"And that," Jeff concluded grandly, slinging an arm over the alien next to him, "is why we should value friendship more than mineral mining claims. Am I right, Snordvark? Can I call you Snordvark? I feel like we've reached that point in our relationship."
The Doctor put a hand over his eyes, and Snordvark von Hippengot, the third Intra-Earl of Hyperdimensional Venice, dripped gloppily on the floor from his second chin. A tense silence followed.
"I think," said the Doctor hastily, "what my associate here is trying to say is..."
A rumble started deep inside the Intra-Earl's fleshy chest, finally emerging as a low set of syllables that the TARDIS helpfully translated as somewhere between "Get them!" and "Eat them!"
"...Run!" the Doctor finished gleefully, and grabbed Jeff's hand to tow him to the nearby exit as the soldiers behind them raised their spears. "And next time, Jeffrey Winger, leave the speeches to me. I'm a professional. Well, an enthusiastic amateur, at least. Well, I dabble. I'm a professional dabbler."
Jeff dodged a thrown spear and skidded around the corner. "I'm a professional! I'll have you know that on Earth, I was a lawyer!"
The Doctor ducked beneath an air vent to a storage pod. "In here," he hissed, and flattened himself again the wall as the guards ran by, boots clicking on the metal floor, in single file. "Every time," the Doctor whispered, peering after the retreating guards and shaking his head a little. "Not sure where they all learn to run in a herd like that. And you!" He whirled on Jeff. "You can't just go around announcing things like that. Do you want to get us killed? Being a lawyer is a crime punishable by death in a dozen major solar systems."
"Me? You're the one who got us found behind the control panel because you couldn't contain your delight over the type of wiring they were using!"
The Doctor twitched his nose. "Let's not play the blame game here." He gazed firmly off into the distance for a moment before breaking into a blinding smile. "It really was brilliant though, wasn't it? I mean, just top-notch work."
"If you boys are done chatting," came Britta's voice coolly from above them, "I think it might be time to get the hell out of Dodge."
A screw clattered to the floor in front of them, and a grate swung open in the ceiling. Abed's head dropped down out of the ceiling wearing a hard hat with a miner's light and a strap under his chin. Britta's upside-down head followed a few seconds later. "Troy's holding a maintenance skipper on the other side of this for us, so we've got to hurry. Come on, pull yourself up."
"Troy's piloting a space ship?" asked the Doctor, jumping up to grab the edge of the ceiling vent and flip himself up.
"Yes," said Abed seriously, while at the same time Britta answered, "Kind of."
"That's inspiring," muttered Jeff, pulling himself up into the ventilation shaft as well.
"Kind of?" repeated Britta, while Abed again stated, "Yes."
"You know, I always liked Dodge," said the Doctor absently, crawling through the tunnel ahead of them. "Really doesn't deserve the reputation."
"We should go. To Dodge," said Jeff casually.
"Jeff has a cowboy outfit," Britta whispered to the Doctor.
"Abed has a Batman costume!".
The Doctor nodded. "I can see that."
"Thank you," said Abed.
After a few more minutes of awkward crawling, they reached the end of the metal ventilation shaft and emerged into the belly of a small spaceship. The ship bobbed gently up and down and was stuffed with various tools and odds and ends. Troy spun around in the captain's chair, eyes bright and his hands on the half-moon steering wheel for the ship.
"Pedal to the metal, T-Bone," said Britta, already strapping herself into the sidewall with a full-body belt. "I recommend you all buckle up," she added in a low whisper.
"Here we go!" exclaimed Troy, and slammed his finger into a large, ominously red button next to the steering wheel.
"Annie and Pierce... are going to meet us... at the rendezvous point at Alpha Natholite," Britta continued through gritted teeth as the g-force compressed the room. The Doctor bared his teeth against the pressure.
"Where's Shirley?" gasped Jeff.
"Oh," said Troy painfully from the cockpit where he was attempting to steer in defiance of all the rules of physics, "forgot... to tell... Shirley..."
A panel at their feet flew open, the force pulling the door backward on its hinges, and an arm holding a wrench slowly pulled itself out. "Troy," Shirley said in a low voice, a streak of grease high on her cheekbone and her hair pulled back in a torn scrap of fabric, "I am going to... kill you, boy."
"Left, left... turn left!" the Doctor barked, and Troy jerked the wheel around, narrowly avoiding a small pleasure cruiser.
"Doesn't this thing have... a lower speed?" asked Jeff, feeling as if the words were being torn from his mouth.
"Don't know," said Troy, reaching down to pull back on a lever near his feet, then reaching for a smaller, black button near the steering wheel. "Everybody... hold on..."
Britta rolled her eyes, pinned against the wall, and Troy pushed the button for the brake down, the jets powering off in an instant and throwing everyone forward. The ship's rear swung forward with the momentum change, slowing the vessel, and bringing the whole ship into the docking port in a graceful sideways roll. The maintenance skipper hit the boarding bumpers with a soft thump, and the ship rocked once and settled into its dock.
"Unorthodox," said the Doctor after a moment, starting to unbuckle himself, "but effective."
"Lord have mercy," said Shirley shakily, pulling herself up into the main section of the spaceship. She was clad in orange maintenance overalls and still holding the wrench in a death grip.
The door to the main station clicked and hissed and opened to reveal Annie in a large hoop skirt and summer hat, twisting her hands, and Pierce in a general's uniform with an eyepatch over his left eye. "Oh, thank goodness," Annie said, throwing a nervous glance back over her shoulder. "Look, we can get you out of here, but you'll need to put on disguises. Quick, before the guards gets here." She tossed a large duffel bag down on the ground.
Britta pulled out a red dress with bare shoulders and a flouncy, ruffled skirt and eyed it skeptically. "It's all a little Gone With The Wind, isn't it?"
The Doctor swung around from the duffel bag, a monocle in his left eye but otherwise dressed the same. "Doctor," Annie said, "aren't you going to change?"
The Doctor glanced down at his pinstriped brown suit, tie, and canvas sneakers, and looked puzzled. "What's wrong with what I'm wearing?"
"Come on," Jeff said, now wearing a large black overcoat and straightening an ascot. "Let's get a move on."
Abed and Troy had changed into matching soldier's uniforms, with gold braid on the shoulders and gun holsters around their hips. "Sweet flying," said Abed, nodding towards the captain's chair.
Troy grinned at him, and they slapped each other hands.
"The Doctor took Pierce to an alien cocktail party?"
Shirley sat down hard. "Oh, Lord."
"Did the Doctor want to start an intergalactic war?" Troy asked, his voice rising in panic.
"Now, let's not jump to conclusions here," Jeff said. "After all, this is just Pierce. At a party. With diplomats. Who are alien and command armies with laser death-ray guns and mechanical death bots."
"Doomed," Shirley whispered.
Britta held up her hand. "No, hold on. I agree with Jeff. Pierce could surprise us."
"Mechanical death bots, Britta," Troy repeated. Annie nodded in mute agreement, eyes wide.
"Did somebody say death bots?" asked the Doctor breezily, entering through the kitchen door with Pierce in his wake. Pierce was dressed in a black and white tuxedo with the bowtie loosened, looking oddly distinguished and even handsome.
Britta slumped in relief. "Oh, thank God."
Pierce pulled his untied bowtie out from around his neck and took a seat, propping his feet up on the table confidently, his black dance shoes shining.
"So. Pierce. How was it?" Jeff asked with a pointed glance around the rest of the table.
"Magnificent," said Pierce with warm importance.
"Pierce was quite the matchmaker," the Doctor added, rummaging through the cupboards.
"Do you mean that ironically or sincerely?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Jeffrey," Pierce answered. "This evening I just so happened to facilitate a love match between two lovely young blueish-green people. They also had," Pierce wiggled his fingers underneath his chin, expressively, and gave everybody a darkly meaningful look. "...Dangly bits."
"Made their parents so mad at him, he goaded the two lovebirds into showing up their families and eloping on the spot," continued the Doctor. "Prevented years of bloodshed between the two families. Brilliant bit of work."
Pierce flipped a hand modestly.
"So that was all a plan, huh, Pierce?" asked Britta, narrowing her eyes.
"That's funny," Jeff said, mimicking Britta's tone with uncanny precision. "Because it doesn't sound like a plan."
The Doctor set his cup of tea down and put his feet up on the table as well, his brown suit coat unbuttoned and a bit of hair falling over his forehead. "Oh, it was a plan, all right. I just needed the right man to implement it, so I asked Pierce for his help."
Pierce did a half-bow in his seat, twirling his hand showily at the group.
"Seriously?" asked Troy.
"Yes indeed. "
Troy gaped at the Doctor, and Shirley glanced wildly back and forth between the two men, obviously at a loss for words as well. Britta and Jeff both slouched back in their chairs and adopted identical scowls. Abed looked thoughtful and Annie still looked confused.
"...And you're welcome," concluded Pierce grandly.
Annie sat at the door of the TARDIS with the door flung open, kicking her feet lazily over the edge. Cloudy streaks of green and blue from the nearby nebula wrapped themselves in wisps around pinpoints of massive, burning white stars underneath her bare feet. The Doctor had assured her that the oxygen field extended beyond her reach, so she dragged her feet in space like she was sitting on the dock on a lazy summer afternoon.
The TARDIS was unusually quiet, with muffled voices occasionally reaching her and the sporadic crackle of wires and the banging of metal on metal as the Doctor fiddled with repairs underneath the console.
Jeff and Britta had disappeared after breakfast, equipped with hiking boots, headlamps, and beach towels over their shoulders, in search of the swimming pool (current location: unknown). Shirley was at home with her boys, Troy and Abed were holed up in the library editing the documentary footage Abed had been shooting, and Pierce was trying to decipher the computer interface system of the console input in his room. The Doctor's legs stuck out from underneath the TARDIS behind her, canvas trainers lilting to the side and twitching when a particularly loud clank could be heard. She could hear him muttering occasionally to himself in a language the TARDIS apparently chose not to translate.
Annie kicked up her heels at the nebula, flexing her toes with pleasure, and stars swam beneath her feet.
"Hullo the TARDIS!"
Britta popped her head around the TARDIS console as the Doctor, Annie, Abed, and Shirley stumbled in the front door. Annie was wrapped adoringly around the Doctor, hands fisted in the front of his suit, and Abed had his arm slung over Shirley's shoulders, pulling her in close. The Doctor's hair was rucked up in the back and his glasses were askew, and he looked distinctly harried.
Britta raised an eyebrow, and yelled, "Jeff! You've got to see this!"
"Right," said the Doctor, unhooking Annie from himself with some difficulty and latching her onto Abed like a clamp. "I need to run to the infirmary and grab the antidote. Could you make sure none of them..." The Doctor wiggled his fingers at the floor, looked vaguely uncomfortable, and left the room at a run.
The two women appeared to be treating Abed as a tree they wanted to climb. Britta rolled her eyes, walked over to the trio, and tapped Abed on the shoulder. "Hey, Romeo, you're hogging all the chicks."
"Britta!" Abed exclaimed, pulling himself out of the combined grip of Annie and Shirley to come over and bury his face in her hair. And... yup... he was smelling her hair.
"Oh," she said faintly. "Um..."
"Why are Annie and Shirley making out?" came Jeff's voice from the hallway. Annie and Shirley, having lost the body between them, appeared to be trying to find Abed in each other's mouths.
"Jeff," Britta said, trying to duck her head back from where Abed was attempting to stick his tongue in her ear, "get in here and help me."
Jeff was watching Annie and Shirley with confused fascination. "Did I misplace my invitation to the space orgy?"
"The Doctor said something about an antidote... unhook them before they do something we'll all regret." Britta nodded towards the pair, and then firmly grabbed Abed's hands and moved them to a more appropriate placement. She took a deep breath and yelled, "TROY! We need you!"
Jeff wedged a hand between Annie and Shirley, breaking the seal between them with an audible smack. When Annie noticed Jeff, she squealed and jumped, wrapping her legs around his hips, and started to going to town on his neck. Britta noticed Jeff's hands start to drift dangerously close to returning the embrace.
"Jeff," Britta snapped, and Jeff grimaced heroically, grabbed Annie by the waist, and managed to shift her around so he was giving her a piggy-back ride instead.
Troy skidded into the console room, and Britta towed Abed over to him like a love-struck duckling. "Take Abed," she said, moving Abed's hands over to Troy's waist. "Careful, he's a little handsy."
Troy opened his eyes wide as Abed wrapped himself around him. "What's gotten into Abed?"
"The Doctor's getting an antidote," she said shortly, and went to pull Shirley off of Jeff and Annie. Annie was currently pulling her hand up through Jeff's hair at the base of his neck and licking behind his ears. Jeff was attempting to look distantly stoic about the situation.
"Got it," said the Doctor, reappearing in the console room, holding three hypodermic needles. He plunged one into Shirley's upper right arm; she blinked, realized she had her face buried in Britta's hair, and took an uneven stop backwards. He stuck Annie next, who paused with Jeff's ear caught in her teeth, blushed, and slid slowly off his back.
Abed stepped back from Troy after the Doctor cured him, looked around, and said, matter-of-factly, "You all smell very nice."
Pierce jogged into the room then, wearing a cotton headband with a towel over his shoulder. He was a little out of breath. "I hear there's an alien sex orgy going down. I'm in."
Shirley turned away, blanching, and Annie blushed even more.
"Two minutes too late," said Jeff, trying for casual.
Pierce threw down his towel petulantly. "You guys couldn't have waited for me?"
"So," said Britta briskly, "what was that all about?"
"Sero Votumus," answered the Doctor enthusiastically, unflustered again. "Big, bushy plant with purple and orange flowers. Its defense mechanism is unique in the universe - when threatened, it secretes a compound that incites reproductive urges in those within range. Poof, plant forgotten."
"And it doesn't affect you, Doctor?"
He shrugged modestly. "Superior Time Lord physiology."
Everybody groaned, and somebody threw a balled-up bit of paper at him.
"Sex pollen," said Abed. "Kirk and Uhura. Classic."
Shirley looked even more distressed, which Britta hadn't been sure was possible. "I think," she said, stepping into the middle of the group and trying her best to look calm and in control, "this is a subject that might be best forgotten."
"I'm with Britta. I vote we never talk about this. Again. Ever," ended Shirley in a low growl.
"I second the motion."
"Wait a minute," drawled Jeff, with a sideways glance at Annie, "I'm not so sure about this."
"Seconded," said Pierce quickly. "I also vote for re-enactments."
"I abstain," said Abed. "I'm too close to the situation to make a fair decision."
All eyes turned to Troy, who hesitated a moment, and then shook his head. "My decision is no. It isn't fair. Abed votes no as well."
"I vote no," Abed auto-corrected.
"Humans. Brilliance of the universe and you're all hung up on yourselves. Well, all right then, mum's the word," said the Doctor, clapping his hands together sharply. "Waffles for dinner, anyone?"
"Oh my god," exclaimed Troy instantly, his eyes lighting up, "did he say waffles?"
"...The virus can be easily detected and treated through a surface agent, but we have a limited time - only a few hours - to give the cure to everybody in the castle. We'll need to visibly mark the people who have already been treated, and only hit each person once with the medicine. And we don't have time to ask permission." The Doctor waved his hand over the array of shooting devices on the table, all prepped with the surface agent. "The medicine has a red dye so we know who's been cured. If you see somebody who is unmarked, heal them, and move on. We don't have time to do anything else."
Troy was staring at the table, gleaming with a wide array of retro-fitted spray-guns.
"Now," said the Doctor, "we should discuss strategy..."
"Actually," interrupted Jeff, starting to unbutton his shirt, "I think we've got this one, Doctor. Lock 'em and load 'em, team. You know the drill."
"It's on like Donkey Kong," said Troy, grabbing a gun from the table and ratcheting back the loading mechanism.
Jeff finished stripping his shirt off and grabbed another spray-gun off the table. "We'll split up to cover more ground. Britta and Annie, you'll be our femme fatale squad. Take the quarters of the male servants."
"Uh-uh," said Shirley. "I know you did not just leave me off the femme fatale squad, Jeffrey."
He threw her a matched set of pistols, which she caught with a spin. "That's only because I need you for a special mission, Shirley. We need somebody to infiltrate the royal quarters. I think you've got the best chance going in solo."
She loaded the bottom cartridge of the pistols with a business-like click. "Those royals are going down. Down to cure-town."
"Troy, Abed, you'll take the public rooms and sweep the remaining sections of the palace. You'll need to move fast - you have a lot of ground to cover."
Troy and Abed slapped each other's hands.
"Pierce and I will take the female servant's quarters."
Pierce guffawed modestly. "I'm always happy to help you out with the ladies, Jeff. I know your gayness gets in the way there."
"I need you to be our decoy, Pierce. Fake a heart attack. Draw them in. Get their guard down." Jeff ignored Pierce's sputtering to turn to the Doctor. "We need a sniper to take out anybody on the perimeter. I think that's you, Doctor." He put his paint gun on his hip and narrowed his eyes. "All right, team. I know I don't have to remind you of what the stakes are here. Let's do this thing. We've got a castle to save."
The Doctor grabbed a paint gun with an ominous-looking scope and grinned at them. "Brilliant."
On the planet Nenerus, Britta found two kittens behind a dumpster and promptly adopted them, naming them "Time" and "Space", respectively. Several weeks later, Time started calling Britta "Momma" and Space asked for access to the library, meowing hopefully.
"Ah," said the Doctor. "Lysynthians. Distant relation to cats. Chattier. A little less uppity. Lovely species."
Troy was wide-eyed. "Tell me that cat did not just talk."
"After everything we've seen, that's what bothers you?" asked Shirley.
Britta was knitting, her hands a blur. "I'm making them sweaters," she explained happily, and held up a tube with the letter "S" halfway done in stitches on the back. Time wrapped herself about Britta's ankle and purred, and Space batted a loose wire dangling from the TARDIS console. The Doctor winced.
"Right. Ground rules. Time," he paused to glare at the other cat, paws in the air underneath the control panel, "Space. You are welcome to stay onboard this ship with Britta as your designated companion, but there will be no. Playing. With the TARDIS. Do I make myself clear?"
He glared mightily. Space shrunk back a little on his hind paws.
The Doctor clapped his hands cheerfully. "Also, I believe you'll find your own room next door to Britta's. And this spaceship is a catnip-free zone. Other than that, knock yourselves out." He grinned, lopsided, at the cats.
Time meowed, and Space came out of his hiding spot to lick the Doctor's hand. Britta beamed with pride.
"This is Captain Jack Harkness. Jack, this is everybody." The Doctor flipped a hand in the general direction of the TARDIS console room. The study group stared back at him, curiously.
Jack smiled broadly, his eyes sweeping over the group, the corners of his eyes turning up. "Hello, everybody."
"If I've told you once I've told you a thousand times," said the Doctor absently, his eyes on the console. "Not now, Jack."
"Troy and Abed in the TAAAR-DIS! ...And we're back with our special guest, the Doctor!"
The Doctor waved manically, grinning and bouncing a little on his stool.
Abed gestured with his mug. "The Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey."
"Ooh," cooed Troy. "How exciting."
"And he's here today to show us the best way to prepare latalin, a delicacy from the planet Plenius Minor."
"That's right, Abed." Troy beamed at their studio audience. "Now, I understand there's a special trick to preparing latalin - is that right, Doctor?"
"Oh, yes. Fantastic dish, latalin, tastes a bit like," the Doctor pursed his lips together thoughtfully, "blue, really, when you get right down to it. The best sort of blue. Robin's egg blue, summer sky blue, the depths of the moon oceans on Lapus IV blue. It's a matter of picking the vendelatalin berries at the right time - you want a spacial equinox but not a temporal one - while balancing on one foot and..."
"You do realize this isn't a real show, right Doctor?" Jeff leaned against the TARDIS console, pointedly casual, feet crossed at the ankle.
"Oh, come off it, Jeff," said Annie, looking up from painting Britta's toenails in the audience. "It's just for fun."
"Yeah, Jeff," said Britta, wiggling her toes and eyeing the pearled polish critically. "Live a little." Time and Space both watched her toes with rapt attention from their hideout underneath her chair, conversing with each other in low purrs.
"I'm just here for the virgin daiquiris," said Shirley comfortably from her lounge chair.
"I'm just here for Shirley," said Pierce meaningfully, with what he clearly thought was a smoldering gaze in her direction.
"The TARDIS is a fan," added the Doctor, gazing at the console adoringly.
Jeff extracted himself from his TARDIS lean, and gave the console, strewn with mismatched levers, gauges set with thick, cloudy glass, and what he was pretty sure was a bullhorn and potentially a yo-yo, a skeptical glance.
"The old girl's got a thing for talk shows," the Doctor continued fondly. "Especially ones where I'm the guest. I remember, we did Twizlet and Tawny in the 2070s. It was right when they were redefining the definition of television to include physical contact output to the viewing audience. Brilliant stuff. Did a killer bit with a clown after my interview. Not literally, thank goodness. Kids loved it. Mind you," he rubbed his chin, "the technical malfunctions in those early days..."
Annie patted the seat next to her with a hopeful smile. "Come on, Jeff."
"Jeffrey," Shirley commanded, "sit."
"Only if Annie paints my toenails too," Jeff said sarcastically, and then paused. "Wait, that has the potential to be taken seriously. Forget I said that."
"Too late!" chirped Annie happily, and started digging through the little container full of polish colors.
"And before we go," Abed continued, "your daily TARDIS location report, brought to you by Pierce's Intergalactic Handwipe Emporium."
Troy clasped his mug with both hands. "Thanks, Abed! Today in the TARDIS, the squash courts are currently located down the hallway from the zero-g room, two doors down, and then a sharp left. The library is currently off the map..."
"Kitchen, one right, three lefts, close your eyes and think of strawberries," said the Doctor dreamily.
"...and Shirley's bedroom has moved across the hallway from Jeff. The third bath is in the second corridor, five doors down, knock in the rhythm of "Don't Stop Believing". And with that, join us tomorrow where we'll discuss the marriage rituals of the planet Thebos III with our special guest, Britta Perry."
Britta scowled. "How was I to know slapping somebody was a binding legal contract?"
Shirley patted Britta's hand. "That creep had it coming to him."
"And with that, I'm Troy..."
"...and I'm Abed..."
"...and I'm the Doctor... hello!"
"...and this has been Troy and Abed in the TAAARDIS!"
The downed alien ship was a blackened hulk of a thing now, crash-landed into the surface of the planet and still smoldering in ribbon-thin wisps of smoke. Bits of the infrastructure showed through the metal skin of the exterior here and there, gleaming like polished bone. The Doctor watched the ship burn, silent, his hands in his trousers and his eyes hard and dark.
Annie reached out a tentative hand for the Doctor's arm. "Doctor?"
"It's just... it wasn't your fault. You couldn't save them. We couldn't save them."
"Nobody has to go through something like this alone," said Shirley softly, hugging her purse in closer to her body.
"I do. I do. Because there's no one else."
"We're a family," continued Shirley doggedly. "That's what families do."
"Families die." The Doctor looked back at them for the first time, sweeping an accusing gaze over them, his mouth set in a mutinous, childish line. "You all die."
"Of course we die," said Shirley. "But your family doesn't change when people die. Family is bigger than that."
"Shirley's right," said Jeff. "You're one of us. Or we're with you. I'm not really sure how this works."
"When I die, I plan to haunt all of you regularly," Pierce announced matter-of-factly.
"See?" said Jeff.
"Come on, Doctor," said Britta, moving up to stand next to Annie. "Come back to the TARDIS."
"I'll make brownies," added Shirley, with the tone of one laying all her cards on the table.
The lines around the Doctor's mouth eased, and while he didn't smile, his expression lightened as he stared at the ground, his eyes averted from the crash in front of them.
"Right then," he said, taking in a deep breath. "Moving on." He smiled brightly then, but the flash of his teeth was at odds with his expression.
With a sharp squeal, Shirley threw herself at the Doctor, catching him in a hug. He stiffened for a moment before relaxing, and put an arm around her to pat her back. Abed came up silently behind them then, and wrapped his long arms around the pair of them, leaning his head like a learned gesture onto the Doctor's shoulder.
After a moment, Troy came up to hug Abed, and Annie threw herself at the group with a joyous expression. Britta arched an eyebrow at Jeff and gave him a stern look. He rolled his eyes and stepped into the hug as well, joining Britta. Pierce wrapped himself around the outer layer.
"Ooh, this is nice," said Shirley happily.
Pierce whispered, "Is anybody else getting an erection?"
"Eew!" said Annie, straightening up. "Gross, Pierce."
Pierce threw his hands up. "It was a rhetorical question."
"Riiight," said Jeff.
"Come on, Doctor," said Troy warmly, his head resting on the back of Abed's shoulder, Annie's arm around his waist. "I think it's time to go home."
The Doctor looked around at them, ranged in a semi-circle around him. "Yes" he said to them finally, and when he smiled this time, it was real. "Home."