Spirit of the Brown Bear

(Torar Angiyok Aklark)

 

 

 

Chapter 8

 

 

Aklark sat on the edge of the ice pack staring out into the darkness.  The cold dawn was still an hour away.  He had brought a whale oil lantern with him when he had left the camp, but it was behind him now.  The light wasn’t enough to do more than keep him from stumbling in the dark and right now, he was just thinking anyway.  He could hear the distant cracking and groaning of heaving, breaking ice.  There would be no more excursions for seals or whales for a while.  Now the group would move more inland, hunt caribou and musk oxen. 

His mind wasn’t on that next phase, however.  He was thinking of all the flashing memories that kept revealing but not revealing themselves to him.  They were tantalizing bits that only showed him enough to ache for more. 

“The mornings on the ice are beautiful,” Utaq said, approaching from behind.  Aklark’s blue eyes were on him now, studying him.   The little bit of light revealed that the gaze was not the curious, clinical study of a scientist, but the study of a friend trying to understand another friend—and what was going on around him.  Utaq saw turmoil in this white man he had come to respect.  He now understood why his cousin, Maria had wanted Admiral Nelson to spend a little time with him and his people.  He still felt this man had been sent to his people from the spirits, but now he saw it wasn’t just to bring luck to the hunters.  Aklark’s presence had provided a healing to a people, including himself, who had only seen one side of white men.  Aklark had shown them so much in the short time he had been among them.  Would the effect have been the same if Aklark had come as Admiral Harriman Nelson?  Somehow, he thought so, but probably not to the same extent, or as powerfully. 

Now, though?  Aklark’s mind was showing him images of his past.  It was making him restless to return to his own world.  Would he forget what he had learned among the Eskimo?  Utaq believed that answer to be a resounding no.  Aklark was a man who learned, retained and gained wisdom from all his experiences.  He had seen it when he was asking questions of the women as they went about their daily tasks, or when he was showing the children the ways that various objects rose or sank in the icy waters.  Utaq remembered Aklark describing one night how a person could navigate using the positions of the stars.  His hands were very expressive as though he was using an instrument to help in his figuring.  Suddenly he had stopped and stared at the mittened hands as though what he was saying had suddenly stopped coming to his remembrance.  Then he had sighed and simply lay back on the hard ground watching the brilliant stars above their heads. 

Aklark had said nothing all this time, but his eyes told Utaq that the white man knew he had something to tell him.  Somehow, the hunter believed that Aklark had always suspected he might know something he wasn’t telling. 

“Yes, they are.  Stunningly beautiful,” Aklark agreed.  “But I now see other mornings in other places.  They are places where I am needed as well.”

Utaq nodded.

“Your people don’t need me for their luck,” Aklark continued softly.   “Tell me what you know about me.”

The request wasn’t like an order, but Utaq felt its power nonetheless.  “I only suspected your name and how I was to meet you.”

Aklark still gazed at him, the blue eyes eager and patient now, not desperate, as they had been at the beginning.    “Do you only suspect now?”

Utaq shook his head.  “No, I believe I am sure.”

“A name is a very good beginning, Utaq.  Please, who am I?”

“Your name is Admiral Harriman Nelson,” Utaq replied.  “But do not forget, there is a part of you who is named Aklark, the great brown bear.”

Aklark laughed softly.  “I was right when I remembered being called admiral.  Harriman Nelson.”  He seemed to be tasting, savoring the sound of his own name.

“It sounds very dignified as is your Eskimo name,” Utaq ventured. 

Aklark nodded.  “Thank you.  I hope I have worn both of them well.  What else can you tell me?  Why was I up here anyway?”

“I know very little.  Only that you were in Alaska for some kind of conference.  My cousin asked me to meet you and show you the lands of my people.”

There was relief.  If he was up here for some kind of conference, then he wasn’t here because of something bad he had done.  Still, he wondered about the horrible dream he had where he had shot the one that had seemed a friend.  “Why?”

“That I do not know.  But I believe it had to do with the pipelines that have been built not too far away.”

Aklark sighed and gazed out at the water and ice again.  Time passed with only the cracking of ice to show any passage at all.  Lights glittered in the sky. The stars, the soft wisps of the northern lights. “It’s beautiful here,” he finally said. 

“More beautiful than the memories that have come to you?” Utaq asked. 

“Some of the memories have been . . . hard,” he began, remembering.  “But really—no, just a different kind of beauty.  But I will need to go back to that life.  I feel there are duties, things I need to do.”   Things he had to find out.

Utaq smiled in the waning darkness.  Aklark had been among them much longer than he had thought possible.  His own people must have thought him dead.  But his Anglo friend was right.  The time had come for him to go to the other direction the spirits directed.  “I will miss you, Aklark—Admiral.”

“Please, continue to call me by the name you gave me.”

Utaq chuckled softly.  “Very well.  I like your InupiaQ name anyway.” 

“How will I be able to make contact with any government authorities?”

“I will be traveling with furs and artifacts shortly after we get to our transition campsite.  There will be phone service at the outpost.  Perhaps another few days.  Amoroq wants to make one more hunt in the area and then we will head inland.”

“Good.  That’s soon enough.”

The two men continued to listen to the ice groan and creak and though the cold seeped into his bones, Aklark was able to ignore it as he contemplated.  Finally, he said, “Your cousin wanted me to see things here through your eyes.” 

Utaq gazed at his companion in surprise.  He had thought the same thing by her words.  He said as much.  “You will have to ask her when you return to your own people.”  They sat there in congenial silence for a while longer.   “By the way, I found this yesterday.  I was going to ask if you could understand the language in this notebook.”  Utaq pulled out the little notebook and handed it to Aklark. 

Holding it to the light of the dim lantern, the admiral opened it and then almost dropped it in shock.  “Where . . . where did you get this?”  Aklark’s voice almost shook, so great was his consternation.

“It was several miles from the village where some men had camped for at least one night.  I think they were watching us,” Utaq replied.  “Do you understand the words?”

“Yes, I understand the language, but can’t put a name to it.”  He gazed at it for a few more minutes.  “They were looking for me, trying to determine if I was truly dead as they had planned.  They didn’t see anyone resembling me in the village and assumed that I wasn’t here.”  He looked at Utaq.  “There are many things I don’t remember, but I do know that these people are my enemies and very deadly.  I’m glad they didn’t recognize me.  For your people’s sake.”   The People’s Republic, he thought, putting name to his feelings of anxiety.   Utaq handed him the lighter.  Aklark recognized the symbol on this, too.  “Enemies,” was all he said. 

“We will have to watch carefully from now on,” Utaq said gravely.

 

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

 

Crane’s next destination was the police station, which, thankfully, was in a building separate from the jail.  He was allowed to look at and verify the few belongings that had been found.  There had been the admiral’s wallet with its ID and credit cards.  The wallet had been chewed on and the contents strewn around, but was still easily identified.  Some of it had been difficult, though, and Lee had wondered if, indeed, he was on a wild goose chase.  He had shaken that off and felt the determination that had marked his whole philosophy of the situation from the first day he had heard the news.  Somehow he couldn’t help but feel that somewhere out there, the admiral was waiting. 

When he got back to the motel, Lee sighed, tired but strangely satisfied.  He had finally been proactive, rather than simply responding to events that had been thrown at him.   It had been a frustrating three weeks.  He pulled out the mobile phone that the admiral had been working on and called the Institute.  This was the best thing they had to a secure line and he was grateful to have it, even if it didn’t have a long battery life. 

“Lee?  Did you find out anything?” Angie asked, almost frantically.  He remembered with a twinge of guilt that he hadn’t contacted anyone since he had left Seaview and he hadn’t contacted the Institute for longer than that. 

“Yes, a couple of things.  The local law enforcement people showed me some of the admiral’s belongings they recovered at the crash site.”

“Oh.”

“Doesn’t mean a thing, Angie.  They haven’t been able to positively identify all the bones, but more importantly, I might have something that could be useful.  I want you to dig into the background of a Gerald Whitley, an environmentalist from the University of Idaho.  I think he may be the person responsible for the admiral’s disappearance.   I have nine other names I want you to check on, too.  I also found out who the admiral was supposed to meet and what he was supposed to do up there.”

“I already found out what he was supposed to do up there, too, Lee.  The FBI sent me some information since the last time I talked to you,” Angie told him.  “He was supposed to have met some of the indigenous people in the area.”

“Well, I got a little more than that.  I was finally able to get in to meet the young woman accused of the admiral’s . . . murder and I don’t think she had anything to do with it.  I think she was setup by someone else.  I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the old People’s Republic bigwigs used the situation to get rid of their number one thorn in the side.”

“Lee, I’m not even going to ask how you managed that little feat.  Last I had heard the lawyer wasn’t letting anyone see her unless he was with her.  But your theory about the People’s Republic could very well be right.  If that’s the case, then you need to be careful, too.”

“I will.  Chip is taking Seaview back to the Institute, by the way.    And I’m going up to the area Machetanz indicated in the Flying Sub tomorrow to find the contact person.”

“They keep telling me the spring storms are particularly bad this year, especially up north.  Please watch for those and be careful.”  Angie sounded worried. 

“I will, Angie.  I’m going to leave the phone with Seaman Porter.  Contact him with the information you find so he can take it to the local police if necessary.  At the very least, I don’t want a young woman wrongly accused of the admiral’s disappearance.”

“You’re going out in the Flying Sub alone?” she asked, horror struck.

“Yes, I’m going alone,” Crane answered in a tone that indicated he wasn’t interested in debating the point.  “I need Porter here.  When you give him the information you find, he’s going to hire a bush pilot and join me.”

Angie sighed.  “All right, Lee.  Please be careful.  I don’t think I could stand anything happening to you, too.”

He was touched by her concern.  “Thanks, Angie.  And I will.”  He clicked the connection off and set the phone down. 

Porter showed up at their motel an hour after Crane.  “Any success, sir?”

“Yes, I think so,” Lee said and then gave an overview of his experiences.  “What did you find out?”

“Well, Skipper.  One of the bush pilots told me that someone else had gone out in the same vicinity several hours before the admiral, but that the storm had caused him to fly to another airport until it blew over.  Problem is, the pilot never returned to Fairbanks and the other pilots don’t know where he is.”

“How convenient,” Crane muttered, rubbing his chin. 

 “Skipper, do you think we’ll find this Utaq?”

“Don’t know, but I want you should stay here and wait for information.  I think this Whitley sounds fishy and the Institute is going to find out some very interesting things about him.  Then you can come overland with a reputable bush pilot and meet me at the village.  I’ll leave you my Institute expense card.” 

“I’ll do my best, sir.”

“I know you will, RJ,” came the confident answer.

 

 

Chapter Nine
Chapter One
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