Lakthos slithered out of the still-smoking rubble. The blast of rays had died down. They would only stop shooting when they thought no targets remained. He'd slowed his breathing and repressed his life signs for hours, holding still as whiskery things crawled across his face and suckled at his wounds.

Small reptiles flew at the edges of the parapets. The scavengers would wait for food to grow soft, and had enough cunning to recognize that any battle zone presented a danger to all bystanders, thal, dalek, or wild beast.

His lip twitched. He must fall into that category now. He'd abandoned the faith of his ancestors just as the first energy blasts turned a band of comrades into sacks of warm protein. The third batch of friends were nice, the ones he met during a supply raid when he was nine years old, but they never came close to the reckless courage of Jathel or the brilliant charm of Adror.

Could he ever consider himself a pure worshipper, with such genetic degredation? The muties didn't belong with the true choir of Thalkind. His slow metabolism and weak pulse had allowed him to evade detection before, and the lack of a blink reflex didn't hurt. The twisted knot of tissue on his back did hurt. More than one would-be friend left him behind, panting and shuddering as he tried to make due with the crude single lung and kidney he'd been born with.

The gravel crunched and settled as a pterosaur hopped closer. If it tried to sample him, he'd have to fight it off. That toothy beak carried a world of infections. That was okay. He didn't have to submit to the probing of carrion-eaters anymore. His attackers had gone.

He could see water, glimmering on the horizon. The mass of gravel and scrubland provided little hillocks and desiccated trees. They might give him some cover, and he was blessed with a blistered grey complexion that enhanced his camouflage. It might even be fresh, but it didn't matter much. Thirst would claim his life long before the major diseases and toxins became an issue.

The scavengers still circled high above. Some of them looked larger than they should, although it was hard to tell from this distance. Maybe thals and daleks weren't the only creatures mutating.

Lakthos rose to his feet and took two steps towards the distant spring. He dropped to the gravel pit seconds before he saw the blue bolts smite the sky or heard the familiar twang of energy weapons.

"Exterminate!"

Winged lizards fell from the sky in a rain of smoking meat. The daleks must be confident they had purged the area of life if they were taking pot-shots at harmless pterosaurs.

At seventeen, Lakthos was too old to feel really scared. His body poured forth alkaline sweat, but he could control his breathing and heart rate just fine, and no adrenaline pulsed through his nerves. If he worried every time a potential death threat came by, he'd go mad with terror or die of a heart rupture. Fear, like ammunition or food, was a resource he couldn't afford to squander.

"Enemy unit sighted! Species identity not confirmed!"

They couldn't be talking about him. If they were, they would kill him. Some other mutant would be relieved of life's precious burden. He prayed for their shriveled soul that this was a regular dalek patrol, and not some research expedition collecting specimens.

"Exterminate! Exterminate!" The chorus of cries rang out, screams of metallic hatred barely audible over the flapping of wings and blasts of lethal rays.

"Retreat! Retreat!"

Lakthos had never heard that cry before. Even when outnumbered twelve to one, the daleks would kill until destroyed. The festering bags of protoplasm squealed out "exterminate" with their last dying breathes.

"Maintain attack! Units seven and thirteen retreat! Inform supreme dalek! Other units, exterminate! Exter-"

The howl was long and beautiful, a song deep with rage and sorrow, in contrast to the shrill whining of the daleks. Part of it reminded him of a shothal lizard trilling to its young that he found with his first friends. His dad beat him for not killing the animals for the cook-pot, but he'd found it worthwhile. The sound also reminded him of an oncoming storm.

A shockwave lanced into the dalek forces. He couldn't see it from his position, but he felt the ground tremble and saw the purple light. Dalekanium armor shrieked as claws tore through it. Wet tissue tor and shredded. Something feasted.