Nathaniel Cannon and the Secret of the Dutchman’s Cross No. 17

The sun hung low over the eastern horizon, then sunk beneath it as the Albatross dove for the deck. A Kestrel, launched a few minutes earlier, took up an escort position. Behind them, Inconstant made a stately turn to the north to parallel the Egyptian coast.

In the Albatross’s cargo fuselage, Cannon sat at the front facing backward, wads of cotton stuffed in his ears against the roar of the engine, only a foot or two away past the firewall at his back. Strapped into one of the jump seats, he could just see through the crawl-way into the cockpit, and a tiny slice of the glazed nose allowed him the slightest view outside. For now, in the moments before dawn, he saw two featureless plains, the ocean and the desert, separated by the luminescent surf.

Further back in the cargo fuselage, his ground team sat in the back-to-back seats running the length of the cabin. Amelia Burr, dark-haired and soft-featured, displayed something of her true character by her unladylike sprawl and a mouth-open snore Cannon could nearly hear. Beside here was Iseabail Crannach, red-haired, stocky, and Scottish. Every minute or two, she shifted in her seat, found a new spot on the wall to stare at, and recrossed her arms. Cannon didn’t begrudge her the nerves—she did brilliant work in Inconstant‘s laboratory, but of Cannon’s inner circle, she had the least experience with this sort of thing.

A few seats further aft, di Giacomo and Masaracchia sat side-by-side, imperfect mirror images: they had similar faces and hair, but di Giacomo had a narrow, wiry build to Masaracchia’s broad-shouldered form. The two of them attempted a conversation, as futile as that was in here. he couldn’t hear them, of course, but every now and then he could lip-read, “Che?”

The plane hit a patch of rough air, and Cannon smiled. In its own way, this was a relaxing moment, despite the engine right next to his ears. His plans were set, and he had nothing to do and no way to change the course of things for the next hour. He settled his head against the cushion tacked to the bulkhead behind it, yawned, and closed his eyes.

The Albatross and its Kestrel escort crossed the coastline and drove further in, low to the ground. Mountains rose before them, four thousand feet above the sea, and the planes crested them as dawn gave way to morning. As the mountains fell away, the planes descended to only a few hundred feet over the desert, tearing along at more than two hundred thirty miles per hour. The miles fell away behind them, and in time, the Nile came into view: a verdant ribbon, centered on a winding quicksilver line.

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