Marion woke up and cried, because it was another morning that she woke up to see a grey ceiling in a grey room with windows made of glass embedded with steel mesh that she couldn’t see through and couldn’t smash even if she wanted to.

Another day in Ravenmoor Mental Institute.

She stopped crying after a while, because there was no point. Nobody paid any attention to tears, here. Or if they did they just put it down to depression and prescribed another pill to go with the cocktail she was already taking four times every day.

Soon, one of the nurses would bring breakfast, soft food that could be eaten with a plastic spoon. Then she would shower and put on a clean nightdress, gown and slippers and go to the recreation room until it was time for her session with Doctor Woods.

The same routine every day for a year.

The same questions, probing her mind, seeking to get to the bottom of her delusions.

When they did, when she was well, she could go home. But what was the use of that? She didn’t really HAVE a home.

Unless ‘home’ was Gallifrey

No matter how many drugs they gave her, no matter how much Doctor Woods talked about rejecting the delusions and facing reality, the delusion of her life on Gallifrey seemed more real to her. Even though she had been a patient at the Institute for a year, now, the memories of living there under that yellow sky were more fresh, more vibrant, more real, than the reality she lived in.

More real than her real life, living in a rented room in Liverpool, taking whatever bits of jobs came her way – cleaning in an old people’s home, waitressing, if she was lucky, a bit of office work.

Her dreams of being a teacher were blown. Nobody would let a mentally unstable woman near children.

In that real life she had so very little to look forward to.

In the delusion at least she had Kristoph.

The psychiatrists told her that he wasn’t real. They told her that she wasn’t married, and never had been. She had woven a fantasy around her lonely life until she found it impossible to tell it apart from reality. She had invented a husband – and not just an ordinary husband, but one who came from another planet.

How many times had she heard Doctor Woods telling her that it was just an elaborate delusion? The depth of detail about Gallifrey, about her life there, about Kristoph, was a sign of just how removed from reality she was. She had allowed herself to lose all sense of proportion and perspective.

And that was why she had been here in the Ravenmoor Insitute for a year, while Doctor Woods and others tried to free her from her delusion and make it possible for her to live an independent life again.

But it made no sense. She remembered everything about Gallifrey distinctly. She remembered the Capitol, the great city protected by its sky-dome where she so often ate lunch at the Conservatory before going on to the Citadel and the public gallery of the Panopticon chamber where she would watch the proceedings. She was always proud to watch Kristoph in his Presidential robes bestowing his wisdom and dignity on the most heated of debates.

She remembered Mount Lœng House, their home on the Southern Plain. Every detail of the house was dear to her – the entrance hall with the carpets woven to a design chosen by her, the white drawing room where she spent quiet days, the grand dining room where she was hostess to so many guests, the master bedroom where she had known so many nights of deep passion and love.

Yes, love. Deep, enduring love. That was what she had from Kristoph. He loved her in the way she never even hoped she could be loved, indulgent of her every wants and needs, yet never spoiling her, wise with her as he was with the High Council. He was her rock and her comfort. He was her lover and her protector.

He was so much older than her – thousands of years old. Doctor Woods pointed out that she had never known her real father, so in her delusion she invented a man who could be a father figure. But one who was her lover, too. He told her that it revealed a subconscious desire to be controlled, emotionally, physically and sexually. The fantasy figure of Kristoph was simply a cipher for those suppressed desires.

He didn’t feel like a cipher. He felt more real than Doctor Woods and all of his talk. Doctor Woods just made her head ache with his constant insistence that she was deluded.

It would be easy enough to tell him what he wanted to hear - if she just said that she knew Gallifrey wasn’t real, and Kristoph an expression of her subconscious desire for an incestuous relationship with a father she had never known. If she told Doctor Woods that she knew the difference between reality and fantasy, and that there was no such thing as a TARDIS, no such thing as time and space travel, no Gallifrey, then he would judge her to be cured.

It was as easy as that.

But she couldn’t do it. Because that would be a lie.

Gallifrey WAS real. The TARDIS WAS real. Kristoph was her husband and they had travelled together to many different planets and different places. Ventura and Haollstrom, Orissa III with its purple sky and flying people.

Oh, it had been a mistake telling Doctor Woods about the flying people, that was for sure. He had spent all afternoon telling her that it was impossible for any humanoid to grow wings. And if they did, they would not lift them off the ground. People were just not aerodynamic. It just couldn’t happen.

She had been punished that day with confinement in her room with no books or television or other stimuli.

He was equally insistent that men were men and women were women and that a race of people who could change from one to the other at will was another sign of serious sexual confusion in her mind. So were the all male Mizzonians. He questioned her intently one whole afternoon about whether she had ever been sexually molested as a child, or if she had indulged in any lesbian relationships. She had told him to mind his own business about her sex life, but that just convinced him that she had repressed memories of some trauma and he put her through some quite distressing sessions to try to make her remember the cause.

All she had to do... all she had to do was tell them that Gallifrey wasn’t real. That was all.

But she couldn’t.

Because even after a year of this dreary room, this dull routine, hardly ever seeing the sunlight, that thing that everyone told her was a delusion, her life on Gallifrey with Kristoph, WAS still more real than the things they kept telling her were real life.

The door opened. The nurse in a pink and white dress and linen apron brought in the breakfast. It was porridge followed by scrambled eggs. There was a cup of milk – a plastic cup. She wasn’t trusted with crockery or with hot beverages.

“Eat your breakfast dear,” the nurse said. “Then you can have your shower and sit in the recreation room until Doctor Woods is ready for you.”

Marion ate the breakfast. She was hungry and needed to eat. The nurse came back and collected the tray. Another nurse came with towels and soap and a clean nightdress. She wasn’t allowed to have that sort of thing in the room. She wondered why. It wasn’t as if she had ever eaten soap or used it as a weapon, and it wasn’t as if she was going to make a rope of knotted towels to escape through the meshed window.

She was escorted to the bathroom and carefully watched while she did all of the things she had been doing by herself since she was about five. She was past the point where that was embarrassing now. She just pretended the nurse wasn’t there. The shower was nice, anyway. She felt fresh afterwards, and putting on the clean clothes was pleasant, even though it was an identical hospital nightdress and dressing gown. She put on slippers and she was ready to follow the nurse to the recreation room.

That was the only place she ever saw the other patients. She never ate with them or any other activity. She was supposed to interact with them, but she rarely did. They were sick people whose minds had snapped for whatever reason. She felt sorry for them sitting around on the mismatched chairs having conversations with people who only existed in their heads or shuffling through the bookshelf for books they insisted were there yesterday and had been stolen by the FBI and all kind of odd ideas.

She had nothing in common with them. She didn’t have voices in her head. She wasn’t delusional.

Kristoph was real.

She hung onto that one certainty. It was the only thing that kept her from giving in and being just like these people.

The windows here were mesh, too. She couldn’t see through them. A grey light filtered through proving that it was daytime. She sat in a chair near one of the windows and opened a book from the shelf. It was an Enid Blyton Famous Five story. Doctor Woods had banned her from reading anything other than children’s books because of her repressed sexual appetites. She might get over-excited by the works of Catherine Cookson or the Mills and Boon romance library. She certainly couldn’t touch something like DH Lawrence, even if they risked putting anything like that in the recreation room.

She wondered if Doctor Woods realised that George/Georgina Kirrin would have loved to live on Haollstrom.

She managed to get through three of the Famous Five adventures by the time the nurse returned to take her to Doctor Woods’s office. She wasn’t especially ambitious to finish the twenty-one book series, but she didn’t especially want to spend the rest of the time before lunch talking to Doctor Woods, either. She didn’t like him and she didn’t trust him.

He was a thin man, with a thin face and hair slicked back with pomade. His lips were thin and he had a Rhett Butler style moustache. He reminded her of a silent film villain.

He always tried to sound nice to her. He told her to think of him as a friend she could talk to about anything she wanted to talk about.

She didn’t think of him as a friend. She didn’t think she could talk to him about anything important.

“Sit down, Marion,” he said. “We’re going to do things differently today. I want you to tell me everything about your life on Gallifrey with Kristoph”

“What?” She looked at him curiously. “I don’t understand. You keep telling me that Kristoph isn’t real. Now you want me to....”

“If we are ever to make any progress with your psychosis we must tackle these delusions head on. So I want you to talk about him as if he is real, until we find a story that doesn’t fit, something so illogical that you finally realise that it is all a fantasy – a very real, very vivid one, but a fantasy nonetheless.”

“I’ve already told you that Kristoph is a three thousand year old Time Lord and that Gallifrey is two hundred and fifty thousand light years away from Earth. Isn’t that illogical? But it’s all real, and you’ll never make me believe it isn’t.”

“With your deep-rooted psychosis, it is easy to see how your mind could create any kind of make believe, even one that is illogical but superficially convincing like the... T..A...”

“TARDIS. It stands for Time and Relative Dimensions in Space.”

“And the TARDIS travels in time and space...”

“I have told you that many times,” Marion told him. “Many, many times. I’ve told you about the places we’ve been in it. Ventura, Haollstrom, the Eye of Orion, Orissa – that’s the one with the flying people.”

“And is that your favourite planet?” Doctor Woods asked.

“Earth is my favourite planet. And Gallifrey,” she answered. “I call them both home. That’s why I have the Portal to travel between them. That’s what I remember last... visiting Earth. I was...”

She stopped talking. Something struck her, something that she probably ought to have realised before this. She looked at her hands. Then she put them down flat on the desk. As she spoke again, her left hand was very close to a heavy paperweight that didn’t actually hold down any papers, but served as an ornament. She kept her eyes on Doctor Woods. He was watching her face, not her hands.

“If I have been here a year, why does it seem only a day since I was on Gallifrey with Kristoph?”

“Because you’re deluded,” Doctor Woods replied. “You turn away from reality into your fantasy.”

“Then where did the white marks come from on my fingers? They’re not fantasy. They’re ring marks from wearing a wedding and engagement ring for a long time. And if I had been here a year, and my jewellery taken when I arrived, the marks would be gone.”

Doctor Woods opened his mouth to answer her, but there was no answer to the one question that proved that THIS was the lie. Her mind had been interfered with. False memories of a year of misery had been implanted. But she knew, now, what the truth was.

“Kristoph did it to me, once,” she said. “He changed my memories in order to fool a Truthtaker. It felt so very real, just like this did – until I saw it for the lie it is.”

“Marion, that is quite ridiculous,” Doctor Woods began.

“Is it?” she responded. “I’m not sure. In fact, the more I think about it, the more that explanation makes sense. Because my memories of being with Kristoph on Gallifrey are STILL far more real than anything you tell me is real. I believe in him. But I don’t believe in YOU!”

She moved quickly, grasping the paperweight and gripping it in her palm as she slammed it against Doctor Woods’s head. She was only slightly surprised when there was no crunch of solid glass against flesh and bone, but a softer sound as the paperweight sank into a rubbery, plastic substance. When she pulled her hand away there was a paperweight shaped indentation in Doctor Woods’s head.

Then there was a click. She looked down and saw his hand drop away to reveal a gun hidden in his wrist. She hit him again, square in the middle of his forehead and then ducked in front of the desk. The gunshot missed her by millimetres. She heard Doctor Woods stand up and lumber towards her. He was slower than he should be, and he looked less Human than before. His skin looked shiny and plastic, his features less distinct.

She reached out and grasped both of his legs, tugging them out from under him so that he toppled to the floor, landing with a crash of something artificial not the bump of flesh and bone. The gun fired widely again before she hit the wrist hard with the paperweight and broke the barrel off. She whacked his head four times more, leaving dents each time, until the plastic body stopped squirming and lay there as still and un-lifelike as a shop window dummy.

She stood up quickly and went to the office door. There was Doctor Woods’ secretary outside as usual. Marion watched her for a moment then made a decision. If she was wrong, it would be a terrible thing that she contemplated, but if she was right….

“Help,” she said. “Come quickly. Doctor Woods has collapsed. I think he’s ill.”

The secretary looked around at her then stood up and moved towards the door. Marion stood back as the woman stepped inside and looked at the plastic body on the floor. Marion hit her across the back of the skull, half dreading that there would be blood and skull fragments, half knowing that she was going to sink into plastic.

It took three whacks to the back of the head to fell the secretary. She quickly stripped the plastic body of the skirt and blouse and shoes it was wearing and put them on. There was a coat on a stand in the outer office. She put that on, too, and hid her hair under a hat that went with it before she slipped out into the corridor.

She wasn’t sure which way to go. Even in the false memories she could only remember one time when she had seen any other part of the Institute - when she first ‘arrived’.

It WAS all false. Now that she had broken through the implanted delusion, she knew it was. Everything was false from the bit about her not graduating and living alone in Liverpool onwards. That wasn’t her life at all. It wouldn’t have been her life even if she hadn’t met Kristoph. She WOULD have passed all her exams and she would have worked as a teacher. She would have been happy in that life even if it wasn’t as richly colourful as the life she really led.

She wasn’t quite sure how she got here. The last thing she DID remember was being in Liverpool, having lunch at the Welcome Friend with Li. She had planned to go shopping afterwards, but that was where the memory got hazy. Something must have happened after she left the restaurant.

She stepped through the door into what should have been the reception hall on the ground floor of Rookmoor Institute.

Of course, it was possible that she was deluded and had just killed two people to escape from the psychiatric hospital where she belonged.

She looked at the paperweight in her hand, expecting to see it covered in blood and brain tissue from her victims. Then she pushed open the door and stepped through into a corridor aboard what was very clearly a space ship. She felt the vibrations of warp-shunt engines and the view through the exo-glass window in front of her was of a starfield. She didn’t recognise the planet the ship was orbiting, but it definitely wasn’t Earth.

“Kristoph,” she whispered. “Where am I? And where are you?”

Then one of those questions at least was answered. She heard the familiar sound of a TARDIS materialising and the space ship corridor dissolved around her while the console room she knew so well solidified. She saw Kristoph leave the materialisation control and come to embrace her. She glanced at the viewscreen and saw a cohort of Presidential Guards outside the TARDIS in a protective stance. They must have materialised outside as she materialised inside.

“Isn’t that a rather tricky manoeuvre?” she asked.

“Very tricky, but I’ve been piloting a TARDIS for quite a few centuries, now. It’s very nearly childsplay. Never mind that, are you all right, my dear?”

“I am now. But... what’s going on? Where am I, and what was this all about?”

“You’re safe aboard the TARDIS,” Kristoph answered. “That’s all that matters for the moment. I promise to explain it all very shortly. First, I have to deal with the entity that caused you so much trouble.”

He went behind the console and picked up what once might have been another of the plastic people. It was only vaguely humanoid shape now, with the features completely melted and the arms and legs fused to the trunk. It seemed to be wearing one of her dresses.

“Did that...” she began.

“As I said, explanations later,” Kristoph said. He smiled reassuringly and stepped out of the TARDIS, bringing the strange facsimile with him. Marion sat in the comfortable armchair by the big viewscreen. There was a pot of tea there. She poured herself a cup and waited, quietly, calmly, reassured by familiar things around her, and confident that Kristoph would soon deal with the enemy that had tried to harm her.

He and the Presidential Guards were a little over half an hour before they returned at a brisk pace. Only a few moments after the doors closed the TARDIS rocked and vibrated and the viewscreen filled with fire. The space ship had exploded around them.

“That was cutting it just a little fine,” he admitted, nodding to the Guards. “I didn’t take into account opening all those bulkhead doors that came down as soon as I set the self-destruct countdown.”

“It was finely done, even so, sir,” the Captain of the Guards told him.

“Now will you explain what was going on?” Marion asked. “Those plastic people... I suppose they were ALL plastic – all of the nurses and patients... You wouldn’t have blown them up otherwise.”

“You were the only Human soul aboard this ship,” Kristoph confirmed. “The only other living creature was a Nestene Consciousness – a formless mass of living plastic with the phenomenal intellect and powers of telepathy and telekinesis needed to create that whole elaborate charade including the facsimile people and the false memories planted in your mind.”

“Why?” Marion asked.

“It wanted the secret of the Time Vortex,” Kristoph replied. “It knew it could never capture a Time Lord. So it took somebody who had travelled in the Vortex.”

“But I couldn’t tell it the secret of the Vortex,” Marion protested.

“Not consciously,” Kristoph explained. “But it is within your subconscious. All the times you have travelled in the Vortex have embedded it within you. That elaborate set up, making you think you were talking to a psychiatrist, concentrated your brain on the TARDIS and on Gallifrey, on me, and the Nestene could draw out the secret from your mind without you knowing it. The secret that would allow them to conquer the galaxy and bring down the Time Lords in one go. But for your own strong will and the inefficiency of the facsimile that they tried to fool me with, they might have succeeded. As it was, the copy at least provided a homing beacon to find you with. In that it was one hundred per cent successful.”

“The Vortex is inside me?” Marion frowned as she took in all that Kristoph was telling her and fixed on the most worrying aspect from her point of view.

“That’s why there are strict rules about non-Gallifreyans travelling by TARDIS. You have no defences against such nefarious behaviour.”

“Does that mean I can’t travel with you any more?”

“It means we must be more vigilant in future. Nestene are solitary creatures. The chance of another one turning up on Earth or any planet you visit are negligible, but we shall find some way of protecting you against other forms of attack.”

He reached into his pocket and found her rings. He put them back on her hand gently and kissed her fingers.

“The facsimile was wearing them, but they are where they belong now, and so are you. I think we shall drop by Earth. Li will be relieved to see you. We’ll find some less conspicuous clothing for these men who helped me in the rescue and we’ll all take tea at the Welcome Friend before going home to Gallifrey.”

“Home to Gallifrey sounds good to me,” Marion said.