Jack is the only living being on floor five hundred. The TARDIS is gone; the seconds tick by into minutes and Jack realizes that if they are coming back, it will not be immediately, for whatever reason.
The TARDIS, though capable of some incredible feats of precision, such as materializing around Rose, is also capable of error. Rose once told Jack about how the Doctor meant to let her stop by home twelve hours after she'd left, and they'd landed a year late.
Jack cannot count on a last-minute rescue. Well, that's all right. He was never one to rely on anyone else. It drove the Time Agency nuts; he went through partners like watches. (It is an aphorism that a Time Agent's watch is never right--until he buys one locally.)
So, that's that. Jack goes up to the control console, starts pulling up data. It's all raw at first, and while he can read the stark numbers, he doesn't quite believe them.
He gets the external cameras up and running. He finds that Earth's skies are clear. Too clear.
Jack looks down and touches the letters engraved above the palm interface. BAD WOLF. The name of a television station, a nuclear disaster waiting to happen, a German bomb. But all too easily lost in translation.
It is said (another aphorism) that any phrase of any language, spoken aloud, will mean something to someone, somewhere, in another tongue. It is said that worlds have gone to war over the sound of words which meant something quite innocent to the person who spoke them.
The phrase "bad wolf," spoken aloud, means absolutely nothing in Tulla, the only other language that Rose could be sure Jack spoke. Even written out, "bad wolf" does not correlate with any meaningful string of Tulla's thousands of characters.
But "BAD WOLF"--and it is the first time Jack has seen it written out this way, in all capitals, in English, the language which conquered a planet and survived millennia in one form or another--"BAD WOLF" is a sentence of word-symbols of an ancient religious dialect of the Tulla language which Jack only knows because he boffed their prophet, and it means something which could have easily come out of that prophet's mouth. It means, "That which is made can be unmade."
Jack traces the characters B and the F with the tips of his forefingers, the symbols for "made" and "unmade." His hands tremble.
Jack is the only living being on floor five hundred. On floors four hundred ninety-nine to ought, there are nearly half a million life signs. If he had to bet--and Jack likes to bet, Jack made a career of betting his life before his debts came due and he lost two years of it--Jack would bet the exact number is the sum of the unevacuated contestants and staff plus all of the Daleks in the fleet.
The scary thing is, all of the life signs are human.
The Controller, who has no name and controls nothing, cannot stand. She cannot control her own muscles. She lays curled on the floor, shaking, for every fiber of her being aches. Her spine wants to snap back the other direction, find the curve it has hung in for years. She would let it, if she had any strength.
She was grown in the core of Game Station, the axis around which five hundred floors spun, the column of zero gravity. When her body reached optimal length for data jack implantation, she was harvested from the core, taken to floor sixteen and pierced throughout. They did not anaesthetize her, because they did not need to keep her from moving. The centrifugal force, finely calibrated to point seven five of an Earth gravity, was crushing. She had never felt its like.
They hung her in a harness meant to evenly distribute her weight. She had never before had weight. She felt as if she were being constantly slammed against the walls of the core--only when you hit the walls of the core, you bounced. Nothing held you there. Every second of every minute in that harness felt like an impact, all along her torso, her shoulders, her hips.
She spent her entire life floating, or supine, or suspended. Only once did she stand. She prepared for it for years, jerking her thighs, arching her back, hoping it would build the muscles up enough to let her succeed, because she knew she had to. She knew she had to stand when she faced her masters.
She knew because she watched the games. Cowards crouched, or ran, or covered their faces. The brave died with dignity, on their feet, standing straight and tall.
She knew that when her time came, she wanted to die standing.
She is alive. She cannot stand. Her body has betrayed her.
She does not know what to do now.
Rodrick wants his money. He's earned it.
The random contestant selection process isn't all that random. If you're serving in a political office, you can't be selected. If you give the right people in Bad Wolf enough money, your name never comes up. If you're like Rodrick, not rich enough for either of the former options but with a few friends who read entertainment distribution at university and have just enlisted with the corporation, then you can, for a few favors, pick your own poison.
Rodrick knew he wanted something with a winner, someone who got to live. Not all of the shows had that. Some of them are just shooting fish in a barrel. That Dalek game? Perfect example. Everyone's dead.
Only no one is. Not even stupid Fitch, who cried when they voted her the weakest link. Rodrick hopes she doesn't contest his claim on the prize money. She wouldn't have a very strong case as she didn't even make it past the first round, but two people from the same game, both alive, sounds like it might be a case for a sudden death tie-breaker round.
A little part of Rodrick's brain, a part he is steadfastly ignoring, suggests that if he's seeing people he knows are dead, maybe he's dead too, maybe this is hell.
Rodrick never thought hell would look like the Game Station. He always thought Game Station would be his way off Earth, to the stars--just as soon as he got his money.