Nathaniel Cannon and the Schneider Trophy No. 1

Emma Foster pushed open the door to Inconstant‘s briefing room and breezed inside. She was late. This was not unusual. It always took the skipper ten minutes to get through the pointless reasoning behind any given mission and come to the details she cared about.

Nathaniel Cannon stood at the lectern at the front of the room, droning on about something or another. He broke off and watched her take her seat. “Good of you to join us,” he said.

“Are we to the interesting part yet?” Emma replied, playing up her typical Australian twang. The crew snickered. Worryingly, it seemed to her to be at her expense, rather than Cannon’s.

“Just about,” the captain said. Emma scowled. Cannon met it with a grin. “I figured we’d go over patrol schedules while we waited for you. Someone will catch you up later. On to today’s business.” He pointed at the easel next to him. “This is the Schneider Trophy, awarded to the winner of an annual race for seaplanes. No doubt you’ve read about it in the papers—this year’s running is in two weeks. Ugly as it is, the great powers think it has some prestige to it, so competition is fierce. The Brits won the last two runnings, in ’27 and ’29. If they take the win this year, they take the trophy for good—three times in five years seals it. Our employer is a Frenchman and an air racer by the name of Guillaume Le Vot, and he doesn’t want to see that happen.

“The way he figures it, the French can compete starting next year, once SPAD gets its latest design together. This year, the Italians have a winner ready, but old Benito doesn’t want the expense of running it, and won’t give it up. Le Vot wants the Italian machine for himself.” Cannon flipped the page on the easel. “This is that machine: the Aeronautica Macchi M.C. 71.”

Emma leaned closer. The Macchi bird had great lines: a massive engine compartment at the front, taking up more than half of the plane’s length, swelled smoothly into a streamlined cockpit, then faded back into a rakishly-angled tail. Its wings had an almost British sweep to them, a straight leading edge to a rounded tip, then an angled trailing edge which blended back into the fuselage. Its floats were the only strike against it, big ugly things hanging from the underside on thick bracing.

Cannon proceeded. “Right now, she’s hangared at Trapani-Chinisia, at the western tip of Sicily. No trigger men beyond what you’d expect at a sleepy little Regia Aeronautica field. Le Vot will cut us in on the purse, half-and-half, if we steal it for him.”

“How big’s the purse?” someone asked.

“Forty thousand pounds,” Cannon said. Emma whistled. That was some serious cabbage. Fuel to Europe and back wouldn’t cost more than a few hundred pounds, and if they played their cards right, the rest would be pure profit.

“Any other questions? All right.” Cannon returned to the lectern. “Le Vot has heard that Macchi’s getting ready to move the plane back to the factory, up by the Swiss border in Varese. We’ll have to move soon.”

Voting has closed! Winning choice: By piracy! Capture the Italian zep carrying the Macchi machine north. The next entry and the next choice will be posted by 2:30 pm ET.

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