Spirit of the Brown Bear

(Torar Angiyok Aklark)

 

 

 

 

Chapter 10

 

 

As Utaq’s hunting party approached the shoreline camp late in the day, dark clouds that had been hovering low, finally unleashed what they carried.  Snow fell in huge flakes at first, drifting lazily down and coating the dirty layers that had fallen and packed before.  Then the wind arrived and blew the snow in great anguished shrieks that made talk nearly impossible. 

The meat was quickly distributed among the hunting party’s families.  The dogs were bedded down and fed, and then everyone headed for his own dwelling.  When Utaq and Nelson ducked into their house, an older woman was waiting for them.  She had put on a small pot of savory caribou stew and there were two blubber lamps lit, their flames dancing merrily.  Both men reveled in the relative warmth of the tent and the smell of cooking meat that made their stomachs rumble. 

“Many thanks, Aanaruaba,” Nelson said to the old woman, using the term ‘grandmother’ or ‘great aunt’ that was given as a term of respect for all older women. 

“You are welcome, Aklark, but I am here for more than just making Utaq’s house warm,” she said with a dry laugh.  “And be cautious of who you are calling aanaruaba.  I am not that much older than you, Taataruaba.”

Nelson blushed and chuckled.  “My apologies, I only meant respect.” 

“I know,” the woman said with a merry twinkle in her eye.  “As do I.”

“You said you had another reason for being here?” Utaq prompted. 

“Yes, there is a white man in Kotik’s house.  He has been somewhat obnoxious when he has been awake.  Thankfully, he has been asleep most of the time since his rescue.”

“What?” Utaq began, incredulous at there being another white man in the camp, and then he thought.  Aklark’s yellow jet; his Flying Sub, as he called it. 

The old woman, Mirok, nodded.  “He came in a strange and marvelous machine.”  Then she smirked.  “But first he sank the strange plane and then he managed to fall into the ocean as he came ashore on the ice. Now that he is recovering, he insults the young women who brought him back to life.”

Knowing what that meant, Utaq began laughing.  “And did the women approve of him?”

 Mirok laughed with him.  “For a white man, he was not too bad, but he was too tall.”

Nelson had been listening to the conversation with increased excitement.  “This machine—was it yellow?  A jet?”  The last was the English word. 

“Yes,” Mirok said.  “If not for the storm, you might be able to see it from here, Aklark.” 

The pilot had come that close?  That close and then crashed.  Who was the pilot?  Was it one of the men he kept seeing in his brief remembering dreams?  And if the Flying Sub had come here, would the giant submarine be close behind, Nelson asked himself?

“You are remembering,” the old woman added when she saw the concentration on his face. 

“Yes.  Yes, a little.”  Never enough, he thought.  Nevertheless, he was excited.  Someone who most likely knew him was in the camp.

Mirok smiled.  “When you remember all, do not forget us.”

Nelson shook his head.  “I won’t.  But please, can you describe the man?”

“No, not really.  I have not been to Kotik’s tent.  But when he was pulled off the ice, I could see he had dark hair and was tall and thin.”  She gazed thoughtfully at him.  “You think this is someone you know.  Or someone who knows you.”

“Yes,” Nelson answered excitedly.  It sounded like the man in his dreams.  The one he had shot.  If so….

“Come then.  The man has called for you, Utaq, when he has been awake, but more often for someone called admiral.”

Nelson could feel his hands trembling and noticed Utaq’s gaze on him.  “That is my . . . status.  Yes, I would like to see him.”

The snow was falling harder now, much like the snow that he had remembered right after his encounter with the bear.  It was thick enough that even the outlines of the dwellings in the hunting camp were obscured.  Nelson stayed close behind the old woman, Utaq by his side.  She ducked through the canvas doorway and Nelson heard a voice calling him.  He recognized it and thrilled at that recognition.  Finally, after all this time.

He followed the old woman.  Amoroq was sitting on one side of the tent.  Kotik pointed to someone huddled beneath several layers of furs.  The voice was softer now and Nelson crept closer to the still form.  The man was curled inside and almost indiscernible, but the admiral could see the short black hair.  Again he felt the thrill of relief.  If this was Lee, then what he had seen in the dream had to have been false; or rather, Lee had recovered.  And with that realization came more memories, some clear, most of them disjointed, but making more sense.  Lee moaned and then rolled over, sticking his head out from under the covers and opening his eyes. 

Recognition gleamed in the dark hazel eyes and Lee jerked upright in shock, then realized where he was and what condition of dress he was in, pulled the blankets closer to his body.  Nelson noticed he was still shivering.  “Admiral!  You’re still alive!  Thank God, you’re alive!”

Harriman nodded, gazing hungrily at his link to the past and then could only say, “You are, too.”

Lee’s joy and amazement showed some puzzlement.  “Me?”

“Yes, Lee,” Nelson began, sitting closer to his captain, friend, protégé. For he knew that Lee Crane was all of the above without knowing exactly why.  “The only memory I had of you for the past couple of weeks was of me shooting you.”

“Only . . . memory?  You mean….?”

Nelson nodded again.  “A great deal has returned, but not everything.  Not most.”

“What do you remember first?” Lee asked, his concern evident on his face.  The others in this cramped tent were temporarily forgotten. 

“Smell of destruction, a bear, pain and cold,” Harriman replied. 

“Your plane was shot down,” Lee replied.  He looked around and finally saw the others.  “Utaq?” he asked the man sitting nearby.

“Yes.”

“You were to meet the admiral,” Lee continued. 

“Yes, I was, when the pilot, Roger Simkiss landed.  I had been asked to let the admiral see the people this project would impact and then come to his own conclusions.  It was a good thing Maria found me at the outpost or I would have had no idea who Aklark, or rather Admiral Nelson was when he walked into the forest with the bear’s skin wrapped around him.  Not that it would have mattered.   I would have helped him anyway, and I would have still seen his arrival as something of an omen.”  He paused and smiled softly.  “My cousin seemed confident that the admiral could come up with something that would be mutually beneficial to all interests.  The spirits wanted it done in a way somewhat different than anyone had planned.”  Utaq shrugged. 

“Or some enemy did,” Crane said sardonically.  “It would seem,” he added as he gazed back at the admiral, “that someone tried to use this to attempt an assassination of you, sir.”

“Yes, the People’s Republic,” Nelson replied.  At Lee’s puzzled look, he sighed.  “I’ll explain later, when you feel a bit better.”

Kotik handed Crane a cup with something warm in it.  “Thank you.  And my thanks to what all of you did to save me.”  She nodded and ladled some of the warm liquid into cups for the others.  At first all Lee did was hold his against his cheeks and sigh lustily at its warmth. 

“From what I have been told, you would be feeling better if you had allowed the women to stay under the blankets with you a while longer,” Utaq said with a smile.  The admiral chuckled. 

Lee blushed as Kotik also smiled at the hunter’s joke.  She said nothing, though, and he hid his embarrassment by taking a drink of the concoction.  It was surprisingly good and he complimented the woman.  She only nodded and reached for her baby, who had begun to fuss. 

They continued to talk during supper, a little about the admiral’s adventures, but mostly about the events of Nelson’s dream about him.  While it was painful to both men, it gave rest to the admiral’s feelings of guilt.  When Crane’s clothes were finally dry, he quickly pulled them on and came out from under his fur cocoon.  Amoroq handed him a parka to replace his lost flight jacket and Lee accompanied the admiral and Utaq to the hunter’s tent as the storm raged around them.  He was shivering violently by the time they reached it and Nelson wrapped him in the bearskin that he had brought with him. 

“I’m not . . . usually this . . . cold-blooded,” Lee complained. 

“You don’t usually take a swim in near freezing oceans without protective gear either, do you?” Utaq asked with a wry smile.  “We will sleep soon and you will sleep between us.”

Crane looked sharply at the Eskimo. 

“No, not naked . . .”  Then Utaq stopped suddenly.  “I know you have Naval rank, but neither of you have told me what it is,” he added.

“Sorry.  I am Commander Lee Crane, captain of the admiral’s submarine.”

“I am glad you are here and in one piece,” Utaq said with a slight smile.  “You must tell us how you figured out where we were.”  He noticed the captain’s increasing difficulty in staying awake.  “But after we get some rest.”

Crane nodded and looked around.  “Where do I sleep?”

“Anywhere there’s a space.”

“Good,” Lee said and promptly rolled himself in the bearskin and lay down.  He was almost instantly asleep.

“Must be the hypothermia,” Nelson said with a wry smile.  “I somehow don’t remember him sleeping that well before.”  Aklark threw another blanket on the sleeping man, one that was large enough for all three of them to crawl under.

“The weather does it, too, Aklark,” Utaq said, lying down next to Crane.   Nelson suddenly found himself yawning and followed suit.  Soon all three were sleeping through the howling of the storm. 

As soon as the storm had blown itself out, they set out with Utaq to the nearest coastal town, where Crane happily contacted Chip with the good news.  He was unduly satisfied at the shouts he heard in the background of the radio shack.   After Utaq had made his sales and picked up the supplies he needed, they returned to the village to await not only the submarine, but also Porter, who was coming with a government agent via bush plane.   The captain was also very satisfied that the intelligence Maria Machetanz had given him had led to a renewed investigation of circumstances surrounding the admiral’s disappearance.  The so-called environmentalist from Idaho had actually been a phony; someone hired, apparently by the People’s Republic, to kill the admiral and cause even more turmoil over the pipeline.

Still, though, even after a week of Lee telling of their adventures together on and off the Seaview, Nelson felt restless.  There were still chunks of memory missing.  He knew Lee was being truthful in everything he said and felt the rightness of his words, but it simply wasn’t his memories yet.

Finally on a bright, relatively warm sunlit day, Seaview arrived, surfacing at a low angle, but still dramatically enough to cause the villagers to gape in awe.  It was like some monstrous metal whale surfacing.  The Eskimos pulled off their parkas in the fifty-degree heat and continued to gape as the sub settled on the ocean and men showed themselves on the conning tower and waved. 

Nelson stood entranced, but in a way different from the villagers.  He was seeing the object of some of his memories/dreams clothed in steel and spray, beautiful, powerful and inviting.  She came closer to shore and he knew she was working at recovering the Flying Sub that Lee had crash-landed. 

“Captain Crane said you built this.”

“I designed her,” Harriman said and knew the rightness of his words.  He saw the memories of the years before Seaview starting to make a more cohesive pattern.  It was not complete, but something becoming very recognizable.   After a short time, more men appeared on her conning tower and deck and then a skiff was launched. 

“I am never going to hear the end of it,” Lee muttered. 

“What?” Nelson asked. 

“That I had to ditch the Flying Sub.”

The admiral smiled and continued watching.  The skiff came closer and closer.  He felt Lee and Porter’s presence at his side, but said nothing. 

“I expect you’d like to go aboard, Admiral,” Crane said in a half question, half statement.

“Yes.”  The answer was simple but loaded with expectation and hope. 

“May I see this marvelous vessel as well?” Utaq inquired.

Nelson turned to him and nodded.  “Of course.  Would I say no to the man who saved my life?”

The young seaman steered the skiff right up on shore, leaped out and happily saluted.  “Welcome back, Admiral,” he said exuberantly.

Nelson recognized the young man, but couldn’t remember the name. 

“Kowalski,” Lee muttered softly.

Harriman smiled, grateful for the prompt.  “Thanks, Kowalski.  It’s good to be back.” 

Porter and the government agent waited while Nelson, Crane and Utaq got in the skiff and were ferried to the giant submarine.  Nelson watched his creation grow larger and larger in eager anticipation.  When he stepped on board he felt more memories slide into place.  He remembered the first time he stepped on board, when the Gray Lady was only a shell.  Then he remembered each stage of her progress until the day of her commissioning.   “Permission to come aboard,” he said formally to the executive officer. 

“Permission granted,” Morton said happily. 

Harriman remembered the day the sub first sank and how a piece of his heart remained with her until the Seaview had been raised and refitted. 

As he and Lee took Utaq on what he remembered being called the dime tour he remembered every nook and cranny of her.  At the end of the tour Harriman realized that there were still a few gaps in his remembrances, but all in all he felt the rightness of everything. 

The rest would come.  Tonight, maybe, or tomorrow or next month, but it would come.  He turned to Utaq.  “I remember why Maria wanted me to come and I will turn my efforts to solving the problems so that everyone can feel at least some satisfaction,” he said in IñupiaQ. 

Utaq nodded, “That is all any person can ask of another.”

“Thank you, Utaq.”

“I thank you, Aklark.  You truly have the soul of the bear within,” the Eskimo hunter declared. 

Nelson nodded as he gazed out of the observation windows in the bow.  A bear back in his den—home.

 

 

Chapter One
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Contents
Main Page

 

....with your comments!