There’s nothing as adaptable as a humanoid –or as expendable.
Destiny of the Daleks
She didn’t run so much as fall. Rose felt her arm almost yanked out of its socket as she was pulled roughly sideways, the air behind her whistling with the force of semi-robotic arms swooping down on where she had been a fraction of a second ago.
She staggered –started to slip on the hard grey rubble –recovered –and began to really run in earnest.
Her pace was more even now, as they cleared the building. This was familiar –the feel of uneven rubble and deadish grey grass under her feet. Rose’s eyes darted around frantically, searching for any sign of Daleks, but they all seemed to be congregating around something blue, at the far side of the field. She couldn’t be sure, since she only caught a glimpse of it out of the corner of her eye. When she turned her head to get a good look at it, an unexpected right turn forced her to pay attention to the path, or loose her footing.
And there was no room for error. The Robomen were close on their heels, and gaining fast. Rose could almost feel their breath on her neck; hear the whirr of their implants as they came closer . . .
Suddenly the man swung to the left, nearly pulling her arm off. With a grunt, she managed to stay on her feet, and found herself looking up at a dilapidated shopping centre. It had somehow survived the bombing, but now it was slowly falling apart from neglect and time.
Rose risked taking her eyes off the path for a second to look at her rescuer. His eyes flickered over the landscape, not even glancing at his feet, and Rose had the feeling he was scanning the area for an escape route.
As she hopped awkwardly over an old shop window dummy, she saw his eyes widen, then narrow.
He dived through a crumbling doorway, into the main building, and Rose followed, still clutching his hand.
She risked a glance behind her. What she saw made her wish she hadn’t.
The Robomen were even closer, mouths hanging slack in a sort of apathetic grimace of pain. Despite their zombie-like walk, they could be incredibly fast for short periods, when they needed to.
The advantages of being controlled by something that doesn’t care about muscle damage, a small portion of Rose’s brain noted sourly, before she made it focus on the road in front of her.
They rushed through the crumbling wide walk-ways, dodging cracked tiles and fallen columns. Shops, once painted in garish colours with long mirrors along the rear walls to make them look bigger, were now grey and decrepit, the mirrors broken and crushed underfoot.
Rose could feel her breath begin to come in short rasps. She was having to run at sprinting speed to keep up with the man, and it was starting to cost her.
Just as she thought her lungs would explode, the man almost threw her into an old elevator, following a fraction of a second later.
Rose slumped against the far wall, unable to move as the Robomen lurched forward. Their arms were still outstretched, trembling with effort, but, she knew, well able to hold her. And she doubted she’s get another lucky shot. They were reaching for her, closer and closer, until she could count each individual blue and yellow tooth in their heads if she’d wanted to . . . and the lift doors slid smoothly shut.
For a moment, she just stood there, staring blankly at her rescuer, as he stood by the lift controls. Her brain seemed to have gone in to some sort of lock-down, as it struggled to come to terms, first with her near-death experience, and then with her just as sudden rescue.
With a slight cough, the man pushed back the panel he had removed. A small, rational part of Rose’s mind noticed that several of the wires appeared to be crossed in an effort to jolt the last of the power from the system.
I’m sitting in a hot-wired lift, she thought incredulously, and had to fight down a hysterical giggle.
She almost fell over as the lift began to move. The gears whined and complained, shrieking like aged banshees stirred from a long sleep, and moving about as slowly, but she didn’t mind. It gave her time to recover.
It suddenly occurred to her to be curious about the man who had rescued her. Her eyes moved from the circuitry to the person beside it. He was anywhere from thirty to forty by her reckoning, with strikingly long, chestnut curls that just reached the collar of his . . . strange outfit. It was a green velvet coat of some sort, and looked vaguely archaic, as if he’d been to a . . . a . . . a fancy dress party, that was it.
He had a softly square face, and a slightly wide mouth that seemed to be constantly smiling, or about to smile, but his eyes were what she really noticed. They were the clearest, most brilliant shade of blue she’d ever seen. They looked like . . . well, they looked like the sky the way she had seen it in a postcard, taken before –before Them.
She might have thought they might have looked like a child’s eyes, but Rose hadn’t seen many children who stayed that childish for long. They looked happy, though. Ingenuous, naïve eyes, as though they spent so long looking up into the sky that they had forgotten there were things like cruelty and hunger and want.
She realised suddenly that he was looking her over too, an equally long, speculative glance that took her in from crown to foot, and weighed what it saw. In anyone else, Rose would have felt he was ogling her, but he seemed almost detached –an observer.
Self-consciously, she found herself wondering what he made of her.
The Doctor looked the girl over, mentally breaking her down into a sum of her parts. Small feet pushed into even smaller trainers, a pair of ripped and very worn looking jeans, and a faded brown blouse that might once had been printed with a swirling white pattern of some sort.
She looked hungry –her body was thin and sinewy, as though she had never been able to eat until she was full –and her eyes had a wistful, appraising look in them, as though she had acquired the habit of hunger.
It was an intriguing face; aggressively distrustful eyes contradicting a generous mouth, high cheekbones, emphasised by the lack of any superfluous flesh, and brutally short blonde hair that just brushed her jaw-line.
She was young, he thought, but not soft. A survivor, if he had to pick one word for her. Hard-bitten and harder biting.
He looked over at her, and caught her looking her over as well. He repressed a smile, wondering what she would make of him.
“Who are you then?” she asked. She was probably embarrassed as being caught looking, and made up for it with suspicion.
And a London accent, he noticed.
He gave her his most beatific smile. “I’m the Doctor.”
An expression of admiration entirely failed to cross her face.
“Doctor?” she asked, scepticism clearly showing in her eyes. “Who for?”
“Oh, planets, people, governments, the universe; all the usual sort of patients,” he said with a touch of melodrama.
She lifted an eyebrow, but he wasn’t sure if she was reluctantly admiring, or dismissing him as mad. Probably, to judge by past experience, both.
“Good for you,” she commented shortly. “I’m Rose Tyler.”
The Doctor gave a courtly bow, as best he could with the limited space available. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Rose Tyler,” he told her, “and would you mind telling me what year this is?”
Rose eyeing him as though uncertain whether she was looking at an ordinary lunatic or a deadly psychopath.
“You mean,” she clarified slowly, just in case she’d gotten him catastrophically wrong, “that you don’t know what year it is? What planet are you from?!”
“Really,” the Doctor commented mildly, “don’t you think the aliens you’ve got are causing enough trouble without looking for any more?”
As he had expected, that shut down her line of enquiry. What he wasn’t expecting was the way her entire face shut down as well.
Suddenly, all the suspicion was back in her voice.
“How’d you come to be here then?” she asked, looking him up and down again, this time as though searching for clues. “You’re not a Gritt, and I’d know if you were a Townie.”
The Doctor was interested despite himself. “How would you know?”
“Know what?” she questioned, and he would have sworn that was genuine surprise in her voice. “That you’re not from around here?”
The Doctor shook his head. “No,” he corrected. “Know that I wasn’t a –a Gritt, or a Townie.”
Rose shrugged. “Well, you’re dressed too well for a Gritt,” she explained, in a blasé voice, “and you’ve got all your arms and legs, so you aren’t a Townie.”
The lift stopped suddenly, half-way down the shaft, and the Doctor fussed with the panel. Nothing happened.
“Why are the Townies all missing arms and legs?” he asked.
Rose gave him a pitying look, as though she couldn’t imagine how he'd managed to survive this long without knowing such basic, vital information.
“They all get things damaged from climbing around in those deserted flats, of course,” she stated, in a tone that made it clear this all should have been self-explanatory.
“Of course.” The Doctor felt slightly sick.
Rose reconsidered. “Well, not all of them,” she amended, after a moment. “But everyone knows the only reason Townies live in the city is for the food. Otherwise, it’d be abandoned, it’s so unstable.”
“That’s terrible,” he said, not sure if he was talking about the city, or the girl’s casual tone in the face of death and decay.
She shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know. Most of the Robomen leave you alone if you only have one arm. They’re programmed to look for able-bodied humans.” Her voice dropped, becoming unexpectedly low and bitter. “That means most of my Community.”
“How do you bear to live like this?” The words were out of the Doctor’s mouth before he could stop them. He was shocked at the everyday tragedy of their lives.
The girl looked at him oddly, half curious, half patronising. “How else can we live?” she asked sourly. “It’s either that, or join Them.”
The Doctor’s ears pricked at the last word. She almost spat it out, as though the very thought of “Them” was a bad taste in her mouth.
“Them?” he queried, hitting the side panel. The lift began to slide downwards again with a rather bad grace, like a surly maiden aunt asked to perform an unreasonable task.
“Daleks,” she spat.
As the Communist says “Capitalist”, as the wealthy landowner says “Bolsheviks”, so Rose brought out the name, as though the very thought left a vile taste in her mouth.
The Doctor instantly lost all interest in the lift controls. He was across the floor in two long strides, grabbing this girl by the shoulders, forcing her to look at him.
“Daleks?!” he exclaimed.
Rose didn’t flinch, staring him down. “Yeah, that’s right.”
The Doctor would have hit himself if he’d had any hands free. “I thought those robot-men looked familiar –stupid Doctor, very stupid!”
He held her tighter. “Rose,” he urged, “this is important. I need you to tell me everything you can about them.”
Something in Rose seemed to find the whole situation bizarrely amusing. She laughed, a coarse, bitter laugh that seemed vaguely obscene somehow, as though every curse ever invented and a few that hadn’t were running through her mind.
“I can tell you all about the Daleks,” she agreed. “All about them. After all, they landed on Earth when I was five. Five!” she said the last word with some incredulity, as though she could hardly believe she had ever been that young. “They came out of nowhere, took out Moscow, the Whitehouse, Downing Street . . . all the capital cities for anywhere that might be able to fight were just blasted out of existence. And if you were lucky enough to escape–” she stopped.
“What happened then, Rose?” the Doctor pushed. “What happened afterwards?”
Rose was looking him in the face, but her eyes were vacant. She wasn’t seeing him . . . she was revisiting a scene from her life. She opened her mouth to speak –
And the lift groaned to a stop. The Doctor looked up, startled for a second by the noise, and Rose took advantage of that surprise.
With surprising strength, she twisted out of the Doctor’s hands, and dashed out the door.
“Thanks, Doctor,” she yelled. “But I've gone a Community to rejoin. Ta, and see you round!”
Rose raced through the wide, barren hall, not even noticing the crunch of glass and tile under her shoes as she burst out of the huge, eternally half-open shop doors as she ran for home.
Home. Her throat seemed to burn, and she knew it wasn’t just from the cold air she was gulping down in huge, grateful swallows. She had no home, hadn't had one since she was five. And look where it had gotten her. She had only met that “Doctor” for all of ten minutes –never mind that he had saved her life –and there she was, almost ready to blab her entire life’s story to the bloke! She had almost told him what she had –
Think of something else, she commanded herself. Anything else. Look for Daleks, Robomen, rats, anything but that.There were, however, no Daleks or Robomen. Presumably, they had collected their quota of humans for the night.
Rose thought of Sheree, a girl she’d known for most of her life, of Anthony and Midge, fellow Survivors she’d only met that evening, and felt sick to her stomach.
She slowed to a fast walk, the thoughts still spinning through her head.
Automatically, she checked the horizon.
She had never liked the casual violence of life, but she had gotten used to it. Fat lot of good whining about the state of affairs was going to do. She knew from experience that people tended to get uncomfortable around talk like that. And really, who could blame them?
No Dalek shapes, she noted, taking a last look behind her. No Roboman shapes. It was safe to use the night entrance to the Community.
She could see the figure of the night-watcher, faintly blurred in the darkness. Derek was on tonight, keeping an eye on their surroundings, and looking for Them.
He poked his head out from behind the bin cautiously, then smiled as he recognised her.
“Hey, the Bad Wolf has returned,” he remarked cheerfully, teeth almost startlingly white against his coffee-coloured skin. “You’re out late.”
Rose gave the obligatory groan, and punched him not-so-gently on the shoulder. “Will you shut about that nickname, Bog-Brain?”
Derek tried to look insulted. “Oh, I wait all night to pick up a gorgeous girl like you, and what do you do? Insult my intelligence.”
“Course,” Rose answered dead-pan. “How else am I gonna let you know your good looks haven’t sent me into a drooling stupor?”
Derek mimed being shot to the heart. “Seriously though, oh Wolfie-of-mine, you’re out way later than you should have been, if Mickey’s any guide. He’s been hopping like a mamma hen with only one chick.”
Rose rolled her eyes. “He’s got to learn I’m not his chick,” she sighed. “One of these days, he’ll pop a blood vessel.”
Stooping, she ducked through the low hole, crawling the few feet until she felt the sides gradually lifting away from her shoulders and thighs. There was barely any light inside, but then, she hadn’t expected any.
Pulling herself up onto her feet, Rose felt a wave of what might have almost been nostalgia. Everything was the same, from the pile of well-worn, repaired blankets in the corner, to the twenty or so young adults crouched around the heat-packs, two or three to each pack. Everything, exactly the same as it had been yesterday, and the day before, and the day before . . .
The nostalgia soured in her stomach, and she hastily pushed the thought away.
As if their heads were all attached to the one string, every eye snapped upwards to scan the newcomer . . . then, as they took in the lack of implants, slowly relaxing and going back to their heat-packs.
Several of the younger boys and girls were still working with crude needles and thread, doing the best they could to repair rips in clothing and blankets by touch.
A dark form detached itself from one heat-pack, and slunk quietly over to her.
“Jenn,” Rose greeted her friend, the sick feeling in her stomach growing. She knew exactly what Jenn was going to want to know.
When she asked the question, Jenn spoke quietly. “Where’s Sheree?”
Rose couldn’t answer for a moment, but then she forced herself to speak.
“Daleked,” she informed her shortly. “I only just escaped.”
Jenn’s mouth made a silent ‘O’, and she stepped back, letting Rose into the Community proper. She didn’t say anything . . . but there was no need to. Like the rustling of leaves in a forest, Rose could hear the news being passed from person to person.
Well, she could be thankful for small mercies, at least. No one would ask her how Sheree had died.
That was the unspoken creed. Better to choose to believe they went down fighting then to hear how they crawled and pleaded for mercy. Because they all did, no matter how many stories you heard around the heat-pack about brave men who died with a smile on their face. Every one of them.
She stared into the gloom, searching for one form in particular.
“Mickey?” she whispered, still overly sensitive to noise after her Overearth experience.
A piece of the darkness stirred, and a close-shaven dark boy’s head appeared.
“Where were you, Rose?” he asked, his voice irritable.
The knot of frustration twisted in her stomach. “Oh, I just popped down to the shops, grabbed some bread and more tea bags. We’re running low.”
Mickey frowned. “I’m serious, Rose –”
“I wish I was,” Rose growled bitterly.
“Rose,” Mickey’s voice was overly patient, and for a moment, she wished wholeheartedly that she could hate him enough to punch it off.
But she knew that he as just worried about her. Hell, if their positions were reversed, she’d probably be worried sick.
“You need to stop actin’ like the world’s gonna go back to the way it was. The Daleks are here to stay –”
“So we just accept Them?!” the words ricocheted around the closed-in space like bullet fire, but there was no movement from the figures around the warmth. It was an unspoken law of large groups of people living in a small area –pretend that no one is interested in your life, and be equally oblivious to anyone else. Only then can you stay sane.
“It’s never gonna change, Rose,” he pointed out. “You might as well get used to it.”
“Screw acceptance,” Rose retorted tartly. “I want to do something, not sit here waiting to die!” The words burst from her without her entirely wanting them to. Then, she realised that she did want to say something. She’d been bottling up her feelings for years now, and the cork had been working its way out since the Robomen.
Since the Doctor.
“Why do we let ourselves live like this?” she demanded, flinging a hand at the squalid mess. “Like dirty, pathetic animals, snatching seconds of life in between raids?!”
She realised her voice was rising, and instantly quietened. The passion stayed though.
“I want to stand outside on a summers’ day and soak in the sun, without keeping one eye peeled for a Dalek. I want to know all my mates will still be here when I come back.”
She was finally saying all the things she’d never dared say before. Letting her soul out, for maybe the first time since They had arrived.
“I want to skinny-dip at midnight. I want to do a newspaper crossword and get stuck on the last clue.”
She put a hand on Mickey’s shoulder and squeezed, as though she could transfer what she felt to him by her touch.
“I want to live. Sleep outside under the stars, run through a field of clover, have a snowball fight —”
She took her hand from Mickey’s shoulder and gestured helplessly at the dim cave.
“This isn’t living. It’s just . . . surviving.”
Mickey looked at her, black incomprehension clear on his face. “Wha’ else can we do?”
Rose let her hand drop. He didn’t –couldn’t –understand. Of course not. She was the weird one, with her strange ideas and unrealistic dreams, always dissatisfied with what she had.
“Never mind,” she dismissed his question tonelessly, “its not important.”
Avoiding his gaze, Rose grabbed a blanket from the pile and headed towards her usual sleeping spot –a corner close to the rear exit, where, if she squinted, she could just see the stars through a crack.
Then, suddenly, all thought of sleep was banished from her mind. Adrenalin pounded through her body, her hands loosed the cloth and automatically lifted in a defensive posture. All around her, people were looking fearfully at the entrance.
Derek had given the intruder alert.
This was it.
Someone had found them.