MARITAL PROBLEMS

by Lorraine Anderson

"Are you ever going to change back, Professor?" Ace said

while handing her a trionic harmonizer - at least Ace hoped it was the trionic harmonizer.

The Doctor was lying on her back under the central

console with her violet vest under her head. She glanced at the instrument and handed it back. "The next one," she said.

"Oh," Ace said. She exchanged the two instruments.

"You're changing the subject, Doctor."

"I'm busy fixing the control console."

"You're always fixing the control console."

The Doctor poked the instrument in the console and

twisted it. "If you were several hundred years old, you'd need constant fixing, too."

"You don't, and you're kinda old."

"Ah," she said, twisting the instrument another turn.

"But I regenerate at regular intervals." She made a face. "More than regular intervals, unfortunately. I would've liked to have kept that one blonde regeneration. It was nice to have a young body again."

Ace sighed and shrugged. "Doctor..."

The Doctor sighed. "To answer your question...I don't know. I didn't know the last time you asked, and I won't know the next time you ask. I know it will be soon."

"How soon?"

"I don't know," the Doctor said, irritated. "What

difference does it make? I'm me, no matter what I look like."

"Well - it makes me a little jumpy, you know? I never know who I'm going to see when I turn around."

The Doctor looked at her instrument, then twisted something on it. "There's a 99 percent chance I'm going to look the way I did before the Rani changed me."

"It's that other one percent that worries me, Doctor."

She sat back and hugged her knees.

"You changed back fine, didn't you?" said the Doctor, distracted.

Ace grinned, remembering the day that the Rani changed her into a male. "That was brill!" Her smile faded. "But I changed back after a day. It's been weeks for you, Doctor."

She pushed something and grunted. "I told you it would take longer." She pushed something, grunted, then something inside the console crackled. The central control console settled in the down position. "Uh-oh," the Doctor muttered.

Ace quickly got up. "We've stopped."

"Of course, we stopped," the Doctor said. She pushed at something in the console and nodded, then pulled herself up. "It's fixed now," she muttered. "The question is, where have we stopped?" She checked a readout. "Well, the atmosphere is a little thin...quite hot...but at least it's not poisonous."

"That's always nice to know," Ace grumbled.

"Sarcasm ill-becomes you, Ace," the Doctor said, checking a few more instruments. She turned on the display, and shrugged. "Looks rather dry, doesn't it?"

"Yeah," Ace muttered, looking at the desert. "A little creepy, too. Where and when are we?"

"Where - I'm not entirely certain. As to when, a few centuries before your time. Just an eyeblink, really."

"Oh." Ace blinked at the eyeblink metaphor. "Just

curious."

"Well, let's go and satisfy your curiosity, eh?" She put on her deerstalker, pulled the door latch, and started out the door, pulling on her vest.

"Wait!" Ace said. "I don't have my backpack!"

"Oh, I don't think you'll need it, " the answer drifted back.

Ace stood for a moment, indecisive, then ran after the Doctor...

...and regretted her decision almost immediately. Rough hands grabbed her arms, put a blindfold over her eyes, and trussed her up. "Doctor!" she screamed, then a gag went into her mouth. She heard a muffled sound she hoped was the Doctor, then she was tossed over a bony shoulder.

Well, she wasn't going to take this lying down! She

started kicking, screaming, and pounding her fist against her captor's back. After a particularly hard kick, she heard her captor exhale sharply, then the rest of the crowd broke into

laughter. "s'Tam," her captor said wearily. "Will you help me?"

"Can't handle the little one yourself, s'Ran?" came a mocking voice.

"Just knock her out, s'Tam," s'Ran said, annoyed.

Ace felt a hand at her neck, then she didn't know any more.

#

She woke up with an immense headache, then decided the

headache was nothing compared to the neck ache. Gradually, she realized she was lying on a stone floor...or maybe a bench, she amended as she opened her eyes and slowly turned her head. She looked up again. No, it was more like a niche in a sandstone wall. She groaned.

"Ah...you're up," the Doctor said.

"I'm awake," Ace groaned. "Do I have to get up?"

"You'll feel better," she said. "It'll get your blood stirring. As I said before, the atmosphere is a bit thin."

Ace kept her eyes closed. "Where are we?"

"I'm not entirely sure," the Doctor said regretfully. "I was knocked out, also, by that cursed neck pinch. And our guards seem remarkably untalkative."

"Guards?" Ace's eyes opened, searched around the room, then spotted the Doctor, who pointed at a door with a barred

window. Ace slowly got up and looked out of the window. All she could see was long dark hair, an upswept eyebrow, and a pointed ear.

"Hey," she said. When she didn't get any reaction, she looked down, took one of her pins off, and poked him on the earlobe. The guard's hand quickly came up, grabbed the pin, and stuffed it in a pocket.

"Hey!" Ace said, annoyed.

The Doctor shrugged. "That's more of a reaction than I got from them."

"He stole my pin!" Ace said.

"He confiscated it," the Doctor said. "There's a difference."

"Not where I'm standing."

"The solution is simple," the Doctor said, sitting down. "If you don't want to lose another pin, then don't poke the guard in the ear." She looked at Ace. "That reminds me - you do have your language translator on, don't you?"

Ace pointed to her ear. "Of course, professor," she

said, annoyed. "I've been keeping it on ever since you got changed. There's no way I'm going to miss what's going on because I can't understand somebody."

"Good. I didn't want to keep translating all the time."

"Not that you would've anyway, once you got interested in something." She sat down, ill-tempered, in one of the wall niches.

The door opened, and a tall man in a dark cloak swept in, along with three of his retainers. Ace immediately got up again, annoyance on her face. One of the guards

immediately moved toward her, only impeded by a small hand gesture of the tall man.

"Good afternoon, sir," the Doctor said, sitting perfectly still. "I am called the Doctor. Might I inquire your name?"

The man looked down at her. "You were seen emerging

from your hiding place on our territory. What faction are you from?"

"Faction?"

The man stood silent, waiting for his answer.

"Ah. The interrogation has begun."

"You state the obvious," the dark man said. "I am

waiting for my answer."

"It must be obvious, even to you, that I am not from

your planet," the Doctor said, amused. "We were merely traveling by."

"Do not waste my time with fiction."

"You might note my eyebrows and my ears." The Doctor took off her deerstalker.

"Birth defects."

"And hers?"

The man barely glanced at her. "The same." He stared at the Doctor. "We also know you have two hearts, and hers is in the wrong spot." Ace looked down at her chest, puzzled.

"Ah. And what did you make of that?"

"Since space travel is impossible, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that you were sent from another faction to confuse and divide us, as preparation to attack. But we are not fooled." He smiled. "What other conclusion can be drawn?"

"Pigheaded fool," the Doctor muttered. "Refuses to see the logic in front of his eyes." She looked up at the man. "Your logic is faulty and sophomoric."

One of the guards moved forward, his lance threatening.

"Never mind," the Doctor said, disgusted. "Tell me,

sir...are these lances really needed? Do we look like we're going to conquer your whole army?" The guards did not move. "For heavens sakes, didn't you contact those enemies of yours? What did they say about us?"

"They denied knowing of your existence..." The Doctor tried to say something, but the man went on. "...as usual."

"Cor! I don't believe this guy!" Ace muttered into a clenched fist.

"You know," the Doctor said conversationally. "I've

always enjoyed talking to your descendents. Their logic isn't quite as faulty."

"What?" the man said, startled.

"Don't worry about it. That's impossible, too. You

know, you should make it a practice of believing ten impossible things before breakfast. What is your name, anyway?"

"I am s'Tonn, sub-leader of the Western land."

"Pleased to meet you, I'm sure," the Doctor said sincerely. "When are you going to let us go?"

"Ha!" s'Tonn laughed without humor. "I have my orders about you." He sobered. "And it displeases me as much as it will displease you."

"And your orders?"

"I am ordered to take you as bond-mate."

"What!" Ace stood up. "Does that mean what I think it means?"

The Doctor laughed genuinely. "Yes, Ace."

Ace's mouth dropped open. "You can't do that!"

"I know that. But I see his commander's reasoning.

Being a bond-mate - a wife - to him means that we would have to establish a telepathic link. He would know where I was at all times, or, rather, could find out whenever he wishes." The Doctor turned to s'Tonn. "Unfortunately for you, it won't work. My mind is much more powerful than yours. You could never establish a successful link, unless I wanted you to."

"Besides..." Ace started.

"Irrelevant, Ace. He'll find out, soon enough. Don't you have a wife, s'Tonn?"

s'Tonn's face set. "She was killed two years ago, in a border attack."

"Ah. That explains it. I didn't think your people were ever polygamists...but this is beside the point. I can never be your wife."

"I am ordered to kill your servant, and then yourself, if you do not comply."

The Doctor raised her eyebrows. "Hmmm. Interesting

proposition. I wonder why you don't kill us both in the first place and be done with it? This seems rather an involved way to neutralize a spy...which I am not, I assure you." s'Tonn's face set. "Oh," the Doctor said regretfully. "You think I'm something more important than a mere spy. You're going to keep me as a pawn to keep your elusive enemies from attacking. Futile, since I am not your enemy."

s'Tonn looked at her. "You will be well treated, if you comply. You will not be bored. You have a good intellect, and I do find you somewhat pretty."

Ace giggled at the last statement.

"I'm hurt, Ace," the Doctor said. "This was the first time in my life that someone called me pretty." She winked at Ace.

"Sorry, Doctor," Ace giggled.

s'Tonn offered a hand to the Doctor, who took it and got up. "We shall go to the marriage site now."

"What?" Ace yelped.

The Doctor cocked her head to one side. "That was a

short engagement."

s'Tonn was almost apologetic. "These were my orders, Doctor." He looked down at her. "There is no logic in being killed, when you are offered such an easy way out."

"There is no logic in killing, whatsoever." The Doctor looked regretful, remembering. "Well, let's at least go to the Koon-ut Kal-if-fee. At least you won't have to fight for me, as you undoubtedly did for your first wife. Brutal culture." He looked at s'Tonn. "It's amazing your descendents survived with so few scars."

"Doctor!" Ace said, lunging forward. A guard caught her and she glared at him. "You're going through with this?"

"Of course, Ace," the Doctor grinned.

#

"You do, of course, still have the option of Kal-if-

fee," s'Tonn said as they walked into the marriage circle. "No, I think not," sighed the Doctor.

Ace, flanked by two guards, was walking behind them.

"What did he say?"

"The Kal-if-fee. He means I have the option of choosing another husband."

"Is that so bad?"

"The two would then have to fight each other to the

death for my hand in marriage. They rather liked doing that in this period." The Doctor looked around at the small crowd. "Hmmm. Vultures looking for a fight."

"Cor!" Ace considered this. "You know, it's kinda

romantic...in a gory sort of way." The Doctor stared at her, disbelieving. "Well, I don't approve of it either, but it is."

"Honestly, Ace!"

"Daddy!" A little boy ran up to s'Tonn, who picked him up with obvious delight.

"Ah," the Doctor said serenely. "I'm to be a mother, too, eh?"

"Doctor," s'Tonn smiled. "This is s'Urak. Four years old and already getting skilled in the ahn-woon."

"Surak?" the Doctor said, obviously startled. "Well, this is interesting."

"Who's the lady in the pants?" s'Urak said, looking

askance at the Doctor.

"This will be your new mother." He gave the boy to the Doctor, who held him awkwardly.

Ace laughed, and the Doctor glared at her. "s'Tonn," she said sincerely. "You will not believe this, but I can see into the future. You have an unusual son. He will be a peacemaker and the father of a new philosophy." The Doctor shook her head, and her face suddenly turned white, but she went on. "Do not bring him up in the art of warfare."

s'Tonn looked at her. "You act like you won't be around."

"Oh, I won't. For reasons that will be obvious to you in just a few minutes." She was panting, and her face was pale. She gave s'Urak to Ace, and s'Tonn motioned the guards to escort her and the boy to sidelines.

s'Tonn led the Doctor up to a gong. He picked up the stick, and started his backswing. The Doctor put her hand in front of the gong. "No," the Doctor said loudly, panting. "I told you before. We cannot marry."

s'Tonn looked startled. "You agreed! If you do not, I must kill you!"

The Doctor was in real distress. "If you remember, I never agreed. I told you I could not be your wife."

"Why?" s'Tonn asked, puzzled.

"Watch," the Doctor panted out before she collapsed.

Ace grinned. "Yes!" she crowed. s'Urak, startled,

started applauding. s'Tonn moved forward, as if to help the Doctor, then stared.

The body on the ground shifted and grew a little taller. The face shifted. Suddenly, the Doctor opened his eyes, sat up, and fingered his beard. "Well. This is an interesting addition," he muttered, then he looked up at s'Tonn. "Believe me now?"

s'Tonn turned pale and staggered back. Then his face set, he strode forward, and he pulled the Doctor's beard. "Ow!" the Doctor said, rubbing his chin. "Was that necessary?"

"Is that my mommy?" s'Urak asked Ace, confused.

Ace stared at him, and said, "No." She hugged him and smiled, "No, that's the Doctor. My Doctor."

#

"I'm glad your superiors saw things my way," the Doctor

said, without a trace of irony. He stopped for a moment to pull at his slacks, which were too short and rather tight. His vest, which was over his shoulder, fell to the ground. Ace, walking behind him on the way back to the Tardis, grinned at the sight. The guards behind her steadfastly looked the other way. "I'll be glad to get back and change back to my old clothes," he muttered.

"The evidence was overwhelming," s'Tonn said with some amusement. "Our people cannot change sexes like you can."

"Yes, well..." the Doctor said uncomfortably. As he had explained to Ace, there was no need to confuse them further. "You know, you're taking this rather well. I expected you to be angry. Your people are usually rather violent."

s'Tonn smiled. "I didn't want to be bond-mate with you, either, if you'll remember. Besides, I've been thinking." His face went sober. "It has been a long war. I think it is time to retire my commission. I have served faithfully for long enough. My son needs my attention now."

"All wars are too long," the Doctor said.

s'Tonn smiled. "Also, I was not angry - because it was not my time of pon farr."

The Doctor popped a button on his shirt across his

chest, and he down at it, annoyed. "For which I am eternally grateful. I have no wish to be slaughtered simply because I am the wrong sex." He stepped wrong, stumbled, and looked at his tennis shoes, which were now a size too small.

This time Ace laughed out loud. "I didn't have that

trouble with my clothing, Professor!"

"Yes, and I don't understand it." He looked up. "Never mind. We're here."

"I don't understand why you wanted to be led back to

your hiding place..." s'Tonn started.

"You'll know in a moment. So long, s'Tonn. Be sure you raise Surak logically." He smiled, then opened the door. "Come, Ace."

"Just a second, Doctor." She held a hand out to one of the guards, who sheepishly took Ace's pin out of his pocket and handed it to her. "Now I'm ready." They waved at the guards, then Ace and the Doctor stepped into the Tardis. A second later, the police box disappeared.

One of the guards yelled, then studied the ground that the Tardis had stood.

"Oh," s'Tonn said, bemused, realizing. "Fascinating."

END