Nathaniel Cannon and the Panamanian Idol No. 52

“There!” Emma called. A long line of white smoke, stirred into whirling eddies and vortices by the zeppelin’s propeller wash, stretched from one of gondolas along its side. “Third engine car back, this side.”

Choufeng made no response, but pulled the Albatross into a steep turn. Emma grabbed an overhead strap and hung on for dear life.

“Little warning might be nice next time!” she added.

The Albatross leveled off, how heading the opposite direction. A few moments later, it banked again, now running parallel to the zeppelin’s course, off its starboard side. Emma rolled the cargo door back on its track and opened the rifle’s action. Laying a blank in place, she closed it, then fed the grappling hook into the muzzle.

A line of bullet holes appeared in the aluminum skin overhead. Emma dove toward the inner bulkhead and out of the way. A black-painted fighter with a red star on the wing screamed past the open door, not ten feet away. A blue Kestrel followed it a heartbeat later.

The elephant gun skittered toward the door. Emma swore and scrambled toward it. The stock pushed out into the slipstream, swinging backward and pushing the muzzle forward. It balanced for a moment on the edge of the Albatross’ deck, and Emma locked her hand around the barrel.

She waited a moment for the shake to go out of her hands, then spoke into her headset’s microphone. “Any more coming?”

“We are clear,” Choufeng replied.

The Albatross slowed, jolting as the flaps extended, and slowly drifted closer to the smoking engine car. Emma doubted she could make the shot at more than fifty yards. About twenty yards remained before she would be in range.

In the window of the gondola, Iseabail waved her arms frantically.

Emma sighed. She had wanted a challenge. Here it was.

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