by Teyla Emmagan-Dex
Elizabeth and I met for the first time a week after George Hammond hired me. I was a navigator by training, learning it from my father, but not practice. No one was willing to hire a woman in those days, most wouldn't even consider the idea, so my hiring seemed a mystery until Elizabeth appeared on the horizon.
She'd been working for him for years at that point; first as a pilot, then as an executive with the company. Any questions I had about why I'd been hired vanished when her plane taxied to a stop before the Hammond Air hanger and she got out. She made quite the sight, grinning down at me with wild hair and a dirt-smudged face.
Hammond had hired two others with me that day, both men, and neither of them could believe their eyes. Even having seen her land, and with her co-pilot swearing to it, none of them truly believed she'd been flying the plane.
It was no surprise.
I didn't know my mother, but I knew Charon, the woman who had raised me from infancy. She would have taken one look at those men that day and snorted, saying, 'Teyla, my darling, you remember this; most men don't know their head from their arse and heaven help you if you make the mistake of trying to point out the difference.'
I suspected someone had once told Elizabeth Weir the same thing. She handled those men the same way she handled everyone else: with grace, charm, and a look that would have frozen fire.
I'd come home to Gander from Montreal to work in the airport; Elizabeth Weir took me to the skies. In doing so, she changed my world, helped turned the tide of a war, and revolutionize transatlantic air travel forever.
As one can imagine, we became fast friends and remain so to this day. Elizabeth is a brilliant woman who has deserved every accolade the world could bestow on her.
It would be a pity that no one ever has, if not for the fact that's the way she likes it.
Elizabeth Weir is the legend no one's ever heard of. Born to wealthy Boston parents in the winter of 1904, she was raised in the lap of luxury with every opportunity available to her. That is not the remarkable part of her story, not by a long shot. Introduced to flying by her parents, Elizabeth seized upon that particular skill with all the ferocity she was capable of.
As the sole heir to her family fortune, Elizabeth had no need of a career, but she determined to make her way in the skies. Determination was something she would need in spades. For all her family's wealth and influence, her gender very nearly destroyed Elizabeth's career before it began.
It's there that I find my inspiration. I've never known the battles that Elizabeth did, I've never had the doors shut in my face that she did, but as a pilot, I am the inheritor of her fight. And you, dear reader, are equally an inheritor of that fight. Ferry Command's flights across the Atlantic changed the face of air travel and, perhaps, without Elizabeth it might never have happened.
Telling her story is a lifelong dream that found its beginnings in my stumbling across a photograph of her in my grandmother's things. The picture of Elizabeth Weir and fellow pilot John Sheppard had been from far earlier in their career (just shortly after she'd achieved her pilot's license) but it was enough to peak my interest. A female pilot around the turn of the century?
I'd never imagined such a thing and, at sixteen, I was starry eyed at the idea. I still am.
I dreamt of a rebellious lady pilot, defying the world and its expectations as she soared into the horizon. Which, yes, Elizabeth did, but that was just the least of it.
When I called to speak with her, intent on asking if I might attempt this project, I was struck by the relative youth of her voice. Hers was not the spidery, weak voice of an elderly woman. Far from it. She sounded as vibrant and as youthful as any of the university students I deal with on a daily basis and I found myself transported back to that kid in her grandma's attic.
It isn't overstating things to call her one of my inspirations and my heart raced as we made plans to meet.
Elizabeth is American-born, but her time with Ferry Command left her a lingering love of the island from which it was based. She remained there after the end of the war and lives there to this day. Little more than a rock in the midst of the North Atlantic, Newfoundland has taken on mythical status in my mind. Almost a modern-day Atlantis in its way and I'd thought of visiting it as part of my research. I don't sleep a wink the night before I leave and there's not a drop of exhaustion in me as I pull up to the little house in a little cove that is her home.
She meets me at the door with a warm smile and a cup of tea. I take said tea with a grateful smile and many thanks. The winter has begun to set in and the cold is bracing.
"The weather here takes some getting used to," Elizabeth says, moving ahead of me into the house. It's small, well-kept, and filled with books. I fall in love at the very sight of it. "But once you do, you never want to leave."
I laugh. "I'll have to take your word for that."
She tips her head and smiles. I smile back.
I know the story of Ferry Command. It's been written about before, both from civilian and military perspective, but not much about Elizabeth or the life she built through the program.
It takes me a few meetings, a few long conversations, before I dare to ask. Elizabeth stills and her smile softens. "I thought you might ask about that."
"Just start anywhere," I say, holding yet another cup of tea. "Please?"
Elizabeth sighs and nods. "All right." She laughs. "To start with, I thought George was crazy."
Straight On Till Morning: Elizabeth Weir and Ferry Command
Saying that I had my doubts that Ferry Command would work was being generous. When George came in one morning and announced the idea, I said it was impossible. The logistics of flying short range aircraft across the Atlantic seemed insurmountable. Even if one accounted for fuel and navigational issues, there was the weather to contend with, communication, land, and oh yes, the part where there was a war on.
Hearing George blithely state he'd promised to deliver American-made warplanes to English shores, I almost thought that he'd gone mad.
You must remember, in those days, international air travel was in its relative infancy. The idea of flying such small aircraft across the Atlantic seemed ludicrous. No one wanted to risk trying it. No one except George.
I'll never forget George standing before the map in my office, his fingers tracing back and forth between North America and Europe. I can still see the frown on his face as he worked it out.
"Pilots?" I asked.
He grinned. "You'll find them."
I huffed a laugh, but his faith in me was warming.
"Being delivered at the border."
"Best left at the door."
I laughed and stood to join him. "That's the most reasonable thing you've said since you came in. Honestly, George, flying planes across the Atlantic is―wait, the planes are being delivered at the border?"
"We're working around the Neutrality Act," George reminded me. "The United States cannot legally aid England, however much they might want to, so we have to get a little creative." His eyes were so full of excitement, it was almost difficult to remember we were talking about a war. "All our compatriots can do is bring the planes to the border."
"And once they're there?"
"Some very generous citizens will give them a little push." He chuckled. "I believe the plan involves horses."
I shook my head. "Once they're here, our pilots pick them up and fly them here―"
"Then to Newfoundland and from there, we'll plot out a flight." George stared back up at the map. "It'll be damn dangerous, but we don't have much choice."
"And the RAF?"
"Doesn't have the manpower to risk their pilots on this," George said. "This one's on us. How many pilots do we still have on the payroll?"
"Not enough," I said, running the numbers in my head. We weren't going to be doing this for just a handful of planes. If we could work out the logistics and make this idea of his work then we would be facing a critical shortage of pilots. And that was only the first flight. If we were to keep this up, our pilots were going to return home by sea and taking the risk of encountering German U-boats along the way. I shivered. The idea of what George had committed us to was tantalizing, but I didn't much fancy the idea of dying at sea either.
George was looking at me and, for that reason, I put the idea of the freezing Atlantic waters out of my mind in favour of the more pleasant problem at hand. "There are a few in the area that we might be able to persuade, but it would be easier if we had help." I bit my lip and ventured to ask, "You think you can persuade Jack to join the fun?"
The question brought me a curious look from George. Jack and I had never had a problem, per se, but I had never truly enjoyed working with the man. He was an old friend of George's, an amazing pilot, and a nature born leader. He'd never been anything but polite and courteous to me when he'd worked here, but that meant little when all the men on our payroll looked to him when they should have been looking to me. Jack had done his best to discourage that, but I hadn't shed many tears when he'd retired to his cabin in Minnesota with plans to go fishing.
I'd never expected him to stay there (if only because that lake had less fish than my bathtub) but now I was sure of it. Jack wouldn't pass up on this.
"I think I could," George said. "That guarantees his people." Because where Jack went, you'd find Carter, Jackson, Teal'c, and Mitchell right tight behind him. Not all of them were pilots, of course, but we'd need every navigator and radio operator we could get to pull this off. I'd only been thinking about the matter for a few minutes and, already, my list of 'need' greatly outstripped my list of 'had' and I doubted that was going to change anytime soon.
I realized, in the course of thinking that over, that George was looking at me. I felt my heart sink. "Yes," I said, before he could ask the question we both knew was coming, "I'm fairly sure I can get John."
John Sheppard was one of the best pilots I'd ever had the opportunity to fly with. A man with a talent for flying and instincts for the air that were invaluable, he was exactly the kind of person we needed if we were going to pull this off.
I'd also been in love with him since I was sixteen years old.
"Can you handle flying with him again?"
"I don't have much choice," I said. "I don't think the British would appreciate it if we failed to deliver their planes because I couldn't work with my ex."
I'd smiled, George had laughed, and we'd thrown ourselves into the project. First and foremost was the matter of recruiting pilots and aircrew. We needed as many of them as we could get, so while George went about setting up the actual program, I was dispatched to find us pilots.
That was far trickier than you might believe. I was able to recruit freely within Canada, but returning home to the US meant operating with a far more delicate hand. Which is not to say we did not receive aid from Washington in those days. President Roosevelt turned a blind eye to much of our activity, such as permitting us the freedom to set up offices from which to work so that my staff could continue to recruit even when I had returned to Canada.
It was exhilarating work. Working with George and his company had seen me take on a more administrative role in previous years, but now I was back in the cockpit. While commercial flights were readily available, I had a dizzying schedule and preferred the freedom of my own plane.
Besides, I needed to brush up. I was going to be flying the Atlantic before long and I needed the practice.
And I needed the time to think.
John and I hadn't seen each other in years. Not since the last time we'd taken Gertrude up. There had been no acrimony to our parting, I wish that there had for it might have made it less difficult, but that didn't make it any easier to see him again.
I had always known I would never marry. My father understood my reasons. His gender allowed him the luxury of both career and family while mine did not. If I were to choose a career in the sky, I would have to do so over a life with husband and children.
I'd never regretted that until John. He'd known I would refuse his proposal even before he'd asked, so there had been no anger when I did, but that had meant nothing in the face of the loss. I'd wanted to say yes. I wanted that life with him. I wanted the sky and the sea, mornings in bed and afternoons on the airfield and in the air. I wanted it all, but I knew what I could and couldn't have.
I wanted to fly and if I had a husband, that was never going to happen.
Ten years on, I had my career. My name was a respected one. I was known throughout the industry as a pilot and an executive. My presence and role in this project spoke to that. I had done what I'd set out to do.
I was still afraid to face him. The irony was, I didn't know why.
John was working at a flight school just over the border. I gave myself a few days before I approached him, but it didn't help. My stomach was nothing but butterflies as I got out of the car. It wasn't much of a school, but better than the one we'd met at. I looked up at the hanger outside which John's current plane sat and felt a wave of nostalgia.
Oh, how I missed this life. I wouldn't trade an instant of working with George. It was the culmination of everything I'd been working on for years, planes and pilots at my command, and it had brought me to this point.
I loved it, but I missed this too. I missed this and I missed the man walking toward me. Seeing John again was a knife to the heart. I loved him still. I'd always been aware of my feelings, those had never been a problem on either side, but the depth of them were another story entirely.
They'd grown and the sight of him made my head spin. He looked wonderful.
He and his copilot had obviously just landed, tossing insults back and forth and complaining about the plane's engine as they went. It was familiar chatter. Pilots are loyal about their planes. We have our preferences and we stick to them. When forced into something else, we tended to complain and complain bitterly.
John was laughing still when he walked around the car and saw me.
I opened my mouth to say hello, but found myself staring silently at him instead. He'd barely changed one whit and I was one second away from raising my hand to brush fingertips against his jaw. If it hadn't been for John's copilot and the ground crew, I just might have.
I found my voice. "John."
"Elizabeth?" The copilot ducked around him, staring at me with open fascination. "That Elizabeth? You're her?" He grinned a little, then seemed to remember himself and rushed forward with an outstretched hand. "Sorry. My name's Aiden. Aiden Ford."
I smiled and shook the hand he offered me. "Lovely to meet you, Mr. Ford. As to whether or not I'm 'that' Elizabeth, I cannot say."
"You are," John said. His voice was a quiet rasp that brought my eyes back to him. "And you're here."
I nodded. "I am. Can we talk inside?" I didn't look at the listening men. There were too many ears for me. I knew that Washington was sympathetic and I knew they were doing everything: they could to not notice my activities, but they weren't the only ones I was worried about.
The Nazis had supporters in the United States and I didn't want any of them getting wind of this either.
If word of what we were doing made it to Berlin, we might be greeted by the Luftwaffe or worse. There were rumors of secret divisions within the German military and each story was worse than the last.
John's hand on my elbow brought me from my thoughts and I looked up at him to see worry in his face. It took barely a second to sort out what I was seeing. "I'm fine, John. This isn't about me. Not like that."
The fear went out of him in an instant and I let him lead me inside. There, I removed my hat, sliding the pin through the brim and looked at them both with a smile. "How would you feel about trying to fly the Atlantic?"
John's face, I think, looked like mine when George had suggested the same to me. Aiden, however, was grinning from ear to ear.
"Sounds completely impossible, ma'am. When do we leave?"
My house in Montreal was a quiet little place, but I didn't need anymore than that. I'd never wanted anymore. The house served my needs when I was on the ground and that was all I required.
Still, it suddenly seemed so very small when John stood in the living room. "Where's Mr. Ford?"
"Lieutenant Ford, technically," John said. He took the coffee I held out and sat down on the sofa. I took the chair opposite him and focused on my own mug. "Well, it would have been if things were different."
I nodded. I understood.
John almost smiled. "Guess you'd know better than I would."
I smiled, but it didn't sit on my face easily. It was too much like time had rolled back, putting John and I back into the framed photo that sat still on my mantlepiece.
My eyes went to it now. I didn't feel like that Elizabeth anymore. I didn't sit in that skin well. She felt like a stranger to me now. I'd lost so much of my idealism in the fight to get where I was, but that didn't feel like an actual loss to me. I looked at her now, remembering that fire and determination to prove my detractors wrong and live up to the faith people (John, my parents, and a smattering of friends) had put in me. I'd had no idea then just how cruel people could be in the dismissal of my dreams. Even in the face of more famous women than I, they'd been relentless in their cruelty.
I'd proven them wrong a thousand times over, celebrating a little less each time, and now I was helping to organize a project that could potentially save thousands of lives. I'd never really thought about what came after proving those men wrong, but I doubt I would have expected this.
It was better than anything I might have imagined and that was without considering who now sat in my living room, staring up at the same picture as I.
"It feels like an eternity."
John's voice caught me off guard and I jumped a little. My coffee splashed out on my hand and I brought it to my lips. He was looking at me. I blushed and waved my hand about to dry it.
"It does," I said, somewhat belated.
We both had the same wistful weariness in our voices and laughed awkwardly. At least, I thought that it was, but hen I looked at John, I saw else entirely. I looked away. I wasn't sure I was ready to face what I'd seen there.
"I have no idea what I'm supposed to do next," I said and sipped at the coffee cautiously this time. I had a dreadful habit of grabbing up my coffee, slurping at it and finding it far too hot. It wasn't this time, and I drank deeply before confessing, "I suppose that sounds terrible. How many lives depending on us and I'm sitting here without the foggiest of what to do next?"
"Not to me," John said. "That's the whole point of this, isn't it? No one has any idea what we're supposed to do next." He leaned forward, cupping his mug between his palms. "So who else are you working on?"
"George is working on bringing in an old friend who used to fly with the company." I was impressed at how I kept the wariness out of my voice. It was going to be different this time, that was what I'd been telling herself, but I couldn't quite bring herself to believe it yet. Faith wasn't something I'd ever had in great supply, no matter how well I'd gotten at projecting otherwise to the people under me. I supposed I wouldn't believe it would be until we were on the ground in Newfoundland and actually working. "Jack O'Neill. I imagine he'll have more than a few people coming along for the ride."
"Never met him," John said, then paused. "No, wait, damn near took his head off over Alberta a few years back." His cheeks reddened and I hid a smile in my coffee cup. "Pilot error. Scottish doctor trying to get his license. Had grand plans to be a backwoods doctor."
"After that, I assume, his plans changed somewhat drastically?"
John grinned. "Just a little. Last I heard, he was working in Nova Scotia." His face changed, grew thoughtful, and then he looked at me. "If you need a doctor on staff, by the way, you might want to look him up. Assuming, that is, he's still here. With the war and all―"
"He might have gone home," I finished. It was a possibility, but I got up and went to my desk anyway. I looked back at him with a small smile. "I assume his medical skills are better than his flying?"
"Oh, easily," John said. "Carson paid for his lessons in trade. Aiden broke his leg in a bad landing. Needed surgery."
"Which he handled?"
"You saw Aiden. What do you think?"
I nodded. "And his full name?"
I wrote it down then returned to my chair. The awkward silence enfolded again just as soon as I was settled.
I knew if I looked, I'd find John looking at me, and I didn't dare look. Not with what I'd seen in his eyes. I didn't know, yet, if the separation between us had been worth it and the unsettled feeling plaguing me made everything worse.
I sighed. "I'm sorry," I said. "I should be regaling you with promises of the program."
"It's fine," John put his mug down. He rubbed his hands together and looked at me. "You shouldn't be second-guessing, you know."
I smiled. "And what makes you think I'm second-guessing?"
He gestured at his face. "You never could hide it from me."
"And you never could leave well enough alone," I said. I sipped my coffee. "If I said I'd never been good with uncertainty?"
His expression told me how little he thought of that particular suggestion. I let myself enjoy the look.
"Point," I said. "All right, I'm not good with personal uncertainty."
I looked at him and found him staring at his hands.
"Point again," I said, and got up. The kitchen was just a few steps away and I went in to pour out my coffee. It was late. Too late. "Feel free to stay over," I called over my shoulder. "There's a guest room if you need it."
It felt strange to say it. I was all too aware of the time where, no matter how much time had passed, we would have walked into my bedroom without a backward glance. It was massively improper, I suppose, and my mother would have been scandalized, but I liked that ease between us.
I didn't like this new discomfort.
I growled in frustration, annoyed at myself, and looked back at him. I wasn't surprised in the least to find him standing there.
He looked at me. I smiled.
"It's good to see you again, Elizabeth."
It had been George's suggestion, but I still felt nervous when we walked onto that airfield to meet the team. Butterflies flicked their way about my stomach as I opened my car's door and found Teyla waiting with her ever present smile on her face.
She'd joined us a few years ago. I still remembered how George had come in one morning, grinning ear to ear. He'd mystified industry by hiring the people none of them would touch. People turned around and worked miracles for him. Teyla was one of our brightest stars.
Teyla was a talented mechanic, but a brilliant navigator. She'd learned both from her father before immigrating to Canada. She found work in some places, but never for long so it hadn't taken much convincing to sway her to Montreal. She'd met me after a morning flight on a new plane, taken the measure of the plane and me in a glance.
She had a way of looking at people that I understood and didn't all at once. You learned to read people, but I relied on logic too much at times. Teyla was better at instinct. She saw potential and she excelled at guiding that potential. Something she'd be demonstrating time and again as the program got moving.
Assuming, of course, our new people were smart enough to trust her. If they weren't, well, that was my first sign they wouldn't fit.
"Two more lost sheep?" she asked, the morning breeze pushing her hair about her face.
"Two more," I agreed. "Teyla Emmagen, I'd like you to meet John Sheppard and Aiden Ford." I turned around and looked at John. "You won't find a better navigator on either side of the border."
Teyla grinned. "She says that now."
I made a face. "Are you ever going to let me forget that?"
She shook her head, still grinning. "No."
John chuckled. "I like her."
"Well," I said, sharing Teyla's grin. "We'll just see about that won't we?"
The amusement on John's face wavered as he recognized the unrepentant glee on mine. "I should be worried, shouldn't I?" he asked.
Teyla and I just laughed. "Come on," she said, gesturing. "We have temporary barracks set up in one of the hangers. You'll be staying there until we make the move to Gander."
Which meant, of course, until we made the decision on who would be flying the planes from Montreal to Gander and who would be flying them on to England. A decision that George and I would be relying heavily on Teyla's opinion to make.
I caught John looking at me as Teyla led them away. He couldn't be sure, of course, but I suspected he knew what was happening and what was behind Teyla meeting us. He knew me and my methods.
I smiled and turned away. I wasn't surprised to find George waiting. He looked pleased. "They look promising," he said, and I laughed. He gave me an indulgent grin. "And just what was that about?"
"When this is done, how many of these people will be working for you full time?"
He laughed. "As many as I can get away with."
It was a few days at the airfield before I saw the car coming up the drive. The cab was a familiar one to us, Walter being quick enough to recognize exhausted pilots could always use a ride home, so it wasn't much work to guess who he was dropping off.
"You look nervous," George said, joining me at the window. "I can always―"
"No," I said, too quick for him to finish the offer. I didn't want to be that person. I wasn't that person and the idea that George would even make it rankled. I didn't need to be seen as that person. I wasn't her. I wasn't someone who could put my personal discomfort over the lives of innocent people whether they were an ocean away or just down the block.
Besides, I could take care of myself. I didn't need protection. Especially not from someone wasn't a threat or a rival.
"I can handle it."
I turned away from the window and went out to greet O'Neill. John and Aiden fell into step with me. Well, John did. After a second or so, Aiden veered off to meet up with one of our engineers. Miko was quiet, tiny, and positively brilliant with any engine you gave her. She also knew how to swear in five different languages and could turn the air blue on command. (Naturally, she got along with Teyla and myself famously)
The moment drew my eye and I watched Aiden push his hands into his pockets, hunching his shoulders so he could keep on level with Miko. For her part, Miko didn't retreat as I'd seen her do a dozen times before. Instead, she smiled sweetly and held up the engine part she was holding.
Whatever she said brought a huge grin of delight from Aiden and my eyes went to John.
He looked at me. "Don't think of it as losing an engineer," he said, playful. "Think of it as gaining a fantastic pilot."
"You're forgetting," I said, laughing. "I already have the pilot." I heard a car door slam and I sighed. "Speaking of..." I turned around and closed the distance between myself and Jack O'Neill.
Jack got out of the cab before his people did, but they all fell into place before long. I took in the sight of them, as ragged and weary as I'd felt standing at that window, and I managed to muster up a smile.
He nodded and shook my hand like I was anyone else. I liked that about him. "You look good, Liz."
I only winced a little at the diminutive. I knew it humanized me to some of the pilots, but I didn't like it.
Behind his shoulder, I saw Samantha Carter roll her eyes and look at Cameron Mitchell. He grinned back and shook his head.
The exchange made me smile all the harder for the fact Jack seemed perfectly aware of it. I hadn't worked much with Jack's people, hadn't had the occasion to, but the irreverence was a departure from what I was used to. As was the expression Jack gave me in apparent response to it.
Woebegone didn't begin to cover it.
I wasn't much of a one for omens, signs, or portents, but I thought that, perhaps, this boded well for our working relationship this time around. I knew that probably didn't say much for me, but I was enjoying it nonetheless.
"The Atlantic, huh?" Jack said, after giving us a moment (I felt) to enjoy his misery. "George's idea?"
Jack took in the airfield, his eyes wandering over everyone and everything, before looking at me. "Got time to show me the plan?"
I started to protest, saying we hadn't worked out the flight plan yet (that would be his as he was the most experienced pilot of us all) but then I realized what he meant. "Not everyone is here yet," I said, "but I can introduce you to the ones that are."
"Just watch out for McKay," John said from behind me. "Guy's one hell of an engineer, but—"
"I know," Carter grimaced. "We've met."
I laughed. Rodney was an acquired taste, to be sure, but his expertise had made him invaluable. I'd hired him a few years before. He didn't trust easy, he opened up even less, but there was something about him I liked. "Don't worry," I said, smiling. "He grows on you."
I turned with the intent of introducing John to Jack and his people, but Jack beat me to it. He pointed at John, tipped his head to one side, and said, "Don't I know you?"
"Don't believe so, sir," John drawled.
I shook my head. I was beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, the easy part would be getting those planes across the Atlantic.
I was also beginning to think this just might be the most fun I'd ever had.
Training was gruelling and it had to be. While we were all experienced pilots, few of us had ever flown over the Atlantic and no one had ever attempted anything like this. The amount of preparation that we put into it was immense. Whether or not a crew would be making the actual Atlantic flight didn't matter, they were being trained for it anyway.
We tried to do a lot of it in Montreal, the program's base of operations, but the environment wasn't right for anything beyond hunching over the reams of maps and navigational data we would use to plan the flight. The few practice flights weren't much use at all. The St. Lawrence didn't offer even close to the conditions that the Atlantic was going to throw at us. That meant taking the pilots to our point of departure; Gander, Newfoundland. Unlike Montreal, Gander was just a short flight away from the Atlantic and we needed that proximity.
It was one of the chief reasons we'd chosen Gander in the first place. Every pilot flying the North America to Europe route knows Gander now, but we were the first. The town and the adjoining airport sit on northern facing coast of the island. It's close to the middle of the island, somewhat sheltered from the wild weather that plagues the shoreline and free of the fog that often hampers operations at its sister airport in St. John's.
More than that, it's distance from the coast meant that it was safe territory. German U-boats were a concern for coastal communities, blackouts in effect to hide their locations at night. Gander had none of those concerns. We could take off in safety and even patrol the coast while we practised.
The only drawback was, of course, the necessary splitting of the team.
"So, final selections," George said, over coffee. "Jack has his list. Yours?"
"Here. Teyla's notations are there as well." I handed the list over to him and got up to refill my mug. "I doubt there are many differences." And I didn't. Jack and I hadn't discussed our recommendations, but while he was a terrible communicator, the man knew people and read them well.
We'd already weeded out the people who couldn't keep up. (mercifully, there hadn't been many. Now it was a matter of putting talent where it would do the best. The flights from Montreal to Newfoundland were just as important as the ones to England, the crews staying behind could be no less talented.
Taking my list, George placed it next to Jack's and then added his own as I sat down at the table again. "And you'll both be making the Atlantic flight?"
"We both have the most flight experience," I said. "The first time out, we need that."
"You sound reluctant," he said, looking over his glasses at me. "Still have doubts?"
"Only a million or so," I said, smiling, "but that's not where the reluctance comes from. It's a matter of reserves. If we put our most experienced pilots on the first flight and something goes wrong, then who will be left to pick up the pieces?"
George considered my expression for a moment. I grimaced when he chuckled. "You always did ask the hard questions, Elizabeth."
I supposed it was a little ghoulish to be planning for one's own death, but I didn't see much choice in the matter. We were quite literally flying into the unknown and there were more considerations than just my own life.
"They need to be asked," I replied.
"So they do," he said, "but if the decision were purely yours?"
George had the final say and I didn't envy him it one bit. He was quite possibly going to be the man responsible for sending civilian pilots to their deaths. Even if this flight worked, I didn't think George would be getting much sleep in the next few years.
In deference to that, I answered him honestly. "I'd send my most experienced people. I wouldn't like doing it, but that wouldn't stop me." It also wouldn't stop me from arguing the opposite position to George and Jack both, right up until the moment we took off if necessary. We didn't have the luxury of yes men and I'd never been one before, I wouldn't be now.
George nodded. I hadn't surprised him. "All right then," he tapped the papers. "Let's get started."
Newfoundland was glorious. Rough and cold compared to the heat of Toronto and Montreal, but I fell in love with it.
We lined our planes up before the hanger and got out into the crisp, fall morning. We were some weeks away from the flight with hours upon hours more training to do, but landing on that tarmac changed something.
When my boots hit pavement, it was almost electric. We were here.
Jack walked over to meet me. "Well?"
I looked at him. I didn't know, but the look on his face said there was something of my awe in my face. That was fine, however, since I thought I could see the same thing in his. "Here we are."
He stretched a bit, cracking his back. "I hear the food's good around here."
"It is at that," Teyla said. "I grew up here."
"In Gander?" Aiden asked.
"No, St. John's, but the food is the same," Teyla said, smiling. "You've never had anything like it."
I smiled, listening to her describe one such meal. It didn't take her long to have us all drooling. We hadn't gotten far across the tarmac before my stomach started to rumble and it wasn't alone.
John leaned down, his hand brushing my arm as he said, "She keeps talking like this, I vote she cooks dinner."
"You won't hear any protests out of me," I said in answer. "Show of hands everyone?"
Every hand in our party rose, including Teyla's. "It was supposed to be a surprise," she said. "Charon moved to Gander a few years ago to be near Halling and the others. They're more than prepared for us," she smiled. "Supper should be ready by the time we get there."
I'd planned on our keeping to the barracks as much as possible, but I wasn't going to refuse local hospitality either. We needed the town's help if we were going to pull this off, even if that help would seem small to them.
I was still worried about security and the Nazis finding out about our plan. While keeping to ourselves would have been the most effective route, growing close to the locals was a plan with its own charm. The beauty of Gander being a relatively small town meant everyone knew everyone. It would be difficult for Nazi spies to hide, much less conduct effective surveillance.
"All right," I said, looking at our people. "Let's get everything settled here and then, Teyla, we'll see about that supper of yours."
She smiled and a few people whooped. I didn't protest it. The lure of good home cooking could not be denied.
Besides, my stomach had absolutely no intentions of letting me argue. Teyla had cooked for me in the past. I had an idea of what we were in for and that, more than anything, put an extra push in my step.
The training in Montreal had been grueling, but it had nothing on Gander. From sunrise to sunset, we trained, we planned, and then we flew.
That was the difference and the part that kept us going. I looked forward to that more than anything. Even exhausted, eyes gritty from pouring over paperwork, flying was a release.
Of course, it didn't hurt that I was flying with John again.
Aiden was a fantastic co-pilot and worked well with John, but John had been my co-pilot for far longer. Sometimes, I thought he could read my mind and that, for the first flight especially, was what Jack was looking for. He wanted the best pilots he could get his hands on for that first flight and he felt that we qualified. It was flattering and I didn't deny that, even as I still worried about putting all our eggs in one basket.
"Don't say it," Jack warned, carrying dinner into the backroom I'd turned into my second office.
The office was tiny and cramped, nothing like Montreal, but I loved it. Every wall was covered in charts, notes, schedules and the dozens of other things I'd already accumulated. It felt like home and reminded me of that equally tiny office I'd had in that Albertan airfield John and I had run before I'd left.
I looked up from the latest version of our flight plan and felt my pencil slide free from my hair. I grabbed for it and promptly caught another one.
Jack grinned and wiggled his free hand at his head. I felt on my own, fumbling to where he'd indicated, and blushed.
"Wondered where all the pencils were going," he said, putting the basket down.
I shot a look at it. "Kate?"
Kate Heightmeyer was a local physician and a friend. Officially, she'd studied psychiatry, but her relocation to Newfoundland had meant adding general medicine to her practice. She'd taken to helping Carson while providing a friendly ear to the pilots and anyone who cared to talk. I wasn't sure if it was her ear or her baking that had made her so popular, but I wasn't sure it mattered. She listened, she fed us, and I couldn't imagine doing any of this without her.
I couldn't imagine doing it without any of them and I dreaded that inevitable first casualty. There was no chance of pulling it off without it and I shook my head. Jack was staring at me, eyebrow raised, and I knew he'd answered me without me ever hearing it.
"I'll take that look as a yes," I said, not asking the question. "So, what am I not saying?"
Jack dropped into his chair and we both ignored the way it creaked ominously. "I'm not saying it either. If I say it, then you just tricked me into doing it for you."
I grinned. "You can't fault me for trying." Between myself, Jack, John, and George, there had been variations of the eggs and basket argument going on for weeks now. If we'd thought for a second the final selection and assignment of crews would slow it down even in the least, we'd been wrong. The closer we got to the flight, the more we debated it. We all agreed we wanted the best pilots on that first flight, but I wasn't alone in my worry about the risks of that decision.
Jack smirked, laying out the food.
The scent of stew reached me and my stomach growled loudly. "You should probably close the door," I said, taking the bowl he was holding out. "You know what happens if they smell it."
"Too late," John said, closing the door behind him. "Already did. You better have extra, O'Neill."
Jack rolled his eyes, but nonetheless produced the second bowl on command. I looked at him and his smirk returned in force. "Where you are―"
I didn't debate the point. We'd been living in each other's pockets for weeks. I don't think either myself or John had really even noticed when we'd fallen back into that patter. John was the last face I saw in the night and the first one I saw in the morning. I think half the people at the airport and in town thought we were married.
In the past, that might have bothered me, but now it didn't. Whether that was due to changes in myself or just the way the no-nonsense approach our hosts had, I didn't know and wasn't sure I cared. I hid a smile. It seemed I was going native in that regard.
I moved my chair over to make room for him. "You have good timing," I said. "Jack was just about to tell me why I was wrong again."
"You aren't," Jack said, "That's not the point. We don't have enough yet, Liz."
"Precisely why I think some should stay behind," I said. "Your idea isn't without merit, but I'm not sure it's worth the risk."
Jack's plan was a good one, the best pilots would pair up to cross first, then helm their own crews when we got back. The idea being that there would be someone familiar with the route on every plane every time.
I didn't disagree with it, but the risk it presented wouldn't let me sit easy.
I looked at John. He was chewing thoughtfully. I wouldn't ask him to get in the middle of this, but I had a feeling he and Jack were in agreement on this. That didn't happen often (for all their similarities, there were some fundamental differences that I didn't ever see them resolving) so it was worth considering.
"There has to be a better way," I mused, tucking into my own bowl of stew. Kate's food was not to be wasted. "But I can't see it."
"If you had the time you would, but time's not something we'll have until the trip home." Jack sat back with his stew, pointing his spoon at me. "You'll have all the time you need then."
I grimaced. That was the part of the plan that seemed the biggest waste and it was only marginally less risky than the rest of it. We would have to return to Newfoundland by sea. It would take weeks and it meant surviving storms and German U-boats alike.
"Time," I said, sighing. "Right."
"Finish your stew," Jack said. "If we pull this off, I'll be a month before you get anymore." We all caught what he'd said, but none of us commented.
We were all aware of what would happen if we failed.
Whether I was dead or on a boat, it was all the same. No more of Kate's cooking for me. I ate my stew.
It seemed an eternity before we worked out the details. Even longer before we got our first shipment of planes (seven Hudsons) but eventually we set the flight for November. It was late in the year, too late for my tastes, but we didn't have any choice. Waiting for spring was not an option with England under near-constant bombardment.
I hated that part of it. This wasn't just the Atlantic, this was the North Atlantic, and the weather was frightful. A week before the flight, a vicious snowstorm closed in and we found ourselves staring out at a wall of white. I pictured us caught in a storm just like this over the Atlantic.
When I shivered this time, it had nothing to do with the chill in my cabin's living room.
"We're supposed to fly in this?" John asked. He handed me a cup of coffee and I brought it to my face. The scent of the coffee was bracing and I inhaled deeply. "This is the craziest thing I've ever done."
I sipped my coffee. "Not quite. I seem to remember you flying naked in a rainstorm."
"Yeah, and I crashed," John reminded. He took position behind me, hand on my shoulder, thumb rubbing my neck.
I leaned into John. "You were fine."
"Eventually. I was fine eventually."
He was laughing when he said it and I smiled. His hand was warm against my neck. I remembered the way it felt when he touched me and forgot, for a minute, why we were there. It was a welcome reprieve, however brief it was.
I sipped my coffee and enjoyed the moment. "It's actually a little beautiful." Everything on the island was. There was a raw beauty to the place that felt fierce and defiant, much like the people that populated it. I loved it. Part of me wanted to stay.
"Gorgeous," John agreed. "Doesn't mean I want to fly in it though."
"Not today," I said, "but maybe we'll need to."
John groaned. "Do you have to make everything a training exercise?"
I leaned over to put my coffee on the table, then turned around to face him. "Do I have any other choice?"
He took me in his arms. "I can think of at least one."
I laid my hands flat against his chest and smiled up at him. "You realize, Captain, that this is highly inappropriate behavior? We're supposed to be setting a good example for the others."
"We are," John said, his smile tempting me. "If you hadn't noticed, we're being very responsible adults and staying inside. The weather isn't safe to go out in. It's better to hunker down and wait it out."
"And this?" I asked, nodding at our embrace.
He gave me an innocent look. "Huddling for warmth?"
I burst out laughing and kissed him.
The storm lasted for a few days. I hadn't seen a snowstorm like this in years, but Teyla and the others seemed quite unconcerned. They checked in on us during lulls in the storm, bundled up in thick coats, scarves, and mittens which looked warm and inviting even with a layer of snow and ice clinging to them.
"No flights are moving in and out," Teyla reported on one such visit. She stood beside stove. John and I had been feeding it a steady diet of wood since the storm had closed in and the snow coating Teyla's clothes didn't stand much of a chance. "We dare not even attempt training flights in this."
I took the box she held in her hands and handed it off to John. "It's just as well. We've earned a few days off before the flight." I didn't want anyone attempting that flight if they weren't in top physical condition. Considering just how hard we had been working with preparation and training, we were all more than a little exhausted. "Pass the word on to the others. Rest and relaxation."
Teyla nodded, casting a look from me to John and back again. Her smile was knowing and I blushed.
Her mitten-clad hand reached out for mine and squeezed once. I blushed all the harder at the implied message in it. "You worry too much," I said in a mutter.
Teyla knew the story my history with John and her smile reflected that as she said, "I worry too much and you work too hard. It's good to see you like this."
She squeezed my hand again before letting go and moving to the door. "The storm should pass off in a day or so. If it doesn't, we'll bring more supplies. In the meantime, take care."
I nodded and closed the door behind her. The snow whirled about my feet as I did and I had to push my full weight against the wooden door to close it. "You realize Teyla just gave us her blessing?" I asked, rushing back to the stove and the warmth it exuded. It was almost too much, the wood giving off a dry, overpowering heat that I couldn't stay close to for long.
"I had a feeling that was what she was saying." John produced a small pack from the box. Coffee. I grinned and took it from him. "So?"
I hmmed. "Yes?"
He filled the kettle and set it on the stove. It wouldn't take long to boil. "We have her blessing, but what about yours?"
I drew in a breath. The feelings I had for John hadn't changed, hadn't lessened one bit, but they were the only things that hadn't. I was different and so was he. "I don't know," I said, looking at the coffee in my hands. "Can you handle that?"
He took the coffee from my hands, winking as he did. "I can handle anything you care to give me."
I burst out laughing and kissed him. "We'll see about that."
The day finally came. Seven planes with seven crews of six lined up on the tarmac. We shuffled together for a group photo and listened to a few speeches. It was more subdued than I was used to, but we weren't facing good odds. The British had indicated a success rate of fifty percent would be acceptable.
Half of us could die in this attempt and they would think it was worth it. I hadn't told John or any of the others about that. I couldn't. As scared as we were, we all knew what they were facing. They were in the fight of their lives and even seven planes could mean a turning of the tide in their favor.
Seven planes to save millions.
More than anything else that terrified me.
I looked over at him. "Terrified. You?"
He nodded. "Same."
A politician approached us. I wasn't sure what one and I didn't care. Especially not when he turned to John, holding out a hand to shake. "Godspeed, Captain," he said, then moved on to the next pilot (Mitchell, as it turned out) without even looking at me.
"Well," I said, chuckling. "I think that takes care of the terror."
John looked at me, eyebrows raised, and I smiled. "They have no idea I'm the co-pilot, do they?"
I shook my head.
His eyebrows crept up that much further. "And you aren't going to tell them?"
We were about to fly the Atlantic. What else mattered in comparison to that? I looked at the clear blue sky and smiled. "I don't care."
"Yeah, I was thinking that too," John said, hands in his pockets.
The wind whipped at my hair. I was used to Boston winters, but the frigid air battering my cheeks was the worst cold I'd felt in years. I loved it.
John looked at me, smiling hopefully. "A kiss for luck?"
I laughed and shook my head. "I kiss you and I'll have to kiss everyone."
We turned away from the last of the send off, beginning our final checks of the plane. "I'm going to pretend you aren't pouting," I said, looking over the wing at him.
"I'm not pouting," John said archly. "I'm giving profound consideration to all the ways we're about to risk our lives."
My lips twitched a smile and I saw Teyla grin behind me. I shook my head and she rolled her eyes. Teyla had been a quiet presence in my life for years now. I felt a little jealous of sharing her with John and the rest of them all, which was unfair of me, but these moments reminded me as to why.
Particularly the jaunty way she grinned at me before she ducked into the Hudson and left me with John. Everyone else was, likewise, boarding their planes and I decided to throw caution to the wind for one brief moment.
I laid my gloved hand on his arm. "Relax," I said. "We can't die."
"No. I promised George more pilots," I smiled. "I can't recruit them if I'm dead."
John looked thoughtful. "Good point."
It was there I kissed him, albeit swiftly and without any further intent, "For luck," I said and climbed aboard the plane.
As it turned it out, luck wasn't such a bad plan. Weather did indeed become a factor about halfway out. Nine hours or so into the flight, a storm met up with us. There wasn't much force behind it, but it was disorienting. John and I both started rubbing their eyes about an hour into it. It was the middle of the night and visibility wasn't much. The conversations that had been going around the plane for half the flight petered out with all of us focusing on our instruments and trying (with little success) to keep track of the other planes.
It took another half hour before Teyla was tapping me on the shoulder. "Aiden has O'Neill."
John looked at me, I looked at him, and one of us swore.
Well, both of us, actually.
I sighed and got up. When I got to the radio and talked to him, Jack's news was hardly a shock. Keeping to formation in the weather was next to impossible and if the others were having half the trouble we were, then it was no surprise some had drifted.
I pinched the bridge of my nose and looked back at John. He was watching the controls, but looked back at me.
There wasn't much we could do until we landed. Jack and I discussed options, but there weren't many and we'd known that going in. We had experienced navigators one very plane for reason and this was one. All the pilots knew that if they lost contact with the others they were to stick to the flight-plan and meet up on the other side.
With the situation acknowledged, there wasn't much else to be said. Returning to my seat, I looked at John. "We're missing three."
"No radio response?"
I shook my head. There were explanations for that, of course, and I was far from panic, but I didn't like the gnawing worry in my stomach either. "We did plan for this," I said, reminding myself as much as him. "They know to proceed to the landing site."
John nodded. "But―"
"The Luftwaffe." I didn't think they could find us this far out, but the closer we got to England, the greater the concern they became.
I looked back at our crew. Teyla and Aiden's coordinated efforts would keep us on course, but it would be Cadman and Dex that did the fighting. "Eyes peeled, people," I said, trying not to sound as worried as I was. "We might not be getting the welcome we expect."
Ronon grinned back.
"You needn't look so happy about it," I said, but it felt good to be laughing right now.
"Gunner," he pointed out. "Part of the job description."
I rolled my eyes.
"It would be nice," Laura said, sounding almost wistful. "Giving these guys a good test run before we hand them over."
She gave me a look that was all innocence. "It'd be embarrassing if we gave them these planes only for them to find out the turrets don't work."
I shook my head at them. "We're missing three planes and you're worried about the turrets."
Laura grinned and nodded. "They're fine," she said. "We've trained inside and out for this. Even with the weather this bad, if they'd been attacked, we would have heard something before they went down."
It was decent reasoning and it was largely what I'd been telling myself, but I looked back at the sky and the weather we were flying in. The wind wasn't bad, but the visibility was pathetic and I sighed.
"As much as I'd like to indulge you, I'm also hoping those guns stay quiet until their new owners decide to put them to use," I said, not saying the 'I hope you're right' that sat heavy on my tongue.
John's foot brushed mine and I turned to look at him.
He was watching me.
I smiled and nodded. "All right, people," I said. "Eyes on instruments. If our missing birds are still flying, they'll make for the same landing site we are. Would be a shame to miss them."
"It's a big ocean," John said.
I could hear the undercurrent of worry in his voice and I let myself have a moment to share in it. We'd planned for this, we'd known going into it just what the risks were, but three of our planes were out there somewhere. If they were flying, they were doing so without the aide of radio contact.
I turned around. "Aiden? Ears open. Anything--"
"You'll know when I do." He didn't even look up from the console as he spoke. I'd wanted a back up pilot on every plane, but Aiden was one of the few to have the kind of cross-training I was looking for. Aiden had some navigation experience, but he supplemented his training as a pilot working with radios and I was immensely grateful for that now.
Grateful and a little envious. I wanted it to be me at that console, one hand pressed against the headset while the other tried to coax miracles from the equipment. I'd never been all that good with sitting back and letting someone else take the lead (my choice of careers certainly bore that out), something which had certainly seemed to be rearing its head now.
"So, it would be a bad time to tell you to be patient, right?" John asked. His hands were steady on the controls. I'd always loved watching him fly and it was more than a pleasant distraction now. There was comfort in the familiar scene and I let myself indulge in it. "They'll make it, you just have to give them time."
I thought of the pilots in question and nodded. Mitchell was one, Ferretti, and Sumner were the others, and all of them were competent pilots with equally competent crews who had been selected precisely for the mixed bag of skills they brought to the table. Rodney McKay had been in charge of helping me select the best engineers and mechanics and I had the utmost confidence in the planes they'd presented me with. I had just as much confidence that the crews flying those planes could handle any malfunctions.
I just wouldn't settle until I knew they were all right.
"Time isn't something I have much of to give them," I said. I tried to smile, but the joke fell a little flat. "I want them talking to us now."
John chuckled. "You sound like McKay."
I smiled. "Now you know why I hired him. He can say what I can't." Which was a glib way of phrasing it, but it was a close approximation of the truth. I knew I saw things in Rodney that most people didn't seem to, but it wasn't that simple either. As much as there were times I found his attitude to be a bit much, I envied the freedom with which he employed it. "I do wish he was on one of those planes though."
"He would have that radio up and running," John agreed. "Either that or the rest of the crew out of the wings and yelling for help."
The image was a funny one, but not enough to justify the sudden burst of laughter I had to fight down. Nerves and exhaustion were running me too close to the edge for my liking and worrying about the potentially lost planes wasn't making it any easier.
I rubbed the back of my neck and focused on the console in front of me. The readings were all where they were supposed to be, which was in direct contrast to the rain and gloom outside. We were flying into the dawn, but it was still a few hours off and I felt the strain in my eyes as I searched for any sign of it.
"It's a big ocean," I said to myself, echoing John's words of earlier. "Eyes peeled, Elizabeth. Eyes peeled."
The night was still heavy in the air around us when Aiden let out a whoop. Save for the engines, the cabin was quiet and more than a few of us started in our seats. I turned around and found him grinning bright at me. "What?"
"You aren't going to believe this one, ma'am," he said, waving me over. "Listen to this."
I surrendered the controls to John and went to Aiden's side. He handed me the headphones and, when I pressed them to my ear, I smiled at the sound of Cameron Mitchell's voice. It was scratchy, broken up, but it was there.
"We can't answer yet," Aiden said, seeing the look on my face. "That's what I wanted to tell you."
I handed back the headphones, feeling myself going numb. I'd never really understood, before, why people would say things like 'my blood ran cold'. I did now. I could almost feel my blood turning to ice and Aiden hadn't even said it yet.
"Were the radios tampered with?" I asked, heading him off at the pass.
"I think so, ma'am," he said. "Ours has been good, but they're fading in and out and our mics just went down. I'm pretty sure I can fix it, but these kinds of problems? If they were just equipment failure, I think McKay would've picked up on them when he checked them over this morning."
He was right. This wasn't something Rodney would have missed and multiple planes having the same equipment failures at the same time? It was beyond impossible.
"Fix it," I said, my voice sounding flat even to me. I didn't know how I felt about it all. I didn't. "Whatever you have to do." I paused, then managed to smile. "Short of landing, of course.
He nodded and went to work. I turned around and looked at Teyla. She was making notes, keeping one eye on the stars faintly visible through the clouds above us The light we were working with wasn't much, but she didn't seem to mind. I stopped beside her, crouching down. "Tell me," I said, "You know the other navigators better than I do―" That got me a look and a faint grin, but I kept going, "―so, tell me, what are their chances?"
"If their radios are the only failure, then I believe their chances are good." Teyla cast a glance up. "I would be more comfortable if the weather were better, but we have trained for that." Again that faint grin. "The weather was most helpful with that."
I chuckled. "And John says I use everything for training. You had them trying to navigate during snowstorms, didn't you?"
That faint grin strengthened into a wicked little smirk.
I laughed. "I am so very glad you're here."
"Yes, you should be," Teyla smarted back.
I heard a few chuckles round the cabin and knew we'd been overheard. Good. We could all do with a break in the tension and when I went back to my seat, John was smiling.
"Relax, Elizabeth," he said, leaning over. "We're due a couple miracles tonight."
I thought of the British waiting for their planes. "We're not the only ones."
I didn't believe in miracles as a matter of course, but when dawn came and I saw land on the horizon, I briefly reconsidered that stance.
When we reached the landing zone and saw what awaited us, I didn't just reconsider.
"Oh my god," I breathed. "Am I seeing what I think I'm seeing?"
Teyla moved up to lean over our shoulders, staring out at the ground below. "You are."
I'd always envied Teyla for her voice. She had remarkable control, always had, and she used it to her advantage. She could infuse more emotion into a single word than some could express in an entire speech. Right now, she'd just very neatly wrapped up all the hope and relief that we were all feeling into those two words and all without so much as blinking an eye.
I would have grinned up at her, but we were beginning the procedures to land and I had something else on my mind. There was a traitor waiting for us in Gander. Maybe more in Montreal.
I muttered an oath and John laid a hand on mine. "Save it for when we get home," he said and smiled. It wasn't a pleasant expression, but it said everything I was thinking and I loved him for it.
There was no time for discussion when we touched ground. There wasn't even any fanfare. As quickly as we vacated the planes, we were whisked into a truck and off to a waiting ship.
From the beginning, the return trip had always been our biggest problem from a logistical point of view. Barring mechanical failures or the weather, we could make the flight over in a matter of hours.
The trip home had to be made by ship. Later on, the British would be able to provide planes to fly us home (to be honest, on those flights I missed the comfort of the ships) but we were still far away from that when we boarded Steven Caldwell's ship.
A fellow American who'd emigrated to Britain with his Irish bride, his was a welcome face to our exhausted crews. They all surged up the gangplank, leaving me, Jack, and John to follow along behind.
"So," Jack said. "Anyone else have trouble making a few calls last night?"
"Just a few," I said. "Did your man tell you what ours did?"
"Sabotage," Jack nodded.
I closed my eyes and took a breath. "We'll need to check with the others," I said, when I trusted my voice. "We need to know just how many of the planes they reached and when we get home--"
Jack put his hands in his pockets "Somebody dies."
None of us waited for the ship to leave port before heading below. We were exhausted and the promise of the beds below deck were a siren song as we picked our way along.
We hadn't gotten far at all when I heard Caldwell calling after us. Well, after Jack.
He looked at me, bleary-eyed, and I grinned. Behind him, John stifled a snicker with far more effort than it should have required. I could hardly fault him for it, I was waving a cheerful goodbye as Caldwell steered him away.
"That wasn't very nice," John murmured into my ear. His hand was on my back, guiding me toward the door that would take us below and I wanted nothing more than to grab hold of him and pull him into the nearest cabin.
We couldn't, though, not yet. Privacy wasn't in great abundance on a ship this size and I didn't much look forward to the idea of what might happen if we were caught. I leaned into him for one moment then put some distance between us as I said, "No, it wasn't."
He chuckled. "He'll get you for that later."
"Probably," I said. "Promise to protect me?"
"Not a chance," John said. "You'd never forgive me if I tried."
I laughed, but it quickly turned into a yawn. "True"
"And what are you two whispering about?" Teyla asked, falling into step with us.
I nodded my head back the way we'd come to where Jack still stood with Caldwell. "I've never been so glad to be a woman."
Teyla looked over our shoulders at the pitiful picture Jack made, then ducked her head to hide her laughter. "We should be feeling sorry for him, not laughing."
"Oh, I am," I said, angelic in my manner. "I'll feel quite horribly about it all as I drift right off to sleep."
That made her laugh all the harder, leaning against the wall to keep to her feet. I knew the feeling. My legs felt as if they were made of rubber and each step felt more like an unsteady lurch. I didn't know which cabin we'd been assigned, but I didn't care. The assignments that had been made could go hang for all that I thought of them. Whichever bed we reached first, that was the one that would be ours.
I looked back at John. He was watching me, eyes warm, and I shivered. Whatever bed I ended up in, it wouldn't be the one I wanted.
I'd gone years without his touch or his presence and now the thought of even a few weeks was unbearable.
Being there weren't many women among the flight crews, Teyla, Laura, and I had decided to share a cabin. This was not a luxury liner, there weren't many beds to be found, and it wasn't fair to spread ourselves out when the others might have to go without.
When we reached the first one, I let Teyla go on in then stopped to look at John. "Sleep well," I said, mindful of the men as they passed. They all nodded respectfully at me as they went, but I saw some of them glance at me and John and I groaned inwardly.
I didn't regret a thing that had passed between us, I didn't regret the relationship that we shared, but I hated the way people looked at us because of it.
I saw the look that passed over John's face and I shook my head at him. "Let them think what they want," I said. "It doesn't matter."
"Yes, it does," he said, quietly angry.
I waited for the last of the men to disappear around the corner before I put my hand on his neck and drew him down for a kiss. "No, it doesn't," I said. "And before you argue, remember, we spent too much time training them for this mission to kill them now."
He snorted a laugh against my forehead. "I am too damn tired for you to be making jokes that bad, Elizabeth."
"Mmhmm, but I don't make them any other time," I pointed out.
He kissed me again and stepped back.
I smiled and ducked into the room. The few cabins we had were hardly luxury accommodations, but I don't think any of us noticed. The beds might have been made of nails and our pillows rocks and we wouldn't have felt a thing.
I fell asleep within minutes to the best of all lullabies, the sound of my people bunking down.
"According to Caldwell, the Germans don't seem much interested in ships leaving England."
Those were the first words that I heard when I woke. Jack and John were sitting on the bed opposite me with tin cups of steaming coffee in their hands.
John, bless the man, held two and passed me one as soon as I sat up. I was still in my clothing from the flight, rumpled and fuzzy as I sipped at the hot liquid. "Thank you," I said when I thought I could speak.
He nodded. "You hear that?"
"I did." I took a few more sips of the coffee. "What about our radio problems?"
Jack grimaced. "Checked in with the others and they all had some kind of trouble. We sent word back to the Brits to check them over before they send them up, but we told them not to send any word back home."
"Our saboteur will be waiting for word," I said, nodding. "We can't have that. Question remains, of course, who is it?"
"Sumner's heard rumors about a Nazi intelligence division," Jack said. "Apparently they call themselves the Wraith."
"Cheerful," John said into his cup.
I hmm'd agreement. "What else has he heard?"
"Not much, the Wraith are a little shy, but most of them are apparently not even German-born." Jack looked disgusted by the thought and I agreed with him. I couldn't imagine the idea of Americans spying on each other for a Fuhrer who cared nothing at all for any of them.
John shook his head. "I don't want to be the one to say it, but has anyone considered the idea that we might have one of them on board? If they knew enough about the program to get one of their people recruited into it..."
He was right. God help us. We might have a traitor at home and on board.
Even with the potential of a wolf in the fold, the worst part of the journey home was the boredom. The first few days passed in a blur of sleep and the occasional meal, after which we conducted a full review of the flight. We stretched that out over a period of days before giving our people their liberty, if it could be called that. We had weeks ahead with not much to do but wait.
Not much excitement to be found there.
"We should have gone over it again," Jack said, gathering up his notes as everyone filed out of the room.
"We've talked it to death, Jack." I ducked my head over my own papers, hiding the smile blooming to my face. "There's nothing else that can be said until we get home and deal with our little problem."
He grunted. "That's not the problem and you know it."
I chuckled. "Is Captain Caldwell that bad?"
Another grunt. "Worse."
I hadn't spent enough time with the man to be sure. Captain Caldwell seemed entirely indifferent to my presence. He'd barely said more than two words to me since we'd come aboard. "You have my sympathies."
"You can stop laughing anytime you want."
I smiled, walking ahead of him for the door. "That's just it, Jack," I said with a wink. "I don't want."
He grunted, annoyed, but I saw the glint of amusement in his eye. I hated having to spoil it, but there wasn't much choice. "Have you noticed anything?"
"No," he shook his head. "Have all the captains watching, but there's been no sign of anything."
I didn't doubt our people. While there might have been a traitor in the mix at home, I couldn't believe any of the people who'd made the crossing would betray us. It might have been wishful thinking, but I couldn't.
Caldwell's crew, however, was another story entirely.
"Think you might be able to sound our host out on the possibility? See how many of them knew about the passengers on this crossing?"
Jack grimaced. "Knew you were going to ask me that."
I smiled. "I'd volunteer to do it, but he doesn't seem to be all that fond of me." I said it with amusement now, but there was still a part of me that raged at the thought. I'd just flown the Atlantic and I wasn't worthy of acknowledgement in some eyes.
"Stupid," Jack muttered. "Nothing but."
I looked at him. "Beg pardon?"
"You heard me," he said, but he was smiling. Barely, but for Jack it counted as an ear to ear grin. "Go relax. You've earned it."
"Once, Elizabeth," Jack said. "Just once."
I laughed and decided to give him this one. In truth, I was enjoying myself and that was something I'd never expected to say of Jack O'Neill. "All right, I'll listen just this once."
"And now I can die a happy man," he said, opening the door for me. "Elizabeth Weir has followed an order."
"She's agreed to," I corrected with a little smirk. "Circumstances may yet intervene."
He made a face. "Knew it was too easy."
I laughed. "Jack?"
His expression smoothed out and he nodded. "Watch it, huh?"
The concern was frank, honest, and had absolutely nothing to do with my gender. I smiled. "Same to you."
"Oh, I'm safe," Jack said. "Carter is scarier than she looks."
It felt strange to say it, after the cramped quarters of the Hudson's cockpit, but I felt claustrophobic aboard the ship. It made little sense to me, there wasn't much difference to be had, but the mind did what the mind willed and I hated it. I supposed part of it was the fact I was mindful of the crew watching me. Teyla and Laura commented on it as well and we all took care. It was frustrating to be so hampered after the relative freedom of the program and working for George. Still, pragmatism meant accepting it and keeping an eye out.
"It's just as well," I said on a sigh, taking the mug John held out to me. "We're supposed to be watching out anyway."
He nodded and sat down beside me. The cabin was quiet with Laura and Teyla taking a walk on deck with the others, though I could hear the laughter of some of the men a few cabins down. An impromptu card game had sprung up between our men and the crew. The noise was a welcome reprieve and I was glorying in it.
On the surface, our voyage was anything but calm and peaceful. With the constant worry there might be U-boats sailing silently beneath our feet and the fear of German agents on board, there weren't many moments of peace to be found, but boredom had little to do with peace or calm. Underneath all my worry lay a creeping sensation of nothing. Until we reached Newfoundland again, I had little to do but wait and I hated having nothing to do. Surveillance about a possible intruder was not near enough to keep me occupied and I didn't look forward to a week or more watching my back, the horizon, and quietly going mad.
"Other than the usual 'attention' from the crew?" I shook my head. "No, but no surprises there." I leaned into him, enjoying the feeling of him next to me. The weight of his presence. "I think this is going to be the worst part of it all." I hated waiting and I hated the enforced distance between us both. "Strange, isn't it?"
He looked at me, understanding easily where my thoughts had gone. "Years and now this?"
I put the mug down and reached for his hand. I loved his hands. I ran my fingers the length of his and back again, savoring the feel of his skin against mine. He took a breath, slow and measured, and I did it again.
He didn't ask the question, but it was there between us nonetheless. Was it worth it?
I put his hand down, reluctant, but I needed to. I reached into one of the pockets of my pants and pulled out the folded picture. Pilots are and always will be a superstitious lot and I was no exception. Mostly, I think, because we liked it that way. Most of us carried something on every plane we flew. For me it was the picture in my hand.
John took the paper and unfolded it, smiling slowly. "You still have it."
I nodded. It was as good as a sworn 'always' from me.
He ran his finger along the edge of the plane, tracing its outline. I shivered when his finger drifted over the curve of my face, almost as if I could feel it on my skin. "When we get home—"
He looked at me. I took the picture from him and laid it flat in his palm, curling his fingers over it. When he looked at me, I leaned in and kissed him. It wasn't enough, but it would have to do.
"When we get home."
I started going for daily walks. The winter weather was hardly welcoming, but I needed the fresh air and the exercise. With the successful first flight, there would be many more to follow and we could hardly afford to let ourselves slip out of shape even a little.
I met Jack on one such outing. He wore one of the sailor's coats, turned up on the collar, with a hat jammed down over his ears and I laughed when I saw him. "You've gone native on us."
He half-smiled. "Helps."
I'd gone a few steps before I realized what he'd meant. Surveillance. I wasn't much use with getting close to the crew, but Jack and the others were making up for it. He, Mitchell, and Sumner especially had gotten the closest of all of them. Mitchell was a Midwestern farmboy with an easy going manner and a strong back, he'd pitched in to help where he could and the crew respected that. Sumner and Jack were of Caldwell's generation and he seemed eager for their company. I didn't like looking at things from the outside, but they seemed to have a foot in the door.
For all the good that it might do.
I hadn't gone far past them when I was met by two grim faces. Wrapping my coat more firmly around me, I looked from one to the next and then squared my shoulders. "All right, what's happened?"
They looked at each other and I saw Aiden take a breath, but it was Teyla that looked at me and said, "You should probably come below and take a look for yourself."
I nodded and followed them to the door. John was on the way up the steps so he joined us.
"We were checking the gear," Aiden said, leading the way. "I know we didn't really bring much, but I thought if there was anyone on board who was interested in us—"
"Then the first thing they would do is check any cargo we brought aboard," Teyla finished. It was a sensible thought and I would have kicked myself for not thinking of it earlier, but that was one reason these people were on my team. They did quite well with thinking of all the things I didn't.
Aiden was right in that we hadn't brought much with us at all. Just the personal effects and things we'd needed to make the flight, barely enough for two trunks. It wouldn't be of value to any thief, but a spy looking for information to report home would certainly be interested.
In the hold, Aiden handed Teyla a torch and she directed it at one of the locked trunks. Even in the poor light, the scratches were obvious. Someone had tried, and failed, to open it.
I looked at John. "Well, that seals it then."
John nodded. "We have a spy."
Whether it was a German agent or just a curious member of the ship's crew remained to be seen.
I produced a key, unlocking the trunk. Our navigational data sat on top of most everything else. "Let's take this one back to my cabin," I said, closing it again. "If it is a spy, then this is probably what they were after."
Under mine and Teyla's supervision, John and Aiden hefted the truck between them and carried it back to the cabin. There wasn't much room for it, but there didn't need to be. I was hoping it wouldn't need to be there long. Either because we reached port or because our spy made himself known.
"It might just have been one of the crew looking for something worth stealing," John said, pushing the trunk as far into the corner as could be managed. "But I don't think we're that lucky."
"Neither do I," I agreed. I looked at the box. "Someone has to keep an eye on this."
John frowned at me. "Not you."
I smiled and sat on my bed. "It can't be anyone else." I feigned a cough. "I think I've just taken a turn for the worse."
"Might be laid up for days?" he asked, still frowning. "What a pity, then, that Dr. Beckett stayed behind in Gander."
"Yes," I said, stretching out. "What a pity."
John sat on the other cot and looked at me. It was already a familiar picture and I smiled as I watched him. This wasn't how I planned on bringing him back into my life, I'd never hoped to bring him back at all, but there was something warm about all this. The fear, the boredom, even the silly little ruse I was concocting. Beneath it all was something precious and between the air above me and the man beside me, I loved it all.
"This can't fail, John," I said. "We've made it this far, we can't let anyone destroy it now."
"They won't, Elizabeth," he said. "We've proved it possible, you proved it possible, and nothing they do now will change that."
"No," I agreed. "It won't."
"But you're still going to do this."
I smiled. "It's the principle of the thing."
From that moment on, I took to my 'sickbed'. We made the decision to limit visits from 'concerned' crew to give our potential spy time to act. It was the right decision of course, but it meant long hours alone. If I thought I'd been going out of my mind with boredom before, I found a whole new definition to the word as the days began to crawl by.
The greatest entertainment I got was listening to conversations as they passed by. Unfortunately no one confessed to the attempted thefts or being a member of a secret German intelligence division. It would have made things so much easier and released me from my self-enforced exile.
I at least got to spend more time with John, though it was unfortunately chaste. I wanted his hands on me, I wanted him at my side, but we had to keep up appearances since the door could open at any moment.
"Anything else?" I asked, sipping the coffee he'd just brought me. The ship's food was hardly gourmet fare and I picked at it as a sick woman truly might. It wasn't difficult to pretend I had no appetite when I looked at it.
He nodded. "Plenty. No activity in the hold, but Jack's been watching some of Caldwell's crew and thinks he might be on to something. Don't know if any of them might be secretly Nazis, but they're hardly choir boys."
I chuckled and put the plate aside. "Well, neither are we."
John gave me a sad look. "Are you implying that I am anything but a perfect saint?"
I fumbled my coffee, nearly spilling it as I laughed. If not for John jumping to his feet with a muttered curse, grabbing for the cup. "I'm fine," I assured him, settling back. "Promise."
He gave me a dubious look, but retreated to the end of the bed anyway. "Sumner doesn't have anything more on the Wraith. No surprise there, though. He won't get his hands on any new intel until we get closer to land."
"Until we reach land," I said, frowning. "I don't think it would be worth trusting Caldwell's equipment or his people. We don't want to take the risk of warning anyone of our suspicions."
John nodded, then leaned forward, looking at me. "Are you thinking the same thing I am?"
I let my eyes go to the coffee in my hands. "You mean, am I thinking that f there is someone on-board and they're here because of us, they're not going to want us to reach land?"
I nodded. "That's precisely what I think. Search the boat. If there's some kind of tampering, we need to find it before we all go to the bottom." It would have been easier, yes, to have one of the U-boats sink us, but if these Wraith were involved, I had a suspicion they'd want to keep their involvement as quiet as possible. At least for now. Sabotage seemed more likely than anything else.
"And if there isn't any?"
"Then I think it's safe to say I can expect company before long."
"We're searching in shifts," Teyla reported that night. The cabin was dark, only the light of the stars to illuminate us. "If we are successful, the crew won't notice anything amiss."
"Here's hoping," I said, turning onto my side. "And what about the crew? What's your read on them?"
Teyla was silent for long moment. "I believe some of them have worked out our mission. They're supportive."
"And anyone who wasn't would never say." I sighed. "All right. Get some rest. More espionage awaits you in the morning."
And I had hours and hours of staring at the wall awaiting me. I wasn't going to sleep. I slept enough during the day. Now I was waiting and I didn't think I would be waiting much longer.
Near dawn, Teyla got up. She was always awake at that hour. I'd gotten used to arriving at work and finding her walking the airfield, pacing the runways we used for any sign of stray debris.
"Enjoy the walk," I said, yawning.
"Get some rest."
The door opened not too long after she left. If I hadn't been awake and waiting for it, I wouldn't have heard the faint scrape. I did, however, hear the considerably less faint squeak. I tensed. I was facing away from the door, but I didn't need to look to know it wasn't Teyla or any of the others. They always spoke when they entered the room and this person had not.
I waited, trying to even out my breathing. My visitor seemed to be waiting as well. Probably worried that the noise had woken me. I counted off the seconds and smiled to myself when I heard the sound of fabric rustling. They were getting restless or, possibly, worried. They were standing in the corridor and, although it was early, the risk of discovery grew with every second.
I fought the urge to shout for help. Not yet. I needed to be sure before I did. I was not, after all, a trained soldier or a spy. I had no idea what I was doing and giving myself more time seemed prudent.
Lying there, waiting for my 'guest' to make a decision, I found myself amused by the situation. Somehow, in all the planning we'd done in the early days of the program, none of us had ever pictured anything like this.
Restless, I nearly shifted and caught myself at the last second. I smiled. A spy master I was not.
My visitor saved me from my own restlessness by advancing into the room. I started to turn my head, but heard his step pause. I covered my gaffe by sighing as if in sleep and snuggling down beneath my blankets.
It was several minutes before he risked moving again. Then I heard the sound of scratching as he worked the lock. I don't know how much time passed after that, but he worked steadily for a while. I pressed hands into the mattress. Teyla would be coming back soon and, if our would-be spy couldn't get through the lock faster, she would trip right over him.
He kept working until, finally, I heard the lock give with a soft click. There was a muttered noise of success, but then we both froze. Someone was coming down the corridor. The sound of the footfalls was light, unhurried, and unconcerned. It was probably Teyla, but I couldn't tell.
I risked opening my eyes. Dawn had begun to creep over the horizon and faint, grey light was filtering through the small porthole. I could see a broad-shouldered man knelt by the trunk. His attention was on the door and he was facing away form me.
I tried to ease onto my side. It was difficult and nerve-wracking. I kept expecting the old, rusted metal of the cot to give my movements away with the a traitorous squeak. It spared me the indignity and I managed it just as the door swung inward to admit Teyla's familiar shape.
Our intruder shot to his feet in the same second and I gave up on subterfuge. I launched myself off the bed and at his back. The cot's loyalty failed me, however, and gave away the attack with that loud squeak I'd been worried about.
He turned just as I collided with him. Teyla struck out at his leg and he let out a yelp, stumbling toward her. I went with him, my hands clinging to his heavy coat, shouting for help as I did. In the close quarters of the cabin, neither of us could really put up much fight against him and I was easily thrown from his shoulders to the floor.
I yelped as I collided with the metal floor, nearly cracking my head against the cot's frame. Holding my head, my body protesting my fall with everything it had, I managed to look up at Teyla. She'd put some distance between herself and our guest, her body in a ready stance for a fight, but she wasn't backing down.
For his part, he seemed more defeated than ready to fight. It wasn't much of surprise, not with the sound of boots pounding the deck and growing every closer.
My people, I hoped. A hope confirmed by John's voice yelling my name a second before he appeared. Teyla moved aside to let them in. Jack and Aiden grabbed our intruder while John rushed past him to help me up.
"Some guard I turned out to be," I said, laughing quietly, still holding my head.
"Oh, I don't know," John's fingers gently brushed my hair. I held my breath, but his touch was careful. "You did catch him." He slipped an arm around my waist and eased me down onto the bed.
"Well, you could call it that," I said. "The fun part is how I'll have more bruises tomorrow than he will." I waved a hand at the trunk. "I don't think he got the chance to actually take anything."
"Teyla," Jack looked at her. "Check him."
She nodded and ducked forward, opening the intruder's coat and checking through every pocket she could find. "Nothing."
"Good." Jack looked at his people. "Mitchell, T, take him. We'll have a few words with him and see what he knows."
I watched Jack's crew hustle our prisoner out the door. I didn't envy him the conversation with Captain Caldwell one bit. It didn't promise to be pleasant. I composed myself and looked at John. He looked more shaken than I felt and I tried picturing things from his perspective.
I wasn't good at that sometimes. I'd learned how to view situations from an analytical perspective, I'd learned how to see things from other people's eyes, but I still struggled with applying that to my own life.
I took in a breath and looked at everyone else. Jack's people had gone, but Teyla, Aiden, and the others still waited and watched with worried expressions.
I hesitated. I needed time with John, but I felt as though I needed time with them all as well.
Never enough time to do it all, it seemed. Promising myself to check in on them later, when I was able, I met Teyla's eyes and smiled.
As perceptive as ever, she returned the smile and nodded before herding everyone out of the room. I heard something about 'checking the rest of the crew' before she left, leaving the door slightly open behind her.
John stared at the door for a moment, then grinned. "If she ever turns on us--"
"Which is why she is extremely well paid," I said. I leaned into him. "I should go with them to speak with the captain."
John frowned, his hands sliding up and down my arms. I tried to coax myself into relaxing into his embrace. "Not sure he'll be in a mood to listen. One of his crew caught in your cabin and going through the trunk. Add in him possibly being a German spy? He won't listen to a word of it."
"I know," I said. "That's why I need to speak with him. We'll be making a lot of these trips and it would be best to smooth things over now." I was shaking. It took seeing the careful way John watched me to properly alert me to it and I frowned. "I'm fine."
"You're alive," John said. "Fine is not a word I'd use, though." He took me by the shoulders and sat me on the cot. I let him. "Let Jack worry about Caldwell, okay?"
I smiled. "I can't. Jack got us safely across. He's fulfilled his responsibilities. Everything else is mine."
"So I hear," said Caldwell. "I suppose I only have myself to blame for missing that."
I curled my fingers into fists, hoping to hide the shaking as Captain Caldwell stepped into the cabin. I didn't deny his statement. He did have only himself to blame and I wasn't going to excuse him of that. "You aren't the first," I said instead. It wasn't all that reassuring and I knew, with some embarrassment, that I was hardly offering the goodwill I'd just promised to show the captain.
I took a breath and shook my head. "That was uncalled for, Captain Caldwell. I apologize."
"From what I'm seeing, Mis—Captain Weir. I believe that should be the other way around." Caldwell stood, ramrod straight, just inside the door and I had the sense that he was ready to bolt at any time.
"All right," I said, as mild as I could manage. "If you wish. The fact is, Captain, that it doesn't matter. You saw what you saw and you didn't see what you didn't see. It's done. The mission was a success which means we will be doing this again and again. We don't have the luxury of our egos."
"Point," Caldwell said, looking at me. His expression was typically gruff, but I thought I saw new respect in his eyes. I hoped. "So, O'Neill was in charge of the pilots?"
"For the flight, yes," I nodded. "But the remainder of the program is my responsibility. I report directly to George Hammond in Montreal."
"And what do you plan on telling him about this?" he asked. I wasn't sure, but I thought he might have been worried.
I looked at John and then smiled. "Any landing, Captain Caldwell. Any landing."
Looking back, it all seems so anti-climatic now. Even as we were investigating our prisoner, our people in Gander were arresting theirs. By the time we reached Newfoundland, we had confirmation of Wraith involvement.
It didn't matter. The flights went ahead. Some didn't make it and we lost friends when we lost those planes. Still, most of the flights made it and the day was saved. We shuffled off the world stage and let others take our place.
Decades lie between the woman I was then and the woman I am now. The world has changed a dozen times over and most people couldn't even tell you Ferry Command existed, much less what it did.
For the most part, history has forgotten us. Just as well. John and I have done our fighting, we've beaten our monsters, and we're content with what we have.
I only hope tomorrow is everything that today and yesterday have been.
If not, well, I suppose I have a little fight left in me yet.