They were all going to die.
Half the command bridge of the spaceship they had retreated inside was smoldering. None of them knew why the ship had just been sitting there half-covered in dirt and in completely the wrong solar system and time period, but they weren't going to question their salvation. Especially while death was only three steps behind and seemed to be hogging an inordinate share of the luck.
Outside the ship were two armies of Denari warriors so amped up on ritualistically consumed amphetamines that they were literally hopping mad. Somehow, word had gotten out in time and space, only the way things involving the Doctor could, and the Denari had been met by a contingent of Sontarans just happy to join any fight that involved chasing the infamous Doctor and River Song. That would have been bad enough but now a team of Judoon had arrived to police the conflict to make sure that the Sontarans did not share their level three weapons with the technologically inferior Denari warriors, in accordance with the Shadow Proclamations' Technological Evolutionary Preservation of Lesser Species Act, pursuant to Section 3, Clause 8. It seemed that the idea hadn't occurred to the Sontarans until the Judoon had suggested it, at which point they had become interested in the possibilities. The Judoon were so good as to assure them all that the Act did not mean that the Sontarans couldn't use their level three weapons to attack the Doctor but that they couldn't allow the Denari warriors access to weapons that might help them to build their own advanced technology. Unfortunately, just as the Doctor and his companions had soniced their way inside the ship, the Sontarans had convinced the Judoon that giving the Denari warriors weapons that exploded didn't contradict the Shadow Proclamation's Act because explosions didn't leave any useful technological footprint behind. The Judoon agreed, as long as the Sontarans properly instructed the Denari in the safe handling of the charges and made sure all bombs were detonated in the course of the conflict.
"So we're all going to die," Amy announced with a roll of her eyes once the door on the bridge was secured, "but at least it's going to be completely legal."
Emergency lights turned on and bathed them all in mauve lighting.
"Amy, please," Rory said as he tried to comfort the little blue Denari child he held against his chest. The boy was a prince to one of the Denari armies and a very important ritual sacrifice to the other. They had planned to return the prince to his people but it turned out that his tribe treated its princes worse than the other tribe treated its sacrifices. They still didn't know quite what to do about that. "Can we please not use the 'd' word?" Rory asked while rubbing the child's back.
"I'll have you know the Technological Evolutionary Preservation of Lesser Species Act has done a lot more good than bad," the Doctor insisted while tearing apart the nearest piece of technology he could find. It looked like the main computer console. "This just happens to be the bad," he muttered.
"I bet you he says that because he's the one that suggested it to the Shadow Architect in the first place," River said and he didn't correct her.
"It's a brilliant concept! It's not my fault if the application leaves us a bit wanting. Now hush." The Doctor wormed his way underneath what was looking more and more like the main console as he pulled pieces of it out. "Oh, you're interesting," he told a particular circuit board.
"Please tell me this ship is a 23rd Century Moll military destroyer." River drafted Amy into helping her move scrap metal that must have fallen from the ceiling into creating a barrier between the main room and the door. It appeared that however this ship had come to be here, it wasn't peacefully. Thus, River's assumption it was a military vessel.
"Not quite, but close."
"No, not really."
River huffed but it was difficult to tell whether that was from exasperation or from lifting up a hunk of metal twice her size. "What is it then?"
"Um," the Doctor frowned at the circuit board in his hand. "A 23rd Century Moll cloud-sifter. Unless!" He turned the circuit around in his hand a few times. "No, no, I was right the first time. Definitely a cloud-sifter."
River dropped the metal onto the pile between the Doctor and the door and just stared at him. Unlike with Amy and Rory it wasn't out of a sense of confusion. There was a conflict playing out on her face between annoyance and despair. Meanwhile, the sacrificial prince decided that reality was just too much to deal with at the moment and closed his eyes to take a nap.
"What's a cloud-sifter?" Rory asked.
"Well-," the Doctor began before River interrupted him. "I'll tell you what it's not. It's not a military vessel. Which means we have no method of defending ourselves."
"You still have your blaster," Amy pointed out.
"Yes, but the Doctor fried the kill setting when he thought I wasn't looking."
"So we're," Rory paused to cover the sleeping child's ears, "trapped?"
"Not quite," the Doctor said. "To answer your question, Rory, a cloud-sifter is a vessel the Moll send out to adjust the environment on worlds they consider worthy of colonization. Not as drastic as terraforming technology you ingenious lot come up with a thousand years later. But still effective in its own rights. It uses transporters along with chemicals misted into the atmosphere to change weather patterns and even the compositions of the air. Too much methane? No problem. They'd just sift it out." At Rory's slack expression, he summarized, "Think: controlled storm. Quite clever actually."
"Yes, dear," River replied, "but not particularly useful in this situation."
"Wait," Rory interrupted what looked poised to degrade into another couple's spat, even if the Doctor huffed at Amy when she called it that. "Did you say transporters?"
"Yep. Lots of them. They take up more room than the engines."
"Well, are we talking transporters like on Star Trek?"
"Oh!" Amy bounced on her toes and pointed at River. "Like the ones you used to save me from the angels!"
Rory looked horrified and intrigued. "You were transported?"
"Yeah," she put a hand on her stomach, "and I had indigestion for a week."
"I know where you're going with that and it won't work," the Doctor announced.
"The transporters aren't working?" Rory asked.
"They will be in a minute." The Doctor soniced the circuit board in his hand as if to illustrate his point. "But that's not the problem."
They all jumped as a bomb exploded outside the ship and rocked the walls around them and the floors they were standing on. More of the ceiling rained down but missed hitting them. No doubt it had been one of the bombs the Sontarans had supplied to the Denari with the Judoon's consent.
"Then what's the problem?" Amy asked. The Doctor was too absorbed in reconnecting the circuit board to his lapful of wires to answer immediately.
"The problem," River answered, "is that these aren't the same type of transporters. The kind I got online in order to pick you up, Amy, were designed for use with humans. These transporters were never meant to handle people and have none of the safety protocols. They were designed to create vacuums and agitate the atmosphere."
"Exactly," the Doctor said, taking a moment to point at River with his screwdriver. "That."
River suddenly cocked her head to the side and the Doctor tensed without even seeing her do it.
"I didn't even suggest it."
"But you were thinking it." The Doctor spared River a frown.
"We might not have a choice."
"I always have a choice. I choose no."
"Even if it means we all die?"
Amy walked in-between them and didn't even blink at having the force of both their glares turned on her. "As much as I love a last stand," she said, "mind telling us what we are choosing not to do?"
"Yeah," Rory added. "we do have a child to take care of, after all."
Amy's focus faltered for a moment. "You do realize we aren't keeping it?" she hissed over her shoulder.
Rory scoffed. "Of course not," he said back, but held the child closer to his chest.
Another bomb hit the outside hull and the spaceship shuttered and jumped beneath their feet. A piece of ceiling fell only an inch from where the Doctor sat rearranging the main console's inner wiring. He didn't even seem to notice. River eyed the ceiling like it was a Dalek and clenched the blaster in her hand.
"The transporters aren't safe for us to use," she said, bringing them all back to the very important topic of their impending death.
"Right," Rory replied. "We got that part."
"River." The Doctor's tone was a warning. She ignored it.
"That doesn't mean they can't be used as a weapon."
"How?" Amy asked over the Doctor's sound of outrage.
"Safety protocols don't really matter if you're transporting an enemy."
The Doctor tossed the circuit board to the floor and pushed up off the ground. Considering how silently he could move, the amount of noise he made was a statement in displeasure itself. Between one of Amy's blinks and another, he had circled around her and was standing in front of River with his face like stone.
"It'd be slaughter," he whispered and it sounded like yelling. River flinched but didn't back down. "And we'd have to kill them all. The Denari are drugged past reason and will have no idea what is happening. They'll just keep fighting until they are all gone. The Sontarans will understand but that will only make them fight harder. And these teleports aren't sophisticated enough to tell the difference between one carbon-based life form from another. If we accidentally pick up even one Judoon, the rest will sentence us to death and attack. We would have to kill them all, River!"
That gave her obvious pause. A moment later, she had another suggestion. "Then the chemicals."
"What about them?"
"If we release them into the area surrounding-."
"No, no, no!" the Doctor interrupted. He stomped away from her, gesturing into the shadows around them. "You aren't listening! You aren't thinking this through!"
"I know that it wouldn't be a permanent solution," she hurried to speak at his wordless sound of disbelief, "but it would force a momentary retreat. Perhaps we could reprogram the transporters and bring the TARDIS here."
"The kind of chemicals this ship carries are so lethal, the Denari would never survive long enough to retreat." He held up a hand at River's attempt to reply. "And though the Sontarans have the ability to filter the atmosphere through their armor and the Judoon carry their own independent air supply, that doesn't mean they would retreat. Oh no! The Sontarans would just take it as encouragement and the Judoon would probably consider it physical assault and sentence us to death. So, we'd have to make sure to release a chemical cocktail capable of eating through their body armor. Which brings us back to the beginning. Slaughter. Does that sound like a good idea? Is that something you want to do? Is that who you are, River Song?"
During the course of the Doctor's diatribe, River's face had gone pale and her breathing had evened out to be perfectly spaced. She stared at the Doctor and didn't back down but every word seemed to hit her like a physical blow. After a few seconds of silence, even the Doctor saw it and his rage tempered itself with something approaching regret.
River took a long breath. "No. You're right; I hadn't thought it through." The Doctor nodded and turned away, grabbing at his hair in lingering frustration. "But you can't die here, Doctor."
"Of course, I can." He waved a dismissive hand through the air, "I can die anywhere I want to."
River gave a breathless laugh that had no humor in it. "No," she said, "because I won't let you."
The Doctor turned around in time to see River dash to where he'd left the circuit board. The shock on his face would've made Amy laugh in any less deadly circumstance. River had already replaced the circuit board and activated the console by the time the Doctor had rushed to her side.
"What are you doing?" he demanded as he watched her hands work over the console. It was a little difficult for her to fully use the controls since the Moll had six fingers on each hand but no one could say she wasn't resourceful.
"I have another plan."
Another bomb rocked the outside of the ship. Rory fell back against a wall, waking the prince, who started wailing. Amy was tossed to the ground and barely rolled away in time to avoid being brained by falling metal. The Doctor held onto the edges of the console with his arms caging in River, helping to keep them both on their feet. River worked through the sound and shake, refusing to acknowledge the fact that everything was literally falling apart around their ears.
"What plan?" the Doctor asked again. He was impressed to see she had all the controls activated. It wouldn't have been possible if he hadn't taken the time earlier to replace the blown fuses and burnt wires, but it was still incredibly impressive to see how well she worked a foreign programming system. Then he realized what she was about to do and grabbed her wrist before she could do it. "Those are the transporter controls," he whispered into her ear in warning.
"I know," River said. "And I need to activate them."
He hesitated. "...What plan?"
"They're about to break through the hull," she replied just as the ship rocked again. The Doctor pushed his chest against her back, pinning her to the console in order to keep them from falling down. The prince's cries were getting louder. Amy and Rory were yelling to each other but neither River nor the Doctor were hearing them. "We have just enough time for me to either explain the plan or do it. If we're going to live, I need to do it. But you have to let go of my wrist. You have to trust me, Doctor. So, what are your instincts telling you? Who am I?"
For a moment, the Doctor's hold on her wrist tightened. River closed her eyes and waited. The next moment, he'd released her hand and pushed away from her. She opened her eyes and didn't waste any more time. She activated the teleports. Then she activated the chemical controls. The Doctor paced away as if needing the space to make sure he didn't stop her. He couldn't help but turn back to watch. Amy had no idea what River was doing and Rory was far too concerned with trying to soothe the wailing child in his arms, but the flicker of emotions that went across the Doctor's face was something Amy would never forget.
At first, he looked sick and combined with the way the walls around the ship seemed to be screaming, Amy was willing to believe that this was the end. She reached and took Rory's hand but didn't look away. The sound only got louder but it changed in its frequency. It didn't sound like the bomb anymore. And the Doctor's face! His eyes widened and he took several steps toward River. The ship's shaking hit a crescendo and he reached out, whether to stop River or not there was no telling for anyone. Suddenly, everything in the ship just stopped. The shaking stopped. The sound of tearing stopped. It was so jarring that even the prince stopped screaming and just stared around with wide, glossy eyes. Rory and Amy did much the same.
The Doctor had placed his hand on River's waist. "You . . ." He stared at the controls over her shoulder and forgot he was speaking.
"I did it," River finished for him.
"You created a white hole around us."
"You used the transporters to create localized vacuums. Then added the chemicals to agitate the atmosphere and create a weather singularity focused around the ship."
"Really, it was just the rational culmination of what the Moll already programmed the ship to do. You're the one that gave me the idea. Controlled storm." River gestured at the controls. "See?" She grinned at him over her shoulder. "I even gradually increased the event horizon so that our enemies would've been slowly pushed away."
"And because of the white hole," the Doctor sounded as astounded as he felt, "even with their ships, the Sontarans can't break through." It had been a long time since he had met someone who could think anything like him, nonetheless surprise him with how they thought. It sent his hearts hammering in a way the threat of death hadn't.
River laughed and turned around to face him. It was only then that the Doctor seemed to realize he had her pinned against the console. He didn't step back.
"So, sweetie, do you approve?" she purred and tilted her chin up in a clearly flirtatious gesture.
"Oh, River," the Doctor said, slowly shaking his head with a grin. "I could kiss you."
"Yeah?" River challenged. "Then why don't you?"
The Doctor only hesitated a moment. Really, in the end, it wasn't as hard a decision to make as he might have wished it to be.
The Doctor used his hand on her waist to pull them chest to chest. He raised his free hand to cradle her jaw and slowly, so very slowly that his intent was clearly telegraphed to everyone in the room, he pressed his lips to hers. The kiss was gentle and methodical, so that every movement of his lips against hers told River it was his choice. River met him movement for movement, kiss for kiss, reminding the Doctor it was hers too. He pulled her closer and she encouraged him with a nip of his bottom lip and her hands over his hearts.
Amy had always been a fan of passionate, messy kisses. The kind that only happened when a couple were so overcome with emotion that there was no thought involved. She had decided that was the ultimate romantic gesture. She had been wrong. This was a thousand times more intimate.
The Doctor brushed his thumb over the apple of River's cheek and tilted her head to deepen the kiss just that little bit more, a hint of tongue that promised no regret. River hummed happily and let him go as he pulled away. She smiled and brushed her hands down the lapels of his tweed coat.
"Right," Rory said and the Doctor tried to cover his jump by neurotically readjusting his bowtie. "So we're in the middle of a black hole?" His voice only slightly squeaked in panic.
"No, Rory, white hole," the Doctor corrected, taking ten steps away from River and tucking his hands behind his back. River watched his retreat with a smile that she hoped wasn't too smug. "A white hole is exactly the same as a black hole, in theoretical formula, though it performs exactly the opposite in practice."
Rory's face screwed itself up like he was about to sneeze. It was his thinking face. "Wait, I think I read about that when I was researching theoretical sciences on the internet. That's the thing with the faucet, right?"
"Ah-ha! Good job, Rory!" The Doctor pointed at him. "Exactly! When humans first began theorizing about white holes, they did believe it was illustrated by the water falling from a faucet onto the solid surface of a sink. You lot were completely wrong, of course. The water behaves that way because of Owusu's Third Principal of Gravity Suspension, but it does get you on the right track! Four hundred years after you're born, Rory, humans harness their first white hole. It was quite an event."
"Don't you dare say you were there," River teased.
"No, unfortunately," the Doctor said with a pained expression. "Overslept." He clapped his hands and the prince jumped in Rory's arms. Everyone else in the room was accustomed to the Doctor doing that. "Still! It led to all sorts of human innovation. Transporter technology for one." He gestured at the console. "Force fields later when you discover sustainable micro-atomic fusion. That's essentially what River created with the atmosphere. Crude and lacks the sheer sustainability of 60th Century technology but absolute genius. I could've thought of it."
"Thank you, dear."
Suddenly, something occurred to Amy. "So, we're in the middle of a white hole," she said.
"Yes," the Doctor answered.
"It's keeping them out there and us in here."
"So, how are we going to get out there to the TARDIS?"
It was obvious he had forgotten about that. ". . . Ah." The Doctor glanced at River to see if she already had something in mind. She laughed and crossed her arms.
"Oh no, Doctor. I wouldn't dream of depriving you of the opportunity to impress me."
Slowly the Doctor grinned. "Right." He pointed at her. "River Song, prepare to be impressed." He pulled out his sonic screwdriver and dashed across the room to another console he had yet to pull apart and rewire to his liking. The Doctor quickly set about righting this wrong.
Outside, there were two Denari armies singing songs about how they were going to boil the Doctor for dinner and have his companions for dessert. There was a contingent of Sontarans considering the possibility of burning the sky in order to pry the Doctor and River Song from their hiding place. There was a team of Judoon that were discussing whether or not use of a weather singularity could count as physical assault and thus worthy of the death sentence. Inside a white hole, on the bridge of a 23rd Century Moll Cloud-Sifter, the Doctor flirted with River Song while she pretended to be skeptical. He grinned and explained to her all the new ways he was going to break the laws of reality. River laughed and encouraged him on with a smile that promised complete faith in him. Rory tried not to look too proud of himself for understanding what the Doctor was talking about for once. Amy let him explain the whole concept to her, though she knew the general gist of it already from the Doctor's explanation. By the time Rory got to explaining the faucet, the Doctor was proclaiming his own brilliance. When River Song admitted she was impressed, his companions knew they were saved.
That day, everybody lived.