Nathaniel Cannon and the Hunt for the Majestic No. 12

Cannon spent so much of his life aboard airplanes and airships that true quiet, a quiet without the undercurrent of engines, seemed unusual. All he heard now was the rustle of a gentle breeze through the desert grasses, and the chirps and buzzes of Australia’s birds, lizards, and insects. Inconstant floated one hundred feet overhead, moored by the nose to a rickety-looking tower. She shifted ever so slightly as a puff of wind caught her flank, her shadow creeping across the dusty red dirt of the Australian desert.

Over the last year or two, Cannon and the Long Nines had built themselves something of a home out here, hundreds of miles from Darwin, and, for that matter, anything else. They had removed the shrubs, grasses, and gnarled trees common to the bush in this part of Australia to make a clearing a few hundred yards across. At its center was the mooring mast. Running east to west at its south edge was an airstrip, long enough for even a heavily-laden Albatross.

A handful of huts stood to the south of the mooring mast, but most of the Long Nines still slept aboard Inconstant. Between jobs, Cannon wrote a dozen or two passes for Darwin at a time; those lucky pirates took an Albatross and spent a few days in bars, gambling halls, and places of less repute, merrily throwing away their shares from the last payday. They returned, much poorer but no less happy for it, and the next group turned the Albatross around for their turn.

That left most of the crew here at Port Gunport, as Emma had once waggishly called it, with little to do. Cannon kept them busy with maintenance work, both on the zep and on her air wing, but they would only stand for so much time behind a wrench every day.

And so, the Long Nines spent their evenings more or less as they pleased. Later, there would be a feast by torchlight, as there was almost every night. Now, though, twenty-some Long Nines engaged in battle on a more civilized field: the baseball diamond.

On the mound, a Long Nine kicked his leg and hurled a pitch. Pietro di Giacomo swung, but the ball slapped into the catcher’s mitt.

“Strike!” Cannon shouted. It bothered Emma to no end that they played such an un-Australian sport, but too many of the Long Nines hailed from the Americas. Baseballers were easier to find than cricketers.

The ball swooped in again, a beautiful curve. “Ball!” Cannon called.

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