NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,754
“That’s insanity, Dagen,” the man with the bushy white beard and matching eyebrows yelled from across his desk that looked like it came from a Goodwill bargain sale. Ax Mathiason leaned forward, elbows on scattered papers, looking more like a scowling circuit preacher than an internationally renown—and retired—arctic explorer. His tall, lean frame was artificially plumped by the bulk of a red buffalo plaid flannel shirt. Frames containing elegant scrolls and gilded letters of numerous life-time achievement awards lay propped on the floor against the small room’s windowless wall. The smell of coffee hung heavy in the air not because Ax had any in the empty coffee pot in the far corner, but because the room was leased in a building that housed Spokes Coffee Roasters. Evidently, they were roasting coffee at 9 o’clock in the morning.
“Look, Ax,” Dagen started to explain, pushing back against the frustration that threatened to edge his tone of voice, “Green Global Petroleum is willing to pay all expenses and a nice stipend for me to collect 45 days worth of climate data on Baffin Island.”
“Crooks! They want to steal what they have no right to plunder,” Ax roared.
“They have exploration permits, and you have to acknowledge recent market shifts. They’ve known about the significant oil potential ever since Panarctic Oils formed in 1967.” Dagen had come here to finalize arrangements with the Inuit guides that Ax knew who would take Dagen, supplies and research equipment to the sites on the eastern shelf of sea ice along Baffin Island. True, he had not told Ax who had hired him for the data collection but he wasn’t prepared to defend an industry he really had no love for either.
Ax glared across the desk, his beard quivering as if he might be chewing on a hidden lip. “About the time they actually started issuing surnames to Inuit people instead of disc numbers,” he said.
“Meaning what,” said Dagen.
“Meaning they had no regard for the people of Baffin then, and they have no regard now. For Christ’s sake, Dagen, it’s a dying polar world up there and you ought to be documenting its impact. If global warming has a face, it’s the face of the Inuit.” Ax sat back in his straight back wooden chair that creaked with the shift in his weight. He’d come out of retirement to raise money for an expedition that would show the world first hand what melting ice in the arctic meant. It was a task he hated, raising money, and he hated to admit that he wanted to ask Dagen about funders. It was all he could do to temper his disgust that this man before him had once been a northern Minnesota boy eager to learn how to handle sled dogs. First a television show and now this—researching for oil barons.
“I can’t speak for a corporation and what it cares for beyond bottom-line profits, but you have to admit, they are putting money into documenting the very effects you are talking about. Remember, I’m not a geophysicist. I’m not part of their exploration efforts. They want me to report on the state of the melting ice,” said Dagen. Sitting before Ax was always intimidating for him, the elder man was not only a mentor and hero, but secretly Dagen had always thought of Ax as a father-figure that filled the gap after his dad died. He didn’t want to displease the man. Actually he expected Ax to be excited for him to get to go on a scientific adventure that would follow one leg of the elder man’s original trek by sled-dogs across Baffin Island back in the ‘70s.
Ax sat silently, staring at the empty coffee pot. Dagen added, “If I could, I’d have the USGS or some climate-conscious organization pay for the research. But no ‘good guy’ I know of is hiring. It’s the deep pockets we all depend upon in the science world. They dictate what gets recorded or not.”
The grunt that Ax issued told Dagen he knew, but disliked it anyhow. The smell of coffee was overpowering and finally Dagen said, “How can you stand smelling all that coffee?”
Ax smiled, the lines around his blue eyes crinkling. “It actually helps me not to drink it. I just breath in the caffeine fumes instead.”
Dagen was not so sure. The coffee in the hotel lobby was lacking any strength and he was craving a real cup. “They plan to make the data publicly available. They’re not trying to hide anything. After all, they hired a celebrity scientist to report the conditions.”
“People think you’re a celebrity vet, you know,” Ax said.
“I know,” Dagen replied. It was the dogs. The History Channel show, “Dog Doc of Norway” sounded exactly like a story about a vet not a Viking climatologist. They hired him because he was “science eye-candy” and could actually manage the huskies on the set better than the overly-tan dog-wrangler from Los Angeles. In other words, he could pronounce scientific terms correctly, look good saying them and not get killed by run-away dogs pulling a skiff in the Nordic outback. It was on the set that he had met the Green Global Petroleum executive secretary, visiting Norway to see the North Sea oil fields. Norway and Russia were still debating over which country owned rights in the Barents Sea as if the entire expanse of the arctic hydrocarbons was a circular chess board.
“So how’d you get involved with this oil company, Dagen,” asked Ax, “A Hollywood pool party?”
“No. Norway. I met GGP’s executive secretary, Laurel Henney, when she was visiting,” answered Dagen.
“Secretary? You mean like what I need here to me organized,” Ax said as his gaze swept around the office disarray.
Dagen shook his head and said, “No, more official. I think she manages governance policies and counsels senior management.”
“What does that mean?”
“I think of her as both a gate-keeper and a publicist. It’s like she’s always asking questions to gage what potential damage control she might have to mitigate between GGP’s board and their media outlets.” Dagen was getting restless. “So, how am I to contact this Elijah—what did you say his last name was?”
“Ujarak. Elijah Ujarak,” answered Ax. “You’ve got to get to Clyde River, first and that means getting to Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavat which means getting to Ottawa.”
“I’ve got the Ottawa leg covered. Ordered supplies from the Wedge last night.”
Ax nodded and said, “Ottawa’s the easy part. Did you get lemons?”
Dagen smiled. The feeling between him and Ax was starting to feel more familiar, fatherly and definitely less tense. “Yes, Dad, I got lemons.”
Ax grinned, parting the great white beard in the approximate location of the man’s mouth. “Save you from scurvy, those lemons will. Get them sliced and frozen in water once you get to Ottawa.”
“How do I keep all that frozen,” asked Dagen.
“Keep it outside,” answered Ax. “I’ve got someone you can stay with in Ottawa and they’ve helped with expeditions setting out. More so climbers these days. Elija’s actually excited that you are not a climber, by the way.”
In his head, Dagen was going over the details of his trip and the logistics of packing all the equipment, supplies and survival gear he would need to haul with him. GGP had hired a private plane for each leg of the trip, but as Ax reminded him, it was easy to get to Ottawa and after that travel was weather dependent. He could be stranded in Ottawa or Iqaluit for days, even weeks.
“While you are in Ottawa, I want you to go to the Inuit Children’s Center,” said Ax.
“Get to know the people who will disappear when the ice does.”
“Ax, I’m not the bad guy here,” Dagen said, holding back the last of his frustration.
Ax frowned and said, “You’re missing my point. Don’t just document the disappearance of sea ice. Document the people who live on it.”
“Did you ever stop to think that maybe they’ll be better off,” asked Dagen. Ax began to scowl again, but said nothing. “According to their own history, they were pushed to the northwest regions by hostile tribes south of them. Maybe they never wanted to live on ice, but were forced to. They might actually have better lives ice-free.”
Ax was no longer scowling. Instead he looked sad, as if his own flesh and blood had just denied some long-held family tradition. “I’m sorry you feel that way, Dagen. Maybe Elija’s wife can convince you.”
“What would she have to convince me of?”
“She’s Inuit and actually thought as you do. She was young and impressionable when she went to school in Ottawa. She had been proud of her name—Lucie E6-122.”
“What kind of name is that,” asked Dagen.
“A disc name. Inuit called each other by practical names. When the missionaries arrived in the early 1900s they started to take heroic names they learned from the outlanders, thinking it would give them good characteristics, but they had no system of surnames. Once the government of Canada began recording the people in the 1940s, they issued a numbers system to each name that defined where an individual came from,” explained Ax.
“Like a social security number,” remarked Dagen.
“Sort of,” said Ax, “But think of your social security number actually becoming your last name. Like I said, Lucie was proud of her name until she became immersed in modern culture in Ottawa. Then she grew ashamed of it, in fact, she turned against her primitive culture and their simplistic ways. She became quite the young rebel, talking about education, modernization and rights.”
“What changed her mind,” asked Dagen.
“Marriage. Her family brought her back home and settled her into an arranged marriage with Elijah who was pure country,” said Ax.
“Pure country, and she was all rock-n-roll like Marie and Donny Osmond?”
“Pure country as in Elijah had been raised traditionally on the land. Opposites, yes. But it was Lucie who changed in the end.”
“Prisoners have a way of coming around to the thinking of their captors,” said Dagen, wondering what it would be like to be forced into marrying a stranger. He didn’t like the idea at all.
“It wasn’t like that,” said Ax. “More like they found common ground. And it’s common ground I believe you still stand upon, too.”
“And what’s that?”