It had been three days since she’d last seen a Dalek. Three days since she’d notched another kill into the barrel of her gun. It was too long. She was starting to feel twitchy. What were they up to?
The Dalek patrols had been sporadic of late, as though they were no longer bothering with the outlying ruins. They were massing in the city, corralling any surviving humans they found and shepherding them there, too. Their plans had changed. Something new was happening.
Maybe she’d have to think about moving again. And just when she was starting to get comfortable, too.
Cinder lay on her belly in the dust and the dirt, perfectly still, surveying the road below the shallow escarpment. She’d heard that a Dalek patrol was coming this way, but that had been over an hour ago. Had one of the other resistance cells taken them out already? That seemed unlikely. If they had, she’d be aware of it by now. A message would have buzzed over the comm-link. No, the likelihood was that the Daleks had encountered another group of survivors and were processing them for enslavement, or else ‘exterminating’ them—or, as she preferred to call it, murdering
them on the spot. Cinder clutched her weapon just a little harder, feeling a spark of anger at the thought. If they did come this way . . .
She brushed her fringe from her eyes. She had a bright shock of auburn hair, cut in a ragged mop around her shoulders. It was this that had originally earned her the name ‘Cinder’. Well, that and the fact she’d been found in the still-burning ruins of her homestead, the only thing left alive after the Daleks had passed through.
It seemed so long ago now, when the planet had burned. When they had all
burned. Cinder had watched as every one of the worlds in the Spiral had burst into candescence, lighting up the sky above Moldox; a twisting helix of flaming orbs, a whorl of newly christened stars.
She’d been a child, then, little more than a scrap of a thing. Yet even at that early age she had known what the fire in the skies heralded for her and her kind: the Daleks had come. All hope was lost.Moldox had fallen soon after, and life—if you could even call it that—had never been the same again.
Her family died in the first days of the invasion, incinerated by a Dalek patrol as they tried to flee for cover. Cinder survived by hiding in an overturned metal dustbin, peering out through a tiny rust hole at the carnage going on all around her, scared to so much as breathe. It took almost a year before she felt safe enough to even make another sound.
Days later, confused and traumatised, she’d been found wandering amongst the wreckage of her former homestead and was taken in by a roaming band of resistance fighters. This was not, however, an act of kindness on the part of her fellow humans, but simply a means to an end: they needed a child amongst their ranks to help set traps for the Daleks, to sneak and scurry into the small places where the Daleks couldn’t follow. She’d spent the next fourteen years learning how to fight, how to eke out an existence in the ruins, and growing angrier at every passing day.
Everything she’d done since—everything
—had been fuelled by that burning fury; that desire for revenge.
She knew the years of living hand to mouth had not served her well—she was thin, despite being muscular; her skin was pale and perpetually streaked in dirt, and whenever she found the time to look in a broken mirror or shattered pane of glass, all she saw staring back at her was the pain and regret in her dark, olive eyes. This, however, was her life now: surviving day to day by scavenging food, and hunting Daleks whenever the opportunity arose.
All the while, out in the universe, the war between the Time Lords and the Daleks rolled on regardless, tearing up all of time and space in its wake.
Cinder had heard it said that in simple, linear terms, the war had been going on for over four hundred years. This, of course, was an untruth, or at least an irrelevance; the temporal war zones had permeated so far and so deep into the very structure of the universe that the conflict had—
quite literally—been raging for eternity. There was no epoch that remained unscathed, uncontested, no history that had not been rewritten.
To many it had come to be known, perhaps ironically, as the Great Time War. To Cinder, it was simply Hell.
She shifted her weight from one elbow to the other, all the time keeping her eyes on the cracked asphalt road, watching for signs; waiting. They would come soon, she was sure of it. Earlier that day she’d destroyed another of their transponders, and the patrol that the others had spotted must have been despatched to investigate. The Daleks were nothing if not predictable.
She scanned the row of jagged, broken buildings lining the opposite side of the road, looking for Finch. It was his turn to draw the Dalek fire while she took them out from behind. She couldn’t see him amongst the ruins. Good. That meant he was keeping his head down. She’d hate it if anything happened to him. He was one of the good ones. She might even go as far as calling him a friend.
The fronts of the shattered buildings all along the roadside were blackened and splintered; the result of both the Dalek energy rays and the incendiary bombs used by the human defence forces as they’d tried to hold the invaders at bay. Ultimately, they’d failed in the face of overwhelming odds and an unflinching, uncaring enemy. The Daleks were utterly relentless, and within days the entire planet had been reduced to a smouldering ruin.
Cinder could barely remember a time before the Daleks had come to Moldox. She had vague, impressionistic memories of gleaming spires and sprawling cities, of wild forests and skies overflowing with scudding transport ships. Here, in the Tantalus Spiral, humans had achieved their zenith, colonising a vast corkscrew of worlds surrounding an immense, ghostly structure in space—the Tantalus Eye. It glared down at her now, balefully studying the events unfolding below.
It must have borne witness to some horrors in the last decade and a half, she considered. Moldox had once been majestic, but now it was nothing but a dying world, miserably clinging on to the last vestiges of life.
There was a noise from the road below. Cinder pressed herself even deeper into the dirt and scrabbled forward a few inches, peering over the lip of the escarpment in order to see a little further along the road. The strap of her backpack was digging uncomfortably into her shoulder, but she ignored it.
The Daleks were finally coming, just as she’d anticipated. Her pulse quickened. She squinted, trying to discern their numbers. She could make out five distinct shapes, although her heart sank as they drew closer, and her view of them resolved.Only one of them was a Dalek, hovering at the back of the small group as if herding the others on. Its bronze casing glinted in the waning afternoon sun, and its eyestalk swivelled from side to side, surveying the path ahead.
The rest of them were Kaled mutants, Daleks of a kind, but twisted into new, disturbing forms by Time Lord interference. These were Skaro Degradations, the result of Time Lord efforts to re-engineer Dalek history, to toy with the evolution of their origin species, probably in an attempt to sidestep the development of the Dalek race altogether. The results had been catastrophic, however, and in every permutation of reality, in every single possibility
, the Daleks had asserted themselves. They were not to be stopped. Whichever way Cinder looked at it, it seemed the universe wanted
Many of these Degradations were unstable—unpredictable—which, to Cinder’s mind, made them even more dangerous than the Daleks. And now they were being pressed into service here on Moldox.
Copyright © 2014 by George Mann. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.