For once, it was probably in her best interests to keep things on the down-low. This wasn't the place one wanted to draw too much attention to themselves, especially not when she already had the policing force of the planet of Personis calling for her blood.
River Song folded another photo into her blue diary, capping the pen she had been using to jot a few notes and add another descriptive doodle. She was, eventually, going to figure out the whole story behind this "Doctor" person. Eventually.
Because before any of that was going to happen, she had to figure out a way to get off Personis.
There weren't too many options open to her, unfortunately. So far, hiding in a portside tavern had been the best idea of the day, right after snatching up what had at first appeared to be a useless tapestry of a blue box. The not-so-great idea of the day was crashing the royals' afternoon tea (or whatever it was they did on the planet) and therefore starting the chase. The Personians, as it turned out, took their tapestries quite seriously, and theft from the royal art collection even more…
But River figured it served her better than it did hanging up, so her side won. If only the guards saw it that way.
Propping her chin on her hand, River scanned the occupants of the tavern, not all the impressed with them. There were a few natives huddled in a corner, some red lizard-men hanging on the counters, and a group of small, white blobs that were rather cute but just reeked of a darker menace.
Then, to her delight, a group of humans walked in, parting the blankets that hung from the top half of the entryway and shedding some light into the musty establishment. They filed in and revealed their collective whole as around seven people, rather young-looking, donning similar leather overalls mostly a size too large, with differing types of headwear, but all covered in grime and grease. Only two of them were male, rather unusual for a mechanic crew, but something she could dig entirely.
"Hello," she greeted with a bit of innocent coy woven in her tone. The nearest three looked at her – the two boys and a girl, whose shoulder was occupied by the older-looking male's arm. They returned the greeting with a curt "hi", a bob of the head, and a smile, but proceeded on. The younger of them, however, stayed by her tableside, his smile morphing into a bit of a grin as he stretched his hand out, tipping the Stetson on his head back with the other.
"Avery Pyn," he greeted as she gently shook his hand. "I'm uh – we're uh – um – you?"
"River Song," she replied with a smirk. "What brings you and your...crew?"
Avery's eyes widened as he realized she was addressing people he knew. He threw his head back to see them ordering from the front counter, swaying halfway towards them by his subconscious desire to be picking up food as well. "Crew. Friends too. And family? Yeah. Family." He looked back at her. "We're all on the same ship. Stopped here to drop stuff off and get lunch." Again he looked back. Food was a really good idea. "I um – I'm sorry but – pardon me, I'm just going to – going to get something to eat, and if it's okay, then do you – do you mind if I sit – if I sit with you?"
River nodded, smiling to add some reassurance. "Of course. I'll wait."
The boy was harmless, she figured, and so if she could win his trust, then perhaps she could score a way off Personis. The rest of the crew seemed pretty relaxed, and going by the fact that they had bothered returning her greeting, they were friendly enough. Meeting friendly people was always a plus, especially since it seemed everyone on this side of the galaxy was out to get her. (Well, not without just reason, but still.)
A few of the others didn't even bother waiting for Avery, sitting down at a long table next to River's own. One, wearing goggles acting as a headband, looked at her and grinned apologetically.
"Is Avery bothering you? He kinda tends to do that."
"Oh, no." River smiled. "Boy's rather cute in his way."
The goggled girl gave a snort, shaking her head but still grinning. "Yeah, the kid's pretty adorkable." Popping a potato wedge in her mouth, the girl awkwardly reached around her free hand. "I'm Janae Pyn, by the way."
"River Song," she replied, taking the free hand and shaking. "So Avery's your brother, then?"
"Naaah." Janae held up another potato wedge. "Aaand not my cousin or nephew or what-have-you. All of us –" she motioned her hand at the rest of the group as they gradually sat down "- are Pyns. It's the shipping company."
Raising an eyebrow, River let that information sink in while also digesting their appearances. A ragtag group who all looked within a few years of each other with compiled clothes and manning their own ship?
"So, next company, new name?" River inquired, though not disapprovingly. Luckily Janae caught onto that, smiling without ardently agreeing.
"We found Avery when he was a Detrex. Well, him and Dakota." She gave a vague gesture to what had to be the youngest girl of the group, her head topped with a beanie.
"Detrex…weren't they shut down for child slavery a few years back?"
"Mmmhmm." Janae took a satisfying bite from her sandwich, muttering a word of thanks for the importation of human food to Personis. "It was kind of weird, I mean, it was almost as if our visit made them have a change of heart or something…"
The words would've come off as a threat had River not been on their side. She instead let herself smile, satisfied in the knowledge that these kids were pretty all right. They were like a lot of people – scraping their way along and just trying to be happy.
"Hey, what are you guys –"
"Oh hey Avery, nice to see you back," another of the crew piped up, this one with a beaten-up fedora on her head. She then proceeded to flash a rather maniacal grin. "And then you see ma'am, there was this one time when Avery almost ate –"
"Wait stop shut up!" the boy flurried out in a panic, his voice cracking near the end. "St – stop it! What were you telling her?"
The fedoraed girl laughed. "Nothing," she said with an innocent smile. Avery fumed, his cheeks flushed.
"S-stop it Ort!"
"Heh, Ort..." muttered Janae.
"Ortense," she corrected, to which Avery ignored in favor of wallowing in his own embarrassment.
River laughed, if just to go along with the others. Their dynamic was easy to figure out: they were a family, and a tight one at that. He was one of the youngest, and therefore was dealing with a few big sisters that liked to rib on him. If she was going to hitch a ride off the planet, it was going to have to be with the agreement of all of them, not just the embarrassed boy in front of her.
"Are you going to be here long?" River asked, moreso to the older members. Avery sat opposite her, his shoulders hunched, head bowed, sullenly feeding a thick soup to himself.
"Just for lunch, then we're off" Ortense answered breezily, tearing the crust off her bread and swabbing it in the bowl of soup on her tray. She ate the morsel before her eyes made contact with River's. "Is there a reason?"
There were a few options that could've been taken at this point. Charm was at the forefront, or in the very least, trust. The former would've been easier if it was just the boy, but given the majority female crew…it had to be trust. Now, that trust didn't have to come from truth, it just had to eventually turn into trust.
Force was not an option, not with seven of them. Sure she had a gun, but it was difficult to tell what was on their persons. Playing dumb was also not going to work, but that was more of a relief…that card got a bit tiring to play.
"I'm stuck and need a way off," River answered, leaning in closer to the pair whose interest in food waned due to the movement. "If I could make it to the next way-station, then I can make my way from there."
Avery looked up, snapped from his moodiness. Eyes wide, he bobbed his head forward, Stetson sliding down slightly. "You in trouble?"
Honesty. Risky move.
Janae's chewing slowed, her gaze on River constant while swallowing. "And you want us to be accomplices to your getaway?"
River couldn't help the words that came. "Oh sweetie, I'm sure it wouldn't be a problem for a crew that took down a corporation with a monopoly on the beta sector of the Pollux system." Her smile was almost poisonous, an odd mix of a threat but not; rather words of confidence that spoke of deeds they didn't want brought up.
"Hey." Their conversation had not gone unnoticed by the rest of the table. Now speaking was the older girl from before, a newsie cap casting a shadow across her eyes. "We said the right thing at the right time. Nothing more than that."
"I'm not trying to offend you," River defended, dragging in a tone of slight offense. "I consider that hard to believe, that's all."
"It would be rather tropeish if it was a group of rag-tag half-teens half-sort-of-adults that took down a corporation like Detrex." The other male of the group was chiming in this time, adjusting the bowler adorning his head. "But tropes exist not to always be detrimental, but to document the use of a theme."
Newsie-girl looked at him, clearly unimpressed. "Martin."
He eyed her back. "Hailey."
She sighed and he grinned, swerving his sight back to River. "Believe whatever you wanna believe."
It was at the point where River wasn't sure if they were trying to spread a rumor for their benefit, or actually telling the truth. And their faces weren't giving anything away – no giggles, no smirks, nothing.
Oh. They were good.
"I think – I think we can help you," Avery said cautiously, his wrist limp as his hand deftly dragged the spoon around in his soup. "I mean…if you're willing to trust us, we can help you."
River cautiously lifted her eyebrows. "Oh?"
"Y-yeah. I think we can give you a lift, if…"
Janae cut him off. "Avery, no, we don't know her business –"
"The guards of the royal art collection are after me," River blurted out. Janae, her mouth still open, stared at her, the angle of her lip lifting up her nostril. "And I didn't take it because I wanted it, I took it because I need it."
"Are you an amnesiac who is trying to piece together her past a find a way home?" Ortense asked, quite seriously, leaning back in her spot to look at the thief.
"That was a good episode," Martin fired off, snapping his fingers and pointing to her.
"I dunno, they did it in season 4 and I thought it was betterly executed there," Dakota said, the sentence both defying and confirming her age.
"That was different though, it was a thing they did to Constable Reggie to make the audience pity him," Hailey offered, though the words were barely out of her mouth before she smacked her palm to her forehead. "You guys, what the heck!"
Finally the last member of the group spoke. "She isn't doing anything we ourselves haven't done before."
"…I hate that you can find loopholes," Janae mumbled to the remaining girl, pointing her spoon accusingly.
"But Isobel's right," Avery piped in, sitting up in his spot. "Miss Song is just like the rest of us, and – and I mean, we don't even know, she could help us out!"
"And as the Lancer to Janae's Hero, I need to further antagonize her and say we do so." Isobel grinned over the fork in her teeth. "And so it shall be done."
"Wait, you guys –"
"You're not our captain."
"I know, I just –"
"So you're a wanted criminal," Isobel cut over Janae, focusing her attention on River. "That's nothing new to us. What do you plan to give us in return?"
"My gratitude, for starters."
"I unfortunately think that's a bit easy to come by," Ortense replied astutely. "We're not trying to be mean, Miss Song. We just need our bases covered."
"You want to buy us ice cream?" Dakota asked, causing everyone to turn to her, eyebrows drawn. "Ice cream for seven is an investment."
"…It is, especially out here..."
"That's gonna run fifty, easy…"
"Real ice cream, the kind with Earth cows' milk, not that soy replacement."
"Haven't had real ice cream in so long…"
River paused for a moment, trying to decide if the group perhaps suffered from a collective disorder. But they all seemed genuinely thrilled with the idea of getting ice cream as a payment.
"Where can one get ice cream in this region?"
"Oh – the next way station." Janae, the one opposed, was suddenly the leader in the campaign for their reward. She grinned. "It's a huge trading outpost, like a farmer's market of old."
"Well…If that's what you want."
"Yes," was the collective response.
"Then that'll be my payment."
With the promise of ice cream (really, ice cream?) at their disposal, the group hurriedly ate the remainders of their food while River secured her traveling pack. Her diary covered the broken vortex manipulator at the bottom, a tiny sigh escaping her.
"Something wrong?" Avery ventured, finishing off the last piece of bread from his tray. "I – I hope our ice cream gambit isn't…"
River laughed. "Oh sweetie, that is one of my least troubling concerns at the moment." She made eye contact with him. "My highest desire is to get out of this place without losing anything."
"Mmm. That's how we usually roll too."