Oh, my fingers! My arms! My legs! My everything! Argh...
Nightmare of Eden
She was far, far too late. Even as she felt the ground heavily impact with her ribs, her leg suddenly seemed to freeze.
For just a millionth of a second, there was no nothing. No pain, no feelings at all –then Rose felt her leg catch fire. Every single inch of her leg burned as though hot metal had been poured over it –her nerves screamed in agony, until every pin receptor in her body simply shut down.
Her world collapsed into ashes, and all Rose could do was fall with it.
What a bloody stupid way to die, she thought . . . and fell headfirst into the blackness.
“Rose, wake up. It’s the Doctor. Rose? Rose!”
Rose’s first thought was that, if this was the Afterlife, she wasn’t impressed. It smelled of ozone and burnt meat, and hadn’t done anything for the pain in her head. Furthermore, she could feel something poking her rather uncomfortably in her back.
She blinked blearily. If this was the Afterlife, she was suing.
Rose managed to get one eye open, but the throbbing in her head quickly dissuaded her from doing anything that rash.
“Doctor?” she croaked. Despite her body’s protests, she managed to winch an eyelid to half-mast. She could see the Doctor beside her, supporting her head with a look of concern on his face.
“Where I am?” she groaned. “No, I can’t believe I said that. Let me try again.”
The Doctor’s face lit up. “You’re alive!”
Rose opened her other eye, and reluctantly decided that he was probably right. Either that, on Earth wasn’t just the metaphorical hell Jenn had always called it.
“Yes, I think so,” she agreed woozily. Pieces of memory drifted through her head, like pieces of a slid-puzzle trying to fit themselves together.
Robomen . . . intruder alert . . . the Doctor . . .
With the sudden force of a hammer blow to the head, one particular memory slammed into her consciousness.
“The Dalek!” she gasped, head jerking up in alarm, but the Doctor shushed her reassuringly.
“It won’t be doing any more harm.”
Deciding to risk movement, Rose let her head roll sideways to take in the mess of rubble and . . . Dalek?!
Her eyes widened. What she saw was improbable, verging on the impossible. Dalekenium, or polycarbide, is one of the toughest metals known to man or alien –but he didn’t seem to have been aware of that fact.
The Dalek lay a few feet away, still partially covered in rubble. From what Rose could see, the bits that had merely been flattened by a wall were the lucky bits –the gun-stick had been completely severed at the base, and the eye-stalk lay in two separate pieces several feet away. There was what looked suspiciously like a fist-shaped imprint on the metal dome, with its twin lights smashed to fragments.
Rose’s eyes slowly returned to the Doctor.
“You did that?” she asked hollowly.
The Doctor sounded defensive. “I was angry.”
“Remind me not to get on your bad side.” Gritting her teeth, Rose forced herself into a sitting position.
Then she looked down, and realised she wasn’t getting any further without help.
Her right leg lay straight out from her body, and felt completely disconnected, like a boneless piece of meat someone had tied over her real leg for a practical joke.
Except it was her real leg. All along the outside of her thigh, the denim of her jeans was scorched, as though someone had held a hot poker to her leg until the fabric beneath it burst into flames. Underneath the ragged edges of the hole, there was a rich display of colours, ranging from charcoal black to an unusual shade of red.
For a second, Rose stared at it with a vague feeling of bewilderment. She was sure it hadn’t been like that a minute ago . . .
Then her brain suddenly caught up the distance to her eyes, and she felt herself dry retch at the sight of flesh –her flesh –seared with more shades of red than she had ever seen outside a sunset.
“Oh, Dalek,” she whispered, when she could speak. “I’ve really put my foot in it this time . . .”
“I’d say your whole leg,” the Doctor put in helpfully.
Rose didn’t hear him. “I was right,” she announced suddenly.
The Doctor looked up. “What?”
“This is a stupid way to die,” she decided, and passed out.
The Doctor sighed with relief. Rose was alive! Just why she was alive was a bit of mystery, though. Well, to be honest, it was more than that –it was an Agatha Christie all to itself, as far as mysteries went. No one could survive a full-blown extermination –so what was Rose doing with nothing less than a crashed-up leg?
He found, not entirely to his surprise, that he didn’t care. Rose was safe, and that was enough.
He looked down at her unconscious form, examining the burn with light, cool fingers. She had third and second degree burns, he judged, possible concussion from the fall and almost certain nerve trauma.
He quickly went over options in his mind. Even for Gallifreyan strength, she was too heavy to carry all the way to London, and he couldn’t leave her here. His best bet –and hers –was to rig up some sort of split for her, and help her back to her Community. He was sure she wouldn’t argue when she realised the options he was faced with.
For a nine-hundred year old Time Lord, the Doctor could be very naïve.
Rose could only watch as they dragged him away. No! she had to help, had to do something . . .needles drilling through his skin, wires pushing into his brain, had to help him, had to help, but she couldn’t move, couldn’t lift a finger . . .
“Help . . . me!”
The cry of pain ripped through her, as much her own as from the man in the chair.
She emerged from unconsciousness crying his name, a talisman to keep away the ghosts.
Instantly, the Doctor was there, calming her with gentle reassurances. “It’s all right Rose. I’m here.”
Rose sighed, slowly breathing out as she felt the nightmare retreat into the shadows of her mind. The sun was hot on her face –and her leg –and she already felt stupid for succumbing to the fear of her dream.
But her heart was still beating wildly, and her body sagged with relief.
It was just a dream, she insisted to herself. Nothing more.
“Nightmare?” the Doctor questioned cautiously, voice deliberately calm and soothing. For a moment, Rose was angry at him for thinking she needed soothing, but instantly felt ashamed of the emotion. She had called to him, not the other way around.
“Yeah,” she admitted. Without thinking, she decapitated a lone dandelion that was growing by her hand.
It’s odd, she reflected. They bomb the planet, enslave the population, kill most of the animals, but life doesn’t stop. The weeds still grow.
Only now . . . they don’t stop at the door.
“Want to talk about it?” he inquired softly.
“No.” That, never. It would be a cold frosty day in the Dalek furnaces before she told anyone that dream.
The Doctor seemed to sense when not to push it. Instead, he asked casually, “What do you think we should do about your leg?”
A corner of Rose’s lip lifted in what she used for a smile.
“Easy. Pick three or four fresh comfrey leaves about so big,” she demonstrated with her hands, “there’s a couple of bushes of the stuff about twenty feet that way. Mash it, extract the juices, and use it as a salve.”
The Doctor looked surprised, and she smiled –a proper smile this time, one that lifted both sides of her mouth, and reached her eyes.
“We’re not total barbarians, Doctor. Every Community has a garden of comfrey somewhere. We use it when someone gets stung; it speeds up cellular regeneration.”
Another unfamiliar word. “Stung?”
Rose gave him an odd look. “Didn’t you wonder why the Dalek didn’t kill me?”
The Doctor didn’t say anything, but a flicker passed over his face.
“It did cross my mind,” he admitted.
“They set their guns to stun when they’re on patrol around one of their Roboman’s hunting grounds,” she explained. ‘We’re more useful alive.”
The Doctor gestured to her leg, something angry lighting his eyes. “This is what stun does to you?”
Rose shrugged, not particularly bothered.
“It’s better than dying,” she pointed out. “People shot in the chest or head, even on stun, don’t usually get a chance to do it again. I got away lightly this time.”
The Doctor picked up on that with a feeling of unease. This time?
The Doctor tried to look nonchalant. “Um, about that, Rose. . . .”
Rose slowly got to her feet, favouring her good leg as she leant heavily on the Doctor. “Right,” she said gamely. “Let’s go.”
“Oh, no you don’t.” Rose glared at him, and in all his centuries of travel, the Doctor didn’t think a battalion of Ice Warriors scared him like that look. “You think you’re going to leave me back at the Community, while you go off and save the world. Do you seriously expect me to just sit on a nice, comfortable piece of rubble and wait for you to get back?! Fat chance!”
“Rose,” the Doctor protested, “I’ve traced my TA –police box. The Daleks have taken it to the London Construction Facility. You realise what that means?”
Rose shrugged, and then decided not to try anything like that until she was feeling a bit healthier. “More Daleks to kill,” she informed him, in the tone of a mother with a particularly dull child.
The Doctor tried to sound reasonable. “Look, you’re injured. I’ll help you back to your Community, and go on while you recuperate. There are plenty of places to hide –”
Rose retorted hotly, “I’m sick of hiding! I want to help!”
Suddenly, a crafty smile played over her lips, and the Doctor felt his nervousness increase. The last time he’d seen a smile like that, he’d been visiting the reigning dictator of three solar systems, right before the man decided to try something incredibly artistic involving the Doctor’s body and a chainsaw.
“If you don’t let me come,” Rose decided, “I’ll cry until you change your mind.”
The Doctor was stunned. “How could you . . .”
Rose gave him a wolfish smile. “Survival of the fittest, Doctor. You learn a number of useful skills trying to outlive the Daleks.”
The Doctor tried to leave her behind. Rassilon’s grey and hairy beard, how he tried. But as he walked, he could hear Rose’s forlorn wailings as she nursed her injured leg like an abandoned puppy.
A wolf pup, he thought ruefully, remembering the sharp smile she had given him. But he still couldn’t make himself leave her –even though he knew she was pulling more heart-strings than sense.
With grudging steps, he trudged back to where Rose still sat, fat salty tears running down her face like raindrops.
“Crocodile,” he accused, and felt somewhat abashed when his tone, which he meant to be disapproving, came as conspiratorial.
Rose blinked a few times, wiped her face, and smiled triumphantly. “It worked though. Come on, let’s go.”
The Doctor protested, “But you’re injured! Just wait, and I’ll make you a bandage of some kind.”
Carefully, Rose put down her foot. Her leg still felt disconnected, but at least the nerveless feeling blocked the pain. For now, anyway.
“There’s no time,” she argued. “The next Dalek patrol will be coming through here in about five minutes, less if they heard their fallen friend.”
She looked over the disabled Dalek with loathing.
The Doctor agreed reluctantly, “But only,” he warned, “if you tell me when it starts hurting.”
Rose smiled. “Of course,” she agreed, privately deciding it would be a frosty day in the Dalek smithies before she slowed them down by her own stupidity.
And so an unarmed Time Lord and an injured juvenile Terran started their journey towards the largest concentration of Daleks outside Skaro itself.
Well, if nothing else, you’ve got admit they had guts.
In the Earth the Doctor had known, the trip he was taking would have been a matter of hours –less, if he had been able to get his hands on Bessie or the TARDIS.
But this, as was growing increasingly apparent, was not the Earth the Doctor knew. The pavements were cracked and decayed after sixteen years of neglect and bombing, throwing up huge jagged peaks like some sort of concrete ocean.
In the beginning –when the humans had still been arrogant enough to hope –an effort had been made to maintain the roads, so that the rebellion would be able to move faster.
When it not only became apparent that, not only was there never going to be a rebellion, but that the Daleks found the repaired roads helpful, the project was dropped. Bomb craters did nothing to improve the atmosphere. They lay like scars, scattered liberally over the dusty ground, nothing growing near them, as though afraid of the contagion of war.
It looked like a graveyard of potential, a buried planet with its buried culture suffocated by the reign of the Daleks, the decaying buildings worn-down tombstones to their slain heritage.
The Doctor, though, was more occupied with worrying about Rose. He was willing to bet the numbness had worn off hours ago. There was a worrying pallor about her face –even her lips were almost pastel. He pretended not to notice that every breeze or unexpected pressure on her leg caused the lines around her eyes to tighten, and the angle of her jaw to set.
He honestly couldn’t figure her out. It was long past the point where even the most stubborn (Australian, whispered some corner of his mind) human would have admitted defeat, and asked for a rest. It seemed to him less like bloody-mindedness and more like a simple inability to stop.
Maybe, he thought with the slight shock of realisation, that was what being human meant to her. You didn’t stop, not while you had breath in your body to keep you going. If you stopped, you died.
Or come disturbingly close to it, he thought, remembering the pale faces and gaunt eyes of the Community. Rose was different. There was a defiant spark about her –she seemed to thrive on challenges. The impossible was her meat.
Then, the Doctor’s thoughts were sharply curtailed by Rose’s sudden cry of alarm. He looked up –and felt slightly confused as to the source of her concern. The only thing that possibly could be taken as a threat was a loose-looking mob of humans slinking around in one of the buildings off to the right. They were little more than infants, though, none of them could be more than fifteen or sixteen.
One of them –a boy taller than the rest, with a mean twist to his lip –was pointing towards them, gesticulating wildly with his other hand.
Rose grabbed the Doctor’s arm and started to run.
The Doctor allowed her to pull him –for now, anyway.
“What’s wrong?” he yelled in her ear.
Rose didn’t even slow down. “Cans!” she gasped. “Come on!”
The Doctor risked another look over his shoulder. The children were actively chasing them now . . . and for the first time, the Doctor noticed the wide array of pointed sticks and sharp bits of metal they held.
Whatever Cans were, they didn’t sound particularly friendly. Not to judge by the controlled worry in Rose’s voice –and the screaming and yelling from the group themselves.
The Doctor felt her grip shift until she was holding his hand. She swore suddenly as a flung stick flew between them.
“We’re too close,” she muttered, more to herself than to him. “Oh well, best try it out now.”
Before the Doctor could comment, or ask for clarification, Rose yanked him right around, until they were facing the pack.
“Come on!” Rose yelled again, this time hurling herself –and the Doctor –straight towards the group.
The Doctor barely had time to entertain dubious thoughts on Rose’s sanity before he saw the equally shocked faces of the Cans.
They hesitated for a second, unsure what to do about quarry that headed straight for them instead of running away –and Rose took advantage of that precious second to barrel through the group and dash down a side-street, the Doctor hot on her heels.
For a moment, they hung back, surprise and alarm overriding the mob mentality, lengthening their lead. Then the older boy yelled something indecipherable and charged after them, the rest of his troop following close on his heels.
The Doctor, after that first giddy moment of surprise, found himself watching Rose. She definitely knew this area –her eyes were straight ahead, not darting all over the place. She knew the area, and, the Doctor hoped, she had a plan.
Suddenly, she released the Doctors hand and pushed him towards a wider street.
“Run!” she hissed. “I’ll deal with them.”
The Doctor was uncertain. “Rose –”
Rose gave him another shove. “I know what I’m doing, and you’ll be rubbish trying to bash the stuffing out of a bunch of preschoolers. Give me five minutes, then come back. But now, run!”
Reluctantly, the Doctor did as he was told, keeping to the shadows, doing everything he could to disguise the fact he was now alone.
He just hoped Rose knew what she doing.