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Crossroads

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"The right idea, in the right place, at the right time –that's all it takes," the Doctor once said. And indeed, on a godforsaken planet harbouring a devastated human colony, a daring decision would alter the course of history.


He woke up in a yellowish haziness.

That was impossible.

He'd felt himself die. Admittedly, the brain patterns persisted for a short time after death. Stasis and cellular regeneration were relatively simple and widespread technologies; assuming they had retrieved him fast enough, even a primitive species like the Latoshk human beings could probably have revived him, especially if they had salvaged parts of a Dalek life support system.

What was bordering upon sheer impossibility was that anyone would have cared to save him.

He tried to examine his surroundings. Everything looked distorted and blurry; he decided he had to be in a glass tank, floating in a warm fluid. Although he soon found out that a large part of his body was missing, he didn't feel pain.

His first idea was that the human beings wanted to use him as a test subject for experiments, possibly in order to develop a deadly virus like the Movellans had, a long time ago. But he felt healthy… at least, as healthy as a mutilated Dalek who had lost several limbs could feel.

"Ah, you've come round," a female voice said.

He could understand her words, which meant he was wired to his translation unit. He definitely wasn't in his casing, though.

"Lily will want a talk," she added.

Moments later, another woman spoke in harsh tones: "I'm Lillian Robertson. I'm in charge of the human colony on Latoshk since John Lambert's death in the last Dalek attack. I will ask questions and I expect straight answers. But first things first: Can you hear and understand me?"

"YES, I CAN HEAR AND UNDERSTAND YOU, LILLIAN ROBERTSON." So, the wiring to the speech synthesiser was functional too.

"Good. Are you the Dalek with which we dealt after the first attack on Latoshk?"

"YES."

"You personally didn't take part in the second attack, right? You were shot down by your own people before it even started."

"THAT IS CORRECT."

"Elaborate. Why did they shoot you down?"

"I SPOKE AGAINST THE ATTACK. DALEKS MUST NOT EXPRESS DOUBT OR CONTRADICT THEIR SUPERIORS."

"Yet you participated in the operation in the first place. You must have known it would imply trying to kill us."

"THAT WAS NOT PART OF OUR ORDERS. OUR MISSION WAS SOLELY TO RETRIEVE MORE CHRONILITE."

"You could have guessed."

He hesitated, hating to admit he'd made a mistake. "I… DID NOT THINK AHEAD. BUT SPEAKING UP EARLIER WOULD HAVE MADE NO DIFFERENCE. IT WOULD ONLY HAVE HASTENED MY DEATH."

She suddenly changed the subject: "What do you expect will happen if you don't return with chronilite?"

After another hesitation, he decided against lying: "THE DALEKS WILL DEEM YOU DANGEROUS AND WILL ENSURE YOUR EXTERMINATION."

"How? You already tried twice –and failed."

"I CANNOT KNOW IN ADVANCE WHAT WOULD BE DECIDED. THE MOST LIKELY TACTIC CONSISTS OF ENGINEERING A PLAGUE. EVEN EXPECTING IT WOULD GIVE YOU NO ADVANTAGE TO DEVELOP A CURE."

"Pretty much what I suspected," he heard her mutter. She went on aloud: "And assuming you do return with chronilite, are two successful missions enough for you, I mean you as an individual, to be put in charge the next time your kind needs more?"

"I DO NOT KNOW. IT DOES NOT DEPEND ON ME."

"But it is conceivable?"

"YES."

"Likely?"

"PROBABILITY CANNOT BE ESTIMATED."

"In any case, considering we have nearly wiped out your forces twice, will the Daleks secure a more steady supply by 'exterminating' us even if you return with chronilite?"

"NOT IF I REPORT YOU HAVE BEEN SUBJUGATED."

"We haven't. You would lie to your own people?"

"YES."

"Why?" she asked in a trailing voice that sounded extremely inquisitive –suspicious, even.

Again, he chose to state the truth, despite the insight it might give them into the current state of the Dalek empire: "THE FUTURE OF THE DALEK RACE MUST BE SECURED ABOVE ALL ELSE! FIGHTING AGAINST YOU STRAINS OUR RESOURCES. EVEN IF YOU ARE ERADICATED, OTHER HUMAN BEINGS WILL SEEK REVENGE OR TRY TO EVICT US FROM LATOSHK IN AN ATTEMPT TO WEAKEN OUR POSITIONS. REACHING AN AGREEMENT WITH YOU IS THE MOST EFFICIENT WAY TO OBTAIN THE CHRONILITE WE REQUIRE."

"Charming," acridly remarked the first woman he'd heard when he'd come to. "What a good reason to not wipe out an entire population."

"At least it's believable," Lillian Robertson replied. "Daleks are not even supposed to be willing to negotiate, but it is logical given what happened. And as for us, we have suffered way too many losses already. Even if we've managed to fight them off so far, the cost is too high. We can't go on forever; we have to look for an alternative. This particular Dalek might be just our best hope of saving what's left."

Most Daleks would have seen it as an opportunity to regain power over the local inhabitants and exterminate them as soon as the chance arose. But this one had already come a long way, and he saw it as a confirmation that Daleks could benefit from the willing help of lesser creatures. Even if he still found the perspective of cohabiting with alien life forms highly unpleasant, the Dalek empire wasn't strong enough to fight against the entire universe just yet.

And thus, events were set in motion.