Nathaniel Cannon and the Hunt for the Majestic No. 13

Tearing off the catcher’s mask, Hank King stood and faced him. “You have to be kidding, skipper!”

“Sorry, Hank,” Cannon said with a shrug. “That one was six inches off the plate.”

King pulled the mask back on, shook his head, and got back into his crouch. Cannon half-smiled. He didn’t play much. Nobody wanted to be on the team that beat the captain, for one thing, no matter how much Cannon said he didn’t mind. For another, unlike Joe, he wasn’t much of a slugger, and he was a decade older and a step or two slower in the field than most of the Long Nines.

It was nice to umpire without any mouthy batters arguing his calls, though. The pitch came in, di Giacomo swung, and the ball cracked off the bat. di Giacomo set off for first base at a dead run as the ball sped deep into the outfield, a well-hit line drive. The ball kicked up a puff of dust as it bounced and dribbled to the rickety wall. di Giacomo slowed down and put his foot on second.

An outfielder picked up the ball, but held onto it rather than throwing it back toward the mound. Cannon tilted his head, and realized the reason a moment later. The drone of a distant airplane engine slowly grew louder. The current batch of crew on Darwin liberty wasn’t due back for another two days.

King took the initiative, running over to the base of the mooring mast and cranking madly at the manual siren affixed there. The ballplayers scattered, disappearing into the gun pits to either side of the field. Anti-aircraft gun barrels appeared as the gunners spun the train and elevation wheels to bring the guns to bear.

Someone handed Cannon a pair of binoculars. He pointed them toward the engine noise and scanned the horizon. “Stand down!” he shouted. “It’s the Albatross!”

Joe trotted in from the outfield. Cannon passed him the binoculars. “Wonder why they’re back so soon,” Joe said.

“Whatever it is, I don’t like it,” Cannon replied.

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