Nathaniel Cannon and the Secret of the Dutchman’s Cross No. 15

The trip to the airfield and the return flight to Inconstant passed quietly. Cannon had a crewman settle Masaracchia into a spare cabin and set up a briefing for half an hour later.

Emma Foster had missed, or rather ignored, Cannon’s last few, and he had begun to strike back by neglecting to mention important details when he next saw her. She would find a way to retaliate in turn, but that was a problem for another day—she refused to be surprised this time around. The briefing theater occupied the space just forward of the hangar, to the starboard side of the ventral catwalk. Sixty amphitheater-style seats rose around the lectern. Today, Cannon had brought a blackboard and a chart stand with him. He had written out a patrol schedule on the blackboard. The chart stand held a map of Egypt.

“…Abdju,” Cannon was saying, “near the modern town of El Balyana. Crannach will be on the ground with me, along with di Giacomo, Burr, and Mr. Masaracchia here.” As Emma took her seat, Cannon gave her a big wave. “Foster! Good of you to stop by.”

In her Australian twang, Emma replied, “I was having a hard time getting to sleep.”

Over the chuckles, Cannon said, “You missed the boring part. We already volunteered you for dawn patrols for the next week.”

Emma rolled her eyes, exaggerating the gesture so that it involved her whole head. She didn’t mind as much as she let on; she enjoyed the early mornings. Cannon droned on while Emma had a look around. It was a briefing for the senior parts of the crew today: squadron leaders, deck crew chiefs, gunnery directors, and the like.

“If the rest of you want to know more about the temple or about the plan on the ground,” Cannon continued, “ask anyone on the ground team. They’ve already been briefed.” He pulled a new chart, which covered the south of France to the middle of Arabia, over the top of the stand. “The British know we’re around, so one of the pilots will fly us into El Balyana and return once we’re on the ground. Joe Copeland will be in command while I’m gone. Inconstant will stand off to the east over Arabia and wait for our call. Mr. Masaracchia tells me that friends of the Church in the village have a shortwave set. Joe has the list of frequencies to monitor.” In the front row, Joe and Masaracchia nodded. “The ground team will take a team of camels out to the temple, recover the cross, and call for a ride. Inconstant will head west and send an Albatross to pick us up. Any questions?”

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