Alpha And Omega

The War had been going on far longer than anyone remembered, so long in fact that no-one on Skaro remembered which side had started it or why. The Thals were quick to blame the Kaleds, but the Kaleds were just as quick - if not quicker - to blame the Thals. One thing was certain, though; there seemed to be no end in sight. Skaro had been left a wasteland as a result of the conflict between the two humanoid races which inhabited it, but still they fought on, neither side willing to back down first, both sides determined to wipe each other out.

This was the world into which Kelve, a young Kaled girl, had been born, a world virtually destroyed by war and contaminated by the chemical and nuclear weapons which had been used in the early days of the fighting. But that had been centuries ago; now, both sides had been reduced to using primitive weapons and ammunition was strictly rationed. Despite this, it seemed that Kelve's generation and their counterparts among the Thal youth were going to continue the endless cycle of destruction; her older brother, Vatton, had already been conscripted into the army. All male Kaleds had to serve in the military for at least a year; if they survived - and many of them did not - they could then decide if they wanted to stay on in the army or leave to pursue another career. Not that they were exactly spoilt for choice on this devastated world . . . But most of these young men, raised in a highly militaristic society, were more than willing to fight for what they firmly believed to be a "just cause".

As a female, Kelve's destiny was different. She would be expected to bear children, especially sons, so that the War against the Thals could continue for yet another generation. Yet another generation destined to fight and die in a conflict with no foreseeable end . . . But, with neither side willing to settle for anything less than the total extermination of their enemies, Kelve could not see how peace could ever be achieved. In the early days of the War, centuries before she was born, attempts had been made to get the Thal and Kaled leaders round the negotiating table to try and bring an end to the fighting. But these attempts had always ended in failure and, after a while, it became clear that there would be no swift conclusion to this War.

A War which had already lasted for a thousand years and, unless something was done to put a stop to it, looked set to continue for another thousand . . .

Kelve had gone to bed fully expecting the whole cycle of destruction to continue the next morning. Vatton, along with the other men in his unit, would be sent to fight the Thals over some patch of land that most people would have thought wasn't worth fighting over. Most people who didn't live on Skaro, that is. In the meantime, she and her younger brother and sister would, along with the other young Kaleds, spend the day listening to anti-Thal propaganda and hearing one of the retired Generals ranting about the "glories of the Kaled race". Kaled children were taught from an early age that their people had "right and justice" on their side, as well as being rigorously drilled to obey orders.

But, unknown to her and nearly every other Kaled, things were about to take a twist which would seal the fate of their race once and for all.

Kelve woke with a start when she heard the explosion. She was used to the sounds of war and it normally didn't bother her, but there was something different about this explosion. In fact, she could have sworn it had come from directly overhead. But the entire Kaled City was protected by a huge Dome and that had been reinforced with a substance that had the strength of thirty-foot thick reinforced concrete. As more explosions followed, Kelve told herself that there was nothing to worry about; all the Thals were doing by attacking the Dome was wasting ammunition.

Just then, however, her young brother and sister (Gedrin and Modar, who were ten and seven years old respectively) burst into her room, having also been woken by the explosions. Both children were clearly terrified by the noise and had instinctively sought reassurance from their older sister. "Kelve!" Gedrin cried, her grey eyes wide with fear. "What's happening?"

Kelve looked at the younger girl, then at the small boy. Though still only sixteen years old and not yet of age, she had been responsible for them since their mother died a few weeks earlier, their father having fallen defending the Kaled trenches against the Thals and Vatton currently being too busy with his military service. "I don't know," she said, feeling the room shake from another explosion. "But I think the Thals are attacking the Dome."

"But why?" demanded Modar. "They'll never break it."

Kelve was wondering the same thing herself - why would the Thals keep up such a sustained attack on the Kaled Dome when they couldn't hope to succeed? When the Dome had been reinforced, the Kaled army had fired all their most powerful missiles at it to demonstrate to the citizens that there was no way anything could get through the Dome now. Nothing, that is, except missiles containing a special substance which neutralised the Dome's protection. But the formula for that substance was a closely guarded secret, known only to a handful of the men who made up the Elite.

Among those men was Davros, the scientist who had developed the substance which protected the Dome. Kelve knew all about him; every Kaled did and there was certainly no mistaking him. From what she'd been told, he had been badly injured in an explosion when he was a young man and, ever since then, he had been dependent on a mobile life-support unit. But, even though his body was permanently crippled, Davros still had a brilliant scientific mind and, under his guidance, the Elite had made many scientific advances over the years.

Unfortunately, though Davros was a brilliant scientist, he was also completely ruthless, determined to see that his projects were completed at all costs. He was the leader of the Elite (a think-tank originally set up to create weapons to end the War but now dedicated to the survival of the Kaled race) and, though he had no official power within the Kaled government, he could, with the backing of Security Commander Nyder, who also acted as Davros's personal bodyguard, easily bully others into giving him whatever he wanted. Few dared to stand up to him and those who tried did not live long afterwards.

Kelve and her siblings knew nothing of Davros's pet project. He had taken living Kaled tissue and mutated it until all trace of its humanoid origins was lost, with the aim of finding out what the Kaleds would become after centuries of exposure to the mutagens which contaminated their planet. He had then devised a "travel machine", one modelled on his own life-support unit but covered with a dome and equipped with deadly weaponry, to allow the octopus-like creatures his people would one day become to move around. But, not content with that, he had begun tinkering with the genetic structure of the creatures, turning them from unpleasant but harmless mutants to monsters which killed without mercy and without compunction.

Countless ages later, the Time Lords of the planet Gallifrey had foreseen how much damage Davros's creatures, the Daleks, would ultimately cause. This threat was so serious that they had broken two of their most important laws and sent a renegade member of their own race (a man known only as the Doctor) to Skaro on a mission to avert the creation of the Daleks or, failing that, make sure they would not become such a menace. A mission in which he would ultimately fail . . . At a meeting with the Doctor and Harry, one of the Doctor's two human companions, the Kaled government had agreed to suspend Davros's experiments pending an investigation into their precise nature. But, though Davros had outwardly accepted the decision, he was determined to stop the investigation at all costs.

Including the lives of countless Kaled men, women and children . . .

But Kelve, Gedrin and Modar were unaware of this as they ran outside to see what was happening. The Dome had protected their City all their lives and they believed it would continue to do so. The Thals could attack it as much as they liked, but none of their missiles would get through the Kaleds' specially reinforced Dome . . .

A shocking site greeted the three young Kaleds; the Dome they had believed to be impregnable was beginning to weaken and its protective shielding was actually on fire. "Kelve!" Gedrin shouted, pointing to the area of the Dome directly above their living module. "The Dome's breaking up!" Kelve looked in the direction her sister was pointing, seconds before a missile came zooming towards the same part of the Dome. The siblings quickly looked away as the missile hit, exploding on impact and adding to the fire already burning on the Dome's surface. Kelve wondered what was happening, why the Dome which protected the City was failing. There was no way the Thals could have found out the secret of how to destroy it . . . Nevertheless, the fact that the Dome had even been damaged spoke for itself. If the attack continued for much longer, the Thals' missiles would begin to break through the Dome and do some serious damage.

Already, Kelve could see several other people who had also rushed outside and were staring aghast at the burning Dome, the Dome they had believed could never be breached. And, realising the helpless position they were in, a number of Kaleds were forgetting the strict discipline (reinforced with regular beatings) with which they had been raised and beginning to panic, ignoring shouts from their leader, Mogran, and others in authority that they should remain calm. In Kelve's case, however, the fact that she had Gedrin and Modar to consider forced her to conceal the fear she could feel rising within her. She pulled her brother and sister close to her and they stood rooted to the spot, watching helplessly as the Thals' missiles continued to rain down on the Dome.

No-one even considered trying to escape. And, even if they had, they would be no better off outside the Dome; the Wastelands outside were home to bands of Mutos, people who had been born deformed as a result of the radiation which poisoned Skaro. By law, any Kaled baby that was born "imperfect" had to be cast out into the Wastelands to ensure that only those born physically "perfect" remained in the City. Even if the deformity was mild enough to allow the child to live a normal life, the law still applied and any parents caught flouting it faced severe punishment, including compulsory sterilization for both of them. However, that hadn't happened in living memory; maintaining racial purity had long been an accepted creed of Kaled society, one which few dared to question. And, like their enemies, the Thals also cast out their deformed children, one of the few things the two races had in common.

The Mutos were not the only hazard outside the Dome; anyone who tried to take their chances in the Wastelands would also run the risk of running into a Thal patrol. And the members of that patrol would kill any Kaled they came across, unless they decided to use them as expendable labour. Kelve had never seen Thals up close and had rarely observed them from a distance, but she had heard rumours that they almost invariably killed on sight. She had been brought up with the idea that the Thals were completely without mercy and, trapped under the Kaled Dome as it continued to break apart under the assault from the Thals' missiles, she could easily believe it. The Thals must be aware that there were women and children - non-combatants - under the Dome, so . . .

Suddenly, another missile came flying towards the Dome. There was something different about this one; it was much bigger than those that had come before, the size of a rocket, and Kelve instinctively knew that it would cause major damage. Clearly, she realised with growing horror, the earlier missiles had been fired for the sole purpose of weakening the Dome by destroying its protective shielding and allowing the Thals to deliver their final, devastating blow, though she would never know how the Thals had learned the secret of how to destroy the Dome.

All around her, people were screaming, some making for the exit, even though there was no way they could escape from the Dome before it was hit. Others ran into shelters built before the Dome was reinforced, in a vain attempt to protect themselves from the holocaust to come. Several young children became separated from their parents in the confusion, but no-one paid them any heed. In a few short moments, the glories of the Kaled race, the rigid discipline . . . everything ceased to have any meaning.

Feeling her heart pounding in her chest, Kelve grabbed Gedrin and Modar by their hands. "Come on!" she said, her voice hoarse with fear. If they could just get into one of the shelters . . .

At that moment, however, the rocket hit, exploding with a force unseen on Skaro since the early days of the War. Kelve barely had time to tighten her grip on her siblings' hands before they and everyone else in the Kaled City were engulfed by a fire so fierce that it incinerated everything in its path within seconds. Less than a minute later, the City's entire population was dead, burnt to death by the fire contained in the Thals' rocket.

In their Bunker a few miles away, the men who made up the Kaled Elite had been watching the assault on their City on a monitor. Most of them had done so dispassionately, trained from early childhood not to let their emotions show, but Senior Researcher Ronson had stood wringing his hands throughout, thinking of his son, Nordan, and Jodin, the small granddaughter he had only seen once before he was declared an "unreliable element" and banned from the Kaled City. But, more than that, he had already incurred Davros's wrath by preventing the prototype Dalek from killing the Doctor, had helped the Doctor and Harry to escape from the Bunker . . . These, plus the fact that he was already seen as unreliable, meant he would be the first to be blamed for giving the Thals the secret formula. Ronson felt certain that Davros was the traitor in their midst - and Davros was the sort of person who looked for scapegoats.

Davros, meanwhile, was feeling the insane satisfaction felt by all despots when they get others to do their dirty work for them. He had convinced the Thals that committing genocide against his people was the only way peace could ever be achieved. In truth, his aims had been both to prevent the investigation into his Dalek project and provide himself with an excuse to use the Daleks against the Thals. He was completely without mercy, a trait he regarded as a weakness and which he planned to eliminate from the Daleks, and thought only of the absolute power his creations would give him. Nothing, and no-one, which stood in the way of that ambition would be allowed to live.

The Thals' attack had marked the end of the Kaled race. But it also marked the beginning of a nightmare which would, in time, threaten the whole of creation.