Nathaniel Cannon and the Hunt for the Majestic No. 9

Cannon swung the hatch open and waved Joe through. They stepped into the most peaceful place aboard Inconstant.

Like most modern zeppelins, Inconstant captured the water from her engine exhaust to reuse as ballast and, after some filtration, potable stock. Most zeppelins had a simple pump-and-reservoir room somewhere high in the hull, to build a proper head of pressure. Inconstant had a garden.

Choufeng Chuang, the old surgeon from Hong Kong, had claimed the compartment in late 1926, when he signed on with the Long Nines. A few months later, he threw open the hatches to an oasis of tranquility.

Though the space was only perhaps fifteen yards on a side, it nevertheless hosted a small island of stacked stones, worn smooth by water and time. Cannon still wasn’t sure how Choufeng had laid his hands on them. Two bridges of red-painted wood linked the forward hatch to the island, and the island to the aft hatch, which led to the companionway down to the rest of the crew spaces. Beyond that was the main part of the dorsal catwalk.

A small pagoda-roofed gazebo, only just large enough for two people to stand in, looked out over the pond. Water lilies rested on the surface, intermingled with floating lanterns. The cheerful babbling of a cascade, running down a channel constructed from carefully-arranged stones in the side of the island, drowned out the hum of Inconstant‘s machinery.

Cannon paused in the gazebo. “It never gets old,” he said.

Joe nodded.

Another few beats passed, then the two men continued across the second bridge and through the aft hatch. The companionway beyond it, like the dorsal catwalk, had no bulkheads enclosing it. It zigzagged downward through four landings before entering another thin-walled collection of compartments. The crew spaces filled five decks. The top four were cabins of various sizes; the lowest deck was mostly mess hall, with showers, toilets, and the galley accessible through a handful of hatches.

The mess hall was also the usual gathering place for crew not on watch. A dozen or two Long Nines were scattered among the tables—reserve pilots and mechanics, mostly, waiting to be called to action if needed. Along with them, the tables held a collection of playing cards, books, and in the case of one group of crew in a corner, musical instruments. They performed a sea shanty with more enthusiasm than talent.

Cannon smiled to himself. He wasn’t that much of a traditionalist himself, but he could hardly deny it was a nicely piratical impulse.

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