Nathaniel Cannon and the Hunt for the Majestic No. 23

“Warm and welcoming,” Emma said.

“If we have to leave this way,” said Cannon, “it’ll be warmer than the alternative.”

Emma pondered this and couldn’t find fault with it. The plan was to leave by the Albatross. If they couldn’t, well… Emma had heard better ideas. The skipper swore up and down it would work, which meant very little to her. Iseabail said the same thing, which carried more weight, but even so, she was doubtful.

The truck jostled over a narrow-gauge railway, then came to a stop at the outskirts of the village. Cannon hopped out of the cab. Emma blinked, then jumped to the ground and met the skipper at the back of the truck. He handed her a black kit bag and wheeled a heavy trunk off the bed.

Together, they trudged into the village. Cannon wheeled the trunk through an empty doorframe into a derelict house. Emma set the bag on top of it.

They returned to the truck. Cannon reversed, then turned around and swung a left onto the road up to Topside.

Bottom Side and the Long Tail were ruins and untamed wilderness. Topside could have been dropped in directly from London or Madrid. The border was abrupt; about a quarter-mile up the road and a few hundred feet above sea level, the dirt road suddenly gave way to cobbles, and wooden buildings whose second stories jutted out over the street crowded it on either side. The truck passed a few pedestrians, fewer than usual. Once or twice, a car squeezed past, pulling far to the other side of the road as Cannon nearly scraped the mirrors off against the buildings.

There were no side streets, though the occasional alleyway too narrow for an automobile cut between the buildings. That meant a street on the far side, Emma surmised, but she couldn’t see how to drive there.

She realized she was rubbernecking like some kind of tourist, and that the skipper was grinning. She stared straight ahead and said, “Where is everybody? Isn’t this place supposed to be bustling?”

Cannon shrugged. “Battening down the hatches, probably. Nobody wants to be outside for a monsoon.”

“Battening down? Dramatic,” said Emma.

“Appropriate,” Choufeng said, looking in her direction. “Topside is like a ship at sea. No land shelters it.”

Emma blinked. “He speaks!”

“Don’t expect much more out of him today,” Cannon put in. “Here we are.”


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Nathaniel Cannon and the Hunt for the Majestic No. 22

Lining up on the runway, Cannon pulled the throttles back. The Albatross settled slowly, descending beneath the jungle canopy, then touching down on the grass runway. Cannon left the engines at about half power, allowing the Albatross to roll nearly to the end of the runway before braking to a stop and cutting the power.

He ran the left throttle up halfway, turning the Albatross to the right. The cargo door slid open partway through the turn, and the pirates in the cargo fuselage disembarked, masked from view by the bulk of the aircraft. Cannon glanced to his left as the pirates dashed for the cover of the treeline, then turned the Albatross around and taxied up to the collection of huts at the edge of the landing strip.

He, Emma, and Choufeng disembarked through the crew hatch behind the pilot’s seat. A local, emerging from the nearest hut, met them. Cannon arranged to have the Albatross refueled and negotiated a more or less reasonable price to borrow the man’s truck. A few minutes later, the truck rattled away along the dirt road toward Topside.

 

A half-dozen pairs of eyes, white spots in grease-blackened faces, watched it bounce along the north road. They belonged to black-clad bodies, laid flat on a ridge ten yards back from the road. Each had a machine pistol and a rucksack. The truck passed. A minute or two passed before the sound of its engine was lost to the sound of the jungle.

“All right,” said one of the figures, a young woman. “Let’s go.”

The figures stood and marched off in single file, all but invisible from the road.


 

Emma leaned against the door of the truck and put her feet up on the dashboard.

“Cut that out,” Cannon said.

With bad grace, Emma sat up straight. Seated between her and Cannon, Choufeng didn’t say a word. That wasn’t unusual, though. If she didn’t count the tips he dispensed while throwing her around the sparring mat, he’d said maybe one hundred words in her presence total. The skipper said he didn’t get any more talkative.

The truck rounded Malinta Hill, revealing a ruined village to the left. Before the Americans left the Rock and the Brotherhood moved in, it had been home to servants, cooks, and other non-combatant members of the island’s garrison. Now, the buildings lay empty, whitewashed walls with only an occasional tile roof still intact. The jungle encroached on it from all sides but the south, where waves crashed at a sandy beach.

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New Year’s Eve update

Not a lot to report here in the halls of Many Words: there may still be a new address for Many Words Press World HQ, and I haven’t managed much writing since that news originally broke.

I do hope to get some done tomorrow, which suggests there may be some writing in January. As for the Soapbox fans, I’ll be sure to get on parvusimperator’s case about running some posts. (Also, I’ll be sure to write some.)

Thanks for your patience. We hope to be back on a reasonable schedule soon.

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A Christmas shilling

Not the coin, but rather the hawking of a product. For once it isn’t even my product. Instead, it’s from a family member. Mugs!

A quick review: they’re mugs. They feel sturdier to me than your ordinary white ceramic mug, they’re well-printed, and I find them funny. You can’t go wrong with a good mug. These are good mugs.

This concludes my Ron Swanson-esque review.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Hunt for the Majestic No. 21

Inconstant‘s Albatross approached from the south, flying low over the gray sea. It was ten in the morning, but didn’t look it. Whitecaps below and thick clouds above told part of the story. The morning scout flights’ report of monsoon weather brewing over the China Sea told the rest.

Cannon, at the controls, pulled the Albatross into a bank to the right. He, Joe, and Inconstant‘s flying master, Churchill, put their heads together, and agreed that they had enough time to get in and get out before the storm hit, as long as Inconstant stayed some distance out of the way. She was an hour’s flight south, off the coast of Mindoro, and that was all the closer she would come.

With him, Cannon had Emma Foster and Choufeng Chuang, who occupied the other seats in the cockpit, and a dozen other pirates in the jump seats in the cargo fuselage.

Choufeng had the copilot’s seat. His leathery skin and white hair told of a long life. Cannon knew very little of it; among the Long Nines, he was legendarily tight-lipped. Serenely, he watched the engine gauges through reading glasses perched low on his nose.

Emma, tall, willowy, and blonde, sat in the radio operator’s chair, facing the starboard bulkhead behind Choufeng. She rolled a pencil between her fingers. Looking over his shoulder, Cannon caught her glance up at the bank of radios as some transmission came in. It couldn’t have been anything important. She heaved a deep sigh and went back to her fidgeting, clearly bored out of her mind.

Cannon hid a smile. Compared to the average member of the Long Nines, he was an old man. He could hardly forget; they reminded him at every opportunity. Emma especially. At moments like this, though, he could enjoy the benefits of wisdom and experience; she was antsy, he was calm.

Granted, he had flying to keep himself busy. Out the left side of the glazed nose, past the cargo fuselage to his left, he could see Kindley Field amidst the jungle on the Rock. He put the plane into a gentle left-hand turn, lowered the flaps, and put down the landing gear.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Hunt for the Majestic No. 20

Corregidor, known to the lowlifes, scoundrels, and pirates of the South Seas as the Rock, sat at the mouth of Manila Bay. It was part of the Philippines, technically United States territory, won at no great cost during a brief war with Spain in 1898, when Cannon was a young boy. He still remembered the marching song sung by the soldiers returning home to Akron: “Underneath the starry flag, civilize ’em with a Krag.”

It hadn’t gone well. For all the noise in the United States about manifest destiny after the Civil War, its settlers only got as far as the Montana Territory. The nation of Columbia got antsy, understandably so, about its larger neighbor. There was another brief war, if it could be called that; it was a border skirmish in slow motion. The United States hadn’t forced the issue, and thus it was that a nation with a large colony in the Far East had no port on the nearest seacoast. The Philippines got the dregs of American colonial power, the old ships too battered for service on the Liberian station, the governors too corrupt for the Bahamas.

The Rock sat in the mouth of Manila Bay, thirty miles west-southwest of Manila itself. The Spanish had fortified it, and the Americans had maintained a garrison there until money got too tight. Where the authorities retreated, pirates moved in.

It was a small island, tadpole-shaped, about four miles from head to tail, pointing west. The head, a mile or two across, rose some few hundred feet above the sea by means of tall, windblown slopes. The locals called it Topside. It sprouted gun barrels arranged in a dozen batteries amidst a sea of ramshackle buildings. At its center, the old stone garrison and officers’ quarters now flew the skull and crossbones: the seat of the South Seas Brotherhood.

Descending eastward from Topside, the island narrowed. Its tail was a mere five hundred yards from north to south, covered in dense jungle. A ribbon-like road sliced through it. A steep hill, filling the whole width of Bottom Side, forced the road to detour all the way to the north shore of the island, cut into the face of the hill. From there, it ran to the far eastern end of the island, ending at a grass airstrip cut into the woods: Kindley Field, named for a talented but hapless American aviator, wounded in crashes half a dozen times in his career.

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Nathaniel Cannon and the Hunt for the Majestic No. 19

Lecocq stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray on Cannon’s desk. “We left then,” he said, lighting a new cigarette and waving it expansively. “There was a little chase, but we shook them. Then, we found the rest of the crew and left. It seemed wise.”

“You made the right move,” Cannon agreed. “Make a note, Joe. Double shares for Marcel here next payday.”

“You got it, boss.”

“Thank you, sir,” Lecocq replied. “What happens next?”

Cannon gestured toward the door. “I talk it over with Joe.”

Lecocq nodded, stood, and left. Cannon raised his eyebrows at Joe. “What do you think?”

Joe shrugged. “Don’t like it.”

Cannon leaned back in his chair. “Neither do I. The Brotherhood nosing around in our business? Nothing good can come of that.”

“What are we gonna do about it?” Joe said.

“We aren’t going to take it lying down, that’s for sure,” Cannon replied, fire in his eyes. It faded as he caught himself. “Then again, maybe I shouldn’t fly off the handle here.”

“They did want to kidnap one of ours,” Joe reminded him.

Cannon fixed him with a look. “You’re the one who’s always telling me to slow down and think it over.”

“Just saying.”

Cannon nodded. “You know, I’d kill for an icebox out here.”

“Don’t change the subject,” Joe replied.

Sighing, Cannon said, “I’m thinking.” A moment passed. “You know, why don’t we pay them a visit?”

“Come again?” said Joe.

Cannon leaned forward, speaking quickly and excitedly. “Hear me out. Figure they know we know they’re looking for me.”

“With you so far.”

“What’s the very last thing they’ll expect us to do?”

“Show up,” Joe said, frowning. “That’s not what you mean, is it?”

“Exactly that.” Cannon stabbed his finger against his desk. “We show up. Me, Emma, and Choufeng, maybe, plus some backup. They give me the third degree. We find out what they want, and if they try to get cute, we shoot our way out.”

Joe blinked, quiet for a long moment. “That is a terrible plan.”

Cannon rolled his eyes. “Come on, Joe. We always ignore problems like this, then we blunder into them anyway, down the line. Why not get the blundering out of the way now?”

“Because ten Long Nines against everyone on the Rock is bad odds, boss.”

“Then let’s figure out how to even them up,” Cannon replied. “Plan with me. Scheme. I’ve made up my mind on this.”

Joe sighed a long-suffering sigh. “Fine.”

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