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16 September 2007 @ 08:34 am
Wolf at the Door: Chapter Six  
Chapter Six:
Afraid to Live

There is no indignity in being afraid to die, but there is a terrible shame in being afraid to live.
The Invisible Enemy

Chapter Six:
Afraid to Live

The Community was in trouble. Rose, sitting in the last fading warmth of a heat-pack, knew it.

The summer had been long, the closest to idyllic you could get on a planet with the sun blotted out by clouds of ash –but when autumn had been quickly turned nasty, the temperature dropping  below what had been predicted for winter, everyone had known there would be a hard season ahead of them.

As it turned out, they didn’t know the half of it.

The pathetic attempts to grow food died an icy death, ponds froze over, even the rats left for warmer areas, knowing danger when they smelled it. Slowly, the Communities surrounding London began to starve.

Cans brought news of starving den-mates crawling up to Daleks, begging, offering themselves in exchange for food.
The Daleks would always shoot them. They had no use for the starving, pathetic dregs of what was left of humanity.
But the horrifying thing was that, knowing this, they still tried.

In the early winter, someone called a Meeting.

Messages went out . . . and the Community leaders was called, to try and find a way they could all survive this cruel winter. The secret underground rebellion they might not be, but there were ways and means. By hook or by crook, anyone who needed to be in a little abandoned farm in Sussex, got there.
Community leaders from all over the island braved the Daleks to come and try and save themselves and their den-mates from the famine.
Rose, only fifteen, went with their leader, Daniel. She heard much news, and none of it was good.

As far as she could gather, the Daleks were finally finding out the one limitation of owning a whole bunch of electronically suped-up human slaves that didn’t think for themselves . . . and that was, quite simply, exactly the problem. They didn’t think.

Robomen didn’t move out of the cold, didn’t stop digging through the snow when their fingers turned numb and frostbite set in, didn’t complain when the frostbite turned gangrenous, and certainly didn’t do anything more than die when the limbs in question when septic and their already weakened systems simply collapsed under the strain.

In fact, the cold was doing such ruinous things to their supply of workers that the Daleks had been forced to almost double their quota of humans. More than one Community, already injured by the famine, had simply died out, unable to keep alive.

And worst of all, no one could see a way out of the food shortage. Rose, who had kept her head down, her eyes and ears open, and her mouth shut, knew something had to be done.

Even when she was only young, Rose Tyler had displayed an aptitude for plans that should never be able to work but –for reasons that seemed to escape everyone except her –always did.
So, when they got back to their Community, Rose devised a plan.

It was probably mad, definitely risky, and almost certainly suicidal. Unsurprisingly, there were quite a few objections, but no one could work out how else they were going to survive.
So, with the dubious blessing of Daniel, the City Community went to raid the Daleks.

Celia was worried. She had known Rose since she was six, and she was definitely worried about her friend. Whenever Celia looked at her, Rose had her mouth puckered in a soft ‘O’ of thought, and her eyes were never still, skimming every inch of space around them, as though she expected to find the answer for her problem carved in to the Community wall.

Awkwardly, Celia put a hand on her shoulder. “You’re doing the right thing,” she voted hesitantly, not knowing how else to help.
Rose’s eyes were like snap-frozen ice, with deep water running underneath.

     “We’ll find out soon, won’t we?”

Celia waited in the dark. She liked the darkness, did some of her best work in it. Currently though, she was more gratefully that it helped hide whatever was giving off the rotting, sickly sweet smell of decay around her feet.
She had been crouched behind a large bin of decomposing substances for the last ten minutes, and her knees were starting to ache. Only the thought of getting covered in whatever was smeared all over the ground stopped her from sitting properly.

Suddenly, she heard a shout, and all thoughts of rotten anything was immediately wiped from her mind.

She would only have one chance, and Celia was determined not to let it escape her.
When she heard the second shout, it was much closer, close enough for her to make out the words.

     “Roboman!” yelled the voice. The signal!

A figure raced around the corner, and for a moment, Celia’s heart almost stopped. But then she took in the lithe, quick figure, and felt herself relax a fraction. The boy –she was fairly sure it was a boy –was far too small and light to be a Roboman.

As he rushed past her hiding place, he dropped something by her crate. It flashed silver for an instant it briefly caught fading light, then clinked against the cold tiles as it hit the ground. So he had managed to find her a weapon. Perfect.

A few seconds later, the Roboman sentry stumbled past, its hands reaching for the fleeing figure just beyond its grasp.
They never reached him. Coolly, with a surgeon’s chill precision, Celia brought the knife down through the exposed neck.

The Roboman dropped without a whisper, spinal cord and larynx instantly severed by the blow.
Celia noted dispassionately how young it -she was; no more than eighteen at the most.

But she didn’t spare more than a moment. She couldn’t afford to –Rose was counting on her.

Silently, Celia got to work.

For just one night, the Earth seemed to have forgotten about the scars it bore, and celebrated just being there. A shimmering silver mist hung low over the ruined buildings, shielding them with the forgiving obscurity of moonlight, and a faint breeze was blowing cool, crisp air that barely smelled of metal and ozone.

It was quite possibly the most beautiful night Rose had ever seen. One of those ethereal evenings that are rare on the Earth we know, and almost completely extinct on hers, the type that seem so fragile an ill-chosen word could shatter it.

Rose couldn’t have cared less.

The fog was good because it masked their movements. The breeze was not good because sound would carry more easily. And that was what she found herself reduced to: ‘good’ and ‘not good’.

Rose was nervous. Not just butterflies in the stomach nervous; this was the whole deal. The full-on endorphins and adrenalin producing, spit-defying terror. Quite suddenly, it had just occurred to her that she was holding the lives of her Community in her hands, and one mistake could very well ensure she never had the responsibility of looking after anyone’s lives ever again.

She was through being a cool and competent leader, thinking up ideas to save their lives. Hell, at this moment she would have given her left arm for this to be a dream, and for her to be back in bed!
From the north, a distant sound carried on the breeze, faint but persistent.

Rose tensed, waiting, waiting –a bird call.
There are no birds in City London.

Rose snapped into action. Doubts were useless, and she pushed them to the back of her mind. She was Leader now.

     “Marc, Samuel,” she directed, her voice soft but piercing, “rig the charges. You’ve got thirty seconds. Rico, mark time. On my mark . . .”

Mentally, she counted down. Three, two, one –there!

The high wailing dirge of a now-extinct bird filtered through the misty air.

     “Now!” she hissed.

Marc and Samuel leapt up, seizing the explosives from their crates with professional haste. There was no time for stealth any more.

     “29, 28 –” Rico counted softly.

Pieces of something sticky were splattered onto the depot door.

     “25, 24 –”

Wires were attached to each stick of homemade explosives.

     “17, 16 –”

The wires were rigged to the main charge. Marc dropped one and swore.

     “13, 12 –”

Three seconds were wasted scrabbling through the dirt. The fuse was lit –

     “9, 8, 7 –”

Rose felt her heart pumping out the span of the seconds as she and her team ran for the safety of the bomb-crater.
     “5, 4, 3 –”

She threw herself into the hole, holding her breath. Would Celia do it? Would it happen as she had planned?
She couldn’t kept herself from counting out the last seconds

     “3, 2, 1 –”

The ground beneath her feet picked itself up and shook her onto her back, tossing her into Rico with effortless ease.

Ignoring his squawk of pain, Rose almost jumped up from her prone position, peering over the edge of the crater –looking for the source of the explosion.

She breathed a sigh of relief. From the north, she could see a billowing cloud of red-black smoke pouring from an open door.

At least, it was open now. Rose had a feeling it probably hadn’t been open a few seconds ago.

But she didn’t have much time to examine it. Right on the heels of the first bomb, so close that, for all intents and purposes, they seemed the same explosion, the door to Storage Bay burst inwards like a paper boat under a tsunami.

Rose felt a wolfish smile form on her face as Robomen and Daleks alike scurried to get the fire under control, oblivious of the smaller explosion right under their noses, but she refused to let herself relax.

It wasn’t over yet; Robomen were hurrying around the fire, shovelling sacks of sand and water, working with chill mechanoid precision to contain the fire. Within a few minutes, it would be out, or at least under control.

They didn’t have long.

     “All right,” Rose was barking orders even as she scrambled out of the pit. “Rico, you’ve got rice and grains. Marc, meat, if they have any. If not, help Samuel with fruit and veg.”

Each boy untied a large, tightly sewn sack from around his waist, flicking it out and sneaking stealthily for the now open door.
Rose kept watch, every muscle tense. The Daleks were still occupied with their main fire, but before long, someone would be bound to notice theirs. And if they weren’t finished before that happened . . .

Rose’s entire body stiffened as a sudden hand descended on her shoulder.

She spun on one heel, pulling her hand back to smack it into the attacker’s windpipe –only to find herself facing Celia.

With an embarrassed laugh, Rose dropped her hands.

     “Sorry,” she apologised awkwardly. “I’m still a bit jumpy. Careless nerves costs lives, and all that rubbish.”

Celia grinned. “You’d be an idiot if you weren’t jumpy. How’s it going?”

Rose paused for a second to listen to the sound of energetic thumping, and frowned. “Not fast enough,” she decided.

Peering round the door, she suddenly barked, “Pick up the pace, you lot, before I come in there and pick it up for you!”
Celia heard a sound like something being dropped, and the movement sounds got slightly more frantic.

She looked admiringly at Rose. “You’ve got such a way with men. I don’t know what it is, but –”

Rose snorted dismissively. “I feed them when they’re good and hit them when they aren’t. What’s not to know?”

She paused for a moment, then asked, almost as if she were dreading the answer, “How’s your team?”

Celia grinned, her thoughts diverted. “Rigby wanted to come with me and report a grievous injury.”

Rose stifled a snicker. “What, he stub his toe?”

Rigby was the bane of their Community; a whining brat at thirteen. His sole reason for his managing to survive being killed by either Daleks or humans could be laid squarely at the door of his adoring older sister, who had actually attacked a Roboman when it grabbed him.

It was the private opinion of Celia and Rose that the Roboman would have given him back in a few minutes, once it saw who it had captured.

Rose’s team burst out of the stockroom, each carrying bags stuffed to the hems.

     “Report,” snapped Rose.

Marc beamed at her, triumphant, “Meat, enough dried rice to last us all winter, and loads of vegetables and fruit. All in tins too!”

Rose examined the bags; eight of them in all. With careful rationing, it would be enough to last them the entire winter.
Celia’s team slipped quietly up beside them, and Rose wasted no time in assigning some of the stronger men to carry the bags.

     “You go first, she directed, “and the rest of us will take a separate route. We can’t risk the food.”
Without any other acknowledgment than a nod from the leader, Marc, Samuel and six other men sneaked quietly through the misty night. It was almost impossible to see them, and Rose listened carefully until she heard a low whistle.

Without intending it, she felt her face split in a wide grin, one that was echoed on the dozen faces around her. They had made it to the tunnel. From now on, whatever happened, at least Rose knew the food was safe. Their Community would survive.

Then, suddenly, the tables turned.

As though a switch had been thrown, Rose found herself and her gang surrounded by a ring of Robomen –lurching from the shadows like twisted puppets. There were at least twenty of them, encircling the group like a cordon of wires and steel and flesh.

For a moment she considered surrendering, trying to talk terms. But she knew perfectly well what those “terms” would be –die as a human, or live as a Dalek slave.

She could see from the corner of her eyes that everyone was looking at her, waiting to see what she would decide.

Rose made her choice.

She grinned at Celia, one last time, and yelled something primeval in defiance of their imprisonment.

And then it was on. Bodies collided –men and Robomen crashing against each other. All Rose could see was a mad melee of bodies and wires and knives and blood and joint fluid . . .

She smashed the nearest Roboman on the jaw, but, although its face crumpled in pain, it kept coming. Dropping to her knees, she lashed out in a scissor kick, knocking it off its feet. She vaulted over the prone body, slashing with her knife for her next opponent’s vulnerable neck.

There were twenty Survivors, less the eight she had sent with food –no contest for the score of remorseless Robomen that refused to stop getting up.

She slammed her leg into a jaw with a lethal high kick, then found herself yanked off balance by the Roboman she had knocked over. She hit the ground hard, but managed to turn it into a roll and was up on her feet again in seconds.

As though by a prearranged signal, everyone stopped.

Daleks . . .” the word rippled through the ranks of humans like a curse.
Rose could see them now, at least eight of them, each capable of finishing of the group by themselves. The all too-familiar domed heads gleamed brassy gold in the rising sunlight, a faint blue light from their eyestalks . . .

The Daleks were coming.

Rose had never hated or feared the Daleks as much as she did at that moment, forced to stand passive, and wait for death at alien hands.

At least the food is safe, she found herself thinking, and almost laughed at the stoicism of that thought. Most of her was completely flipping over itself, and she realised that, for all that she had assumed was her willingness to die, she had never really accepted that it would happen.

But one small, more civilised part at the back of her mind demanded that she die with dignity, and she clung to that part, facing the Daleks squarely, refusing to show fear, even as she felt the acrid taste of bile in the back of her throat.

The Black Dalek rolled forward, its eye-stalk raised to take in the Survivors.

     Who is your lead-er? it demanded, and Rose felt her hackles rise, even as the hair stood on the back of her neck in mingled fear and loathing.

     “That would be me.” Rose stepped forward, arms raised in a meaningless gesture of surrender.

Celia gasped from somewhere behind her, but Rose didn’t turn and look. All her attention was focused on a blue-lit tunnel, down an ocular device to the Dalek she knew was behind all the armour –a living, bubbling lump of alien.

     You or-gan-ised this raid?” it grated.

Rose nodded, although she had a feeling the gesture was lost on the Black Dalek.

“That’s me,” she informed it. “We all know what’s gonna come next, so please don’t keep us in suspense.”

     You are an en-em-y of the Da-leks! it shrieked, like the rasp of metal against metal. “You must be EX-TER-MIN-ATED!

Rose wanted to make a clever quip, a joke, even a pun . . . but all she could do was watch in horrified fascination as it raised its gun. The action was copied by each of its Dalek subordinates, training them on a member of the human party . . . and this time, Rose knew, it would not be on stun.

“Stop!” she snapped, some instinct making her sound imperious instead of desperate.

To the astonishment of every human, the Daleks did stop, hesitating. Cocking its eyestalk, the Black Dalek came a little closer.

     Why should we not ex-ter-min-ate you? it demanded tinnily.

Rose snapped back, as though she was arguing with Mickey over food rations, not talking for their lives.

     “You let our food supply get away on purpose, didn’t you?” she asked, trying to sound like she was stating an obvious fact, not guessing wildly at straws.

     That is ir-re-le-vant, intoned the Dalek, “you will tell us what you know.

     “I know,” Rose bluffed, “that it’s getting harder for you to find Robomen. Is that what gave you the idea? Make sure everyone knows about the huge food shipment coming in, and collect all the fish that swim into your net?”

     Your capture is ire-le-vent,” the Dalek informed her. “The food will strength-en the slaves. You will aid the Da-leks to sur-vive. But we have no need for you. You are rogue el-e-ments.

     “Us?” Rose pulled a face, acting for their lives. “We’re of far more use to you alive. I know I am. I’m absolutely full of secrets and stuff. Aren’t I Celia?” she asked. Celia nodded dumbly.

     “You see?” she asked, as though Celia’s confirmation was all the proof they needed. “I know everything. Loads of useful stuff. You want to know what I do . . . you’re gonna have to negotiate.”

The Dalek paused for a second, thinking. We will spare your lives.

     “Very nice, a very good offer,” Rose agreed. “And to prove it, you’re gonna let all my friends go. As a show of good faith.”

Was it Celia’s imagination, or was there a touch of glee in the Daleks voice? “That is ac-cep-ta-ble. You will help the Daleks to live.

Rose turned to Celia, grabbing her shoulder and squeezing it for emphasis.

“Get everyone out of here,” she hissed. “Get as far away as you can, as fast as you can. Don’t stop for anything, or anybody. If they’re about to die, leave them. In about five minutes, they’ll be cruising for our Survivors. You can be out of here by that time, if you’re quick.”
Celia wavered. Her voice low, she protested, “But they’ll kill you!”

Rose looked at her with an expression of reluctant fatalism. “They’ve been trying to kill me for thirteen years. Now,” her eyes pleaded with Celia, “go while you can.”

Celia nodded, and turned on the team. One boy –barely old enough to be called a man –lay in the dry dust, and was never going to stir again, but apart from him, there were no causalities.

Silently, Celia coaxed, dragged and basically bullied the gang into leaving. As she looked back for the last time, she saw Rose, standing amongst the killers of her world.

And, to her shock, Celia saw that Rose was smiling.

 
 
My World is Feeling: melancholymelancholy