Wolves at the gate

The Doctor and Rose stepped out of the TARDIS. The only addition to his usual pinstripe suit and long brown coat in diffidence to the cold temperatures was a hat and long scarf he had dug out of the wardrobe. His companion on the other hand was wrapped up in several layers of clothing with a long musty fur trimmed coat, boots, hat and gloves. On the forest floor lay a thick coating of snow and the tall pines trees cast shadows around them in the twilight of the winters evening. They began to walk through the trees towards where the Doctor had indicated a city was situated. Rose shivered with cold pulling her coat tighter round her. Her breath visible in the air as she spoke.
“Do you know how far we’ve got to go?”
“Not much further,” replied the Doctor, putting a friendly arm gently round her shoulder. “That coat belonged to a Russian noblewoman you know.”
“How come you’ve got it?”
“She erm…left it to me in her will,” he winked, playfully.
“You’re pulling my leg.”
“No, your arm,” he chuckled. “We had better hurry up; it’s getting dark rather quick.”
“What’s that noise,” asked Rose, pausing a moment to listen. “It sounds like a bell.”
“It must be coming from the village. It doesn’t sound too far off.”
“Do you have a torch or something, before I go and fall flat on my face?”
“Yep,” he switched, a small blue torch on, its slim beam of light barely illuminating he snowy path ahead.
Suddenly the Doctor came to a halt.
“What?”
“Shush,” he held his finger in the air, standing still like a statue.
In the distance Rose heard the howl of a wolf. Soon more joined in till the howling seemed to echo from all around them, growing to an almost unbearable pitch.
“We’d better hurry,” said the Doctor his voice suddenly serious.

They began to walk faster till their pace was almost jogging. Rose could feel her heart beating, she knew there was danger near by and it was closing in. The beam of light fell upon something waiting in the darkness. Two eyes stared out of the inky blackness. The Doctor swung the torch round showing up more eyes staring at them. They were surrounded.
“Doctor, what are we going to do?”
“Back slowly away, no sudden movements.”
The wolves began to advance with a low growl.
“Doctor.”
One of the predators barked, and they all leapt forward.
“Run!” he yelled, bringing his arms up to fend off one of the wolves who had gone for his throat.
The torch dropped to the floor, plunging the scene into darkness.
“Doctor!”
“Argh! Run Rose, Run! Don’t argue, just go-,”
His words were drowned by the snarls of the wolves. Rose scrabbled amongst the snow for something to use as a weapon. Suddenly she came upon what she presumed was a stick or branch. Picking it up in her hand she gave a yell, swinging it at one of the creatures who had just thrown its self at her ankles. The blow struck home with a sickening crack.
“Doctor! Doctor I’m coming-,” she cried, stooping down to pick up the torch.
She shone the light illuminating, to her horror the tableau of the Doctor pinned down by several of the wolves. One was just about to go for his throat. Rose struck out at the lupine fiend sending it flying. She brought the torch round. The Doctor looked worse for wear, but he managed to fight off some of the others the rest seem to pull back discouraged by Rose’s attack. She helped him up and they made their escape.

“Are you ok?”
“I’ll be fine,” replied the Doctor, his left arm hanging awkwardly by his side. “Just a few cuts and bruises. Where did you find that?”
“What?”
He nodded at the weapon she held.
“That is someone’s tibia…probably their last meal.”
“Urgh,” she exclaimed dropping the bone and wiping her hands on her coat.
“That’s our first line of defence gone,” he replied.
“Do you think they’ll be back?”
“Probably. Look we’re nearly at the edge of the woods, and the village is just down the hill in the valley.”
“It looks deserted. They weren’t werewolves were they?”
“No, they were your garden variety wolf. Uh-oh, I think we’ve got company.”
There was the sound of barking and growls.
“Let’s go then.”

They reached the bottom of the hill, the pack of wolves hot on their heels. As the entered the main street the leader of the pack was almost upon them when suddenly there was a whistling sound. Rose glanced back as she heard the creature whimper.
“Doctor-,”
“I know Rose.”
A door opened a little way down the street a lantern held by a man showing the way.
“Quick! This way,” cried the stranger, bidding them towards the door.
They didn’t hang around to ask questions and whipped in through the door, which was hurriedly bolted after they were safely inside. Rose could hear barks, growling and scuffling outside the door as the predators attempted to get their prey, but were unable to get through the heavy wood door. The wolves persisted for a few minutes, but soon realised the futility of the situation and backed down content instead to play the waiting game.

Rose observed the room they were in by the flickering orange firelight. It was fairly small in size with white walls and wood beams. All the windows were shuttered up. Near the fire were two arts and crafts style seats and at one end of the room was a table and sink. She noticed that there was a door in the roof with a ladder going to it. The two occupants of the house their faces pale and frightened led them to the seats in front of the fire.
“You will be safe in here,” said the man, as he appeared to double check the locks.
“Are you alright? Oh, dear-,” exclaimed the woman, kneeling down beside the Doctor. “Your arm.”
“Doctor,” agreed Rose. “You’re hurt.”
“I’m fine, it’s only a scratch,” replied the Doctor, holding a handkerchief he had acquired from somewhere to his arm, which was bleeding profusely from a large gash.
“You’ve been bitten. Let me help you-,” said the woman, putting a first aid box on the table next to the Doctor and helping him take his coat and jacket off, and rolling up his sleeve.
“You were lucky. Most people don’t survive-,” said the man, a sadness in his eyes.
“Thanks for your assistance,” replied the Doctor, wincing as the woman applied some iodine to the wound. “I’m the Doctor, and this is Rose.”
“I’m Logan, and this is my wife Hilda,” said the man.
“Keep still and stop squirming,” exclaimed Hilda, when the Doctor flinched, as she pulled the bandage tight.
“Sorry. Owww….can you be a little more gentle,” the Doctor exclaimed.
“Those wolves out there are they usually that bloodthirsty?” asked Rose, a little alarmed.
“Well,” began Logan. “They never used to be not till that night-,”
“Which night,” asked the Doctor.
“When the sky lit up with shooting stars-,”
“It was beautiful.”
“Then the next night was when they first came. It started with livestock a few chickens going missing but it soon escalated.”
“They were no longer afraid to come into the town. They came at night and took those who were weakest. Our child-,” Hilda began to sob.
Her husband put a comforting arm round her shoulders.
“We sent out hunting parties to cull the animals but in the day they could not be found and at night the beasts had advantage. They killed more of us than we did of them. That’s why at night we bolt our doors and windows and hide in the upper rooms.”
“At night… Do the wolves ever come in the day,” asked the Doctor, as he slowly replaced the jacket and coat, tutting at the rip in his garment.
“They never come in the day. We always have someone on guard though just in case. It was Sergeant Gregory’s idea.”
“Who’s Sergeant Gregory,” asked Rose.
“He is a soldier in Sir Harold’s army who lives in the castle on the other side of the woods. He came here to visit relatives and found he could not leave.”
“Why not?”
“You don’t know? It takes a full to day to ride through the forest on the fastest charger, even if he set out at dawn he would be in the woods and at the wolves mercy for two consecutive nights. That’s certain death.”
“Oh,” said Rose, biting her lip.
“Has anyone tried,” asked the Doctor.
“Isn’t that why you’re here? Harvey decided to try to reach the castle on his horse.”
“How long ago was this?”
“A couple of days.”
“I think we know what happened to him-,”
“What do you mean,” hissed Rose.
“The tibia-,”
“You mean he got eaten?”
“Oh, dear,” exclaimed Hilda. “We will have to tell his mother.”
“You didn’t come from the castle then?”
“No we came in a ship.”
“But there is no river nearby only a narrow stream in the woods.”
“It’s not that kind of ship-,” began Rose.
“How we got here doesn’t matter. What does is sorting out your problem, and I’m just the person to help. Its kind of a hobby of mine,” said The Doctor with a grin. “You don’t happen to have any tea do you, I’m parched.”
“Tea?”
“I thought not.” He dug in his left-hand pocket, pulled out four teabags and put it in Hilda’s hand. “Just stick one in each cup of boiling hot water with a little milk.”
“I-,”
“Off you go.” He lent over to Rose, pulling a handful of sugar out of the other pocket, “I’ve got sugar as well. It’s going to be a long night.”
Hilda trotted off to the sink and began to pump some water into a small cauldron like object.

***

They had already mourned the loss of one of their own struck by an arrow he had fallen in the chase. The wolves now prowled around the village, checking for any gaps or doors left open to enable them to get inside at their prey. The lead wolf had tasted blood and he wanted revenge for the packs loss. But it was getting lighter as dawn approached. It was time to return to the den, to the Alpha. The sun drenched the snow covered land in its glow as the wolves ran into the woods leaving only footprints behind.

***

The Doctor stood up and gently shook Rose’s shoulder waking her from her slumber having fallen asleep in the chair while waiting for sunrise.
“Wake up,” he whispered. “It’s time to do a little exploring.”
“Is it safe,” she asked sleepily.
“If what they say is true then we should be fine.”
“Are you sure?”
A bell could be heard tolling in the background.
“Now that was the all clear,” he grinned. “Now if you’re awake enough we will go and have snoop round.”
He held out his hand to help Rose to her feet when they heard a scuffling sound as the ladder to the upper floors was lowered down. Logan came down the ladder, and he turned to them both, a look of concern on his face.
“What’s the matter,” asked the Doctor perceptively.
“There’s a wolf in the street…its dead but-,”
“Brilliant, I can do a quick autopsy find out what’s going on with their chemistry,” he shrugged on his coat, “I think something’s got into their water.”
He unbolted the door.
“But we had tea-,”
“Don’t worry,” he said stepping out into the frosty morning air. “They were special teabags.”

“It’s freezing,” exclaimed Rose, with a shiver. “Where are we by the way? Europe?”
“Actually I would say we’re not on Earth, although they do seem to be coming into a Renaissance of sorts similar to the one in Earth’s history. But don’t ask me I haven’t got a clue.”
“Was that meant to be a jibe at me? I only said you didn’t have a good grasp of geography.”
“You were the one holding the map upside down.”
“Only coz that’s the way you gave it to me. It was an alien map, how am I supposed to know how to read it?”
“You could have asked,” he raised an eyebrow his eyes wide and questioning.
“You say that now-,”
They could now see a large crowd.
Some of them were shouting, ‘Burn it! Burn the beast!’
The Doctor ran forward, Rose on his tail, pushing his way through the mass towards the centre of the mob of villagers. There lay the corpse of a wolf killed by an arrow, beside it stood an imposing figure whom by his military bearing and enormous moustache would have to be Sergeant Gregory.
“‘Allo, ‘allo. What’s going on here then,” began the Doctor, “Looks like someone got a lucky shot last night. Killed a wolf did we Sergeant?”
“Who are you,” exclaimed the soldier, taken aback by the appearance of a stranger after such a long time cut off from civilisation.
“I’m the Doctor, and I’m here to sort this mess out.”
“Where are your troops?”
“Here,” he indicated Rose who was standing behind him.
“You must be joking?”
“Nope, it only takes two to tango, mate.” The Doctor knelt down beside the wolf and lifted it into his arms. “Now let us see what’s causing your little lupine problem, shall we?”
“What are you going to do?”
“An autopsy.”
He carried the wolf through the crowd who parted like the read sea at the sight of their feared menace. They reached the home of Logan and Hilda where he lay the corpse on the table.
“What are you doing,” exclaimed Hilda.
The Doctor waved the multipurpose sonic screwdriver on the scanning option over the animal.
“Ah-h’a!”
“Did you find something,” asked Rose.
“Yeah, look see,” he pressed to a small raised area the size of a smartie. A small window opened in the skull revealing a mass of servos and microchips. “It’s a cyborg. Part organic part machine.”
“Ew. That’s weird. But who would send cybernetic wolves out to kill these villagers?”
The Doctor looked round, his sight fell on the chimney. He walked forward and peered closely at a small hole the size of a fingernail. He used the sonic screwdriver.
“Hmmm…”
“What Doctor?”
He held up his hand, indicating she should stand back.
“Hello, there,” the Doctor swung round to face Rose. “Welcome to the Truman Show-,”

“You mean this is all a show?”
“Listen to me Doctor what does this all mean,” asked Logan.
“This means your little light show in the sky was an invasion, and you’re just entertainment.” The Doctor turned back to face the hole that contained a camera. “Watch out I’m coming!”
There was a buzz from the sonic screwdriver and a quiet popping sound, then a small cloud of smoke trickled out of the hole.
“What was that,” asked Rose.
“A video camera, hidden in the wall.”
“So this is all some kind of show, not a prison with CCTV then?”
“I’m going to find out-,” he replied starting toward the door, but he paused a moment on the threshold all the villagers had crowed round the house.
“Let us come with you,” asked Logan. “If you know who is responsible for…all those deaths we want to help you stop them.”
There were cries of agreement form the crowd outside. They had all lost loved ones and they wanted answers.

***

The Doctor led the villagers through the trees, taking them deeper into the forest than they had ever been before. Many had brought along various makeshift weapons, pitchforks, clubs and torches, still wary of potential attacks by the wolves.
“Where are we heading,” asked Rose.
“Away from the village there’s got to be a reason why the villagers are kept out of the woods.”
He strode ahead until suddenly the Doctor fell back as if he had hit a wall. Rose ran to his aid. He rubbed his nose then shook his head as he got back to his feet.
“Doctor, are you ok?”
“Wow! Yeah, wasn’t expecting that this soon.”
“Expecting what?”
“Force field, invisible of course.”
“How are we going to get through a force field,” asked Rose.
“With the help of my little sonic friend,” he said holding up the sonic screwdriver. He scanned round until he approached one of the trees. By this time the villagers had joined them.
“Why have you stopped,” asked Sergeant Gregory, who had taken up a place at the head of the group.
“We’ve hit a wall, so to speak. I just have to cut the power,” replied the Doctor, as a hidden panel in the tree sprung open with a click. “There you go.”
“Looks complicated to me,” commented Rose.
“Its actually quite simple,” he reached in and pulled out the power crystal.
There was a change in tone and the scene in between two of the trees changed from a view of endless forest to a set of ugly concrete and brick buildings. On the side of one of the largest buildings was a sign displaying the name WolfCub Media, the home of new wave reality viewing. The Doctor moved forward cautiously.
“Doctor, what is it? What’s the matter?”
“I was expecting…well something.”
“Like what?”
“A welcoming party, champagne, soldiers, axe wielding maniac, a security guard, cleaner, tea lady….anyone really. But this place looks deserted.” The Doctor peered round. “Not a dickybird!”
“There are no birds,” exclaimed Rose.
“You’re right,” he replied. “Now that’s really odd.”
“What’s the problem,” asked Sergeant Gregory, who had now joined them. “Everyone wants to know why we have stopped.”
“There is something going on here…I think it might be a trap. It would be better if you stayed with the others while we go on ahead. Just in case.”
“I’m no coward!”
“I know you’re not, but you will stay here,” shouted the Doctor through clenched teeth. “That’s an order Sergeant.”
He hesitated a moment but like many before him eventually bowed to the Doctors will.

***

The Doctor had found a glass panelled set of double doors. He set to work on the lock it soon gave up and allowed them both to enter. The foyer was open with a fountain at one side and seats where you could wait. On the far side of the room was a moon shaped reception desk but it looked like the receptionist had abandoned his or her post. The Doctor walked behind the desk and ran his finger along the desk.
“Look at that,” he held the dust covered finger up. “Someone hasn’t been doing their job.”
“It does look a bit empty,” agreed Rose. “Where do you think everyone has gone? It’s like a nuclear bomb’s gone off.”
“I don’t know. But you may have a point,” he used the sonic screwdriver. “Just check for residual radiation traces…you know to make sure.”
“Is it ok? I’m not going to glow green or anything?”
“Nope you’re fine. According to this map the hub of this place is the editing suite.”
“I guess that’s where we are going then.”

***

They entered the room through the double doors, inside the only light came from banks of computers and one big screen that filled the wall at the end of the room. It showed different views of various villages all similar to the one they had recently left.
“Hello,” called out the Doctor, “anyone here? Come put, come out wherever you are-,”
“I don’t think they are playing hide and seek.”
“The games must go on,” said an electrical voice.
Rose spun round her eyes wide in surprise.
“Whose there?”
“I am the computer. How may I help you?”
“Where are the staff,” asked the Doctor.
“The games must go on.”
“Who is in charge here?”
“Silas Gemp is executive producer.”
“Where is he?”
“The games must go on.”
“You’ve said that before what does it mean? Where is everyone?”
“The games must go on.”
“No help at all! I’ll have to find out for myself.”
He began to type instructions into one of the key pads bringing up information. Rose peered over his shoulder.
“What you doing? Found anything?”
“Don’t do that,” he snapped. “I can’t concentrate with you hovering there.”
She stepped back arms folded, frowning.
“Oh, don’t start sulking,” he added, finishing off his typing with a flourish. “Well, well, well.”
“What? What?”
“Seems like the shows been cancelled,” said pointing to an email. “Look, at this it seems someone hasn’t been checking their messages.”
“Then why are the games still running?”
“The games must go on.”
“It’s at it again,” the Doctor knelt down beside the panel at the base of the large screen. “Let’s see if we can’t make you more talkative.”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m just reversing the polarity of the neutron flow so that the audio matrix accepts my input.”
“Will it work?”
“Of course it will. I’m a genius aren’t I?”
“Come on, ask it what happened to everyone,” said Rose.
“Ok. Computer where are the employees, the people who should be at these terminals?”
“The games must go on. Player levels must be maintained.”
“Yes, yes, I know, I know. Tell me their location.”
“They are now part of the game. The game must go on.”
“Oh,” Rose brought her hand to her mouth, “The staff their in one of those villages.”
“Forced to play the game they once ran. But why are the games still running? They should have stopped with no one running them.”
“The games must go on.”
“Then, then,” the Doctor began to type instructions furiously in to the control pad, “Computer are all the staff now contestants?”
“Ninety-nine point nine percent are engaged in game play.”
“What does that mean,” asked Rose.
“Computer where is Gemp?”
There was no reply.
“Computer I order you to answer me!”
“The games must go on.”
He slammed his fist down on the control panel then spun round and headed for the door.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to stop this farce once and for all. Don’t you see WolfCub it’s just Bad Wolf by another name, the killing stops here.”

***

From his prison the controller watched it all unfold. He had foreseen this, hoped for it even; the merciful release from his bonds. Doomed to do a job he wasn’t trained or qualified for a place he found himself out of necessity. Now he realised how foolish his stubborn refusals had been. Where had it got him? He was just a cog in a giant machine that wouldn’t stop. The man that was once Silas Gemp tried to call out but there was only silence, a deity in that world with no power, no choice, and no life.

***

The Doctor worked on the coded entry panel it accepted his commands and the double doors in front of him slid open with a hiss. He and Rose entered the room cautiously. In the distance they saw him, hooked up to the computer like the controller from the Gamestation.
“Gemp, can you hear me?”
“Is he alive,” asked Rose. “He looks so pale.”
“The mind is still there even if the body is only a shell.”
“What happened?”
“According to records the original controller was damaged in transportation and broke down soon after arrival. So Silas Gemp took on the mantle in order to allow the games to go on.”
“That’s horrible,” replied Rose. “Why didn’t they get a replacement?”
“This place is a bit out of the way. The show was cancelled before a replacement could arrive. Long term exposure to the vast amounts of information has shorted out his brain.”
“Is anything left of the person inside?”
“Maybe, but most likely not.”
“So what do we do ask him to stop the games?”
“There’s no point he can’t hear us. He has no control it would be like asking a circuit board to stop. He’s part of the machine now.”
“Then-,”
The Doctor approached the power console with its unmistakable manual switch. His hand rested on the handle as he glanced up into Gemp’s eyes then back down again.
“Doctor your not going to-, you can’t!”
He sighed.
“There must be another way of shutting it down without killing him.”
“He’s part of the machine now. However I shut the system down he’s dead, a shell, a processor.”
“But-,”
“There’s been enough killing here it stops now.”
“Doctor,” said Rose putting a restraining hand gently on his.
“He’s dead Rose. He was dead the moment he hooked himself up to the computer.”
He looked at her and lifted her hand away gently.
“This is the best for everyone. If there was any other way, any hope I would save him. You know that.”
There was a sharp intake of breath from them both as the Doctor pulled the switch into the off position. A heavy clunk preceded the whine as the station powered down.
“Doctor,” exclaimed Rose.
“What?”
“He spoke,” she replied pointing at Gemp.
The controller’s chest struggled to rise and fall as his lips moved with a whisper. The Doctor moved closer and Rose leaned in.
“Thank, you,” was all they heard. His last words carried on his last breath as his head slumped against his shoulder.
There was a moment of eerie silence almost as a memorial in respect to the deceased. The Doctor took a deep breath then clapped his hands suddenly making Rose jump. She spun round in surprise.
“It’s time to go,” he said, gently leading her out of the room.

The End

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