“This entire prison block is brand new, actually.”
“Is it,” the Doctor said. “Is it really.”
“Oh, yes,” his prison guard-cum-tour guide said cheerfully. “You’re very lucky you got arrested when you did, as a matter of fact. The male biped wing’s only just been painted.”
“You know, I woke up this morning and I said to myself ‘Doctor, this feels like your lucky day.’”
“Did you? You should get our medical unit to scan you for pre-cog. We’re very interested in pre-cog.”
The Doctor gave up. They hadn’t invented sarcasm yet on Grauslon Aleph. The planet was galaxy-famous for its stunning coastlines, its friendly locals, and its unparalleled hypervodka factory (free samples on all sixty levels and onsite stomach-pump facilities provided), but the nuances of irony tended to go over their fluffy heads. Not that that was hard. The guard was a strapping specimen as far as Grauslonians went, and he barely came up to the Doctor’s waist.
“Here we are,” he said, pressing his hoof against a pad on the floor. “I’ll be along with some food once you’ve settled in — oh, and we’ve put you in with our other two guests. They’re both new too so you’ll all be lovely company for each other. Of course, the place is empty so there’s plenty of space if you want your own cell, but I read once,” he said, a little whinny of distress coming into his voice at the thought, “that humans die of loneliness if you keep them on their own.”
“You could be thinking of gerbils there,” the Doctor said. “Easy mistake to make, I get them mixed up all the time. And I feel a bit of pre-cog coming on; these two new prisoners wouldn’t be called Jack Harkness and Mickey Smith, would they?”
The guard’s ears flattened back against his head. “That’s astounding.”
“It’s a gift,” he said. “By the way, could you do us a favour and look in on the female biped wing, see if they’ve brought in anyone new today? Call it a wild hunch of mine.”
He had to give it to the architects, their prison facilities had all mod cons; the cell was more of an executive suite, bedrooms branching off from a living area that was decorated with top-of-the-range equine ideas of biped comfort (beanbags, mostly) and murals of all shapes and colours of humanoids holding hands across a green hillside. The artist had done a good job, aside from the couple of times he’d got overexcited and given one of his stick-people an extra leg.
“You could’ve said.”
“Oh, go on, blame me, just because I don’t give you out a guidebook and a packed lunch every time I park the TARDIS…”
“I am blaming you,” Mickey pointed out reasonably. “Two minutes. One minute. One sentence. ’By the way, all those Shetland ponies walking around out there, they’re actually people, so don’t try and stroke one of them or you’ll get banged up for assault.’ And that means ‘arrested’,” he told Jack, “before you ask.”
“It does? Huh. Sounds like it should be more fun.”
“Go on, tell him what they nabbed you for.”
The Doctor swept an eye over Jack; the grin, the My Friend, Relative Or Significant Other Had a Splendid Time At the Grauslon Aleph Hypervodka Factory t-shirt, the tiny free sample bottles on the table. “Disrupting a guided tour,” he guessed. “Distracting a guide in the course of his, her, or, knowing you, its duty.”
“I didn’t know she was a tour guide!”
“You knew she looked like a My Little Pony,” Mickey said. “You’re so weird.”
“What’d you do, anyway?” Mickey asked the Doctor, scrunching further down in his beanbag to avoid Jack’s smirk.
“Never you mind.”
“What, it’s worse than ours?”
He could always make something up — valiantly leading the people to rebellion… no, they’d seen this planet, at least a bit of it before landing themselves in jail. They weren’t that gullible. And they were bound to notice sooner or later that he didn’t have his coat. “They didn’t like the jacket,” he said reluctantly. “Thing is, on their sister planet, the people look more like cows than, as Mickey says, Shetland ponies…”
“Bet you were popular, walking around in one of their mates’ skins.”
“They were very nice about it,” he said gloomily. “They’re nice about everything. It’s their number-one defence mechanism. Oh, half the empires in this local group have tried to conquer this planet. The invasion fleet’d turn up, meet one or two locals, and go home feeling ashamed of themselves. Usually with a cargo bay full of souvenir straw donkeys and all.”
The good people of Grauslon Aleph didn’t have the windpipes for polite throat-clearing, but the guard almost managed it.
The Doctor joined him at the door and immediately spotted a flaw in its design, namely that the bottom section, the one with the lock, was only three feet high. “Just out of interest, you’ve never actually kept any humanoids here, have you? Tall humanoids, I mean. With opposable thumbs.” The guard blinked huge, guileless eyes at him. “No, course you haven’t. ‘Cause everybody else takes the time to read the rules at the spaceport, don’t they?”
“That’s all right,” he said, shyly nudging his nose towards the Doctor’s hand (“Watch it,” Mickey put in, “you can get arrested for that. Again.”) “Your captain’s been to see the magistrate and explained everything.”
“Our captain,” the Doctor said after a blank second, gesturing behind his back for the other two to keep quiet for once in their lives. “Right. Good for her. Knew she’d come through.”
“Temporary space insanity! What exciting lives you astrotraders must lead. And,” he added confidentially, “I looked it up, and you’re quite right. I was thinking of gerbils. I must remember to get a book about looking after humans.”
“One of these days I’ll get round to writing one.”
Mickey said, “She’s never, ever, going to let us forget this, is she?”
“Help me with the bottles,” Jack said, “think we’re gonna need ‘em.”
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