Saturday vignette: Nathaniel Cannon and the Diadem Raid

We have not yet seen Nathaniel Cannon, skypirate, be a pirate. In the next two stories to run here, we also probably won’t see Nathaniel Cannon be a pirate in the strictest, most traditional sense. Therefore, I thought I should do a little vignette of Nathaniel Cannon being a pirate, to prove that he is, indeed, a pirate. Pirate.

Nathaniel Cannon ran his hands through his hair, taking it from messy to merely tousled. He couldn’t hope for much better after coming across the lines, engine gondola to engine gondola, which linked his zeppelin to his latest prey. That was Diadem, a British liner running the Bombay-Auckland line. She was very small by modern standards, only a quarter of Inconstant‘s length. Ordinarily, she wouldn’t have caught Cannon’s eye, but a contact in India had tipped him off to some cargo of particular interest.

Ahead of him, Amelia Burr pushed open the door to Diadem‘s salon, machine pistol at the ready. Eight of Cannon’s men stood in pairs at the corners of the room, standing guard over a few dozen passengers and crew. All of the furniture had been pushed to the middle of the green-carpeted lounge, and some of the prisoners sat. All eyes turned to Cannon, and he grinned toothily.

“Have we secured the zep?” he asked the pirate to his right.

“A detail’s holding the bridge.”

Cannon nodded, then turned his attention to the passengers, walking the start of a circle around their encampment in the center of the lounge. “I take it you know who I am.”

An older man, wrinkled, gray-haired, and mustached, but still vital, the sort who looked like he could have fought in South Africa at the turn of the century, stepped forward and said, “You are a scoundrel, a pirate, and a murderer!”

“I’ll give you two out of three,” Cannon allowed, hand going to the Mauser pistol holstered at his side. “Step back. I don’t want to be the third today, but if you force my hand…” Cannon let the threat dangle. “I hear,” he went on, “the Times is calling me the Scourge of the Indies now. Cute. If, like we’ve decided, I’m not a murderer—not today, at any rate—why do you think that is?”

A man in uniform, Diadem‘s captain, going by his stripes, roused himself from a stupor. “Have we decided?” he demanded. “What of my pilots?”

Cannon shrugged. “They didn’t have to fight.”

“So you leave them to die?”

“Did I say that?” Cannon replied. “My men are picking up your survivors. We’ll put them ashore at our next port of call. Now, where was I—ah, yes. I’m the Scourge of the Indies because I’m a gentleman.” He held up his hand to silence the objections. “‘How can you be a gentleman and a pirate?’ you ask? It’s like this, see: all I’m doing here is business. You hold up your end of the deal, which is to say, sitting quietly while we search the zep, and nobody gets hurt. We take what we want, we jam your controls but leave your engines, and we leave. You fix things up and you’re back on your way, neat as you please. A simpler, cleaner, happier piracy, don’t you think?” He completed the circle, and stopped in front of the door he entered from, facing the prisoners. “Looks to me, though, like you aren’t holding up your end of the deal. How many crew does Diadem fly with? Burr?”

“Twenty-three, all told,” Burr replied.

“Thank you.” Cannon counted quickly. “And only twenty here. Now, captain, let me tell you how this is going to go. My men are sweeping the zep, working in pairs. Each pair carries a machine pistol like Ms. Burr’s here. Your men carry revolvers, I take it? What do you think their chances are?” The British captain stood tall, and stony silent. “Look,” Cannon said, “my men know that I prefer to keep things tidy, but I won’t make them take a bullet for my principle. You shouldn’t either. If one of your men dies today, the blood is on your hands.”

The captains stared each other down. A few moments passed, and finally, the Englishman bowed his head. Cannon nodded to two of his men. “Burr, Williams—take him forward. Have him make an announcement.”

Time passed. The captain spoke briefly over the annunciator, returning a few minutes later. Over the next five minutes, three more British crew presented themselves in the salon, joining the others at the center of the room. Finally, a few minutes after that, a pair of pirates waved Cannon out of the salon, and showed him a briefcase. “Bearer bonds,” one said, “just like our man told us.”

“Head back to Inconstant. Have them fire the signal gun and make ready to scram,” Cannon said, turning back into the salon. “Ladies, gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure knowing you, but our time together is at its end. Remember what you saw here today: the Long Nines don’t kill when we don’t have to. Either way, though, we take what we want. Good afternoon.”

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