Outside the Thal city were people: raking the soil, taking readings with strange instruments, disassembling a wrecked vehicle for its components. Most seemed to be Thals, but some might have been Mutos, bundled in their layers of shabby grey robes. They watched as the aliens walked past, with indifferent or even hostile gazes. All three of them felt much better when they got away from the Dome, even though the landscape grew bleaker. There were no fungus around here, no plants: nothing but grey, burnt, and poisoned earth.
The Doctor walked with his head down, kicking at the clods of ash in passing. Sarah Jane felt the way he looked. Frustrated and defeated.
"Missile?" she said hopefully, at one point.
"Target," he said glumly, and went on.
Harry, who had been trailing gamely enough along behind them, couldn't make out what that cryptic exchange had meant. "What?" he asked.
Sarah explained. "I said Missile?, meaning, should we go see if we can take control of the Thal missile, and the Doctor said Target?, meaning where do we aim it once we have it? The Daleks and the Reflectionists, they're all over the place. There's no one target."
Harry thought this over, as the three of them negotiated a particularly rocky bit of path. "You got all that out of two words?" he said.
"Yes," said the Doctor. Then he pointed, and the three of them could see their destination ahead.
It was a stone pillar as thick around as the Doctor's chest, and half again his height. Atop it sat a figure in dark robes, as still as though it had grown there. Only a bit of wind fluttering its clothing showed that the figure was not also carved out of stone.
"Well? Are you satisfied with yourself?" the Doctor half-shouted as they approached the pillar. "Sending me here for nothing!"
"Is that a Time Lord?" asked Sarah, full of curiosity.
"No," said the figure, in a much too familiar voice. The hood was pushed back, and a solemn Reflectionist face looked down at them. The dark hair spilling over her shoulder marked her as one of the Kaled Reflectionists.
"Security Liaison, is that you? You're wearing a Security uniform," noted Sarah.
The woman on the pillar shrugged, and fingered her black sleeve. "There have been so many boy soldiers, there's uniforms available that fit. As you know." Sarah looked down a bit ruefully at her own borrowed clothes, wondering what Kaled youth they had originally been made for. Then she looked back, and caught the look of anguish on the other woman's face. Not just anguish, but agony.
"What's wrong?" Sarah asked.
"Wrong?" said Security Liaison. "Nothing is wrong. I am here to see you on your way, is all. To bring word to Davros that those who have sought to overthrow him have left. And to tell the Daleks that they can stop hunting you." She paused and smiled a tiny, pained smile. "The Daleks can be quite charmingly stubborn, you know."
"Stubborn?" said the Doctor incredulously. "The most vicious, monomaniacal creatures known through time and space, and you just call them stubborn?"
The Reflectionist woman tilted her head. "Their genes are very vicious, true. But the Kaled Elite handled their in vitro development with very little precision, it was no problem on our part to tamper with their chemical balances, causing some genes to become dominant, and some recessive. And then there's environment."
"Environment? For a Dalek?"
"Well yes, for the little ones. They're almost cute before they get put into their shells. We would take turns, because of the radiation exposure, going into the incubation room and playing with them. Sweet little things, all tentacles and ooze. We would give them little hobbyhorse rides on our feet, they loved that. They could spend hours bouncing up and down squeaking 'ikki-ikki-ikki'." Her shoulders slumped. "They never would let me do it though."
"So you help us escape the Bunker, and now we leave, is that the plan? But what if we don't want to go?" asked the Doctor.
"You do want to go." Security Liaison swayed on her pillar, then caught her balance. "After all you have seen here, how can you not want to go? These are hard times coming on Skaro: a race between technology and starvation, our calculations versus the winter cold. It will not be easy. It is not for dilettantes who aspire only to meddle and then dash away. Would any of you have the courage, the honour, to stay?"
Her hand lashed out, pointing. "Doctor Sullivan. Would you stay? We can offer you a lifetime of medical work."
Harry shivered. "A lifetime of work…no, I can't. I," he paused and frowned: his doctor's eyes had picked up something wrong in the Reflectionist woman's tottering. "I say, you aren't wounded yourself, are you?"
"No. And yes." She stopped and drew a deep breath. "I feel the pain that I was made for."
"The pain that you were made for." The Doctor paused, considering. "You were made for Davros, at least according to the personality wheel. Made for him. Mind, body and soul."
"My mind was stimulated in the tanks, extra growth promoted so that I would have a chance of keeping up with him. And sometimes I could, almost. My body," she ran her left hand up her right arm, "is a slightly undersized clone of Davros', with a chromosome flip to make me female. This body was created to provide spare parts for Davros. Which is why I could never go into the incubation room, or leave the Bunker: the danger of radiation damaging my organs that would be Davros' organs, in an emergency. But that is not why I suffer."
She took another deep breath. "I suffer now because I have bisected my soul, with considerable help from my sisters, and moved half of it into Davros' empty body, before the neural transfer. Because he does not believe in a soul, he and his Elite could not test for it. It is something that his instrumentation would never detect. All this time of being near Davros, following him, learning his moods and studying the wasteland where his soul should be: all of this was to change me, change my own soul. The soul graft must take without rejection, because when a body rejects its soul," she shuddered visibly even through the robe, "it is…unspeakable."
"How could Davros lose his soul?" asked Harry, wide-eyed at the thought.
"In the accident, some say sabotage, that made him the half a man he was - how else? He died in that accident. Died several times, in fact. Science and will brought him back - but not all of him. His body was so damaged that his soul fled, and could not return. Rather like trying to fit ten units of grain into a bag that only holds five."
"Does that mean that you have no soul?" asked Sarah, the last words rushing out. It was a horrific idea.
"No, I still have half. It will regrow, and hopefully I can nurse it along to make it a somewhat nicer soul. Davros seems to have taken to his new body smoothly enough, and he is already showing some shreds of decency within him, at least according to the audio portion of the broadcast I heard." Her head swayed as though she was too tired to nod properly. "I shall work with him, work to help heal and grow his soul. That is the only reason why I live."
"Of course. Nyder," said the Doctor. "Your people have decided to execute him, and you can't live without him." Sarah's breath hitched a bit at the Doctor's callous tone.
"Oh, I can live. I just will not enjoy it very much. I begged my sisters to give me work, rather than rest. Work will help dilute my pain." She gave a rueful grin. "Perhaps I should assign myself to the Homecoming Committee. The quest to find a new, whole copy of the Reflection pattern will be infinitely tedious and intense, the sort of thing that I could use to distract myself indefinitely."
"So there are other copies of your mind floating around out there?" said Harry, gesturing to the sky. "And you want to find, er, catch one?" These Reflectionists were the queerest lot of aliens that he'd ever seen - not that he'd seen all that many.
"Yes, Doctor Sullivan. But space is very large, and Skaro small. We can build attractors, set out bait as it were, but the labour required to build a proper antennae for a Reflection-focus is beyond us at this time. Perhaps in a few generations…"
"Too bad you can't use a Dome as an antenna," said Harry.
"What?" asked Security Liaison, lowering her eyebrows.
"Well, they sort of look like one of those big dish antennas, doesn't they? But they're not pointing up, so … maybe it's not a good idea."
With a swoosh of robes, Security Liaison was on the ground. "Harry Sullivan is a genius!" she exclaimed, and soundly bussed him on the mouth. Sarah Jane swallowed a laugh of surprise, and the Doctor looked very nonplussed.
"Well!" Harry said, startled, after she released him. She scuttled backwards and leaped up on the pillar with the disturbing fluidity of a cat. But now her face was alight, animated.
"We could! The planet is completely transparent to a Reflection energy shell; the orientation of the antenna does not matter! We could use the Domes themselves as a focus, and capture a pure copy of our original print! And with that we can…we can…" She looked down at the Doctor and smiled in awe. "We can do anything! Anything," she said, and her smile was suddenly glittering with menace. For a brief instant, Sarah thought that was what Nyder's smile might have looked like - if she had ever seen the man give a proper smile.
"It's no coincidence that the Reflectionists came to Skaro at this time, is it? To the very genesis of the Daleks. How did you find it, this exact moment in time and space?" asked the Doctor.
She turned her burning eyes on him. "We followed you, of course! The diversion of your transmat beam sent a trail blazing through half the galactic arm; if it hadn't been shifting in time as well as space, there would been a dozen races sniffing around here, trying to see what was so important. But they lost the trail in time, and in the shoals of cosmic dust."
"So," the Doctor cocked his head in thought, "if the Time Lords had not sent me, you would not have followed me-"
"And the Daleks would have risen from here and gone on to destroy all life in the Universe. But now we are here, and the Daleks shall learn from us and we from them. It will be interesting to see how they finally turn out, don't you think?" She blinked innocently.
The Doctor laughed. "Ha! The Time Lords and their talk of non-interference, and when they finally try it, they muck it up! How I'm going to laugh in their faces!" Then he seemed to pull himself together. "What about the Time Ring?"
Security Liaison smiled more naturally this time. "That is the true Time Ring, there on your arm. It's not the sort of artefact we care to tamper with. My apologies for the deception."
The Doctor reached up his sleeve, and pulled out the Ring. He looked at it, and then up at the dark figure sitting over them.
"I don't believe that bit about following the transmat beam, you know," he said, brows lowered. "I think someone sent you. I think you were tipped off. How else would you recognise what the Time Ring was, even down to knowing its name? And I will find out who did it, someday." His voice was suddenly sharp with menace.
Security Liaison thought to herself that it would be quite a shock to the Doctor if he ever did find out who had sent them. Aloud she said, "What is done is done, Doctor. You and your companions should leave now, and not plan on revisiting Skaro. We, the Daleks and the Kaleds and the Thals and the Reflectionists, we have work to do, great and grand works, and your interference is not welcome." She drew her head back into her hood, and sat silently.
The Doctor gestured his companions closer. "All hands on the Time Ring," he said, and held it out. Harry and Sarah grasped the band of metal, and all three of them immediately felt a spinning, churning sensation, as though the world was whirling round and round them.
"But have we done what we came here to do?" said Sarah, half-shouting as she felt Skaro start to fade away.
The Doctor's reply seemed to echo, as the three of them whirled through space. "I don't know, Sarah. I don't know if good or evil will come of this. Only Time will tell." And they were gone.
Back on Skaro, Security Liaison pushed back her hood and looked up into the empty sky. In the very centre of her was pain: a burning hole where half her soul had been. Everything else in her, everything that was not that emptiness or that pain, wanted to run back to the Kaled Bunker, to throw herself between Nyder and his fate. But it would do no good. No good at all. It was too late already.
Her lower lip trembled as she held back tears. She had good news for her sisters, a clever way to find a new copy of the Reflection. All was well: with the Kaleds, with Davros, with the Daleks. Even with the Thals. She should remember that. She should focus on their happiness, and how much greater and more important it was than the miserable death of one Kaled sociopath, who was beyond all saving. But she wanted to save him. She did.
She had thought of so many clever arguments, so many reasons why he should be allowed to live, but the decision of the many had been final.
Deep inside her mind, where she did not share her thoughts with her sisters, she had made plans, traitorous plans. She had even cast covetous thoughts upon the Time Ring itself. It was unlikely to have been keyed specifically to all three of the travellers, because if one or both of the Doctor's companions died, the Time Lords would not want to strand their agent here. It was probably meant for three: the Doctor, and two others.
Rather than the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry leaving Skaro, perhaps it could have been the Doctor, Nyder and herself. But what then? She knew that the Time Ring would take them to the TARDIS, but she was doubtful that Nyder, even with her help, would be able to wrest control of that fabulous time-travelling machine from the Doctor. Even if they did, wouldn't Nyder insist on returning to Skaro, to give this device to his master? The Reflectionists would be waiting for him. No, it would not have worked. There was no way she could save him.
She would have given herself, her life and more, to save him. She wanted to save him.
She had wanted to save him. Past tense. Nyder was past all saving now.
Despite that, she whispered to herself, "There are so many devils, let there be one more!"
# # #
In the holding cell, they had brought Commander Nyder hot water, a razor, and a comb. Plus his boots, a fresh uniform, and his medal. Everything a soldier would need for a formal occasion. Like his execution.
Nyder had carefully dressed, shaved himself scrupulously and combed his hair. He'd even spared a bit of hot water to bring his boots to the closest he could get to a gloss. He would show these scum how a member of the Elite went to his death - with nobility.
This of course had not prevented him from disassembling the razor and attempting an assault on the guard who came for him; the guard had not come alone, and Nyder was bundled out of his cell still a prisoner.
They led him through the Bunker, handcuffed. At every turn he expected to be met by a pack of women, needles and teeth bared. He remembered how they had torn apart Nenno, one bit at a time, as he screamed and screamed: what would they do to someone who had actually killed one of them? But he was taken through the Bunker and out the main entrance without incident.
Outside, there was a platform of stone and iron bars, which Nyder didn't like the looks of at all. And next to it, sitting on an undressed stone block, was a familiar woman with long black hair, wearing a heavy red robe and looking through a box of papers. As the guards and their prisoner came up, she turned to look at Nyder. She had no face.
She nodded at the guards, and they seated Nyder on a stone block across from her and withdrew. Nyder looked again; the woman wore a smooth red mask of either cloth or wire mesh that covered her face completely, leaving an unsettling blank without eye or mouth holes.
"Security Liaison?" he guessed. Behind them both, the guards were opening up boxes of papers and dumping them over the structure, onto a grid of heavy pipes that was held up by the stone sides.
"No, we have not met. My title is Executioner."
Nyder paused, then recovered. "And what is this?" he said with most of his usual hauteur, while gesturing to the papers with his bound hands.
"Well, this is the collection of records of all the people you've had interrogated, tortured and killed over the years. It's quite a pile of paper and to be honest, Commander Nyder, I hate to waste it - I'd rather recycle it. But instead we're going to set it on fire. And throw you in."
Executioner picked up the box of papers beside her and shook it over the side of the firepit. The layer of papers was almost a third of a metre thick in places, supported by the iron bars. While the guards prodded the papers into an even layer with long metal poles, the woman rose and stood between them and Nyder, looking down at him. He stared straight ahead as he spoke, not even bothering to try and catch the eyes of the guards and see if they would help him.
"I always thought there would be people…a public trial, crowds at my execution. Standing at Davros' side through the worst that the universe could throw at him. Something spectacular, something magnificent…"
The woman in the mask shrugged. "You owe us a death; we are here to collect it. That's all. And this way, your memories die with you."
Data retrieval from a charred skull was apparently beyond even the Reflectionists' skills. Nyder tried to decide if that was bad or good. He found that he could not. He'd been willing to die, once, to keep his self intact. Now that death was here, he thought it didn't really matter if there would be some copy of him who went on afterwards - or not. He had gone through too much, too fast: he felt like he had already burned out everything that was left in him.
Executioner leaned down and picked up a small beaker of colourless fluid. Nyder could have smashed her down and made a break for it; instead he just kept looking ahead. Standing now, she grabbed Nyder's chin and forced him to look up at her masked face. Once she was certain she had his attention, Executioner held up the beaker.
"This is nyarenta. If you drink it now, you won't feel the flames. I promise."
Nyder just stared at her.
"Do you want it?" she demanded.
"Did Davros order you to give me that?" he demanded in reply.
"No," she said. And waited.
And at last, Nyder bent his head. He gestured for the glass, his throat suddenly too thick to speak.
His hands fumbled until she held the glass to his lips. He swallowed the last, and she tossed the beaker over her shoulder; it rolled over the papers, then through the grating to where torches were even now setting the papers alight. The tinkle of the breaking glass could be heard over the growing ruffling of flames.
The guards came for Nyder then, and he stood, the drug already making his limbs go numb. But they wouldn't have to drag him, he swore to himself; he'd walk on his own two feet. And he would not scream.
"Goodbye," Executioner said.
Nyder was cold as the guards removed his handcuffs; he was grateful for the cold.
"Face up or face down?" asked one guard.
"Face up," came a woman's voice, from far away. The guards casually picked Nyder up by waist and shoulder and heaved him onto the burning pile of paper.
Nyder stared up at the sky and felt the faint sting of a flame as it licked past his ear, then nothing. The faces of his victims stared up at the sky along with him, pictures of broken faces, scared faces, dead faces, his face. The sky seemed very bright now, and the air thick. The cold was creeping in, freezing his heart and his spine and his marrow and the sky was all light now. He tried to close his eyes, to move, but there was nothing, no eyes, no . body . . . nothing . . . . but . . . . . .light . . . . . . . .
Executioner was watching from the edge of the firepit. Carefully holding the edge of her robe out of the flames, she waved her red-gloved hand in front of the Commander's still face; there was no reaction. She told the guards, "All right, pull him out now."
The guards efficiently used their long metal poles to shove the prisoner into reach and then out of the fire. There really wasn't much damage done; he'd been lying on the thickest part of the papers, and had little more than scorches. After his smouldering hair was roughly blotted with a wet towel, the guards looked to Executioner for instructions.
She put her head to Nyder's chest and listened to the thumping of his heart for a moment. "Take him to the Dome. Make certain that no one sees him."
Commander Nyder was rolled drugged and unconscious onto a stretcher. A gas mask was clapped over his face to disguise him, and a rain cloak draped over his slack limbs. No glorious trial, and not even a glorious death for him: there was work that he might be needed for, that's all.
They took him away. Executioner stayed behind, absently stirring the fire.
# # #
This story is part of a series called Damnatio Memoriae; please email the author if you would like a link to the series page on whofic dot com.
Thank to the cast, crew, & creators of the original "Genesis of the Daleks" for creating a classic and inspirational episode! I do hope that none of them are planning on ambushing me with brass knuckles, spider Daleks, or baseball bats, either now or in the Afterlife. Mine is but a shadow of homage to the original.
I should apologise to the hypothetical BBC budgeting office; any monies I might have saved by not building the Thal rocket set (from the original programme) have been more than swallowed up by this story's length (Eight episodes? Ten?). In my defence, I point out that with the judicious use of gas masks, dark shadows and reverse angles, all of the Reflectionist roles (female) can be covered by one actress, plus several body doubles of the same height and build wearing suitable wigs.
(Although that one actress had better have vocal cords of brass, as she will be looping a lot of dialogue!)
Chapter 7 - To help Davros recognise her, Security Liaison mimes shaving her own face, because that is when most men study their faces closely; and even if Davros no longer needs to shave or be shaved, he would remember.
Chapter 12 - The nursery rhyme 'This little toesie got extra rations, This little toesie gnawed on a bone' rather strongly suggests that sometimes Kaleds do not wait for their dead to be turned into food pills before eating them.
Chapter 14 - A very in-joke here; actor Dennis Chinnery, who plays Gharman, is an accomplished artist.
Chapter 15 - The super-weapon that the Doctor is describing is solaronite, from the film "Plan 9 from Outer Space."
Chapter 21 - "There are so many devils" - Security Liaison is quoting the story 'Teibele and Her Demon' by Isaac Bashevis Singer.