbled something incoherent and reached for him, pulling him back on top of her with a satisfied little sigh.
He kissed her again, little licks and nibbles against her lips and down to her collarbone. There was a growing ache in his groin and his chest and his hearts, and he could tell by the way she pushed against him that she was getting impatient, but he needed to take his time, to savour the moment, just in case all their work went up in flames and they wouldn't have another.
He kissed his way across her chest, running fingers over the skin of her breasts, pinching her nipples gently before moving his hands and lips up and away again, grinning against her as she groaned.
"Doctor," she complained, grabbing his arms and trying to pull him back where she wanted him.
"Patience," he whispered, taking a nipple gently between his teeth and delighting at the way it made her gasp, the way it always made her gasp, the way he knew that it always made her gasp.
"I hate you," she muttered.
"No you don't," he countered, finally moving back up her body, tugging gently at her mouth with his as he pushed himself inside her.
"No," she confessed, closing her eyes. "I don't."
He moved slowly at first, keeping his lips on hers, trying to press his whole body against her, as if she would be safe if only he could keep her this close forever. She sighed against him and he wondered how he was ever going to let her go again, how he could let her step out of the TARDIS doors when he knew where it was that she was going.
But he had done all he could. It really was up to fate now, River's life in the hands of the universe's whims. Somehow that made him angry; she should be in his hands, his arms, his soul, always, and nobody and nothing should have the kind of power that could take her from him against her will.
River moaned against his mouth and he found he was moving faster, harder, his desperation bubbling over into his actions and suddenly it was all he could do not to cry, to beg her to stay here forever, time and paradoxes and all the rules be damned as long as things could be like this always; and she could not die because she was a part of him and he would not allow it.
She must have sensed something of what was going through his mind because she put a hand to the back of his head and pulled him down to rest his cheek against her neck, running her hands through his hair and holding him close, and he burrowed into her as far as he could, his skin pressed to hers and his face buried in her hair. He felt and heard her breath catch then, and she cried out and he did too, squeezing his eyes shut and pushing himself still harder against her as he emptied out inside her.
River sighed, turning her head, and the Doctor rolled off her and recaptured her legs and arms and lips possessively, not quite trusting himself to speak.
"We'll be okay, my love," River whispered, and he willed himself to believe her.
They finished the hard drive, programmed the hologram and configured the transmitter to do exactly what they were supposed to do, testing them multiple times. There was just one more thing to be checked.
"We need to test the neural relay," the Doctor said. "We have to make sure it'll retain your data ghost when you transport out."
“How do you want to do that?” River asked, pulling the screwdriver from his pocket and scrutinising the relay.
“Well, it’ll synch to the one on your suit,” he explained. “So we need your suit. Have you got it yet?”
“It’s in a crate in my junk room, yes,” River affirmed. "Need to get it fitted before I leave. I hate those things, you know," she continued vehemently, putting his screwdriver back in his pocket, giving it a little pat. "I’d really rather not die in one. It feels too much like destiny.”
“You won’t,” the Doctor promised. “But you will need to wear it for a few minutes while we do the check.” He walked over to the controls, inputting the coordinates.
“I suppose I can put up with one if it will prevent the other,” River said, heading for the doors. She waited for the TARDIS to still and opened them. “Ah, home sweet home. Though I don’t think it’s the same day it was when we left – there’s snow on the ground.”
“Snow?” the Doctor asked excitedly, rushing to join her. “Ooh. Do you think it’s Christmas?”
“If it is, I’ll have missed the expedition by a good two weeks,” River remarked, stepping out into the cold. “Assuming this is even the right year.”
“You’re so rude,” the Doctor complained, following her to the door.
“Just being realistic, sweetie,” she said as she stepped into the house.
River turned on the news as she walked through the living room, and the Doctor was relieved to see that it was the correct year and still more than two weeks from Christmas. River went into the junk room and reappeared holding a medium-sized white crate, which she set down on the floor in front of him.
She unfastened the lid and pulled it off, and for some reason the Doctor hadn't been expecting that seeing that suit again would provoke an emotional reaction, which was stupid, in retrospect. He watched River kick off her shoes and don the suit, the boots, the gloves. The helmet she left in the crate, then she punched a command into the suit's controls and the neural relay lit up, four bars all bright green.
"You've gone all quiet, sweetie," she remarked.
"Yes." It's like seeing a ghost,, he didn't say.
She watched him for a moment, put a gloved hand on his arm. "Let's get this over with," she said finally.
"Yes. Let's," he agreed, and led the way back to the TARIDS.
Once they were inside, River strapped her vortex manipulator to her arm while the Doctor produced his screwdriver, keying its neural relay to connect to the one in the suit.
"Ready?" she asked.
"Ready," he confirmed.
She was gone in a flash and the Doctor was suddenly alone. He sat heavily in the jump seat, turning the screwdriver over in his hands. The memory of the last time he had held a screwdriver containing River's data ghost, of his desperate dash to plug her into the computer, was making him restless, making his feet tap and his mind insist that he should be running, that it was not right for him to be just sitting here waiting for the glowing bars to go away. He did his best to ignore it.
River, sans suit once again, walked back into the TARDIS just as the first bar on the relay winked out. She knelt next to his seat and looked at the screwdriver.
"Strange," she said. "To think that there's a copy of me in there."
"I could save her," the Doctor said quickly, though he knew what River's answer to that would be. "Upload her somewh—"
"No. Bad enough it has to happen to even one version of me. Let her die."
Another bar flickered and winked out.
"I'm sorry I ever did it in the first place,” he confessed. “If I had known you like I do now…"
"But you didn't.” She put a hand on his knee. “It's alright. I'm not angry. And I understand why you have to put the relay in the screwdriver. Timey-wimey rules."
"We are breaking a lot of the rules already."
"I'm not sure you can break this one, sweetie. Perhaps best not to try. Digital me will understand."
"I hope you're right."
"Of course I'm right. Don't be daft."
There was only one bar left on the relay now. River reached for his hand, intertwining her fingers with his. They watched in silence for a long moment until the last bar too flickered and died.
The Doctor swallowed, and River got to her feet to plant a kiss on his forehead.
"Well, my love. It works."
"Yes," the Doctor whispered. "Good."
They curled up together in front of her fireplace, feasting on hot chocolate and mince pies. Then River very firmly and deliberately made him put his shoes and jacket back on and pushed him out the door.
"What are you doing?" he demanded, noticing that her feet were still bare, that she clearly had no intention of joining him outside.
"I'm kicking you out," she told him.
"You can't do that!"
"Yes I can. I can't have you hovering around here with nothing to do while I prepare for this expedition. You'd mope. Or worse, talk to my neighbours again."
"Hey," he protested, "That was a misunderstanding. I didn't know they weren't human!"
"I'll see you in the Library, sweetie," River told him. "I must say, I'm rather looking forward to meeting Doctor number ten."
"I wouldn't if I were you. Like I told you, I was rather… rude."
"And you're never rude to me now, of course."
"Well no, not on purpose. Not usually, anyway." He paused. "Not unless you want me to be."
River laughed and patted his cheek affectionately. "I love you, sweetie."
"I love you too."
"I know. You remember that, whatever happens," she told him, suddenly serious.
He looked at her, his wonderful, amazing, infuriating, incredible wife. "I will," he promised.
"Good. Now," she said, pushing him in the direction of the TARDIS. "Go." And she closed the door in his face.
"Right," he whispered, and did as he was told.
The Library was, of course, exactly as he remembered it. He parked the TARDIS in a corner which would give him a good view on the scanner of both River and his handcuffed younger self, cloaked her, and waited.
It did not take long.
River dragged his unconscious tenth self into view, restraining him quickly but efficiently. The Doctor grabbed the transmitter and other hardware and struggled briefly to open the TARDIS doors with his hands full, then stumbled out into the room.
River looked up. "Hello sweetie," she said breathlessly, rushing to meet him. She kissed him, hard, almost causing him to drop everything, then took half his load and ran to the chair, immediately setting to work.
"How's it going?" he asked, dropping to his knees beside her and beginning to hook up the transmitter.
"Not bad, considering all my friends have been eaten and there's this really irritating Timelord trying to boss me around." She plugged in the holographic generator, drumming her fingers on the casing as she waited for it to boot up.
"I did warn you."
River laughed. "Yes, my love, you did. Hand me the screwdriver."
The Doctor went to retrieve it from where she had stashed it on top of her diary with another, older version. "Hello!" he declared fondly, picking it up. "I remember this!"
"It's rubbish, sweetie," River said. "Give me the new one."
"What? Oh, alright," he grumbled, picking up the current screwdriver instead.
Then he stood, tripped on a wire, and dropped it.
River picked it up, looking at it worriedly. She prised off the cover that concealed the neural relay. "Doctor," she said. "I think you broke it."
"What? No, that's impossible! My screwdriver is made of studier stuff than that!"
"But the relay isn't." She held it up for him to see. Where four green bars should have been lit up, there were four dead ones.
The Doctor swallowed. "Oh dear."
A noise behind him made him look around. His past self seemed to be coming round already.
"Oh dear," the Doctor said again.
"Doctor," River said urgently. "He can't wake up with you here. Punch him again."
"What!" The Doctor was horrified. "I can't punch him! I mean, besides the moral question there is also the question of whether or not time will explode if I touch myself!"
"That's not what usually explodes when you touch yourself."
She laughed, and tossed him a glove from her suit. "Put this on. And make sure you hit him hard enough!"
He was about to protest but his younger self groaned and he saw his eyes flutter. Grumbling, he donned the glove, quickly calculated the optimal angle and force of the blow, and punched himself in the face.
His younger self fell back, hanging limply from his handcuffed wrist. "That really hurt, I'll have you know," the Doctor told River.
"You survived," she remarked. "Now quick, Doctor, what do we do about the relay? Can we salvage the one from Anita's suit to replace it?"
"No, that would take too long…" the Doctor looked around the room, and his eye fell again on his old screwdriver. "I wonder…" he said, picking it up.
"Give me that," he demanded, and River handed him the broken screwdriver. He thumbed at the settings on the older one, then sonicked the neural relay in the newer one.
Instantly, the green bars lit up again.
"Ha!" he declared triumphantly. "See? Not rubbish."
"Alright, I'll give you that one," River conceded. "Now put them back on the diary and go. I can finish up here."
"Are you sure?" He didn't want to go, he found. Not yet. Not until the last possible instant.
"Yes," she insisted. "When he wakes up again you need to be gone."
Still he hesitated.
"Oh, sweetie." River sighed, then stood and crossed the short distance between them. "I'm going to be fine. I'll just have a nice little chat with past you – and I do feel a bit sorry for him, to be honest – and then we can be off on our next adventure." She grinned. "How about the Last Labyrinth of Toscos IV? I hear they've got all kinds of monsters in there."
"Last Labyrinth," he repeated. "Right. Okay. Let's do that!" He almost managed a smile, but somehow it turned into a desperate kiss half-way through.
"Sweetie," River said, when he finally let her go. "If you don’t leave now I think you're going to have to punch yourself again."
The Doctor looked around – sure enough, his younger self was stirring. "Right," he said. "Alright. See you later." He nodded at her, then made his way back to the TARDIS, looking back when he was halfway there to—
"Ow!" he muttered, rubbing the side of his head where it had hit the invisible door.
River was grinning. "Bye, sweetie!" she said with a wave.
"Bye," he muttered, pushing the door open.
He went and sat in the jump seat, telling himself he didn't need to look at the scanner because when enough time had passed and he had reached the point in the future that River would transport herself to, she would just step inside. No more action required on his part whatsoever.
…He really hated it when actions weren't required.
Still, he sat in the jump seat for several minutes, fidgeting, crossing and uncrossing his arms and legs, seeing how long he could sit on his hands before they went numb, quality entertainment, really…
And then he gave in and looked at the scanner.
There he was, and there she was, somehow managing to be beautiful in a huge white suit and crying. Why was she crying? She shouldn't be crying, there was no reason to cry, she was going to be fine, she wasn't going to die, she would be just fine…
But that flash of energy when the countdown ended did look just as it had the first time.
Well of course it did, that was the intention after all, that everything seem exactly the same, that was the whole point.
His younger self was there for a long time before Donna found him – Donna, Donna, couldn't he just step outside for a moment to say hello to Donna? Because this Donna, this amazing Donna who had travelled with him for such a short time and who right now still remembered, he wasn't likely to meet her again, and that hurt. But he couldn't work out how to do it without being noticed, so he had to sit there and watch her leave with him.
After that the room was empty for a long time, but he knew what was coming, and oh yes, there he was, so desperate, so thrilled that he could save her – in a way he was jealous of himself, thinking this was such a good idea. Eternal life, right, somewhere she would always be safe?
Such a pity that River hated 'safe'.
His younger self left again, and again the room was empty for a long time. River should appear any moment now, he thought, she wouldn't have gone too far into the future after all – the Vashta Nerada had only promised a day.
So he waited.
And waited some more.
Three hours, now.
He was tempted to jump forward in time himself, to the end of that allotted day. After all, if he wasn't here River would surely wait for him, right?
Only he wasn't so sure.
He wasn't so sure – and he hated to admit it to himself, because he had been so very clever in fixing it all – but he wasn't completely, one hundred percent sure that she wasn't dead. Because if she wasn't dead then where was she??
In the future, he told himself. I just need to wait a bit longer.
Waiting. He could do waiting. The Pandorica, that had been lots of waiting, and Rory had managed that alright. This wasn't nearly as bad, right?
An hour later he decided that yes, it was definitely just as bad. If not worse.
Where was she?
The Doctor was not used to waiting – he tended to skip those bits. He had a time machine, after all.
He needed a distraction, he decided. Something to keep his mind off this endless, tortuous waiting.
So he rearranged the rooms in the TARDIS, putting them all in alphabetical order from the corridor at the top of the stairs to the one at the bottom. This put the bedrooms quite close – River would be pleased about that, if she ever turned up – but the kitchen and swimming pool were somewhere in the middle, and he wasn't quite sure he liked having the zoo so close to the control room – he thought he could smell the pigs.
The TARDIS door opened behind him.
"Hello, sweetie," said the most beautiful voice in the universe, and he spun around and almost fell down the stairs in his haste to pull River into his arms and never, ever let her go again.
"Alright, my love," she laughed, though he noticed that she was hugging him back just as hard. Still, he let her go eventually. "That was… almost fun, actually," she said, stepping away from him to divest herself of her space suit. She was not, he noticed, wearing very much underneath.
"Speak for yourself," he told her.
"Oh, I usually do. Now," she said, picking up the suit. "Can we stop by some really hot star and throw this in? Because I never, ever want to see it again."
"Yes!" the Doctor agreed enthusiastically, bounding back up the stairs to get them underway. "Me neither. Very hot star, coming right up."
They arrived within moments and River opened the doors, heaving the suit out into space. He joined her in the doorway to watch it slowly fall into the burning gas.
"What took you so long?" he asked, taking her hand.
"Well, I wanted to leave a margin for error. I wasn't sure the vortex manipulator wouldn't be affected by all the other signals rushing around, so I set it to jump a bit further. Why, were you worried?" She leaned into him, resting her back against his chest.
"Me? Worried? Nah. Why would I be worried?" he lied happily, and kissed her temple.
“You do realise, sweetie," she said, "that I will have to die someday? You too, for that matter.”
“Well, yes. But somehow I think we’ve got an awful lot of running left to do before we get there.”
River smiled. “My love, I do believe you could be right.”
So they went to Toscos IV, to see the Last Labyrinth and find some monsters.