All three women looked up as the door opened. A man in smart dress uniform entered carrying a tray of tea and biscuits.
“Mike!” Sarah Jane recognised her old friend straight away. “It’s been years. I’m so glad you’re here.”
Retired Captain Mike Yates stood a little stiffly in a uniform he hadn’t worn for some time.
“I couldn’t not be here,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the Brigadier... if he hadn’t spoken up for me all those years back... I’d have been court martialled and thrown out of the army not medically discharged with my honour intact. I’d have no right to wear this uniform at his funeral.”
Sarah Jane nodded. She had been thinking about her time with U.N.I.T a lot in these past few days, but that awkward time when Mike’s future hung in the balance was a memory she had glossed over.
“I was just telling Sarah and Liz about my last adventure with the Brigadier,” Jo Grant said. “Remember Llanfairfach, Mike.”
“How could I ever forget? Giant maggots roaming the valley.”
“I brought some of the wedding photos,” Jo added. “The Brigadier gave me away. Next to The Doctor, he was the only one I could have wanted to do that. He looked magnificent in his kilt.”
They looked at the pictures. It was a long time ago. They all looked so very young then. They felt the passage of the intervening years keenly for a few moments.
“The first time I met him,” Liz Shaw said. “I gave him hell for dragging me down from Cambridge to play war games. He must have wondered what had hit him. I don’t think he’d ever had a woman stand up to him before.”
“He never got to grip with the idea of women in the Army,” Mike commented. “Certainly not outside the typing pool.”
“I didn’t mind,” Sarah Jane admitted. “Usually I HATE male chauvinists. But the Brigadier... he was such a gentleman. I even brought him tea once. I wouldn’t have done that for any other man, not even The Doctor. Especially not The Doctor.”
“Does he know?” Jo asked. “He’d be here, wouldn’t he?”
“U.N.I.T sent out a Code 9 signal on the subwave network,” Mike said. “But if he isn’t on Earth he might not get the message.”
“He’ll want to be here,” Liz said. “They fought like mad about everything. The Doctor was often angry with him for being a part of the ‘closed-minded military machine’. But they were friends. There was respect... mutual respect. He’d want to be here.”
“There’s still time.” Sarah Jane looked at the clock on the wall. She sipped the tea to pass the time and turned her gaze towards the window. Life went on as normal at U.N.I.T headquarters. Soldiers were going about their work. An armoured personnel carrier rumbled towards the main gate. There were a few signs of this being a day marked out from others, all the same. The flag on a pole in the courtyard was at half mast, and many of the soldiers were gathering in their dress uniforms ready for the funeral ceremony.
The door opened again and two people came in who Sarah Jane didn’t recognise. The man was wearing a colonel’s uniform, though he was almost certainly retired. The lady was in a black dress but she was holding a professional camera as if she was ready at any moment to capture that moment for posterity.
Mike stood and saluted the retired officer then shook hands with the lady before turning to introduce them to the others.
“This is Colonel Jimmy Turner, and his wife, Isobel. The Colonel was my predecessor as the Brigadier’s right hand man. Colonel, this is Elizabeth Shaw, Jo Grant Jones and Sarah Jane Smith, who were all civilians attached to U.N.I.T for a time during the 1970s.”
“Of course,” he said reaching to shake hands with all three women. “I’m delighted to meet you all. I’m only sorry it was under such circumstances.”
Isobel sat with them and was very soon recounting her first experience of U.N.I.T., the Brigadier and an attempted invasion of Earth by Cybermen.
“I got myself into a bit of trouble,” she admitted. “Mainly because the Brigadier was so old fashioned about ‘a woman’s place’, wanting me to stay behind, that I went off and tried to investigate for myself.”
“Exactly what we were just saying,” Liz answered her. “I don’t think he ever quite came to terms with Women’s Lib. The last of his kind, I think.”
“I should say so,” Mike commented. “I did hear that when he retired, they replaced him with a woman! I’d have liked to have seen his reaction to that!”
They all laughed. It felt good to do that. This had been a solemn gathering, but for a little while they laughed. In the midst of the laughter they were joined by more new arrivals. Brigadier John Benton stepped into the room accompanied by a lady he introduced as Tegan Jovanka.
“Oh,” Sarah Jane said to her. “Yes, you used to go around with The Doctor. I remember. That strange business with the time scoops and the Tomb of Rassilon. The Brigadier was there, too.”
“I met him once before that,” Tegan said. “Well, twice, really. There was time travel going on. Things were pretty confused. But The Brigadier was the one sane, sensible person in the midst of it all. When I heard... I got the first flight I could from Brisbane.”
“Have a cup of tea,” Jo said to her. “You must need it after that.”
There didn’t seem to be much else to say. They drank more tea and kept one eye on the clock. Benton excused himself but Mike Yates stayed with the group of women, sharing reminiscences about The Brigadier. Sarah Jane thought that was the one unusual thing about this day. When she met up with Liz or Jo, they usually talked about The Doctor. This time, he was only periphery to their stories, not the central character in them.
Where was The Doctor? She couldn’t believe that this day could pass without him being there. He would make the effort, surely? Of all of them, he was The Brigadier’s closest friend. They went together, The Doctor and The Brigadier, both of them the definitive article. When she thought of the word ‘doctor’ she thought of THE Doctor with one face or another. When she thought of the military ranks of brigadier she thought of Brigadier Alasdair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart.
Mike told a story about The Brigadier that made them laugh again. At the back of their minds, something told them that they shouldn’t laugh at a time like this. But something else told them that their friend would not be offended.
In the midst of the laughter, the door opened. It was Clyde Langer, looking a little uncomfortable in a borrowed suit.
“It’s time,” he said to them.
“There’s no sign of... him?” Sarah Jane asked. Clyde shook his head. He held out his arm to Sarah Jane. She took it gratefully. She suddenly felt as if her legs wouldn’t hold her up.
They stepped outside into the spring sunshine. Luke and Rani were there, with Doris, The Brigadier’s widow, who had asked for the youngsters to keep her company while she waited. She looked strained, but was putting a brave face before the world. There was a smartly dressed lieutenant nearby, assigned to look after her needs, but she preferred to take Luke’s arm as they walked across the flagged courtyard to the chapel. Rani walked with the lieutenant. Sarah Jane looked around once, hoping to see a splash of blue parked incongruously by the barrack wall. There was nothing.
Perhaps he didn’t get the message in time.
But he was a Time Lord. Even if the message was late, he didn’t have to be.
He should be here.
The coffin was already in the chapel, draped with a union flag and with The Brigadier’s cap, belt and an impressive number of medals and ribbons laid on top. It had been there overnight for any U.N.I.T man or woman who wanted to pay their private respects. She was told that almost all of them had done so.
The funeral service was a more private affair. Sarah Jane knew most of the people there, at least by sight.
When the chapel door opened quietly just before the service began, she turned hopefully. But the last two mourners were Martha Jones, who had been a U.N.I.T medical officer for a while, and Jack Harkness, who called himself Captain but wasn’t attached to U.N.I.T and was more than a little vague about where and when he had earned his commission. His own work had brought him into contact with U.N.I.T on many occasions, though, and as director of Torchwood he had reason enough to pay his respects to a man whose fight was the same as his own.
They sat behind her. Martha leaned forward and touched her shoulder.
“We came on behalf of... you know who.”
“He sends his apologies. He’s got a bit of a problem on Planet One.”
“He’s a busy man,” Sarah Jane conceded. “Still, I do wish...”
She couldn’t say any more. The service was beginning. They all stood and sang the first hymn. Sarah Jane got through two verses before a stray tear fell. It was knowing that The Doctor wasn’t there that finally broke her resolve. She cried quietly hoping nobody would notice.
The hymns and prayers passed in their turn. The chaplain kept his sermon short, talking about duty and honour. Then Benton stood at the lectern in his best uniform. Sarah Jane remembered him when he was a young sergeant, often at the wrong end of a flash of bad temper from The Brigadier simply because he was the lowest rank within shouting range. But his loyalty and respect never wavered, and he let everyone know it, now.
“The Brigadier didn’t like being called a hero,” he said in conclusion of his oration. “Even though he was, over and over again. If you called him that to his face, he would smile slightly and tell you he was just doing his best. The best any of us can do is follow his example in that respect.”
He bowed his head silently for a few moments then stood down. There was another hymn, and another prayer, and then the service was over. The six pall bearers, all in full dress uniform but capless, stepped forward. Yates was one. Colonel Jimmy Turner was another. The third man was called Colonel Mace. He was the man in charge of U.N.I.T, now, doing The Brigadier’s job. The other three were women. Sarah Jane recalled being introduced to them earlier in the day. One was a Brigadier herself, Winifred Bambera. She had spoken with fondness and undisguised admiration of the time when she was in the midst of a world-threatening crisis and she had given way to the retired Lethbridge-Stewart because command of U.N.I.T seemed to be his job, still.
The other two women were a Captain Erisa Magambo and a Captain Marion Price, both of whom had met The Brigadier only rarely, but as the latest generation of U.N.I.T officers, filling the shoes men like Mike Yates and Jimmy Turner had once filled, were acutely aware of the proud tradition they had to uphold. They had both of them asked to be allowed to be pall-bearers.
The Brigadier had some old fashioned ideas about women in the military. Sarah Jane thought he might be surprised to have three of them bearing his coffin. She wasn’t sure whether she expected him to chuckle at the irony or jump out of the coffin in outrage and demand that things were done properly.
Outside the cortege was assembled. The coffin was reverently placed into the hearse. Luke and Rani went with Doris into the chief mourner’s car. The rest of the mourners got into the cars waiting behind. In front and rear were police motor-cycle outriders. It was a few miles to the cemetery and The Brigadier was not going to be stuck in a traffic jam on this last journey.
Traffic was stopped at every junction along the way, and as they passed through the village, Sarah Jane swallowed a lump in her throat and watched with pride the civilians, ordinary members of the public, who lined the pavements and bowed their heads as the cortege went by. Much of the work U.N.I.T did was secret. These ordinary people were protected from ever knowing the real perils that so often threatened their world. Even so, they knew enough to be genuinely grateful to the man who had led that force for so long and to pay him the respect due.
At the gates of the cemetery the cortege stopped. Preparations had been made in advance. An honour guard already lined the path from the gate to the graveside. U.N.I.T men and women were on the left, not in the red berets of the modern force, but the blue that was worn in The Brigadier’s day. On the right was an honour guard provided by the London Scottish Regiment. Only a few people knew that was The Brigadier’s regiment before he was promoted to general staff and put in charge of U.N.I.T. They wore a full Scots plaid as part of their dress uniform and tam-o-shanters with thistle motifs that would bob when they marched. They didn’t bob now. Every man and woman in the line stood silently and as still as statues with heads bowed and the muzzles of their weapons down.
The pall bearers took up their burden again. Brigadier Benton with a red sash across his chest was bearer party command, taking up position behind the coffin. In front a piper got ready to play. The mourners quietly found their places in the procession.
The piper took a deep breath ready to inflate the bag, then let it out again. There was no noise except a raised level of twittering from the birds in the trees, but a sudden breeze whipped up, rippling the carefully laid flag on top of the coffin. Sarah Jane’s heart lurched as the TARDIS materialised without its usual sound heralding it. Even that amazing machine had a sense of propriety and didn’t disturb the moment any more than necessary.
The Doctor stepped out. The Doctor as he was now, not as Sarah Jane or her friends remembered him at various times. He was wearing a sober and appropriate black suit and instead of bounding out of the TARDIS like he was on springs, he walked calmly and deliberately. He went to Doris, first, and spoke quietly and privately to her. She answered him with a nod and a grateful smile. Then he came to Sarah Jane’s side.
“I’m sorry I was late,” he said as he took her arm, nodding to Clyde who relinquished that honour to him.
“That’s all right, you’re here now,” she assured him. Then the piper looked around sternly, as if daring anything else to appear out of thin air, and took another breath. A march called Highland Laddie filled the air as the funeral procession moved forward.
Without The Doctor by her side, Sarah Jane wondered how she would have managed those few hundred yards of asphalt path to the graveside. She felt as if she was walking in a dream. The pipe music filled her ears, the underlying drone and skirl of it resonating in her heart. She held on tightly to The Doctor and somehow managed to keep putting her feet one after the other.
Before they reached the graveside they passed the regimental colours – those of U.N.I.T with those brave wings offering protection to planet Earth – and the London Scottish whose bravest moment was at the battle of Messines in 1915. The colours were lowered as the coffin went by. The piper’s tune changed to Flowers of the Forest, the traditional tune to be played at the graveside of soldiers.
There were some more words to be said at the graveside, more prayers. Then a bugler played the Last Post as the coffin was lowered into the ground. When the last note faded away the volley party stepped forward. There was a traditional command that was usually given at this moment, but this was The Brigadier’s funeral, after all.
“Chap with wings, five rounds rapid,” was the command. The shots fired into the air echoed in the silence that followed. Then the piper breathed deeply again and played a haunting tune that only a very few aficionados of military music would recognise as the regimental march of the Unified Intelligence Taskforce. As it was played, Benton stepped towards Doris and gave her the cap, belt and medals that had been on the coffin. The Union flag was carefully folded and carried away by Colonel Mace.
It was over. The Brigadier lay at rest in the military section of the cemetery among other soldiers, some who had defied the odds and lived to die quietly in bed like himself, some who had died far too young, doing their duty.
“I wish...” Sarah Jane said in the strangely uncertain time after the formalities were over and they were waiting for everyone to pay their personal respects before heading back to the cars. “I wish...”
She wasn’t sure what she wished. She felt The Doctor’s hand squeeze hers understandingly.
“If there is anything you feel you should have said to him... as long as I’m around, its never too late. We can jump in the TARDIS and go back...”
Sarah Jane smiled but shook her head.
“That would be... cheating,” she said. “No, there’s nothing to regret, really. We’ve all been lucky... to have known each other, to have learned from each other, all these years. We’ll all miss him. But that’s how life is for humans.”
“It’s how life is for Time Lords, too,” The Doctor told her very solemnly, and his eyes for a moment seemed to be infinite pools of untold grief. Then he smiled widely. “Come on. I believe there’s a reception at U.N.I.T HQ. Benton will have a whole lot of anecdotes to tell about the good old days, many of which will be deeply embarrassing to me, of course. But I’ll suffer in silence.”
Sarah Jane laughed softly and clung to his arm. They had marked the passing of a good friend. He wasn’t the first. He wouldn’t be the last. But there was one friend she never had to say goodbye to. He would always be there when she needed him, most.
The rest of them, they all just did, as The Brigadier said, the best they could.