Man on Fire in a Chinese Room
Once more, a comely spoon threatens the nirvana of bliss that is unconsciousness, so the Doctor opens his eyes again.
The gnarled old handle is there, just like before, and, just like before, the gnarled old hand has wrapped its gnarled old fingers around it.
Slowly, delicately, as though he is a mother reptile enfolding precious, leathery, soft, easily-torn eggs in sharp, chipped, monstrous teeth, he props one eyelid up and reaches for her hand, folding also the wrist-resting spoon into his touch as though skin, utensil and all were uncooked dough in need of leavening.
“ I admire you, old woman.” he mumbles quietly after finishing such a soup as has never been drunk on grey sand before or since, “I would never have done it. You are stronger than I.” With much less a sigh than an exhaled seal of ephemeral contentment, he slurps the last of the hot liquid from the bowl; unlike the scrumptious, sumptuous soup, it smells of vaguely heavy fish and some sort of chowdery cheese. Delicious, on any other day.
“All these I’s! You always were such a lovely boy, daft and selfish to a fault. I have to get you back on your feed. You are not well yet, and there is still journey ahead of you.” The wrinkles on her hands squirm like little butter snails over his face, then drop down to his stomach, where they situate themselves across the small of his back and begin to rub, dousing a lance of stabby ache he’d been feeling since before he’d woken this last time.
As the old woman works, the Doctor looks away, leaning back on his arms, a lazy teenager lying in the disguising rugs and carpets that pass for high grass in the Time-Locked storage he’d tucked away forever ago.
“When do you think to do it, my Lord?” she wonders aloud, slipping the question in between the circles she rubs along his spine and shoulder blades. “You can’t be putting it off forever, now, child.”
“Did I wait too long, old woman?” asks he, and a smack across his sturdy back echoes for his troubles.” I take it that’s a no then. Well, it might as well happen now.” He sticks a hand in his impossible pocket, comes out with a strange silvery-tan rod with a green light at the top. His sonic, she supposes. “There’s a linkup that has to happen; let me see if the pawn’s in position and then you can spread the stuff around, make it look nasty for the audience. Meet me back here, head in my lap at six of the clock, do you hear me, old thing? I’ll make this easy on you if it kills me.”
Another smack of that beloved old palm, and then the nurse is out the tent flap, so to speak.
Once he hears that she is gone, the Doctor throws off the blankets and stands up, arching and stretching himself, then goes to a locked cabinet disguised as a small storage locker with the Gallifreyan symbol for vegetable pills written in hasty red scrawl on the silvery top. He runs his hand over the box, letting it scan his biodata for confirmation. It slides open, revealing a leather bracer with embedded keypad.
He reaches inside, takes the wriststrap and applies it to his right wrist, entering coordinates in the general proximity of Old Earth, 2012. Then he looks back at the tent flap, rubs the burn from his stinging eyes, and depresses the small key beside a screen that reads,