Spirit of the Brown Bear
(Torar Angiyok Aklark)
Utaq was hunting alone today. Aklark and Amoroq were out with the last of the hunters in
umiaqs. Everyone knew it was
only a matter of days before the ice would begin to break up in earnest
and it would be too dangerous. Utaq
had wanted to check out the trap lines he had set on the last hunt. Soon the fur bearing animals would be changing their fur
color and they would be unsuitable, but even a few more furs would bring
good trade. He heard Kayok
growl softly and he gazed in the direction of the dog’s concern. He saw movement on the ice.
Several men, but he saw no dogs, only snowmobiles.
Why hadn’t anyone heard the noisy machines?
Even at this distance from the camp, someone should have heard
them. But then the
people had very busy preparing for their move further south and inland.
Even as he pondered, Utaq heard the machines start
up and noisily drive away. When
they were out of sight, he commanded the dogs to follow and within a short
time he had reached the place where the men and machines had been.
It appeared they had been there for at least a day.
Tracks led toward the Eskimo camp and back again.
There was also evidence that a tent had been erected.
It was as though these strangers had been watching them and that
made him uneasy. Were they
looking for Aklark? If so and
they were friends, why didn’t they just come and inquire?
Somehow, though, he didn’t think of these intruders as friends.
He continued to wander around the area, studying
the ground carefully. He saw
cigarette butts, little bits of litter, a small spot of oil, a small pile
of coffee grounds. Then he
saw something else. It was a
tiny version of what Aklark carried around and wrote notes in.
Opening it up, he saw cramped writing in a language he wasn’t
familiar with. He put it in a
pocket inside his parka. Maybe
Aklark would know what it was. Walking
a bit further in the direction they had gone, he saw something shiny.
It was a lighter with a curious symbol on the outside. He wasn’t sure if that had any meaning either, but he put
it in with the notebook.
The dogs weren’t growling anymore, indicating
that the strangers were well out of range, so he turned and headed back to
When the Flying Sub broke the surface of the
northern Pacific waters, she skipped once and then shot almost vertically
into the gray skies.
“Whoo-ee!” RJ Porter exclaimed, his back
pressed into the padded seat. “That’s
some roller coaster ride, Skipper!” he added after they had reached five
Crane couldn’t help it, he laughed.
“Wait till we get to Mt. McKinley.”
Then he sobered quickly. “Let’s
just hope that I read all the admiral’s notes correctly or there may be
a search and rescue after us.”
“The modifications on the new propulsion system,
sir?” the seaman asked. The
young man, the only African American on board the giant submarine, knew
that Admiral Nelson had been working on this latest invention for some
time. Captain Crane had worked with the admiral on it recently, but
that he would try the modifications himself gave indication of his
desperation. And now RJ was
on that recently refitted machine. He
swallowed his anxiety and said, “By the way, Skipper, thanks for asking
me to come with you.”
“I wanted someone who not only has a good head
on his shoulders, but also has training in search and rescue.
Someone with a little more than just diving background.
I know you did some rough terrain survival training.”
Before sub school.”
“We may have to check out the crash site and I’ve been told
it’s pretty rugged territory.”
“Do you think he’s alive, sir?” RJ asked
There was a long silence.
Porter had been witness to, as well as hearing about, the
captain’s almost obsessive denial of Admiral Nelson’s probable death.
He knew the two men were close friends and RJ began to wonder if he
had gone too far with this question.
“I don’t really know anymore, RJ,” Crane
finally said, his voice filled with painful somberness.
“I have tried to be optimistic but have also felt moments when
the facts have told me otherwise. They
have come more often lately and have been almost unbearable.”
“The admiral is a good man.”
“A very good man,” Crane agreed.
“May I ask what’s in Fairbanks, Skipper?”
“There is someone who was with the admiral
before he went on his unscheduled plane ride.
She was arrested in connection with the admiral’s….”
Crane paused so long, Porter turned away from the mountainous vista
before them to gaze at his companion.
“The admiral’s disappearance,” the captain finally finished.
During the skipper’s last secret mission with
the ONI, RJ knew that Crane had been injected with a variety of psychosis
inducing drugs. Scuttlebutt
had said it was the admiral who had literally pulled the skipper out of
it, not any Navy shrink. Porter
didn’t know that for sure, but he did know that when Crane had come back
to duty he and Nelson were even closer than they had been before, if that
And now? With
the probability that the admiral might be dead?
He would just continue on this ride and see where it took him.
He remembered the executive officer’s quick visit before he had
left, asking him to take care of the skipper.
It was as though he had been asked to watch over a fragile vase or
something and it had made him uncomfortable.
“It was my understanding that she was the person
who arranged for the admiral’s excursion,” Crane added.
“You think she set him up?”
“I don’t know what to think. There has been so little information.”
“Will they let you see her?”
Crane laughed bitterly.
“I think I can arrange that.”
He believed his captain. “What
do you want me to do, sir?”
“Just back me for now.
I want to see what this Dr. Machetanz has to say before I decide
our next move.”
RJ nodded and then did a double take.
“She’s a doctor?”
“She has a degree in environmental science as
well as marine biology. She
is also a leader in an organization opposed to anymore drilling on the
“Oh,” was all Porter said.
That would make her a very prime suspect since it had been well
established that Admiral Nelson’s plane had been shot down.
“Everyone seems to think she masterminded an
assassination attempt, but it seems so . . . so convenient, I guess is the
best word I can come up with. Maybe
I’m just being too paranoid.”
“You think maybe she’s a scapegoat?”
“Good question, RJ,” Crane said thoughtfully.
“But I think she may very well be.”
He pondered a few minutes. “Everything
just seems too . . . pat, too easily solved, as though they set out road
maps telling us what happened. And
since when did Animal Rights, Whole Planet or whomever start assassinating
people, especially someone known for his pro-environmental projects?”
“But the admiral has also worked on
technological things, too; like the Seaview, herculite and
vidphones,” Porter pointed out.
“Indeed he has.
There are times when I can’t figure out the crackpots and
dictators of the world—and times when I only too well can.”
Rashard could only nod.
He had been on Seaview much less than the skipper, but even
so, he had seen the extremes of human behavior. He gazed surreptitiously at his commander and thought that he
may not have totally recovered from his dealings at the hands of one such
crackpot. It had been more
evident since the admiral’s disappearance.
RJ sighed softly. Such
thoughts made him feel sad because he really liked this man beside him.
He was the best skipper he had ever served under; the most fair and
the one most dedicated to his crew. The
admiral was the same way.
So what if they did find that Nelson was truly
dead? How would they deal
with it? RJ had been told
that the boat and her men had suffered through much and had not only come
out on top but had bounced back for the next mission.
Ski had told him of some missions that had never made it into the
newspapers; missions that would have been unbelievable had he not served
on the Gray Lady himself.
The skipper took them higher as they continued
north. Mountains passed below
them, their peaks almost close enough to touch.
“Denali, or Mt. McKinley, as it’s commonly
called,” Crane said off-handedly. Astonishingly
they quickly left the mountain behind.
“Fairbanks, this is FS1, requesting clearance to land.”
Apparently instructions were given, because the
captain made a few course adjustments.
Then he began the descent. With
a flip of a switch, the engines changed tenor and their speed dropped.
“It may be a bit rougher than a water landing,
although I’ve heard rookies say the opposite,” Crane explained. “Done a lot more of the water landings.”
RJ nodded. “Well,
sir, after we return to the Seaview, I can tell you who I agree
The skipper laughed, and then focused all his
attention on flying and landing. The
landing gear lowered much more smoothly than on a larger jet. They came in faster and much less steeply, almost like
gliding in, Porter thought. He
had wondered how this vehicle maneuvered for a landing on the ground; not
having real flaps to help and decided that the engines did most of the
work. He didn’t have a
great deal of time to ponder, though, because suddenly they were on the
runway. It was a little
bumpy, like a rough wave and he jerked forward when the engines reversed
thrust, but all in all it was….
“A landing we can walk away from, eh, RJ?”
Crane asked as though reading his thoughts.
He laughed lightly and then taxied to a hangar that appeared to be
reserved for private jets. “Grab
your parka. It’s a cold
walk to the terminal,” the captain added.
Quickly they were able to rent a jeep and find a motel room.
Once there, Lee pulled off his flight jacket and pulled his dress
khaki uniform out of its travel bag.
“What is the plan now, Skipper? And what do you want me to do?” Porter asked, sensing
something going down. Since
they had arrived in Fairbanks, the captain seemed more focused and
determined. Personally, he
was glad to see it.
“Well, RJ, I was thinking while you were getting
ready to come with me, that these people seem to be a little reticent
handing out information. If I come a bit casual hoping for someone to be
kind enough to give me some information, then I most likely will get the
same run-around I got in Anchorage. Or
if I act desperate or bluster, they’ll be indulgent and condescending.
However, if I come in representing ONI or some other important
organization, then I might just get in and get information I need before
they figure out anything. As
to what you can do, I would like you to head to the smaller airport, the
one the bush pilots use and find out what you can about that part of the
admiral’s disappearance, about any other planes that might have been out
“Aye, aye, sir!”
Within the hour, Crane was striding into the jail
complex, an official looking briefcase under his arm.
He stopped in front of a large desk and waited for the policeman to
acknowledge him. The man
looked up, saw the stern look on Crane’s face and gaped.
“Officer,” Lee began, holding out his military ID.
“I am here representing the Office of Naval Intelligence,
Washington, and need to see one of your prisoners.”
The man gazed at the ID and nodded.
“Commander, I wasn’t told about anyone from Washington coming
here.” He paused and tried
to gather his thoughts. “Who
is the prisoner, sir?”
“Dr. Maria Machetanz,” Lee answered crisply.
The policeman shook his head. “I’m sorry, but I haven’t been told by her attorney
that anyone could see her.”
Lee affected a cold, hard stare. He had anticipated this.
He had tried to get in touch with the lawyer while in Anchorage.
It was like dumping ballast through a straw.
“Yes, the attorney who seems to be making himself very
unavailable. Perhaps it
would help if I told you that it’s also a matter of national security
and I can’t be running all over the state of Alaska looking for a local
lawyer.” He smiled coldly.
“I can give you a number to call to verify the importance of my
“Uh, yeah, Commander, sure.” Lee handed him a handwritten number and the officer, Lennock,
the tag said, made the call. There
was a pause while the call went through, a woman’s voice on the other
end and Lee noticed Lennock’s eyes growing wider and wider. After a stammered question and several minutes of
conversation from the other end, the officer slowly hung up. “Commander, I’ll have someone come and escort you to see
the prisoner.” He called
someone and then sat back and waited.
“Uh, Commander Crane, is this about Admiral Nelson’s death?”
Lee knew that he would have to find something
appropriate to give to Linda when he got back to the Institute. She had done exactly what he had asked her to do and had done
it well enough to make the officer think he had called the Pentagon.
Lee had to work to keep the satisfied smile off his face.
“Yes, it is, Officer.”
A younger man arrived and led Lee back into the
cellblock. Near the end of
the corridor, he was let into a small room.
“The prisoner will be brought in to see you, sir.
I have been told that this visit will only be for five minutes.
Then you will have to work through the lawyer.”
Lee was irritated, and let it show, but he hoped
he could get what he wanted in that short a time.
“For your sakes, Officer, I hope I get the information that I
The man retreated and Lee was left to his own thoughts for a few
minutes. The door opened
again and a young Eskimo woman was escorted in.
The officer shut the door and stood watching them.
Lee stood up and offered the young woman the other
seat. Then he turned to the
jailer. “I think that
national security doesn’t require witnesses.
Should I get your commander or will you leave us in peace for the
requisite five minutes?”
“Uh, oh, sorry, sir, just procedure when anyone
other than the defendant’s lawyer is here.”
He left quickly.
Lee sighed and sat down.
“We don’t have much time, Dr. Machetanz. I need some information.”
“Who are you?”
“Captain Lee Crane.
I am a very close associate of Admiral Nelson’s.”
so sorry,” she began, her eyes filling with tears.
“Don’t be yet.
First of all, they are only giving me five minutes, so we have to
cut to the chase. Write down
who else knew about the admiral’s excursion.
And just why was it so important for you to get Admiral Nelson to
take this little trip?” He
handed her a pencil and piece of paper.
She wrote furiously and then handed it back.
“I arranged for Simkiss to coax your admiral to
land and see some Eskimos who would be effected by the new pipelines.
Talk to them. Give him more first hand knowledge of both sides of the
situation. That was all,
nothing more. I respected his
position and his influence and I just wanted his advice on how to deal
with the present environmental dilemma.
I am no terrorist, Captain.”
“I figure that, or I wouldn’t be here talking
with you.” Lee skimmed over
the names. There were
ten of them. “How many of
these people did you know intimately enough to vouch for?”
She took the pencil and marked eight of the names.
“There was one who was fairly new to the scene, but came
recommended as a staunch environmentalist.
I thought it kind of strange, though, that he constantly was
reaching for his cigarettes.” Maria snorted. “Most
of the members of the group up here don’t smoke.
Pollution, you know.”
“I know, but then the admiral has been dealing
with that issue, too,” Lee said with a smile.
Then he sobered quickly. “Which
“Gerald Whitley, from University of Idaho.
He’d been very instrumental in keeping a logging operation from
clear-cutting near the Salmon River a few years back.
He seemed a bit impatient with the rest of us, though and very
militant. I didn’t remember
hearing that he used militaristic methods down in the lower
“Now, time is short.
Just where was the admiral supposed to land and investigate.
Any specific place?”
“Not far from where he was shot down, actually.
My cousin was supposed to meet the admiral and take him to visit
with his people.”
Lee looked surprised.
“I hadn’t heard that one before.”
He pulled out a map of Alaska.
“Where was the place supposed to be?”
Maria bent over it and studied it. “They would be somewhere in this general vicinity,” she
said, running her finger over a three hundred mile strip.
“Hmm, not a small track, but I think I could
find a village there without too much trouble,” Lee said thoughtfully.
“They would be by the coast before the ice
breaks up, then they’ll move inland and south,” Maria added.
The door opened.
“Doctor, I thank you for your information. This will be of great help to the Pentagon,” Lee said
Maria’s eyes widened a bit, then she, too, stood
up. “You are looking for
Lee nodded and watched as she was led out.
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