From the far end of the burial dais, only about ten yards from Cannon, stairs descended to the main floor. Cannon stood at the top of the flight and marveled. His flashlight’s beam only just revealed the furthest corners of the vast space. If she were carefully handled and came in on the diagonal, Inconstant might even have fit. On the floor, rows upon rows of statues—nearly all of them depicting Osiris or Anubis—stood over hundreds of coffins, each inscribed with hieroglyphics and brilliantly painted with depictions of those interred. Between them were stacked more clay pots, interspersed with the occasional glitter of gold. Cannon directed his flashlight down one row of statues and up the next, and his heart sank. “There he is.”
His hands on its corners, Joe leaned over the plotting table. From the radio room aft, one pirate called out flight names— “Whiskey flight reports position!” —followed by a string of coordinates, coded offsets from Inconstant. Another crewman pushed small wooden counters around the table. Cannon’s system—the boss had never quite taken to true piracy as well as his crew might have liked, and indeed he leaped at these opportunities to turn Inconstant into a treasure hunter, but early on in his career, he had decided that piracy was no excuse for lax combat performance. In the Fearless days, he had realized that the captain with the most information usually won scraps between zeppelins. Accordingly, all of Inconstant‘s pilots knew the ins and outs of navigation, and they reported back to the air wing commander at regular intervals. Even if they were fifty miles off, Joe still had a more complete picture of the battle than did his unseen adversary.
The counters on the table told the tale so far. Inconstant, now over the eastern Mediterranean, drove to the west. Ottoman Cyprus was just over the horizon off to starboard. As soon as he felt he could, Joe planned to cut southwest and then due south, escaping overnight through the mishmash of colonial territories and Turkish puppet beyliks along the North African coast. Joe had five scouts flying. Two Kestrels, both carrying a half load of ammunition, Iseabail’s wing tanks, and long-range radios to eavesdrop on any British flights in the area were on station thirty miles to the southeast.