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Spirit of the Brown Bear

(Torar Angiyok Aklark)

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

It was a small group made up of people from several different racial backgrounds and age levels.  All looked deadly serious, some even dour.  One was gesturing wildly to punctuate his angry remarks.  “Why even do all of this?” he shouted, half standing.

“Sit down, Michael,” a dark-eyed woman in a well worn, fur lined, animal skinned parka said calmly.  It was cold in the room, a cold that even the coal stove in one corner couldn’t dispel.  “Protests, even violent ones, haven’t helped,” she said mildly.  “They have probably hindered our cause.” 

“What’s so important about this one additional scientist?” an older man growled, picking up a cigarette.  The others glared at him and he put it down. 

The woman laughed and then unfastened her parka, pulling it off over her head.  The others may be cold, but she had to go back outside soon.  Her Eskimo heritage seemed to inure her to more cold than these others could stand.  It was foolish to not remove outerwear indoors.  “You haven’t heard of Harriman Nelson?” she asked.  Her voice was like that of a parent who had just been asked an obviously inane question by her child.

The man glared, stung by the unsaid rebuke.  “Of course I have.  Retired admiral, head of a research organization, marine scientist, designer of a huge research submarine.  So?” he asked caustically.

The woman laughed again.  “If we can persuade him to actively join our cause, then we have practically won our battle.  He even has the ear of the President.”

“Oh, all right, but if this doesn’t work….”

“It will,” she said, excitedly.  “I will be waiting at the rendezvous.”

Everyone nodded.  When nothing else was said, the group broke up, the woman leaving first.

The angry man sat quietly waiting for everyone to leave, finally lighting his cigarette.  Soon only he and one other man were left.  “So you understand what I want you to do?” he growled. 

The thin faced, blue-eyed man nodded and smiled.  The smile looked more like a grimace however, as an old scar stretched from the corner of one side of this mouth to his ear.  Money was exchanged and the small house on the outskirts of Fairbanks was empty. 

 

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“I still think it’s ironic that even though you own one of the fastest private jets in the world, you end up flying on a commercial airliner,” Captain Lee Crane said sardonically, as he accompanied his boss to the gate of a large jumbo jet. 

“What?  And deprive me of the simple pleasures?” Admiral Harriman Nelson quipped, watching a petite stewardess walk past them toward the jet ramp.  “No offense, Lee, but neither you nor Chip can offer such amenities.”

Crane, who had been following the admiral’s gaze, laughed softly.  The brunette was pretty.  “Hmm, you have a point.  Sure I can’t come along?”

“No, Captain, I want you taking our gray lady through her paces,” Nelson said firmly.  “I expect her tip top when I get back.”

Lee smiled.  “Aye, aye, sir,” he said crisply.  The admiral pulled out his ticket and got in line.  He nodded to Lee as the man tore his ticket in half and then he was through the door.  Lee walked to a window and gazed at the jet, then moved to another window as it taxied down the runway.  He stood watching as the plane took off and finally turned to leave.  A set of cold fingers walked up and down his back and then disappeared.  He paused in puzzled contemplation and then shook his head. 

 

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Harriman thought about his exchange with Lee as he settled in his very comfortable leather seat.  While he liked the ease and speed that getting around in the Flying Sub afforded, the luxury of sitting in first class and being wined and dined did have advantages.   Especially when someone else was footing the bill. 

Next to him sat a gray-haired executive, business suit crisply dry cleaned.  His eyes were closed, and his face turned to the window, cushioned on a pillow.  Harriman didn’t bother him.  Obviously, someone trying to catch up on what frequent flying robbed him of.  As Nelson had a great deal of reading to do, that didn’t bother him in the least.

The request for him to attend this North Slope ecological conference had come at the last minute.  And it had come from the President himself.  There were militant forces on both sides, he was told.  Those who wanted the area left totally untouched, only used by the native tribes who lived there, and those whose interests lay in tapping the huge reserves of oil and minerals.  He was to study both sides and use his ‘considerable’ expertise and influence to make viable solutions that both sides could live with.  Somehow, Harriman wasn’t sure that was possible, but he had been told that his aura of respectability might help create a climate of compromise.  Aura indeed, he snorted. 

“Admiral, would you like to order a drink?” a young voice asked softly.  The voice belonged to the petite brunette he and Crane had observed at the boarding gate. 

Harriman thought a moment.  He was meeting Klineman in Seattle in a few hours.  As much as he’d like a stiff Scotch and water, he’d better not.  “Coffee, please,” he decided. 

“I’ll bring it to you as soon as we’ve taken off, sir,” she replied. 

Nodding, he pulled out a large folder as the plane backed away from the gate.  He opened it and pondered the problems of drilling and mining in a very delicate ecosystem.  The plane rumbled across the tarmac, and he closed it again, placing it in the pocket in front of him.  It wasn’t that he was overly nervous, but he kept mentally going over his own pre-flight procedures.  He couldn’t concentrate on the documents before him.  The jet took off smoothly and Harriman pulled out the folder again.  Just below the Arctic Circle, a rich reserve of oil had been discovered.  That in addition to other finds already being shipped through the existing pipelines.  The problem, he read, wasn’t just the drilling, it was more the piping.  The inhospitable environment made materials break down very quickly.  If that could be solved, he pondered, perhaps that would help mollify all sides.

“Your coffee, Admiral,” the stewardess said softly, interrupting his reverie. 

“Mmm?  Oh, thank you,” he answered, flashing her a warm smile as he took his cup. 

“Dinner will be served shortly.  The choices are lemon chicken or home style meatloaf.”

“Chicken,” he answered, knowing he didn’t want anything that he knew wouldn’t measure up to the Seaview cook’s specialty.  Cookie was a miracle worker with ground beef.  She nodded and left, and Harriman went back to his reading.

The materials used to keep the Seaview safe at high pressures, he wondered.  Of course, the hull was a combination of not only durable and strong metal but also a design that used inside air pressure and ballast as a barrier.  He pondered the possibilities of using similar technologies for the frigid cold of the Arctic Circle.  He was still pondering, jotting notes on the margins of the brief when the stewardess brought him his lunch.  He thanked her as he put his materials away.    Harriman continued to ponder the upcoming conference as he ate.    When he had finished, he opened up the brief again and turned his mind to the itinerary.   Fly with Klineman from Seattle to Anchorage and then by small aircraft to Fairbanks where he would get to relax for the next day and a half or have the option of sightseeing.  He didn’t think he needed that much time to relax, but then again, he hadn’t had much time to consider all the issues that would be put on the table at this symposium.   Perhaps he could hire a bush pilot to take him out to the area of the pipelines already in existence. 

Harriman had been to the Arctic Ocean but always by virtue of a submarine.   He had never really seen the northern tundra.  He hoped he could see more of the North Slope than just from an airplane. 

When they arrived at Seattle, Klineman was waiting for him and they discussed the conference and various theories a good deal of the flight. 

“Enough, Karl,” Harriman finally said.  “I want to arrive in Fairbanks somewhat aware of my surroundings.  Let’s try to get some sleep.  I feel as though I’ve already been to a conference.”

“You’ll feel like the referee at a wrestling match before this is over, Harriman,” Klineman retorted.  “Everyone seems so determined to convince everyone else that he or she is right.”

“All the more reason to relax a bit now,” he said, regretting not having use of the Flying Sub right now, and remembering his conversation with Lee before he left.  But until he had time to complete the refitting of the little vehicle, it was too dangerous to take out.  He sighed and leaned back against the small pillow.  Now he was wondering if the extra day had been allotted for lobbyists to hit on him before the convention started.  He grimaced. 

He awoke with a start as the pilot announced their approach into Anchorage.  Obviously he had slept a bit, although he didn’t feel like he had.   Harriman gazed out of the window to the water below to watch for sight of the approaching land.  It came along with a glorious sunrise.  A short time later they had landed in Anchorage.

Nelson and Klineman had no time to assimilate their surroundings as they were almost instantly whisked to a small corporate-type jet nearby.  Soon they were winging over the MacKenzie Range and heading north.  There were only a few passengers but then the plane only had seats for a dozen.  The two older men sat up front, each peering out the windows. 

Harriman watched the mountains loom higher and higher as they continued north.  Snow seemed to lay in thick piles part of the way down the slopes as well as on the peaks.  The jet seemed to fly over the higher peaks with only a bare minimum of clearance.  On the northern slopes the snow lay thicker, covering all the way into the valleys and the flatlands beyond.  When they landed in Fairbanks, the sun had not reached very high into the sky even though it was noon by his watch.  In mid-winter, the sun would not even top the horizon, he knew.  Harriman had been in the Arctic seas when that happened and it was an eerie feeling to be in the dark in the middle of the day.  Like a day long eclipse, only darker. 

A young woman who was obviously an Eskimo met them.  Her wardrobe, though, would have been just as apropos in a corporate office in New York City.  “Admiral Nelson?  Dr. Karl Klineman?” she asked them.

“Yes,” Harriman answered for both of them.

“I am Dr. Maria Machetanz.  Once we get your bags, we’ll proceed to the hotel.  The pre-conference dinner will be at 6: 00 this evening.  You’ll have a few hours to relax.” 

“Thank you,” Harriman and Klineman said together. 

As they walked out of the terminal she gazed at them and smiled softly.  “I hope you brought a warm winter coat, Admiral.  Even though spring will soon begin in the lower forty-eight, it’s still cold here in Fairbanks.

The admiral smiled softly.  “I came from Santa Barbara, Doctor, but I did come somewhat prepared.  I have a parka in my suitcase.”

“Good.”

The cold did quickly penetrate his uniform though, and he was very glad that her vehicle was close.  And he was even more grateful to reach his hotel room.  The relative silence was soothing after the long flights.  He hung his extra uniform up, laid out his toiletries, pulled off his jacket and then stretched out on his bed for a short nap. 

A knock on his door startled him out of a half doze.  With a sigh, he went to the door.   It was Dr. Machetanz. 

“May I come in?” she asked. 

With a nod, he motioned her in.  “Please sit down, Doctor,” he invited.  “I would offer you a drink, but I suppose there will be plenty of that tonight.  And besides, the drinks that are usually stocked in hotel refrigerators are poor substitutes to what’s offered at a decent bar.”

She shook her head.  “Admiral, this may seem bold, but I am very concerned about the future of the North Slope.”

“From what I have read, I understand your concern.  I suppose you realize that I am here as a neutral observer and fact gatherer.  I cannot allow myself to be lobbied.”

She nodded.  “I understand and appreciate that, Admiral.  But how can you make a judgment when you aren’t fully informed?  How can you just listen to second hand, emotion-laden information, or written reports and make decisions that affect thousands of people and many different species of animals?”

“Interesting question, Doctor Machetanz,” Harriman answered.  “So what is your answer to that particular question?”

“While the conference officially begins tomorrow night, the real debate and testimony is the day after tomorrow.  Fly out to the area affected.  At least see the area from the air, maybe land and check out the terrain, the pipelines—just get acquainted with what everyone will be talking about.”

Nelson thought it was fascinating that he had considered doing that very same thing.  He was interested, but wouldn’t exhibit his interest for a moment.  “I know what side of the fence you reside on, Doctor, but I do see the merit of what you are proposing.  I don’t stay in the lab when I study marine life,” he said with a slight smile.  “When?”

“This afternoon—now,” she said, her eyes showing hope. 

“And come back when?”

“In twenty-four hours,” she replied.  “And to make it even more unbiased, I won’t come with you.”

“According to what I read in the itinerary, you are a presenter tomorrow night anyway,” he pointed out with a slight chuckle.

She laughed with him, apparently relieved at his quick acceptance.  “What I have been told about you is very true apparently.”

“What’s that?”

“You are a quick thinker and a fast problem solver,” she replied. 

He shrugged.  “I simply like to be well informed.  Any decent scientist should be.  What do I need to bring?”

“Dress warm and comfortable.  And bring anything you might need with which to take notes or pictures.”

Harriman found excitement growing inside.  “Give me a few minutes,” he told her as he dug through his suitcase.  “I’ll meet you in the lobby.  When she had left the room, he got on the phone and called NIMR.  “Angie,” he said without preamble.  “Do a check on a Dr. Maria Machetanz.”  He spelled her last name.  “I’ll wait.”  A few minutes later, he was getting the facts and figures of the doctor’s background, including her schooling, affiliations and friends.  She seemed very much on the up and up, nothing subversive for all that she was totally against the proposed new drilling.  Carrying warmer civilian clothes, the admiral headed into the bathroom and changed.

 

 

Chapter Two
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Contents
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