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17 September 2007 @ 05:08 pm
Wolf at the Door: Chapter Five  
Chapter Five:
Black and White

That's the trouble with computers, always think in black and white. No aquamarines, no blues, no imagination.
The Invisible Enemy

Chapter Five:
Black and White

Rose hugged the doorpost, carefully taking stock of her odds. At the very least, a dozen young teenagers against one girl in her twenty’s. She had surprise for her, and a leg wound against her. It was aching now, a fierce, accusatory pain that seemed determined to punish her for all those hours of torture, but she forced herself to ignore it.

It you had asked Rose at that moment how her conscience dealt with the need to assault a collection of juveniles, she would have stared at you in genuine surprise and not a little condescension.

Her conscience had died a slow death at the hands of the Daleks.

They were beginning to rush past her doorway, so intent on the Doctor they never even thought to look sideways.

All the better for her.

She waited for the last boy –the tall one who had set the mob off after them in the first place –and made her move.

Rose grabbed the doorpost and swung herself out in a swift circle, feet first . . . straight into the boy’s mid-rift.

He went down, gasping for breath from lungs that, for the moment anyhow, refused to take the oxygen in.

Perfect. Rose snatched his weapon –a nasty looking curved piece of shrapnel –from his hand, and smacked him hard on the side of the head. His eyes rolled up into his skull, and he passed out.

Rose threw the weapon away in disgust. They couldn’t even keep their knives sharp . . .

By that time, though, the Cans had reacted to this new threat from behind, and they closed in, wielding their sticks threatening over her head. As one entity, they brought the sticks down across her head and neck, knocking her into the pavement as her lifeblood leaked away.

At least, that was the plan. In reality, Rose threw herself completely flat at the last second, gritting her teeth against the blinding surge of pain from her leg –and let the gang do her work for her.

There was a sudden explosion of angry yells and wailings as half the Cans brought their sticks down on their fellow gang members, and vice versa. Forgetting about Rose, they instantly moved to avenge themselves, striking at whoever they thought might have attacked them with fury borne of outrage.

Knocking a couple of legs out of her road, Rose snaked out of her newly created gap and dashed for the alley she had seen the Doctor run into.

She found him watching the melee with unreadable eyes.

Without turning, he asked grimly, “Was it worth it?”

     “Was what worth it?” In all honesty, Rose had no idea what he was talking about.

     “That!” the Doctor flung an arm out to the street. “All those . . . children, fighting, killing each other, just so we could get away. What would they have done to us anyway?”

Rose looked angry for a moment . . . but then it passed. They had more important problems than her own wounded feelings.
     “Come on,” she ordered, grabbing his hand and beginning to run, “as soon as they stop fighting, they’ll probably come after us.”

Rose seethed quietly to herself while they ran, but had to unwind a little after she had judged it was safe to slow to a walk.

     “You still . . . want to know . . . why those people were dangerous?” she asked, tone a little sharper than she meant it to be with annoyance and running.

     “If you don’t mind,” the Doctor’s voice was also unusually tart. Surprisingly, he didn’t sound at all winded.

Rose kept her answers short, timing them to fit with her breathing.
     “They’re cannibals, she replied. “Live in the city . . . and eat whoever, or whatever they can find . . . which would have been us . . . if I hadn’t gotten us out of there.”

She shot the Doctor a pointed look. “Youth doesn’t automatically mean innocence . . . Doctor. Those children would have even eaten our bones.”

He had the grace to look somewhat abashed. “I didn’t know,” he responded, somewhat lamely.

Rose waved a hand dismissively. “Course you didn’t. That’s why I’m here to protect you.”

She paused to catch her breath, then grinned. “Luckily for us, they have a short attention span. They’ll have forgotten about us by now.”

The Doctor asked, “Do we have a plan, or are we just running?”

“Nope,” Rose’s voice was still slightly harsh from the sudden dash. “But if you want to live to get to Dalek Control, we’ve got to get past –”

As they turned the corner, Rose suddenly dove, pulling the Doctor with her behind a sofa that was probably once a hideous green with fuchsia flowers. It was now a hideous pale green with pastel pink spots.

     “Look,” she cautioned him. “But carefully.”

The Doctor warily poked his head over the top of the couch –and stared in horror.

Hidden by the rise of the hill and the turn, he could now clearly see a massive building that resembled nothing so much as a robotic version of Mao Tsetung’s Political Prisoner Correction Centre. Just at a glance, the Doctor could see at least twenty Robomen, all marching around the perimeter like little tin soldiers –all stiff limbs and dead faces.

Daleks rolled around wherever he looked, supervising the hovercars as they glided towards the building itself. Black smoke belched from half a dozen gaping chimneys like the smothering acid breath of hell itself.

The Doctor said nothing. What could he have said?

After a moment’s shocked observation, he pulled his head back down. No point in getting it shot off now.

“This,” Rose told him, voice low and hard, “is the main Dalek Construction Facility for Britain. Welcome,” she spat, “to Hell.”

There was a very long, uncomfortable pause, and Rose made no effort to break it. She couldn’t take her eyes away from the Construction Facility –its black clouds of smog, the Robomen on patrol . . . and the Daleks. It always came back to Them.

Rose felt a wave of something rise in her stomach. A mass of hate and fear and repulsion and fury so strong that, for a moment, thought was impossible. She wanted to smash Them and their stranglehold on her world, knock the ground from under their rollers like a card pyramid, wipe every Dalek from the Earth –

The Doctor’s voice spoke, suddenly, quietly, interrupting her thoughts.

     “Tell me about the Dalek invasion,” he asked. “Everything you can.”

For a moment, she just stared at him, as if trying to place the strange man who insisted on speaking to her.

The Doctor held up a hand, though, as if to stop any objection.

     “If I’m going to stop this,” he told her, “then I need to know how it happened.”

Rose shrugged, as though, abruptly, it had ceased to be significant.

     “There’s not much to tell. It happened so quickly –and I was only five. We didn’t even get a warning on the radio, or the TV or anything. ”

There was a curious feeling of distance –as if she was relating something that had no relevance to her life, or watching someone else tell the story.

She had been eating her breakfast at the table, trying to get as many cornflakes on the spoon as she could, when Mum had come in. Her face was very worried, and little Rosie had put down her spoon.

     “What’s wrong Mum?” she asked, but Mum wasn’t listening.

“Come on Rosie,” she said, her voice overly cheerful, “we’re going to go looking in the basement for your umbrella.”
Rosie had lost her umbrella a couple of weeks ago, and was happy to think they might find it.

An older child might have noticed the false jollity in her voice. An older child might have wondered why it couldn’t wait until after breakfast.

But Rosie was only five, and she let Mum pick her up as she walked, almost ran for the stairs.

Rosie giggled as the bumping rocked her, like she was on a horse. Or a pony. Rosie had always wanted a pony. For the five minutes it took to get to the basement, Rosie pretended Mum was a white pony with black legs.

Then they had reached the basement . . . and suddenly, it had all stopped being fun. It was crowded with people, someone crying, but most with eyes like Mum’s, fake cheerful and overly reassuring.
But Rosie could almost smell the fear in the room. She felt like growling or screaming, anything to stop her feeling the fear.

Rose paused. “We stayed in the basement for a couple of days, sleeping, eating out of tins. Then the announcement came.”

An alien voice, metallic and loud, screeching over a giant PA.

     You are the prisoners of the Da-leks. You will serve us. Anyone who does not comply will be ex-ter-min-at-ed!

Rosie felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise with some atavistic sense that this voice did not belong to anything she knew. She wanted to hit the voice, punch it, yell at it, make it go away and stop making Mummy cry.
But instead she let out a low whimper. She cowered in the dark, hugging Mummy close . . . and wished that the voice would stop.

Rose stopped, voice sinking lower until she was almost whispering the words.

     “I don’t remember much of what happened next. Just screaming –lots of screaming –and the smell of death all over everything. People crying and pleading, and those alien, metal voices that didn’t belong.”

     “How long?” asked the Doctor, equally subdued.

Rose didn’t need to ask what he meant.

     “They sent out parties of Daleks, herding masses of people towards the Construction Facilities at gun-point, and there –there, they were turned into . . . Robomen.”

Her voice almost broke on the last word. So many innocent victims, taken like cattle. So many people she knew. . .

That last thought set her off. She felt a tear fall down her cheek like a droplet of hot water formed on the skin of a boiler –an external sign of the stress within.

Stop it! she told herself, furious. You haven’t cried since –since –

But there her thoughts broke down again, and another tear followed the first down the curve of her cheek.
She despised herself for crying, in front of the Doctor of all people, and she despised herself for caring. How the Doctor must deride her now!

Then she felt two strong arms slide around her waist, holding her as convulsive shudders shook her body, as though he could keep her from shaking to pieces.

     “It’s all right,” he soothed, his voice unbelievably comforting as he held her gently.

She cried, “I didn’t want to care!”, and the Doctor pushed her back, separating them.

For a moment, she was stunned. He did despise her for her weakness – then she realised he was moving her so he could look into her eyes.

     “It’s far too easy,” he told her gently, “not to care. To keep caring, keep hurting for those who died, even when everyone around doesn’t –that takes true courage.”

But Rose couldn’t stop the almost hysterical tears that flowed freely now, all the more intense for sixteen years of confinement.

Perhaps, thought the Doctor, watching her, they would wash clean some of the infection of hate and guilt that seemed to be eating her alive.

But he knew instinctively that Rose was a creature of shielded emotions and secret thoughts –she would not want him to see her cry.

So he spoke suddenly. “Why do you put up with this?” he demanded, “Why do you let them smash you around like that?”

In an instant, the tears were gone. In its place, blind fury reigned.

She was on her feet, staring him full in the face.

     “Do you think we like it?” she almost yelled, “Do you think we enjoy being trodden on like ants while the children starve, while we realise that anyone over forty has a dog’s chance in this world?”

This time the Doctor didn’t back down. “You do precious little about it,” he snapped caustically.

Rose’s fists clenched, and she glared at him with an anger he was willing to bet was only partly because of what he said.

He let her have a solid ten seconds of fury –enough to push the tears and the pain to the back of her mind –and stood back, loosened his offensive body language, and laughed lightly.

And suddenly, after one instant of blinding realisation, Rose laughed too, her eyes taking him in with a new respect and something almost like admiration.

“You did that on purpose,” she accused him, but an unwilling smile made her mouth a traitor.

The Doctor just grinned back at her, pulling Rose back down behind the couch.

“How do we go from here?” he asked.

And he held his hand out to her to accept or decline, as she chose.

Rose smiled, and seized it firmly.

“From here,” she informed him, “it gets hard.”

Less than an hour later, the Doctor looked down at Rose with growing concern. Her feet would have dragged if she had let them, and she spoke less and less, with shorter sentences. Even her voice seemed tired. She was obviously in a lot of pain, but until she chose to admit it, he could do very little for her.

     “Well,” he asked thoughtfully, “What’s the plan?”

The sudden, unexpected familiarity of the words caused him a slight shock, as well as a sharp twist of irony. How many times had someone asked him that same question? Now here, he was the stranger, relying on Rose to know how they were going to survive.

The human looked undecided.

     “We could keep going,” she mused, considering their options. “But there are a lot of patrols at dusk. We’re better off either waiting for the dawn, or going now.”
The Doctor didn’t even have to think about it.

     “We’ll be able to do nothing in a state of near-exhaustion,” he decided. “Is there anywhere we can rest for the night?”

Rose smiled, and for a moment, the Doctor thought he caught a flash of gratitude in those unreadable brown eyes. But then it was gone, if it had even been there, and she changed tack.

     “All right,” she agreed, heading purposefully in a southern direction. “Sleep it is. Ready to go?”
The Doctor smiled, and easily matched her pace.

     “Where are we heading?”

Rose gave him an answering grin. “I used to live around here. I’ve still got some pull in the London Community.” She paused, looking him up and down critically. “I might be able to get you in as my latest.”
The Doctor blinked. “Latest what?”

     “You’re so gay!” Rose laughed.

The Doctor was still confused, and it must have shown on his face.

     “Where are you from Doctor?” she asked incredulously, “Every Community has breeding males –”

The Doctor was rapidly of the opinion this was one subject he wanted to steer very clear of.
     “Yes, yes, yes,” he agreed hastily. If he had nodded with any more speed, his head might have fallen off. “So, where are they?”
Suddenly, Rose and the Doctor were hurled to the ground by the weight of someone smacking them squarely in the back.
Rose grinned, despite the pain. “That would be them.”

A voice yelled from around Rose’s knees. “Friend or foe?”
Rose twisted slightly under the weight pressing her chest into the dust, wriggling until she could see the owner of the voice.

     “Celia!” she greeted the tackler enthusiastically. “How’ve you been?”

Celia fell off Rose’s back with a good deal more ease than the proverbial log.
     “Marc, drop him. It’s Rose Tyler.”

The Doctor felt his legs released, and slowly got to his feet. He was greeted by the sight of two grinning humans, a man and a woman. The woman –Celia –was a tough looking girl, with a decisive jut to her jaw and shoulder length black hair.

Marc was built along the same lines, with fists like lead balloons, and a jagged part through his ginger mop. The Doctor suspected it was the mark from a healed scar rather than any attempt to integrate some fashion into his life.
Celia gave Rose a perfunctory bow, then grabbed her, pulling her into a hug.

     “How’ve I been? Try, how have you been? You run off, no warning whatsoever, and now you just fly back –”
Marc interrupted. “This your latest, Rose?” he asked, eyeing the Doctor critically, “I suppose he’s all right for looks, but if you want kids with a bit of muscles –”

     “We should all dump our choices and adopt Marc-clones,” teased Rose, and Celia grinned at what was obviously an old joke.

Rose waved a careless hand. “Celia, Marc, this is the Doctor. He’s not from around here.”

     “I’ll say,” Celia eyed the Doctor with naked avarice. “If you get tired of him, just send him round to me –”

     “And let him get eaten by Cans?” Rose returned, still grinning. “I thought you’d gotten rid of your lot, and we got tackled by at least a dozen of them! Does Perrie know they’re there?”

Celia looked blasé. “Knowing you, the Cans probably came out the worst of it.”

Rose flushed slightly, and quickly changed the subject.

Obviously, thought the Doctor, not used to effusive praise.
Celia took Rose’s arm, almost dragging her towards the Community. “And how’s Mickey the idiot?” she pursued.
Rose’s voice was condescendingly tolerant, “Still the muscle-bound hero, as always.”

     “Good,” Celia approved with a nod. “Not like that last bloke of yours . . . Jimmy Stone, remember him? Got himself killed on patrol. Face of a god, that boy . . . and the brains of a sheep.”

The Doctor looked quickly at Rose to see if Celia was being insensitive, but Rose just laughed.

     “Good thing I’m too useful on Foraging to be spared for a birth,” she agreed. “But Mickey’s done well for himself. Even if he is a coward.”

     “That bad?” Celia consoled her. “Oh well, you’ve found herself someone nicer,” she cast another envious look at the Doctor, who was rapidly becoming uncomfortable, “And, if you get sick of him, there’s a score of boys who be thrilled to play latest to the Rose Tyler.”

The Doctor’s ears perked up. “Why?”

Celia stared at Rose. “You didn’t tell him, did you?”

     “Celia, don’t you dare,” Rose warned her. “I didn’t come all this way just to get you to blow my trumpet.”

     “You haven’t told him!” Celia was scandalised. “How could you leave him in ignorance?”

Rose seemed slightly panicked. “Celia, you are not telling him!”

Celia ignored her, and turned to the Doctor. “There was a raid on Hell,” she gestured with her head in the direction of the Construction Facility, “and Rose was with it.”

Rose stalked past the pair. “I refuse to listen to this,” she snapped, and disappeared through the hole.
The Doctor followed her after a few seconds . . . but any hope the Doctor might have had of formulating a battle plan was off the moment he saw the Community.

Rose was almost buried under a mass of laughing, shouting bodies. Despite the hour, everyone seemed ecstatic that Rose had come for a visit.

Interesting, he reflected. Very interesting.

With nothing else to do, the Doctor turned back to Celia.

     “Rose is popular,” he noted dryly.

“Well,” Celia hesitated, “when you do what she did . . .”

The Doctor looked over at Rose. Someone had noticed her leg, and –by main brute force and ignorance –the entire group seemed to be bearing her towards a slightly raised corner of the room.

He asked, “Doesn’t she like it discussed?”

Celia gave a disparaging nod. “It’s really too bad; it makes such a good story around the heat-pack, and the best of it is, it’s true.”

     “What’s true?” the Doctor’s main fault had always been curiosity, and the hints Celia was dropping had only whetted his appetite.

     “Come on,” Celia gestured towards a couple of roughly seat-shaped rocks close to an air-hole. “Sit down here.”

The Doctor cautiously lowered himself onto the cold stone, and Celia slapped herself down carelessly beside him.

     “Oi!” with a speed that belied her build, Celia snatched an arm as a couple of boys tried to squeeze past. “You!” she snapped. “Andrew, aren’t you?”

The boy gulped an affirmative.

     “Get a heat-pack for our guest,” Celia instructed. “One of the good ones, too! We clear?”

     “ ‘Kay, Celia.” The boy nodded acquiescence, seeming pleased that he was not about to get hung by his feet, and ducked down the corridor.

     “Kids,” muttered Celia in a tolerant rumble. “God, I wish I was still that young.”

She turned and gave her full attention to the Doctor.

     “But you want to know about Rose’s raid, don’t you?” she asked.

Even though the question seemed rhetorical, the Doctor nodded.

Celia lowered her voice. “It was several years ago now. Rose couldn’t have been more than fifteen, although I’m not sure.” She made a face. “But then, I’m not even sure of my own age, so hers is pretty much up for grabs. But anyway, the Community was running desperately low, and word had gone around that the Daleks had just got supplies in for the Robomen.”

The Doctor couldn’t keep the surprise out of his voice. “They feed them?”

Celia made a moué with her mouth. “Well, yes and no. The Daleks give them only what they need to keep them alive until they show signs of brain deterioration. And then –” she made a cutting motion over her throat. “Lights out.”

     “And?” the Doctor prompted.

Celia shot one final look at Rose, now apparently threatening the population of the Community with mass homicide if they didn’t bugger off and stop trying to smother her in soothing balms.

     “Alright,” she decided. “Listen close –Rose’ll kill me anyway. Might as well die killing a Dalek as a Roboman.

     “I am going to tell you,” she whispered solemnly, “why Rose hates the Daleks, and why she is the Rose Tyler.”
The Doctor leaned forward, and Celia began her tale.

My World is Feeling: accomplishedaccomplished