Act I, scene iii

-~- Oswin Oswald -~-

Day 363.

The terror continues. Also, made another soufflé. Very nearly. Checked defences: they came again last night. Always at night. Maybe they're vampires. And it's mum's birthday. Happy birthday mum.

I made you a soufflé but it was too beautiful to live.

The strains of 'L'amour est un oiseau rebelle' drifted through the air.

Oswin Oswald sighed with frustration as she opened her oven and found that her attempts at a soufflé had once again come to nothing. She lifted the ceramic pot from the oven, her hands protected by a pair of oversized and overstuffed oven mitts. With a bump from her hip, she slammed the oven door closed and tipped the scorched contents of the pot into the recycler.

At least her cramped living space would smell of baking for the rest of the day. Taking off her apron, she folded it up and put it on the counter. She turned to the only door leading into the chamber, a circular hatchway, and noted with horror that one of the quadanium steel bars she'd bolted across it had come loose.

Oswin had spent almost a year in this same space, barely ten metres by ten metres, and had made it her own. Not bad, she thought, for a standard-issue escape pod.

She'd planted a small hydroponic garden from the pod's stores, and had strung up a hammock to sleep on. The pod, designed to carry high-paying passengers, had come with a fully stocked larder and kitchen, as well as a few genetically engineered plants that served as the most efficient atmospheric scrubbers thus far designed by humankind, a completely operational entertainment and information system powered by a nuclear battery that was meant to last forever.

She'd long since ditched her white uniform, instead wearing one of the dresses she'd found in a duffel bag that had been left on board, and had taken to tinkering with the pod's systems in an attempt to get a message off-world.

Walking over to the hatch, she used a multi-tool from her utility belt to hammer the quadanium bar back into place, and then added another from the small pile she kept near the door. The quadanium, originally meant to serve as support struts for the erection of an emergency shelter, served her far better in this capacity.

She shouldn't have been surprised to see it knocked loose honestly. They came every night, after all; they had for almost a year now. Sighing, she turned away from the door and went over the hammock. Sinking into it, she recorded a brief message for her log.

Three hundred and sixty three days into her isolation, she'd settled into a fairly comfortable routine.

And then they came.

They began their pounding against the escape pod's thick, shielded hull, their screeching voices piercing even the sound of the opera Oswin piped through the speakers from the entertainment system. She couldn't quite make out what they were saying, but she knew the gist of the message: surrender. Give up. Let us in.

Oswin Oswald wasn't having a bar of it.

She tucked the recording device back in its pouch on her belt, and took out the remote control for the entertainment system. Spinning the dial, she upped the volume and changed the track.

'Toreador, en garde', from the same opera as 'Rebelle', blared from the various hidden speakers, but even that glorious anthem wasn't enough to drown out the banging and screeching of the would-be intruders. She'd fought too hard and for too long to just roll over and give up now.

She shut her eyes and blocked her ears and waited for the Daleks to go away.

In the Dalek High Command, the Doctor was pacing back and forth. Darla and Hanna watched him expectantly, but their attentions paled in comparison to the way the Daleks were surveying his every move. He seemed to be considering every possible angle on the situation.

In an instant, he had calculated the distance between where he was standing and the TARDIS, counted the exact number of Daleks in the room and gotten a read on all the possible avenues of escape. He came to a conclusion immediately. He was stuck.

He found himself looking between Darla and Hanna, who was still standing beside the naked Dalek mutant, floating in its tank. Even if he could escape, there was no way he could leave the woman and her daughter to their death. Besides, the TARDIS was too well guarded. He'd need a miracle to get out of this.

Of course, the fact that the Daleks hadn't exterminated him yet was a good sign. That they needed help from their worst enemy, however, was not.

He straightened his bowtie, checked the watch on his wrist and squared his jaw.

"We have arrived!" announced a Dalek Supreme.

The Doctor took a moment to collect himself, to shove his fears and anxieties deep in the corners of his mind. "Arrived where?"

"Doctor," the mutant beckoned.

"The Time Commander will speak with you now," another Dalek Supreme ordered, and a pair of Drones scooted towards the Doctor, gunsticks aimed directly for his hearts.

The two herded him and Darla towards the mutant's tank, while Hanna was moved aside. The girl hadn't taken her eyes off her mother and was crying freely now. Darla plainly wanted to go to her daughter, but the Doctor stopped her with a look: they couldn't afford to provoke the Daleks, not at this point.

As the Doctor approached the tank, he got a good look at the mutant.

Its one eye, yellowed and bloodshot, seemed to see with more clarity than the Doctor would have liked. Its tentacles hung limply, withered and atrophied as though they hadn't been used in a long time. The brain that dominated its upper half was many times larger than the standard Dalek's.

"The Dalek Time Commander," the Doctor said, slightly awed by the creature. "Didn't think I'd ever meet you."

"What is the Time Commander?" Darla asked.

"Didn't all your money get you that piece of information?" the Doctor asked the woman, but continued before she could answer. "The Dalek Time Commander was a specially bred Dalek mutant, meant to be able to perceive the flux and flow of timelines. It was created to coordinate their actions across history."

Darla shuddered at the thought. The Daleks had been destructive enough over the duration of her lifetime, and the idea that they could spread their particular brand of chaos and death throughout history was unthinkable.

The Time Commander made a noise not unlike a cackle. "I have seen all time and space, Doctor."

The Doctor was put in mind of Dalek Caan, the last of the Cult of Skaro. This creature, however, had not reached the same conclusion Caan had. Where Caan had seen the totality of Dalek existence and decreed no more, the Time Commander had been created specificially to see all the Daleks had done and figure out how to do more of it.

Drawing himself up to his full height, the Doctor said "And what do you want with me?"

The Dalek Time Commander seemed to take pleasure in what it said next. "What do you know of the Dalek Asylum?"

The Doctor grimaced. "According to legend, you have a dumping ground. A planet where you lock up all the Daleks who go wrong. The battle-scarred, the insane, the ones even you can't control. It never made sense to me."

"Why not?"

"Because you'd just kill them," the Doctor said.

"It is offensive to us to extinguish such divine hatred," the Time Commander said with something like reverence, a cascade of bubbles running through its tank. "Does it surprise you to know the Daleks have a concept of beauty?"

The Doctor, his jaw slack with horror, stepped over to the tank and studied the mutant closely, meeting its eye. The mutant blinked languidly.

"I thought you'd run out of ways to make me sick," the Doctor said, his voice dripping with disdain. "You think hatred is beautiful."

He turned and took a few steps away.

"Perhaps that is why we have never been able to kill you," the Time Commander taunted.

A holographic projector whirred to life, and a vast spherical image appeared above the central platform. The Doctor and Darla turned to behold it. Though tinged blue, the hologram clearly depicted a snowbound planet, wrapped for the most part in a thick layer of white and grey and black cloudcover. What parts of the surface the Doctor could see were shrouded in snow and ice.

"The Asylum occupies the entire planet," the Time Commander explained. "Right to the core."

"How… how many Daleks are in there?" Darla asked, her voice shaking slightly.

"Unknown," a Dalek Supreme told them. "A count has not been made."

"Millions," the Time Commander supplied. "The Asylum is fully automated. All the Daleks are still alive. No supervision is required."

And that's when it hit the Doctor. Why they needed him here. He spun on the Dalek Time Commander, grinning in understanding. "You've lost control, haven't you?"

The Dalek's withered tentacles tightened.

"What do you mean?" Darla asked the Doctor, but he continued walking in a slow circle around the Time Commander. The Dalek Supremes that watched over the mutant followed him with their eyestalks and gunsticks.

"You left a whole bunch of insane, twisted Daleks on a planet by themselves," the Doctor said, shaking his head, "gave them an automated facility and hoped that they'd all be too broken to figure out how to turn it against you. But one of them has, hasn't it? One of them has found out how to escape."

There was a titter throughout the chamber, and the Doctor smiled grimly.

"This signal is being received from the very heart of the Asylum," one of the Dalek strategists supplied, its blue armour glinting in the light of the mutant's tank.

The Doctor was nearly deafened by the sound of an operatic anthem pouring through the auditorium's speakers. Hanna's hands flew to her ears, and Darla looked around in surprise.

"What is that?" she demanded.

"It's me," the Doctor said, surprised.

"Explain!" chorused the Supreme Daleks, a note of panic suffusing the word. "Explain!"

"How?" the Dalek Time Commander asked.

"On the triangle," the Doctor said, and mimed playing a triangle in time with the music. "I must have gotten buried in the mix. The song is from Carmen, by Georges Bizet. Lovely show. Someone's transmitting this."

He wandered over to a nearby console obviously designed to be used by the Daleks' plunger-like manipulator arms, deftly handling the hemispherical controls. Darla followed.

"Have you tried tracing back the signal and talking to them?" the Doctor asked, only to catch himself immediately when he was met by silence. "He asked the Daleks."

He twisted a few more controls.

"Hello? Carmen? Come in, come in. Come in Carmen!"

"Hello?" A tinny, surprised-sounding voice drifted back through the speaker system. At a guess, the Doctor would have said a young woman, human, in her mid-twenties. "Hello! Yes! Yes! Sorry. Do you read me?"

"Yes, reading you loud and clear," the Doctor said, injecting his voice with a false bravado. "Identify yourself and report your status."

"Are you real?" came the unexpected response. "Are you actually, properly real?"

The Doctor blinked. "Yep, confirmed. Actually, properly real."

"Oswin Oswald," the voice announced. "Junior entertainment manager, Starship Alaska. Current status: crashed and shipwrecked somewhere… not nice. Been here a year, rest of the crew missing, provisions good but keen to move on."

The Doctor noticed that another titter ran through the Daleks. "A year? Are you okay? Are you under attack?"

"Some local lifeforms," Oswin answered. "I've been keeping them out."

"Do you know what those lifeforms are?" the Doctor asked.

"I know a Dalek when I hear one, yeah," Oswin said, sounding glum.

The Doctor frowned. "What have you been doing on your own against the Daleks for a year?"

"Making soufflés," Oswin answered, somewhat facetiously.

The Doctor grinned, but before he could ask another question a Dalek Supreme roared "This conversation is irrelevant!"

"No, it isn't!" the Doctor answered, as the line was cut in a burst of static. He rounded on the Supreme that had interrupted him. "Because a starliner has crashed into your Asylum, and someone has gotten in. If someone can get in, that means someone can get out, and what's the bet that all those mad Daleks down there are planning exactly that?"

Darla sucked in a shocked breath.

"The Asylum must be cleansed," the Dalek Time Commander crooned.

"Then why is it still here? You have enough firepower on this ship to destroy the entire planet in an instant," the Doctor said, whirling on the horrific creature. He came up short. "Unless…"

"Unless what, Doctor?" Darla pressed.

"There's something down there you want," the Doctor said, horrified comprehension dawning on him. He provided a slow clap to underscore his next point. "Some new weapon. Some new development. Something that you need. And you're too afraid to go down there and get it yourself. So tell me, what do the Daleks do when they're too scared?"

"The Oncoming Storm will be deployed," the Dalek Strategists chorused.

The Doctor swallowed. "What?"

"You will be go to the Asylum, Doctor," the Time Commander said with something akin to glee. "You will retrieve what we desire."

"And why would I do that?"

If the Time Commander could have smiled, it would have at that moment. "Because if you don't, the girl will be killed."

Every Dalek on the platform turned and trained its gunstick on young Hanna.

"No!" Darla cried, and Hanna covered her face in her hands.

The Doctor surveyed the Time Commander with cold fury. "I'll do what you ask, but make no mistake. When this is over, I am coming for you. Do you hear me? I am coming for all of you!"

His words echoed through the chamber.

The Time Commander seemed unperturbed. "The gravity beam will convey you both close to the central holding facility of the Asylum."

The Doctor was taken aback. "Us both? Who both?"

"He means me, Doctor," Darla said.

The Doctor turned to her to find her shaking, her mouth a thin line and her already pale skin ashen. "No," he said to the Time Commander. "I refuse. I'm not going to put her in any more danger."

"It is known that the Doctor requires companions," the Time Commander told her. "She will function as your companion."

The Drones were back now, and the Doctor and Darla were forced from the Time Commander's pavilion towards the central platform. The hologram died away, and a brilliant white cone of pulsating energy appeared; a stable gravitic transmat corridor. The Supremes and Strategists all had their guns trained on Hanna, who cried out for her mother.

"Mum!" the little girl screamed.

"I'll be back for you, Hanna!" Darla shouted to her. "I promise!"

"This is your plan?" the Doctor roared at the Time Commander. "To hurl me down to a planet and hope I solve all your problems?"

The Daleks said nothing, and the Drones had nearly forced the Doctor and Darla into the corridor. The Doctor reached out and took the woman's hand, squeezing it tightly.

"Don't be scared," he told her, and looked her in the eyes. "We'll get through this, I promise. Just stick close to me and do as I say. We'll get Hanna back, I promise."

Darla nodded, her cheeks stained with fresh tears. "All right, Doctor. I'm so sorry about all of this."

The Doctor offered her a compassionate smile. "There was no way you could have known this was going to happen."

They were standing now at the threshold of the corridor. Its energy tugged at them, threatened to pull them inside and cast them down to the planet the Dalek ship was orbiting. The Drones nudged them forward, pressing their gunsticks into their backs.

"Geronimo!" the Doctor cried, and he and Darla took a running leap into the mouth of the corridor.

It pulled at them, whipped them this way and that. They tumbled end over end as unspeakable energies bore them aloft and drove them down, down, downwards towards the snowbound, Dalek-infested planet far below. It would have exhilarating were it now so monumentally terrifying.

"I'm upside down!" Darla screeched, but the Doctor held her hand tight.

"I've got you! I've got you!" he promised.

Then the whiteness of the corridor overwhelmed his senses and he lost consciousness for the second time that day.

A/N: so instead of the Ponds, the Doctor's companion for this adventure is Darla von Karlsen. Who isn't a Dalek zombie puppet... or rather, isn't a Dalek zombie puppet yet. I haven't included the Ponds because I think that a longer separation will make the reunion much stronger. They will be back! Besides, Darla serves as a nice thematic link: a mother separated from her child, like Amy, and she even has red hair.

I changed the parametres of the Daleks' mission for the Doctor, as well. Like, if the Daleks could send people through the forcefield, why didn't they just beam down a bomb? It makes more sense for them to want something on the planet that only the Doctor can get. They haven't told the Doctor what that is, though, and it'll become clear why. Also, there is a definite villain in this story, but more on that later. The Daleks in the Asylum, in the actual episode, didn't really do anything. In this story, they'll do loads.

Also, I changed the Dalek Prime Minister to the Dalek Time Commander... I hope it makes sense, given what I wrote in the last author's note, why I did that. Please review and let me know what you think so far!