Spirit of the Brown Bear

(Torar Angiyok Aklark)

 

 

 

 

Chapter 7

 

 

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 the camp. 

 

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

 

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 thousand feet. 

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.”

“Yes, sir.  Before sub school.”

Crane nodded.  “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 tentatively. 

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 was possible. 

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.”

Rashard smiled.  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 slope.”

“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 with.”

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 that day.”

Porter smiled.  “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 mission.”

“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 need.” 

“Yes, sir.”   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.”

“Oh.  I’m 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 one?”

“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 forty-eight.”

“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 seriously. 

Maria’s eyes widened a bit, then she, too, stood up.  “You are looking for Utaq.”

Lee nodded and watched as she was led out. 

 

 

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