Nathaniel Cannon and the Hunt for the Majestic No. 4

Emma nudged her control stick to the right, settling the Falcon’s nose on a point few hundred yards ahead of the zeppelin. Black puffs a dozen yards to the left, in between her plane and Takahashi’s, signaled bursting flak, but she barely noticed. She nudged the controls with her fingers alone. Almost in range, the Falcon’s gunsight slid onto the engine car. She fired.

Rockets shot forth from her Falcon’s wings, each a flash of fire trailing a pillar of puffy white smoke. She released the trigger after the second pair came free and watched them impact the engine gondola beneath her gunsight. Flung free by the blossoming explosions, the propeller whirled down to the azure ocean below.

Ordinarily, Emma went for the celebratory barrel roll beneath her target when she hit it. Given that the other half of Whiskey flight were, in all likelihood, lining up their shots at the very same moment, she settled for a more conservative hard break away. Looking over her shoulder, she saw flames darting out the windows of Swiftsure‘s other two starboard engine pods, trailing oily black smoke.

“Spot on, Whiskey flight,” she said. “Let’s see if they’ve left us any fighters.”

They hadn’t. The Kestrels, strange though they looked, were the best dogfighters in Inconstant‘s complement, and the skipper put only his best all-around pilots in their cockpits. Two parachutes floated down toward the water, and two life rafts bobbed amidst the waves. Still a few miles away, one of Inconstant‘s Albatross transports dropped from her belly. They, too, were odd aircraft: long, slender wings with two fuselages. The port fuselage was an ordinary tube, with an engine at its forward end and half a tail at its back. A cargo door allowed access to the hold. The starboard fuselage, a teardrop shape only half the length, held the cockpit in its glazed nose, a turreted pair of machine guns atop the wing, and a pusher motor and propeller at its aft end.

This example featured temporary floats bolted on beneath each fuselage, and gamely descended toward the sea to pick up the downed Devil’s Daggers. Captain Cannon had a policy: don’t make any enemies you don’t have to. Emma knew it to be a fairly recent development. It was the reason she was, for one, alive, and part of the Long Nines for another.

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