Nathaniel Cannon and the Hunt for the Majestic No. 21

Inconstant‘s Albatross approached from the south, flying low over the gray sea. It was ten in the morning, but didn’t look it. Whitecaps below and thick clouds above told part of the story. The morning scout flights’ report of monsoon weather brewing over the China Sea told the rest.

Cannon, at the controls, pulled the Albatross into a bank to the right. He, Joe, and Inconstant‘s flying master, Churchill, put their heads together, and agreed that they had enough time to get in and get out before the storm hit, as long as Inconstant stayed some distance out of the way. She was an hour’s flight south, off the coast of Mindoro, and that was all the closer she would come.

With him, Cannon had Emma Foster and Choufeng Chuang, who occupied the other seats in the cockpit, and a dozen other pirates in the jump seats in the cargo fuselage.

Choufeng had the copilot’s seat. His leathery skin and white hair told of a long life. Cannon knew very little of it; among the Long Nines, he was legendarily tight-lipped. Serenely, he watched the engine gauges through reading glasses perched low on his nose.

Emma, tall, willowy, and blonde, sat in the radio operator’s chair, facing the starboard bulkhead behind Choufeng. She rolled a pencil between her fingers. Looking over his shoulder, Cannon caught her glance up at the bank of radios as some transmission came in. It couldn’t have been anything important. She heaved a deep sigh and went back to her fidgeting, clearly bored out of her mind.

Cannon hid a smile. Compared to the average member of the Long Nines, he was an old man. He could hardly forget; they reminded him at every opportunity. Emma especially. At moments like this, though, he could enjoy the benefits of wisdom and experience; she was antsy, he was calm.

Granted, he had flying to keep himself busy. Out the left side of the glazed nose, past the cargo fuselage to his left, he could see Kindley Field amidst the jungle on the Rock. He put the plane into a gentle left-hand turn, lowered the flaps, and put down the landing gear.

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