"Golf Tango India, you are squawking seven five zero zero. Please confirm your intention."
"Roger that, control," Douglas says, flatly.
"I know what you're doing," says the passenger. "I know what that meant! I can, I can stop you…"
"Yes," Martin tells him, very gently. "Yes, you can."
His name is Smith. John Smith, no middle names. In Douglas's experience it's surprisingly easy to fly under a false name, which made it all the more irritating that his friend and former colleague at Air England, Captain Azhar Masud, so often had trouble attempting to board his own aircraft. They were invariably late pushing back from the stand, for which Douglas could forgive him, and his landings were invariably perfect, for which Douglas couldn't.
The Atlantic is beautiful below. Smith says, "Eyes front."
With a quick glance at Martin, Douglas obeys. "Just out of interest," he drawls, "why are you doing this?"
"That's not your concern."
"Well, I'd argue that it is, considering I'm at the helm of the bloody boat." Douglas carries on looking straight ahead, away from him. Martin is in control, but neither of them have mentioned that. "If you want an all-expenses paid trip to, say, Qikiqtarjuaq, now's the time to mention it."
"Boston," Smith says, clipped, and then, "my children…"
Douglas nods, understanding.
"Carolyn," Douglas says, on the cabin intercom, "Carolyn, are you…"
"We're doing the dinner service," Carolyn answers. "We were interrupted previously and there's a child in 5C who's crying, hungry. I thought… anyway, Arthur's heating things up."
"Quite right," Douglas replies. "Ah, Martin and I are…"
"Not hungry," Martin supplies. "We had eggs for breakfast."
"Right." Carolyn is silent. "Boys, are you…"
Martin says, "We're fine."
"You don't have to do this," Martin says. "You don't."
"What would you know about it? You, you don't know anything."
"I don't have to do this," Martin continues, still gently. "For my real job, I shift boxes around. Removals, deliveries, that sort of thing, if you need a job done? I do this" - he waves a hand at the window, and the sudden movement makes the hijacker shift right towards him, but Martin goes on - "because I love flying. I am an airline captain just for the love of it. The funny thing is, no one has to do anything. There's always a choice. Even" - he looks right up at Smith; Douglas has never seen that combination of softness and steel in him before - "when it seems like the stupid choice is the only one you know how to make."
"Shut up," Smith says. "Shut up or I'll kill you."
"Righto," Douglas says sharply. Martin reaches out to him across space, his hand closing on the empty air.
"It won't work, you know," Douglas says, conversationally. "I mean, all right, so we land in Boston. Boston, which you may be aware is in America, where they have all sorts of views about allowing people to get off aircraft they've forcibly diverted and call a cab."
"Shut up!" Smith tells him. "Just, shut up, or I'll…"
"I don't think you will," Douglas says. "You get off the plane, and then, what, you demand access to your children or you'll kill your hostages? I'm sure that plan will, oh, succeed brilliantly."
"Shut up." This time he's quieter; this time Douglas is closely aware of his presence, the space he takes up on this flight deck that's designed for two, and he's aware of the flight deck itself, this tiny pressurised space hurtling though nothingness. They are so fragile, Douglas thinks. Even within their own bodies, they are so close to the outside. Out loud, he says: "It's all right. It's all right. We're flying, let's keep it that way."
Martin sighs through his teeth. For a moment, the sound makes Douglas think of the sound a bullet would make, through air.
"How did you get that little toy on board, anyway?" Douglas asks. "I don’t think I even want to know."
"We're a small airline," Martin says, without moving. "There are always ways and means. "
Smith says, "I got it aboard because I know what I'm doing,"
"No," Douglas says, clipped, "I really don't think you do."
There is a long pause before anyone speaks again. Martin breathes in, waiting for an explosion.
"That pilot over there," Douglas says, "I often don't think he knows what he's doing, either. His name is Martin Crieff. He's an airline captain at the age of thirty-four. He failed his CPL six times but he's capable of landing a plane on one engine in a crosswind. My name is Douglas Richardson. I'm first officer around here because I was fired from Air England for smuggling. I have three ex-wives and a daughter, and I love my daughter dearly. In the cabin we have the CEO of the airline, Carolyn Knapp-Shappey, who won this aircraft in her divorce settlement and runs it single-handedly on the brink of ruin because she can't bear to be tired and useless. And her son, Arthur, who is an idiot and a clot and one of the world's last true innocents. I can't tell you much about the other passengers, I'm afraid. There are fourteen of them apart from you. Some are children, one is a few months old. I imagine some of them are on holidays they've saved up for, and others of them are returning home."
The gun shakes a little. "Why are you telling me…"
"My point is," Douglas goes on, "if you force us to ditch this plane in the north Atlantic, which is currently thirty-five thousand feet below us at a temperature only barely above the freezing point of water, then I want you to know exactly what it is you're doing. What you're choosing to do."
Martin keeps on breathing, in and out in that charged silence.
"Well, this is it." Douglas leans back in his chair and it's only Martin's experience that tells him his first officer isn't as relaxed as he would be after a long, warm day by the pool. "At our current speed and heading, Mr. Smith, we will be entering US airspace very shortly. The decision is all yours, and only you can make it. Unless you want to put that gun down now and let wiser minds than yours prevail."
Smith steps forwards so the gun is suddenly a vivid, bright presence between the three of them. Martin has never seen one this close and from Douglas's expression he hasn't either. With his eyes on the shifting barrel, Martin says, "We filed our plan. We're flying into JFK. We can still do that."
"Yeah? What then?" His voice is shaking too, now, though from what barely-suppressed emotion Martin can't be sure.
Douglas shrugs. "New York, Golf Tango India, excuse our transponder error, confirm we are coming in to land, as usual. We take our slot, we take our stand."
"Or," Martin says, so quietly he can barely hear himself, "we take a stand."
"Golf Tango India, come in."
"I get to see my daughter, sometimes," Douglas says. "You won't. Not ever again."
When the hijacker lifts his gun to fire, Martin thinks: at least we die doing what we love.
Despite their constant assurances that there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of them that a stiff drink won't fix, the ground medics at JFK treat them all for shock, and it would be psychologically interesting, Douglas thinks, to note how his hands are shaking too much to light a cigarette if he didn't have to be attached to them. He barely smokes these days and he didn't know Martin did at all, but they lean against the outside of the hangar and share the one cigarette, passing it closely between them every few minutes so their fingers brush.
Carolyn is pacing. "You could have saved him," she says, not for the first time.
"From the federal marshals? He did want to kill us all, Carolyn." It falls rather flat, but Douglas persists, nevertheless. When he thinks about it he isn't surprised at Carolyn's sympathy.
It's quiet outside, quiet and cool. Planes are visible in their holding patterns above, their wing lights like stars.
"We're not the ones who could have saved him," Douglas says after a while. "He shouldn't have fired even if was just to make a large hole in the floor. If he hadn't, well. It'd be hard to make him out as a ruthless hijacker when we didn't divert. As it was – no, we didn't save him from them."
"We're not in the salvation business," Martin says. It's one of the first things he's said, Douglas notes, since they disembarked from the plane.
"Still." Douglas kicks a piece of gravel and it skitters forwards. "Best get on. Martin, are you all right?"
"Some people," Martin says, "place themselves on a trajectory. And you can't divert them from it, even if that would make them happier, even if that would be, would be better. Once they've started, they just have to work through it. Like a flight plan."
"Good thing we don't know anyone like that, then," Douglas says, and puts a loose arm around his shoulders for a minute. "Carolyn, wake up Arthur. Let's go for dinner."
"On me," Carolyn says. "Danger money."
"Thank you, Carolyn," Martin says, seriously, "thank you, Douglas" – and they set out. The last of the smoke curls into the sky.