Consider the lives turned into dross and burnt flesh on Game Station, in the day of the Daleks and the Doctor. Consider the heroes and think about what brought them there, before all hell broke loose.
He was smart, smart enough to cling to the edges of what was called proper society. He’d had just enough schooling to know he didn’t want it, but he was also curious. Curious, intelligent, poorly socialized, borderline sociopathic, he would have been a candidate for the Dalek production line no matter what: social detritus with the potential of rising above the herd. Not that he would have truly amounted to anything in his twisted and mutated hothouse world. But the algorithms employed by the Daleks, by the Jagrafess, by the Facilitators, simply red-flagged anyone who left a mark outside the lines of their prescribed social map.
Better to burn them all off; the good genes could be dumped or used, depending on what God decreed. Poor world. Poor humans. Poor Roderick...
....He woke up in the dark and started to scream. His old dad had always punished him with a locked closet, one of the many reasons he’d hated his old dad. There were lots more reasons, but he couldn’t think of them right now. He just needed to get out of the fucking closet.
Some time over the next few hours of crawling, falling, swimming, climbing, he wondered what he looked like.
He could figure what any of the brass might see. The phrase was career criminal, if he recalled the report he’d seen in the docent’s office, the day they kicked him out of school.
He’d gotten by after that, no fear. He’d gotten this or that job, for two months, for six months, even for a year or two. The last job, it had been an office, where they just needed someone to punch buttons and keep the information traffic moving one way or another; nothing for real educated folks, reasonable for someone like him.
But he couldn’t stand it, sitting in some beige office. He knew they were all looking at him, laughing at him. Drove him to want to drink, although he didn’t. He just got morose, and one day he’d cold-cocked the self-satisfied bastard who was his supervisor. That was that, then.
Of course, they couldn’t even just cashier him and show him the door. They had to do it all proper, with an exit interview, if you could believe it. They’d even asked him his plans. He hadn’t laughed in their faces. He’d told them he didn’t know. But he guessed, and within six months, his guess had come true.
And it worked pretty well, that life. He’d been getting by, dabbling in guns, in stolen information, in drugs here and there, in book-collection where books were illegal....
But he could never sleep well. Every time he slept, he dreamed of his family.
Lots of fun, his family. His old Dad, lovely man, never let a conversation do the job when a studded belt was available, never talk when a cuff along the head would do.
Mum? He couldn’t blame her for stepping out, but he could blame her for a lot of other things. All the Uncle Daddies after his real old man had drunk himself into the grave - a couple of them more interested in him than in Mum, something she studiously ignored, despite his eyes, his injuries. All the nights where there wasn’t enough food on the table, all the times she moved them from one complex to the next to avoid the rent man, all the times she partied too hard, fell down too much, slept too long, leaving him in charge of the kids, the inescapable kids she produced like clockwork after him. Three brothers, four sisters, and him 12 years old, in charge of endless nappies and endless plans to keep them together and away from the re-education corps, and doing it all on four, five hours of sleep every night, because there was always the next meal to find and the next flat to rent and the next creditor to duck, and Mum was asleep on the couch, out with the latest Uncle Daddy, crying in her whiskey, screeching at him. Eventually she went to sleep on the couch and never got up; joined his old dad in hell, or heaven, he didn’t care which.
He’d gotten away, though. He waited until the last of his brothers and sisters were old enough to make it on their own - told them he didn’t want to run into them on the street, told them he’d be damned if he had to pick up after them anymore, gave Louise a little money and said he’d give her what-for if she didn’t enroll in the beauty school and not to tell the others about the money or she’d be sorry.
Then out he went, ready to pay back the world and find his luck.
He wasn’t all that surprised when it was bad luck. Lots of bad luck. Good job, bad job, no job. Hello, world, here’s a lad who has to do whatever he has to do to get by.
But every time he thought he’d give up and go for brainwipe/labour readjustment, there’d be some good luck. Just enough to keep him hoping.
He’d been on a string of good luck when the transmat took him; he’d found a job in a little pawn shop, worked the angles and was able to work around the owner to process his own particular line of stolen goods. He could even cop the odd book out for enjoyment. Funny things, books. Someone had taken his school class on a trip to the museum, and he’d seen the books they’d had there. He liked the idea of books. No one could hack into you when you were reading a book. No one could change a book, at least not once it was in your hands. You knew what you had with a book.
There were books to be had on the black market, and marks who paid good money for them. So when he had them in his possession, he’d read them before he sold them. Didn’t matter what they were, he’d read ancient legal transcripts, old technical manuals from God knows when, he’d read poetry - poetry was nice - he’d read philosophy. A lot of stupid ideas in philosophy, but good for a laugh.
The money was good, or good enough. He could eat out, he had a decent flat. Had a girl. Stupid bint, but nice enough. Never yelled, never asked questions, reasonable shag if he was in the mood, hated to drink - he liked a sober girl - and cooked and cleaned. She was sterile, too.
In the few minutes of grace he’d had between throwing up with transmat sickness, and being hustled over to the game set, he’d worried about her, and about Louise. Then they’d told him what the prize was - beyond staying alive, that is; enough money for him to buy out Stewart, and have the shop for himself. He’d be able to end the side-line (if he really wanted to), and maybe shut Pearl up by marrying her. He’d have the license money. Or maybe he’d leave her, find someone with a bit more class; time enough after he won to figure that out.
And he won. He won. He beat the blonde...funny little thing, she was. He felt bad about her. Almost. He won, and he was alive, and the money was all but in his wallet.
Then the nightmare...the blonde’s friends, the fight in the studio, the falling apart of everything. He wanted to kill something, even though there was that 12-year-old part of him that screamed ‘duck and cover,’ that the mother of all Uncle Daddies was about to come calling.
Bad luck was back, with a vengeance. Soldier Boy, leather pants and hero complex, told them they had to fight. He wasn’t going to have any part of it, not him. He knew what happened when you fought; bruises, blood, the airless hell of locked closets. Besides...Daleks? They were old wives tales, right, what the brass scared idiots with; nothing could be that bad. Nothing.
But they were.
He died thinking that he should have stuck with Soldier Boy.
When he woke up, his flesh still burning with pain, he’d realized that he’d brought bad luck and nightmares back to life with him. Everything he’d learned from his old dad, from his skank of a mum, from everyone who’d made fun of him, hit him, ignored him, it was all here to stay. Then he thought about Pearl, and Louise. And he wanted to go home, very, very badly.
Instead, Pretty Boy took the stage and talked like he knew what to do - as if anyone could do that - and he’d just wanted to rearrange that pretty face. He could do with a bit of the old ultra violence (he’d read that somewhere), just to take the edge off. He hated people like that, as if they could control their lives. Take everyone with them, they would. He wasn’t going to put up with that. Someone had to tell them they were full of shit, now, wasn’t that the truth?
Pretty Boy and his sidekicks...so sure of themselves, so pleased with themselves, telling everybody what to do. He’d been stupid, mind, drawing attention to himself, but he’d wanted to show everyone that this lot was some miserable pack of losers, posers. Couldn’t convince anyone, of course. Trust everyone to ignore common sense and go with some good looking airhead with an air of authority. And there he was again, just part of the nightmare, with everybody laughing at him for being a stupid prat. He wanted to pay them all back.
He’d thought maybe his luck had turned when Soldier Boy told him to tag along. No such luck. One pin prick from the sour little frail in the uniform, and he’d found himself in a dark, airless closet.
And so here he was.
He’d wakened and started to scream. Yeah, sure, it was a closet and he hated tiny enclosed spaces like he hated nothing else, except for everything else. But there’d been something else that hurt, and that made him cry even louder. Because someone had been shrieking in his head.
He knew he’d had psi possibility. God knows he’d wanted it. It could have been helpful, anything that gave him an edge up on everyone else would have been helpful. He’d paid good money to be tested, and he’d been elated at the results. But he never got a chance to do anything with it; he’d gotten the test results a week before he’d been taken by the transmat.
The pain, and the voice screaming in his head...he’d gone a little mad there. Door wouldn’t open, no light, so he’d started screaming, too, and kicking, and finally there’d been a panel that collapsed and fallen in. He’d smelled something electric, because there’d been a wind from the darkness beyond the destroyed panel. It was dark, but you could breathe in there. So off he’d gone, like a proper fool, looking for some way out of the darkness. And he couldn’t get rid of the buzzing in his head.
Oh yeah, the hollering stopped, but the buzzing? No such luck. Every time he thought he could hear something, some words, somebody talking, his eyes would burn, and the blood would bang against his skull like the hangovers his mates had told him about.
He’d just exchanged one nightmare for another, come to think of it. He’d move one way and the buzzing would increase, and at least once he’d vomited something up all over himself because it hurt so bad. Then he’d move another way, and the buzzing would recede, the pain would soften.
He wasn’t stupid. He paid attention to what direction he was headed when the buzzing slowed or stopped, and he’d continue that way. If the pain started again, he’d just retreat, find another way to go. He hated the idea that somebody - some thing - was herding him. He must have crawled through miles of tunnel and, just his luck, half of it seemed to end up in recycling stations. No way to go back, not if he wanted to avoid the pain. No way he wanted to go back anyway, so he’d go forward, wade through the glop. He lost his stomach a second time, maybe a third time, even though he had nothing left to throw up.
Finally, there was no more tunnel to go through. He would have panicked, but he saw a little bit of light through the joints of the wall next to him. One or two good kicks, and there he was, in some hallway. Smelled better than where he’d been. Of course, he’d had about a minute to enjoy standing up, and the buzzing started again, worse than it had been before. He’d never had headaches, leastways not like this. He’d looked around for the first route away from where he was standing, and he saw a lift. And he took it. And he found Pretty Boy and his little scout troop.
Soldier boy, Pretty Boy, like everyone he’d ever wanted to be and couldn’t be. He’d been part of the waking nightmare this time. Every time he turned around the man was there, doing everything better, faster, cooler than anyone else. Than he could. Bastard had disrespected him. Laughed at him. Told the security bint to knock him out, most likely.
And here he was, Soldier Boy, bloody inescapable hero. All he wanted to do was make the man hurt, make him look a little less pretty and take him off the damned pedestal. Show him up, show everyone what he was really made of. He went a little crazier, he had to admit it.
And his luck held, his bloody bad luck He found himself wrapped up like yesterday’s garbage in some gorilla’s grip.
But there was the mousy little girly, brown hair and nervous, like she had ants up her ass. Strange little thing; a bit like the blonde broad, but not so brassy. She’d been different. She didn’t like him, no doubt. But she didn’t think he was nothing. Looked like she knew about getting the back of the hand in life.
And she asked him to help. Wanted him to save everyone, be part of their brave little gang. And she told him some woman had had a baby.
And all he could think about was Louise. Mum had had her at home - no money for the creche - and he’d had to catch her, filthy wet and squeaking, stubborn little red monkey. Mum wouldn’t nurse, and he’d had to keep the baby alive. He did it, somehow, and Louise had been his special kid ever after.
And so he said yes. It wasn’t like he had much of a choice, considering. But it was the bloody kid that tipped the balance.
So now, here he was. Big damned hero.
He wondered if he’d ever see Pearl again.
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