Spirit of the Brown Bear

(Torar Angiyok Aklark)

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

Soon Nelson was accompanying Dr. Machetanz toward the little airport.  She escorted him to a private hangar where several small prop planes--bush planes--were lined up.  She walked up to one of them and a sandy-haired young man popped his head out of the back of the plane. 

“Admiral Nelson?” he asked. 

Harriman nodded.

“The admiral wishes to see some of the slope area where the proposed pipelines are to be built,” Dr. Machetanz said. 

“But you can get me back before the conference actually begins,” Nelson said.

“Of course, sir,” the young man said.  “I’m Roger Simkiss, ace bush pilot, by the way.  Glad to meet you, Admiral.”

Harriman smiled.  “Are all of you pilots this modest?” he asked, shaking the pilot’s hand. 

Simkiss laughed heartily.  “Nope, some are even more so.  Get on board, Admiral.”

As the admiral climbed aboard the small airplane, Machetanz gave the pilot a meaningful glance.  Then she leaned close and whispered, “You don’t need to do anything but suggest.  Nelson is eager to see everything he can.”

Simkiss nodded and gave her a thumb’s up.  Then he climbed aboard.  “Good!” he said, seeing the admiral in a seat behind his pilot’s chair.  He got in and with a flourish of his hand he started the engines with a roar.  Soon they were bumping down the hard dirt airstrip and into the air. 

Harriman gazed out at the panorama on either side reveling at the vastness before him.  But then, he had to remind himself, vastness didn’t equate to a state of barrenness.   He knew the land passing before him was teaming with life.  In fact he thought he saw on the horizon a herd of deer, probably caribou.  Then Simkiss banked and headed toward the northwest.   Harriman continued to watch the scenery pass by, much more sedately than on the jet that took them to Fairbanks.  Huge stands of timber began to alternate with tracts of flatland dotted with small lakes.  There were rises of land, indicative of hills and it was from one of those that the admiral saw a reflection, then a puff of smoke. 

Instantly he knew what it probably represented and was immediately out of his seat, crying out a warning at the same time.  “Bank starboard!”  He grabbed the wheel and jerked it back, causing the small plane to roll heavily to one side. 

With a splintering crash, the left wing suddenly exploded in shards of wood, metal and plastic.  The plane shuddered in mortal agony and dove toward the ground.  Simkiss and Nelson tried to wrestle the wounded craft back from its roll, but with only one wing remaining, they were only partially successful.  The other wing was sheered off by the tops of the pines below that had seemingly begun reaching for them as soon as the missile had hit.   Then the plane was being ripped apart by trees that were themselves direly wounded by the stranger in their midst.  Harriman tried to shield his face.  He heard Simkiss scream and then he felt himself thrown back and then forward again.  Finally there was merciful blackness. 

 

 

Screaming woke him—screaming and moaning.  And then there was the pain.  He thought his head would burst.  The moaning was from inside him.  He woke more fully to a fading light.  Sitting up slowly, he studied his surroundings.  Dim shapes took form in the brighter light of a small fire.  The injured man saw everything from his position on the ground.  Shadowy figures moved just beyond the fringes of the light.  There was debris scattered all around him.   A battered box with a red cross caught his attention.  He slowly crawled toward it, not trusting himself to stand up.  The screaming had stopped, but still there was the sound of growling, then a deep roar that reached deep into his mind and shook the cold ground.  With anxious need, the man tore open the box and dug inside.  Bandages, ointments, bottled water, a flare gun.  He pulled out the latter. 

Another roar, closer and suddenly a huge colossus reared up in front of him.  A bear, dark and shaggy, the tips of its brown coat grizzled with silver that flamed in the dancing light of the waning fire.  Despite its bulk, it appeared thin and very, very hungry.   It roared again and dropped down on its front paws, making the ground shake.  The man knew instantly that there was no escape and that death was staring at him with baleful, demonic-looking eyes. 

One paw swiped at him and he jerked back, but not before the front of his parka was shredded.   A hot track of pain ran across his chest and he cried out.  Another blow, fast on the heels of the first, knocked him to his back.  The beast’s hot breath blew in his face like a furnace; the teeth lowered closer. 

The man jerked his arm up in quick motion and his finger pulled the trigger of the flare gun.  The muzzle of the gun pointed directly into the bear’s open mouth and the blinding flash surprised both of them.  The flare seared down the bear’s gullet and the animal jerked back in surprise and then in pain.  The man also scuttled backward not knowing what would happen next. The safety device exploded and the huge behemoth bellowed once in agony before collapsing on its side to the hard ice and snow-covered tundra, throat exposed and blood spurting. 

There was a momentary silence as though the explosion had taken everything by surprise.  A distant howl echoed, one voice calling out a query and several others answering.  Growling became muted, as a shuffling noise seemed to move away.   There must have been two of them, the man thought, grateful that the other creature had chosen to retreat rather than investigate.  He moved closer to the vestiges of the fire.  The fuel keeping it burning was almost gone.  He groped around in the darkness for more wood, but his exposed and injured chest caused him to pause. 

It was cold, the chill reached in to grab him.  The air was so icy he felt as though his lungs would freeze.  Where was he?  What was he doing here?  What had happened?

Even as he considered all of this, he was digging in the emergency box.  Another cartridge for the flare gun.  The injured man knew he was someplace remote and desolate.  As though punctuating the thought, another creature howled.  A wolf?  He would need the flare gun as a signal.  But he also needed light.  Shivering, the man knew that above all, he needed warmth.  He dug into the battered box again.  He hands felt the handle of a knife and he smiled in satisfaction.  Although he realized that this was scant protection against something as large and powerful as the bear that had attacked him, he somehow felt much more secure. 

But warmth, he mused as he shivered again; that was something that was vital.  Again he tried to look for anything that might burn and found nothing; even the box was metal.   Finally determining that no large animals remained in the area, the man rose slowly to his feet.  The stars shimmered through the puffs of his own breath that seemed knife sharp in his lungs.  He felt the blood oozing slowly from the furrows that the bear’s claws had made, then congeal in the frigid air.  Cursing softly, he gazed into the near blackness and wondered how in the world he was going to survive in this hellaciously harsh place. 

The mound that represented the dead bear kept drawing his attention.  Above him light flickered and then blazed in a maelstrom of cold beauty.  Only for a moment did the man gaze at it, understanding what it was, but not its name.  Then in the pale light he turned back to the bear.  He walked over and squatted next to the dead beast.  The bear was still warm, soft steam rose from its carcass. 

Looking down, he felt, rather than saw the knife in his hand.  Pictures formed themselves in his mind and almost instantly action came.  Lifting a front paw, he ran the razor sharp blade along the breastbone and down the belly.   Steam rose in clouds enveloping him in warmth.  He pulled out the viscera with cold-numbed fingers, ignoring the smell and gory mess in the pleasure of warmth. Then he drew the knife blade down the inside of each leg.  They were agony to cut the skin away from and the paws were impossible.  His fingers began to grow numb in the cold and finally he just hacked the paws off.  He finished removing the skin from two of the limbs and then had to find a piece of metal from the wreckage to use as a lever to turn the bear to its other side.  He finished removing the skin from the other two paws.  After that it was somewhat easier to cut the skin from the flesh of the back.  Still, he was sweating by the time he had finally parted the skin from the bones and organs.  Flesh still clung to the hide but the solitary man didn’t mind.  It was warmth, too, and besides, the fur would be against his body. 

His chest burned as he wrapped the huge fur tightly around him, but he ignored that discomfort, too, in the luxury of feeling warm.  He moved close to the dying embers of the fire, still wishing he had some way to keep it going.  Looking up at the dancing, blazing lights, he felt mesmerized by them, those waving, undulating bands.  He watched for a while until the pain in his chest extended to his neck and shoulders.  The man knew he had to keep moving.  He couldn’t sit still and he couldn’t fall asleep.  Even with the bearskin, he would still freeze to death if he stopped moving.  And so he got up and began walking slowly around the small glow of the almost dead fire.   Even when there was nothing but darkness where the fire had once been, he continued walking.  On and on he walked, farther and farther away from the scene of carnage. 

 

                              =================================

 

Captain Lee Crane was studying the latest course projections and plotting slight changes when Sparks approached.  Lee kept part of his attention on the chart, waiting for the radioman’s message.  When nothing happened, he realized that the radioman himself had come to deliver the message and didn’t call him, or send a rating with the transcribed message.  He looked up and the look on Spark’s face filled him with dread.  The radioman’s face held utmost sadness; almost despair, as though someone had died.  “What is it?” Lee asked, straightening up to his full height. 

Sparks could say nothing.  He simply handed the captain the printed message. 

Crane gazed at it and then read it again.  We regret to inform you that Admiral Harriman Nelson’s plane went down in the Alaskan wilderness.  There were no survivors.’   “Where did this come from?” he demanded.  His eyes had read the message, but his heart couldn’t believe it.  This had happened before and the horrible words had been wrong before.  Hopefully, they were again.  It had been almost two days since the admiral had contacted him.  But that wasn’t unusual.  Lee had just assumed he had been busy preparing for the convention.  And besides, they were all big boys and the admiral totally trusted his Gray Lady in the hands of her crew. 

Leaving Sparks in the radio shack, Lee made contact with the Institute.  “Angie!” he demanded more forcefully than he had intended.  “What the hell’s with this message I just received?  The admiral sent a brief message that he had landed in Fairbanks just the day before yesterday.”

“Lee, he was persuaded to make an aerial tour of some of the area in dispute,” Angie informed him.  “The small bush plane went down.   Appears it was by explosive detonation.”

“A bomb?” he asked, his voice more moderate. 

“Missile most likely, from what I have been sent.”  Angie’s voice was beginning to sound strained as though the effort to remain neutral was getting too difficult.  It sounded as though she had covered the receiver with her hand.  There was muffled noise in the background and Lee could tell she had been crying and was about ready to again. 

“And they’ve gotten an investigative team up there?”

“No.   There’s a huge snowstorm up in the area.  There was only the report by one of the delegates who had talked the admiral into this trip and a hasty infrared reconnaissance by a local bush policeman.”

“And?”

“Just what I sent you.  The best they could tell there was no one alive.”

Telling us there were no survivors when they don’t even know? he mused, his irritation growing.  “What do you mean, ‘best they could tell’?”

Angie’s voice choked.  “Snowstorm, Lee.  It was the best they could do until it blows over.  Sometimes these storms last days and it’s suicide to go out in them.”

Crane was silent.  The inexorably tight grip of fear squeezed his heart tighter and tighter.  It warred with anger and denial.   If the Flying Sub was ready, I still wouldn’t be able to fly up there.  Damn!!   “Keep me posted, Angie,” he finally said, his voice softer and much more understanding. 

“I will.”  Her voice trailed off into a quickly contained sob.  “Lee, I’m so afraid it’s true.”

“Angie, there’s still hope.”

“They said the temperature has been below zero,” she replied.

“This is the admiral, not some green city boy,” Lee reassured her. 

“I know.”

“Have the local authorities report directly with me, too, when they contact you next.”

“I will.”  Another sob turned to a soft hiccup.  “What are you going to do?”

“Finish our present assignment, Angie, just as the admiral planned.  But we’re going to do it in the northern Pacific.  After that, any other agency wanting our services can stand in line or go to hell if they so choose,” he replied tersely, the thin smile not reaching his eyes.  “We’ll be heading north to Alaska.”

“Can I quote you on that, Lee?”

“No, you can have them contact me or Chip and we’ll tell them that.”

“Good luck, Captain.”

Crane motioned to Sparks and turned to see Chip Morton gazing at him.  Lee handed him the message without saying anything.  Then he picked up a nearby mike.  “Chief Sharkey, report to the control room.”  He paused, then took a deep breath.  “This is the captain.  I have received a message from the Institute.  The admiral was out in the Alaskan bush and all indications are that his plane was shot down.  So far no survivors have been found.  We will be using all of our resources to find the admiral.”  He paused and took another breath.  “I would suggest, based on your own beliefs, that you pray for a successful conclusion,” he added.  “Carry on.”

He and Morton looked into each other’s eyes without saying a word and then headed toward the control room.  “Mr. Morton, take us down a hundred feet.  Full speed.”  He looked at the chart.  “Heading one zero nine.  We’ll finish the shakedown and then head north--to the shipyard closest to Anchorage.”

“Aye, sir.”  Orders were barked and Crane felt the boat come to its new heading in the subtle way that most people who are unused to submarines wouldn’t even notice. 

“Captain, your orders?”  It was Sharkey.  He had the appearance of one whose father had just died. 

Crane thought it an excellent analogy under the circumstances.   “Chief, you and I are going to work on finishing the alterations to the Flying Sub.” 

“Aye, sir.”

“Right now, she’s too dangerous to fly, or I’d already be gone.   As it is, I want her ready to fly yesterday,” Lee added.  “With cold weather modifications.” 

“Yes, sir!”

 

 

Chapter Three
Chapter One
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