It had been two weeks since Willie Ortiz’s fairly-triumphant return. While visiting with the Chilean and Argentine ambassadors, he had managed to connect with emissaries to those countries from elsewhere. That the South American governments threw in their support so wholeheartedly wasn’t too surprising; what affected Antarctica would also impact its neighbors across the Southern Ocean. What was a surprise was to gain actual material support from Scandinavia, Australia and New Zealand; and at least some very positive responses from various members of the African and European Unions.

Now, resplendent in surplus snow camouflage donated from Finland, and the red beret that the Antark Marchaussee had apparently adopted, Matti Niekonnen was teaching a class on the disassembly and cleaning of the Glock 17, a welcome gift from the Swiss government. McGee was pleased and impressed with how Matti threw himself into his new role as Chief Armorer. Sometimes a person can take a little embarrassment and use it to motivate themselves, and McGee was enjoying watching Niekonnen’s choice to rise above.

He was displaying the firing pin, freshly removed from the weapon, when a hand went up from several rows back.

“‘Scuse me, Matti?” asked a part-timer on rotation. “Why are we doing this? Why do we even need weapons?”

Matti nodded with an encouraging smile. “I understand,” he replied. “Although my specialty is actually security, I still asked that same question when I came, to myself and others.”

He put down the sidearm parts and folded his arms thoughtfully. “When I first arrived, the Marchaussee was no more than a safety patrol. Looking for unsafe conditions and people needing medical help, you understand. What’s your usual job?”

“I’m a research assistant for the marine biology lab.”

“Ah!” Matti brightened. “Excellent! Then you would know better than most about such things as poaching, and illegal whaling, yes?”

The part-timer nodded with eyebrows raised. “Oh, yes. It’s rampant in the Southern Ocean.”

“It is. Unfortunately, a research surveying team out of Avalon Station stumbled over a staging point for a fairly large poaching operation. All three on that team died. This was less than six months ago.”

The volunteer slumped back in his seat, downcast and a little pale.

“From that point on, those countries sponsoring research on this continent began allocating a small amount in their budgets for security. With that we obtained the Mossberg 500 shotguns that we’ve carried to date. They provided at least some marginal self-defense capabilities, without presenting an antagonistic profile to the outside world. But as you know, things have escalated. We cannot have an army, or anything that even looks too much like one. But our patron countries do at least see the sense now of being able to police and defend ourselves.”

McGee nodded in silence. Niekonnen handled that with tact and a good grasp of the issues. Excellent. Then there was a nudge at his elbow; it was Roos van Rhijn, and she did not look happy.

“Sir?” she asked quietly. “May I steal you away for a moment? There’s something you should see.”


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