Nathaniel Cannon and the Secret of the Dutchman’s Cross No. 5

“My captain—a real captain, mind—wanted me to convey his condolences that we couldn’t bring your craven hide to decisive action today.”

“I only wish I had the time to deflate another one of the King’s airships,” Cannon said. “Fortunately for you, I have a schedule to keep. Have a nice day.”

“This, Captain Mousegun, isn’t—”

Cannon set the headphones and microphone down and said, “Ignore them. How many pilots do we have left to land?”

“The last two are getting on the skyhooks now,” the traffic controller replied. “Thirty seconds.”

“Good work.” Cannon looked forward and called, “Mr. Churchill! How far to the storms?”

“About five miles, sir!”

Cannon cracked a crooked grin. “Good work all around. Turkey, here we come.”

Two thousand years ago, Nicomedia had been a vibrant port city and a key stronghold in the eastern Roman Empire. The centuries had not been kind to it. A fire, the great Roman schism, and a hundred years of war between the crumbling Byzantine Empire and the ascendant Ottoman Turks had reduced it to ruins. Izmit, the city the Ottomans had established in its place, had never grown out of nearby Istanbul’s shadow.

It was a land of towering hills and steep-sided valleys, its usual green turned brown by a long, harsh summer. The city of Izmit laid low along the coastline, overlooked by the ruins of a Byzantine fort. Inland, to the west and over the crest of the first ridge, stood a small village, clustered beneath the northern wall of the run-down remains of a Crusader citadel.

“Castle Incus,” said di Giacomo. “You can land on the road to the south, capitano.”

Cannon put the transport into a gentle turn. The Albatross—officially, according to the United States Navy, the Chance-Vought T2U-3A Pathfinder—was an ungainly aircraft, one of a handful of asymmetric designs Chance-Vought was famous for. It started with a long, wide wing, which canted upward a few degrees about two-thirds of the way along its length. Two fuselages, separated by three yards of thickened wing just tall enough to fit a crawlspace, were centered in the main airfoil. Half the length of the left fuselage, the right fuselage began with a fully-glazed nose and sported a twin 30-caliber machine gun turret aft of the wing, fitted with synchronizer gear to fire through the propeller disk just further aft of it. The left fuselage had an engine and propeller at its front, forward of the wing. A windowless cargo compartment took the rest of the space within. At its aft end, a single horizontal stabilizer poked out to the left, and a vertical stabilizer rose above the narrowed end of the fuselage, canted slightly to correct the plane’s trim.

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