Nathaniel Cannon and the Secret of the Dutchman’s Cross No. 3

Cannon flipped a switch on his instrument panel, and his fighter’s arresting hook unfolded from its place in the upper fuselage behind his seat. A few framing pieces supported a long bar, currently straight but hinged so that the forward half could swing down and lock the plane onto the skyhook. A light on the panel turned from red to green, and Cannon pulled the flap handle. His plane slowed, the airspeed indicator dropping below one hundred miles per hour. His attention was focused upward, though, watching the skyhook, his arresting hook, and the Fresnel guidance lights on the zeppelin’s underside. He pulled the throttle back further, and the stick shook in his hand as he rode the very edge of the stall. Tiny adjustments brought him in line, and his arresting hook slid neatly through the eye of the skyhook. In one practiced motion, he threw the arresting hook locking lever and pulled his throttle all the way back. The arresting hook clamped his Kestrel firmly onto the skyhook, and the growl of his engines softened to a purr. He flashed a thumbs-up over his head, and with a jolt, the skyhook rose on its hoist cables into the zeppelin.

As he passed through the hatch in the skin, his eyes protested at the sudden dark, and he only caught a glimpse of the bracing and framing between the skin and the hangar before the hook pulled him up through the hangar floor.

The hangar bustled as the deck crew prepared to land all of Inconstant’s remaining fighters. From the left, a transfer hook ran along the overhead rail system, then settled into place around Cannon’s arresting hook and locked there. Cannon released his arresting hook, and the skyhook slid off of it, while the transfer hook carried Cannon’s fighter off to the port side of the hangar. The skyhook shot back down out of the zep’s belly for the next fighter in line, and Cannon’s fighter swung as the transfer hook turned forward toward the aircraft park. Cannon killed his engines and looked over his shoulder. The deck crew had Joe’s fighter on the big, central skyhook, the only one big enough to handle Inconstant’s torpedo bombers, twin-engine bombers, and transports. Like the fighter hooks ahead and astern of it, it was pushed to the starboard bulkhead as possible, leaving room to move airplanes along the rails on the port side. Joe’s Kestrel moved from the skyhook to the transfer hook, and Cannon started to undo his restraints.

Panama, he thought, had played better in the papers and on the radio than it had gone down on the ground, where Cannon had ankled himself and his crew into some serious trouble. They’d escaped by the skin of their teeth, and even though a little more luck had been on their side in their more recent ventures away from traditional air piracy, Cannon still had his doubts. A luxury he could hardly afford, he reminded himself. Once the story of their latest exploits in the East Indies hit the presses in France, he would need to know for sure whether he was willing to commit his crew to this new sort of caper in good conscience. A job from a bunch of monks struck him as a good place to start. How wrong could it go?

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