A/N: I am now running a tumblr that includes author's notes, references, trivia, and other bits of information about my Doctor Who fics. You can find it at isthisbuildingon dot tumblr dot com - hope to see you there!
A green earth-sized planet in the Alpha quadrant of the Andromeda galaxy housed several semi-legal trading markets and more than a few unsavory characters. The inhabitants knew there was a native name for this planet, but the members of the Shadow Proclamation had simply referred to it as "Trouble" for so long, that the name had been adopted into the archives.
Fashion on this false jewel of a planet tended towards concealment, since hiding one's face and valuables made a visit much less bothersome. For this reason, a cloaked and hooded stranger alarmed no one, as anyone with any sense was cloaked and hooded themselves.
The exchange of money was laughable, as it was so easily counterfeited – only precious metals, organic technology, and information kept the Trouble economy stable. A semi-psychic monitoring system was in place over most of the marketplaces, keeping anyone from cheating too badly, but bit of subterfuge was always expected. Dealing politely and within reason was considered horribly rude.
"If they aren't attempting to swindle you, they aren't worth doing business with", the locals would say. If you deal too fairly, it's obvious you have no experience with trade.
Through one perfectly medium-ish marketplace on the southern end of the northern hemisphere walked a cloaked and hooded figure, which should come as no surprise. This specific figure stood out from the rest of the shrouded mass—literally—by sporting a pair of shimmery red four-inch pumps. River Song was in Trouble again, and she was loving every minute of it.
She passed close to another amateur pickpocket, feeling his deft hands attempt to unzip the sealed pockets of her cloak. A tiny buzz was all she could hear of her defensive system, and she smirked as he yelped, grabbing his numb hand and attempting to shake off his minor electrocution. Five thieves in one alley. I must be getting close, River thought to herself. A tiny warning signal jumped in her brain, and she turned sharply to the right, grabbing the wrist of a pale girl whose hand held River's screwdriver and an electromagnetic device perfect for pilfering. River squeezed the girl's wrist until she dropped both items. The screwdriver was caught and replaced; the electromagnet was crushed under a red stiletto heel. River glared down and asked the girl in a stern tone, "what exactly do you think you're doing?"
"Thieving, ma'am. I'll do better next time, I promise!" the girl pleaded, "Just don't tell my brother I got caught, he's winning the sneak-away, and I'll never hear the end of it if I get my points docked again."
River sighed. "Poor dear. Here," she passed an ornate coin purse and a spare anti-thievery alarm to the girl, "now you can tell him you relieved your target of the mark and the alarm system, but I'd appreciate Repudiation in exchange."
"Cor…" The girl quickly typed River's guest code into a wrist communicator, blacklisting her from the guild. "But where'd you manage these, if you don't mind my asking?"
River nodded to a nearby stall. "Large fellow over there. Flowery dress. Your mayor, I believe?"
"He is, ma'am," the girl confirmed. "And this will help my points, surely! Can you tell me how you caught me, though? So it doesn't happen again?"
River tapped the remnants of the electromagnetic pickpocket with her shoe. "Mechanical whine above the range of normal human hearing."
"You're human, though, aren't you?"
"Normal human hearing," River repeated. "Now off with you; show that brother of yours the purse, he'll ease off you for a while."
The girl beamed and took off, colliding with several members of the throng and filling her pockets with the ease of long practice. She had the makings of a good thief, River assured herself as she ducked into a tent marked "keep out" in eighteen local languages. Time for business.
"I've seen only one place seedier, but it's two clusters over in a binary star system," the Doctor said, stepping out of the TARDIS and holding his watch up to eye level.
Rory followed and squinted in the acrid fog. "You don't think she'd be there instead?"
"Good thinking, Rory," the Doctor complimented, pointing confirmingly in Rory's direction. "But no, she can't be. It's sort of troublesome to get there. Completely blocked except for subspace travel; takes millennia even in the best of ships. And it's the reason for the universal policy of non-interference."
Amy and Rose exchanged a knowing look. The Doctor noticed his companions' silence and looked away from his watch at each skeptical face in turn.
"All right, universal guideline of non-interference. Look, the entire Midichlorian Galaxy is completely inaccessible, and River gave us very clear coordinates to this place, so there's no point in debating it."
"So what did you do to have a whole galaxy blocked off from the rest of the universe?" Amy asked, making Rose snicker.
"It wasn't me. Honestly, it wasn't!" he assured his friends. "Well, not entirely; bit of a Time Lord Academy biology project that got away from us. Tried to create a single-celled omnipotence, and it turned out to be hyper-symbiotic with local life forms. Scared the pants off the council, so mostly worth it. And we all got full marks." The Doctor tilted his head to match the angle of a pulsating dot that flashed blue on the pearlescent face of his watch. He pointed towards a densely packed marketplace about a kilometer away. "She's that way. Come on, you lot," he ordered, turning around and marching back into the TARDIS. Rose and Amy followed.
"But…" Rory said, pointing in the opposite direction towards the crowd.
"Not walking half a mile in poisonous fog, Rory," the Doctor called from inside the TARDIS. Rory immediately held his breath and ducked inside.
A few minutes later, they landed in an alley. Upon exiting the TARDIS, their narrow path into the marketplace was blocked by a thuggish bald purple-skinned fellow that was not an official member of the planetary welcoming committee. "You're in trouble," he rumbled in a singsong voice that belied its malice.
"Oh good!" said the Doctor. "Thought we might have gotten lost; thanks ever so much for your help. Can you point us in the direction of the nearest lavatory? We've got a bit of an emergency on our hands."
The alien's eyes glazed over as he attempted to decide whether the Doctor was clever or stupid. They remained just as vacant when the hilt of a gladius dropped down hard on his head. He fell, unconscious, to reveal Rory, who had snuck round behind him, clad in armor and holding his newly-repaired sword.
"Makes me feel safer," Rory explained, rapping his knuckles against his breastplate.
"Ooh," Amy pursed her lips and linked arms with him, "that makes two of us."
"Three," Rose quipped, earning an affronted glance from the Doctor. "Well," she motioned to the sword, "it's no screwdriver, but it helps out in a pinch, yeah?"
"Speaking of, do you mind?" the Doctor asked. Rose smirked and pulled the sonic out from behind her back. "Where do you keep hiding it, anyway?" he wondered.
She returned it to him with a cheeky wink. "Tell you later."
The Doctor mouthed at the air, attempting to form a retort and failing miserably.
"How are we supposed to find River in this lot?" Amy prompted him.
The Doctor snapped his fingers and reached into his pocket. His forehead wrinkled in concentration as fished around for a bit, diving in nearly up to his elbow. "I swore I put them in…" he looked up to see Rose trying to hide a smile. He inquired, "Is this a new affectation?" as he reached into her jacket instead.
She smiled at him with her tongue between her teeth. "Could be. D'you mind?"
He looked up and their eyes locked, only inches away. "No…" he admitted, brushing a loose hair behind her ear, "I suppose not."
"Still here," Amy reminded them after a few seconds.
"Right," the Doctor said, straightening. "Super-technologic-time-traveler-detector-gizmos," he announced, opening the white paper bag he'd just procured from Rose. "Hold on, those are Jelly Babies, where did you… Nevermind, hand them over, come on."
Rose passed him another paper bag from her opposite pocket, which he opened, fanning the contents and holding them out for display. He handed each companion a pair of 3D glasses before donning his own. Rory flexed the earpieces of his a few times before putting them on. "No, Rory, stop!" the Doctor shouted in alarm, "The blue goes on your right! Make absolutely sure that the blue goes on the right."
"What? Why!? What happens if it's wrong?"
The Doctor looked flummoxed. "Well, it just looks stupid, doesn't it? Alright, everyone, keep an eye out for floaty-woaty void stuff; you'll know it when you see it, and don't tell River how we found her, in case she hasn't told us where she is yet. Meet back at the TARDIS in an hour with a report and at least one souvenir apiece, the mantle in the drawing room needs redecorating. Probably best that we go in pairs." He held his arm out to Rose, who took it.
"I thought you hated pears," Rose reminded him.
"You, Rose Tyler, are always an exception," the Doctor assured her as he motioned the Ponds to the south end of the marketplace.
They exited into the noisy, milling crowd.