4: The Prisoner


Even as Mercer gave the order to attack, the lead Dalek unleashed its ray of death consigning one of the maintenance crew to oblivion.

The crewmembers began firing, but their compact hand lasers were about as effective as peashooters against the reinforced polycarbide battle-armoured shells of their attackers.

Mercer heard someone yelling over the gunfire, and turned to see Styles gesturing frantically. ‘Now! Now!’

The explosives, thought Mercer and turned back to the engineer crouched beside him. The man was now slumped over the barricade, a tell-tale wisp of smoke rising from his overalls.

Mercer prised the detonator from the dead man's fingers and jabbed at the buttons. A series of deafening explosions pounded the airlock, and the two lead Daleks, positioned almost directly over the carefully placed charges, erupted in flame.

‘Under attack! Under attack!’ screeched the remaining Daleks. ‘Withdraw! Regroup! Withdraw! Regroup!’ Without hesitation, they spun around and accelerated back into their ship, leaving their two burning comrades behind.

The Daleks' casings had cracked and fragmented, and the triumphant station crew looked on as squirming, deformed green bodies with many thrashing vestigial limbs died on their funeral pyres.

The destruction of the Daleks had been observed on the battle cruiser's command bridge. Lytton turned away from the scanner screen and faced the Supreme Dalek. Unlike the dull gun-metal grey livery of its army, the Supreme Dalek had a gleaming jet black casing with white sensor domes.

‘Fools,’ Lytton snarled angrily. ‘I told you this would happen. They mined the corridor.’

‘We do not want excuses,’ replied the Supreme. ‘The attack must continue.’

Lytton agreed. ‘Only this time as I planned,’ he stipulated.

The Dalek Commander glided forward. ‘You will show more respect for the Supreme Dalek,’ it ordered threateningly.

Lytton backed off slightly. ‘Your battle tactics won't work,’ he continued in a more reasonable tone. ‘Their position is too strong.’

‘You may proceed,’ conceded the Supreme after a moment of computerised consideration. ‘We shall try your plan; but should you fail, you will be exterminated.’

Lytton turned away, his expression grim. As he called up one of his troopers on the communications console, he pondered his chances of survival. As long as he continued to serve the Daleks without error, he might live - but what would happen once his usefulness to them was at an end?

‘Trooper Vasil,’ Lytton snapped into his own comlink. ‘Take a canister of QX345 and release it in the airlock.’

That was one way in which he was useful to the Daleks, thought Lytton. QX345 was a devastatingly effective trademark of the Charnel League; biological warfare at its most effective - a gaseous compound hungry for humanoid flesh.

Lytton allowed himself a small, private smile. It amused him to think that he would succeed where the Daleks had failed. When it came to warfare, Lytton was a true professional.

He was a Charnel warrior.

The fires had guttered and died, leaving the burnt-out shells of two Daleks. For a few tension-loaded minutes, the approach to the airlock remained empty. The crew had become restless with waiting, no-one more so than Styles.

‘How long before they try again?’ she demanded of Mercer.

Mercer shrugged. ‘Soon,’ he guessed.

‘But can't we board - take the fight to them,’ Styles protested, and started to climb over the barricade.

Mercer dived forward and pulled her back. ‘I think not,’ he replied, and was disconcerted to catch a hint of battle-lust in her expression. He'd seen that look once before, on the faces of the front line of a crowd of rioters on Earth.

A sudden movement behind the gutted Dalek shells drew Mercer's attention back to the airlock, just as a masked trooper in black battledress appeared and tossed something towards them.

‘Fire!’ Mercer yelled.

Even as the laser beams criss-crossed across the barricade, the trooper was retreating back into the Dalek ship, and had disappeared from view before their weapons could find a target. The projectile, a grey metal canister, rolled to a stop against the barricade and immediately began hissing furiously.

Mercer caught the first whiff of a sickly sweet scent, and made the connection; some form of deadly gas. ‘Masks down!’ he ordered, fumbling for his own.

Styles, Zena and Doran all pulled their masks over their faces, but the remaining crewmembers were without protection. Almost immediately they started coughing and spluttering. Styles started to go to their aid, but Mercer pulled her back. He needed people to fire weapons, not tend the dying. Two Daleks appeared in the airlock and ploughed forward, shunting aside the burnt-out remains of their fellows and firing as they approached.

‘Come on while there's still time!’ shouted Mercer, and weapon blazing, led the way back into the depths of the station. Styles, Doran and Zena sprinted away from the carnage, leaving the Daleks to fire on the dead and dying.

More Daleks swarmed through the airlock, accompanied by human troopers in masks and battledress. All ignored the corpses of the station crew, which now that the gas had taken effect, were horrific to behold. QX345, the Charnel weapon, had triggered the rapid decomposition of their flesh, reducing the bodies in a matter of seconds to unrecognisable lumpy messes of human carrion.

The station's bridge crew had been spared the horror of witnessing the effects of the lethal gas. A stray shot from a Dalek weapon had taken out Airlock Three's surveillance camera.

Osborn's right index finger hovered over the destruct switch for the prison chamber, a look of troubled indecision on her face. At the back of her mind was the faint hope that they just might be able to use the prisoner as a hostage to guarantee their safety. If she destroyed him, that chance was lost. She looked up from her silent vigil as a speaker crackled, and a voice broke through over the static.

‘This is Mercer. We're finished. It's everyone for themselves.’

Everyone on the bridge stopped and listened. As Mercer's announcement ended, the group began murmuring amongst themselves in anxious, shocked tones. Phin, who had been organising the station's few survivors who had made it to the bridge, broke away from the group and joined Osborn at the console.

The speaker crackled again, and Mercer's voice came through once more. ‘Osborn - do as I instructed - now!’ The communications link fell silent. Even the static had gone.

Immediately, Osborn punched the destruct button. A red light winked at her from just above the control, and she groaned. ‘Oh, no! It's not working!’ Osborn hit another control, and grabbed Mercer's security card as it ejected.

‘Come with me,’ she ordered Phin, and pausing only to collect a breathing mask and a laser, she made for the lift at a run. Phin picked up a tool kit and followed her.

In the few tense moments of their descent in the lift, Osborn outlined her plan to Phin. If the prisoner could not be destroyed by remote control, then they would have to activate the destruct mechanism manually.

And if that didn't work - Osborn brandished her hand laser to show that there were cruder, but more effective, methods of execution.

As soon as the lift doors opened, they were running. They were both well aware that their flight could deliver them straight into the enemy's line of fire, but they had already resigned themselves to death. The important thing now was to ensure that the Daleks did not get what they had come for.

Mere seconds after they ran out of sight of the lift entrance, a pair of Daleks glided up to the open doors and without hesitation filed aboard. The doors hissed shut and the lift began ascending through the hub of the station to the bridge.

Commander Gustave Lytton watched on his scanner as the lift doors slid back and the startled survivors on the bridge turned to face their deaths from the point of view of the Daleks.

He felt a small yet satisfying thrill as the five men and women were exterminated in little more than the blink of an eye. Such clean, uncomplicated killing, and yet at the same time a tinge of regret that it was so easy, so unsatisfying. An easy prey somehow reduced the feeling of job satisfaction.

Lytton broke from his thoughts at Grogan's approach. ‘The bridge has been secured, sir.’

Lytton nodded. ‘Good. We must join them.’

As Lytton and Grogan left the chamber, the Dalek Commander was reporting to the Supreme. ‘The Doctor has been detained in the warehouse.’

‘He must be brought to our ship at once,’ the Supreme Dalek instructed.

‘I obey.’

Osborn was the first to reach the door of the prison chamber. She swiped Mercer's security card through a reader and punched in a code on a numerical keypad.

The door remained shut.

‘Come on, come on!’ she yelled, as Phin caught up with her, out of breath.

The door slid hesitatingly open and Osborn dived in through the widening gap.

Inside, she crossed immediately to a freestanding console, threw down her mask and began typing in another code.

Phin studied the curved transparasteel panelled cell, behind which the dark outline of the prisoner could just be seen through the opaque mist of the suspended cryogenic gases. When Phin had been here before, on infrequent security checks, he had sometimes wondered what it would be like to be frozen immobile for nearly a century. He pondered whether there would be any conscious awareness of the passage of time. Despite the urgency of their situation, he found himself returning to these thoughts.

‘Does nothing work properly?’ Osborn exclaimed, and swore profusely as she kicked the console in frustration.

Phin pushed his musings from his mind and hurried over to his tool kit. Arming himself with a heavy lever, he attempted to force open the top of the console.

‘Try here,’ Osborn suggested, indicating an edge of the control panel which already appeared to be loose. She tried prising it off herself, and then stopped, sniffing the air. ‘What's that smell?’ she asked.

Phin glanced at the cryogenic chamber in the centre of the room. ‘Well it can't be the prisoner,’ he observed, and applied his weight to the lever. The console security dome flew off and crashed to the floor.

Beneath, nestled among an array of buttons and lights, was a large slide-lever handle. Osborn immediately pulled down. Several red lights lit up on the panel.

‘Right, explosive charges primed,’ she confirmed, but Phin was no longer listening. He was staring into the cryogenic cell again.

Osborn found that the smell she had detected earlier was even stronger now. Its cloying sickly sweetness made her feel nauseous. ‘What is that smell?’ she repeated.

‘I... I feel ill...’ stammered Phin, and turned towards Osborn. To her horror, she saw that flesh was literally melting off his face, and several of his fingers had dissolved as if they were made of hot wax.

‘Keep back!’ she warned, as he stumbled blindly towards her, the stumps of his hands held out in a pleading gesture. Osborn drew her laser.

‘Help me!’

‘Stay away!’

Phin raised the remains of his hands to his now barely recognisable face. ‘What's happening to me?’ he muttered gutturally, his lips liquefying as he spoke.

Osborn grabbed her face-mask from where she had dropped it and pulled it down over her head.

‘Please help me!’ Phin implored.

Osborn aimed her laser at him and closed her eyes so that she wouldn't have to see what happened next.

The weapon fired, and when she opened her eyes, the disfigured remains of her crewmate lay crumpled on the floor. ‘I'm sorry,’ she whispered, and turned back to the console.

She inserted Mercer's card and typed in the final security clearance code. The hatch covering the termination button unlocked, and she flipped it open.

The door slid open behind her, and Osborn reacted instantly, spinning around with her gun raised.

Five troopers dressed in battle armour and masks stood in the entrance. Osborn fired at them, and the nearest one fell. Another stepped forward, raised his weapon and blasted her down. She screamed as the close-range blast sent her hurtling across the room. She was dead before she crashed against the far wall.

The troopers entered; two of them concentrated on removing the bodies while another examined the console, and the fourth, Osborn's killer, went over to the cryogenic chamber.

Lytton gazed through his mask and the shield, attempting as Phin had done before him to make out the features of the prisoner incarcerated within. This was what he had come for. Rescuing the prisoner was his mission.

‘Disarmed,’ reported Grogan, the trooper at the console. He studied readings on a wrist monitor and then raised his mask. ‘The QX345 has dispersed.’

‘Good,’ replied Lytton. ‘Release Davros.’

Grogan pressed a carefully selected button on the console and the transparent shield rose up into the ceiling, releasing billowing clouds of freezing white vapour. Lytton stepped back and waited while the gases thinned enough for the features of the prisoner to be seen clearly.

In a unit closely resembling the sensor dome-studded base of a Dalek, a one-armed emaciated man clad in a black tunic sat motionless against a back support. The withered and cracked skin was stretched tightly over a hairless skull festooned with wires and a metal framework. The eye sockets were dark, wrinkled scar tissue; a single artificial lens mounted in the creature's forehead replaced the absent eyes.

The progenitor of evil had been released.

Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Epilogue