Li Tuo sat next to Marion on the Merseylink train to New Brighton. They watched the Wirral coast pass by and felt the jolting of the wheels on the track beneath them. It was Marion’s idea for a day out. She had come through the portal as soon as Kristoph had left this morning. She brought a picnic of all the kinds of food that Li didn’t get to eat very often - moon fruit and Pazithi goat cheese and other luxuries from Gallifrey.

“You hardly ever leave Chinatown,” she said to him. “It will do you good to have an outing.”

“It does me good to have an outing with you, Marion, my dear,” he responded. “It is good to see you in any circumstances. But it is a lovely day and a walk on the promenade will be refreshing. You are quite right, though. I don’t leave Chinatown often. At least not by public transport. I have my own way of travelling, of course. I took Lily to 18th century Peking only last week.”

“Yes, she told me all about it,” Marion told him. “She had a very nice time. She enjoys being a lady of China almost as much as she likes being a Lady of Gallifrey.”

Lily was just as happy to stay in Liverpool’s Chinatown with Li. Their love affair was still as passionate as ever. And Marion was pleased that it was. Lily and Li were precious friends to her and she was glad they were happy.

Lily often came to Liverpool with her. But today she wanted to spend the time with Li. And he was happy to oblige, even if her idea of a day out was a strangely prosaic one.

“It is quite a long time since I went on a picnic,” he said. “This is pleasant. But how are you, my dear Marion? Are you well? Are you coming to terms with life as First Lady of Gallifrey?”

They were speaking to each other in Gallifreyan. The language came easily to Marion these days. A few passengers glanced at them strangely, but they didn’t care. It meant that they could talk about Gallifrey without worrying about being overheard.

“I am enjoying it more than I thought I would,” she answered. “I held a banquet last week, in the grand hall of the Citadel. That was quite an experience. Five hundred guests. I haven’t had that many people to dinner since our Alliance.”

“Do you know five hundred people?” Li asked.

“No, not really,” Marion admitted with a laugh. “I think I know about fifty people particularly well, and maybe half of those are friends. There were some people at the banquet who weren’t really friends at all. Lady Oakdaene was there. So was Oriana, my sister-in-law. I hadn’t seen her for months. Not that she talked to me. She and Lady Oakdaene were thick as thieves together, along with their own little clique. But I didn’t mind. I have... my own cliques! There are quite a few ladies involved in my libraries now. Lady Dúccesci is very enthusiastic. I’m not sure if she wants to be a patron or a member, though. She must have read almost half of the books I’ve indexed so far.”

Li laughed softly at the idea and listened to her describing her banquet held on the occasion of the first official day of the Gallifreyan summer. He listened to her description of her gown for the evening, in soft green voile, like the summer leaves of the Cúl nut trees. He listened to her describe the gown Lily had worn and paid especial interest to the names of the men she danced with.

“She only danced with them,” Marion added. “She isn’t interested in any other man but you.”

“I believe you, my dear,” Li assured her. “I don’t mind Lily enjoying herself.”

“You ought to be with her on these occasions. It isn’t fair.”

“Many things are not fair. I have my life and my health. And I have Lily as often as she dares make herself absent from her social circle. I could not ask for more.”

“Yes, you could. You could ask for a lot of things. You could ask the High Council to reinstate you, so that you could come home. You could ask Lily to marry you in the Panopticon. Kristoph would be so honoured to perform that ceremony. You could ask for your birthright as the firstborn son of the House of Oakdaene.”

“I am content, Marion,” Li assured her. “I have resigned my hearts. I know I shall never see Gallifrey again. But she is in my soul. That is enough.”

It didn’t seem enough for Marion. She shook her head sadly.

“If we were on Gallifrey I would not be allowed to spend the day in your company like this. It would be quite improper for me to go on a picnic with the Lord High President’s wife.”

“We would be surrounded by Presidential Guards. It really is quite a refreshing change to be away from them for a time. Walking through the shopping centre, and into Central Station, showing our tickets at the barrier.... you know, for a few seconds I expected the ticket inspector to bow to me. And we were actually jostled on the escalator. That would never happen on Gallifrey. I think jostling the Lord High President’s wife is a flogging offence.”

“Don’t let it spoil you,” Li told her. “Kristoph fell in love with a girl from Birkenhead who was embarrassed to have a butler serve her tea. Don’t get so used to the trappings of power that you forget to be that girl.”

“I won’t,” she answered. “That’s why I come to Liverpool so often. It keeps my feet on the ground. It’s that sort of city. It knocks the airs and graces out of anyone who wasn’t born with them. And I need that. I need to be jostled and even sworn at occasionally in a scouse accent, my dose of cold, hard reality to take back to Gallifrey.”

“That’s my girl,” Li told her. He looked out of the window and noted that they had reached their station. He took the picnic basket down from the rack above the seat and grasped Marion’s hand as they alighted from the train. There weren’t many people getting off in New Brighton so there wasn’t much opportunity for jostling. The ticket inspector was polite to everyone, not just the wives of men who ruled alien worlds. They strolled leisurely towards the promenade and found a bench with a fine view of the sea fort to sit and eat their picnic.

“It’s lovely here,” Marion said as she ate cúl nut bread and Gallifreyan cheese and watched a motor boat pass behind the fort. “They used to have a model railway on display in the fort. I used to enjoy looking at it. I wonder if it’s still there.”

“We can find out later,” Li promised. “Anything you want to do, my dear.... except build a sandcastle.”

Marion laughed and looked at the unusual ‘beach’ of hard red stone pocked with rock pools that was the bane of the New Brighton tourist trade.

“When I was a little girl I thought magicians had cast a spell on the sand and made it turn to stone,” she said. “It was rather disappointing to learn all about tidal estuaries and sand migration in geography. I think I preferred the magicians.”

“So do I,” Li agreed. “Everyone needs a little magic.”

“I got more than my share of it the first day I met Kristoph. I never could have guessed the things that would happen to me or the people I would meet... the people I would call my friends.”

She sighed softly, though not unhappily and looked at Li. He was so very old, thousands of years old. He had seen and done so much before that fateful day when he and Kristoph met on that mountain plateau in China and fought so bitterly. She remembered that he hadn’t looked Chinese then. It was only after Kristoph forced his body to regenerate for the last time that he took on the appearance of a young Chinaman. He spent nearly two thousand years living as a Chinaman, loved so many women, so often, that he needed a huge album to keep their images in. And now he was her friend and mentor and Lily’s lover in their twilight years.

But long before all of that, Mai Li Tuo had been Lee Koschei Oakdaene, a Time Lord of Gallifrey. He had been a soldier and a spy.

And he had been a torturer. She looked around at the clear blue sky of an early summer day, seagulls in the sky, children playing on the sandless beach, the grey-blue of the Mersey estuary where it became the Irish Sea. It was all beautiful and nice and it was strange to imagine dark and terrible things. As she looked into the gentle eyes of her friend, it was almost impossible to imagine that his job had once been to inflict terrible pain on other men.

Yet, the images came easily into her head. She saw Lee Koschei Oakdaene, the young Director of the Celestial Intervention Agency, dressed in black, wearing a half mask of leather over his eyes, his mouth set in a cruel, hard expression as he cracked a whip across the naked back of a bound and helpless prisoner. The whip was charged with an electrical field that send spasms of pain through the prisoner’s body as well as leaving a bloody stripe upon his flesh. Lee wielded the whip again and again until the prisoner’s back was scored deeply, looking more like raw meat than living flesh. But the prisoner was a Time Lord. His back mended in a short time, and then the torture began again. It continued for hour after hour. The torturer’s arm never tired. Every lash was as deep and harsh as the first.

And the prisoner took his punishment without protest. True, he screamed with agony when the first lash connected with his body. He grunted with pain as each subsequent blow hit him. But he made no complaint. He knew he was being justly punished.

“Marion... my dear lady... where are such images coming from?” Li asked, shocked by what he saw in her mind. “They’re not just... Oh, my dear.”

Li embraced her in his arms. She felt his kiss on her cheek and the summer warmth, the laughter of children, the squawk of sea birds, the smell and sound of the sea, returned, pushing away the noisome dark of the interrogation cell.

“That wasn’t just your imagination running wild,” Li said. “I recognise that man... the prisoner who took his punishment so willingly. You’ve met him, haven’t you? He told you his story. And now here you are with me... the other player in that terrible scene. And you can see it just as it was.”

“How is that possible?” Marion asked. “I’m not Gallifreyan. I’m not psychic.”

“You are surrounded every day by people who are. The latent potential that is in every humanoid brain has been touched in you. These events.... they were so very highly emotional. So much rage and despair. And your gentle empathy allowed you to see them.”

“I would rather it didn’t,” Marion said. “It was horrible. But... I suppose it’s part of the reason I wanted to spend some time with you... in a nice, pleasant place like this. I need to forget Lee Koschei Oakdaene the torturer and remember instead my good, loving friend, Mai Li Tuo.”

“They are one and the same. Just as The Executioner lies beneath the skin of The Peacemaker, so The Torturer lies within the soul of Mai Li Tuo the purveyor of Chinese herbs and medicines.”

“I know. I accept that. I understand why you did what you did that time... and so many other times. You tortured traitors who would have brought disaster to Gallifrey. You tortured that man... in particular... because he had already brought disaster to Gallifrey. He had hurt so many others... there wasn’t enough hurt you could inflict on his one body that would balance the hurt he had brought to men like Kristoph... to his mother and father, to Lily and women like her who grieved for their loved ones. I understand that is why you did such a terrible thing. And... I forgive you, Li. I do.”

“YOU forgive me?” Li smiled softly.

“Yes. On his behalf. Because the one thing I have realised, thinking about him, and you, is that you are so much alike. You... you both did terrible things for what you believed to be the right reasons. And you both... I’ve tried to decide, thinking about it, which of you has the worst punishment, now. He, in his internal exile, on his island under the Gallifreyan sky, but cut off from all but a brief and rare contact with anyone of his world... Or you... living here on Earth, doomed never to look at the sky of your home world. And I can’t decide which is worse. He deserved his punishment, of course. You... you were... your crime was misunderstood, and it is only because the High Council are too stubborn to admit their mistake that you remain in exile. You are the more wronged by Gallifrey. But even so, I think you are the same in so many ways. And... when I lay down to sleep at night, and I give thanks in my heart for my good fortune, for the man I love at my side and the good life I lead... I think of you and hope you are well. And... lately I have thought of him, too. And wished him well, also. I want you to know that. I think of you both in my prayers.”

“May you always do so, my dear, sweet, gentle Marion,” Li said. “I have not thought of that wretched man for so long. When I think of Gallifrey I think of gentler faces and kinder hearts. But... I shall find it in myself to emulate you. I shall wish him health and peace of mind. I don’t know if he could do the same for me... but I shall.”

“That’s the man I know and love,” Marion told him. “Thank you, Li.” She turned her face and kissed his cheek. For a long time they hugged on the bench, ignoring the surprised glances and scandalised gasps of people who saw a young woman and an old man in such an intimate embrace. Then they packed away the remains of their picnic and walked on towards the long stone pier that ended at the lonely fort that once defended the Mersey from sea-faring enemies and was now one of the tourist attractions of New Brighton. The sun shone down on the two friends and darkness was banished.