The girl in black, sporting a crammed rucksack and carrying a baseball bat, scrambled across the dusty open ground towards the yawning canyon. Her face, attractive in a boyish way, was streaked with grime and sweat. Her lungs heaved as she reached the lip of the abyss and turned to make her last stand.
The Monsters were coming for her. A congealed mass of flailing limbs, claws, beaks and teeth, kicking up a cloud of rolling dust as they closed in.
The girl dropped her rucksack and adopted a fighting stance, the sheer drop at her back. She was out of Nitro 9. But she would go down swinging...
"Quick! Look at the monitors...."
The girl screamed her defiance as the foaming mass reached her.
"Get the crash team and inform the Director at once! I think she's coming round..."
There was a satisfying clunk as a creature more fish than human and with cybernetic implants, fell under the bat. But she was overwhelmed and fell backwards into the chasm, screaming her rage and defiance, snapping leathery creatures clamped to her arms...
Her eyes seemed as heavy as lead as they opened with fluttering slowness. Her vision was blurred, watery. There seemed to be more Monsters, shimmeringly white, standing around her. She tried to move but her muscles refused to obey. Her vision cleared and the monsters resolved themselves into men and women, dressed in surgical gowns and masks.
A face filled her vision, close up. "She's awake."
Dr Campbell Byrne paused outside the door and took a deep breath. This was the big one. Perhaps the biggest of his career to date. He felt the weight of expectation and public scrutiny pressing down on his shoulders as he opened the door and went inside.
"Good morning. I'm Dr Byrne."
The woman sitting on the small sofa hardly looked up at his entrance. She said nothing.
Byrne hadn't expected her to. Without a further word he sat in the chair opposite (having had the table removed beforehand).
Dorothy McShane looked all of her thirty-eight years and then some. She was a diminutive woman with a sallow, haunted face and straggly brown hair. She looked, unsurprisingly, emaciated after her ordeal. She sat in a defensive posture with her legs tucked up and her blue dressing gown clutched protectively around her.
They sat like that for what seemed a very long time, but the ticking clock on the wall revealed it to be only five minutes before Byrne realised that he would have to make the opening gambit.
"Do you know why I'm here, Dorothy?"
No answer. She stared at the floor.
"I'm here to assess if you are well enough to leave."
"That's going to be a difficult decision if you won't talk to me."
He let the silence run for another interminable minute before trying again. He opened the slim folder he carried.
"Let me tell you what I know. Your name is Dorothy McShane. You come from Perivale in North London. You were orphaned aged eight and brought up by your grandparents. You are...were...a waitress in a restaurant. In December 1989 you were the victim of a hit and run driver and left in a coma. That was twenty years ago. Your grandparents both passed away whilst you were asleep. You have been told this already, Dorothy, so it shouldn't come as a shock. Since you came out of the coma four weeks ago you have not spoken a word to anyone. That's why I'm here."
He closed the folder and looked across at the hunched woman. She hadn't moved. "You know, many people have spent a lot of time on you, Dorothy. There has been a court case. Quite a notorious one actually. About whether we should pull the plug or not. But I'm glad to say we won. " Byrne leaned forward. "You see, whilst you were asleep your brain activity was unusually pronounced. Long periods of REM sleep. I want to know what you dreamed about, Dorothy."
She shifted position Oh so slightly. Her sunken eyes seemed to dart over his face before fixating back on the floor.
"You know, it must be like travelling in time," said Byrne, breezily. "One minute you're crossing the road in 1989 and the next you are waking up in 2009. A whole new world."
This time the darting eyes fixed on his and her facial muscles twitched. Byrne held his breath. He was very aware of the ticking clock in the background.
"Travelling in time..." she murmured, her first words in twenty years. "A new world..."
Byrne sighed. "Dorothy, welcome back."
She shook her head. "My name is Ace."
When they met for the second session Dorothy began to tell Dr Byrne about her dreams.
She told him of the foggy junkyard, the inquisitive schoolteachers and their unearthly pupil. Above all she told him about the Doctor and his wondrous machine. Dorothy's account was amazingly detailed and complete. Byrne soon found that he was filling his notebook as she continued her story. There was history; there were far-away places; there were monsters.
There was change, as characters came and went. All except for the Doctor.
Mostly Byrne just listened and made notes as the words tumbled out. After a while he glanced at the clock to find that nearly two hours had passed.
Dorothy saw his glance and smiled thinly. "I've nearly finished," she said.
"Continue please," said Byrne. ""They landed at the South Pole..."
She told him about the silver men and the Doctor falling ill, collapsing.
Then she stopped to take a sip of water.
"So he died?"
"Well, sort of," she replied, slowly. "At least that Doctor did."
"That Doctor ?"
Dorothy gave him a tight little smile.
"You're going to need a few more notebooks..."
Over the next three months Byrne visited Dorothy at least once a week and he filled all those extra notebooks.
He learned about the Doctor's ability to regenerate. To renew his body. He learned of Time Lords. Of Monsters and Villains. Of the Doctor's changing cast of friends. Of UNIT and its mustachioed leader.
Of course Byrne administered the usual psychological tests: Word-Association, Rorschach and all the rest. But Dorothy only came alive when she recounted her dreams. The narrative was consistent and startling in its detail.
Then they came to the seventh Doctor...
Dorothy fidgeted and bit her nails.
"What's the matter?" Byrne asked, pen poised.
"You're Scottish aren't you, Dr Byrne?"
"Yes. Born in Invergordon. Why?"
She looked sideways at him. "You sound like him. He had a Scottish accent. You even look a little bit like him."
"Is that significant?"
Dorothy shrugged. "He was my Doctor you see. Ace's Doctor."
And she continued the story. Byrne faithfully made notes. She told him about how she met the Doctor. She was young, strong, resourceful. Full of energy and angst. She called him 'Professor' to annoy him but he ignored it.
She could fight, with her Nitro 9 and her supercharged baseball bat. Even the fabled Daleks were no match for her. She protected the Doctor even though he thought he was protecting her. She was Ace.
Dorothy's brow furrowed. "After the adventure with the Cheetah-People it all went dark. Then I was running towards this cliff, being chased by all these monsters. I fell over the edge. Then I woke up. Here."
Byrne put down his pen and closed his notebook.
He looked at her for a very long time.
"Sorry. I'm going to be missing for a couple of weeks." He tapped the notebook. "I've got masses of material to go through. Will that be OK?"
She nodded, and her gaze slipped to the floor. She looked tired and limp. Empty.
Eighteen days later Dr Byrne and Dorothy McShane met for their final session.
Byrne sat back in his chair. "Your dreams form a remarkable narrative," he said. "I've not come across anything like them in all my years in the profession."
Dorothy fidgeted. "I've been thinking," she said. " Are they just dreams?"
"I think so. Remarkable though they are." Byrne pulled out a sheet of paper from the folder he was holding. "In the last couple of weeks I've been doing a bit of research. I'd like to share the results with you if I may."
"Your parents and your elder sister were killed in a car crash when you were eight. You know that don't you. Good. Your father's name was Ian. He was a General Practitioner. A Doctor."
"In one of your dreams you said that you met your mother as a baby. Audrey, I think you called her." Byrne shook his head. "Her name was Barbara. She taught history-"
Byrne waved the piece of paper. "I'm sorry, Dorothy, it's all here. Your elder sister was named Susan. She was fifteen at the time of the accident."
"God!" Dorothy's hand went up to her mouth.
"The accident happened when they were out in the countryside one Sunday. You had chicken pox and you were staying with your aunt Elizabeth. Elizabeth Shaw. The accident happened in a small village near Oxford called Lethbridge-Stewart."
"Beginning to see a pattern, Dorothy? Take your own accident; when you were the victim of a hit and run. They traced the driver. There was a witness you see. It was a builder's van with a name on the side. Darren Anthony Lek. He got three years. D. A. Lek."
"On the night you were knocked down you were on an errand for your grandfather. You were taking his watch to be repaired on the high street. The watchmaker's shop was called 'Timelord'. Proprietor Mr Masters."
"It can't be!"
Byrne waved the sheet again. "I haven't been able to find all the references of course. Not in just two weeks. It's clear, though, that your mind wove together many disparate elements from your life. For example, your best friends at school were Zoe Herriot and Melanie Bush...your headmaster was Mr Steven Taylor...you were bullied by a boy you called 'Yeti' and so on."
"Why a police box then?"
"Your grandfather had one in his garden. He bought it from the Met when they were being scrapped. He used it as a garden shed."
"I can't take it all in..."
Byrne sat back. "By all accounts you were very close to your father. You were the apple of his eye. I believe that this 'regeneration' thing was a means of keeping your father...the Doctor...alive in your mind. And he saved you, you know. If your mind hadn't been so busy dreaming then the plug would have been pulled a long time ago. Yes, you could say that the Doctor saved you."
There was a very long pause. Suddenly Dorothy threw herself forward onto Byrne's shoulder sobbing uncontrollably; screaming for her lost years and lost dreams. He said nothing but just patted her head gently. It went on for a very long time. Eventually she subsided back onto her small sofa, peering at him, her face red and blotchy.
"Sorry," she whispered.
He waved a dismissive hand. "Tell me," he said, gently. "Tell me who you are."
Tears streamed . "I'm Dorothy McShane." Her voice was a whisper.
Byrne smiled. "And you're ready to leave, Dorothy."
A week later Dr Byrne and Dorothy McShane waited together on the steps of the hospital as her taxi drew up.
"Where are you going to live?" he asked.
" I'm going to stay with my aunt and uncle for a while. They came forward when they read about me in the paper." She smiled. "Uncle Ben and Aunt Polly."
Byrne chuckled. "What are you going to do for a living?"
She shrugged. "I haven't really thought about it. Apparently I have some money in trust that I was going to inherit when I was twenty one. I might travel a bit."
Byrne reached down to the heavy plastic bag at his feet. "If I might make a suggestion. These are all the notes I took. About your dreams. I was going to write your case up for The Lancet but, to be honest, I don't know where to start. You could do worse than try writing them up yourself; as a novel perhaps. Or submit them to the BBC. I think it would make a fantastic TV series."
"You never know, I might just do that."
They got her belongings into the back of the cab and shook hands. Then she was gone.
A spot or two of rain fell onto Byrne's shoulder and he hopped back up the hospital steps to fetch his umbrella, which was leaning against the wall.
As he reached for it he paused, smiling slightly.
In a land of fiction the umbrella would be red and the handle shaped like a question mark.
In a story requiring the 'oomph' of a twist in the tail, Dr Byrne would adjust his paisley scarf, pop his pork-pie hat on his head and cross to the car park where a blue police box awaited him, in the shade of a sheltering tree.
But it wasn't.
The umbrella was plain black.
Dr Byrne gathered his mackintosh around him and made his way to the car park. He got into his car and drove home, where the notes of his next case awaited him.