Spirit of the Brown Bear
(Torar Angiyok Aklark)
Aklark trotted easily along side Utaq’s sled.
He was amazed at how effortlessly he could do that now.
Of course, the dogs were pulling a very heavily laden sled and
therefore not running as fast. They
were now in a race against the next storm, as well as further thawing.
While there was still plenty of snow pack, the temperatures were
now high enough to melt pockets of snow and ice into small slushy patches
that slowed the dogs down even more.
“Early spring,” Utaq grunted, “But the
winter fights back.”
“Will it be as bad as the one when you found
me?” Aklark/Nelson asked. While
still savoring the sound, the feel of his name, the memories seemed slow
in coming. He continued
trotting along, hearing the other men’s teams similarly laden,
following. He knew he worked
close to the sea. Indeed, he
pictured a monstrous submarine, but could not recall its name.
He continued to see Lee, as well as a blonde haired man and others,
but no more names came.
His reverie was suddenly interrupted by a sound
that was at once familiar to him, but foreign to this landscape. It was familiar, but he realized in alarm that something was
wrong. Aklark stopped and
stared toward the southeast, squinting to get a better look at the rapidly
approaching object. A
startlingly loud boom that had all of the hunting party standing and
staring in shock accompanied the faltering, whining sound.
The men muttered in alarm and puzzlement.
A bright yellow, almost saucer-like shape zipped
overhead, probably only a couple of hundred feet above them. The mutter grew louder as the men realized that the
object was heading in the direction of the village’s most recent
“It’s in trouble,” Nelson said out loud in
English. The Flying
Sub’s in trouble, he thought almost simultaneously, then blinked in
surprise when he realized he was very familiar with that particular jet.
“Do you know what that is?” Utaq asked, his
hand lightly touching his friend’s arm.
Nelson nodded, “Yes, it’s called the Flying
Sub. It is a submersible jet
aircraft. And it’s in
“It is heading toward our camp,” Utaq shot
“At that trajectory and speed it would be able
to easily avoid the camp, even in trouble like it is,” Harriman
we do need to get back quickly. If
it’s a crash landing….”
The wisdom of that statement was easily apparent to all and the teams were soon on their way, a renewed urgency in their pace.
The next morning, Porter drove Crane to the
airport. Within minutes Lee
was in the air flying to the northwest toward the coast.
The controls were operating light to the touch and Crane was
pleased. With the new
modifications, he would be in the area in question well within the hour.
Landing would be rough if he wasn’t able to make a water landing,
but he knew that the ground flattened out in that area of the tundra and
the landing gear should be able to handle it.
Even now, Lee could see the mountains softening to hills and the
forests becoming more and more sporadic.
He checked the maps and then dipped for a closer look at the land. If he had figured right, the Flying Sub was passing right
over the area where the admiral had been shot down.
There was little to see, though.
Snowstorms had served to hide evidence and he was going too fast
As he continued speeding toward the coast, he
checked the gauges and frowned. The
fuel consumption was still too high, but he should be all right getting
there using the new propulsion system and getting back using the old
system. He was close to the
coast already anyway. It
was then that he felt something. Lee
wasn’t sure what it was, but it caused the Flying Sub to buck and then
whine. He powered off the experimental system and waited for the old
one to kick in. It didn’t
and there was a low boom as the craft slowed to below the speed of sound.
With extreme effort, Crane worked the emergency planes and brought
her nose up enough to glide on an even level.
Scanning the horizon, Lee noticed the coastline
and then saw all the floating chunks of ice.
In areas, the ice had buckled and heaved until it looked more like
an accordion than a regular beach. The
Flying Sub needed open water, but with no power he wouldn’t be able to
make it to shore after he had landed that far out.
There was an emergency survival pack, but the wet suit available
was not meant for Arctic temperatures.
One thing at a time, he admonished himself.
He had once landed on a shallow river, for crying out loud. Then he saw it. There
was a flat area, a beach that seemed relatively smooth and long enough for
him to land on, running just inside the tossed up piles of ice.
He saw a small village just beyond.
Dr. Machetanz had nailed it perfectly and Lee was going to land
almost in their backyard.
Lee worked the landing gear manually and was happy
to note that it engaged. Fighting
the bucking craft, Lee brought it lower and lower, closer to the ground.
Easy and slow. Almost too slow. Bring
the nose back up. Sweat
beaded his forehead, rolled down the side of his face.
Nose up, let the outside air slow him.
The flat beach wouldn’t last forever.
He was only feet above the ground now, dropping closer and closer.
Still fighting the controls, his nose only barely up enough to
prevent a deadly nosedive; he touched down, all three wheels making
contact with the surface simultaneously.
Immediately the ground gave way beneath the
beleaguered craft, heaving like some bucking bronco.
This wasn’t solid ground; this was more of the spring melt ice!
It was strong enough, most likely for men to stand on in places but
certainly not strong enough for the weight of the Flying Sub.
The landing gear snapped and the craft slid for a short distance.
But with no power, there was nothing for the poor battered bird to
do except settle back and founder. And
Crane realized that he couldn’t be caught underwater here, he had to get
out while the Flying Sub was still floating above the ice.
She could be salvaged later. He
launched the marker buoy in case she sank and the light anchor to keep
drift to a minimum in case she didn’t.
Unbuckling his harness, Lee dashed toward the
ladder and undogged the top hatch. Sleet-like
water droplets pelted into his face.
Icy wind bit even through his heavy flight jacket.
He climbed quickly and made sure the hatch was sealed behind him.
That would protect the systems inside and also make salvage easier.
Ice was already forming on the hull, making any kind of movement
treacherous. He managed to
keep his footing enough to leap to the solid ice.
Except that wasn’t solid either.
The ice he landed on was slippery and had broken apart at the
impact of the Flying Sub. Crane
figured it had been too much to ask that it would have remained solid with
the impact of the submersible. He
fell to his knees, grasping at the edges of the ice, only barely managing
to avoid slipping into the sea.
The frigid water slapped at him as the ice bucked.
Lee lost his grip as he was trying to leap to another, larger ice
slab, and slipped underwater. The icy water took his breath away; the cold added to his
desperation. It wasn’t far
to the bottom and he pushed back up with his feet.
He knew it wasn’t far to shore, but the ice was the main
obstacle. The newly broken
chunks banged against him, threatening to batter him into unconsciousness. He finally found a small space between blocks of ice
and surfaced, gasping and sucking in as much air as his half-frozen body
would allow. Sinking below
the ice again, Crane shucked off his flight jacket—its weight was
pulling him down.
The frigid water was sapping him, taking his
strength and stamina away at an incredible rate.
Soon—he had to get there soon.
Another break in the broken ice, another breath.
Then Crane felt something and finally realized it was his feet
hitting the bottom. By now it
was almost impossible to move, another break in the ice and a desperate
surge of adrenalin and he was able to scramble up and out of the water.
His hands and feet; his whole body felt like the ice upon which he
lay. He was shivering
violently when he first pulled himself out, but that soon stopped.
Remotely, Lee knew he was slipping into acute hypothermia and was
only surprised that he hadn’t shut down from the first moment he hit the
water. His clothes were
already stiff. It had
to be only by virtue of the fact that the air was above freezing that they
hadn’t totally frozen. It
was getting harder and harder to breathe.
He couldn’t stand and could barely even move. Finally, the world dimmed and flickered out.
Like most of the others, Kotik heard the booming
sound and looked up into the sky to the south.
She watched in alarm as the yellow aircraft appeared at the horizon
and then came down toward the ice bench between their village and the
heaving ice floes. And she
knew the outcome. The pilot
was not from here or he would have known, too.
But perhaps such a strange airplane was able to do the impossible.
She watched as, all too soon, the bright yellow craft touched the
ice and then what she had expected happened.
It broke through, cracking the ice like a loud rifle shot.
The cracking echoed as the ice broke apart and buckled.
Someone came out of the top of the strange plane.
It was a Gus'k'ikwáan, a white man.
He took the time to close the door to his strange machine and then
he tried to walk on the breaking ice.
Was this one of the ones that Utaq had warned about?
Was this someone coming after Aklark?
If so, the Gods had seen fit to thwart him in his efforts.
Still, Kotik could not ignore the man’s
immediate dilemma, enemy or not. She
turned to the others. “Come,
if he makes it to the shore, he will need to be warmed.
My house. Get furs and
blankets ready. Be ready to
warm him.” The women burst
into action, some running toward the tents.
She and several others rushed as close to the edge of the ocean as
they dared and waited. They
were not so foolish as to go out into the waters as this one had.
“Should we bring out the umiak?” a girl asked.
Pialayok, swift of foot, but slow of thought.
“Of course not,” Kotik replied tersely.
“The broken ice would cave in the sides and we would all be
floundering around out there like the foolish white man.
God will have to want him to travel through the ocean to us and
then we can help him.” She
saw him come up for air between the blocks of ice, and she began to
mentally encourage him. There
was something that told her this was no enemy, but only time would tell.
The stranger was finally close enough to the shore that he could
stand up and wade in, but by that time he was too overcome by the cold to
do more than pull himself up on the last slab of ice.
It was enough, though. “Come,
we can get him without risking falling in the water.”
She and the other women scrambled to the edge of the ocean and she
and Tujok climbed onto the slab of ice and grabbed at the unconscious man. They dragged him to the solid ground and she beckoned
Pialayok and another to help her drag the dark-haired man to her tent.
There they quickly undressed him, rubbing him
briskly in a large fur until he was mostly dry and then covered him in
several dry furs. She pulled
down one of Amoroq’s spare rifles and handed it to Tujok.
“In case he is an enemy, we will have this when he recovers.”
Miortok began fussing in the corner and Kotik pulled off her outer
clothing. She then pulled off
her inner garments, motioning to Pialoyok to do the same.
Finally she pulled the baby from his carrier.
Holding Miortok close to her side to nurse, she slipped under the
covers to lie next to the unconscious man.
He was cold, but had not begun shivering yet.
Pialoyok slipped under the skins on the other side and while the
baby nursed, they let their body heat warm the white man.
Throughout it all, the Gus'k'ikwáan remained unresponsive.
Miortok nursed noisily as she shivered from the
cold of the man next to her, contrasting to the warmth of the baby at her
breast. Still the man
didn’t move. There was no
shivering, nothing but the noise of the baby and their combined breathing,
his much softer and shallower than it should be.
After some time, he coughed and gasped and began to shiver
violently. Even as she shivered, Kotik smiled. It appeared that he might just come back to life after
all. The sea would not win
“Tujok, it is your turn,” Kotik said, crawling
out from under the furs. Belatedly,
she noticed that one of the furs was Aklark’s bearskin, newly tanned.
It was right that the courage and skill of one Gus'k'ikwáan
would help save another. As she put Miortok into his soft furry baby garments, Tujok
and another woman took her and Pialoyok’s places.
She quickly dressed, reveling in the warmth of her own clothes. The
gun lay by her feet.
After a while, the man’s shivering slowly
subsided. Kotik nodded in
satisfaction. He was a hardy
one and probably would soon wake up.
She warned the two women that most white men do not understand the
customs of her people and very likely this one wouldn’t either.
They simply laughed from under the furs.
Suddenly the man groaned and rolled over, not
really waking up, then he sighed and breathed more deeply.
He slept normally for a while.
Tujok reported that he would soon be warm enough to not need their
help anymore. It was then he
began to wake up in earnest, comprehend where he was and who was under the
covers with him. “What
the hell?” he cried in surprise.
His head popped above the furs and he looked wildly around the
tent. Kotik gazed
thoughtfully at him and he at her. He seemed to realize a little of what was going on and calmed
Kotik greeted him. “Hello, how are you?”
“Uh,” he began nervously.
His voice, although still under the effects of the cold, was low
and mellow. “I think
I’m warm enough now.”
Kotik laughed and told the two women it was all right to leave the man now. She said something else about ignorant white men that had Tujok giggling as she slipped into her clothes. Hopefully, that would serve to temper the women’s indignation. How was he to know that it was very rude to refuse such hospitality, especially when it was offered to save his life? He shivered as he lost the extra heat and rolled up in the coverings as the other women dressed and left. Soon, Kotik realized that he had fallen asleep as had Miortok.
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