“Anthony, has anyone tried hailing that thing yet?”
“That was the first thing we tried,” Captain Nweke said. “No response yet; we may not have their channel.”
“Standard ship-to-shore; shouldn’t be any question.”
“Captain van Rhijn has them re-trying every ten minutes,” Anthony said. “Since they’re not displaying any hostile intent…”
The radio barked; it was Roos. “Ops to Captain Nweke; we have a contact. They identify as an as-yet-unnamed vessel offered in donation to the Antark Federation.”
“Offered by whom?” McGee said, bewildered, but Nweke wasn’t transmitting for Ops to hear.
“Jesus,” said Willie Ortiz.
“I can answer that question, Danny,” Ortiz half-mumbled. “I was in conference with the Canadian Prime Minister about eight months ago, and the topic came up of what we’d do for seaborne patrol and defense. I said that it wasn’t something we were able to address right then; eventually, I’d assumed, we pay to take a retired icebreaker off someone’s hands.”
“This can’t be that, surely,” said McGee. “The Canadians wouldn’t just fucking give us a brand-new vessel; there’d be heads rolling all over Ottawa.”
“I know,” said Ortiz. “I’m as much in the dark as you.”
“Captain, please inform the Regent they’re requesting permission to dock.”
Ortiz looked at McGee in bemusement. “Your call, sir,” McGee shrugged. Willie looked over at Nweke and nodded silently.
“Permission is granted,” relayed Nweke to his radio. “Rainbow Bridge should still be open, but they may have to break some ice to get to it.”
“Acknowledged; will send docking instructions,” said van Rhijn. “Please stand by.”
Anthony mumbled something unintelligible, looking unamused. McGee noted it; probably more-or-less the same as was going through his own mind.
“Thinking about large wooden horses, Captain?” he asked with a half-smile. Nweke just nodded grimly. “Yeah,” McGee said. “Me too.”
He doubted anyone liked this a bit. An irresistible gift, offered without much option to decline. Who the hell is crewing that thing? he thought. Are the crew planning on staying? If so, where are we putting them? If not, how do they propose to get home for the winter?
The vessel was turning to port, slicing effortlessly through the still-solidifying sheet and gently making for land. Graceful, for such a big fucker, McGee thought. Then he noticed at last how cold he was feeling. They’d been out too long.
“Sir, we’re overexposed,” he said to Ortiz. “We need to make for shelter, now.”
“Who’s gonna handle the welcome wagon if we’re both inside?”
“Roos can bring out a team, sir,” offered Anthony Nweke. If I may recommend, a very large team, locked and loaded.”
“Make it happen,” nodded McGee. “We can meet them portside once we’ve thawed out.”
Nweke nodded. “Ops, please prepare two teams to relieve current watch. Make for portside at Rainbow Bridge… load three-inch armor-piercing slug. Over.”