Doctor Who: Royal Oak, Chapter Eight
By Hrolf Douglasson
It was only one… creature… but it froze the Doctor almost as soon as he saw it. It sat in more of that strange green light, or half-light rather, since it appeared to prefer the shadows. Tam was not in the least surprised; its shape, its colour and its odour haunted him into his grave. Even his hard-skinned father noticed a change in him after that day. The thing sat within what appeared to be some sort of machine – or more accurately, the remains of a machine, but it was hard to see what was machine and what was occupant, what was intact and what was… twisted. Melted; distorted in strange and disconcerting ways. The top portion appeared to have fallen inwards somewhat; a single protuberance extended from the remains of a curved cover, propped precariously atop a series of struts and mesh panels. Other extensions lower down the vaguely cone-shaped casing appeared rather more sinister in function.
“I knew it,” breathed the Doctor urgently. “It never ends, does it? There’s always one more, another anomaly, another escapee, another broken, twisted thing that just won’t die!!”
At the sound of his voice, the topmost stalk grew a faint blue light at its bulbous tip. Possibly it tried to rotate in order to face the visitors: Tam couldn’t be sure. Deeper inside the thing, there was discomforting, serpentine movement. Tam expected some sort of answer, but none came. The blue glow just remained, and gave the unnerving feeling of watching silently.
“Alright then.” The Doctor took a deep breath and seemed to pull energy into himself from everything around him. “I’m the Doctor,” he said, and took a hesitant step closer to the… thing. “I’m here to help.”
This time, the blue-tipped stalk definitely moved. “You… are… the… Doctor?” The voice was harsh, metallic, soulless. “You are… the enemy… of the Daleks… you must be exterminated…”
One of the other “limbs” jerked upwards: a short, multi-rodded tube with a worrying-looking hollow end. The Doctor glared at it, hands jammed deep into pockets once more.
“Is that really your only refuge?” he demanded angrily. “Exterminate, kill, destroy? I don’t know why I’m asking, really: it’s not like any of you have had an original thought in millennia, now is it?” He stalked closer to the thing, and peered inside at whatever was writhing and squirming in the darkness. “So which comprehensive defeat did you shift out of, eh? Was it the Emperor in the Dark? Or the Battle of London, against the Cybermen? Or Davros and his home-brewed army?” He stepped back and regarded the battered and burned outer parts of the creature-machine. “I could probably work it out in time, but I really can’t be bothered. I’m more interested in how you ended up here and what you’re trying to do.” He walked slowly around the whole structure; the blue orb followed him as far as it was able. Tam hung back, caught between revulsion and fascination.
“Not even going to introduce yourself?” the Doctor asked the thing suddenly. “I’ve brought a representative of this planet, one who speaks for those… specimens… you’ve been collecting, and you’re not even going to declare yourself?” He leaned in closer, although how he could bear the stench was beyond Tam’s imagining. “Have you really sunk so low? Did you think for one moment that the protocols didn’t apply? Just how addled and damaged must you be, eh?”
The thing stirred again in its darkness. “Dalek Kreng.”
“Kreng?” echoed the Doctor. “Kreng??? What sort of a name is that?? Well, that answers some of the questions, I suppose: you weren’t in the void-sphere that they had at the Torchwood Tower, were you! So, let me see, now: you fell through time from the look of you – emergency temporal shift, was it? Never a good idea, those: I told your mate, Dalek Khan, they fry your power converters, but do any of you ever listen? Of course you don’t – ‘cos you’re Daleks! You never even listen to each other, so why would you ever listen to me, eh? Waste of time and breath, that’s what talking to you lot is – but I still do it, every time we run into each other.” He looked across at Tam and grinned. “I must need my head examined!” He waved a hand. “Come on, Tam: you’re here to speak for the whole of the human race, planet Earth. Come and meet a Dalek. Well, half a Dalek, I suppose; from his point of view, the most important bits have gone. We’re still standing here, after all.”
Tam had no other refuge than profanity. “What is that thing?” was the basic question, although there were a good many other words thrown in along the way.
“It’s a Dalek,” explained the Doctor, still slowly circling the creature. “There’s an outer machine casing – that’s the bit that’s all battered and melted away – and then inside it is the actual Dalek being itself, highly irradiated, genetically unstable… and the sworn enemy of every other species in the universe. Race hate gone mad, the ultimate expression of xenophobic excess… these were the bad guys in the war my people fought and died in, Tam. These are the creatures that slaughtered my entire race. I’m the only one left.” He looked across with anguish in his eyes.
“So why’s it here?” Tam managed eventually. He couldn’t take his eyes off the thing, and yet his only desire was to run as far away as he could, get away from this abomination, this monster, this…
“Well,” drawled the Doctor, as if sensing his panic and pulling him back from the brink. “It’s not going to tell us much beyond it’s name, that much is obvious… and where did that come from, by the way?” He spun around and thrust his face into the blue face of the stalk. “Give it to yourself, did you? Or was Davros trying to resurrect the Cult of Skaro? Waste of time if he was, eh? The planet’s still gone and so’s he.” He wagged a finger at the stalk. “You ought to have learned by now: don’t mess with the Doctor!”
He turned to face Tam, leaning nonchalantly on the remains of the creature’s outer shell. “There’s a lot of history involved, but we can skip most of it: this is the only – I hope – survivor of a whole army of Daleks. Thousands; tens of thousands; maybe even hundreds of thousands – but they haven’t happened yet. That’s the thing with time travel, you see: you can never tell just when you are in the chain of events. People call ‘em timelines, but, well… more like a cat’s cradle if you ask me.
“Anyway… let me make a few guesses. Daleks can shift themselves through time in an emergency – but they’ve got no control over where they end up, or when. It’s pot luck; I’ve found ‘em in 1930’s Manhattan before now, ancient Egypt… and now here. You can see the state it’s in: just as well, really, or the whole of Orkney would be under its command by now. And yes, it really could do that – if it was whole. Luckily for you but unfortunately for the men of the Royal Oak, it isn’t. It’s damaged, in body and in mind; all it could do was gather supplies, get some help in… and try to rebuild itself.”
“Rebuild? What, make itself better? Like in a hospital?”
“Ah: Daleks have a very peculiar view of things like healthcare. Something along the lines of Darwin: survival of the fittest, by whatever means. The difference between Darwin and the Daleks is that Darwin never got interested in manipulating the DNA of other species in order to improve his own chances in the gene pool. That’s what our boy here’s been up to: slicing into the men from the Royal Oak to try and get some decent human DNA, uncontaminated by radiation in the air – remember I said that they were genetically unstable? That’s the result of their own past: they irradiated their entire homeworld, destroyed every other species on it – and all in the name of racial purity. Trouble was, of course, that they poisoned themselves at the same time, and they’ve been paying for it ever since. Come on: come and have a look.”
Despite himself, Tam found himself leaning over the twisted mesh and struts of the upper sections of casing. He gagged as he found himself staring into a single watery eye in a flabby caricature of a skull, ringed and fringed with agile, twitching tentacles. There was scar tissue over a lot of the skin, and what looked like fresher, pinker sections…
“They looked like humans, once,” the Doctor murmured in his ear. “They had so much promise… and they twisted it all. Now they hide in the shadows, where nobody can find them unless they look too hard: weakened, desperate, half-crazy… and just as rabidly obsessed as ever.” His mouth turned downwards in disgust. “They’re only ever happy when they’ve got another species to destroy.”
“And we were next?”
“If it had the power to do it – yes.”
Tam straightened up with a determined look on his face. “Then let’s just kill the bloody thing and be done with it! Job done, aye?”
“No. I can’t allow that, Tam.”
“I’m the last of the Time Lords: we had a duty to the universe. We fought for it, protected it, nurtured it. Like it or not, this Dalek’s a part of it all; it gets the same deal as every other species. I can’t just kill it.”
“Well, I bloody well can!”
The Doctor looked him clearly in the eye. “Can you?”
“I slaughter me own cows an’ sheep when the need’s there: o’ course I can! Wha’s the difference? Ye said yesel’ that it’s damaged… I’d tak’ th’ gun tae any o’ my beasts if they were in that sort o’ state.”
The Doctor looked back at the creature. “Well?” he asked slowly.
“Operation jeopardised,” the Dalek grated in reply. “Genetic investigation incomplete. Resources depleted.” The blue orb turned slowly to take in the two intruders. “Tactical advantages nullified. There is no hope.” For the first time, Tam thought he heard a trace of emotion in the electronic voice.
“Recommendation?” prompted the Doctor.
“Ah,” said the Doctor slowly, “but you won’t, will you? The urge to survive is too strong, too deep… you’d never pull your own plug, not while even a shred of hope remained. You’d manipulate and bargain and plot and plan… look at Davros! He survived by the skin of his teeth, he should have been dead in the jaws of the Nightmare Child… and what did he do? Pulled himself to pieces and built a whole new set of his blasted creations from his own cells! How’s that for tenacity?” He lurched closer to the machine again. “So where’s your little army in waiting, eh? I haven’t seen it yet: I’ve only seen bodies waiting to be used up, and a pile of empty bags where bodies used to be!” He stood up again and looked urgently at Tam. “There’s another room somewhere: the place where the real work’s being done.” He swallowed heavily before speaking again. “The place where dead sailors are being made into Daleks.”