Spirit of the Brown Bear

(Torar Angiyok Aklark)

 

 

 

 

Chapter 9

 

 

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 encampment. 

“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 trouble.”

“It is heading toward our camp,” Utaq shot back. 

“At that trajectory and speed it would be able to easily avoid the camp, even in trouble like it is,” Harriman explained.    “But 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. 

 

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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 anyway. 

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.

 

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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 this time.  

“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 down.

Qanuq itpich?” 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. 

 

 

Chapter Ten
Chapter One
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Contents
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