Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 48

Cannon swung his legs over the catwalk railing and landed as quietly as he could. He pointed his Mauser toward the centerline along the catwalk and waited. No Russians appeared in his sights, so he tucked the pistol back into its holster and waved to Iseabail. She inched along the girder, then grabbed Cannon’s arm and ungracefully hauled herself over the railing. He blinked.

“Well?” she said, daring him to say something.

Cannon shook his head. “Nothing.” He pulled out the map again, then folded it a moment later. “To the centerline catwalk, then aft fifty yards. It’ll be on the starboard side.”

Iseabail nodded and took a step. Cannon caught her arm.



Emma tapped her foot. She stood by the railing around the center skyhook, abreast the Albatross’ boarding door. It was some forty feet away, but an enterprising pirate had stretched a ladder out from the railing to the boarding door, then slid a few planks along its rungs to make a rickety bridge. Emma tried not to think about the two thousand feet between it and the sea, the next thing she would hit if she were to fall.

Finally, one of her crewmates appeared at the forward hatch, throwing it open and approaching at a dead sprint. He had a rifle of tremendous size slung over his shoulder. Skidding to a stop, he handed it to Emma, along with a pouch of ammunition. As he bent double, hands on his knees, sucking down air, she hopped up on the gangway. Falling would be a silly way to die, she reminded herself. She strode quickly across the bridge, holding her rifle out for balance, and ducked through the boarding door. A pair of pirates pulled slid the ladder away, and Emma pulled the door closed behind her.

She set the rifle down, sliding it muzzle-first through a pair of loose cargo straps. A grappling hook attached to a long, coiled line sat nearby. There was a jump seat by the crawlway across the wing to the starboard fuselage. Emma folded it down, took a seat, and fastened the harness. Leaning around the corner to look through the crawlway, she waved.

Choufeng Chuang, the ship’s surgeon, waved back and gave a thumbs up. Emma responded in kind. Mere seconds later, her stomach leaped into her throat as the Albatross fell from Inconstant‘s hangar. The forward engine, a mere few feet to her right, roared uncomfortably loud.

She settled back into her seat as the Albatross leveled off, and the engine thrummed a little more quietly as Choufeng pulled the throttles back a touch. Emma unstrapped and got to work.

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