Crossroads
A Doctor Who fanfiction



Disclaimer: Doctor Who is property of the BBC. The Daleks belong conjointly to the BBC and the Terry Nation Estate. This is an unofficial fanfiction that is not endorsed in any way by the BBC. It was written solely for enjoyment and I make no money with it.

Title
Crossroads
Status
Completed (24th September 2016)
Genre
Science-fiction, action/adventure, drama
Rating / warnings
Well, Daleks. Expect death, war and attempts at mass-murder (albeit non-graphic).
Spoilers
None.
Characters
Daleks and original characters
Summary

This is a sequel to Taboo of the Daleks.

In a desperate gamble to prevent further attacks on their colony, the Latoshk humans save the life of the freethinking Dalek and negotiate a truce once again. But can such an unholy agreement survive the numerous threats, both internecine and from the outside? Not only countless lives are at stake, but also the universe's very balance of power.

Probably AU although it doesn't directly contradict the show, because the causality chain would ripple so far the Doctor would be made aware of this eventually.

This story is also available on AO3.

Table of contents

  1. Turning point
  2. Live and let live
  3. Balance of terror
  4. In the name of Latoshk
  5. Poker play
  6. Strange bedfellows
  7. Shoulder to neck rings
  8. Gnashing of teeth
  9. Slippery slope
  10. Small victories
  11. Deceptive routine
  12. Spiralling commitments
  13. The plague of negligence
  14. To the bitter end
  15. Reflection
  16. The day of reckoning
  17. War without mercy
  18. The armada and the swarm
  19. Epilogue: To the future

Turning point

[This fiction is a sequel to Taboo of the Daleks, and it arguably detracts from the impact of the original story. If you prefer gloom, the perspective of endless pointless destruction and the notion that nothing can ever change, you should stop at Taboo of the Daleks. But if you enjoy a ray of hope in the darkness and the idea that nothing, as inevitable as it seems, is engraved into stone, please go on reading.]


"The right idea, in the right place, at the right time –that's all it takes," the Doctor once said. And indeed, on a godforsaken planet harbouring a devastated human colony, a daring decision would alter the course of history.


He woke up in a yellowish haziness.

That was impossible.

He'd felt himself die. Admittedly, the brain patterns persisted for a short time after death. Stasis and cellular regeneration were relatively simple and widespread technologies; assuming they had retrieved him fast enough, even a primitive species like the Latoshk human beings could probably have revived him, especially if they had salvaged parts of a Dalek life support system.

What was bordering upon sheer impossibility was that anyone would have cared to save him.

He tried to examine his surroundings. Everything looked distorted and blurry; he decided he had to be in a glass tank, floating in a warm fluid. Although he soon found out that a large part of his body was missing, he didn't feel pain.

His first idea was that the human beings wanted to use him as a test subject for experiments, possibly in order to develop a deadly virus like the Movellans had, a long time ago. But he felt healthy… at least, as healthy as a mutilated Dalek who had lost several limbs could feel.

"Ah, you've come round," a female voice said.

He could understand her words, which meant he was wired to his translation unit. He definitely wasn't in his casing, though.

"Lily will want a talk," she added.

Moments later, another woman spoke in harsh tones: "I'm Lillian Robertson. I'm in charge of the human colony on Latoshk since John Lambert's death in the last Dalek attack. I will ask questions and I expect straight answers. But first things first: Can you hear and understand me?"

"YES, I CAN HEAR AND UNDERSTAND YOU, LILLIAN ROBERTSON." So, the wiring to the speech synthesiser was functional too.

"Good. Are you the Dalek with which we dealt after the first attack on Latoshk?"

"YES."

"You personally didn't take part in the second attack, right? You were shot down by your own people before it even started."

"THAT IS CORRECT."

"Elaborate. Why did they shoot you down?"

"I SPOKE AGAINST THE ATTACK. DALEKS MUST NOT EXPRESS DOUBT OR CONTRADICT THEIR SUPERIORS."

"Yet you participated in the operation in the first place. You must have known it would imply trying to kill us."

"THAT WAS NOT PART OF OUR ORDERS. OUR MISSION WAS SOLELY TO RETRIEVE MORE CHRONILITE."

"You could have guessed."

He hesitated, hating to admit he'd made a mistake. "I… DID NOT THINK AHEAD. BUT SPEAKING UP EARLIER WOULD HAVE MADE NO DIFFERENCE. IT WOULD ONLY HAVE HASTENED MY DEATH."

She abruptly changed the subject: "What do you expect will happen if you don't return with chronilite?"

After another hesitation, he decided against lying: "THE DALEKS WILL DEEM YOU DANGEROUS AND WILL ENSURE YOUR EXTERMINATION."

"How? You already tried twice –and failed."

"I CANNOT KNOW IN ADVANCE WHAT WOULD BE DECIDED. THE MOST LIKELY TACTIC CONSISTS OF ENGINEERING A PLAGUE. EVEN EXPECTING IT WOULD GIVE YOU NO ADVANTAGE TO DEVELOP A CURE."

"Pretty much what I suspected," he heard her mutter. She went on aloud: "And assuming you do return with chronilite, are two successful missions enough for you, I mean you as an individual, to be put in charge the next time your kind needs more?"

"I DO NOT KNOW. IT DOES NOT DEPEND ON ME."

"But it is conceivable?"

"YES."

"Likely?"

"PROBABILITY CANNOT BE ESTIMATED."

"In any case, considering we have nearly wiped out your forces twice, will the Daleks secure a more steady supply by 'exterminating' us even if you return with chronilite?"

"NOT IF I REPORT YOU HAVE BEEN SUBJUGATED."

"We haven't. You would lie to your own people?"

"YES."

"Why?" she asked in a trailing voice that sounded extremely inquisitive –suspicious, even.

Again, he chose to state the truth, despite the insight it might give them into the current state of the Dalek empire: "THE FUTURE OF THE DALEK RACE MUST BE SECURED ABOVE ALL ELSE! FIGHTING AGAINST YOU STRAINS OUR RESOURCES. EVEN IF YOU ARE ERADICATED, OTHER HUMAN BEINGS WILL SEEK REVENGE OR TRY TO EVICT US FROM LATOSHK IN AN ATTEMPT TO WEAKEN OUR POSITIONS. REACHING AN AGREEMENT WITH YOU IS THE MOST EFFICIENT WAY TO OBTAIN THE CHRONILITE WE REQUIRE."

"Charming," acridly remarked the first woman he'd heard when he'd come to. "What a good reason to not wipe out an entire population."

"At least it's believable," Lillian Robertson replied. "Daleks are not even supposed to be willing to negotiate, but it is logical given what happened. And as for us, we have suffered way too many losses already. Even if we've managed to fight them off so far, the cost is too high. We can't go on forever; we have to look for an alternative. This particular Dalek might be just our best hope of saving what's left."

Most Daleks would have seen it as an opportunity to regain power over the local inhabitants and exterminate them as soon as the chance arose. But this one had already come a long way, and he saw it as a confirmation that Daleks could benefit from the willing help of lesser creatures. Even if he still found the perspective of cohabiting with alien life forms highly unpleasant, the Dalek empire wasn't strong enough to fight against the entire universe just yet.

And thus, events were set in motion.

[^]


Live and let live

Stephen Brown rose from his seat and paced angrily, followed by the eyes of the rest of the Latoshk Council –or what passed for it after the two Dalek attacks. He brusquely stopped and glared at Lillian Robertson.

"You're insane, Lillian!" he accused. "John's mistake was already bad enough, but now you're telling us you actively saved one of them?!"

"John's decision was everything but a mistake," she retorted with a cold assurance. "While we can't know what exactly the Daleks were saying to each other, the long-range cameras still prove this one argued with their leader while all others were bawling as one, and it ended up being shot. So yes, I have every reason to think it's telling us the truth to a point. Moreover, you are delusional if you believe they'll let us get away with opposing them. If you wish to abandon Latoshk, be my guest! I certainly won't resent anybody for evacuating to safety. But this is my planet, this is my home, and I'm not about to yield it to the Daleks!"

"Isn't it exactly what you're planning to do?" Helena Lambert, John's widow, remarked bitterly. "Let them roam freely, mine their chronilite and get stronger while we cower like sheep waiting to be slaughtered? Seriously, Lily, get a grip! How can you trust them to honour their word!"

"I don't remember saying anything about trust. Do you know what the Daleks' biggest weakness is?" Lillian asked, her eyes blazing.

"Their eye-stalk?" Stephen suggested tentatively.

She shook her head with a nasty grin. "Their overconfidence. While they reckon us too dangerous to be attacked for now, they believe the only thing we'll gain from our agreement is borrowed time. So, let's be smarter than them, shall we? Learn from them and gain enough leverage to fight them off when they decide to finally turn on us. You don't outgun Daleks. You outwit them."

Once the reunion was over, she stayed alone in the conference room, looking at her shaking hands until one of the Latoshkian moons rose in the dusk and caught her eye. She wished she were religious enough to believe some force, out there, was keeping a watchful eye on her. As it were, she felt very alone with her decisions.


Under his guidance, the human beings managed to regrow the Dalek's lost tentacles and to put together a more or less functional casing. A few days later and for the second time, he left Latoshk alone with a freight of chronilite.

"In your own interest, you will make sure there isn't a third Dalek attack on Latoshk," Lillian Robertson had warned. "We will give you an identification code; next time one of your ships approaches us, announce yourselves early. If you try to sneak in, you'll be shot down. If you fail to provide the correct identification code, you'll be shot down. You will then land on the Oriental Plains and mine your chronilite there. I'm perfectly aware the lode is deeper and harder to extract than the closer one, but you'll respect a two miles exclusion zone around our city. No more than four Daleks can disembark on Latoshk at any given time. And finally, you'll report to us about any change in your operations before you carry it out. Basically, if you do anything unexpected, if you give us any reason to doubt your intentions, you'll be shot down. And believe me, we'll prepare enough traps that you'll never evade them all if you betray your word."

None of the conditions was truly crippling, and they were all preferable to the risk of losing access to Latoshk, so he had stifled the urge to punish the arrogant human being and accepted them.

He spent the return trip preparing his report to ensure the deal would be carried out. Manipulating his own kind was a new experience to him, and not a desirable one. If he had had a concept of blasphemy, that's how he would have described the unthinkable way he was about to behave; but Daleks were creatures of necessity. He would do what he had to, for the greater good of his species. After having already sacrificed pride and unquestioning obedience, he would sacrifice sincerity.

Two months later, he was in charge of the next chronilite retrieval operation. He thought with what could have passed as relief that, at last, things would fall back into the realm of normality, the only exception being allowing the aliens to live. And for a while, it almost appeared so.


As had been agreed, the Daleks announced their arrival, sent the right identification code, landed on the Oriental Plains, disembarked in small numbers and began mining chronilite.

The Latoshkians sent observation probes to watch them. The drones were shot down.

The former Dalek soldier, now leader of the mining team, approached the human city and stopped far enough to not break the agreement, but close enough to be noticed.

"LILLIAN ROBERTSON WILL SPEAK TO ME," he demanded, knowing they supervised their surroundings.

A few minutes later, she stepped out of a glider and stood before him, flanked with two guards who looked much less confident than she.

"YOUR DEVICES WERE DESTROYED," the Dalek announced. "EXPLAIN THEIR PURPOSE."

"Surveillance," she replied coolly. "To make sure you are respecting your part of the bargain."

"THEY WERE UNARMED," he stated.

"Yes. Was it even a question?"

"YOU WILL BE ALLOWED THREE OF THEM. IF THEY PROVE A THREAT TO US, YOUR COLONY WILL BE EXTERMINATED."

"Like we wouldn't defend ourselves, but anyway, they won't. We are not attacking you, we are watching you."

For a second, the Dalek simply stared at her. Then, without a further word, he turned away and flew back to his team. The guards let out a relieved sigh; Lillian's jaws remained clenched until long after the humans had returned to their city.


The Daleks collected chronilite and left without any further incident. The unmitigated success of the operation convinced the Supreme to send them again without delay, and only two weeks later, they were back at the Oriental Plains.

Daleks were obedient. As unsettling as sharing a planet with human beings was to the Latoshkian chronilite retrieval force, they, once again, accepted their orders without question and set to work.

Humans, on the other hand, were much more prone to disobedience, and their hatred of Daleks rivalled the Daleks' hatred of anyone else.

[^]


Balance of terror

The citizens were afraid. Few had abandoned the colony –the Latoshkians were a strong and proud people– but Lillian knew those who stayed were murmuring against the new order in the relative safety of their homes or under cover of darkness. They didn't dare to oppose her openly… yet, but she suspected the day would come when they'd rise in insurrection, attack the Daleks, and condemn the colony.

Concealed as they were behind closed doors, the Council sessions were an even acuter nightmare. There had been an uproar when they'd learnt the chronilite mining team had come back so soon; despite the Daleks respecting their side of the agreement, the Council would have bypassed Lillian and broken the truce if it hadn't been for the fear their enemies inspired.

She had been able to hold things together so far, but how long would it last?

As she lay in her bed at dead of sleepless nights, Lillian seriously envisioned getting up, activating the private communication channel she and their Dalek contact had established after the drones incident and asking him undetectable surveillance tools; and, upon waking in the morning after a too short rest, she remembered her nocturnal thoughts with revulsion. Still. Something was brewing, and she needed to stop it before it brought Latoshk to its doom. The question was who could she trust in this time of doubt…


The answer came in the form of the one person who'd gone along with Lillian's plans from the start: Nancy Turpin, the doctor who'd snatched the independent-thinking Dalek from his impending death.

"I'm sorry to disturb you," Nancy apologised when Lillian opened the door to her private quarters and let her in. "I'm sure it's nothing but I thought it best to inform you anyway."

"What is it, Nancy?" Lillian asked as she felt a lump of dread form in her throat.

"They brought a kid who'd lost two fingers at the clinic this morning. Nothing irremediable, but it reminded me of how we'd healed that Dalek without so much as leaving a scar. I wondered whether we could adapt similar techniques to regrow human organs more easily, so I went to the storehouse to find bits of life support among all those broken casing parts we've still got," the doctor explained. "But it's been all jumbled up! It almost looks like a burglary, but who'd want to steal Dalek junk? The lock wasn't forced anyway."

While the last sentence didn't reassure Lillian, it gave her a clue. "Who would? Someone who not only believes the deal with the Daleks was a mistake, but also is willing to take the matter into their hands, has at least the sense of intending to sneak up on them, and has an access badge. And I think I might just know the one."

Nancy nodded uneasily. Something in the other woman's eyes worried her. "Will you need my statement? Lily, tell me you are going to turn to the judicial system."

To her surprise, Lillian smiled, a sad and tired, but genuine smile. "I'm not going to start throwing people into jail without due process, if that's what you fear, let alone friends. But if I'm right, we don't have time for an endless investigation. Hopefully I can either appeal to her reason or the closeness we used to share."

Without further ado, she dismissed Nancy and rushed to Helena Lambert's domicile.


Unsurprisingly, Helena wasn't home. Of course she would choose a more secluded place to mount her offensive, a place outside the confines of the city, a place where lingering Dalek technology would hide her activities. Such as the first chronilite mining spot.

Sure enough, Lillian noted when she arrived, the fence had been opened.

"Helena!" she called out, walking openly into the quarry. "I have come alone. We need to talk. You're making a terrible mistake!" She turned her head to one of the buildings as a scuttling sound attracted her attention and the door burst open.

"In," a man ordered, holding her at gunpoint.

His face was vaguely familiar to Lillian even if she didn't know his name. He didn't hold her attention for long, however, as she entered the room to see a group of people busy preparing weapons and other less obvious devices, Helena among them.

"Lily. I really hoped we could get it over with before you'd even know," she regretted, and as far as Lillian could tell, she meant it.

"Helena, listen to me," Lillian emphasised. "Raiding the Daleks now would sign our death warrant. As long as they lie low, under no circumstance must we fire the first shot."

Her former friend let out a bitter laugh. "The first shot? Please. They've attacked us wantonly not once, but twice! They've killed countless people! They've killed John! And they'd have slaughtered us to the last if we hadn't eradicated them first!"

"You think I don't know that! But their current leader being willing to cohabit, regardless of its motives, is our best hope! Our only hope!"

"Oh, but we do have a better hope," Helena retorted, leering at the equipment they'd prepared. "Make them understand once and for all we're not to be messed with!"

"Whatever you intend to do, just stop and think! All you'll achieve is giving them a pretext to retaliate!"

The other woman smirked. "That's the beauty of our plan: They won't even see us coming. We've reassembled Dalek identification beacons thanks to the remains from the two assaults."

"I'd guessed as much when I learnt the warehouse had been searched," Lillian muttered, unimpressed. "You know it's not as simple as a stealth strike."

"We'll approach them unnoticed," Helena went on as if she hadn't heard. "Team A will sneak the bomb into their ship, while team B dispatches the four Daleks on the ground. I wish we'd have more time to test the jammers but now you've discovered us, it'll have to do. And I'm sorry Lily, it will hurt."

Without giving her time to realise what it meant, Helena drew a gun and fired. The beam hit Lillian square in the chest, and she knew no more.

[^]


In the name of Latoshk

"Lillian. Lily, for God sake, wake up," a pressing voice was calling through the dark nothingness.

Lillian's eyes fluttered open and she moaned, raising a hand to her temple to fight a sudden burst of headache. "What happened?…" she muttered; but just as she spoke, memories came back with clarity and she sprang up. "Helena?" she asked, now fully conscious.

Beside her, Nancy gave her a reproving look. "Careful now. You were stunned; I gave you a shot of stimulants but you need to take it easy until the effects wear off."

"Yes, doctor," she replied with a touch of irony before adding more sincerely, "and thank you. Although I should have you arrested for stalking me," she deadpanned.

"Well, I didn't, not really. I was worried about you after I left. I decided to try to talk you out of whatever you'd planned, and when you wouldn't answer your communicator, I convinced Stephen to trace it."

"Helena's plan is suicide," the man spoke, and Lillian suddenly realised he was there too.

"Oh I don't know," she remarked wryly. "If anything, Helena's clever. I think it has every chance of succeeding, on the contrary –and set a full-scale retaliation on us. Win a battle, lose the war. How long was I unconscious?"

Nancy made a mental count. "I'd say half an hour, give or take."

Lillian swallowed. "Then we can't intercept them. They're probably already on top of the Daleks."

"What are you going to do? Let the assault run its course and pray it turns out for the best?" Stephen ventured. "Look Lillian, I do agree there's a risk the Daleks would seek revenge, but there's also a chance they would consider Latoshk more trouble than we are worth. Either way, Helena's right they will never leave us in peace. Already they're accelerating their comings' frequency. They'll demand more and more until all we're left with is our lives, and then they'll take that too. I know you think we're not ready for a third attack, but shouldn't we take the chance?"

"That's not an option," Lillian muttered grimly. "No, there is no choice. I must warn the Daleks."


A few minutes later, Lillian stood in front of her direct link with the Daleks, Stephen by her side. Their contact soon appeared on the screen –or at least, she assumed it was the same Dalek. Even with the aid of the identification tag under their eye-stalks and the slightly different pitch of their voices, she was having trouble telling them apart.

"STATE THE PURPOSE OF THIS COMMUNICATION," the mechanical speech synthesiser grated in sync with the flashing of the dome lamps.

"Plans of a bombing on your ship and mining team have come to my knowledge, and I have every reason to believe it is imminent," she explained.

"YOU ARE ATTACKING US!?" the Dalek screeched with all the hatred and implied threat of his kind.

"Not we," Lillian corrected. "Not the bulk of the Latoshkian population. Do you really think I'd be warning you otherwise? An isolated group of people have decided to act on the belief you would betray your word sooner or later and attempt to kill us again. You can hardly blame them, with how your first two visits to our planet turned out."

"YET YOU DO NOT SHARE THIS BELIEF?"

"I believe that for the time being, both camps need this truce. That's why we resurrected you, and that's all you need to know. Now, with your agreement, I can send our own forces to prevent the attack; but they may not arrive in time. You will still have to take measures to protect yourselves until then."

With a heavy heart but a stern determination, Lillian revealed everything she knew on Helena's plan, everything she could guess about how it'd be carried out, and everything she thought of to thwart it without a bloodshed, and all the while, the Dalek was staring at her, expressionless in his metal shell.

Then he barked concise orders to his troops, and endless minutes of tense silence followed.


Hidden behind one of their jamming beacons, Helena watched the Dalek miners regroup around the ship. She couldn't hear what they were saying from her spying distance, but something unexpected was happening, that much was clear.

She eyed each of her associates in turn. "I don't know what's up but we can't give up now. Reese and I will board the ship with one of the bombs as soon as those Daleks move away," she whispered. "You, you and you, split up and attract them to the traps, and you, you're our backup to blow up the ship if we don't come back within ten minutes," she instructed the rest of the group.

They only had to wait a few seconds for the Daleks to return to the mines. Motioning for Reese to follow her, Helena crouched from hiding place to hiding place until they reached the facilities outskirts.

Unbeknown to them, however, one of the Daleks skirted round a building, following the fake Dalek signatures on his scanner, and put them in his line of fire before they'd even covered half the distance to the ship.

"HALT!" a grating voice echoed. "LAY DOWN YOUR BOMB! OBEY THE DALEKS OR YOU WILL BE EXTERMINATED!"


Lillian watched as a Dalek guard brought two prisoners for questioning, and noted that for the better or the worse, Helena was one of them. The eyes of her former friend widened when they fell on the communication screen.

"Lillian?! You… you warned them?…" Helena stuttered, livid. The initial disbelief was soon replaced with a burst of pure fury. "You're sick, sick, sick!" she yelled at the Council head's image. "To say I ever called you a friend, and now you're selling us to the Daleks! A traitor to the human race, that's what you are! When they murder us all, when you hear our dying screams throughout the colony, remember it was your fault!"

"SILENCE," the head Dalek grated. "YOU WILL REVEAL THE TOTAL NUMBER OF YOUR ASSOCIATES, THE WEAPONRY AT THEIR DISPOSAL AND THEIR PLANNED COURSE OF ACTION!"

Helena whipped towards him. "Never," she spat. "I'll die before I do anything to help you."

"THEN YOU ARE OF NO USE. EXTERMINATE!"

[^]


Poker play

"Stop," Lillian interrupted from her side of the communication channel. Albeit perfectly calm on the surface, her voice had an unmistakable edge. "This is not how humans do things. She will be imprisoned, not killed."

Beside Helena, Reese was watching the scene unfold with clenched jaws and fists, helpless.

"ROGUE ELEMENTS MUST BE ELIMINATED!" the Dalek leader argued.

"I said no. You deal with your troublemakers your way, we deal with ours our way. It is not negotiable. In the future, if you catch any further human transgressors in the act, you will restrain them without harming them, and hand them over to us." She added, separating the words very clearly: "No. Exception."

For several agonising seconds, the Dalek stared at Lillian in silence, in confusion more than actual rejection. Finally, he replied: "CONDITIONS ACCEPTED."

Helena closed her eyes and allowed herself to breathe again, and Reese took a step towards her.

Not letting relief cloud the need for long-term strategy, Lillian pushed her luck further. If she could just return the situation altogether… "Also we need means to protect ourselves from your potential renegades."

"THERE IS NO NEED. DALEKS OBEY ORDERS!"

"You didn't obey yours. It almost got you killed, if you remember. I won't take the chance that some of your underlings might disagree with your non-aggression policy. And anyway, it's the only way to placate the population and lower the risk of a second raid."

The Dalek hesitated before reluctantly agreeing: "VERY WELL. YOU WILL BE PROVIDED WITH MEANS TO DISABLE A DALEK CASING. BUT HOSTILITY USING THESE WEAPONS WILL NOT BE TOLERATED! UNPROVOKED USE WILL RESULT IN YOUR EXTERMINATION!"

She raised an eyebrow, unabashed. "Yes, I could have guessed. However, you must understand that I cannot guaranty there won't be ulterior attacks at all. All I can guaranty is that I will keep a close eye on the specific weapons you entrust us with, and that they will only be used in self-defence. But other people may try to bring you down by their own means, without me being aware of it. We need this truce as much as you do, and I know you're well aware of that, but there is so much I can promise. Humans are not as obedient as Daleks, and unsurprisingly, your previous unwarranted aggression –twice– has brought quite a lot of animosity down on you."

"IT IS UNDERSTOOD AND AGREED, LILLIAN ROBERTSON." He swivelled his eye-piece towards Helena before focusing on Lillian again: "HOWEVER, A REPEATED ATTACK BY THE SAME INDIVIDUAL AFTER WE DELIVER THEM TO YOU WILL BE VIEWED AS AN ATTACK FROM YOUR ENTIRE COLONY AND RESPONDED TO ACCORDINGLY."

"Duly noted; and yes, we'll be sure to keep our prisoners in check. We certainly don't want a full-scale retaliation." Although she faced the Dalek, her gaze turned to her former friend: The last sentence was meant as a warning to her as much as an acknowledgement to him.


The Dalek agreed to let human forces take hold of the prisoners and help capture the rest of the commando, and within an hour, Helena's whole group was standing under guard before the Latoshk Council.

"Now…" Lillian sighed. "What are we going to do with you?"

"We can't throw them into jail," Stephen pleaded. "They aren't criminals, they did nothing wrong in itself."

"Except stunning me," she reminded him, "but I agree. Nonetheless, neither can we afford the risk of one of them trying again." She ran her eye over the group. They were good people, yet too rash to be kept around. There was no easy answer.

As their gaze met, Helena quit her glowering silence to speak. "Lillian, I spoke in the grip of anger when I realised you'd warned the Daleks. I never truly thought you were working for them. What you did… convince them to give us weapons, that was a masterstroke," she admitted, somewhat grudgingly. She still wasn't ready to forgive facing extermination up close. "Look, I swear I won't try anything until we've armed ourselves and can bring the fight back to them."

"No."

All pair of eyes turned towards Lillian.

"… What?" Helena couldn't believe her ears.

"No, we won't arm every Latoshkian and attack the Daleks. We will disassemble, study, replicate and improve these weapons they'll give us, obviously. But Daleks are more dangerous than their armour and gun. Do you want to see them vitrify the surface of the planet? Spread a virus that will make the Venusian flu look like a blessing? Switch off the sun? Because that's the kind of things they can do if we provoke them. Do you think puny guns will save us if we escalate the stakes? We will keep ready every waking instant, oh yes. But we will not fight them until they force us to."

Everyone started shouting at once.

After endless discussions and much yelling and tears, the Council agreed with Lillian's plans, and decided the mavericks would be banned from Latoshk, although they'd be given every possible help to facilitate their relocation on another colony.


Returning to her quarters, exhausted from the bitter argument, Lillian was unpleasantly surprised to discover the lead Dalek requested an interview with her. "What is it?" she asked sharply, a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. Her mind was already racing to guess whatever reason the Daleks had found for launching a punitive assault on the colony after all.

"I ESTIMATE THE ATTACK HAD A HIGH PROBABILITY OF SUCCESS," the Dalek stated in his grating voice. Without fail, hearing him speak made Lillian's skin crawl. "YET YOU WARNED US EVEN THOUGH WE MIGHT HAVE EXTERMINATED THE TERRORISTS, INCLUDING THE ONE WHO CLAIMED TO BE YOUR FRIEND. WHY? HUMAN BEINGS ARE EXPECTED TO HOLD FRIENDSHIP HIGHER THAN A TRUCE."

"It was a risk I had to take. The fact is you didn't," she shrugged, much tenser than she let show.

"ANSWER MY QUESTION!" he ordered, more intimidatingly.

"You admitted it yourself when we saved you: If the Daleks consider us a threat, they'll go through the extra effort needed to exterminate us," she decided to explain. Not that his aggressiveness scared her; but angering him served no purpose. "You're the only one willing to cohabit with us; therefore, I need to keep you alive and convinced we will respect our end of the bargain. It is the price to pay for the survival of the rest of our colony."

He stayed silent for a second, staring at her in his kind's unsettling way, immobile but for the slight up and down oscillation of his eye-stalk.

"YOU THINK LIKE A DALEK," he finally said.

"Don't insult me!" Lillian spat, too defensively perhaps. "And anyway, no, I don't. You ignore too much about mankind to understand my motivations. I will relentlessly do what is necessary, yes, but my primary concern is and always will be to protect my people."

"AND MY PRIMARY CONCERN IS TO PROTECT MY KIND. YOU ARE PREPARED TO GIVE UP FRIENDSHIP TO ENSURE YOUR PEOPLE'S SAFETY, AS I AM PREPARED TO GIVE UP DALEK SUPREMACY TO ENSURE MY RACE'S SURVIVAL. WE ARE MORE ALIKE THAN WE ARE WILLING TO ADMIT."

Once the screen had switched off, she looked down at her shaking hands. "Don't let it affect you," she reprimanded herself. "It's only trying to capitalise on Helena's accusations to weaken your guard. You're nothing like them. Never! You care for the people under your responsibility! And the Daleks are nothing like you. They're only waiting till they feel confident enough to turn on us. That wasn't some sick Dalek version of respect; that was plain and simple manipulation. Don't listen to its lies. Don't believe them. You're cleverer than that. Don't grant it this victory."

[^]


Strange bedfellows

Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. After Helena's group had been banished away and the Daleks had provided the disabling weapons they'd promised, the situation fell back into a fragile, nevertheless sustained routine –the mining team coming to Latoshk, collecting chronilite, and leaving before coming again a few weeks later.

Thanks to the knowledge they now had arms specifically designed to neutralise a Dalek at their disposal, and despite Lillian making sure only a restricted number of trusted scientists could access them, the human colonists tolerated the near constant presence of the enemy at the Oriental Plains. In reality, the two populations barely had any contact, and simply watched each other with an unfaltering distrust.

Things seemed destined to continue without visible change for months, perhaps years, Latoshk slowly healing its wounds from the two Dalek raids, until one day, the intelligence service warned the Council that something unexpected was happening. They'd detected strange readings, and the chronilite miners were apparently loading whatever they could into their ship in a hurry.

Stephen was sure there was betrayal afoot and he argued for a preventive strike, but Lillian showed herself unyielding: A sudden attack, right in the middle of a mining run, made no sense; and neither did such a blatant violation of the truce treaty without it being an actual offensive. Albeit something was very amiss indeed, they first and foremost needed to know more. And there was no better way than asking the Daleks directly.


"What the hell are you doing?!" Lillian roared as soon as the commander appeared on her screen. Behind him, his subordinates seemed more agitated than she'd ever seen them.

"A WORMHOLE IS OPENING," he explained, sounding equally nervous as they looked. "ITS SIGNATURE IS CONSISTENT WITH DEVOURERS. WE TRIED CLOSING IT BUT THE SPATIOTEMPORAL FORCES ARE TOO STRONG FOR OUR CURRENT RESOURCES; WE NEED TO EVACUATE THE PLANET BEFORE THEIR ARRIVAL."

She frowned, her suspicion giving way to dread. If the Daleks were running away with their tails between their legs, that could only mean a cataclysm of an unprecedented scale. "What do you call Devourers?"

She paled as a picture of a flying metallic stingray appeared next to the Dalek. "Oh my God," she gasped. "Yes, I know what they are. We'll never have time to embark everyone!"

"YOUR SURVIVAL IS OF NO CONCERN TO US," the Dalek replied with a characteristic lack of any kind of sympathy.

"Wait, wait." Lillian was thinking frantically.

A few steps behind her, Stephen, transfixed, stared at the slowly revolving image of the creature. He had never seen them up close, naturally –nobody still alive ever had–, but he'd heard the news, many years back. Silver Heaven, one of the largest and lushest human colonies: Turned into a planet-wide sand desert in months. All contact with its population lost within the first day after their distress call.

"Where's… the wormhole opening?" He knew he was grasping at straws; still, any hope the Devourers would emerge on the other side of Latoshk was crushed when the Dalek answered:

"IN THE ORIENTAL PLAINS, LESS THAN A MILE AWAY FROM OUR INSTALLATIONS."

Refusing to let her own horror paralyse her rational mind, Lillian was starting to form a plan. "If the Devourers swarm the planet, they'll consume everything, right? Including chronilite?" she enquired.

"YES."

"And you'll lose any possibility of obtaining more from Latoshk? You'll have to find another source?"

"CORRECT."

"Help us and you keep your mines. How does that sound?"

"CLOSING THE WORMHOLE ALREADY PROVED IMPOSSIBLE. THE STATIC ELECTRICITY THEY PRODUCE INTERFERES WITH OUR OWN EQUIPMENT; MOREOVER THIS SWARM IS PARTICULARLY STRONG. EVEN BY COMBINING OUR GENERATORS, WE WOULD BE UNABLE TO HOLD THEM PERMANENTLY."

"Then don't. Find another solution. Think laterally. Looping the wormhole on itself so they go back to where they come from. Possible?"

"NO."

"Diverting it? Changing its endpoint to somewhere else?"

"NOT POSSIBLE EITHER. NOT AFTER IT IS ALREADY ESTABLISHED."

"How about opening an other wormhole just outside theirs, and hurl them into the sun?"

The Dalek reflected silently for a second. "YES…"

"How big is that wormhole, though?" Stephen stepped in.

"WE ESTIMATE A FINAL DIAMETER OF FIFTEEN TO TWENTY MILES."

"Can you create a wormhole that wide with what you have?" he croaked, fearing what the answer would be. "You mentioned your lack of resources. Even if we contribute…"

"IT WOULD NORMALLY BE IMPOSSIBLE. HOWEVER, IN THIS CASE, THE TWO WORMHOLES WOULD ENTER IN RESONANCE AND STABILISE EACH OTHER. THE REQUIRED AMOUNT OF ENERGY WOULD BE SUITABLY LOW. LILLIAN ROBERTSON'S PLAN IS FEASIBLE IN THEORY."

"Then can you do it?" she pressed. "Do you have means to create a second wormhole?"

"IT WOULD REQUIRE SACRIFICING OUR SHIP AS THE SECOND WORMHOLE'S EXIT-POINT. IT WOULD NEED TO BE TRAPPED IN THE SUN'S GRAVITY WELL TO ENSURE THE DEVOURERS' DESTRUCTION."

"In return for saving our colony, we'll help you build a new ship," she offered. "And you preserve your chronilite mines."

"THIRTY-TWO MORE DALEKS ARE STATIONED INSIDE THE SHIP. THIRTY-ONE OF THEM WILL BE ALLOWED TO DISEMBARK TO AVOID DESTRUCTION."

Lillian pursed her lips. "All right."

"THEN IT IS ACCEPTED," he grated. "AN UNKNOWN NUMBER OF DEVOURERS MAY EVADE THE SECOND PORTAL. YOU WILL EQUIP SOLDIERS WITH RANGE EXPLOSIVE WEAPONS TO FIGHT THEM. ANY ATTEMPT TO USE THE WEAPONS AGAINST US WILL RESULT IN YOUR EXTERMINATION."

"Obviously," she snorted. "We're not stupid."

"MAKE SURE YOUR SOLDIERS CAN BE TRUSTED, LILLIAN ROBERTSON," he warned.

"Yes. But you'd better make sure yours don't get carried away either," Lillian retorted. "Just because there will be more Daleks on the planet surface than ever doesn't mean we're powerless."

"I KNOW," he simply replied.


It didn't take the Council long to summon armed guards. Less than five minutes later, fifty-six humans and twenty-nine Daleks were nervously aiming weapons at what looked like thin air and military gliders patrolled the eighteen miles wide front, while six more Daleks were operating the devices that controlled the second wormhole. The emptied saucer had already lifted off, only its sacrificial pilot on board, and was merely a speck in the sky, quickly vanishing out of sight.

Lillian had come, of course, and Stephen had decided to imitate her. The rest of the Latoshkians were evacuating the city in near panic.

"Now what?" Stephen rasped, forehead damp with sweat and breath heavy.

"Control your nerves, Stephen. They'll arrive all too soon."

Not a minute had elapsed when the air shimmered and the first portal started to vomit an apparently endless flow of screeching Devourers, almost immediately swallowed into the second one.

[^]


Shoulder to neck rings

For a few dozens of seconds, time seemed frozen as the mercury stream of Devourers glistened between the two wormholes and filled the air with their ravenous cries. Just as the planet defenders were lured into almost hypnotic negligence, a group of several creatures skewed away from the bulk of the flock and missed the exit portal. They immediately turned round and aimed for anything that moved, shone, or made some noise.

The Daleks, with their dedication to combat and general single-mindedness, were quicker to react. Shrill shouts of "EXTERMINATE!" pierced through the air –shilling the Latoshkians to the bone–, accompanied with a barrage of blue high-energy beams. Each time the streaks hit their target, it glowed against the night sky, squealing in agony, and fell like a dead leave.

The humans soon followed their allies of convenience. Though many were, against the lead Dalek's advice, equipped only with insufficient laser guns, rockets and missiles flew from bazookas and gliders. After a couple of minutes, the combined fire had dealt with the immediate threat and stingray bodies littered the ground.

The respite didn't last. The din had attracted the Devourers' attention and a second, larger wave eluded the exit wormhole. This time, humans and Daleks sprang into action without wait, shooting relentlessly at the flying aliens. Realising their helplessness, those of the Latoshkians having only lasers promptly retreated, putting their fate in the hands and manipulators of those armed with more suitable weapons. Like Lillian and Stephen, all they could do was watch and pray…

For every Devourer dropping dead, two more joined the fight. The air was acrid with smoke and deafening with voracious screeches, dying shrieks, Dalek battle cries, human shouting and incessant explosions. With the situation steadily worsening, the bellicose mutants in personal tanks had grouped into highly efficient attack formations, each dedicated to protecting a specific area. For once, the Latoshkians welcomed their ruthless warmongering, even if it also stirred bitter memories.

Despite the Daleks' might and the humans' deftness, the defenders could barely contain the flood of swirling Devourers. Suddenly, half a dozen creatures broke away and dived towards the wormhole control devices and their oblivious operators. The nearest Dalek squad interposed itself in front of the vital equipment and concentrated their fire; they succeeded in distracting the flying aliens' attention, but failed to exterminate them all in time. Two of their members were ripped to shreds, pitifully yelling their terror and their pain.

"Oh God," Stephen breathed in dismay, instinctively stepping back.

Lillian, however, remained stony in the face of the gruesome scene. "Don't waste your sympathy," she snorted. "They are Daleks; it's not even like they'll resent you for not caring."

"But I am not," he retorted, still shaken. "Isn't that the whole point? That we are human?"

She froze and her voice was chilly when she replied: "Never forget what we're dealing with. Open your heart to them and they'll just exploit it to find a way to wipe us out. We have no choice but keep them alive –under close watch–, but falling into the trap of sympathising with them would be sheer suicide. Just be glad there is two less of them and they can't accuse us of it."

Stephen stared at Lillian in silence, uneasiness and… a glint of fear in the eye?


The fight continued to rage for what seemed an eternity until, at last, the swarm's flow dried up and the first portal switched itself off. At once, the Dalek operators closed down the second one, leaving only a handful of Devourers stranded on Latoshk. The creatures were easily dispatched one after the other by weary, but relieved combatants: Even if casualties had been high among both groups of defenders, they had averted a calamity. The planet was safe.

Finally, a couple of blue death rays engulfed the last Devourer, and it fell to the ground, inert. The surviving Daleks regrouped at the wormhole control machine.

"ALL DEVOURERS HAVE BEEN EXTERMINATED," one of them reported. "DALEKS ARE SUPREME!"

"DALEKS ARE SUPREME! DALEKS ARE SUPREME!" they all joined in.

"Seriously?" Lillian snapped icily. "You'd do well to remember that without our help, you'd have been forced to abandon the planet and your precious chronilite mines, Daleks. Your technology might be light years beyond ours, we're still the ones with the clever tricks."

At that, she turned heels and left, inviting her own troops to return to the colony with a silent gesture of the arm.

"THE HUMAN CREATURES ARE GROWING ARROGANT!" one of the Daleks complained. "THEY SHOULD BE EXTERMINATED!"

"NO," their leader rebuffed, "LILLIAN ROBERTSON IS RIGHT. ASSOCIATING WITH OTHER LIFE FORMS DOES NOT DEMEAN THE DALEKS. IT MAKES US STRONGER! THE LATOSHKIANS ARE NOT TO BE UNDERESTIMATED; WE WILL SECURE THEIR ASSISTANCE AND BENEFIT FROM IT."

"ALIENS MUST BE SUBJUGATED! THEY ARE INFERIOR!"

"UNIMPORTANT! THEY ARE MORE USEFUL TO US WHEN ALLOWED AUTONOMY, AND THE THREAT THEY REPRESENT IS CURBED BY THEIR FEAR OF RETALIATION. LETTING THEM LIVE EXPANDS OUR OPTIONS AND WILL ENSURE DALEK SUCCESS!" He cast his gaze over the assembled Dalek crew. "RETURN TO YOUR DUTIES," he ordered. "YOU WILL RESUME MINING," he commanded a small group before swivelling his eye-stalk to the rest: "AND YOU WILL START PREPARING THE SHIPYARD."

The arguing Dalek was disturbed by his commander's reasoning, so against everything he'd always held true; but he knew his place wasn't to dispute his orders or to argue on strategy with his superior. He was a Dalek, a soldier, a cog in an unquestionable hierarchy. Upsetting their reassuringly stable organisation was even more frightening than having to put up with insolent and unpredictable aliens. His purpose was to serve the Dalek race faithfully, and if his commander thought it required sparing the human beings despite their provocations, he would abide by it. "WE OBEY," he replied along with the others.

[^]


Gnashing of teeth

"How many?!" Lillian choked with angry incredulity.

Facing the Latoshk Council, which was reduced to the bare minimum since Helena's betrayal, Nancy Turpin stiffened. "Three were still alive, and two more could be brought back. The others didn't make it," she answered in what was supposed to be a firm tone. "It's all right, as soon as they're stabilised, they can be sent back."

But Lillian wasn't even remotely close to calming down. If looks could kill, her friend would have been incinerated on the spot. "Five Daleks alive today that would have died from the Devourers' attack! When I gave the green light to the ambulances and told you to go out of your way to save as many people as possible, I didn't mean Daleks!"

"It's not like you didn't set a precedent," Stephen muttered with a glare. He was still unsure about her strategy. True, the truce was holding, but for how long? Perhaps two utter defeats would have been enough to deter the Daleks permanently.

Nancy held her ground. "We did look after our people first," she justified. "But I am a doctor, Lillian. When I realised those Daleks had been abandoned to their fate by the others, I had to do something! Especially considering they had been saving us."

"They were saving their chronilite!"

"I'm not a fool, Lillian, I am aware they'd rather see us dead," the doctor admitted. "That doesn't change the fact we wouldn't be here anymore without their help. And not just by opening the portal in time; they didn't shy away from the fight to protect themselves at our expense."

Lillian groaned, but the truth was Nancy had already taken the choice from her the moment she'd picked up the wounded Daleks. All they could do now was indeed heal them and hope it would turn for the best. Muting her irritation, she dismissed the doctor and quickly concluded the Council meeting. In the now empty room, she repeatedly punched the desk until she couldn't feel her knuckles anymore.


In the infirmary, one of the less severely wounded Daleks was awake.

"RELEASE ME AT ONCE!" he demanded in a typical Dalek hectoring tone. Their voice was grating, unnerving and domineering at the best of times; when feeling threatened, there was no limit to how unpleasant they could sound. Nancy instantly regretted plugging her peculiar patients to their speech synthesisers. "YOU WILL LET ME RETURN TO THE SQUAD! THE HUMAN BEING WILL OBEY! OBEY!"

She sighed. This was going to be trying. Already feeling jaded, she patiently set to explain medical treatment to a creature bred to kill.


Lillian's troubles weren't over: As soon as she returned to her private quarters, she saw the Dalek commander requested an audience.

"YOU HAVE RETRIEVED SEVERAL DALEKS WHO HAD BEEN DESTROYED BY THE DEVOURERS. EXPLAIN YOURSELF!" he ordered the moment he appeared on screen. He was twitching his eye-stalk at her as if to penetrate her thoughts. Two of his subordinates flanked him, and Lillian wondered whether they were meant to intimidate her.

"We've saved them. Well, those that weren't beyond help at least. We've taken them in with our own wounded, but they will be returned to you once they're healed. They're our patients. Not prisoners."

"I DO NOT UNDERSTAND," he complained. As if echoing his confusion, the Dalek on his left looked at him in perplexity, seeking an explanation to this alien nonsense.

"No, I didn't think you would," Lillian replied scornfully. "Otherwise, you wouldn't have abandoned them to die in the first place. We humans don't leave people behind." As much as Nancy's initiative infuriated her, there was no going back. Showing her disapproval would only undermine her authority in the enemy's eye; she had to assume it in front of him. With any luck, she could even turn it to their advantage.

"BUT WHY SPEND TIME AND RESOURCES TO SAVE THEM? THEY WOULD HAVE BEEN REPLACED WHEN WE RETURN TO OUR FLEET. THE SPECIFIC INDIVIDUAL MAKES NO DIFFERENCE!"

"See, that's just not true. Individuals learn from their experiences, each in their own unique way, and no amount of brainwashing and databanks can replace that. Even Daleks are not completely identical to each other –at the very least, this particular lot is already used to our nearby presence and won't get trigger-happy in your back. But your failure to understand and account for individuality is the reason you'll never be able to defeat humanity lastingly," she couldn't resist taunting him. For all their self-proclaimed superiority and their unfortunately quite real scientific and military might, Daleks were very limited indeed.

The mission commander stared at her, deep in thought, and abruptly cut the communication.


"Keep an open eye for everything you can learn about the way they build their ships. Engines, weaponry, shields, flight computer, life support, everything down to the way floor tiles are held together. I want a report on every single potential weakness, as insignificant as it seems now," Lillian had enjoined the reluctant team who'd been gathered to help the Daleks with their task. Only her emphasised reminder that the quicker the Daleks would get a new ship, the quicker they'd leave had quelled the murmurs of protest.

Of course, there were those who demanded a protective guard, and worse yet, those who remembered the Dalek-disabling weapons the aliens had provided after Helena's failed attack. Lillian had to use all her authority to stop the Council from consenting. Bringing weapons, especially these weapons, would only spiral out of control. She nearly thought she'd end up being overruled until Stephen reluctantly submitted to her arguments, followed by the others, one by one. She had the unpleasant feeling they'd agreed out of fear of her and not because they'd seen there really was no other choice.

At last, Lillian contacted the Dalek commander to inform him the construction team was on its way with equipment they expected to be useful. For a change, the conversation was brief and didn't involve a raised voice or more or less veiled threats; the alien even anticipated her warning that the equipment could, but wouldn't be used as weapons. Again, he hung up on her when he considered all relevant information had been exchanged –though really, Lillian was mostly glad to be done with it.

Then, exhausted, she leaned the back of her head against the wall and closed her eyes. Her knuckles were really hurting.

[^]


Slippery slope

Barely a couple of hours had elapsed when Lillian was summoned again by the lead Dalek.

"YOUR HUMAN BEINGS ARE REFUSING TO WORK!" he screeched with irritation. "IF YOU DO NOT MAKE THEM COOPERATE, WE WILL PUNISH THEM ONE BY ONE UNTIL THEY DO!"

"Which is exactly the kind of behaviour that will permanently convince us not to," she snapped.

"FAILURE TO COMPLY IS UNACCEPTABLE! THE LATOSHKIANS ARE MEANT TO ASSIST IN REBUILDING OUR SHIP!"

"Yes, and guess what? That's precisely what those people have gone to your shipyard to do. If they've stopped, I can only assume something you did made them dig their heels in!" Lillian retorted. "Now, if you want the situation to be resolved without breeding a revolt again, you will step aside and wait for me to sort out your blunder."

"AGREED," the Dalek replied after a second.


In the infirmary, Nancy examined her Dalek patients. The conscious one had finally accepted her explanations enough to calm down, although she doubted he'd been persuaded of the value of healing the wounded, let alone enemies. She let out a sigh. Not that he was the only one. When they'd saved the first one after the attack, they hadn't had time to examine him thoroughly, but now Lillian would certainly want to use the medical data to devise a way to kill them.

Trying to forget the bad taste in her mouth, Nancy turned back to the awake Dalek.

"You know, there's something I don't understand," she mused. "If Daleks fear death that much, why don't you ever mend your wounded?"

"DALEKS DO NOT FEAR DEATH! DALEKS FEAR NOTHING!" he retorted in what she could have sworn was a hurt tone.

"Oh come on!" she scoffed. "Of all the victims of the Devourers, Daleks were the ones to scream loudest. You begged for help without a break until you passed out. Surely you remember?"

"I… WAS IN PAIN."

"And terrified," she muttered, but she wasn't looking to offend him. "All right, so let's admit you don't fear death –but you still feel pain, my point remains. I get that you hate us and want us dead anyway, but why not save your own?"

"WHAT WOULD BE THE PURPOSE OF IT?"

She shook her head, taken aback by his inability to grasp her argument. "Well, to stop the pain, of course. To make those who suffer better."

"IT IS UNIMPORTANT."

"I don't get it. Aren't you glad you're alive, and not in pain anymore? Would you rather we'd left you to die out there?"

"NO. BUT YOU DID HEAL ME. I WILL RETURN TO FULL HEALTH. I WILL NOT REQUIRE MEDICAL TREATMENT ANYMORE."

"Sure, but what about others? What if you get hurt again? And don't say there'll always be non-Daleks to take care of you," she quickly added, "'cause you know that's not true. The situation here on Latoshk is unique. Most people who've any notion of what you are would rather finish you off. Wouldn't you want to make sure that if it happens again, you'd have a chance to survive?"

The Dalek answered after a second of silence: "IT IS NOT THE WAY OF THE DALEKS. ONLY THE GREATER GOOD OF OUR RACE MATTERS."

Nancy raised her eyes heavenwards. Four more chances of educating them, she thought. Wonder who of them or Lily are more likely to mellow first.


The first thing Lillian noticed as she stepped out of the glider, Stephen on her heels, was the gathered mob of human workers waiting for her. The Daleks were watching from some distance, and she supposed her contact had ordered them to stay back to prevent any further escalation.

A man advanced. Danny Satrel, as far as she remembered. Apparently the others had chosen him as their spokesman.

Without giving him time to voice out his recriminations, she demanded: "What is the meaning of this? Explain yourselves! You know how vital it is to rebuild the Daleks' ship!"

Danny blinked, slightly shaken by such preemptive harshness. He glanced at the people behind him. "And we've all volunteered for this," he pointed out before aiming an accusing finger at the Daleks, "except you seem to have forgotten to mention in your deal that we are not slaves!"

"Their ships are far more advanced than ours. Of course they'll have to take the lead," she rebuked.

The man's eyes blazed with anger. "That's not what I mean and you know it. There's a difference between giving engineering directions and disregarding any concept of safety, working us to death and oh, right, threatening to exterminate us if we don't submit!"

Lillian strode towards the aliens. "Is it true?"

"HUMANS BEHAVE INAPPROPRIATELY! THEY CONSTANTLY QUESTION ORDERS!" one of the soldiers counter-attacked verbally, his voice different enough from his leader to avoid any confusion.

She marched on him. "Silence. I will only speak to your commander. Bring him forth at once."

The mutant stared at her with an apprehension they normally reserved for the Doctor.

"SPEAK, LILLIAN ROBERTSON," the top Dalek, who was just further away anyway, instructed.

"One, we know very little of your technology. Questions are unavoidable and you must answer them the best you can in order for our workers to accomplish their tasks successfully. Two, if any of the humans here dies on your watch, the deal is over. So you will make sure they get sufficient protection, as well as rest, to remain safe all along. And three, never, ever threaten to exterminate any of us again," she enumerated. "Is that understood?"

"IF I ACCEPT THESE TERMS, WILL THE LATOSHKIANS RESUME WORK?"

"Yes."

He turned his eye-stalk to his underlings. "ANSWER HUMAN QUESTIONS REGARDING THE BUILDING OF THE SHIP. ACCEPT THE SPECIFIC REQUIREMENTS THE LATOSHKIANS EXPRESS. THEY ARE NOT TO BE FORCED TO WORK EVEN IF IT SLOWS THE COMPLETION OF THE MISSION," he commanded.

She nodded sharply. "Good." She turned to her own people. "Now you will obey–"

"Know what, Lillian?" Stephen interrupted. "I'll talk to them. You stay with your Dalek pals."

"What's that even supposed to mean?!" she shouted back.

"Obviously you're taking a leaf out of their book. You have a private link with their commander, you spend more time thinking about them than about your own people. You cheered when they were killed horribly before your eyes and you wanted to let their wounded die a slow and painful death –and I don't care that they are Daleks, we are not! You're even starting to sound like them. 'Explain yourselves', 'silence', 'you will obey'," he parroted. Then he ostensibly turned his back to her and strode away to join the workers.


Eyes burning dry, Lillian was gazing at the the shipyard from a nearby hill, the now familiar bulky shapes of the Daleks and the slimmer and more nimble Latoshkians. Her people. Those strangers.

"YOU FEEL LONELY." The lead Dalek's voice behind her –unemotional, grating, mechanical as always– made her jump and whip towards him.

She quickly regained some composure. "What would you know of loneliness? I'm surprised you even understand the concept."

"YOU NOW SPEND MORE TIME WITH US THAN WITH YOUR FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS AND I SEE YOU CHANGE. BECOME LESS IN CONTROL. LESS YOURSELF."

"Fair enough. Yes, I feel lonely. Half my people disapprove of our agreement and the half who understand see me as… contaminated, sort of, because I'm the one who deals with you, the one who has to take the hard decisions. Your kind is very efficient at making people hate you."

"YOU SHOULD TURN YOURSELF MORE TO YOUR PEOPLE."

"What do you care?"

"YOU ARE STRONGER WHEN YOU DO NOT FEEL LONELY. WE NEED YOU STRONG TO HOLD THE TRUCE."

As much as she hated to admit it, she knew he was right. Perhaps she would do well to remind herself from time to time she was a human being. She looked to the shipyard again, sighed, and went to apologise to Stephen, and Danny, and all the ship builders.

[^]


Small victories

All in all, the building of the ship progressed as smoothly as could be hoped. More than a few times, the Daleks' patience would run thin and they would shout and wave their guns furiously at the human beings –but they always eventually remembered their duty and stifled their exasperation. Just as often, the Latoshkian workers would bristle at the aliens' tendency to bully them and they would wave their tools threateningly and demand respect –but they always eventually remembered that the future of their entire colony relied on them and lowered their pride. It was soon agreed that the saucer wouldn't be given full temporal capabilities at first, to save most chronilite for the empire's requirements, but that the humans would mine the remaining required quantity from the nearer vein before the Daleks' return.

Despite the ever present anguish, Lillian allowed herself time to nurture human relationships. Nancy even convinced her to take a day off and hike in the countryside to relax, although leaving her communicator at her quarters was too much to ask. Watching the city from their viewpoint between the trees, she realised how scarred it still was, more than a year after the last attack. Still, they were alive, and relatively safe for the time being, which was more than could have been hoped back then.

At the Oriental Plains, the Daleks discussed the Latoshkians in private, their intolerable impertinence and the aberration of their existence, but also their uncanny ability to fend off superior forces and to always devise creative solutions where there should have been none. Chronilite mining operations would have come to an abrupt start if it hadn't been for their ingenious suggestion.

For all the human beings' physical and mental obnoxiousness, perhaps the Daleks could learn from them…


Upon returning to her quarters, Lillian's day turned sour as she discovered the Daleks had tried to contact her. A lump formed in her throat. Had the situation got out of hand at the shipyard? But then she remembered she'd kept her communicator, and Stephen would have informed her. Allowing herself to relax somewhat, she called back her contact.

"You wanted to talk to me," she stated curtly.

"LILLIAN ROBERTSON! I HAVE TRIED REACHING YOU FOR HOURS," he accused.

"You're the one who advised me to spend more time with my own kind just days ago," she retorted. "Now, what do you want?"

"HOW DID YOU CONCEIVE THE IDEA OF OPENING A SECOND WORMHOLE TO REDIRECT THE DEVOURERS?"

She shrugged. "I don't know, I just tried to think of any possible way to save Latoshk. Why?"

"ARE HUMAN DESCENDANTS CONDITIONED FOR THIS MINDSET?"

"We don't 'condition' our children, but yes, sort of. Education is meant to teach them resourcefulness and creative thinking. Again, why?"

"I REQUIRE YOU PROVIDE US WITH SUCH TRAINING DATA," he requested.


"And you've accepted??" Stephen frowned.

"The prospect of creative-thinking Daleks is a whole new level of terrifying," another member of the Council mumbled.

"For that to happen, they would have to actually be able to use what we'll be giving them," Lillian smirked.

Stephen tilted his head. "We've been willing to follow your lead from the beginning, Lillian. But usually, the dangers and potential benefits of each alternative are clear. Here, we're giving them something with basically nothing in return. How can you be sure they won't find a way to use it against us? We can't trust them with anything they ask, with anything that might give them yet another advantage."

Her eyes narrowed. "Which is why we need to pick very carefully the most… typically human children material." She waved her hand dismissively. "Of course, we'll include basic school teachings, but the real meat will lie elsewhere. You all have children, or know people who do. Here's what I want you to look for…"


Meanwhile, an exchange between two grating, staccato, mechanical voices made Nancy pause in the infirmary's corridor. She tiptoed closer to the Dalek ward to spy on the discussion.

"–DEVISE A WAY TO ESCAPE AT ONCE OR SELF-DESTRUCT!" one was saying, weak, but strained with panic.

"NEGATIVE," her first patient to have regained consciousness replied. "WE NEED TO REMAIN IN THE HUMAN BEINGS' CUSTODY UNTIL WE HAVE RECOVERED SUFFICIENTLY FOR OUR LIFE SUPPORT TO COMPLETE THE HEALING."

"ALIENS CANNOT BE TRUSTED! OUR CAPTURE IS OBVIOUSLY A PLOY!"

"HUMAN BEINGS ARE WEAK. WE CAN BENEFIT FROM THEIR COMPASSION." Was Nancy imagining it, or was the word pronounced with disdain?

"THE RISK IS TOO HIGH. OUR PRESENCE HERE ENDANGERS THE DALEK CAUSE," the other Dalek insisted, but his voice sounded somewhat deflated. Albeit conscious, he would have still been in great pain and lacking the energy to argue for very long.

"IT IS UNLIKELY THEY ARE ATTEMPTING TO EXPERIMENT ON US OR OTHERWISE EXPLOIT US. ALREADY I HAVE REGAINED STRENGTH AND I MONITOR THEIR ACTIONS. SO FAR THEY HAVE DISPLAYED NO SIGN–"

The doctor smiled to herself as she turned heels to resume her way. Thank goodness for small mercies. At least she would be spared the headache of having again to teach the difference between a specimen and a patient to a Dalek.


Once the Council members all came back with their collected treasure, Lillian carefully reviewed each and every element before handing them to the Daleks. And she waited for their return.

It came a couple of days later.

"WE HAVE ANALYSED THE TRAINING DATA YOU PROVIDED US," the leader announced, "BUT THE ITEMS YOU LABELLED 'ENTERTAINMENT' MAKE NO SENSE. THE DEPICTED EVENTS ARE PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE AND THE CAUSALITY IS ABSURD. HOW CAN TEACHING YOUR OFFSPRING INACCURACIES BE OF ANY USE?"

"That's why it's called entertainment in the first place," she shrugged. "It's not supposed to be realistic, it's supposed to develop the children's imagination, their creativity. It teaches them to explore new ideas and it's what makes us so adaptable even after reaching adulthood."

"I DO NOT UNDERSTAND. THE ILLOGICALITY CAN ONLY CAUSE CONFUSION!"

"To you, perhaps, but not to us. On the contrary, it inspires us. Human children thrive on this kind of stuff. That's why you are Daleks, and we are humans. Come on, you are conformity-obsessed utilitarians bred for blind obedience, who don't even have individual names. Did you really think you could learn originality? Seriously? I guess it means you still can't get rid of us yet," she couldn't help taunting.

After a second of silence, the communication was cut without a warning. Affording herself a relief sigh, Lillian sank comfortably into her seat. She poured a glass of whisky and, lifting it, watched the light play with the amber liquor. Trusting the Daleks really was beside the point, she thought with a grin; all she had to do was always stay a step ahead of them. And she'd just succeeded quite nicely.

[^]


Deceptive routine

One after the other, the five mutants Nancy had saved went back to their kind, all too eager to get away from the revolting human presences and their own frightening helplessness. They were glad to again feel protected in their casing, safely isolated from the universe.

The other Daleks scanned them at great length, but no matter how minute their examination, they couldn't find the smallest booby trap or spying device, or anything even remotely suspicious.

"OUR RETURN WILL ACCELERATE THE BUILDING OF THE SHIP AND ENABLE US TO CONTINUE MINING CHRONILITE IN PARALLEL. THE DELAYING DUE TO THE DEVOURERS WILL BE REDUCED," one rejoiced.

"THE HUMAN BEINGS' INFERIOR EMOTIONS HAS UNWITTINGLY SERVED THE DALEK CAUSE!" another gloated.

"IT IS CORRECT THAT THEM HAVING RETRIEVED AND RESTORED YOU BENEFITS US," their leader agreed. "HOWEVER, THIS LIKELY WAS THEIR INTENTION."

All eye-stalks focused on him in perplexity. Aliens weren't known to help Daleks without having to be coerced one way or another.

"THE ORIGINAL ARRANGEMENT WILL BE RESUMED WHEN WE POSSESS A SHIP AGAIN," he explained to his attentive audience. "BY ASSISTING OUR PURPOSE, THEY FURTHER THEIR OWN. THIS IS NOT A DISPLAY OF WEAKNESS, THIS IS PROOF OF THEIR CUNNING. BUT THIS ACTION ALSO PROVES FREELY ASSOCIATING WITH THE LATOSHKIANS CAN PROVIDE CONTINUING BENEFITS BEYOND THOSE WE PLAN FOR," he asserted again.

To the average Dalek, such thoughts were preposterous, naturally. But they had preserved their only current source of chronilite thanks to the human beings. Their forces were five members stronger than they would have expected, thanks, again, to the human beings. And while the joint work at the shipyard had ignited the usual mutual hatred at first, most of the initial clash had now settled.

Within the room silence, the novel idea inched its way through the xenophobic certitudes. Of course, aliens were ever incomprehensible. But perhaps, just perhaps, their difference might hold some value indeed.


Once again in possession of a spacecraft, the Daleks brought back their shipment with diligence. When all contact had been lost after the report of the Devourers' imminent attack, the Supreme had assumed the mining party had been destroyed along with the planet. He was surprised –and most pleased– to be proved wrong. He listened with attention to the commander's report, and when the latter mentioned the ship had been rebuilt through human labour, he was none the wiser. Dalek hierarchy was absolute. None of the underlings even thought of disclosing the truth without being specifically requested to.

Things went back to their unnatural order. Both groups were content to stay well away from each other, and little contact there was. Far from resting on their laurels, the Latoshkians analysed everything they'd learnt while constructing the saucer, from the scientific to the military angle. Their understanding of Dalek technology progressed steadily, until one day, about ten months later, the research team made a breakthrough.

"We've always suspected their most complex devices are operated with a combination of conventional electrical power and psychokinetic energy. That's why they are so prone to saying aloud what they are doing: To focus their thoughts," a young physicist explained to the Council, her eyes glistening with excitement. "Of course, they were careful never to tell us too many details on the workings of the machinery we were building for them. But by cross-referencing the control circuits for the ship's hoist and their casings' actual design, we think we've been able to isolate the specific components responsible for carrying out their mental instructions. We've already started studying them in detail."

"All right," Lillian nodded. "That sounds good, but does it have any practical application?"

"Surely you remember they gave us those disabling weapons, Governor? Until now, we didn't have a clue what they did, or even if they actually did anything significant at all. It's not like we could test them in real conditions."

A shadow crossed Lillian's face. How could she have forgotten Helena's thwarted attack? "Go on," she encouraged, blinking the bitter memory away.

"Well, all evidence indicates that's how they work, by temporarily overloading the command relay. Now we understand the mechanics better, we can disassemble one of them without damaging it and investigate its internals in detail," the scientist beamed proudly.

For the first time in what seemed an eternity, the Latoshk Council cheered.


Nancy's hearings, however, never went as well.

For the umpteenth time, Lillian rubbed her temples in irritation. "Nancy, Nancy, you know any potential advantage can mean the difference between our continued survival and our extermination. You took an oath to heal and save, and now I'm asking you to find ways to harm and kill. I get it, I really do. But you have my word we won't attack them until they attack us. Just remember it is a question of when, not if."

"It's not just that," the doctor justified herself. "Even if we found out how to deliver a potential pathogen –and that's a huge if, let me tell you, when they encase themselves in airtight dalekanium battle tanks–, their biology is incredibly complex. Not to mention all we have to work with is a finite supply of mostly dead cells."

"What about your cloning attempts?" Stephen asked.

Nancy's lips tightened. When the Council had first ordered her team to use the few live samples they'd taken from the wounded Daleks to grow test subjects for their experiments, she'd considered flat out refusing. In the end, she'd reluctantly admitted that while Daleks were intelligent and technically sentient creatures, the way they disregarded their own pain afterwards probably meant they didn't form emotional memories. Yes, they could suffer, but it was only ever a fleeting state.

"We tried. We did our best, I swear." She shook her head and took a deep breath. "Ironically, making stem cells had been the easy part. While the embryos developed normally at first, as far as we can tell, they all died before the end of their fifth month. Presumably, the casings' life support is designed for adults and the embryos require some specific additional chemicals. The truth is, we just don't have a clue how Daleks normally reproduce. They could be born in eggs for all we know."


And so, seasons followed seasons without any notable incident, the Daleks extracting chronilite, the human colony preparing for warfare but also slowly healing its wounds. Lillian was amazed people were considering having children again, as if the threat on the longer term, despite the scientific prowess of the research teams, was any lower than the very first day.

And still, she would continue waking at night, her heart pounding, after dreaming of betrayal and explosions and deaths and Dalek heinous victorious screeches.

[^]


Spiralling commitments

For nearly two years after the averted Devourers attack, the statu quo continued unabated. Not that Lillian ever let her guard down; so, when the commander of the mining team came to her with a new request, she was displeased, but not surprised.

"THE SUPREME DALEK ORDERS A PRODUCTION INCREASE," he explained. "YOU MUST EITHER GIVE US ACCESS TO THE BETTER LODE OR ALLOW US TO DISEMBARK IN LARGER GROUPS."

"Request denied. The agreement is clear; just because we let you evacuate your ship back when the Devourers came doesn't mean it will happen again. Four Daleks on the ground at any given time. No more. And you stay at the Oriental Plains."

"THEN YOU NEED TO PROVIDE US WITH SLAVES AS THE SUPREME DALEK EXPECTS," he tried, not discouraged.

Lillian sneered. "Forget it. Forced labour is even more unacceptable, whether it be Latoshkians or outsiders. And slavery or not, we won't work for you. Again, rebuilding your ship was a one-off deal because of the Devourers. Obviously, circumstances are different now. You'll have to manage with what you have."

The Dalek fought his growing irritation to think of another solution. "DURING THE FIRST TRUCE, HUMAN BEINGS PERFORMED THE MINING WHILE I ASSISTED WITH YOUR COLONY. THERE IS STILL MUCH LEFT THAT DALEK KNOWLEDGE CAN IMPROVE IN EXCHANGE FOR OUR INCREASED PRESENCE ON THE PLANET SURFACE OR YOUR WILLING CONTRIBUTION TO CHRONILITE EXTRACTION."

She screwed up her eyes. "Hmm, yes…" she mused, already wondering how it might give them a further advantage on the Daleks. "Now that could work. Note however that we've mostly recovered since your attacks, so you'll have to make a real difference with our normal run of operations for this agreement to be valid. And simply providing us with black box devices won't do either. If we can't recreate and adapt your improvements at our leisure, they're not worth it."

She held back a grin. Scientific reverse-engineering of the enemy's technology was excruciatingly slow. Perhaps this was their chance to take a leap forward.


For the first time since the assaults on the colony, a Dalek glided into town, silent and ominous, surveying the amassed crowd that watched him pass with fevered whispers. Whenever the unblinking glare ran over some of them, they cringed fearfully, like a mushroom shrivelling in the sun. Lillian stalked at his side; from time to time, she flicked her eyes to the ambushed snipers before quickly aiming her gaze straight in front of her again. The Dalek was an underling, one who hadn't personally nurtured the decision of cooperating with humans, and she sure as heck hoped obedience was as ingrained in their brain as their leader had assured.

She led the alien to a specially arranged facility, where the scientists had been tasked with the dangerous mission of tricking him into revealing compromising bits of information, while never giving him any chance to deceive them in return.

"Do not ever leave it without watch," she had warned. "At least two different people must monitor it at any given time. Quadruple-check whatever it does or says; if there's any possibility of a ruse, a backdoor, or whatever might threaten our safety now or at a later time, or if you simply don't understand how what it's doing is meant to work, stop at once and wait for me. But do not engage it unless it attacks first, is that clear?"

As the Dalek entered the laboratory with Lillian, the young physicist who'd set out their advances to the Latoshkian Council came forward to meet him.

"My name's Jen Collins," she introduced herself. Despite the slight quiver in her voice, Lillian had to admire her courage. How old was she even? She looked barely out of her school years. "I'll be your main contact. Everything you'll do within the framework of this agreement will go through me. Now if you'd please follow me, I'll show you a recurring issue we've been having with power generation…"


One day. One day, and the Dalek was already making a fuss.

Lillian closed her eyes in annoyance. "What. Now," she sighed loudly.

The alien was locked with Jen in a silent glaring contest. The laws of human biology stated the young woman couldn't win, but apparently, she was very determined to contradict them.

"Every time we ask it to do something specific, it refuses and ignores us. I swear, it's doing it on purpose," she recriminated.

"DALEKS DO NOT OBEY HUMAN ORDERS!" he retaliated without taking his eye-stalk off her.

Lillian purposely walked between the two and, facing the human-sized battle tank, she crossed her arms. "But you obey your commander's orders. Correct?"

"YES," he answered begrudgingly. "BUT MY ORDERS ARE TO IMPROVE THE WORKING OF YOUR COLONY. THE FEMALE'S DEMANDS ARE IRRELEVANT!"

"For starters, she's not called 'the female', she's called Jen Collins. Also, wrong. We know better than you what our priorities are. If you want to accomplish your mission, you will follow her instructions."

Such was a day of technological cooperation between a Dalek soldier and human scientists.


All things considered, it could have gone worse, Lillian thought as she escorted the Dalek back out of the city a fortnight later. The advances they'd made in spite of the bickering were interesting, albeit minor, and nobody had paid the ultimate price for this closer association.

Just as she was letting her attention relax, a hoarse yell caught her off-guard. Her heart skipped a beat: A little girl, barely old enough to walk, had escaped her father's guard, run to the funny metal contraption in the middle of the street, and slammed her two hands upon one of its skirt domes with an elated giggle.

The Dalek jerked back. "DO NOT TOUCH ME!" he barked. "REMOVE THE JUVENILE AT ONCE! REMOVE! REMOOOOVE!"

Before Lillian could shake herself out of her shock, the man had snatched his daughter away and disappeared around a street corner.

She remembered to breathe again. "Enough!" she snapped at the frantic mutant. "She was just a toddler, don't tell me you feel threatened by a ten months old child?!"

Daleks, she groaned internally. Make me juggle with unpinned grenades instead, any day.


Despite the hiccups, the experience was deemed a success, and when the Daleks came back for the next mining run, it was agreed to have more of them work for the colony in exchange for increased chronilite production. By the end of the year, the entire crew was allowed on the planetary surface, either at the quarry or in the city.

Gradually, humans learnt to live with Daleks in their midst. Daleks became used to physical contact to their casing. And not once in the time that went by did any one of them lose their grip and shatter the precarious balance.

The next crisis came from where no-one expected it, and threatened to sweep away years of shared efforts to preserve the truce.

[^]


The plague of negligence

It had started with benign rashes, long before anyone realised something was wrong. But when Nancy warned three patients had come to the clinic within a month with patches of uncannily glowing necrotic tissue under peeling skin, Lillian knew who was to blame.

"What is it? Virus? Fungus?" she spat at the image of the head Dalek on the screen. At her side, Stephen's face was ashen and his eyes wide. "No matter, you're done, you have one hour to leave the planet! And consider yourselves lucky we give you the choice at all!"

"WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS THREAT? EXPLAIN YOURSELF!" the commander screeched. Her accusing tone and the ultimatum had made him defensive, but he sounded genuinely puzzled.

"You are infecting us with a plague! You likely have been for some time! Did you think we'd wait idly to die?!"

"NEGATIVE, WE ARE DOING NOTHING OF THE SORT! I DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU ARE REFERRING TO!" he protested.

"This is what I'm referring to!" She transmitted a close-up of the lesions. "Now you'd better have a very good explanation, because while we don't know the pathogen, what we do know is that it isn't natural!"

The Dalek remained silent for several seconds before speaking slowly, reluctantly, and almost quietly: "THIS PHENOMENON IS NOT THE PRODUCT OF INTENTIONAL BIOLOGICAL WARFARE, LILLIAN ROBERTSON."

"But you know what causes it," she hissed. "And you're responsible."

"SIMILAR SYMPTOMS ARE RECORDED TO APPEAR IN VARIOUS LIFE FORMS AFTER PROLONGED EXPOSURE TO CHRONILITE RESIDUE," he admitted.

Stephen swallowed. "'Various life forms'. So that's not just us?"

"NO. MANY PLANTS AND ANIMALS AROUND THE MINES ARE LIKELY AFFECTED TOO."

"Well then," Lillian said, "you have one hour to give us a cure and to clean your mess. If not, you clear off."

"THERE IS NO KNOWN CURE! DALEKS HAVE ALWAYS SIMPLY BROUGHT MORE SLAVES TO REPLACE THOSE WHO DIED!"

"Then you pack up and go. End of story."

"UNACCEPTABLE! CHRONILITE EXTRACTION WILL CONTINUE WITH OR WITHOUT YOUR CONSENT! ANY ATTEMPT ON YOUR PART TO HAMPER OUR OPERATIONS WILL BE INTERPRETED AS AN ACT OF WAR AGAINST THE DALEK EMPIRE!"

She looked daggers at him. "The only reason we let you mine chronilite on our planet is because it favours our survival. Yet you knew chronilite was toxic, and chose to disregard the consequences!"

"THE INFORMATION WAS NOT PROMINENT IN THE DATABASE! IT ONLY CAME INTO FOCUS WHEN YOU SHOWED ME A TEMPORAL CANKER!"

"Regardless, now you can't claim ignorance any longer!" she seethed. "Continue digging and we'll interpret it as an act of war against the Latoshk population!"

"Wait! Wait! Please… calm down. Both of you," Stephen intervened, sweat running from his brow. "After everything we've done so far, we can't give up now, there must be a way to sort this out." He turned his gaze to the Dalek: "Even if there is no cure, can we at least prevent any further toxic release?"

"NOT THAT WE KNOW OF," he answered, his voice edgy with an anger that hadn't fully receded yet.

"Then let's dedicate all our efforts to solving this. In the meantime, stop your mining, but as soon as it can resume without harm, we'll give you all the assistance we can to make up for the lost time. Think about it: Even if you managed to destroy us," he shivered, but went on decisively: "and remember we've won twice when you tried, at the very least we'd cripple your team. But work with us, and the sooner we reach a solution, the sooner your mission gets back on track."

"DELIVERY CANNOT BE DELAYED. HOWEVER, AS LONG AS WE RESPECT THE ORIGINAL TIMING, IMMEDIATE PRIORITIES MAY BE RECONSIDERED." The Dalek turned his gaze to Lillian. "LILLIAN ROBERTSON, DO YOU CONFIRM THIS AGREEMENT?"

"Yes," she nodded tensely.


Every Dalek and every Latoshkian with a scientific or medical background was mobilised to develop prevention measures, to restore damaged ecosystems, and of course to save infected people.

"All right," Jen announced to the mixed group in the physics laboratory. "In a nutshell, the current chronilite extraction process creates toxic by-products that are poisoning us and the environment. We have eight days to make it pollution-free. We first have to find out exactly which compounds are problematic, and I'm willing to bet they give off a distinctive artron signature." She addressed a Dalek, the first she'd had to interact with and whom she now considered an integral part of her work life: "Do Daleks have specialised spectrometers we could use?"

"OUR SCIENTISTS MAY BUT WE ARE A MINING TEAM, WE DO NOT POSSESS SUCH EQUIPMENT HERE ON LATOSHK."

"Then we'll have to build one. Fetch me the temporal stasis prototype, we'll cannibalise it to kick-start a detector."

"I OBEY!" he answered promptly, bringing in a fleeting smile on the physicist's lips as she remembered how recalcitrant he used to be.

At the clinic a few blocks further, a Dalek approached Nancy. "NANCY TURPIN," he called her.

She blinked. "You know me? Oh," she realised, "you're one of the Daleks who were injured by the Devourers."

"CORRECT. I HAVE SINCE STUDIED THE PROCESS OF HEALING. I REQUESTED TO INVESTIGATE FURTHER INTO THIS PERPLEXING HUMAN BEHAVIOUR AND THE COMMANDER GRANTED ME THE AUTHORISATION TO DO SO."

Her face lit up briefly. "I'm glad to hear that. Which one were you? I should have given you names," she added to herself, "would make it easier to tell you apart."

"I WAS THE THIRD ONE TO REGAIN CONSCIOUSNESS. I HAD DIED BUT YOU SUCCEEDED IN REVIVING ME," he explained casually.

The doctor still couldn't wrap her mind around how flippant they were about not only other people's death, but even their own. At least they were willing to help with the current situation, and she sure could use their knowledge of temporal afflictions and the scanning capabilities of their manipulators.

"I see," she nodded. "Now, what do you know of the biological mechanisms of this temporal canker?"


Day and night, humans and Daleks worked relentlessly side by side towards their common goal.

"Do you think they'll succeed in time?" Stephen asked Lillian one evening, as the Daleks' expected deadline was becoming dangerously close. "If it takes too long…"

"They'll succeed," she asserted. "They have to."

Finally, just the day before the Daleks were meant to leave with the next shipment, a drug was tested effectively, and in a matter of hours, adequate waste filtering devices were finalised too. They were hastily put in place before all night long, every able-bodied Latoshkian helped dig the ground and load the wretched mineral into the saucer.

At last, the Daleks left, satisfied to have secured their production, and, exhausted but relieved, the humans allowed themselves a much needed rest. Cooperation had been preserved. Following these events, the planet remained at peace for many more months, with a renewed understanding between the sworn enemies.

Yet safe they were not, as the vaster universe stirred.

[^]


To the bitter end

"What's wrong?" Lillian asked, alarmed Stephen had felt the need to call her to the observation tower.

"I'd like a second opinion. It may or may not turn out to be nothing."

"You know it never is," she sighed. "So, what's the matter?"

"The Daleks are back. They've just emerged from the vortex at their usual spot on the outskirts of the solar system and sent their identification code. They should arrive in forty minutes, give or take."

"And…?"

"We always monitor the entire system closer when they're around, just in case, and we detected a blip on Setvier. At first I worried they'd found our installations, but their course hasn't changed one iota. So… I'm left wondering what it was."

Lillian turned her eyes to the blinking dot on the planetary chart. Further than Latoshk from the central star, the rocky moon was orbiting its gas giant. Except for the reduced sunlight, Setvier was rather similar to a sterile primeval Earth. An inhospitable place for humans, but a good location to set up defences for the inevitable day the Daleks would decide to strike. The surface was riddled with various Latoshkian outposts, ready to come to life the moment people transmatted into them. Shame the mystery blip was too far from any of them to be reached easily this way.

"Check recent readings. We may have missed a clue," she suggested.

A technician nodded and tapped on the control pad, the two Council members watching the screen intently.

"There!" Lillian exclaimed. "What's that?"

"An asteroid crashed to that spot thirty-two hours ago?" Stephen wondered aloud. "No, wait, that's not an asteroid. Look at that energy signature, it's a ship! And there was no crash, it must have slowed its descent at the last moment."

"Dalek?" she asked doubtfully.

He shook his head. "Human. I know of at least two other colonies who use this kind of frigate for their orbital defence. They're small and manoeuvrable, if not very powerful. This one must have been modified for interstellar trips."

She remained silently in thought for a few seconds before asking: "How long till the Daleks pass Setvier?"

"Twenty, twenty-five minutes. Should we dispatch a patrol? If they don't dawdle, they can reach it first."

Lillian's jaw tightened. "No. I have a hunch who our surreptitious interloper is. I'll go alone."


After approaching Setvier from the other side, Lillian broke orbit a good distance away from her target and hedgehopped. Although the intruders probably only targeted the Daleks, she wasn't willing to take chances. Upon reaching the destination, she had to admire their talent: If it weren't for a handful of people moving a large crate with precaution, their camp was undetectable on the scanners and barely visible to the naked eye.

She activated the life support of her space suit. The attempts to terraform Setvier, some three centuries ago, had fizzled and the atmosphere had never quite become breathable to a human. Gloomy, damp, hot and suffocating, she thought with a dark face. The perfect decor for this confrontation, if I've guessed right.

She quickly disembarked and dived behind a rock formation, just in time to see the crate carriers had left their load behind some camouflaged device and were coming towards her with raised guns.

She fired at the ground in front of them to force them to seek cover. "That's near enough," she warned.

"Identify yourself!" a man shouted.

"Lillian Robertson, Governor of the human colony of Latoshk, tactician extraordinaire, and serious pain when it comes to taking active measures against the Daleks," a familiar voice answered in her place. "You're either very brave or very reckless to have come alone, Lily."

"Helena," Lillian sighed, unimpressed. "I'm here to talk."

"With a gun?" Helena retorted ironically.

"Just a precaution." She put the gun back and slowly stepped into the open, hands visible away from her body. "There. No more gun."

In response, the other woman nodded to her companions and walked forth.

"Helena. You look good," Lillian said in a restrained voice.

"You look old," Helena shot back at her. "Been having trouble sleeping these last few years? Starting to have second-thoughts? Tired of having to constantly watch your back?"

"We are alive. Latoshk still stands," Lillian countered. She took a deep breath and locked her eyes with her friend to plead heartily: "Helena, take your men and leave now while you still can."

"Not a chance. Not when the Daleks are only a few minutes away. But you're welcome to watch, and who knows, maybe you'll even feel like helping."

"Let me guess. Something to catch their attention, a small plasma beam perhaps, then jammers to force them to land to manually check what's going on. Once there, you attack them with the battery of missiles you've installed somewhere while at the same time a small party boards their ship and rigs it with explosives. Then you all return to your frigate and sneak away while they're busy dying."

Helena let out an appreciative whistle. "You're good. Well, you always were, but I'll admit, you get top marks." Her fake friendliness abruptly vanished as she vented her anger: "Dammit, why don't you just put this brilliance of yours to use?! When do you intend to fight back at last? Face it Lillian, there's no good time to wage war against Daleks! You can't hope to ever feel ready! No-one ever is!"

"Quite right, but this isn't the reason we're biding our time," Lillian replied. "We are waiting for them to underestimate us. We could easily take down the mining team, but then what? The others would come for us, and this time they wouldn't just use conventional firepower. No, we can only strike them significantly once: It has to be unpredictable, it has to be game-changing, and it has to be on our terrain."

Helena spread her arm in a bad-tempered gesture. "You're so proud to have protected your precious little planet, but while you wait, the rest of the universe is burning! Already three colonies have been levelled, and two more are about to fall. You thought it was bad when they attacked Latoshk at the time? You've seen nothing yet! Now that they've increased their forces tenfold thanks to all the chronilite you've so kindly handed them on a plate for years, they've become unstoppable! They may have spared you so far, but they'll be coming for you too. And believe me, seeing how bold they've become out there, it will be sooner rather than later!"

"I'm sorry, Helena. You really shouldn't have come back."

Lillian darted to the side and in the same movement, she took out her gun and fired at the camouflaged jammer –unsafely close to the abandoned crate of bombs, and the power generators, and the underground missiles silo, and the concealed frigate.

"No!" Helena only had time to howl, eyes bulging with realisation, before the world lit up around them.

The blast flung Lillian twenty feet away against hard rocks. Still dazed by the violence of the shock, she saw Helena stagger up, lift a heavy lump and stomp forward, face distorted in a hateful snarl; but she was faster. She rolled to the side, grabbed her gun from where it had fallen from her hand, jumped to her feet and shot her former friend straight into the chest.

The effort dimmed her vision. As she felt her legs give way under her, she realised with horror her life support pack had been torn open in the explosion. Lying on the lifeless Setvier dirt, she could see her shuttle, mostly intact, so tantalisingly close yet out of reach.

Darkness swallowed her guilt, her grief, her fears, her hopes and, finally, her consciousness.

[^]


Reflection

Her name was Lillian Robertson, and she was a human being. Her people were at war against the Daleks, and twice, they had planned to destroy the terrible aliens and had been stopped. Although Lillian hated Daleks just as fiercely as anyone else, she was also acutely aware how dangerous they were. Attacking them would have been suicide. So she had made a deal with them instead, and when time had come for the second attack, she had interposed herself to stop this folly –and she had succeeded, at the cost of her life.

But the Daleks had retrieved her, and revived her.

"I AM THE COMMANDER OF THE DALEK MINING PARTY," one of them said. "YOU WILL ANSWER MY QUESTIONS TRUTHFULLY, LILLIAN ROBERTSON. ARE YOU IN CONDITION TO SPEAK?"

"Yes. Yes, I can speak."

"YOU ARE THE HUMAN BEING WITH WHOM WE MADE A DEAL. YOU STOPPED AN ONSLAUGHT AGAINST OUR MINES. CONFIRM."

"That's right."

"AND YOU WERE NOT PART OF THE SECOND ATTACK. YOU OPPOSED HELENA LAMBERT AND HER FOLLOWERS."

"Yes."

"ELABORATE. WHY DID YOU FIGHT THEM?"

"I'd tried to reason with them. But they were too determined and wouldn't listen."

"YET YOU ALLOWED HELENA LAMBERT TO ROAM FREE IN THE FIRST PLACE. YOU KNEW SHE WOULD ATTEMPT AGAIN TO KILL US."

"She was banished and forbidden to return. She was supposed to live her life on another colony."

"YOU SHOULD HAVE ANTICIPATED HER ACTIONS."

"I trusted her… But it would have made no difference. If I'd had her imprisoned or worse, it would have only stirred more opposition and I might have been deposed."

"AFTER THE DEATH OF HELENA LAMBERT'S SQUAD, DO YOU EXPECT THERE WILL BE OTHER LATOSHKIAN ATTACKS AGAINST US?"

"Not if I do everything I can to stop them."

"IT MAY REQUIRE THEIR DEATH. YOU WOULD KILL YOUR OWN PEOPLE?"

"Yes."

"WHY?" he demanded suspiciously.

"The safety of the Latoshk colony is paramount! Attacking you puts us in danger. Even if we destroyed your team, the rest of the Daleks would deem us dangerous and try to annihilate us. Reaching an agreement with you is the best way to give us the time to prepare we need…"


Lillian opened her eyes to a dim, cold, metallic room. She tried to sort her thoughts through the confusion and the pounding in her head. Gradually, memory came back to her: Latoshk, the improbable deal with the chronilite mining Daleks, the ship detected on Setvier. Helena.

But how was she still alive? And where was she? This wasn't a familiar environment. It smelled like metal and ozone and chemicals, and she could hear a deep heartbeat, and also this awful, hair-rising, grating noise… With a start, she realised what that was: Dalek voices.

She gasped and sat up straight, only to fall back against the hard slab surface, head spinning.

One of the stubby personal tanks turned its dome and focused its glowing eye-stalk on her.

"LILLIAN ROBERTSON HAS REGAINED CONSCIOUSNESS," the creature announced aloud, addressing someone else remotely.

Soon enough, another Dalek came into view. She had to force herself to remain calm while he scanned her with his manipulator.

"YOUR VITALS ARE STABLE," he notified her, and she recognised the leader's voice. "WE RECOVERED YOU FROM SETVIER AFTER WE INVESTIGATED THE EXPLOSION. YOU WERE SUFFERING FROM HYPOXIA AND MILD HYDROGEN SULPHIDE POISONING. THE OXYGEN CONTENT OF THIS ROOM'S ATMOSPHERE HAS BEEN INCREASED TO COMPENSATE."

"Oh. Good, I guess," she answered cautiously, wary of his intentions.

"WE INFERRED FROM OUR EXAMINATION OF THE SITE THAT IT HAD BEEN LAID OUT TO CONDUCT A SURPRISE OFFENSIVE AGAINST US. WE ALSO FOUND SEVEN DEAD HUMAN BODIES. ONE OF THEM WAS IDENTIFIED AS HELENA LAMBERT, AND ANOTHER AS REESE SIMMONS, BOTH GUILTY OF ATTEMPTED ATTACK ON US DURING OUR FIRST YEAR OF PRESENCE ON LATOSHK."

She let out a dry laugh. "Aah, so that's why you saved me. To interrogate me."

"NO. I AM SIMPLY INFORMING YOU OF OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE SITUATION."

"To make we watch while you swoop down on the colony in retaliation, then…" She hadn't known Daleks to be purposely cruel, though, "merely" genocidal. She wondered whether it was actually their twisted version of justice.

"WE DETERMINED HELENA LAMBERT WAS KILLED BY A SHOT FROM YOUR OWN WEAPON," he went on.

Lillian closed her eyes for a second at the painful memory. "She left me no choice, yes. And for what?…" A bitter grin twisted her mouth.

Oblivious to her sorrow and her guilt, or perhaps not caring, the Dalek clarified: "YOUR ACTION IMPLIES SHE IS NO LONGER TO BE CONSIDERED A MEMBER OF YOUR COLONY."

She looked up at him in shock. "What?"

"ALTHOUGH YOU HAD ALLOWED HER TO ESCAPE AFTER SHE HAD ALREADY TRIED TO ATTACK US, YOU TOOK MEASURES TO AVERT A SECOND AGGRESSION. YOU PROVED YOU CONSIDERED HER AN ENEMY OF LATOSHK IN ADDITION TO BEING AN ENEMY OF THE DALEKS. YOUR COLONY DID NOT THREATEN US. THERE IS NO CAUSE FOR RETALIATION."

Allowing herself to sigh with relief, she nodded. "I'm glad you see it that way. But… if it was neither for information nor punishment, why did you retrieve me?"

"YOU REQUIRED IMMEDIATE ASSISTANCE. YOUR LIFE WAS IN DANGER. WE KNOW FROM THE LATOSHKIANS THE CONCEPT OF ATTEMPTING TO SAVE CASUALTIES."

"Yes, that's what we do, but I thought Daleks didn't care about human lives. I thought you didn't even care about the individual lives of your own kind."

"I OWE YOU MY SURVIVAL AND WITH IT, THE PROSPECT OF PROSPERITY FOR THE DALEK RACE."

"Do you expect me to believe Daleks have a concept of gratitude?" she scoffed.

"WE CAN UNDERSTAND THE VALUE OF PRESERVING A BENEFICIAL RELATIONSHIP. IS GRATITUDE TRULY DIFFERENT, IN EFFECT IF NOT IN NATURE?"

She was taken aback and hesitated. "Perhaps not, at the end of the day."

"YOU ARE IMPORTANT, LILLIAN ROBERTSON. YOU ARE THE REASON WHY WE COULD REACH AN UNDERSTANDING WITH YOUR POPULATION, AND WHY THE TRUCE HELD."

Feeling better now, physically and emotionally, she decided to get bolder: "Well, thank you, I suppose. But you must understand I'm no more important than anyone else. Nancy, Stephen, and all the others… Every single human life is important, even the ones you don't notice have their part to play. That's what makes us so successful: The multitude of individual complementary lives. And respecting them all, even those who are lost in anonymity from where you stand, benefits you in turn."

"I HAVE STUDIED YOU FOR YEARS NOW. I UNDERSTAND."

How patient was a Dalek, she wondered. How long did she need to wait to be certain this one was sincere and wouldn't simply betray his "allies" as soon as it became convenient? While Daleks had been known to claim peaceful intentions before exterminating everybody once they had reached their goal, they were notoriously bad at hiding their superiority complex. Funny how a metal armour could lack a poker face. Yet this group had been working alongside humans for very long, and they treated the Latoshkians like they were treating each other: Harshly, but without contempt. Their initial reluctance to follow human orders whenever the situation required it had subsided. Could they actually be truthful? Had they, too, been lulled into a sense of familiarity and started seeing in their former enemies a legitimate presence?

[^]


The day of reckoning

The current mining run was nearing its end. As was now the norm on Latoshk, human beings and Daleks were working hand in sucker cup, and although the prospect of war had never been fully forgotten, a certain level of trust had built up between them. Carrying weapons when in presence of the other party had stopped being a comforting security and become a mere matter of habit; when faced with unexpected circumstances, neither group automatically assumed the worst.

So when the lead Dalek contacted her, Lillian answered readily.

"LILLIAN ROBERTSON," he began, something… different filtering through his voice. Was it concern?

At once fully alert, she frowned quizzically: "Yes?"

"THE SUPREME DALEK INTENDS TO TAKE OVER LATOSHK COMPLETELY. HE ORDERED YOUR TOTAL EXTERMINATION."

Her eyes blazed in contained anger but something troubled her. "Why are you telling me?"

"I REFUSED." Without giving her time to process her surprise, he continued: "HE WILL UNDOUBTEDLY DECIDE TO CONQUER THE PLANET BY FORCE. I ESTIMATE THE FLEET WILL ARRIVE IN LESS THAN A WEEK."

"So this is it, then? After all these years, the truce finally ends?" she muttered with grim expectation. Her people had prepared for this for so long, ever since the second assault on Latoshk. She'd never doubted the statu quo would break eventually, and at last, the time had come for full-scale hostilities. The humans were as ready as they'd ever be. No more pretend cohabitation –that the chronilite mining team had likely been sincere, at least in the end, was now irrelevant: They'd be caught in the storm like everyone else.

"NOT FOR US. WE CONSIDER THE DALEK EMPIRE'S AGGRESSION A THREAT TO OUR RACE'S LONG-TERM SURVIVAL AS THEY CONSIDER US TRAITORS AND WILL ATTEMPT TO ERADICATE US ALONG WITH YOU. WE WILL OPPOSE THEM. HOWEVER, WE ONLY HAVE ONE SHIP."

"You can't join the fight, we wouldn't be able to tell you apart in the confusion of battle. Regardless, there just isn't enough of you to make a difference, you have no advantage against other Daleks. You'd use the same brute force tactics and get crushed by their superior numbers. Your freighter's weaponry is no match for their warships anyway, is it? Hide in orbit, you'll be the planet's last defence. Hopefully it won't come to that."

"LILLIAN ROBERTSON, THE ASSAULT FLEET WILL LIKELY BE LARGER THAN ANY I HAVE EVER SERVED IN, AND WE HAVE ALWAYS EVENTUALLY PREVAILED, EVEN WHEN RESISTANCE WAS FIERCE. DO YOU EXPECT YOU CAN WIN?"

"We will," she hissed. "I swear to God, we will."


"People of Latoshk. For years now, we have enjoyed a truce with the Dalek chronilite miners. We have learnt to live with them, and them with us. But we always knew Latoshk would not remain at peace forever; and now, the day has come.

"This morning, the leader of the mining team warned me the rest of the Dalek empire would come for us. This particular group we have grown to know has seceded and will side with us despite being vastly outgunned and outnumbered by the others. It is with honour I now declare them allies of the Latoshkian people.

"But although their contribution will be welcome, we do not rely on them for our protection. We have long prepared for this day. We are ready. Nevertheless, the danger level has never been higher. The empire's forces will arrive in a few days, and if all goes well, they will never reach Latoshk; but you know I cannot promise it.

All non-combatants should evacuate before they arrive. Ships have already been chartered–"

Stephen paused the video and nodded to the frozen image of the woman he was speaking to. "Are they really on our side? Can we be sure it's not a ruse, say, to find out all about our counter-measures before the fleet arrives?"

Lillian shook her head. "I don't think so. They have no guaranty we won't keep an ace up our sleeve –and as a matter of fact, we will. We'll only let them in on our most obvious defences like the rigged asteroid field or the improved disabling guns. Those either we shouldn't need at all or they can't do anything against on a short-term notice. Regardless, there's always a risk the regular Daleks will indeed come to Latoshk, so if our 'friends' decided to turn on us, it's not like they'd face helpless unsuspecting civilians."


The Latoshkians didn't waste a minute of the few days they had to prepare, with the Council, and especially its head, coordinating the last needed arrangements. Although a significant minority did evacuate to safer havens, particularly families with young children, most Latoshkians decided to stay and defend their homes if the enemy ever made it through the traps and invaded their planet. Those who were supposed to actually fight had long been chosen, though, and they had trained so thoroughly they could have accomplished their mission in their sleep.

In the many years since the attacks, the humans had laid out level upon level of safeguards and lethal wiles throughout the entire solar system. Whenever their understanding of Dalek technology had taken a step forward, whenever their dangerous yet ultimately naive aides had unwittingly revealed a secret, they had devised and implemented additional stratagems.

The very chronilite extraction residue that once had threatened to shatter the truce had long since been put to use on Setvier. And now, that the mining team had chosen to side with the Latoshkians expanded their options. Broken casings were hastily reassembled and modified. Robotics specialists were dedicated to a simple, yet vital task. Nancy collected whatever leftover dead Dalek samples she still had in her laboratory.

Lillian had shaken her head at how little the doctor had been able to gather. "Let's hope it'll be enough to keep the illusion," she had sighed.

Meanwhile, the Latoshk Daleks dissipated the last doubts about their sincerity when they willingly gave the humans powerful hand weapons inspired from their ray guns and retrofitted their mining equipment into orbital armaments. Following Lillian's imperious request, they hid their ship on one of the planet's moons and powered off all their devices, except their casings themselves.

The entire colony bustled about with a sense of purpose for four days, then, when the last adjustments had been put in place, they tried to get as much rest as possible in the remaining time they had.

Latoshk was ready to greet its overwhelmingly powerful foe.

[^]


War without mercy

Daleks are prepared…

Seventy-two Dalek battle cruisers proceeded towards the Latoshkian system, their crew eager to obliterate the renegades and their human associates. On their way, they scanned normal space to avoid any potential ambush.

"WARNING, TEMPORAL ANOMALY DETECTED ON THE OUTER PLANETARY MOON SETVIER," a look-out declared. "IT IS ARTIFICIAL IN NATURE."

"ENTER NORMAL SPACE!" the Supreme instructed all ship commanders. "FLEET IN BATTLE FORMATION!"

Seventy-two Dalek cruisers exited the vortex early, at the edge of the solar system.

Daleks are prejudiced…

"ENERGY READINGS ON SETVIER CONSISTENT WITH SEVERAL DALEK OUTPOSTS LOCATED UNDER THE SURFACE," the subordinate informed his leader.

"WHAT IS THE STATUS OF THEIR PRESENCE ON LATOSHK?"

"RESULTS NEGATIVE. I ONLY DETECT SIGNIFICANT HUMAN ACTIVITY. THE LOW-LEVEL DALEK SIGNATURE EMANATES MOST CERTAINLY FROM DISUSED MINING EQUIPMENT."

"THE HUMAN BEINGS ARE NEGLIGIBLE! WE WILL EXTERMINATE THE TRAITORS FIRST! SET COURSE TO SETVIER!" the Supreme decreed.

Seventy-two Dalek cruisers changed their plans and aimed for Setvier before Latoshk.

Daleks are overconfident…

"NUMEROUS DEBRIS ORBITING SETVIER. THEIR TECHNOLOGY APPEARS TO BE OF HUMAN ORIGIN," the watch announced. "NO SIGN OF ENERGY OR LIFE FORMS. THEY ARE INERT."

"DESTROY THOSE WHICH PROVE A RISK OF COLLISION AND IGNORE THE OTHERS. CONCENTRATE ON DALEK TECHNOLOGY!"

"AT LEAST THREE HUNDRED SPOTS OF ACTIVITY IDENTIFIED THROUGHOUT THE PLANET, DISSEMINATED ON ALL LAND MASSES."

"THEIR NUMBER DOES NOT MATTER! THE REBELS CANNOT DEFEAT US! WE WILL CLEANSE SETVIER!" the Supreme gloated.

Seventy-two Dalek cruisers reached Setvier's orbit, sure of their overwhelming superiority no matter what was waiting for them.

Daleks are methodical…

"PLANETARY SCANS OF SETVIER ARE INCONSISTENT," the lower-ranking Dalek warned. "THERE IS A HIGH PROBABILITY SHIELDING IS IN OPERATION AND PREVENTS FULL DETECTION OF ENEMY BASES. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO ENSURE THE DESTRUCTION OF ALL TARGETS."

"ALL FLEET, BREAK ORBIT! FIND THE ADVERSARY'S STATIONS!" the Supreme ordered.

Seventy-two Dalek cruisers descended into Setvier's atmosphere to scrutinise the surface.

Daleks are predictable.

"ENERGETIC AND VISUAL DETECTION STILL NEGATIVE FROM THIS ALTITUDE," the look-out reported.

"DISEMBARK! SPREAD TO COVER ALL GROUND! SEARCH FOR DISSIMULATED ENTRANCES! SEEK AND LOCATE, LOCATE AND ATTACK, ATTACK AND ANNIHILATE!" the Supreme thundered.

"SEEK AND LOCATE! LOCATE AND ATTACK! ATTACK AND ANNIHILATE! SEEK AND LOCATE! LOCATE AND ATTACK! ATTACK AND ANNIHILATE!" the horde of Daleks chorused.

Seventy-two Dalek cruisers vomited endless streams of soldiers onto the surface of Setvier.

Exactly as the Latoshkians had expected.


It didn't take long for the first attack squad to find a target. A lone Dalek stood guard in front of a dark corridor leading underground. As soon as the invaders came into view, he started firing in their general direction.

"ALERT! ENEMY ON APPROACH! ALERT! EXTERMINATE!" he screeched.

He didn't stand a chance against ten coordinated soldiers, and in a couple of seconds, several death rays converged on his shape and he exploded in a shower of sparks and oil.

Not giving their victim a second glance –just as the Latoshkians had counted on–, the assailants reached his position without noticing the few human-made electronics sparking in the casing remains. All their attention went to the massive bulkhead that had slammed the entrance shut as soon as the sentinel had been destroyed.

"THE PASSAGEWAY TO THE ENEMY HIDEOUT IS BLOCKED," one of them commented aloud.

"SEARCH FOR AN OPENING MECHANISM," their team leader decided. He turned his dome to another group: "SEEK ALTERNATIVE ENTRANCES. ALL TRAITORS MUST BE FOUND AND EXTERMINATED!"


Hidden at the mouth of another, distant, much narrower tunnel, Lillian surveyed her surroundings. Against Stephen's warnings and Nancy's supplications, she had slipped on a space suit, taken a jammer, and transmatted to Setvier. Even if her main motive had been to stand by those risking their lives for the future of the colony, it wasn't a complete coincidence the site she'd chosen was the nearest one to where Helena had set her camp. The memory still stung.

The saucer she intended to infiltrate loomed in the distance, nearly a mile away from her position. With a smile, she patted her hover pack, made from remnants of a Dalek casing. It sure would come in handy.

She kept still while a patrol passed in the air without seeing her. She smirked upon hearing them rant about finding and exterminating the traitors. The "zombies" were bound to keep them busy for a while indeed. Once she was sure her path was clear, she dashed to the cruiser.

Already it had looked formidable from afar, but as she reached her destination, she found it positively breathtaking. While she had expected their warships to be bigger and more powerful than the freighter she knew, she realised how much she'd underestimated their mightiness. It was no wonder they'd been able to slaughter several human colonies without meeting much resistance. And a good thing they would never leave Setvier.

She was able to sneak in without facing any opposition. As she had hoped, the ship was nearly deserted but for a few guards, whom she easily eluded with the help of her jammer. She sidled through the corridors before finally finding the place she'd been looking for: The command centre.

A single Dalek was manning the controls; it really seemed they had decided to dedicate all their forces to hunting down their mutinous brothers. Gun in hand, Lillian stepped into the room.

"Hello there," she taunted, causing the enemy to whip around in alarm.

"HUMAN INTRUDER! EXTERMINATE!"

"I don't think so," she retorted as she fired at the Dalek.

Immediately, his appendages froze in position and he stopped moving, only the bright glare of his eye-stalk and the frantic shaking of his casing showing he was still alive and conscious inside.

"CASING NON-RESPONDING! EMERGENCY! EMERGENCY!"

Lillian showed her gun with a vicious grin.

"Don't bother. You see, our associates have been kind enough to provide us with arms specifically designed to disable a Dalek armour," she sneered. "They didn't expect us to be able to, of course, but we reverse-engineered and… improved them. Not only are your motor functions and gun impaired, all your defences are down. Oh, and don't expect your casing to be emitting a distress call, we also suppressed that effect."

Without haste, she took out a second, more conventional weapon.

"HAVE PITY!" the Dalek pleaded.

"Define pity," she countered coolly.

"YOU ARE A HUMAN BEING! YOU KNOW PITY!"

"You are a Dalek. Don't use words you ignore the meaning of."

The Dalek screamed in agony when his upper casing exploded.

[^]


The armada and the swarm

Lillian had barely started working on the controls when a light whirring caught her attention; she raised the disabling gun again as a new Dalek entered the control room.

"LILLIAN ROBERTSON!" he exclaimed, causing her to hesitate.

"Wait," she realised, "you're our Dalek. The Latoshk commander."

"YES," he confirmed. "I AM YOUR ALLY; LOWER YOUR WEAPON." To emphasise his words, he deliberately aimed his death ray to the side.

"What are you doing here? I told you, it's difficult for us to recognise you with all those enemy Daleks about. I might have shot you," she scolded.

"I HAVE COME TO RESCUE YOU. I WILL LEAD YOU TO THE ESCAPE PODS. HURRY!"

Lillian blinked in astonishment but more pressing concerns required her attention. "That won't be necessary," she laughed softly. "I'm exactly where I want to be at the moment. But you can help us work faster. Remember the Devourers? We need to open a spatiotemporal wormhole."

"IT IS A WASTE OF TIME, THIS TACTIC WILL FAIL. YOU CANNOT TRICK THE EMPIRE'S TROOPS INTO A WORMHOLE IN A SIMILAR WAY. THEY WILL EASILY ELUDE IT."

"No no no, you got me wrong. We're not trying to send the Daleks away. We're bringing the Devourers back."


With the Dalek's help, it didn't take long for Lillian and her compatriots infiltrated on board several saucers, strategically spread on all Setvierian continents, to configure the ships as exit points and to interconnect their command network.

"The portals were meant to open in a predefined sequence for a short duration, and then randomly," Lillian explained to her improbable assistant as they worked. "I was supposed to be last, to oversee the situation as long as possible. But since you're here, we'll make a slight change of plan: Is there a time when the pilot you'd sent to fly the ship to the sun would be able to go through before the Devourers start flocking out? And if so, can you contact him and instruct him to come through at the double?"

"YOU WANT TO SAVE HIM?" he asked in a surprised tone.

"Yes, if at all possible. Is it?"

"YES, IT IS."

"Good. Then do it."

Thus they opened the first portal at their own location and the commander shouted his order to his distant underling. Soon enough, a second Dalek joined them; Lillian checked her ally's reaction to be certain it was indeed the one they were expecting.

"Welcome back," she grinned to the baffled pilot. Her expression became serious again as she went on: "Now, the question is how will we get out. I had planned to transmat back, but you won't fit through the corridors, that was the whole point of making them narrow. How did you come?" she asked the leader.

"I TOOK ONE OF YOUR SHIPS AND ABANDONED IT IN ORBIT TO FLY DOWN WITH MY CASING."

"Damn. You can't fly back up, because the space debris you've certainly seen around Setvier aren't debris at all, they're versions of the disabling gun designed to shoot down any Daleks who attempts to flee the carnage. Chances are escape pods are small enough to be vulnerable too. And we can't use this ship because it's needed for the wormhole."

The head Dalek turned his eye-stalk to the pilot before peering at Lillian. "LILLIAN ROBERTSON, GO TO THE TRANSMAT. WE WILL SUPERVISE THE PROPER COURSE OF OPERATIONS."

"Not a chance. I'm not leaving you behind. Not now." She screwed up her eyes. "I have an idea. We're not that far from Helena's base, my own shuttle should still be there if you left it alone."

"WE DID."

"You," she instructed the pilot, "go and fetch that shuttle quickly. Avoid or dupe the other Daleks, but whatever you do, don't allow them to unmask and kill you."

She gave him the exact coordinates, but the Dalek stubbornly stood still. As she opened her mouth to stress the urgency of the situation, the commander, realising what the block was, was quicker to speak:

"OBEY LILLIAN ROBERTSON," he simply ordered.

"I OBEY," the subordinate answered, disturbed but ever obedient, and he disappeared through the doorway without further delay.


Committed as they were to rooting out the "renegades' hideouts", the Daleks didn't notice the appearing wormholes until Devourers started pouring out. Impervious to the lack of oxygen and the presence of poisonous gases in Setvier's atmosphere –just as the Latoshkians had found out in the many years they'd explored any potential weapon to fend off their mortal enemies–, the flying metallic predators aimed for the noisy, moving food sources with voracious abandon.

Taken by surprise, several Daleks died screaming before they knew what hit them; but soon, their fellows reacted and fired at the stingray-like beings.

"ALERT! DEVOURERS CONVERGING ON OUR POSITION!" the squad leader warned the rest of the fleet.

Immediately, the ships which scanners were still manned looked for the source.

"THE FLOW HAS STOPPED," they concluded. "ONLY FIFTEEN TO SEVENTEEN THOUSANDS DEVOURERS HAVE COME THROUGH."

"EXTERMINATE THE DEVOURERS AND RESUME YOUR MISSION!" the Supreme commanded.

There were around one hundred and fifty thousands Daleks on Setvier. Of course they could take out a few thousands Devourers. Sure of their imminent victory, they began shooting down the ravenous aliens, suffering merely acceptable losses and moderate delay to their task.

When a fresh stream of creatures emerged from a second portal, two continents away, the Daleks didn't see it coming. By the time they realised it was not a natural occurrence but a carefully devised trap, the situation had become uncontrollable.

A few of them, in a feat of abnegation and skill, managed to dodge attacks, reach their ship and disable the portal it controlled. But it was pointless. For every closed wormhole, a new one took over, this time from human-built equipment.

Some Daleks tried to escape their predicament by hovering out of the atmosphere, only to have their casing disabled by the network of satellites, now come to life thanks to remote powering. The unfortunates, suddenly deprived both of anti-gravity engines and shields, burnt up in atmospheric reentry.

In a matter of minutes, a dozen billions Devourers roamed all Setvier's emerged land masses –and they feasted.


The small shuttle dashed out of Setvier's atmosphere and towards the disabling guns in orbit. On the screen, the spread of glittering clouds and succession of major explosions silently marked the Daleks' defeat as their ships fell one by one to the Devourers' appetite.

Lillian pressed a button and spoke into the microphone: "This is Lillian Robertson and friends, sending authentication code now. We're returning to Latoshk."

She glanced at the second Dalek beside her and smiled. Even if he would certainly have trouble adjusting to the new state of things, she was glad they could save him. In a sense, it was her way of making peace with the sinister joy she'd felt at the time to see him and his companions perish. There was a fine line between killing out of necessity, like she'd just done to the empire's forces, and celebrating the death of any Dalek irrespective of context.

Yes, things were forever different now.

[^]


Epilogue: To the future

Three days had elapsed since the thwarted attack. Most evacuated Latoshkians had already returned from their exile; their Dalek associates were turning their own installations into a fully-fledged city, wholly assuming their renegade status and settling permanently as the humans' now welcome neighbours. Life was back to normal again, with the comforting knowledge the regular Dalek empire had suffered such a setback they would keep away for the foreseeable future.

Lillian was relaxing on the colony outskirts, her gaze lost into the peaceful landscape, when the Dalek she'd once dared to save in a desperate gamble joined her.

"YOU REQUESTED TO TALK TO ME?" he asked.

"Yes, thank you for finding the time." She turned to him with a thoughtful smile. "You risked your life to save me…" she said softly, still in disbelief it had actually happened. "You came to my rescue, even though you had a high probability of dying in the process."

"YET IT TURNED OUT UNNECESSARY. HUMAN INGENUITY OVERCAME DALEK MIGHT ONCE AGAIN."

"Still, the fact remains: You risked your life to save me. You had a choice, and you chose us over your own kind, to the point you envisaged a sacrifice you wouldn't even have made for one of your own. I'll refrain from hugging you as you refrain from killing me," she joked, "but to put it in words you can understand, you convinced me to wholeheartedly associate to your cause."

"YOU CONVINCED ME ALIENS COULD BE AS WORTHWHILE AS DALEKS YEARS AGO, LILLIAN ROBERTSON."

She let out a light laugh. "Thank you. It's not something I'd have expected to ever hear from a Dalek."

"THANKING IS IRRELEVANT. ALTHOUGH WE WERE NOT AWARE OF IT, OUR FUTURES HAVE BEEN COMMON FOR A LONG TIME."

"I suppose so. Speaking of the future, how is it coming with your breeding factory? I know Nancy volunteered to help, she was very curious to see how you actually reproduce." And likely still remorseful about the deaths of the cloned embryos, Lillian suspected. Even as they'd have only ever known the life of a guinea pig. In hindsight, it probably had been for the best.

"THE CONSTRUCTION HAS STARTED AND WILL BE COMPLETED WITHIN TWO OR THREE DAYS. BE INFORMED THAT THE NEWLY PRODUCED DALEKS WILL BE SUBJECTED TO THE HUMAN CHILDREN ENTERTAINMENT DATA YOU PROVIDED."

"Really?" she chuckled. "I can't believe you kept that. I'm still not sure Daleks can ever understand it."

"NEITHER AM I. BUT THE EXPERIMENT WILL PROVE INTERESTING."

"Oh yes," she mused, "I bet it will."

THE END

[^]



Laura+web@Espezon.org

Doctor Who fanfictions.
My home page (in French).
Last update: 24th September 2016.