Helena sat hunched down in the corner of the transport pod, her feet drawn up on the seat in front of her. Karl paced back and forth between the two rows of seats, back and forth, back and forth. Although he wasn’t looking at her, Helena didn’t want to make eye contact with him either. She felt flat and withdrawn, the Daleks had easily taken the Loading Bay, and that failure had taken away her self-confidence. They were now retreating to the mining colony, but what was the point.
Karl had physically dragged her from the Loading Bay’s Control Room, down the corridor and into the transport pod. She still sat where she had slumped down, while Karl had quietly set the direction instructions for the transport pod. She sat there without speaking, Karl paced back and forth without speaking. The only sounds were the rhythmic rattle of the pod rushing along its tracks.
Her mood was low, she couldn’t think beyond the transport pod walls. She didn’t know what destination Karl had put into the pod and she didn’t care. Her main concern was meeting others, meeting Max Jenkins and the other members of the Control Room, meeting others and having to explain her failure, her total failure. Again and again her mind went over that first engagement but with none of the scenarios her mind could produce did she appear anything but a failure. Her mind kept going over and over this, without any resolution.
Without any warning, without an alarms sounding or any automatic announcement, the transport pod stopped. There was no deceleration, the pod just suddenly stopped, with a jerk. One moment she was sitting upright, the next moment she was thrown bodily onto the seat in front of her. A second later all the lights went out.
For a moment that seemed like an eternity to her, she lay in the pitch dark, her face pressed against the plastic of the seat. Then the pale blue emergency lights came on.
She looked over and saw Karl was sitting on the floor, his back resting against the opposite row of seats. The wound above his eye looked red and angry, but was not bleeding, while the rest of his face was pale with shock.
“What the hell happened?” She asked, breaking their silence.
“I think… I think the power’s been cut,” Karl mumbled in reply as he slowly pulled himself up onto the seat.
“Oh God,” Helena said as she too sat herself upright. “That means the emergency brakes are on… Karl we’ve got to get out of here, now!” she added as the realisation rushed into her mind.
“We’re safe here, lets stay here for awhile. My head’s spinning a bit.”
“We can’t stay in here,” she said as she stood up and walked towards the doors, “we’ll suffocate.”
“These transport pods are air tight, so they can move faster through the tunnels. Without power there’s no air pumps and without them we’ll suffocate. We need to get the doors open, now!”
“Oh God,” Karl moaned but made no move to stand up.
Quickly, with the aid of the mechanical tool she kept in her pocket, she opened the maintenance panel next to the doors. Then she pulled down the manual handle and started to pump it up and down. She had to push hard on the handle to move it, there seemed to be a heavy resistance against it. Up and down she pumped it, using her whole body weight to push it down and pull it up, and with each stroke of the handle the pod’s doors moved, painful millimetre by painful millimetre. Karl didn’t try to help her; he simply sat there on the bench, a pale and washed out expression on his face, staring at his feet. She hardly gave Karl a thought; her concentration was solely occupied with opening those doors.
Then, sooner then she had realised, the doors were halfway open, enough room for both of them to squeeze through.
“Karl, we can get out of here,” she called out.
“Oh good, right,” he replied and pulled himself up onto his feet.
Turning back to the doors, Helena slipped through the opening and squeezed herself into the narrow space between the pod and the tunnel’s walls. With the tunnel’s wall to her back and the outside the pod to her front, Helena edged her way along. Eventually she stumbled into the open body of the tunnel.
It took Karl a painfully long moment to reach her. As she waited, she tried her personal communicator, but on all channels there was only the constant hiss of dead and voiceless static. She was able to turn on the communicator’s tiny flashlight just before Karl appeared around the end of the transport pod. His face was still pale; the red wound above his eye looking painfully raw and a smudge of black dirt on his check.
“How you feeling?” She asked him, in the dim light of the communicator.
“Rough,” he replied, his voice was flat now.
“My headache’s worse and I’m beginning to feel nauseous.”
Inwardly she cursed herself for always avoiding the mandatory First Aid training. Karl looked so pale, physically ill, she had to get help and soon.
Suddenly, the dim-orange lights came on in the tunnel, lights that were physically part of the tunnel’s walls.
Karl jumped in surprise, actually taking a step backwards, but Helena put her hand on his arm to steady him.
“It’s okay,” she said, “its only the emergency lighting. Don’t know why it’s taken so long to come on.”
“What about the transport pod. Will that start moving?”
“No, not enough power. Anyway the emergency lights are on a very different system.”
“It does mean,” she added, “we can see where we’re going and the exit doors will be easier to open. Look, just down there, an exit door.”
“Yes,” he mumbled in reply.
It only took them a few moments to walk the fifty meters or so to the exit door. Once there, Helena quickly opened the access panel, next to the door and, thankfully, the circuit still had power in it. Just as quickly she bypassed the safety locks and switched all power in the circuit to the door release. For a moment that tightened her nerves like a violin string, nothing happened. Then, as the emergency lights dimmed to almost blackout, the doors slide slowly open and bright lights from the outside corridor flooded into the tunnel.
Painfully slowly, even with Helena’s help, Karl climbed out through the exit door. His skin, what she could see of it, was ashen pale and he seemed slow as if sapped of all energy. Ever since walking away from the transport pod, he had not said a word.
Once in the corridor she looked around herself, for a moment getting her bearings. They were in one of the mining colonies’ main, large and wide service corridors.
“We’re in the main southwest service corridor, the Iron Road,” Karl spoke – his voice flat and weak.
“This one leads to Dome One,” she said. “Straight to the Control Room.”
“Not straight to it, but it joins with the Gold Road which does go straight to the Control Room.”
“Are you up to walking?” More and more she was feeling protective towards him. “You can stay here and I’ll bring back help.”
“Don’t be silly. The Daleks have broken in here so we’ll be much safer together.”
“All right, but we’ll take it easy.”
“Thanks,” Karl mumbled.
Together, they started walking off down the corridor. The corridor unusually quiet, the only sound that of their footsteps on the smooth floor. Usually these corridors would be busy with activity and life. The corridor would be alive with people and all types of droids using it as a thoroughfare. But now there was just the two of them moving along this desolate and forbidding passage.
They walked slowly, at Karl’s pace, but it felt painfully slow to Helena. She felt the need to find help and quickly, but also she was aware that they had to find out what had happened to the rest of the mining colony. She knew she would have to admit her failure, but now she had a feeling she would not be alone in it.
Eventually, after they had walked in silence for what seemed like an age, they came to the intersection of the Iron Road and the Gold Road. The Iron Road corridor, which they were on, was on the upper level, crossed the Gold Road on the suspended bridge, with lifts and stairs providing access. Without a word, both of them walked up to the edge of the bridge and looked down.
Below them, the Gold Road was a scene of chaos. The white walls were burnt and blackened, with whole sections blown away, and wreckage strewn along the edges of the corridor (as if they had been swept out of the way of something). As she looked closely at the wreckage she saw that it was mostly made up of parts of droids that had met a violent end.
“Most have been a terrible battle,” Karl mumbled.
“And it looks like we lost it,” she replied.
They just stood there in silence, both of them staring at the long scene of destruction below them. Helena felt very uncomfortable because this grim spectacle meant the Daleks had invaded right into heart of the mining colony. Were they safe anywhere here? If they had taken over mining colony where could she find help for Karl? The Daleks had quickly and easily captured the mining colony it seemed, and that realisation was left her cold and uncomfortable.
She turned back to Karl and saw he looked even paler. She now had to get him help.
“How are you feeling?” She asked him.
“Okay,” he mumbled a reply, but his voice betrayed him. His voice was week and drained of energy.
“Helena,” Karl added, making her almost jump out of her thoughts. “Over there,” he nodded down the north end of the Gold Road.
She glanced in the direction he indicated and felt a cold shiver run her body.
The Gold Road stretched away in a straight path as far as she could see and, coming down it out of the far distance, was a column of Daleks. They were the squat trooper Daleks, none of those Spider-Daleks, but still the sight terrified her.
“Oh God,” she gasped, “We can’t stay here.”
“This corridor,” mumbled Karl, “will only lead to the reactor.”
“It’s better than waiting here for them.”
“Helena, we… we… I don’t know…” Karl’s voice trailed off as he slumped down onto the floor.
She crouched down next to him. He was slumped oh the floor, his back resting against the side of the bridge, and his face deathly pale. She gripped hold of his hand; his flesh felt cold and damp.
“Sorry,” Karl mumbled, his lips pale and thin. “I came over faint.”
“Look, we’ve got to get you to the Medical Centre,” she replied.
“We can’t get there… We need to be on the Gold Road to get there.”
“I’ll think of something… come on, lets stand you up.” With that, supporting Karl with her shoulder and her arm gripping his body close to hers, Helena stood up, helping Karl up and back onto his feet. For a moment they just stood there, Karl leaning heavily upon her, then he pushed himself away from her and stood unsupported.
“I feel better, thanks,” Karl said and, for a moment, he looked less pale to her.
Her thoughts were broken into by the sound of the column of Daleks barking orders at each other. Casually, slowly and trying not to draw attention to herself, she glanced over the edge of the bridge. The Daleks were not far from the bridge but only seemed interested in advancing along the Gold Road; they didn’t seem interested in the Iron Road above them. None of them looked up towards her, their eye stalks only scanning the corridor in front of them.
Then, the elevator door, directly below her, was cranked open. The doors were ratcheted halfway open, in only a few seconds, and people poured out of it. She saw they were led by Max Jenkins, a bandage wound tightly round his right arm, then Janice Cavendish with Alex Kelly leaning on her shoulder left the elevator, followed by four other people she recognised. They were all members of what must be left of the Control Room Crew. They were walking directly into the path of the column of Daleks.
There was nothing she could do, she couldn’t warn them, she couldn’t call out because then the Daleks would see her too. She just held her breath, silently praying that they would escape the Daleks somehow.
As people spilled out onto the Gold Road the lead Dalek turned towards them, screeching:
“Shit!” Max Jenkins replied, but no one else had the chance to speak.
The leading Daleks opened fire, their guns blasting energy bolts at those people. Most of the energy bolts struck a human body.
It may have only lasted a few seconds but, as she stood there motionless, time seemed to slowdown.
The first energy bolt hit Max Jenkins in the chest, the force physically lifting him off the ground, his body glowing white with energy for a fraction of a second, before falling to the ground, limp and dead. The next energy bolt hit Alex Kelly as he pushed himself away from Janice Cavendish, causing his body to spin around as it fell to the ground. The energy bolt that hit Janice Cavendish threw her backwards, as she let out a strangled cry. The other four people were cut down in a rain of fire, that peppered the wall behind, exploding the concrete, as their bodies glowed white before being thrown against the burnt wall, dead.
Before she realised it, before she could stop herself, Helena let out a stifled cry of horror.
Simultaneously, a swathe of eyes stalks turned towards her.
“HUMANS! EXTERMINATE!” The lead Dalek screeched and opened fire.
Helena felt the air around her face crackle and sparkle, her skin prickling, as the energy bolts flew past her head and exploded in wall behind her. She felt Karl’s hand grab her arm and pull her.
“Run!” Karl cried out in panic, and they did.
In the few seconds it took them to reach the relative safety of the corridor at the Iron Road, as a rain of Dalek energy bolt’s exploded in wall behind them.
Pausing for a moment inside the corridor, panic pounding in her head, she heard Daleks below screeching:
“Use the elevator! Use the elevator! The humans must not escape! The humans must not escape!”
Helena stared down the empty corridor in front of her, an empty corridor that stretched off into the horizon in a straight and uninterrupted line. She felt Karl, standing next to her, doing the same.
“Where the hell do we hide?” Mumbled Karl. “We can’t out run those bastard Daleks.”
Helena again scanned the empty corridor but this time she saw it.
“There!” She pointed, “We’ll hide in the ventilation ducts. Come-on!”
She dragged him down the corridor to the second ventilation grill – it was too obvious to hide in the first one. Hurriedly she took her mechanical tool out of her pants’ pocket. Working quickly she had the fixing screws undone and then she pulled the grill free, suddenly feeling the weight of it pulling at her hands, but she dragged it clear.
“We’ll hide in here,” she said to Karl over her shoulder, not looking at him.
Without warning she felt Karl’s hands grip her shoulders and with sudden and unexpected strength pushed her forward. She was taken so totally by surprise had no chance to brace or stop herself falling forward and straight into the ventilation duct. Her body sprawled forward, hitting the metal floor of the duct almost spread-eagled.
For a moment she just lay there, stunned and surprised by it all, then her mind clicked back into gear. She pulled herself up into a hunched sitting position, in the cramped conditions of the duct, and spun around to face the duct’s grill. Karl had pushed the grill back into place and was reattaching the fixing screws. With rivers of sweat running down his pale face she could see he was visibly shaking.
“Karl!” She hissed.
“Sorry,” he replied without looking at her through the grill. “It’s the only way any of us will survive.”
“Karl, don’t,” she against hissed.
He didn’t reply, simply pushed in the last fixing-screw and then stumbled away, out of her line of sight.
Only a second or so after Karl’s disappearance she heard the Daleks barking orders to each other, now on the Iron Road.
She just sat there motionless, her whole body frozen by panic.
Story © 2005 Drew Payne.
Layout © 2005 Visagraph Films International.
Thanks to Andrew Panero for the editing on the story.