In which Ardent Aspen takes ill, and receives an unexpected visitor.

(Because I was lying in bed, as sick as a dog, when suddenly "Optimus" started playing on my Internet radio)

"I am quite certain," thought Aspen, "that there is nothing so miserable as being sick at night." And she quite meant it. When you are ill during the daytime, you do not feel nearly as alone as you do at night. When you are not at home, it is even more unpleasant, because it isn't your mattress or pillows, and the walls aren't nearly so interesting now that you've been staring at them for an hour.

As she lay there feeling sorry for herself, and generally making a nuisance of herself, Aspen heard voices from beside the bed. "What's wrong with her?" asked a gruff, growly sort of voice. "I believe there's a malfunction in her tank," answered a deep, thoughtful sort of voice. Well, thought Aspen, now I know I'm sick: I'm hearing voices! "Has she tried shutting down and starting up again?" asked the growly voice.

"I'm not a computer!" Aspen said, a little crossly, "I'm a human! It doesn't work that way." "Up-bup-bup!" the gruff and growly one snapped right back, "I'm the doctor, I'll decide what works and what doesn't!" Aspen scowled and pulled her blanket further up around her face. She hoped that imaginary doctor's visits wouldn't require an insurance copay. That would be annoying, not to mention bizarre.

Now the deep and thoughtful voice spoke again. "Aspen," he said gently, "You need to sit up so Ratchet can examine you." But Aspen did not feel well, and she did not want to sit up. "He's not my doctor!" she grumbled. "No," said a third voice, "that would be me!" Aspen said, "Oh!" And, "My stars!" And, "Whatever are all you people doing in my room?" "You haven't paid the reality bill, so management's turned it off for now," said the Doctor, as if this explained everything. Which, of course, it did. Aspen, however, was a little less than thrilled by all her visitors. Especially when the Doctor and Ratchet began arguing over the proper treatment of a stomach virus. Aspen groaned and pulled the blanket all the way over her head.

"Come out, little one," the deep voice said, and a large finger smoothed her hair. "You're not going to feel any better all smothered under there!" "Can't you make them leave?" Aspen whined, sticking one hand out from under the blanket to point at the Doctor and the doctor...who were still shouting at each other. Optimus raised an eyebrow, but nodded and gave the two a pointed look. "Well!" said the Doctor, who was rather offended, "I do believe we've been dismissed, Doctor Ratchet!" "I do believe you're right, Doctor!" said Ratchet, and the two left in high dudgeon, meaning that a dudgeon appeared rather high in the air, and they vanished in it. Also, it means they were insulted.

"What a very strange imagination you have, Aspen," Optimus sighed. "No," said a fourth voice, "What a very lively imagination she has!" The owner of the new voice sat down on the edge of the bed. "Now then, I'll take it from here, if you don't mind Mr. Prime!" Optimus nodded politely. "I defer to your judgment, Ms. Song." "Alright then, Aspen," River said with a smile, "We've got to get some water in you, or you'll dehydrate!" Aspen wanted to argue that she didn't want anything in her stomach, thank-you-very-much, but one does not simply argue with River Song. Especially if she is in a no-nonsense mood, which is always. So, of course, Aspen had to drink the water. It helped for a while, but she was a little too stubborn to admit any such thing.

Eventually, she started to drift off to sleep. Optimus pulled the covers up around her once more, and River kissed her brow. "Sleep tight, Sweetie," she said with a twinkle in her eye, When Aspen awoke the next morning, there was a note fixed to her pillow. Paid the reality bill for you while you were out. You owe us again, lots of love from the Doctor and River. Aspen grumbled about time-travelers and went back to bed, fully intending to sleep for the rest of the day.

Of course, the dinosaur in the cabinet put an end to that idea, but that's a story for another time.

And herein lies the trouble of letting me write things while I'm sick. I've forgotten to pay the reality bill again.