“ Please ?”
“Alright, here you go, then,” Ten relented. He shed a few coins into the waiting hands. With a grin the boy turned and dashed off, his peasant rags flapping behind him, darting around the legs of passersby -- under the legs of passersby, too? The Doctor looked after him with a nostalgic smile. He had plenty of money, anyway, and memories of being a poor city boy himself. He jerked aside to allow a couple of overweight women to toddle past -- they looked at him in disgust and muttered rude things to each other -- and started along the crowded street, his coat flapping behind him.
Crowds traversed the streets of the city of Agartha. Ten went with an eye for everything he could see. It had been a long time since he’d visited, after all, and he’d never seen this particular city -- even with over nine hundred years of space travel under his belt. Merry travelers marched the street, merry shoppers went in and out of stores, and vendors called merry things. Specks of civilization passed by him, jostling him and crowding him and laughing and crying. It always gave the Doctor a sense of awe to realize that these were all people -- living, breathing, walking, talking consciousnesses -- and an even greater feeling to realize that if he wanted to he could access every particle of these people’s lives -- the good and the bad moments, the good and the bad people. Just one perk of being a time traveler. He could flit along, all while tides turned and civilizations rose and people lived and died, and none of them would be any the wiser that he was different.
Traveling alone always made the Doctor more thoughtful.
The TARDIS was parked a few blocks back, a little grumpy -- they hadn’t spent much quality time lately. But she would be fine, the Doctor mused to himself. Nobody could get into the box, without a key.
The Doctor was crowded against the side of the street, where a few dingy booths sat. He approached a vendor. “Excuse me sir, what are you selling?”
The grubby-aproned, fat-faced man, who looked like he’d just had week-old cheese shoved under his nose, jerked a thumb. “Look at the sign.”
It was illegible. The Doctor turned back to the vendor and smiled briefly before retreating back into the crowd.
He stood for a moment, to breathe in the sights and sounds, the sweet air -- well, it was really fairly smoky, but Agartha was like that -- and relaxed briefly. Then he felt a hand dig into his pocket and turned to see a green-haired girl off like a shot!
Ten plunged his hands into his pocket and felt around rapidly before looking after her, distraught! She had his key! He -- needed that key! It was his key -- the TARDIS key! “Hey, hey you -- get back here!” And he was off in pursuit. Her green hair was whisking around a knot of white-haired men dressed all in black. The Doctor squeezed through.
“Excuse me, pardon me --”
They jostled aside. The crowd on the other side seemed to automatically part to let Ten through, but when he stood, the wind whipping his fantastic hair, on the other side of the mass, the street looked empty. She was gone. A black-horned, red-skinned alien bonked into him, then a skinny pair of teenage boys carrying hamburgers on the other side. The Doctor managed to get free of them and looked searchingly back and forth along the street. A bin was rattling at one end, at the mouth of a narrow, dirty side street. It was the best lead he had, so he hurried over to it. In the darkness a tiny girl’s figure was pelting away from him.
“Oi! Get back here!” Cursing inwardly, the Doctor tried to hurdle the bin and crashed into the narrow space. Dust plumed up, and he tripped a little before he had to be off again, in hot pursuit. The narrow street split at T where it met a stone brick wall. At random the Doctor chose left and spiraled awkwardly around the corner before regaining his balance. Murky liquid showered down from above him, and he barely managed to dodge. Looking up he saw a startled housewife holding an overturned bucket in her hands, staring down from the roof. What was in that pail? He shot down the shadow-enveloped street, coat flapping in his wake. The narrow sidestreet split off into a T again and the Doctor looked both ways. One passage was merely a gap onto another busy main street. The Doctor bet that was the way she had gone and turned to face it hopelessly. He needed that key -- it would be a pain to get it back -- it was his only way into the TARDIS --
“Give it to me.”
A muted woman’s voice was coming from behind the building. The Doctor turned curiously to face it. The other branch of the alley turned a corner, and he went down it cautiously, from where the muffled voices were speaking.
“Fine, take it. It’s like no money anyway. And just an old apple core,” muttered a girl’s voice defensively.
“That apple core has an owner. And I’ll return it to him.”
“I think I can return it to myself, thank you very --” the Doctor cut off mid-sentence. “Oh, you.” Oh, it was her. And it wasn’t the little thief, perched on an overturned crate with her long, filthy green hair, black horns, apple core by one soily foot and a leg tucked behind her back. It was the woman reasoning with her. Mass of blond curls, white jacket, a pistol at her side.
“Hello, sweetie.” She had already turned to face him, that same smile lighting up her face.
“Hello, Professor Song,” Ten said reluctantly.
“Oh, you know me then, do you?” She seemed pleased, then her eyes widened slightly quizzically. “What are you doing here?”
“Sightseeing,” he said stiffly. “What about you, doing some archaeology?”
“A little, this is more of a pleasure trip though,” she said casually. One hand shot out to stop the little girl, who was trying to creep past while the two were engaged. “Return the things, please, dear.”
“Fine.” The green-haired kid stomped a foot and dropped a fistful of coins on the ground. Something bright silver slid out. The Doctor started to bend but River beat him to it. The little girl was already gone, the dust mites swirling in her wake, Ten’s hand outstretched to receive, when she straightened.
“Key, please, Professor,” he said.
“In a minute.” She began to circle him slightly, inspecting him with a familiarity that made his stomach turn over (not in a good way). “I love this regeneration! Your eleventh one, so young.” The Doctor turned to keep facing her. She smiled wisely and finished her inspection with an upwards glance. “Love the hair, too.”
“Most do,” the Doctor said uncomfortably. She couldn’t know how awkward this made him. Or really, maybe she could! It depended on how well he knew her in the future. “So where did we last see each other?” Perhaps if he could beat her to the question, he’d learn something about her before she realized their history had only just begun for him.
“Spoilers!” She clicked her tongue.
The Doctor hated that word. It reminded him of the last time they’d met. And of the one long word she had breathed into his ear. It was unfair of her, really it was -- for her to hold this information above his head, and against her word maybe she had taken his name (and his screwdriver) from him against his will, because why would he give her so much power as to know his very secret name (but he didn’t believe it happened against his will because, after all, she had died for him last time, or maybe she was just wise enough to know how it would destroy her timelines of successful thievery) and wouldn’t anyone be angry to have this game played with them, the important information withheld, like some cat holding a mouse by the tail and refusing to bring on the final blow?
The Doctor rather hated that word.
“Key,” he said again, pointing to her closed fist. “Please” (as an afterthought).
“No. I know you’ll just disappear the instant,” she said cheerfully. “Where’s the TARDIS parked, by the way?”
“I can’t tell you that as long as you’re holding that key,” he said steadily.
“You’ll trust me someday,” she sighed, whisking her blond curls and beginning to head out of the alley, around the corner, and into the busy street. The Doctor followed her. “Where are you going?”
“Someplace a bit nicer than that alley, and a bit quieter than the street, so we can talk!” she called back.
She led Ten through the passersby, onto another street, left, right, then up a short flight of stairs and an embankment opened up before him. His immediate impression was a very long sparsely populated street, the end not even in view, with one side completely taken up by strings of lights and dining venues, and the other side leading onto a slope of green, green grass which eventually gave way into rippling dark water.
The river Gjöll, of the city of Agartha, of the planet Asgard.
“Professor, what are we doing here?” Ten said carefully. What if he said something wrong? Let her know that she would die the next time she saw him? It was going to trip off his tongue by accident, he just knew it. He couldn’t talk to her.
“I thought it was a nice place to talk,” she responded brightly.
The Doctor looked at her for a long moment. She looked the same as he’d last seen her, at the Library. Same curls, same face, except her eyes, which had been very expressive -- sad, and slightly pleading -- were now inscrutable. What had happened to open her up between now and the Library? Whatever it was, it hadn’t happened yet. He felt a prickle of disgust. He didn’t want to talk to her. He couldn’t trust her. He couldn’t trust somebody that didn’t do as he said -- people that didn’t do as he said usually died! And she had! He could still remember, very very clearly, the sound of her voice.
“Doctor, please say you know who I am.”
“Who are you?”
He twitched his head like he was shaking off a fly, made up his mind, then swayed to look over his shoulder back at the vendors, and looked back at River. “Well, Professor Song, I’ll do you one better,” he said cheerfully. “I’ll take you out to eat.”
“Excellent. But do you have any money? I don’t think the girl returned it all,” River replied without missing a beat.
“Of course I do! Let me --” The Doctor explored his pockets and came up with a fistful of coins. “See, that’s plenty.”
“No more apple cores?” River raised her eyebrows. Her tone was sarcastic. “Are you sure that’s all Asgardian currency?”
“Um, maybe -- no,” he admitted, checking the coins. “This is Earth change.”
“I have some Asgardian dollars,” River allowed. “Let’s get some food.” She extended her hand, and after a moment’s hesitation the Doctor accepted it. It felt warm, and it closed with familiarity around his. But it was so unfamiliar, and it sent chills through him, just how at ease she was, but the last person that had belonged in his hand was -- Donna, and she was at home on Earth nursing a case of amnesia, and before that it had been Martha, whose family had spent a year enslaved by his archnemesis, and before that it had been -- the Doctor swallowed. Oh, dear. What was he thinking? But his feet were carrying him automatically after River, who was leading him to one of the fancier vendors. The Doctor ordered first, and River got some things for them to share in addition to her own order, and in a few minutes they were sprawled on the riverbank, their picnic spread out on a blanket River had pulled from the pack on her back, and the sunshine was scattering golden glints through her hair.
He barely knew how it happened. All of a sudden, things were peaceful and green and relaxing and he felt strangely at home. Time seemed to stop holding its breath.
“So, Doctor, what do you know of the history of Asgard?” River’s voice had changed. It was more pensive, and she kept looking at him.
“I forgot, Professor, you’re an archaeologist,” Ten said lightly. “Only that some space travelers tricked the natives into thinking they were Viking gods.”
“They a weird fascination with Norse mythology,” River agreed, bringing her water to her lips. “I’ve been excavating some ruins here. Interesting stuff.”
“Isn’t that impossible?”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, don’t be daft.” River snorted. “When it’s really you that’s the impossible one!”
“Oh, am I impossible?” the Doctor said, teasing in his own right. “Dropped out of space one day, didn’t I? Swept you off your feet?”
“There will be no sweeping here, Doctor,” River told him rather severely . . . however, “But maybe when you’re older.”
“So what are you into, River Song? What do you
When she finished the Doctor started on his own recent travels. “I was on Raxacoricafallapatorius recently.”
“Raxacoricafallapatorius? Which time zone?”
“During the election! It’s the big one,” the Doctor waved enthusiastically, taking an orange and beginning to peel it. “This mayor will go on to do great things. He’ll start successful trade agreements that’ll last for centuries and Raxacoricafallapatorius into a major power.”
“He’ll also legalize the search of the lost moon of Poosh,” River mentioned cheerfully.
“He’ll be unsuccessful.” The Doctor tossed a peel to the gulls. They took flight in a rush of feathers to squabble over it.
“Oh, were you there for the coronation?” River asked in interest, leaning forward. “The assassination attempt, very exciting! But the assassins were stupid.”
“When he shot the crowner, on purpose?” Ten popped a chunk of orange in his mouth.
“Because he thought it was the mayor!” River inhaled a piece of food and promptly began to laugh, half-snorting. The Doctor began to laugh with her. The sight was funny, anyway, her head tipped back and her working furiously to not drop the food out.
“Oh, Doctor, look out!” River gasped through her laughter, pointing a finger above him.
Seagulls rushed above him. One ran a wing into his head and flew off, orange peel in its bill. Two others took off after him in hot pursuit. A second later something warm and sticky, and wet , smacked into his hair.
River was laughing helplessly. The Doctor felt his hair and a finger came out white and gross.
“Oh, shut up!” the Doctor groused at her. He shot an orange peel at her and immediately a few other seagulls hightailed it after the scrap. Feathers whirled, dotting her magical hair -- and one stuck up her nose . The Doctor started to laugh too. They were happy for a moment, just a pair of very wise fools, sitting on the banks of the river Gjöll, having a picnic on Asgard, laughing, when a hand clapped down on the Doctor’s shoulder.
River was already on her feet, hand jerking toward her revolver, shedding feathers majestically. The Doctor was pulled up roughly. “Sir, you’re under arrest,” said a guttural tone. He was spun by the hands to see four soldiers, dressed all in black, with black assault rifles and black-visored black helmets, with one reading him his rights already and one clapping cuffs on his wrists. “What did he do?” River demanded.
“What did I do?” the Doctor exclaimed.
“Please come quietly,” one of them ordered.
“Doctor, what did you do?” River yelled after him. The soldiers were already beginning to yank him away. One was patting him down.
“No, it’s okay, really,” the Doctor tried to assure her. “I didn’t do anything! It’s just --” he was trying to say that he was alright, that he could escape if he wanted, but he’d rather get to the bottom of things, and something in her expression convinced him that she understood. The soldiers had missed the sonic screwdriver at the bottom of his pocket. He was fine.
“I’ll find out what’s going on,” River promised loudly. The Doctor nodded to her before they jerked him around and began to drag him along the street. They brought him down the flight of stairs roughly, and the bricks swallowed up his view of the Professor.
River Song stood still for a moment, lapsing into thought. Hmm. So the Doctor was alright. Oh, he was so young, would he really be alright? But he would be. She dragged the feather out of her nose and looked at in distraction. Good thing she’d taken the key. Poor dear, if they’d found it, it’d be a painful mess to get back to the TARDIS. As it was, she may as well do a bit of detective-work, and they could find out just who was the better investigator.
Her pulse was quickening already! Oh, it was lovely to meet him again. Even if he was so young. His clear distrust cut her a little, but at this stage of the game it was getting easier to ignore.
She glanced up and down the street. All the diners were staring at her. Mm. Better get out of the open. She scooped up the blanket, pulled the food and thing into her extra-dimensional pack, and spun to head off in the opposite way they and the soldiers had come.
Professor Song retreated into an alleyway and summoned the TARDIS.
They blindfolded the Doctor in a shed just a little ways off a main street. He heard a heavy door swing open -- judging by the squeal of the hinges -- decided that it was lucky he still had his screwdriver. Otherwise the situation might be a little worrisome. In terms of hand-to-hand combat he wasn’t much of a James Bond, and wrestling four soldiers was a bit much for him.
He should have known something like this would happen, anyway. River Song, apparently, attracted trouble, and Asgard was already a pretty poor planet. Mostly peasants and poor folk. Plenty of social injustice. Like this social injustice, he mused.
“Watch your step,” intoned the guttural voice.
The Doctor raised a foot in preparation to ascend -- and then tripped down a step. The soldiers laughed. For a few minutes he was tripping down stairs until another door clanged open and he was shoved through, ankles sore from knocking the steps. He was pulled into some kind of transport, then nearly received whiplash when it zipped forward. He thought he heard another laugh but it was stolen by the wind of their flight. For nearly ten minutes the transporter zoomed straight, then jerked and sped left for another five minutes. Unfortunately for the soldiers, they didn’t realize that they had a Time Lord, who with over nine hundred years of experience had an excellent head for time and space. When the transporter finally ground to a halt he was roughly lifted out, then propelled forward; dragged speedily up steps while he tried to get his footing; another door swung open, then sat down roughly.
“Take his blindfold off,” said the guttural one.
The black fabric was stripped away.
The Doctor blinked into the sudden harsh fluorescent light, trying to get adjusted.
He was on a cold black bench, hands cuffed, and one soldier was patting him down again. Searching his pockets. Ten swallowed when he pulled the sonic screwdriver from his coat.
Uh-oh. Things were getting a little less fun now.
“Is this the thing the boss meant when he said he wanted him unarmed?” asked the soldier waving the screwdriver.
“Must be. Give me that,” growled the guttural-voiced, grabbing the screwdriver away. He tucked the screwdriver onto one of the black steel shelves lining the concrete walls. If the Doctor had to guess, he’d say they were in a concrete shed like the one they’d entered to come down to the transporter rail, but he wasn’t positive. The soldier leaned forward, placing his hands on the arms of the bench. “Tell us about the Vagos.”
“The Vagos?” The Doctor tried to adjust to the light. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t play dumb,” growled the soldier. “You have everything to lose right now. That little miss on the embankment? Her, too.”
One of the soldiers menacingly raised his rifle. The Doctor eyed it nervously. Uh-oh. Hopefully the Professor was coming.
“I think you’ll find she can take care of herself quite well, actually,” Ten began carefully and quickly, “and that you can put that gun down. Just tell me what exactly is this Vagos you want.” He looked the visor in the eye.
“Stop, man,” boomed a deep voice. Everyone looked over their shoulders and the Doctor stared as a door swung open, not the one they’d come through, in the wall. The gap was nearly filled with the silhouette of a massive horned shape. Just black chinks showed in the holes. Apparently the room was not a shed, but a part of a larger complex. The shape stepped heavily inside. It was a tall, white-skinned man, with long dark brown hair, enormous curling ram’s horns, a muscular physique, and gray business clothes. He had nostrils like a ram’s as well and vivid green eyes.
“Oh, hello,” Ten began with an attempt at cheer.
“Shut up,” interrupted the man. “Get out of here, guards. We’ll be fine. Wait outside.” He pointed out the black gap left by the open door. The soldiers silently filed out, the last one through clanging it with finality.
The Doctor tried to speak through his trepidation. “You’re a Uruturu, then, aren’t you? Lovely species. From the Utania belt, planet V-5.”
“Shut up,” the Uruturu said again. “I’m not interested in that. Do you know my name?”
Ten clicked his tongue. “I don’t believe we’ve been introduced.”
“Well, I know who you are,” the horned giant said softly, leaning forward. “My name is Banox, Galafred Banox. Yes, that is my real first name, but you may as well know it so that you can die knowing just who killed you. The best crime boss on the planet Asgard. Oh, is this your screwdriver?” He took it off the shelf, played with it in his huge bleached fingers.
“Why do you want to kill me, then?” Ten said carefully, keeping his eye on the screwdriver.
Banox snorted, spittle flying from his enormous nostrils. A piece landed on the Doctor’s coat and he winced inwardly. “I don’t want to kill you exactly, just drain you of life. Shall I explain?” He spread his hands. “Take a look at this room. Notice anything strange about it?” His voice was deep and oddly mature for a bull.
The Doctor attempted to look around but could only twist so far. The soldiers had him strapped into the chair.
“It’s wired , man,” said the Uruturu with disappointment. “I thought being a Time Lord, you’d have some additional powers.”
“Time Lord?” The words tentatively left the tip of the Doctor’s tongue.
“Time Lord, like from Gallifrey,” Banox said in amusement, enjoying himself. “With regeneration energy. You see, the five-minute explanation is that your regeneration power, and natural long life span, will turn me into a veritable god. Anyone’s life could do, to make me live longer, but you, my good sir”-- he leaned over and thumped the Doctor painfully on the back --”will make me immortal!”
This was not fun at all anymore. The Doctor wished River would hurry up.
“That explanation took only six seconds,” he pointed out.
Banox’s eyes flashed red.
The soldiers were invited back in, and a huge machine tangled with black cords was rolled out from behind the Doctor. Banox was quickly connected to it, from the tips of his curly horns, from the feet he’d stripped, from his bleached white arms and points on his face. The soldiers seated him as well and he now had his feet raised on an overturned crate, eyes closed, head slowly tilting back and forth, humming strangely.
“What’s he doing, then?” said one soldier.
“I can hear you,” said Banox clearly, eyes still shut.
“He’s preparing himself,” the Doctor explained to the soldier. “Uruturus have some extraordinary mental powers. He can shield himself from the pain of this operation, if he likes, it’ll just take a few minutes to set up.” The sonic screwdriver dug into the Doctor’s coat pocket.
“I thought he was hiring us to get the stuff you’d stolen,” said the same soldier uncertainly.
“Shut up and do as you’re told,” Banox growled. “Leave me in peace. You’re being paid.”
“Not enough,” said the guttural one.
“Shut up,” bellowed the Uruturu for the fourth time, with such force that dust fell from the ceiling and shook from the shelves.
“Uruturus also have tremendous lung capacity,” the Doctor whispered. He could get out this fix. He already had a plan, and thus could afford lightheartedness.
Banox’s lips quivered, and his eyes opened to roll back into his head. Time to strike. Clearly the Uruturu was not the best of thinkers to leave himself so open like this.
The Doctor rolled his head slightly, getting an eye on one of the guards, and jerked his head a few times to beckon him. The guard approached him, assault rifle swinging. The Doctor leaned up to talk to him.
“So, you get paid enough?”
“Quite a lot, actually,” said a tight British accent.
“Well, what I would do,” the Doctor said quietly, trying not to attract the attention of the other soldiers, “is I would ask for a pay raise.”
“Why’s that?” asked the voice behind the visor.
“Because”-- the Doctor unstuck his hands from underneath him and showed them, palms up, fingers waggling--”free hands!”
The soldiers exploded into action, simultaneously training their guns on him. The Doctor flipped behind his chair, sonicking them as he went. Their guns pulverized the chair--and it shrank into a pile of steaming metal by the Doctor’s knees--before their guns all died at once. Ten made a leap for the door. The one that led out of the room, that Banox had come through -- and Banox, meanwhile, was still out cold -- was closer, and Ten catapulted through it (it was thankfully unlocked). He whisked around the corner, not even pausing to get a good look in at his surroundings.
It was a long, concrete, high-ceilinged, wide corridor, interspersed with high fluorescent lights every so often, and deep swathes of shadow in between. It was reminiscent of the Library. Everything was reminiscent of the Library just now, from black visors and high ceilings and shadows and the woman who’d died. The Doctor careened down the corridor with no idea where he was going. He needed away from those soldiers, away from that machine, away from River Song, and most importantly right now, away from Banox -- and he needed the TARDIS! He could hear the soldiers charging after him, heavy black boots slapping on the concrete.
Then, quite out of nowhere, an enormous concrete wall. It rose up from the shadows and he nearly smacked his face into it. Using his hands the Ten bounced off it and turned hopelessly to face the soldiers, who had gained rapidly. One closed on him and he raised his hands in surrender. A gun clanged down on his head and all went black.
His last thought was Again?
When Ten came to it was with a shock, because big, ugly pale nostrils were right in his face. “Eurgh!” he exclaimed, jolting back. He became conscious that he was strapped back in a new metal chair, while the acrid smell of melted steel (a smell he was unfortunately familiar with) filled his nose, and his hands and feet were cuffed.
“How dare you!” roared Banox.
Ten held his breath and shut his eyes as the roar from the Uruturu blew back his hair. Spit landed on his face. Wincing, he opened his eyes. His screwdriver was lying on a shelf opposite him.
“How dare you try to escape,” spat Banox. “I am one of the five crime bosses in this system, the best of Asgard, descended from Gronad the Great himself! How dare you?”
You keep saying that, Ten wanted to sass. But it wasn’t in his best interest. Besides, his head hurt horribly, and now he doubted that River would be able to find him.
“Connect him to the machine,” Banox snarled. “Let’s get this over with. Never mind my preparations.” He glared savagely at Ten. “This will hurt like the devil, but worse for you than me.”
“Oh, right,” Ten mumbled. He smacked his lips uncertainly, then in the next instant felt a jolt of cold clarity and pain when the soldier roughly connected his arm with a cord. On the other side another soldier had rolled up his sleeve and connected the arm. A third approached to apply them to his forehead, and even, he thought, to the tips of his hair. One of the soldiers bent to peel off his boots and socks and stick cords into his toes. Every connection hurt, and by the last he was woozy and stars dazzled him. His head throbbed viciously.
“Start the process,” Banox bellowed. Ten peered through his haze of pain and saw that the Uruturan crime boss was likewise connected to the machine.
The fourth soldier, who’d flipped up his visor to reveal a sweaty, swarthy, mustached man, looked nervously at the Time Lord, then back to Banox, then shut his visor and flipped the switch.
Pain breathed through the Doctor’s limbs. It wasn’t sudden, but it began with his feet and welled up through his head.
He thought he might be screaming. But he couldn’t really tell through Banox’s bellows. Again dust showered from the ceiling. Ten screwed up his eyes and poured out his pain in his voice. It hurt. It hurt so badly. It was pain, in almost every sense of the word!
It seemed that he blacked out again, but when he came to the soldiers were speaking together. He felt weak, and faint, and very very sick and awful. His head seemed to split with every tentative beat of his heart.
“Continue,” he heard Banox say weakly. It was as if the words reached him over a long distance.
Please, don’t continue --
The heavy lever rang out again and again the Doctor was screaming. Then the pain cut off once more.
“Something’s wrong with the machine!” said a soldier urgently.
“ What?” Banox cried. “Fix it!”
“I will -- We will --”
Sweat was pouring down the Doctor’s forehead. Oh, where was River Song? Why had he trusted her so much anyway? To find him? Get him out of this mess? Oh, right, he hadn’t trusted her. He’d thought this would be fun . Well, it wasn’t anymore, but she was just an archaeologist. To expect her to be able to find him all by herself was too much too --
A creaking, whooshing noise filled the air and the Doctor opened his eyes. The TARDIS’s outline was taking shape behind the machine, which was glowing red, and Banox, who was leaning heavily and sweating profusely. The Doctor bit his tongue and cursed mentally. She could control the TARDIS? For real? She had the key -- but she knew how to fly it? It had let her? More mysteries piling up around River Song! As if his “pleasure trip” hadn’t already turned out bad enough! Despite himself and his pain a small smile was forming on his face. At the same time a cold fear was growing inside him.
The door swished open and River Song poked her head through, then stepped out, voice light. “Oh, dear.”
“How can you fly the TARDIS?” the Doctor yelled at her weakly.
“A TARDIS!” Banox said, face lighting up, pain-filled eyes glowing with interest. His head swiveled slightly to take it all in, or maybe it was his horns dragging his face around.
“Stop interrupting, it’s a very bad habit,” the Doctor screeched through his pain, eyes screwed up, at Banox.
“Just give me a moment!” River shouted over the noise. The TARDIS wheezed again and disappeared, leaving the Doctor in cold dread and the room in astonishment. Then just a second later River Song, in golden-haired glory, pistol out and a troop of yellow-clad Asgard police storming after, burst into the room.
The Doctor couldn’t help but smiling again, it was so crazy.
In a short while Banox was tied up with a rope carried by one of the policemen, and the officers had dispersed to handle the soldiers. One by one they were trooped out of the concrete room. The Doctor had confessed to River how he’d made his failed “escape” -- a bit of Time Lord mental energy exercised on a soldier, a subtle unlocking of the cuffs, and a neatly executed swipe of the screwdriver. River had been only a little sarcastic. Now one policeman remained with Banox, River, and the Doctor for a moment, until River said something to him in a low voice, and the policeman followed his cohorts out the door, toting the Doctor, who was still a little out of it from the pain.
Banox remained with River in the concrete room.
“What did you tell the policeman?” he demanded gutturally.
“He thinks I’ve got a royal warrant to take you down,” River said. “I told him I needed to discuss something with the two of you, to continue the investigation into the crime network. It’s a little true.”
“Then what do you want with me?” The Uruturu seemed in low spirits. His grand scheme had been foiled -- just barely foiled.
“I want to know how you knew the Doctor was here,” River told him, eyes cold as ice.
Banox looked taken aback. His shoulders began to shake. Then he began to laugh, a deep, slow, rough huh-huh-huh.
“Is something funny?” River raised her eyebrows.
“You’re not the only one with time travel technology on Asgard,” Banox rasped.
River looked at him for a moment, a little shocked. Then she recovered. “I’ll be taking that from you, then.”
“Try to,” Banox snarled. “Try to take from me what I want. Bring me the Doctor, or this whole planet blows up.”
“Interesting thought, but I don’t see how it’s going to happen.” River was brisk; wasn’t even looking at him; didn’t miss a beat; her fingers were flying over a small device designed to detect sophisticated tech. She’d pulled it from her pack.
“I have a series of explosives buried under the whole planet. From centuries back,” Banox told her, almost dismissively. “The ignition device is in my skull. I can trigger it telepathically. Old family secret, those mines. But the initiator strategy is all mine.”
River had frozen. She turned to look at him slowly, one finger still tapping on her device. “Clever.”
“Bring me the Time Lord,” Banox threatened, “or we’re all history.”
“Of course not,” she said slowly and icily, “he’s gone, he’s not coming back, and you can’t hurt him anymore.”
“Care about him, then, do you?” Banox leered. “The initiator reacts instantly. A second and the bombs go off. Him or the planet? Him or the planet?” He kept going, repeating himself, but River was zoning out, eyes unfocused, staring at the wall.
“Him or the planet?” Banox repeated more forcefully.
“I’ve always been one to make my own options,” River said quietly. The screwdriver would disable it. But the screwdriver was tucked back in the Doctor’s pocket.
There was a pregnant pause. The Uruturu stared at her incredulously. “ You ? You won’t do! I need regeneration power, gurdudu .”
Ooh. That was a serious Uruturan insult. “I have regeneration power,” River told him. “I’m a Time Lord. Verify it.” She retrieved a biological scanner from her pack and held it out to him, hand shaking slightly. She had just checked that Banox’s word was true: a technologically advanced initiator (probably from the 51st century), planted in his skull, linked to bombs running under the planet’s surface.
Banox stared down at it when she placed it in his lap. He seemed to concentrate, then the buttons began moving on their own. After a moment the screen flashed red. Banox stared up at River in astonishment. “But all the Time Lords are extinct except for the Doctor!”
“I guess I’m a fluke,” River said mock-sweetly. She was a Time Lord. Her regeneration energy was gone, but Banox didn’t need to know that.
Banox began to grin, his shoulders shaking again, huh-huh ing again. “Sounds good to me, sweetheart.”
“Let’s get this show on the road,” River said, sinking down. Her device had just notified her that the initiator reacted in less than a second. And she had no deactivator on hand.
Banox moved slowly, obviously still in great pain, and connected River with half the cords, even some attached to the tips of her curls. He instructed River how to do it with him, obviously enjoying the feel of her hands on his white skin. River shuddered. He was disgusting, salivating slightly while he stared at her, green eyes occasionally turning red then back to green.
River finished with the cords, making sure the last connection was particularly painful. Banox, panting, leaned back a little.
“Flip the switch.”
River looked at him for a long moment.
She wasn’t afraid of her own death, but to keep this disgusting creature alive . . . well, she didn’t know where she died. Maybe here she died. Now. To keep the Doctor alive.
Hating Banox, hating herself just now, she leaned back as far as she could and twisted her arm around to lower the lever. It was heavy, it squeaked, and it gave her ample opportunity to consider her life, and how it would tragically, heroically end just now, as she pushed it down. An ironic smile curved her lips.
“What in the name of Gallifrey are you doing?”
The Doctor appeared in the room, blazing with anger. River found it hard to look at him. She was not scared of the Doctor when he was angry, but he was still hard to look at. Especially so young . She had seen him when his anger did scare her, when it scared great generals and huge armies and the worst of the worst and everyone . . . but he was so much younger now, and right now he didn’t scare anybody in the room. Banox’s nostrils flared and his head jerked back. River whirled to face the Doctor, the cords tugging agonizingly on her skin (but she had a high pain tolerance anyway).
The Doctor was white with fury. “River! What are you doing!!??”
“Saving you!” River yelled back. Her nervousness and anger was getting the better of her.
“Saving me? You’ve already saved me! Why are you giving yourself to him?” He stormed forward and pulled one of the cords away that was attached tied to a curl. It hurt but River was able to ignore it.
“He’s got mines under the planet’s surface,” River explained rapidly, “and I verified it, and he can blow up the planet in less than a second. He needs a life, or he’ll destroy the planet--”
“Not you!” the Doctor yelled.
“Not you !” River bellowed back.
“No!” the Doctor shouted in outrage. “He wants a Time Lord! You’re not even worth it, we can find another way, we are never ever playing this game River Song, get out of here, I don’t want to see you again, and certainly not like th--”
“You don’t know--” Banox interjected, his eyes lighting up in interest.
“Shut up!” River cried. “Shut up, you stupid--” She looked away from Banox to the Doctor. ”It’s not all about you! You--” she cut off in a scream, her head tossing back and veins bulging in her neck.
The Doctor had failed to pull enough cords out and Banox, his eyes flickering treacherously back and forth, had found his opportunity. With one powerful pale finger he had flipped the switch and just a second after River let out her scream his own head flopped back and he released a deep-throated bellow that shook the ceiling for the third time. The Doctor at once jerked back, face white, pale eyes huge and red-rimmed, and jammed his arms into one pocket. He pulled out his screwdriver and aimed it with both hands at the machine. Banox, through his roars, noticed the Doctor and lunged forward, cords jerking, to reach for the screwdriver and bat it out of his hands. And out of River’s screams, Banox’s bellows, the sonic screwdriver’s whir cut through the noise. The machine backfired in a shower of sparks that landed on the floor, the shelves, Banox’s horns, the Doctor’s trench coat, and River’s hair. The Uruturu and River slumped forward simultaneously. The Doctor was too slow to react and River hit the floor only to reel backward, looking upward groggily. Her voice was venomous when she spoke. “You bloody--”
The Doctor and she began to yell at each other all at once. Banox’s roar of outrage drowned them both out, though, and they both looked at him in surprise.
He pointed a finger at his head. A red light was beginning to shine through his pasty white skin. “Initiate,” he sneered.
The Doctor reacted too fast for him. A blue light, a noisy whir, and Banox jerked as the red light began to blink rapidly. “What did you do?” River demanded urgently.
“Cut off the connection to all the bombs. Delayed it a little. But I can’t stop him from blowing up,” the Doctor answered savagely.
“Me?” Banox asked raggedly.
“Old family secret,” River said in wonder. “The mines aren’t just through the planet -- they’re contained in the family--”
For a moment the room was quiet. The Uruturu’s eyes flicked back and forth in scarlet fear.
Then a low whine began to emit from Banox, even though his mouth was not open. Smoke streamed from his nostrils.
“Let’s get out of here!” the Doctor yelled. This time when River extended her hand he took it without question. They leaped over the metal and cords scattered across the ground and took off, flying down the corridor while the loud whine filled the building from floor to ceiling, overpoweringly. They careened around the corner, down the hall, out of a metal door, into a brightly lit lobby -- yelled a warning to the startled receptionist -- and rocketed out the doors, into bright sunshine. The Doctor had not yet been out of the building and he reeled in astonishment as yellow light spilled around them. River had doubled over and her hair covered her face. Policemen were staring up in astonishment. They were standing in a high, cobblestone square, tall grandiose buildings surrounding them. The label over the building they’d just emerged from -- which was emitting an enormous sound into the square -- read Department of the Treasury.
“We were in the Treasury-- ?” the Doctor said in amazement.
All sound seemed to cease for a moment and an orange glow built up from the windows of the building. Then the Doctor ducked, a head over his arm, and all the people in the square, hundreds of Asgardians, the policemen, the mercenaries, and River, cowered to the square and the building exploded.
A few seconds later -- or maybe it was an hour, or probably like a minute -- the ash cleared, leaving a perfect enormous crater surrounded by towering piles of rubble. And everything was gone. At the bottom of the crater a low dark passageway led to the transporter rail.
A huge whine seemed to fill the Doctor’s ears. He hunched over as debris rained down.
Through the fog of blooming dust he saw dim shapes moving around, and others lying still. Fire glowed at his feet. He dimly realized that he was lying on top of River — he barely remembered hurtling into her when the blast started — and rolled off of her. Her mouth opened soundlessly. Sound came crashing back into his ears with River’s breathless groan and high-pitched scream. A boulder crashed down ten feet away from him. What did we just do?
He helped her to her feet, barely noticing the sores on her fingertips from the wires’ connections.
A policeman hurtled by and smoke clouded up and sparks glowed in piles of warm ashes, all around them. The Doctor turned to River, whose hair was stained gray. Bits of fire dotted her clothes.
“What was that?” the Doctor bellowed at her.
“What do you mean, what was that?” River yelled back in return, her eyes screwed up against the heat and smoke of the air.
“You were going to sacrifice yourself? Don’t ever do that, River, don’t ever do that! How dare you? You listen to me !” he blew up at her.
“Oh, you stupid--!” she screeched at him. “I suppose I don’t need to make the same mistake twice!”
The Doctor was livid. “ Ohh , you, Professor archaeologist Song--”
“You blew up the building! People died!”
“You never sacrifice yourself for me, Professor, I decide who does that, and when, and I’m in charge--”
River silenced him with a freezing glare. “See you around, Doctor!” She stuffed the key into his hand, which was waving in anger, and she turned around and marched away from him through the ash.
Ten stared after her, speechless, furious. If she had died now -- she couldn’t know just what was at stake -- she couldn’t understand that he actually -- she couldn’t -- she --
A few hours later, Ten found himself standing in a desolate alleyway, behind a few dumpsters overflowing with garbage. The key to the TARDIS was clutched in his tightly closed fist. He stared at it, for a long moment, in deep thought.
He didn’t want to see River Song ever again. He couldn’t trust her. He couldn’t be around people that just kept dying for him. He was the Doctor, he was supposed to help people. Not get them killed for him.
He didn’t want to see River Song ever again. The TARDIS began to materialize, humming its wheezy hum. He stared at it, a little lost for a moment, remembering how her Doctor had opened the doors with a snap of his fingers. Well, he didn’t want to be her Doctor!
But, anyway . . . he snapped his fingers and the door opened at his call. Ten stepped inside, greeted by the familiar glow and hum, and stared outside, into the cold gray sky between the buildings, the ash still blowing down like snow. The door swung shut on his second adventure with River Song.