Antark: Episode Twenty-One

P6 cover
Antark: Episode Twenty-One
by Alan Augustson
21 June 2017

In the deep twilight it wasn’t much more than a silhouette, but it was clearly military. McGee studied it through one lens of a set of binoculars, with a weird urge to bite his thumbnail. Thankfully, he didn’t dare take off his gloves.

She looked between ninety and a hundred meters, stem-to-stern, though accounting for the distance was tricky in this light. He could only make out details by looking just around the vessel, rather than directly at. She was heavy and angular, and might even have been a match for the thick ice shelf that was already closing around Valhalla Station. They’d had to close the portside at Rainbow Bridge early this season, rushing to get the final shipments offloaded, and passengers ferried out.

“Dan? What do you think?” asked Willie Ortiz, shouting in the high winds. A team of about a half-dozen armed Marshals were in low crouch close by.

“She’s purpose-built, sir,” McGee answered. “Heavy, possibly icebreaker-capable. The forward gun I make out for about twenty-five millimeters. She’s no battleship, but in these waters she’ll do a serious hurt.”

“Russian, you think?”

“Not a clue. I’ve never seen this configuration. Definitely built by someone who knows polar conditions, which leaves Russia, Canada, the U.S. and maybe half a dozen others.” McGee turned to Nweke. “Anthony, where the hell are those spotlights I called for?”

“Just about ready, Brigadier. They take too much current for batteries, so we needed to tap into grid from the turbines. Engineering estimates five minutes.”

Just then, there was a crack of high voltage, and the Marshals winced. The deepening night turned into a scene from a moon landing, the sky looking all the blacker for the brilliance with which everything was lit at ground level.

Nweke grinned. “Of course, I got that estimate about five minutes ago.”

The huge spotlights were trained smoothly on the vessel. With the distance, it didn’t help that much, but enough to make out some details. McGee shielded his eye from the local floodlights and gave it another look. Very sophisticated sensor array, topside. Astern, there appeared to be enough room for a helipad. Perhaps even a hangar below decks.

Nweke was looking also. “Sir? You think that thing could winter over?”

“They’d burn a shitload of diesel for heating, but apart from that? Yes, I think so. Anthony, I can’t make out a flag, do you see one?”

Ortiz perked up. Here came the sixty-four-thousand-dollar answer, all right. He looked over Nweke’s shoulder, using his hand to block the wind from his eyes. “Well?” he asked.

“There’s a flag, aft,” the captain said. “It’s… blue… light blue…”

Then he paused, lowering his binocs. He looked bewildered.

“Captain?” prodded McGee.

Nweke looked at them, puzzled.

“Brigadier, Regent Ortiz… it’s our flag.”

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