Helena Travis stood at the back of the Control Room, simply watching the display monitor that filled the far wall. Those of the Control Room crew left behind were hurrying around, busily attending to the different systems. She barely noticed them, she didn’t even see Karl Burke, only the screen held her attention.
The display monitor was tracking the course of The Dragon, the mining colony’s shuttlecraft, as it slowly made its way past the outer moons and towards Julia. On board were the rest of the mining colony’s crew, over eighty people. When the company had ordered them to evacuate they had instructed them to leave a skeleton crew behind. In the end mining colony’s mainframe had made the choice by required skills and social responsibilities. When it had produced its selection, Helena had not been surprised or shocked that her name was on it, as a Senior Engineer and single woman she had been high upon its list to stay behind. Not so other people- Rosanna Clarkson of administration had kicked up a storm of protest, demanding that she had a seat on The Dragon, along with many others, but to no avail. The computer had spoken and they had to stay – there was a small clause in their contracts.
Helena changed position but carried on watching the display monitor. The Dragon had reached the halfway point between Julia and them. Suddenly Helena felt very nervous, irrationally so. They were reassured that, once it had safely arrived, had been turned around and refuelled, The Dragon would be sent back for them. Even though she knew she’d be part of the skeleton crew before the names were announced, part of Helena felt afraid to be left here. The moon their mining colony was on, Dawn, felt very exposed and vulnerable. She tried not thinking about it too much, to push the thought right to the back of her mind, and concentrate on the display monitor.
A shrill voice cut through the general chatter in the room. “God! Oh God!”
Janice Cavendish, one of the remaining Control Room crew, was staring hard at the monitor on her workstation. Her face was pale, her mouth open, and the features of her face frozen in shock.
“Cavendish, pull yourself together!” Snapped Max Jenkins, the mining colony’s Commander.
“The Dragon… The Dragon…” stuttered Cavendish. “The Dragon is under attack!”
“What?” Jenkins shouted over the buzz of voices running around the room.
Quietly, ignoring those around her, Helena moved forward. She knew she couldn’t get close enough to look over Cavendish’s shoulder, but she still hoped for a better view of what was happening.
“There’s a group of spacecraft heading straight for The Dragon,” Cavendish’s panicked voice rang out.
“Identify the craft,” Jenkins snapped back.
“I can’t, they’re not like anything we’ve got on record…” A hush had descended on the room. “But…” She again stammered over her words.
“Spit it out!” thundered Jenkins.
“They look like the images of those Dalek ships I saw in the news vid yesterday.”
“Don’t be stupid!” Jenkins was now glaring at her. “Put it up on the display monitor.”
“Yes… Yes sir.”
The display monitor went blank for a moment and then a new image burst upon it. It showed five, round, silver-grey saucer-shaped spacecraft moving very fast through the outer moons of Karbala Major. A gasp of horror and surprise rushed around the room. Helena knew why and felt exactly the same. She had seen the same news vids as everyone else, those grainy and pixelated images of the Dalek ships as they entered their solar system had been the lead in all of them. The ships, in clear and sharp focus on the display monitor, were almost exact copies of those news vids images; but these were real.
“Where are they headed?” demanded Jenkins.
“They’re on a intercept course with The Dragon,” Alex Kelly, one of the other Control Room crew, shouted over from his workstation.
“Bloody well warn The Dragon!” Jenkins yelled.
“Something…something is jamming our transmitters,” Cavendish stammered.
“Oh God,” muttered Jenkins as he too starred at the display monitor.
“They’re almost on top of The Dragon,” called out Alex Kelly.
Helena drew in her breath through her teeth as The Dragon also appeared on the display monitor. The Dragon was firing its main engines at the same time as it appeared to be turning, trying to fly closer to the Moon Catherine, but it was too late. The Dalek ships were upon it in a few moments and the lead ship opened fire. The Dalek ship only fired a few shots of an energy weapon, Helena wasn’t able to count them as they were fired so fast, but all of them struck The Dragon. The first shots hit The Dragon’s engines, which exploded in a bright flash of light, that momentarily filled the whole display monitor (Helena blinked with surprise). This caused The Dragon to begin to spin and tumble on its own axis. The next shots hit the shuttle in its midsection – where the passengers were, Helena’s mind screamed. The Dalek’s energy weapon ripped through the hull, splitting it in two like a broken piece of wood. The lead Dalek ship did not stop there. As the broken halves of the ship exploded and were blown apart it fired again and again into the wreckage. In only a few seconds the dark and sleek form of The Dragon was reduced to a myriad of twisted and spinning wreckage, rapidly fanning out in all directions from where it had been.
In the Control Room, as they watched the nightmare images displayed before them, there was silence. Helena didn’t move, didn’t speak, and didn’t even blink her eyes. It was as if the shock of what she’d just seen had frozen her whole body. They’d just fired on The Dragon; just destroyed an un-armed shuttlecraft. The Daleks were…
The silence was broken by somebody crying, loud and panicked sobs. Then somebody else started to shout; their words were an incoherent stream of swearwords. Someone else was crying, but low and quieter sobs. The other voices joined in; shouts, questions, threats of revenge. Over this babble a woman’s voice clearly and loudly spoke out:
“We have to do something! We have to rescue the survivors!”
Helena turned towards the shouting voice, the spell of shock holding her suddenly broken, and saw it was Judith Hadlam, one of the mining colony’s paramedics.
Max Jenkins stood up, pushing his chair away from his workstation, and addressed the whole room:
“There are no survivors. There can’t possibly be. Those Daleks destroyed The Dragon totally. It was overkill!” A few voices were raised in protest but he swept them aside. “No one could have possibly survived that attack…Now I want everyone here to maintain their posts.”
“They’ve altered their course,” shouted Kelly. “They’re heading towards us.”
“How long before they reach us?” Alex Jenkins demanded.
“At their present… present velocity…” Cavendish stuttered, aghast, “they’ll reach us in one hour.”
“Right everyone!” Max Jenkins barked at the whole room. “Get to your assigned battle stations. Those little bastard machines may land on our moon but they’re not taking control of this mining colony! GO! NOW!”
There was a loud clatter of voices as they rushed out of the Control Room, only the Control Room crew remaining behind, everyone suddenly very animated. As she left, partly swept along by everyone and partly anxious to leave behind the memory of the destruction of The Dragon, Helena felt a hand touch her on the shoulder. It was Karl Burke catching up with her.
“It’s probably good idea if we go to Loading Bay Two together,” he said as he turned his bright and open face awards her, “seeing as we’re the ones defending it.”
They talked as they hurriedly walked to the transport pot.
“I wonder whose idea it was to assign us together?” she replied.
“Probably Rosanna Clarkson, she’s enough of a bitch,” Karl answered her.
“I suppose complaining would be seen as trivial.”
“In some people’s eyes, yes.”
“Let’s not argue,” Helena said.
“I don’t think we’ll get the chance,” he said.
When they reached the transport pod the Head of Security, Harry Orton, greeted them. He looked as if he had aged ten years. He had always looked like a stern police official; his wavy grey hair parted at the side, the expression on his plain face always fixed and hard. Now, his eyes were dull and glassy, his skin paper dry and the frown on his lips pulling all the features of his face downwards. Helena didn’t look him in the face, neither did Karl – she noticed.
“You know where you’re going?” Orton asked them.
“Yes,” Karl answered him.
“Good,” Orton said. “Take these.”
He handed them Personal Communicators and stepped aside as they entered the transport pod. Soon the pod was rushing them towards Loading Bay Two. Quickly she fitted the Personal Communicator over her left forearm, which it almost totally covered. It fitted right around her arm and locked into place. On it was a small monitor, keypad, two connection ports and a microphone – all powered by her body’s electro-magnetic energy. It was all she needed to keep in touch with the Control Room, and everyone else on the mining colony. Quickly she entered in her personal ID into it and the communicator sprang into life.
She glanced over at Karl and saw he’d also had fitted his Personal Communicator over his left forearm.
“I wonder if these are the ones the military use,” she said.
“We got them from the military, bought them,” he replied.
“Right,” she nodded in reply.
For a moment they sat there in silence, the rattle from the pod rushing along its tracks the only sound. It felt an awkward and very uncomfortable silence but Helena didn’t know what to say to him.
It was Karl who broke their silence:
“How you feeling?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I guess I should be feeling nervous or afraid, but I don’t really feel anything.”
“Me too. It’s probably the adrenaline.”
“Yes, probably is.” She expected them to fall back into that awkward and uncomfortable silence, instead Karl carried on talking.
“Helena, why did you end our relationship?”
“This isn’t the time or place,” she replied feeling very uncomfortable under the gaze of his big, green eyes.
“Yes it is. We could be killed.”
“Don’t talk like that,” she interrupted him.
“We could be and I need to know. I still love you, Helena, and I need to know why you ended our relationship.”
Unable to avoid the subject any longer she took a deep breath and answered him:
“You want children and a family, I don’t know if that’s what I want. I want to stay here being an engineer. I don’t want to be a wife on Karbala Minor, only seeing my husband every six months.”
“There are many families on these moons. I’d never ask you to give up your work.”
“I was a mining brat. I grew up in Randall Vale City and almost every other domed city on these moons. It’s no life for a kid, they didn’t build these domed cities with children in mind.”
“We could come to some sort of agreement.”
“We’d have ended up resenting each other. If we hadn’t had a family you’d have resented me. If we had a family I’d have resented you because I’d make a crap wife and mother, whether here or on Karbala Minor. There are loads of women on these moons just looking for a man who would make good husband-material. Why don’t you find yourself one of the them?”
“Because I want you,” his face had a pleading expression. She couldn’t look him in the eye.
“Karl, we’re going around in circles.”
“I know, I know,” he muttered.
“Approaching Landing Bay Two, all prepare to disembark, all prepare to disembark,” a synthetic voice announced.
“Here we are,” she said as the transport pod rapidly decelerated.
When the pod came to a halt, with a mechanical clunk, they both stood up and walked to the door, which opened automatically. They found a whole metal army assembled in the main Loading Bay. At a glance Helena guessed there were probably two hundred droids. They were mostly the large mining type, their caterpillar tracks and mechanical arms still dirty from excavation. Amongst them were service and maintenance droids.
The droids continued to stand silently and patiently waiting for them.
Helena swept her hair out of her eyes.
“I’ll get the new programs ready for the droids, I’ll do a mass download,” Karl said.
“I’ll get the droids armed,” she replied.
“The service and maintenance droids will do it.”
It didn’t take her long to unlock the weapons store; surprisingly her personal ID opened it. The mining droids just stood there, passively, while the others quickly removed their mining arms and replaced them with a weapon. Mostly they were projectile weapons but there were a few plasma cannons there too, which she had fitted to the largest machines. She was relieved at how quickly the droids worked; in just over twenty minutes they had fitted weapons to over half their larger associates.
Once she was satisfied the droids did not need further supervising she went off to find Karl. She located him in the Loading Bay’s control room, hunched over one of the workstations.
“How are you getting on?” She asked him.
“Nearly there. I got the targeting images prepared, I’ve just finished off the firing instructions,” he replied. “How are the droids”?
“The service and maintenance droids are arming the others fast.”
“I’ll check in with Control,” she added.
He simply nodded his reply.
She turned to her Personal Communicator and set the channel onto the Control Room. For a moment the screen was filled with black and white static and then there was an image of Janice Cavendish’s face. Her face seemed pale, worry lines etched into her skin. Helena couldn’t remember seeing her so haggard and afraid. Cavendish had always been a nervous and jumpy soul, but Helena was surprised in the change in her.
“Janice, I’ve called for a progress report,” she spoke into her communicator.
“Yes… Right,” Cavendish’s voice stumbled over her words. “Five Dalek ships have landed on the moon but that’s all.”
“What do you mean, that’s all?”
“The Dalek ships have landed, about a kilometre southwest of us, but no Daleks have left any of the ships and there’s no communication from the ships. The just sit there, doing nothing.”
“I see,” Helena reply.
“I’ll broadcast as soon as anything else happens,” Cavendish said. “Control out.”
Then her screen returned to the black and white static.
“How you doing?” she asked Karl.
“Finished,” Karl said, triumphant filling his voice. “I’ve even managed to download defence strategies from the mainframe. All ready to upload to the droids.”
“I need to check on them first,” Helena said. “Make sure they’ve all got weapons.”
“Fine, and call me when you’re ready.”
She returned to the Loading Bay and saw that the service droids had almost finished fitting all the weapons. Some of them were even fitting other service and maintenance droids with weapons. She stood there, at the doorway; her hands dug deep into her trouser pockets and just watched them work. They moved quickly and nimbly, going from one inert monster onto the next. As they worked she was sure they got faster and faster with each droid they fitted –their operating systems were designed to let them learn, she told herself.
They were finished sooner then even she expected.
“Okay Karl,” she said into her communicator, “the droids are ready for uploading.”
“Fine, stand by,” his voice crackled from her communicator.
For a moment, for an extremely long moment it seemed to her, nothing happened. The droids just stood there, passively, row upon unmoving row in front of her. Then, suddenly, they came to life. In a rush of movement the droids hurried around the Loading Bay. In a few moments they went from static rows into a tight and complete defensive pattern. They took up positions guarding the two main entrances to the Loading Bay, weapons drawn and waiting.
With a smile of satisfaction she returned to the Loading Bay’s Control Room. Seeing the droids like that, so quickly transformed into battle units, gave her hope that they could defend their mining colony.
In the Loading Bay’s control room she found Karl still hunched over the same workstation. His face was creased up with concentration as he stared intensely at the monitor in front of him.
Quietly she sat down, in the chair next to him.
“Any news about those Dalek ships?” She asked.
“I’ve patched into the colony surveillance system,” Karl replied without taking his eyes off the monitor, without looking at her. “I can keep an eye on those Dalek ships from here. The images aren’t great but I can still keep them under observation.”
“Right,” Helena replied, as she looked over his shoulder.
Karl was right, the images were grey and extremely grainy, some of the objects in the images were merging into others, but she could still make out the shapes of three Dalek ships. They were very round and smooth looking, what she could see of them; very unlike any spacecraft she had seen before. She was used to seeing cylindrical or oblong shaped ships, or else there were aerodynamic shaped craft that were able to enter a planet’s atmosphere. The few alien space craft she had seen had been of similar design– always long and thin, with engines firmly placed at the rear. Nothing like these Daleks’ flying saucers.
Silently they watched the grey and grainy images of those three, unmoving Dalek ships. She didn’t speak or ask any questions of him because these images were asking too many questions for her. Why were those Dalek ships just sitting there and seeming to wait? They had destroyed The Dragon so quickly and thoroughly. Now they seemed to be holding back. Surely they had landed on their moon to invade the mining colony, (since they had arrived in their solar system the Daleks had shown no signs of trying to negotiate with them, not once), so why hold back now? The questions raced through her mind as she stared at that monitor.
Suddenly, it seemed to her, everything happened at once.
On the monitor, rising up from behind the Dalek ships, was what appeared to be a black cloud or mass rising up and blocking out the monitor – before the screen crackled and went blank.
At the same moment both their communicators alarmed. Simultaneously they raised their communicators and switched on the monitors.
Her communicator’s monitor sprang into life and was filled with the image of Max Jenkins’ face. His eyes stared intently out at her from the monitor but his face looked tired and drawn. His expression was serious and stern, as if he was a headmaster about to tell off a class of pupils.
“Everyone, I have a grave announcement to make,” Jenkins’ voice came from the communicator (there was a very slight echo from Karl’s communicator). “The Daleks have left their ships and are heading towards our mining colony. They are heading towards all three domes at once, on small flying disks. Everyone to your battle stations. We don’t want those bastards to be able to take a millimetre of this mining colony!”
The monitor held the image of his face staring out at her, a moment, before it went blank.
“It’s battle stations, then,” she said, trying to cover her nerves with stoicism.
“God, yes,” Karl muttered in reply.
“I’ll go down to the Loading Bay and supervise the droids,” she said she stood up from her chair.
“Why ever not? Those droids still need supervision.”
“It’s not safe down there,” Karl said as he spun around on his chair to face her. His face frowning at her. “Those Daleks could break into the Loading Bay, those doors aren’t blast proof, and then there’s only mining droids between you and them.”
“I can look after myself,” she replied.
“Remember what they did to The Dragon, and that was unarmed. Stay here, you can supervise the droids from the observation window. Please stay.”
“Okay, okay,” she said – he had a very serious point but part of her still wanted to be down there with the droids, doing her part in the defence of the mining colony. She strode over to the observation window, at the back of the Loading Bay’s Control Room, and once there stared down at row upon row of waiting droids. She switched her communicator to the same frequency as the droids and then waited.
She had expected a long and nervous wait, powerless as she waited for the Daleks to attack, she could hear Karl fidgeting and twitching behind her; but she was wrong.
She had been waiting only a few moments when she heard Karl almost shout:
“God, they’re here!”
At the same moment the droids sprang into life, taking up closer defensive formations around the two Loading Bay doors (Karl must have patched the droids into the Loading Bay’s external monitors, and now they had detected a presence outside). Helena felt her whole body tense, adrenaline pulsing through her veins, and her fingers moved over her communicator ready to instruct the droids, though her eyes didn’t leave the sight before her. She could feel the blood rushing through her temples. She had never felt so ready for anything as she did now.
After a moment of tense silence she asked Karl, still not taking her eyes off the Loading Bay:
“What’s happening out there?”
“They seem to be just massing outside.”
“And doing what? Karl!”
“Don’t shout at me! The bloody Daleks are blocking all the visual and auditory monitors. All I’ve got to go on are the motion sensors.”
“Sorry,” she mumbled in reply.
They had no chance at any further conversation because, seconds later, an explosion ripped through the Loading Bay. A wall of sound and energy rushed towards them and smashed into the observation window. Instinctively Helena closed her eyes and threw her hands up to cover her face. The force of the explosion physically struck her body, pushing her back a step or two, pushing the air out of her lungs. It was surprise and shock that pushed at her mind, in those seconds, rather than any physical pain.
The second explosion, a second or two later, smashed into the observation window with the same force. As it did Helena threw herself down, her hands and arms covering her head as her body struck the floor.
She lay there only a few seconds, but it seemed like an eternity as the explosions rang in her ears.
When she looked up, from her position on the floor, she saw Karl slumped over his workstation, a dazed expression on his face.
“What happened?” She asked him.
He didn’t answer her; he just raised his head up off the workstation and stared at her. He had broken the skin, just above his right eyebrow, and a steady small stream of red blood was running down the side of his face, unchecked. He looked like an actor playing the victim of a disaster.
Then, as the ringing in her ears eased, she heard a small hissing sound.
“The Daleks!” She shouted and tried to stand up. Her legs suddenly felt weak and she had to physically pull herself upright, her hands clutching at the edge of the observation window. Once upright she found her legs regain their full strength and she stood firmly.
In those few seconds, as she stood there again, she saw two things. First, she saw a small crack in the corner of the observation window, through which air was escaping with a hissing sound. Then she saw the Loading Bay on the other side of the observation window. The Loading Bay doors, both the outer and inner doors of each of them, had been blown away. In there place were two twisted holes, the metal of the doors curled back on themselves like petals of a giant dying flower. Blown out across the Loading Bay were black chunks of metal, shrapnel from the doors some embedded in the floor or opposite wall and some embedded into the bodies of the droids. In the air hung a grey mist.
She only had a few moments to take in the sight before hordes upon hordes of Daleks streamed into the Loading Bay through the gaping holes where the doors had once been.
But these were not the Daleks she had expected, like the blurry images she had seen in the news vids. These were not the squat-like silver machines. Instead, huge spider-like metal creatures strode into the Loading Bay. Their domed head, eye socket sticking out from it, were the same as the normal Daleks. Below the head was a second round segment to its body, dark with a large energy weapon pointing straight out of it. The third segment, hanging below the second was black and egg shaped. It was covered in the same silver half-domes, all in regimented vertical lines, which covered the lower half the Daleks. The six silver, articulated legs stretched out and down from the joint between the second and third segments of its body, on which it walked and lifted its body high.
These spider-Daleks strode fast and purposefully across the Loading Bay, cutting a swath through the mining droids with constant blasts from their energy weapons. In their turn, the mining droids quickly formed a defensive triangle in front of the two columns of spider-Daleks, but to no avail. The projectile bolts, fired at them, just seemed to bounce off the spider-Daleks without any damage to them.
Then, behind the spider-Daleks, she saw a whole army of the squat machine Daleks, pushing their way into the Loading Bay.
Quickly, without taking her eyes off the battle below her, she tapped out instructions to the mining droids on her communicator. She instructed the mining droids to concentrate their fire on the leg joints. As soon as she finished the command the droids obeyed, their projectile bolts struck the two lead spider-Daleks in their leg joints. One of the spider-Daleks seemed to stagger back a step or so but the other one carried on at the same pace. The other spider-Daleks were spreading out through the Loading Bay and followed by the other Daleks pouring into the Loading Bay. The mining droids were falling like flies, being destroyed with ease without any visible harm to the Daleks.
Without any warning she felt a hand grab hold of her arm and pull her backwards. As the hand pulled her it took her a moment to realise it was Karl’s. She tried to shrug him off, keeping her eyes trained on the battle, but his hand gripped her tighter.
“Helena, we’ve lost! We’ve got to get out of here,” he hissed at her.
She half turned towards Karl. His face was very pale, his eyes shining brightly out of it, and the blood from the wound was congealing and turning dark red.
“Don’t be stupid,” she snapped back at him. “We’ve still got a chance. We can hold them back.”
“No we can’t!” He shouted at her, making her turn fully towards to him. “We’ve lost over two-thirds of the droids and the Daleks have only been in the Loading Bay three minutes. If we don’t leave now we’ll be dead.”
“But we can’t just…”
“Yes, we have too!” he snapped, cutting her off.
Reluctantly she turned her back completely on the observation window and so on the battle. She felt a total failure. Her one mission to defend the Loading Bay lost in only a few minutes. With a heavy heart she allowed Karl to quickly drag her out of the room.
As they reached the door there came a loud and shuddering explosion from down in the Loading Bay. Helena turned back, for a moment, and saw the observation window split in two by a large crack. Then the door closed behind them, sealing the room off.
Story © 2005 Drew Payne.
Layout © 2005 Visagraph Films International.