Spirit of the Brown Bear
(Torar Angiyok Aklark)
It was a small group made up of people from
several different racial backgrounds and age levels.
All looked deadly serious, some even dour. One was gesturing wildly to punctuate his angry remarks.
“Why even do all of this?” he shouted, half standing.
“Sit down, Michael,” a dark-eyed woman in a
well worn, fur lined, animal skinned parka said calmly.
It was cold in the room, a cold that even the coal stove in one
corner couldn’t dispel. “Protests,
even violent ones, haven’t helped,” she said mildly. “They have probably hindered our cause.”
“What’s so important about this one additional
scientist?” an older man growled, picking up a cigarette.
The others glared at him and he put it down.
The woman laughed and then unfastened her parka,
pulling it off over her head. The
others may be cold, but she had to go back outside soon.
Her Eskimo heritage seemed to inure her to more cold than these
others could stand. It was
foolish to not remove outerwear indoors.
“You haven’t heard of Harriman Nelson?” she asked.
Her voice was like that of a parent who had just been asked an
obviously inane question by her child.
The man glared, stung by the unsaid rebuke.
“Of course I have. Retired admiral, head of a research organization, marine
scientist, designer of a huge research submarine. So?” he asked caustically.
The woman laughed again.
“If we can persuade him to actively join our cause, then we have
practically won our battle. He
even has the ear of the President.”
“Oh, all right, but if this doesn’t
“It will,” she said, excitedly. “I will be waiting at the rendezvous.”
When nothing else was said, the group broke up, the woman leaving
The angry man sat quietly waiting for everyone to
leave, finally lighting his cigarette.
Soon only he and one other man were left.
“So you understand what I want you to do?” he growled.
The thin faced, blue-eyed man nodded and smiled.
The smile looked more like a grimace however, as an old scar
stretched from the corner of one side of this mouth to his ear.
Money was exchanged and the small house on the outskirts of
Fairbanks was empty.
“I still think it’s ironic that even though
you own one of the fastest private jets in the world, you end up flying on
a commercial airliner,” Captain Lee Crane said sardonically, as he
accompanied his boss to the gate of a large jumbo jet.
deprive me of the simple pleasures?” Admiral Harriman Nelson quipped,
watching a petite stewardess walk past them toward the jet ramp.
“No offense, Lee, but neither you nor Chip can offer such
Crane, who had been following the admiral’s
gaze, laughed softly. The
brunette was pretty. “Hmm,
you have a point. Sure I
can’t come along?”
“No, Captain, I want you taking our gray lady
through her paces,” Nelson said firmly.
“I expect her tip top when I get back.”
Lee smiled. “Aye, aye, sir,” he said crisply. The admiral pulled out his ticket and got in line. He nodded to Lee as the man tore his ticket in half and then he was through the door. Lee walked to a window and gazed at the jet, then moved to another window as it taxied down the runway. He stood watching as the plane took off and finally turned to leave. A set of cold fingers walked up and down his back and then disappeared. He paused in puzzled contemplation and then shook his head.
Harriman thought about his exchange with Lee as he
settled in his very comfortable leather seat.
While he liked the ease and speed that getting around in the Flying
Sub afforded, the luxury of sitting in first class and being wined and
dined did have advantages. Especially
when someone else was footing the bill.
Next to him sat a gray-haired executive, business
suit crisply dry cleaned. His
eyes were closed, and his face turned to the window, cushioned on a
pillow. Harriman didn’t
bother him. Obviously,
someone trying to catch up on what frequent flying robbed him of.
As Nelson had a great deal of reading to do, that didn’t bother
him in the least.
The request for him to attend this North Slope
ecological conference had come at the last minute.
And it had come from the President himself. There were militant forces on both sides, he was told.
Those who wanted the area left totally untouched, only used by the
native tribes who lived there, and those whose interests lay in tapping
the huge reserves of oil and minerals.
He was to study both sides and use his ‘considerable’ expertise
and influence to make viable solutions that both sides could live with.
Somehow, Harriman wasn’t sure that was possible, but he had been
told that his aura of respectability might help create a climate of
compromise. Aura indeed, he
“Admiral, would you like to order a drink?” a
young voice asked softly. The
voice belonged to the petite brunette he and Crane had observed at the
Harriman thought a moment.
He was meeting Klineman in Seattle in a few hours.
As much as he’d like a stiff Scotch and water, he’d better not.
“Coffee, please,” he decided.
“I’ll bring it to you as soon as we’ve taken
off, sir,” she replied.
Nodding, he pulled out a large folder as the plane
backed away from the gate. He
opened it and pondered the problems of drilling and mining in a very
delicate ecosystem. The plane
rumbled across the tarmac, and he closed it again, placing it in the
pocket in front of him. It
wasn’t that he was overly nervous, but he kept mentally going over his
own pre-flight procedures. He
couldn’t concentrate on the documents before him.
The jet took off smoothly and Harriman pulled out the folder again.
Just below the Arctic Circle, a rich reserve of oil had been
discovered. That in addition
to other finds already being shipped through the existing pipelines.
The problem, he read, wasn’t just the drilling, it was more the
piping. The inhospitable
environment made materials break down very quickly.
If that could be solved, he pondered, perhaps that would help
mollify all sides.
“Your coffee, Admiral,” the stewardess said
softly, interrupting his reverie.
thank you,” he answered, flashing her a warm smile as he took his cup.
“Dinner will be served shortly. The choices are lemon chicken or home style meatloaf.”
“Chicken,” he answered, knowing he didn’t
want anything that he knew wouldn’t measure up to the Seaview cook’s
specialty. Cookie was a
miracle worker with ground beef. She
nodded and left, and Harriman went back to his reading.
The materials used to keep the Seaview safe
at high pressures, he wondered. Of
course, the hull was a combination of not only durable and strong metal
but also a design that used inside air pressure and ballast as a barrier.
He pondered the possibilities of using similar technologies for the
frigid cold of the Arctic Circle. He
was still pondering, jotting notes on the margins of the brief when the
stewardess brought him his lunch. He
thanked her as he put his materials away.
Harriman continued to ponder the upcoming conference as he ate.
When he had finished, he opened up the brief again and turned his
mind to the itinerary. Fly
with Klineman from Seattle to Anchorage and then by small aircraft to
Fairbanks where he would get to relax for the next day and a half or have
the option of sightseeing. He
didn’t think he needed that much time to relax, but then again, he
hadn’t had much time to consider all the issues that would be put on the
table at this symposium. Perhaps
he could hire a bush pilot to take him out to the area of the pipelines
already in existence.
Harriman had been to the Arctic Ocean but always
by virtue of a submarine. He
had never really seen the northern tundra.
He hoped he could see more of the North Slope than just from an
When they arrived at Seattle, Klineman was waiting
for him and they discussed the conference and various theories a good deal
of the flight.
“Enough, Karl,” Harriman finally said.
“I want to arrive in Fairbanks somewhat aware of my surroundings.
Let’s try to get some sleep.
I feel as though I’ve already been to a conference.”
“You’ll feel like the referee at a wrestling
match before this is over, Harriman,” Klineman retorted.
“Everyone seems so determined to convince everyone else that he
or she is right.”
“All the more reason to relax a bit now,” he
said, regretting not having use of the Flying Sub right now, and
remembering his conversation with Lee before he left.
But until he had time to complete the refitting of the little
vehicle, it was too dangerous to take out.
He sighed and leaned back against the small pillow. Now he was wondering if the extra day had been allotted for
lobbyists to hit on him before the convention started.
He awoke with a start as the pilot announced their
approach into Anchorage. Obviously
he had slept a bit, although he didn’t feel like he had.
Harriman gazed out of the window to the water below to watch for
sight of the approaching land. It
came along with a glorious sunrise. A
short time later they had landed in Anchorage.
Nelson and Klineman had no time to assimilate
their surroundings as they were almost instantly whisked to a small
corporate-type jet nearby. Soon
they were winging over the MacKenzie Range and heading north.
There were only a few passengers but then the plane only had seats
for a dozen. The two older
men sat up front, each peering out the windows.
Harriman watched the mountains loom higher and
higher as they continued north. Snow
seemed to lay in thick piles part of the way down the slopes as well as on
the peaks. The jet seemed to
fly over the higher peaks with only a bare minimum of clearance. On the northern slopes the snow lay thicker, covering all the
way into the valleys and the flatlands beyond.
When they landed in Fairbanks, the sun had not reached very high
into the sky even though it was noon by his watch.
In mid-winter, the sun would not even top the horizon, he knew.
Harriman had been in the Arctic seas when that happened and it was
an eerie feeling to be in the dark in the middle of the day.
Like a day long eclipse, only darker.
A young woman who was obviously an Eskimo met
them. Her wardrobe, though,
would have been just as apropos in a corporate office in New York City. “Admiral Nelson? Dr.
Karl Klineman?” she asked them.
“Yes,” Harriman answered for both of them.
“I am Dr. Maria Machetanz.
Once we get your bags, we’ll proceed to the hotel.
The pre-conference dinner will be at 6: 00 this evening.
You’ll have a few hours to relax.”
“Thank you,” Harriman and Klineman said
As they walked out of the terminal she gazed at
them and smiled softly. “I
hope you brought a warm winter coat, Admiral.
Even though spring will soon begin in the lower forty-eight, it’s
still cold here in Fairbanks.
The admiral smiled softly.
“I came from Santa Barbara, Doctor, but I did come somewhat
prepared. I have a parka in
The cold did quickly penetrate his uniform though,
and he was very glad that her vehicle was close.
And he was even more grateful to reach his hotel room.
The relative silence was soothing after the long flights.
He hung his extra uniform up, laid out his toiletries, pulled off
his jacket and then stretched out on his bed for a short nap.
A knock on his door startled him out of a half
doze. With a sigh, he went to
the door. It was Dr.
“May I come in?” she asked.
With a nod, he motioned her in. “Please sit down, Doctor,” he invited. “I would offer you a drink, but I suppose there will be
plenty of that tonight. And
besides, the drinks that are usually stocked in hotel refrigerators are
poor substitutes to what’s offered at a decent bar.”
She shook her head.
“Admiral, this may seem bold, but I am very concerned about the
future of the North Slope.”
“From what I have read, I understand your
concern. I suppose you
realize that I am here as a neutral observer and fact gatherer.
I cannot allow myself to be lobbied.”
She nodded. “I
understand and appreciate that, Admiral.
But how can you make a judgment when you aren’t fully informed?
How can you just listen to second hand, emotion-laden information,
or written reports and make decisions that affect thousands of people and
many different species of animals?”
“Interesting question, Doctor Machetanz,”
Harriman answered. “So what
is your answer to that particular question?”
“While the conference officially begins tomorrow
night, the real debate and testimony is the day after tomorrow. Fly out to the area affected.
At least see the area from the air, maybe land and check out the
terrain, the pipelines—just get acquainted with what everyone will be
Nelson thought it was fascinating that he had
considered doing that very same thing.
He was interested, but wouldn’t exhibit his interest for a
moment. “I know what side
of the fence you reside on, Doctor, but I do see the merit of what you are
proposing. I don’t stay in
the lab when I study marine life,” he said with a slight smile.
“This afternoon—now,” she said, her eyes
“And come back when?”
“In twenty-four hours,” she replied.
“And to make it even more unbiased, I won’t come with you.”
“According to what I read in the itinerary, you
are a presenter tomorrow night anyway,” he pointed out with a slight
She laughed with him, apparently relieved at his
quick acceptance. “What I
have been told about you is very true apparently.”
“You are a quick thinker and a fast problem
solver,” she replied.
“I simply like to be well informed.
Any decent scientist should be.
What do I need to bring?”
“Dress warm and comfortable. And bring anything you might need with which to take notes or
Harriman found excitement growing inside. “Give me a few minutes,” he told her as he dug through his suitcase. “I’ll meet you in the lobby. When she had left the room, he got on the phone and called NIMR. “Angie,” he said without preamble. “Do a check on a Dr. Maria Machetanz.” He spelled her last name. “I’ll wait.” A few minutes later, he was getting the facts and figures of the doctor’s background, including her schooling, affiliations and friends. She seemed very much on the up and up, nothing subversive for all that she was totally against the proposed new drilling. Carrying warmer civilian clothes, the admiral headed into the bathroom and changed.
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