Midway through a ten-minute fuzz-guitar solo in "Incy-Wincy Spider," the Doctor's amp began to crackle. He jiggled the plug. That was usually enough to fix it.
The amp also began to talk. That was a bit new.
"Doc-" skreeessskkkkkhhhh "Doc-" skskkkkkkkkssss "Ro" skrreeeeessssh
He stopped playing and adjusted the treble and volume. More fuzzy screeches. He adjusted the bass. Fuzzy screeches, but with somewhat more depth. He whipped out the sonic sunglasses and stared very pointedly at the amp. It ignored him.
Finally, he gave it a good, solid thump.
"Doctor, it's Romana," said a crackling voice from the amp. "I am trapped at dimensional coordinates 4-9-12, 38-23 by 3-35. Come quickly if you can. This message will now repeat. Doctor, it's Romana. I am trapped at –"
He had the coordinates set before the message finished repeating.
* * *
Romana, flat to the wall beside the only window in the room, peeked out at the street from behind striped curtains that must have been blue and white at one point but had since decayed into a solid, grimy grey. "Shh," she said, not even bothering to turn and look at him. "Must you arrive like a Nimon in a china shop?"
"Sorry, I didn't realise I was going to be landing in gran's old dollhouse," he said. "Also, hello, lovely to see you, been a good thousand years and a few surprising regenerations on my end, how about you?"
Romana carefully extracted herself from the curtains, patting them back in place. Now that the Doctor could see her face, he could tell she'd aged: her cheeks were jowlier, her neck bonier, her hair half-blonde, half-silver.
"Doctor," Romana said. "It's so good to see you." She reached for him.
"I'm not much of a hugger these days –"
Romana's hands settled on his cheeks, while her lips settled on his, firm and no-nonsense and with a delightful hint of tongue.
"That wasn't a hug," she said.
"I noticed. An adequate substitute. We could, you know, try it again later. If you like."
"Let's wait and see if there is a 'later' first." There was a sudden, high-pitched screech, the feedback whine of a poorly connected microphone.
"Romana!" said a voice from outside. "We will hold this village hostage until you surrender! If you do not surrender within the next three minutes, it's the Number Five for them – wait, what was that, Fenroy? The Number Four? Well, I'm sorry, Blix specifically requested the Number Five, and it's his turn – " A thump as someone covered the microphone with their hand, and the voice grew quieter. "Fenroy! You've got the next pillaging, we've a strict rota! If you want Blix's slot, you two work it out like adults." The rustling of the hand being removed from the microphone. "Romana! Three minutes! Or it's the Number Five, and you know what that means!"
There were distant dismayed wails and shrieks, and then the microphone cut off.
Romana slumped against the wall, held up her hand to stop the Doctor from speaking. "Number Five: tie up the villagers, weight them down, throw them in the nearest river. Fortunately, the nearest river is only half a metre deep at this point, but the Turquoise Terrors don't know that."
"The Turquoise Terrors?"
"Pirates," Romana said. "Look, you try making your way through an unfamiliar universe without a TARDIS. Or a ship Rassilon hasn't programmed to explode once he's exiled you to another dimension. Or, for that matter, money."
"And what exactly did you do to get on the wrong side of these pirates?"
"Is now really the time to question my decisions? If I'd done that every time you made a decision, we'd probably still be looking for the Key to Time."
"All right, now I've got to know."
"They picked me up moments before my booby-trapped ship would have killed me. To pay off the cost of my rescue, I served as their ambassador and made certain … negotiations on their behalf. But it turns out pirates are extremely good with violence and drinking and, well, piracy, but they're terrible accountants. And I needed financing to escape. Captain Jelnax offered to forgive everything – debts, embezzlement, and all – if I married him. Obviously, I was hoping for another option."
"Really? Not tempted at all by the life of a pirate queen? With the swashbuckling and the swishing coats and a talking parrot perched on your shoulder?"
"… and the robbery and the murder and the constant running from the authorities." The corner of her mouth turned up in a shy smile. "Though the last part would have been somewhat familiar."
"So, now they're here, holding the village hostage."
"Yes." Romana sighed. "This planet was as far as my ill-gotten gains took me, and these poor people shouldn't pay for my mistakes. I have to surrender."
"I wish you'd told me. I'd have brought a wedding gift."
"I said I was going to surrender. I didn't say anything about marrying him."
The Doctor reached for Romana's hand and squeezed it. "That's my Romana."
* * *
It was easy to tell which pirate was the captain. He was the oldest, had the longest and scruffiest beard, and sported a gold necklace with the word "Captain" in curly script lettering.
Romana strode right up to him and waved the Doctor forward.
"Captain Jelnax," she said, "this is my husband, the Doctor."
"Excuse me. When exactly did we get married?" the Doctor whispered.
"We've been married at least four times that I can recall. One of them might even have been deliberate."
"Even the time on …"
"Especially that time."
"Oh, well, that was a rather nice time, now that you mention it. Lovely flowers. Tasty hors d'oeuvres. I could use a nibble right now, couldn't you?"
"You can eat at the reception, Doctor," said Jelnax. "Fenroy! Draw up the divorce papers."
"Really, Captain, there's no need," Romana said. "You see, I should also tell you that I am with child."
"You're what? When did we have time to – I mean, I'm a very old man, but I'd like to think I'd remember that," said the Doctor.
"It's sweet that you think my imaginary child is yours," said Romana. She turned back to Jelnax. "So you see, Captain, I'm completely unsuited to be your wife."
"Nonsense. Your son will make a fine pirate someday. It's a boy, of course; you look like you'll breed only stout young lads."
"Well," said Romana, "I must admit, I have superior genes."
"You should see her alleles," the Doctor added. "Superb. Top-notch, even."
"Not helpful," Romana hissed at him. "Captain, I'm afraid I simply can't leave my husband. Surely we can come to some sort of alternate arrangement that doesn't involve the Number Five … or was it Four? Blix, have you and Fenroy sorted things out?"
"Yes, ma'am," said a younger pirate, bright-eyed and stubble-cheeked. "Fenroy and me, we talked things over, and the Number Four is nice and all, but wind's a bit high today, innit? Never can tell what that'll do to a fire. Drowning's much safer, everything considered. So Number Five it is."
"Well, I'm glad you had a good chat, even though I don't think we should be murdering anyone today. Or any other day, for that matter."
"Yes, well, we're pirates, ain't we, ma'am? We've been through this before with you. It's sort of part and parcel of who we are. Our core identity, as the saying goes."
"You don't always need to bite. But others need to know you can bite when you have to. Also as the saying goes," said Captain Jelnax.
The Doctor cocked his head at him. Surely it couldn't be. "Hang on … are you quoting DINOZaurs? 'Soft jaws, strong bite'? 'It's not the size of the DINO, it's the sound of the roar,' that DINOZaurs?"
"You're a fan, Doctor?"
"Of one of the universe's greatest children's shows about prehistoric reptile cyborgs? Of course I am!"
"He's got the complete box set in several formats," Romana said. "I can't believe I didn't recall that before. How forgetful I've become after all this time." She tugged on the Doctor's jacket sleeve. "I need you to fetch something from the TARDIS. We can trade it to save the village and pay off my debt."
She leaned in and whispered in his ear.
"No, no, no, no. Not that," he said.
"We can get you another one!"
He sighed. "All right, all right. But only because people's lives are at stake. And I don't want anyone saying I've denied an imaginary mother-to-be anything she asked for."
"We can discuss my psychosomatic pregnancy cravings later. Just go."
* * *
Captain Jelnax's jaw dropped open. "Is that … is that a Gygazor?"
"Gygazor the turquoise DINOZaur, rightful lord of Zaurtopia, mint condition, new in box. Only 50 ever made, and this one was first off the line. See? Three-dimensional holographic foil stamp of authenticity," the Doctor said. "Ah, ah, no touching until you agree to let these nice villagers go and clear Romana's debt and, as long as we're having this little negotiation, you should cut down on the piracy. Don't you remember what Gygazor said to Steggy the Crimson Stegosaur and Terry the Tan Triceratops after they fought over the fern salad?"
Jelnax looked down at his feet and finally spoke in a quiet voice: "Friends don't fight. Friends share."
"That's right. And also: 'friends don't hold other people hostage.' Well, actually, that's me, not Gygazor, although I've programmed him with several helpful reminders. You know, 'Instead of pillaging that town, why not try a nice cup of tea?', 'Plunder never tastes as good as a chocolate biscuit,' that sort of thing."
"Take it, Captain," Romana said. "Look, apart from the theft and murder, you're a very fair and reasonable man. Your crew respects you. You could do good in this sector – hire yourselves out as protection, perhaps. Or go back to school. Take a basic bookkeeping course."
Jelnax turned the carton over and over in his hands, tracing the starbursts with his finger. Finally, he pressed the button on the front of the package. "Be the best DINOZaur you can be," said the toy, finishing with a tinny roar.
"You're free to go, Romana," the captain said. "And all of you as well! Boys, let these nice people go home. They've been more than patient with us."
"Thank you, Captain. If it weren't for you and your crew, I wouldn't be alive today. And I know all of you can do great things if you try," said Romana.
"Come along, Romana," said the Doctor. "And Captain – as Gygazor once said: bite hard – but bite for justice."
* * *
"We can get you another Gygazor later. Right now, I'm looking forward to going home."
"Ah. About that. It might be a little while before we get there."
"And that would be because …?" Romana pushed open the TARDIS door. "My goodness. Post-Gothic industrial retro? Post-retro industrial Gothic? What do you call this, exactly?"
"Home. I call it home. As for Gallifrey … let's say I mislaid it slightly after the War. Finding it's a bit of a work in progress. I could use some help, you know. Running calculations, unlocking pocket dimensions, that sort of thing."
"Nothing terribly difficult, then," Romana said. "For me, at least."
"No." He took her hand, kissed it, admired the blush in her cheek. "Not for you. Never for you."
"In that case," she said, wrapping her arms round his neck, "I suppose I can help."
"Then Gallifrey it is …" He punched a set of coordinates into the console and flipped the launch lever. "… right after a quick stop at the DINOZaur factory."
"It's where I always dreamed of spending our honeymoon."
"Did you know," he said, "I can bite when I have to?"
"I was counting on it," Romana replied, and her lips met his, soft and sweet and strong.