There are worlds out there where the skies are burning
Earth, at the turn of the second millennium, was your standard Class Two planet in the Mutter Spiral. That is to say, they had investigated, for the most part, the entirety of their planet, and were only now just beginning to look beyond their own moon.
So, when the Daleks invaded, it completely unexpected.
They struck from above, like the sudden thunderbolt of a forgotten god, giving the inhabitants no warning, and no chance to defend themselves.
More advanced civilisations had caved like paper flowers under the might of the Daleks –planets with interstellar defence shields and spatial armadas. People with foreknowledge of what lay beyond their own horizon.
Compared to them, the Earth had nothing. No observer would have been surprised to learn that the planet fell. Humankind had no defences against the terrible weapons unleashed upon them from space –the death toll rose into the millions on the first day. After that, there weren’t enough people left to count them.
A mere six months after the first Dalek warship had landed in the Whitehouse gardens, the invaders had established major Construction Facilities on every continent on the planet.
From a population of three billion, around a million were probably still alive –left to try and scrape their sustenance from a war-blackened Earth. Mostly, the Daleks left them alone.
Except when they wanted human labourers, of course.
Robotisation –the most foul abomination possible. It was a brutal process, lacking even the pretence of finesse or refinement.
Put simply, the still-conscious victim is strapped down and paralysed. They are aware of everything about them, but unable to struggle. Machinery burrows into the living brain of the victim, overriding any signals sent by the host. From that point on, they are the walking dead.
The unwilling slaves of the Daleks. They are viewed by Survivors with a mixture of emotions. Pity because of what they once were, and horror because of what they are now.
But even the walking dead fight against their slavery constantly –and for a creature that is seldom fed and rarely allowed to sleep, that fight takes its toll. And the more they fight, the more electricity their implants consume to keep them under control, and the more quickly their brains burn out, if they have not already committed suicide.
Roboman are a valuable commodity. The Robomen must be replaced. So every night, during what they call the Black Hours, the Robomen are sent into the crumbling buildings to seek out the remaining humans, and the cycle continues.
Rose Tyler knew all about the Robomen. But then, she had very good cause to.
Blinking in the dim light, she looked around the room, trying to find something in it to occupy her mind. She already had a task for her fingers –stabbing blindly in the dark as she stitched a rip in her shirt –but her brain would not let itself relax.
It wasn’t a big room, maybe a cellar or a basement before They arrived, and it certainly wasn’t empty. Decent hiding places were too rare to be squandered. Her mate Sheree was huddled in the far right corner, trying to keep warm in the cool autumn air. Anthony and Midge, a pair she’d met looking for food, were talking together in low, almost inaudible murmurings.
To Rose’s ears, pricked sharply in the darkness, they seemed far too loud, but she was glad they were talking. If they were talking, she could focus on their voices, pretend that all this wasn’t happening.
She could ignore the systematic, dry shuffle of feet on broken concrete and brick. The brief, panicked cry of discovery . . . and the wailing moans of those who had already been caught.
She could pretend that she couldn’t hear the metallic whine as Daleks rolled around the fringes of the rubble, waiting for someone to break cover. She could imagine none of it was real.
Rose swore under her breath as the needle jabbed her in the finger again. Sewing in the dark was hard, but there was no other time to do it.
With an impatient gesture, Rose flung down the scrap of fabric.
She wasn’t even supposed to be here –she should have been back with the rest of her Community in their shelter. But dusk had fallen early, while Rose and Sheree were still far from home, and they had been forced to hide in the best place they could find.
“Do you reckon it’ll happen tonight?” Sheree whispered. Rose, peering across the room, could just see her face in the moonlight, drawn and pale as a sliver of the moon might once have been, before the Daleks had mined it into a blackened wasteland.
“What?” Midge spoke up from her corner, eyeing her uncertainly.
“The night they take us.” Sheree’s voice was loud in the dim room. “When they finally catch us and turn us into mindless slaves of the Daleks and we work catching more people to be turned into things like us until we die or burn out like used light-bulbs –”
Sheree had a panicked gleam on her eye, and her voice was beginning to rise shrilly.
Before Rose could move, Midge had leapt up, taken two long strides across the room and struck Sheree hard across the face.
“Shut up!” she hissed. “You want to bring them down on us?!”
Sheree flinched back from the intense light in Midge’s eyes, probably, Rose judged, more alarmed by her tone than the words themselves.
She nodded slowly, not even noticing the red and white stain that stretched across her dark cheek, even as a thin trickle of blood trailed down the curve of her jaw-line.
Rose watched her for a few seconds to make sure she had gotten control of herself, then turned back to her sewing, making a mental note to request Sheree be taken off Overearth duty.
Then, suddenly, everyone froze. The only thing to move was their heads, rotating upwards as every eye locked on the cellar door . . . where a pair of shuffling, zombie-like footsteps could be heard.
Rose cringed in her corner, and saw Midge bite down on her own hand to keep from screaming. Everyone cowered low to the ground, waiting to see if the footsteps would fade away.
But they didn’t. Slowly, with growing horror, Rose listened as the trapdoor creaked slowly open.
Screaming like a wild animal, she ran for the open gap in the door, dodging past the clumsy gasp of the Roboman.
She could have made it, and she almost did. Rose could see her frame outlined by stars for an instant, dared to allow herself to hope –and then a second Roboman loomed out of the shadows, snagging her by her black hair as she dashed for freedom.
Rose felt the familiar lump in her throat. Sheree was fighting them, of course, but there was never any chance of her getting away. Robomen are a good deal stronger than ordinary people –especially ordinary people living on whatever they can find.
With a last despairing scream, she fainted in their arms, face as pale as death.
Rose didn’t waste any more time. Snatching up her sewing, she stuffed it in her pocket as she ran, thanking whatever deity watched over Survivors that she’d thought to check for a back door.
Already, the dead, dry sound of Roboman feet could be heard on the stairs, but Rose had no time to look.
“Come on!” she barked, flinging open the small panel, and beginning her crawl through the tunnel.
She heard Midge give a cry of pain as she clambered in behind her, and Anthony – no, Anthony wasn’t there.
Rose froze for an instant as a deeper male scream rang through the air from the entrance. They had him too.
Rose forced herself to keep going, even as she felt the walls scraping her sides tightly as she crawled. She heard Midge close behind her, swearing softly under her breath, but neither of them stopped. There would be time for grief later.
Quickly, Rose pushed through the last metre. She could see a faint beam of moonlight from the opening –and then she was through.
“Come on!” she hissed again. Pulling the last of her body from the hole, she grabbed Midge by the shoulders, almost yanking her upwards as she desperately scanned the horizon for somewhere more sheltered.
They were still too late. Two Robomen grabbed them from behind, before Midge had even straightened out properly.
Rose felt a surge of blind panic seize her. She could hear Midge struggling beside her, but she barely noticed. Her response was instinctive, the frantic desperation of a penned animal. She kicked at the Roboman’s legs, raking her nails across its face, kneeing it in the stomach. . .
In desperation, she suddenly kicked savagely at its groin.
The Roboman grunted in shock pain, and dropped her. So it had been a man, once.
Staggering, Rose backed away from the Roboman, forcing herself by sheer willpower not to lose her footing on the loose shale as she staggered from the energy of her release.
A second Roboman had joined the first now, and both reached out long, inhuman talons to grab her. She noticed dully that one still carried Midge, slung over his shoulder like a sack of carrion meat.
Slowly, they advanced, arms outstretched to snatch at her, as she kept backing away from their greedy fingers and soulless eyes.
She felt herself stop abruptly though, as her heel touched the flat of a wall. She was trapped.
She watched helplessly as the two emotionless human-like robots advanced on her.
Their hands reached out for her, and Rose shut her eyes, feeling a sudden apathy sweep her system, like a mouse caught between the paws of an enormous cat. There was no where she could run to –she waited for them to seize her.
Suddenly, she felt someone grip her hand. Her eyes flew open in mingled alarm, dread and surprise.
Her head flashed sideways, and she found herself staring into a pair of shockingly blue eyes, and hearing a voice.