The train wove around the verdant hills of central Panama, passing small villages nestled against the slopes as it clattered downhill toward Panama City.
In a first-class carriage, Nathaniel Canon glanced down at his timetable, then at his watch. They had just passed the town of Culebra. In half an hour, they would be getting off at Ancón.
Iseabail Crannach sat to his right, though had Cannon not known her so well, he would scarcely have recognized her. Gone were her usual lab coat and khaki trousers, in favor of a severe gray blouse and utilitarian skirt; her hair was pulled into a tight bun, its usual vicious frizz tamed for now. A minute or two ago, she had been and leaning out into the corridor, as though she could push the engineer to take the curves a little faster. Now, she stared out the window across from their compartment with barely-contained glee.
Cannon sat up straighter to peer over her head. The sun was shining, and the deep blue of the sky and the gleaming silvery thread of the Rio Grande’s headwaters neatly framed the emerald jungle climbing the valley’s opposite wall. “Lovely day, isn’t it?” he said.
Iseabail jumped, then waved away his remark. “That’s nae what I’m thinkin’,” she said, her brogue as thick as ever. “Did y’know there was talk of buildin’ a canal through here, back before the war?”
Cannon raised his eyebrows. “Yes. I was twelve.”
Iseabail shook her head. “Ach, of course. I forget how old you are, sometimes.”
“Keep digging that hole, and maybe you can find yourself a new job in the canal business,” Cannon replied, showing a grin.
“It’s fine, and no more ‘captain’. We’re almost there.”
“Aye, ca— Nat.”
“Ach, aye, Dr. Smith.”
“That’s right, Mrs. Smith.” Cannon nodded his approval, noted Iseabail’s pained look, and gave her a friendly pat on the arm. “Eighty-six the nerves, Isea. You’ll do just fine. I’m sure of it.”
Iseabail nodded, took a deep breath, and became a little more herself. She looked back to the window.