Visions of the Night
"So you are Rrarkgrrr," Nelson continued, trying to say the name as Chip had. "I appreciate you helping my . . . co-worker. I daresay you probably saved his life."
Crane continued to stand quietly, for once speechless.
"I believe you’re right, Admiral," Chip said. He turned to his companion. "Rrarkgrrr, this is Admiral Harriman Nelson and Captain Lee Crane. We all work together."
Rrarkgrrr made a deep grumbling noise in her throat and nodded.
"So what do we need to do, besides get you to a doctor, that is?" the admiral asked, moving closer and sitting down in front of Morton and Rrarkgrrr.
"Rrarkgrrr's mate has been captured by a group of ranchers a bit north of here, if I understood her correctly," Chip explained.
The Bigfoot nodded her assent and proceeded to draw a crude map on the dirt floor of the cave.
Crane held the flashlight on it as she drew. His face showed amazement at her detail. "I bet we have corresponding maps in the Flying Sub." He described what he was talking about and then gazed into Rrarkgrrr's face. "If you are willing to come aboard her."
The Bigfoot looked startled, but didn't shake her head 'no.' With a deeply penetrating gaze she studied Lee. "We have to take Commander Morton—Chip—there anyway. We can get to the lake before sunrise. We won't be seen."
Everyone was quiet as she continued to study Lee and then the admiral. Finally, she gazed at Chip, who nodded his agreement. Then she, too, nodded. Rrarkgrrr began signing and Chip watched carefully in the dimness, which was relieved only by the muted light of the small flashlight.
"All we ask is that you try," Chip said softly, understanding her reticence.
"We'll need to leave quickly or sunrise will catch us short of our goal," Lee prompted. "Can you lean on me?" he asked Chip.
Rrarkgrrr shook her head and growled. She pointed to his pack and he knew she wanted him to have some more of her woodland remedy before they set out.
"Lee, as much as I have been reluctant to let her, Rrarkgrrr has been very easily carrying me around," Chip explained. He dug into his pack, finding the shredded root or bark and stuck a piece in his mouth. Admiral Nelson looked at him curiously and then examined a piece. "I don't know what it is, Admiral, but is works and I have not felt any ill effects."
The admiral nodded and rose to his feet, picking up the backpack. "Save a bit of that, if you can so I can examine it more closely when we get back to the Institute."
Chip nodded and continued chewing the pulpy mass. It wasn't quite as bad this time and seemed to take effect much more quickly. Lee slipped out of the cave to reconnoiter. The Bigfoot easily picked up Chip. He put one arm around her broad shoulders to help hang on and thereby help her. There was much less pain this time, but still he had to bite his lip to stifle a moan at the discomfort the movement caused him.
His distress didn't escape the admiral's notice though. "Are you all right, lad?"
"Yes, sir. I think this stuff is helping. It's not as bad as it was."
Rrarkgrrr eased out of the cave. Lee explained to her where they had beached the Flying Sub by showing a map he had hastily drawn on the ground. The Bigfoot nodded and set off in her sure long-legged walk. Chip noticed that even Lee had a bit of trouble keeping up. Only the underbrush and rough terrain kept her from totally leaving them behind. As she carried him through the darkness, Chip felt increasingly self-conscious over his helplessness. He would be much happier to have to be trotting to keep up.
Rrarkgrrr got to the shore several minutes before Lee did, and stood there gazing at the muted yellow shape. He could feel her tension.
"Rrarkgrrr, it looks strange, but it is very safe." He hoped she could feel his confidence. She grumbled deep in her throat but continued to hold him in her arms, presumably waiting for Lee.
Crane slipped out of the woods at that moment. "If you can wait a moment, I'll run her up on the shore a bit more." Lee gazed meaningfully at Rrarkgrrr. "That way you can take a look and not be too far from the forest."
Chip couldn't help but feel appreciation for his friend's astuteness. He recognized her intelligence while still understanding her apparent mistrust for things mechanical. Rrarkgrrr only nodded and watched Lee wade out to the moored submersible.
"Put me down, Rrarkgrrr," Chip said softly. "Water’s edge."
The Bigfoot gave a questioning whuff but did as he asked. "I appreciate what you’ve done, but I’m okay right now," Chip added to mollify her.
She nodded and then looked over her shoulder as the admiral broke through the brush. "Lee bringing it a little closer to shore?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," Morton answered.
A high-pitched hum punctuated the answer and the Flying Sub ground ashore with a crunching of gravel. Rrarkgrrr jumped back, almost knocking down Chip as the vessel powered down.
Crane popped the back hatch and rejoined the group, a paper in his hands. Unfolding it in the waning darkness, he spread the paper flat on the ground in front of Rrarkgrrr. "I pulled up a physical map of the area on the admiral’s new navigational computer and printed it up. If we had a pretty sure fix on where Marrgrarr is being held then we could get more information and know how we might get him out."
Rrarkgrrr gingerly stepped forward, keeping a wary eye on the large yellow craft.
"You should see what we normally travel in, Rrarkgrrr," Chip said with a chuckle.
Lee shone the flashlight beam on the map. "Do you recognize any of this?" he asked the Bigfoot.
She studied the features for some time before pointing to one of them. It was a tiny lake near a mountainous area of eastern Washington State, northwestern Idaho. Her large stubby finger rested on the particular spot as she gestured with the other hand.
It was obvious to Chip that Lee wasn’t following everything she was saying, so he tried translating. "Big valley, ringed by mountains. As far as Rrarkgrrr can tell, Marrgrarr is being kept in a large building on a ranch near the base of the mountains."
Rrarkgrrr nodded vigorously. He had evidently translated correctly.
"There are many fences, many horses, buildings of various sizes, men. Very difficult to get in and get Marrgrarr out." Chip continued, then paused and looked at the admiral and captain. "I would guess that this is a large ranch and if I understood correctly, the building that her mate is being kept in is not a typical barn or other ranch building. I suspect that Marrgrarr is being held by one of the neighborhood survivalists or neo-Nazi groups. Some right wing ultra-conservative outfit," Morton added morosely.
"I was thinking that as I was listening," the admiral murmured. Everyone continued gazing at the map and thinking his own thoughts.
"I have gone into more difficult missions," Lee said, breaking a short silence. "I think we need to give Angie and Linda a chance to find out what they can and then I can go in tonight. But we are going to have to find a place to hide. It’s getting too light and we’re too vulnerable sitting out here." Crane looked up at Rrarkgrrr. "Do you think you could stand being inside our machine for a short while?"
The Bigfoot gazed at him for a moment and then nodded, making gestures at the same time. She strode forward timidly and peered inside the open hatch. Gingerly, she stepped inside, one foot still on the soil of the riverbank. She sniffed loudly and then rumbled deep in her throat.
"You don’t have to do this," Lee said from behind her. "You can hide in the cave. We can submerge the Flying Sub in the lake and decide just how we are going to free Marrgrarr tonight."
"That might be best anyway," Chip added. Rrarkgrrr stepped back on shore.
"Except we need Rrarkgrrr near this ranch to help her mate when we do get him out," the admiral pointed out. "But I agree, we need to get Angie to help us out with information before we decide anything."
"I can take the Flying Sub out into the deeper water while I make contact and then swim back in," Crane suggested.
Nelson nodded, then gazed at Chip. "You need some medical attention soon."
"Admiral, there is nothing life threatening here and I want to see this out. Lee can pull out the first aide supplies in the meantime."
The admiral mumbled something inaudible, but he nodded. "Very well. We’ll work out strategies and wait for more information."
Crane handed over the first aide kit and then closed the hatch. As they backed away, he powered up the Flying Sub and slowly moved away, sinking slowly into the lake as he did so.
The Bigfoot grumbled softly under her breath and then turned to Chip.
With a sigh and a nod, he said, "I know the routine." Rrarkgrrr easily picked him up and the trio retreated back into the woods.
During the day, the admiral retraced the path to the lake, wishing at the same time that he had a cigarette. He was struck by the wonder that he was face to face with the object of decades of speculation and he was still ending up caught in the middle of spy operations. He hoped there would be a chance to spend more time with the Bigfoot. As it was, he felt fortunate that he had been able to ‘talk’ with her even this little bit. He had quickly come to the conclusion that her species was intelligent as well as extremely rare. Modern human incursion had not helped the situation any.
The admiral had seen nothing on his first reconnoitering except evidence of some activity, most likely fishing or camping, about a half mile along the lake. He hoped with the waning of the day that the people would be gone. Might be awkward for Lee to swim ashore with fishermen trying to get their quota of rainbow trout for the day. The dense woods thinned and Harriman saw someone hunched over a fire on the narrow beach. Marks of the Flying Sub’s beaching were evident and Nelson sincerely hoped.... Then he realized who it was when the other man stood and skipped a rock across the water. "Gave me a start there, Lee," he said.
"You’re pretty quiet yourself, Admiral," came the rejoinder. "Enough activity that I thought I’d better do more then just stand here or try to follow an indistinct trail."
Nelson chuckled. "So you’re irritating fishermen by chucking rocks out into the lake."
"Yes, sir," Lee replied. "Ignorant city boy seemed like a good cover."
"Did you find out anything from Angie?"
"Indeed I did. Maybe we’d better involve everyone on this and in more private quarters."
Harriman nodded and turned back toward the cave. He went a bit round about but still, it wasn’t long before they reached the cave. The admiral softly announced himself and they entered.
Lee handed bottles of energy drinks all around, even to Rrarkgrrr, who sniffed at it before emulating the humans and quaffing it down. Lee handed out packets of C-rations and while the others were busy with their chow, he began. "It seems that the land in question belongs to one Marcum Joseph Sanders, head of the Patriot Freedom Brigade. His holdings include not only his home and ranch, but also a fortified bunker that is reputed to be able to withstand anything other than a direct hit by a nuclear bomb. He has storage facilities, a continuously flowing spring and all told, is totally self-sufficient. Several hate crimes in the area have been linked to his organization."
"Terrific," Morton muttered.
"Oh, there’s more," Lee continued. "It seems he offered Dr. Sterling a rare and unique animal specimen a few days ago."
"Specimen?" Nelson asked.
"Why didn’t Sterling inform me of this?" the admiral growled.
Chip knew that NIMR’s top biologist was going to get a dressing down when this was all over.
"Angie says he told her the offer smacked of National Inquirer sensationalism. I told her to get in touch with them, let them know Admiral Nelson had finally been informed of the offer and was interested in purchasing the specimen." Everyone looked intently at him. "She was told that the admiral was too late. Someone else was making the purchase."
Everyone was quiet, except for Rrarkgrrr, who was huffing in anger and anxiety.
Crane pulled out a diagram. "Angie sent this to me. It’s a schematic of Sander’s ranch and the buildings."
Nelson looked questioningly at Crane. "Where did you get something like this?"
"I called in some favors from ONI," Lee said sardonically. He pointed to one of the buildings. "Believe it or not only a few days ago this area was under surveillance with heat sensing devices. The most likely place for Rrarkgrrr’s mate is in here," he said, pointing to a building in the middle of the ranch complex. "I think I can go in tonight and get Marrgrarr."
"How, Lee?" Chip asked. "You can’t just saunter in there and ask to see the Bigfoot."
Crane just grinned. "Why sure I can, partner," he just drawled in a highly stereotypical cowboy fashion. "Gather around the campfire and I’ll tell you how."