Sand. That was all that Delta Omicron had to offer. Nothing else, just sand. That was it. Sand. Grey particles of dust from horizon to horizon. It was a world that even the colonists, desperate people who would do anything to get away from the overcrowded cities, had turned down flat. It was a world that no-one had wanted, a barren desolate wasteland that had no attractions. But now there was nowhere else to go. A growing human population, desperate for space, with options fast running out, had no other choice. A party of colonists had, reluctantly, gone to Delta Omicron.
For a while, things hadn't been that bad. Then, they found they weren't alone.
It had been a routine tour of duty. Nothing much had happened. But then they were deep in Earth controlled space. If anything was going to happen, it wouldn't happen here. The other spiral arm perhaps, the gamma quadrant probably, but here...
Nothing ever happened here. Even the disastrous quirks of nature happened elsewhere. So when Earthforce central sent a priority blank message, it tend to get the attention.
'Admiral,' said Captain Gardener leaning forward, anxious to find out what this message was. Whatever it was, it wasn't good.
'Captain Gardener, your ship is to change course and make best possible speed for Delta Omicron.'
'Delta Omicron? That's a bit out of our way isn't it? That's the normal patrol route for...' he paused, trying to remember the name of the ship that had been assigned to that area, and finally giving up and looking down at the computer terminal on his desk, '...the Sun Runner, isn't it?'
'Indeed, Captain. But something has come up. We have a situation on our hands. You will rendezvous with the Sun Runner, the griffin and the Dark Phoenix. The Draconians will also be sending some ships.'
'What? Why? What is going on?'
'The colony on Delta Omicron is under attack.'
'Under attack? Delta Omicron?' If it hadn't been the Admiral, he would have suspected that this was a joke. 'Why would anyone want to attack Delta Omicron? There isn't anything there.' A nasty suspicion began to form in his mind. For such a large force to be sent, something big must be going on. For the Draconians to get involved, it must be something very, very big. What could it possibly be?
The Cybermen had been pegged back to the Gamma Quadrant, and had almost disappeared. The Ice Warriors, despite the problems, weren't likely to precipitate a war by attacking somewhere like Delta Omicron. It couldn't be the Draconians. Who could it be? He dragged himself back to what the Admiral was saying.
'We have no idea why Captain. We just know that it was attacked.'
'By who?' Gardener asked. The Admiral paused, almost as if he didn't believe what was going to say next. Finally, he took a breath, steadied himself and said:
The camp was deserted. The only sound was the wind, the only movement that of the flotsam and jetsam in the turbulent air. The people had left here in a hurry, leaving behind everything that couldn't immediately be carried. Boxes and crates of belongings, food concentrates, children's dolls, all had been left behind ni a blind headlong rush to escape.
The wind picked up, blowing over a few more crates and sending a bit more litter tumbling to the ground. The camp fell that little bit further into ruin.
'Interesting,' said the Doctor. looking at the picture on the scanner screen. 'The whole place is deserted.' He turned back towards the console and started fiddling, turning the dials and staring intently at the readouts. 'This whole place has been evacuated. I wonder why? Atmosphere's normal, no unusual seismic activity...' The Doctor turned back to the screen, an expression of concern on his face. 'This is a mystery. I wonder what happened?'
'Maybe they did not like the place.' said Leela, looking up from cleaning her knife. The Doctor turned back to look at her.
'No. It's definitely something else. Humans can't afford to just abandon a colony.'
'The Galaxy is rapidly running out of space. If they set up a colony they will stay with it. They don't just abandon it.' The Doctor reached across and opened the door. 'I'm going to have a look.' He jammed his hat on his head and set off. Leela put the knife away. Then with a glance at the scanner, she followed.
'Daleks?' said Anderson, looking directly at Captain Gardener. 'That's not possible. The Daleks were last seen in the Butarin system, which is in the Zeta Quadrant. There is no way they could get all the way from there to Delta Omicron without tripping some sort of warning system.'
'Apparently they have,' said the Captain, leaning forward, his whole expression, that while he agreed with her scepticism, he had to accept the possibility that it was true.
'Earthforce command think that they may have developed wormhole technology. If they have...' He tailed off, his unfinished thought hanging in the air like some sort of dark cloud. If Daleks could manipulate wormholes nowhere would be safe. A whole battle fleet could just materialise next to Earth. With that technology the Daleks would be unstoppable. They would be able to rebuild their empire. They would be able to expand it. It could be the end of everything.
'It's impossible,' said the Chief of Engineering from her position at the far end of the table. 'We've been working on the technology ourselves but haven't really got anywhere. Daleks are clever buggers, they could have done it.'
'Even if we assume that Daleks could have got there, we're still left with another problem.' said Anderson, leaning forward.
'Why would they go there? Delta Omicron is hardly the place I would choose to go. It makes no sense, it has no strategic value, no metals. Nothing. Just an out of the way world that wouldn't have been colonised if we weren't so desperate. Why go there? Why not go straight to Earth, or Draconia? Knock us out before we even know what hit us.'
'Good question,' said the Captain. 'Maybe the technology isn't completely. They're ironing out the bugs, and they went to Delta Omicron because they didn't think that anyone would be there.' He paused, thinking. There could be any number of reasons. Innumerable plans. Daleks were intelligent. Very, very intelligent.
'That would make sense,' said someone from the other end of the room. 'Then again it could be a trap. Get us to over-stretch ourselves. Draw all our forces to Delta Omicron then send a strike force to Earth.'
'Not going to work. They've pulled every other ship back.'
'Point is,' said someone else, 'does it matter why there are there? Surely we have to find out how they got there without tripping any of the alarm systems. If they can this deep into our space without us knowing, then we have a problem anyway.'
'Good point.' said the Captain, turning to his Chief Engineer. 'If the Daleks did use a wormhole, could we detect it?' She frowned as he asked the question. It was clear that she was giving the matter some thought.
'I think so. I will need to make some modifications to some of the sensors though. Are you giving this full priority?' He nodded.
'Well, If I take all the people off the recreation systems upgrade, two/three hours. Not too long.'
'Good.' He turned away, back to the rest of the people in the room. 'We're scheduled to rendezvous with the Griffin in three hours. Be ready.' There were mumbles of ascent.
The Doctor knelt and examined the ground. There was nothing here, something which he almost recognised, but it didn't seem right somehow. Putting it out of his mind, he stood and looked around. Out here, it was even clearer that people had left in a hurry. The odd half finished meal, the discarded personal items that a more organised and slower evacuation would have taken with it, all served to indicate that something had worried them greatly.
'Something is not right here,' said Leela suddenly from behind him. The Doctor didn't answer straight away, flipping his scarf back over his shoulder and looking around.
'I know. But what?' The Doctor reached into his pocket, and pulled out a crumpled brown paper bag. He looked at it for a second, frowned then shoved it back into his pocket. 'Licorice Allsorts.' He explained before pulling an identical bag from his other pocket. 'Jelly baby?' He then asked, shoving the bag under Leela's nose. Politely Leela took one of the sweets.
'You know, I'm convinced that I've seen somethng similar to this before.' He purposefully striding off in a seemingly random direction.
'Where are we going?' The Doctor stopped, and pointed at a large building in the distance.
'Incomming communication, sir.' said the Communications Officer suddenly, 'It's from the Solar Glacier.'
'The Solar Glacier? That's an Ice Warrior warship,' he paused, wondering whether or not he should take the transmission. Finally, he decided, at this stage he couldn't afford to worry about this particular rivalry. 'On screen.'
'Sir,' came the reply. The picture on the screen changed. The starscape vanished to be replaced by a dimly lit starship bridge. Even with the bad signal and the dim light it was obvious that this wasn't a human vessel. The bridge was very alien in design and construction, the product of a different mind and culture. His comparisons between the two ships and cultures abruptly trailed off as an Ice Lord came into view, the difference in demeanour marking him out just as much as the different design of the armour.
'Captain Gardener? I am Larn, commander of this ship. We wish to offer our assistance.' said the Ice Lord. The hissing that Gardener associated with the Ice Warriors wasn't present, something that took hin a few seconds to get used to.
'Thank you. Any help is appreciated. Do you know anything about what they could want?'
'No Captain. That is what we wish to find out. Possible Dalek incursion into this sector is of grave importance to the Ice Warriors. Perhaps even more so than to humans.'
'Perhaps. Very well. Your offer is gratefully accepted.'
'Thank you Commander. We shall see you at Delta Omicron.' With that, the transmission ceased.
'Well,' he said, more to reassure himself than anything else. 'At least that means we've got a bit more firepower.'
The building was a mess. Sand, having drifted in through the partially demolished wall, was everywhere. Bits of computer equipment, paper, odds and ends were scattered everywhere. The Doctor looked at shattered remains of a desk and then, very slowly, he picked something up from the floor.
'What is it?' asked Leela, hovering by his shoulder.
'For a second I thought...' He looked carefully at the object, studying it from a number of angles. Examining it carefully. Then he shrugged. 'No. It's just a paperweight.' The Doctor put the object back on the desk. As he did so, the desk gave an ominous creek and collapsed into a cloud of splinters.
'What is a paperweight?'
'Something that weighs down paper.' said the Doctor. 'Ah, this could be interesting.' he then said, picking up a piece of paper. Quickly he readit, devouring the information.
'What is it?' asked Leela, perched on the Doctor's shoulder once again.
'A mineral survey.'
'Is it interesting?'
'No, not really.' said the Doctor, screwing the paper up into a ball and throwing it away.
Space warped. A hole in reality appeared. For a second the raging maelstrom that was hyperspace was visible. Ships appeared. For a second they just hung there, doing nothing, almost as if they were getting bearings. Then, as one, they turned, and headed towards Delta Omicron.
'We shall penetrate the inner sanctum within the hour.'