Nathaniel Cannon and the Lost City of Pitu No. 13

Cannon straightened up and turned as the hatch behind him clanked. The red lamp darkened as the green one came on, and the hatch creaked open. Iseabail poked her head around it. “Alrigh’. Come on in an’ have a look tae.”

Cannon stepped in through the airlock. Racks and racks of equipment lined the bulkheads, from engine parts to jars of chemicals to glass-enclosed columns of bubbly liquids to things whose purpose Cannon couldn’t even guess at. Two long work tables, one scrupulously neat and the other piled high with half-finished projects, ran side-by-side in line with the laboratory’s longer axis. A roughly Iseabail-sized space separated them from each other and from the racks on the wall, and Cannon moved carefully to avoid upsetting anything, and in turn upsetting Iseabail. Gingerly, Joe came in behind him, his larger frame even more of a handicap. Emma leaned against the shelves beside the hatch, and Lachapelle and Choufeng stood in the airlock.

The Scot set covers atop trays of photographic chemicals, and waved at a row of prints hanging over the table. “Nae touchin’,” she said. “They’re nae yet dry.”

Cannon held his hands behind his back and leaned in to inspect one of the photographs. One zeppelin had been moored east to west along the south side of Pitu. Swastikas in white circles stood out against the darker color of the tailplanes.

“Well,” said Cannon, “It’s the Nazis.” He looked more closely at the second zeppelin shape, then pointed and added, “I think this one’s an observation balloon. Look at the shadows here.”

“Tether lines,” Joe said. He chuckled. “Least we don’t have to deal with two zeps.”

“Why a tethered balloon?” said Iseabail.

“They’re making a map, maybe,” Cannon said.

“Or God’s own machine gun nest,” Emma suggested.

Cannon nodded. “If it’s up, we’ll knock it down. What do you make the zep, Joe? Two hundred yards?”

“Maybe two hundred fifty,” Joe replied, seesawing his hand uncertainly. “Can’t be much of an air wing in a zep that small.”

“The Germans wouldn’t try,” Cannon said. “She’ll have two or three decks of guns. I’d put money on it.” He was silent for a few moments. “Moored, she’s a sitting duck, but we can’t shoot her down over the city.”

“Cut the lines?” said Emma.

“Bingo,” Cannon replied. “You’ll lead a flight of Falcons and blow her engines on the upwind side. At the same time, shore parties will cut her mooring lines. They’ll use a grappling hook from a nearby building to get on top of the zep, and then—” Cannon became aware of the weight of Joe’s dubious look. “We’ll work out the details later,” Cannon amended, and Joe’s look turned approving. “Once the Nazi zep’s out of the picture, we’ll bring Inconstant in.

“Now, Hitler’s goons are going to have the city locked up tighter than a New York City speakeasy—sentries at main intersections and foot patrols anywhere the sentries can’t see. On a zep that size, there can’t be more than seventy or eighty soldiers, and they’ll be spread out around the richest targets: these palaces at the north end of the city, and these two temple complexes just north of the central square. We’ll put a third party down to handle them: fifty men with as many machine guns as they can carry. They’ll start on the west edge of the city and meet the cable-cutting parties at the central square.

“There’s a Dutch army base twenty or thirty miles southeast of Pitu. They don’t have an airstrip of their own, but if they cotton to us, they’ll have a zeppelin down from Semarang in a few hours. Now, I like the Dutch and they tolerate me, and I want to keep it that way. Once we knock out the Nazi zep we need to dust out within a hundred twenty minutes.”

“Zat is ‘ardly any time at all,” Lachapelle protested.

Brusquely, Cannon said, “If you hadn’t pointed us at a nest of Nazis, we wouldn’t have to worry about time. We’ll just have to make the most of what we’ve got. We’ll mark likely targets on these photos, and we’ll drop a cargo hoist right into this square here.” Cannon pointed to a plaza to the immediate south of the palaces. “That’s all.”

Silence settled over the lab for a few moments, then Joe said, “Well, it’s a start.”

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