Helena hunched down and moved on almost on all fours slowly and quietly along the ventilation duct. Even with her short stature and hunched posture her head still collided with the ceiling. At least now she was sure she was heading in the right direction, that this one that would lead her to where she wanted to be. She had already taken three wrong turnings, wasting hours crawling up dead ends or round in circles.
She had been resident in the ventilation system for over ten days now, at least she thought it was that long– she’d lost count of the days. Since Karl pushed her into one of them and fixed the grill behind her she had barely left the safety of the ducts for more than an hour at any one time. She had been surviving on snatched food and water, only quietly climbing out when she was certain no one was around and sleeping on the cold metal floor of the ducts. She hadn’t changed her clothes for so long, she hated to think of the state she was in. She most certainly smelled, her clothes were stiff and uncomfortable, sweat and other things had dried into them, they scraped and scratched at her skin. Previously she had been so fastidious about her personal hygiene, wearing clean clothes for only a day at the most and showering at least twice a day; now that option was gone. Her whole life had been reduced to scurrying around behind the walls watching events unfolding from behind a grill.
The Daleks had taken over the whole mining colony, she hadn’t found anywhere that didn’t have a Dalek patrol gliding through it. In the first few days all she saw, through the grills of the ventilation hatches, were Dalek patrols in the corridors. Then, three or so days later, they started appearing, those who the Daleks called “Robomen”. They too patrolled the corridors, obeying their masters without question. Quickly she realised what these Robomen were, they were the surviving mining personnel whom the Daleks had turned into mindless zombie slaves – slaves to follow their orders only.
These Robomen had hideous metal implants on their heads, horrible but she still couldn’t stop staring at them – from her hiding places. The worst part of the zombie Robomen was that she recognised them as the people who they once were. They had been colleagues of hers, people she had worked with, people she had been friendly towards. She tried to ignore or forget the people whom they had been, as they followed behind the Daleks barking their replies in their now synthesised voices, but she couldn’t. She still saw them as whom they had been, now mutilated and destroyed.
At first she guessed she was the only human left alive there, the only survivor. When the Robomen appeared she realised what the Daleks had done to the people they hadn’t killed. She mightn’t be the only human left alive but she was the only survivor. Then she saw Karl.
She had been crouched down, behind a ventilation grill, watching the ‘Silver Road’ when a Dalek patrol moved past. By now she had no fear of being seen, they never glanced down as far as the ventilation grills. After the Daleks, came a column of Robomen – all marching in sync. At the end of line, limping and having difficulty keeping up was Karl. His skin was still unnaturally pale but his head was now dominated by those awful metal implants. She suddenly felt a hard lump push up inside her throat. She had to look away.
Over the following days, as time ran together and she lost track of where she was on it, Helena just wandered through the ducts, keeping herself out of sight and snatching food were she could. She didn’t think about the future, didn’t think about more than a few hours ahead. She knew now there was very little chance of getting off the mining colony, of ever leaving the ventilation ducts, but beyond that she could not think.
Then, only one day ago, everything in her now tiny world changed.
Finally she found her way, through those ventilation ducts, to the Control Room. Still hidden in the shafts, for a long and motionless period she just watched the activities below. The Daleks were barking orders at the Robomen while they sat at different workstations and operated the systems. Gradually, as she listened to those orders and observed the laboured reactions of the Robomen, Helena realised what they were up to and with that realisation came a wave of nausea and dread. The Daleks had resumed gas mining on Karbala Major. They could only be mining the gas for one reason, for fuel. They had invaded her solar system and destroyed her life just for fuel. As the nausea slid away it was replaced by anger. She stayed there for several long hours and her mind kept turning over and over what she should do about what she saw, and always it came back to one thought – she had to stop the Daleks mining the gas.
That night, curled up on the duct floor, she slept fitfully. Her sleep was plagued by disturbed dreams, which again and again caused her to wake suddenly. When she finally awoke the next morning, her body aching from her poor sleep, she knew what she had to do.
She had to blow up the mining colony by overloading the colony’s reactor.
With the final realisation of what she had to do came a very cool and calm feeling.
She finally found the grill she needed at the junction of two ducts. She knelt down, looked through the metal mesh and breathed a sigh of relief. On the other side of the grill was the reactor’s Control Room. Only two Robomen staffed it, no Daleks in sight.
She took her mechanical tool out of her pocket and carefully and quietly began to remove the fixing screws from the grill. When she had all four screws removed, she took a deep breath, picked up the metal bar she had pulled off a duct junction. Then, using both feet, she swiftly kicked the grill inwards. Before it had hit the ground she threw herself through the gap.
Her feet hit the polished floor with a resounding crash and she sprang into action. Swinging the metal bar through an arc she caught the first Roboman on the side of the head, with a strange metallic sound. As he fell to the floor she wheeled around and smashed the metal bar into the back of the head of the second, seated Roboman, who collapsed over its console.
She ran over to the door and quickly locked it using a six-figure prime number as the key; she hoped it would take too long to crack that code.
She then returned to the main consul. The first Roboman she had struck (a young man dressed in a maintenance crew’s jumpsuit) was still alive, but lying on the floor motionless, the implants on the left side of his head broken by her blow. The second Roboman (a woman in shirt and trousers) was obviously dead, that blow had crushed the back of her skull. Helena couldn’t look at her face, as she pushed the body out of the chair and onto the floor, she didn’t want to recognise that woman.
Sat at the console she quickly started to reset the reactor’s controls, she was still an engineer and what she wanted to do was so easy for her. First she removed the control rods from the reactor, and then she introduced a large amount of new fuel into the core. Now came the worst part of it all, the wait for the reactor to overload.
She suddenly felt nervous for soon her life would be over. There was no turning back now; no time to undo what she had set in motion. She had never killed before today, but in a few minutes she would be killing herself and others. She stared intently at the digital thermometer, watching the temperature of the reactor creeping higher and higher.
So little time to reflect in the last moments of life. She had been an engineer on a gas-mining colony, just like both her parents. She had no children, no partner. She had left no mark on the world around her by her simple, little life. Her death would be bright and loud; but no one would know it was her that was striking a blow against the Daleks. She felt small and frightened, she was on the edge of the destruction and there was no going back.
“Unlock this door! Unlock this Control Room door now or else you will be exterminated!” Suddenly a harsh Dalek voice filled the room and her whole body jerked with shock (They must have patched into the room’s PA system, moments later she told herself). Not taking her eyes off the temperature gauge, she ignored the Daleks voice – her life was ending whatever happened.
“Human! Unlock this door or you WILL BE EXTERMINATED!!” Again the Dalek voice barked over the room’s PA system.
The temperature gauge flashed red, as the reactor’s core now was dangerously overheated. She punched the button on the panel and pushed the control rods back into the reactor. For a moment, in which she could barely breath, nothing happened, then the workstation before her was light-up red, as a every warning alarm and indicator went off. The control room was now full for light and noise, as more and more alarms sounded, drowning out the Dalek’s voice on PA system. There was a chain reaction sweeping through the reactor, not long now.
She sat back in the chair and waited the few moments it would now take.
When the mining colony on Karbala Major’s moon Dawn, exploded, momentarily, a bright and intense flash of white light filled the sky. On the night side of Karbala Minor it shone like an exploding star before fading into darkness.
Story © 2005 Drew Payne.
Layout © 2005 Visagraph Films International.
Thanks to Andrew Panero for the editing on the story.