“Doctor, I asked you and Miss Shaw to look at those meteorite fragments hours ago …”
The Brigadier’s voice seemed to be coming from a very long way away. The laboratory itself seemed to be a very long way away, in fact. Liz knew that the experiment she and the Doctor had set up to analyse the meteorite was currently close to boiling over, but, as she glanced around the alien console room, she couldn’t bring herself to care. One of her hands was currently tightly gripping a lever at the Doctor’s instruction, but she ran the other over the central column with something close to reverence.
“Doctor? Are you in there?”
He pushed the TARDIS door open, as brisk and blustering as ever, when nobody answered. Liz was rather pleased to see that expression disappear when he stepped inside. Her own reaction — disbelief and alarm and delight — was several minutes in the past, allowing her to adopt an air of smug superiority as the Brigadier gazed around in surprise.
”Yes, yes. It's bigger on the inside, I know.” The Doctor, standing next to the console, had his back to the Brigadier and waved him over vaguely. “My dear chap, either come in or step outside. Either way, close the door. Now," he continued, "Liz, my dear, if you could press that green button without letting go of the lever you're holding."
Liz raised an eyebrow at him, stretching in an attempt to illustrate that it was impossible for her to reach a button on the other side of the console without letting go of the lever.
“Oh, allow me.”
The Brigadier pressed the button. Liz, who suspected that he didn’t understand the potential significance of his actions (or that his manners had simply got the better of him), felt her breath catch in her throat. Anticipation and uncertainty fought for dominance and reached an uneasy compromise in her chest. A logical part of her thought that she was being ridiculous for trusting the Doctor in the first place, but another part — an equally logical part — pointed out the impossibility of finding a ship like this. She wasn’t sure what to think anymore.
The central column began to slide up and down, and the air around them was filled with the unfamiliar sound of alien mechanics.
“Ah,” said the Doctor. “That was a slightly better result than I expected.”
Liz spared him a brief glance, before turning her eyes towards the door. Their time at UNIT, whenever that might be in regards to the timeline, was clearly part of yesterday. She wanted to see what lay in the future.
Today was a day of firsts. Her first abduction; her first visit to an alien planet; her first chance to explore a world that had never been touched by humans; her first opportunity to leave footprints in a truly foreign place.
(Liz had a feeling that there would be a lot of days like this, now that she’d met the Doctor.)
She was standing quite a distance from the TARDIS, examining the fascinating glasslike substance that made up the majority of the landscape. It was cool and smooth beneath her fingertips, and glowed softly. She couldn’t think of any mineral that could have made it, and, for once, she considered a lack of knowledge to be something wonderful. Liz had spent her entire life studying the stars from a strictly Earth-based perspective, and now she was walking on a planet she had once viewed through a telescope. (Or even a planet that couldn’t be seen from Earth at all, even with the most advanced lenses in the world. The Doctor hadn’t been particularly clear.) What sort of scientist would she be if she didn’t relish the situation?
Apparently the Brigadier, who had spent a large proportion of his life studying the stars for a very different reason, was less enthusiastic. She could hear him arguing with the Doctor already.
“Another world, Doctor! You've brought Miss Shaw and myself to another world without even asking for our consent!”
“Oh, do try to enjoy yourself, Brigadier. You're standing on ground no human being has stood on before, breathing air never breathed before ..."
“That's a lovely sentiment, Doctor. But what about the Earth?”
“I’ll set the coordinates to take you back. I won’t have such a sourpuss in my TARDIS.”
Liz, picking her way back across the gleaming ground as the Doctor swished his cape and stalked back into the TARDIS, wondered if she would have to return home as well. She’d want to go back to Earth eventually, of course, but there was so much to see first. She wasn’t in any particular rush.
”I think you've upset him,” she remarked to the Brigadier.
”Do you know, Miss Shaw, I think I might have.”
“Still,” she said, “This place is incredible. The odds of there being another planet with a breathable atmosphere are astronomical.” (And she ought to know, since she’d calculated them once as an enthusiastic undergraduate.) “And just look at this landscape!”
“It's the stars I can't get used to. Look at the sky. It's so different from the night sky anywhere on Earth.”
“I would never have guessed you were a stargazer, Brigadier. Watching the skies for threats from other worlds?”
“Always, Miss Shaw. Always.”
Liz found the Brigadier in the TARDIS kitchen. Not that she’d been looking for him, of course, but they were, potentially, the only humans this side of the Milky Way and they really had no choice but to stick together. She still considered him to be a blustering military martinet — a silly little boy playing with invisible ink, remember? — and he still insisted on mollycoddling her because she was female. He was hardly the person she would have picked to accompany her on the trip of a lifetime. That was, unfortunately, simply the way it was.
“The Doctor would like a cup of tea,” she announced.
“And you’re planning on making him one?”
She relished the astonishment on his face. Perhaps he was learning, then.
“No, but I'm planning to see how long it takes him to notice that I won't.”
“In that case, Miss Shaw, why don't you join me?”
He pulled out the chair next to his, but, as he’d used the word ‘Miss’ once more, Liz didn’t take it.
“It’s Doctor Shaw, as it happens.”
“I apologise, Doctor Shaw.”
“But you should call me Liz,” she continued, sitting down with a smile playing at her lips, “The last thing we need around here is another doctor.”
The Brigadier laughed and offered to make them both a pot of tea, and they had forty three minutes of peace, quiet and surprisingly pleasant conversation before the Doctor arrived to ask what had happened to his drink.
“This isn’t Earth, Doctor.”
The Brigadier’s statement was somewhat unnecessary, given the Earth could be seen as a faint blue speck in the Martian sky.
“It's not bad for a first attempt, especially for the TARDIS,” the Doctor replied, and Liz took her eyes off the sky to raise an eyebrow at him. “Well, except by your limited human standards.”
She bristled automatically. Even if she was used to his condescending behaviour by now, Liz knew that she could hold her own — for the most part — when the Doctor began spouting science. She wasn’t about to be lectured like a … like a child.
“Doctor, do you know who they are?”
The Brigadier cut into their argument before it really started, referring the pair to several tall — at least seven foot — figures, who were marching towards them with a distinct sense of purpose. Liz could see the Brigadier’s fingers twitching perceptibly towards the service revolver he no longer wore in his belt.
“Ice warriors! Noble race, I’ve always had a very positive relationship with them.”
He strode forward to meet them, and, with a sideways look at the Brigadier and a smile playing at her lips, Liz followed after him. She was about to meet her first alien alien race.
The Brigadier was hurled into the cell first, and managed to catch hold of Liz when she stumbled in after him, her heels catching on cold cobbles.
“’Very positive relationship’," he grumbled. “If I ever see the Doctor again I'll show him a very positive relationship.”
”At least the Ice Warriors were willing to talk to him,” Liz said, extracting herself from the Brigadier’s arms and surveying their surroundings. She was surprised to note that she wasn’t frightened, yet. This was only her second alien planet, and part of her still couldn’t believe that she wasn’t back at UNIT studying meteorites. (That part of her was sure to get a wake up call today.) “He may be able to convince them to let us go. God, it's chilly in here.”
She’d been so caught up in the rush of things — of TARDIS travel — that it hadn’t occurred to her to change her clothes, which weren’t exactly … well, prim. Her blouse and skirt had been perfectly acceptable — or, at least, on the border of acceptability — when working in a laboratory, but they provided little protection from the biting cold.
It took Liz a moment or two to realise what the Brigadier was actually suggesting, and she gave him a look that was both wary and indignant. Her desire to be warm overcame the lingering traces of formality between them, but she only stepped into her arms after her pride lost a small internal struggle against her sense of logic.
Several hours later, there was still no sign of the Doctor. Liz and the Brigadier were huddled together in the corner of the bitterly cold cell, her head resting on his chest and her fingers, which were rather numb by now, bunched up in his shirt.
“I’m so tired,” she whispered. “I just want to close my eyes.”
“No, no, Liz,” said the Brigadier briskly, and she was astonished to hear the authority in his voice despite his own fatigue. “Open your eyes, you’ve got to stay awake.”
She was thinking about her job at Cambridge, and how she’d protested so vehemently when the Brigadier had press-ganged her into UNIT. She hadn’t been expecting things to end like this. It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
“Of course you can, Doctor Shaw. Tell me about your research at Cambridge. What were you studying?”
It was his use of her title that snapped her back to her senses. It wasn’t going to end like this! Seizing onto the conversation topic with almost desperate enthusiasm, Liz began to detail her research projects. It didn’t matter if the Brigadier understood them or not, really, but he nodded and asked questions occasionally and they were both alive. That was all that mattered.
When the Doctor finally arrived, looking as composed as ever, Liz didn’t have the energy to thank him. Which was just as well, really, because it meant that she didn’t have the energy to shout at him either.
It had taken several carefully chosen comments, as well as a handful of acerbic ones, to convince the Brigadier to change out of his army uniform. The incident on the planet which found the colour olive green offensive had probably helped, although the Doctor couldn’t guarantee that a similar sort of thing wouldn’t happen again with a different colour.
She hadn’t intended to laugh at him, but there was something so very military about the Brigadier, even when he wasn’t wearing his uniform. That, coupled with the stick tucked under his arm, made it inevitable.
”I don't know what you're laughing about,” the Brigadier said, clearly offended. “This was your idea.”
“It's not the clothes,” she said, pointing at the swagger stick, “It's that … thing."
It was a shame, really. Without it, he would have looked rather dapper.
The Doctor entered the console room and stared at the Brigadier in surprise.
“Old boy, what are you wearing?”
He was trying to avoid leaning on her. On the whole, that wasn’t the most ridiculous thing to have happened today, but, given that the Brigadier was also trying to avoid putting weight on a wounded leg, it came rather close.
“When I was a small boy, I used to dream of being a cowboy in the Wild West,” he remarked, sinking gratefully into a chair as soon as they reached the relative safety of the TARDIS. “The real Wild West is rather different.”
“Yes,” Liz agreed, kneeling down next to him and proceeding to roll up his trouser leg, “The bullets are real.”
“Leave that,” he said, pushing her hands away. Liz felt a familiar prickle of rage, wondering what sort of man would allow his pride to prevent necessary medial treatment. A foolish one, evidently, but she still had no desire to see him succumbing to gangrene.
”And who else do you think is going to do it, Alistair?” she asked, sharply, “Unlike some people claiming the title, I actually am a doctor of medicine.”
He gave a nod of assent, which was a start. It wasn’t until she’d removed the bullet that she realised that was the first time she’d actually used his proper name.
There were carvings on the stone wall of the cell. They couldn’t have been made by human fingernails, and Liz had no idea what sort of prisoners the priests of the Hyroxian Empire usually kept. All she knew was that scientific research had been outlawed several centuries ago, and she and the Doctor were now trapped in a cell after finding that out the hard way.
There was no sign of the Brigadier. Not that she was worried about him, of course. He could take care of himself, and she certainly didn’t need him to take care of her.
She ran a hand over the roughly cut marks, wondering what had happened to the person — so to speak — who had made them.
She wasn’t worried.
“Alistair!” she exclaimed, when, a moment later, she was pulled from her reverie by a wonderfully familiar figure marching into the cell block with a retinue of saluting Hyroxians. “What’s happened?”
At a nod from the Brigadier, the guards switched off the force fields to the cells holding Liz and the Doctor.
“I, um, appear to be in charge of the Hyroxian armed forces.”
“Brigadier,” said the Doctor, probably as thrilled by the Brigadier’s embarrassment as he was by his achievement, “You've masterminded a coup d'état.”
“I think the Doctor's been rubbing off on you,” Liz muttered, passing the Brigadier as she followed the Time Lord out of the cell block. She hadn’t been worried.
“Perish the thought, Liz.”
All in all, it was one of the nicest mistakes the Doctor had ever made. It was his thirty-first failed attempt at returning them to Earth and, although they were still out by a few light years, there were no hostile life forms haring across the coastline towards them and no unpleasant monsters rising from the sand. Just a few alien birds wheeling above them and twin suns setting in the distance. Rather peaceful, really.
“Will you miss all this, Alistair?” Liz asked, glancing sideways at her companion. “When the Doctor gets us back to Earth?”
”If the Doctor gets us back to Earth.”
She wasn’t surprised by his pessimism — it was a sentiment she’d shared on more than one occasion during their travels — but she was rather surprised by how vehemently she found herself correcting it. Was she defending the Doctor, or attempting to improve the Brigadier’s morale? Both options had quite a few downsides for her own ego, so she decided not to dwell on either.
”Oh, do be an optimist, Brigadier.”
"I do try. But the Doctor doesn't exactly inspire confidence with his piloting skills."
"He tries his best." Liz laughed, tilting her head to follow the flight path of the largest bird. It wheeled round in a wide circle, silhouetted against the lowest of the suns. “I’ll miss it,” she admitted. “I’ll be glad to get home, but I’ll miss all of this.”
She nodded towards the purple sea, and the sun which had just dipped down behind it. There was something terribly beautiful about it all, once you passed the uncertainty and danger. When they returned, she would have to return to living a normal life — yesterday, today, tomorrow and so on — rather than jumping through time at random. She would be a normal person — albeit a rather brilliant scientist of a person — again.
“It’s like living in a film,” she added.
”I'm surprised to hear you watch films about other worlds.”
Because that wasn’t the sort of thing a scientist was supposed to do? The Brigadier should have realised the truth by now. She wasn’t always a standard scientist, just as he didn’t always follow Liz’s expectations of a military man.
”Perhaps you don't know me as well as you think you do,” she said, acerbically. “And I suppose you watch war films? Boys and their toys?”
"No. As it happens, I like the classics, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn."
"You old romantic, you.” Liz laughed, partly out of amusement and partly out of delight. She was startled to find that she rather liked the way he could wrong foot her from time to time. She enjoyed their banter almost as much as she enjoyed their arguments.
“Come on, you two,” the Doctor called from the TARDIS, interrupting both their conversation and their enjoyment of the view. “We haven’t got time to be sitting around watching the suns set.”
“Yes,” Liz agreed wryly, the second setting sun turning her hair into a flaming halo. “We have to get lost again.”
She held out a hand and allowed the Brigadier to help her to her feet, and pretended not to see the look of rather pleased surprise on his face.
“Good grief …”
The Brigadier stopped so suddenly that Liz narrowly avoided a collision, and she peered over his shoulder to try and glimpse the reason for his consternation.
Somehow — against all reason, against all expectations — the Doctor had succeeded in returning them to UNIT headquarters. The beaker on the work bench hissed softly as the liquid inside it bubbled over, and Sergeant Benton stepped matter-of-factly into the room as if nothing was amiss.
(As far as he was concerned, nothing was amiss. He couldn’t comprehend where they’d been and what they’d done. Even Liz could feel the knowledge fading now they were back beneath the dull electrical lights of the laboratory. She would never stand underneath an alien sky again. She would have to live from day to day, instead of moving through time at random, avoiding true tomorrows.)
The Sergeant addressed the Brigadier as Liz moved automatically across the room to switch off the Bunsen burner and salvage what remained of the substance in the beaker. (Once a scientist, always a scientist.) Behind her, the Doctor was busily examining his pocket watch.
”Two and half minutes after we left," he remarked, adding, “Sergeant, Liz is going to finish the analysis. Myself, I have to be off.”
The three humans backed away automatically when the TARDIS doors shut, although it was only the Brigadier’s hand on her arm that prevented Liz from surging forward and voicing her displeasure. Did he really think he could just abandon them, without as much as a ‘goodbye’? After everything that they’d done together?
The police box faded out of existence, then back again, with an unhealthy wheeze. When the doors opened again, the Doctor stumbled out, holding a handkerchief against his mouth in a meagre defence against the black smoke billowing up behind him.
“My dear, perhaps you would like some help with that analysis?”
The Brigadier’s hand was still on her arm. Liz wasn’t particularly surprised when he interrupted.
“Actually, Doctor, perhaps you’d like to examine the fragments yourself? Doctor Shaw and I are going to go for a pot of tea.”
She made no attempt to hide her smirk, which widened when an astonished — and somewhat appalled — Doctor attempted to meet her eye.
“He is the boss.”
The Brigadier led the way out of the laboratory. When they were alone in the corridor, Liz, feeling suddenly emboldened, slid her arm through his. Perhaps she’d been spending too much time looking up at the skies, alien or otherwise. Perhaps it was time for her to focus on Earth for a little while. Or for a long while, who could tell?
Decisions like that could wait. That was what tomorrow was for.