Hollister looked about the area around the SHY LADY was about as desolate as could be imagined. Cold, dark and…dare he say it? Frightening to anybody with imagination to see this place as it really was, a sterile after world that destroyed the fragile body and devoured men’s souls, was this really the mythical Hades of past? They had been stuck in the ice for the last 17 days and after the tenth day when it was obvious that the SHY LADY wasn’t going anywhere, they started to unload the dogs and equipment. The Inuit themselves had moved off the ship, grateful for the freedom of space and set up a camp on the ice. Dunn, Mason, Hollister, Goodman, Sherman and Michaels along with Peter and the other Eskimos spent a lot of time working with the dogs and sleds. Dunn and Mason didn’t have too many problems but Hollister was a complete novice. He was losing weight and felt tired, though he did his best not to show it. His muscles ached and his hands were chapped and blistered. He hadn’t felt like this in years, not since the war and for the life of him couldn’t think of a more disagreeable, mean ass animal than a working sled dog, they really were bastards and sons of bitches! The white, once clean pristine snow outside the ship was now littered with open boxes, scrap wood, paper and dog shit, so much for arctic beauty. MacDonald came on deck. “Hello Jack, taking in the sights I see!” “What there is of them,” said the newspaperman glumly. It was easy to be so in this place. “Get used to it Jack,” said MacDonald. “Where you boys is going, there ain’t much else.” “Yeah, and I thought I was the lucky one.” “I don’t think it will be as bad as all that,” said the first mate. Hollister sighed. “How long do you think it will take us to get there and back, Aesop?” The black man shrugged his shoulders, “Don’t rightly know, Jack. Four weeks, maybe six, maybe eight. Nobody’s ever been there before, depends on the weather and the ice, ya know.” Hollister nodded, “Seen Isaac?” he asked. Tomorrow, he, Peter and Dunn would be traveling to set up a second supply depot. Mason and Sherman and a party of Eskimos had just returned yesterday from setting up the first one. Mason said that all went well, but from the looks of him, the trip was possibly harder than he expected. MacDonald shook his head, “Naw, I haven’t seen him since we knocked off ship’s work but my guess is he’s probably with Ahnah some wheres in the Eskimo camp.” Hollister agreed. The second mate had been spending a lot of time with the scarred Inuit girl. “He seems quite taken with her,” said Hollister. MacDonald shrugged his shoulders, “He’s happy with her. Lord knows he deserves some joy after all the shit in his life.” “Are you disappointed at not being included in the Pole party?” The first mate shook his head and smiled. “No Jack, I can honestly tell ya I’m happy staying right here, it’s a trip I certainly don’t want to make. Besides, somebody has to take care of the old girl,” he said patting the ship’s rail with a gloved hand, “while you’re all away.” “That’s true and it does make me feel a little better. But I’m telling ya, Aesop, as soon as we get back I want to be on my way home.” “As soon as we can Jack, believe me, I want to go home too.” The newspaperman nodded. “I know Aesop,” he sighed. “Look, I’m gonna go below, I wanna get some sleep. Tomorrow’s gonna be a busy day.” MacDonald nodded. “Yeah Jack, get some sleep, you’re gonna need it.” Hollister walked down the creaking ladder leaving the open darkness for the confined darkness below decks, he had become accustomed to the wooden world which sheltered him and no longer took exception to the smells and sounds that his senses came in contact with. Damned if it wasn’t cold. With the exception of the dogs barking outside, it was quiet. Most of the Inuit were on the ice as well as most of the crew. For a brief moment Hollister felt as if he was the only man alive in this frozen hell and it frightened him. He walked into his small cabin. There at least he had some form of privacy. There were two tin types of Nancy on a small shelf attached to the bulkhead and an unfinished letter on his bunk. He thought about writing an end to it but he knew that was pointless. He’d be back before the letter would ever reach her, well, probably. The only reason he started writing it in the first place was because he felt it gave them some form of connection with her which he so desperately wanted at that moment. Maybe that was a sign of age, wanting to be with someone, wanting to be cared about. When he was younger, such a thing concerned him in no major way, but now…well, the concept was becoming more important to him and he began to realize that he meant the words he spoke to Nancy before he left. He turned his attention to the notes he’d been taking for the story. He had quite a few pages in the “rough” so to speak. Enough to have a fair story even if they didn’t find this mythical whale’s graveyard, which privately Hollister began to have his doubts about, though this place had an absence of life as he saw it, he could see little point in whales swimming all this way to fucking die when he was sure there were much more pleasant waters in which to pass on in, though who was to say? Mother Nature had surprised him more than once over the last twenty years that was for damn sure. If such a place did exist, this place would be transformed like the gold towns out west, he was sure of that, man descending on this place like a plague bringing every conceivable vice with them, not that Hollister was against vice so much but he did feel that it should be kept in its proper place. He took off his boots and climbed into his messed up bed. It was too cold to remove all his clothes, he was alone and he didn’t care how he smelled, and besides working with the dogs and carrying equipment out on to the ice had exhausted him. Extinguishing the kerosene lamp in his small space, Hollister closed his eyes and drifted quickly into a dreamless sleep. Mason leaned back in his chair and yawned loudly, enjoying the somewhat brutish sound that he made in the silence. His cabin was illuminated by two kerosene lamps burning brightly, the light flickering like playful creatures against his cabin bulkhead. It was easy to imagine in this place, to see demons and angels however one was so inclined. To lose one’s self, the line was so thin in such an instance, and find religion or lose it. In the end it didn’t matter much, if you went crazy that is. He cracked his knuckles and flexed his fingers. It felt good to back aboard the ship. His surroundings were comforting and its familiarity soothed him. He made a note to compliment Burger when time permitted, he had done well keeping Mason’s cabin clean and tidy as well as a word or two to the rest of the crew to let them know that he appreciated what they had done thus far. A small gesture, he knew but it would go a long way with them. He also needed to remember to invite MacDonald, Higgins and Hollister to dinner to show some gratitude for their efforts as well as his own peace of mind, for Mason needed conversation as much as any other to curb his loneliness. There was much to be done, he never thought for a moment it would be otherwise but for the moment, he could afford to relax a little. They had set up the first depot, 50 miles from their current position, far enough away for a good start, close enough to return if they’d forgotten something. They had been running sleds for four days straight setting it up with supplies and breaking in the dogs. Tomorrow, Dunn, Hollister and Peter along with four other sled teams would travel another 100 miles past the first depot and load another load of supplies. He marked the chart, he had decided on six supply depots, each marked with black and white flags, evenly spaced at 100 foot intervals for 500 feet in four directions, making it possible for them to find the depots themselves, providing the pack ice didn’t shift on them in any radical way that is. He figured with what they were carrying up, it would work out enough to get them back, he hoped. It hadn’t taken long to get used to working with the dogs again though he had to confess it wasn’t something he enjoyed very much. He’d first learned to handle them in Alaska as a young fur trader and later used them for hunting expeditions when he first ventured to Greenland to go whaling. He liked dogs but these were the meanest bastards he’d ever had to deal with. They didn’t care who they bit and sure as hell weren’t sorry when they did. He had already chosen his team and started working with them but the more time he spent with them, the more he was convinced that he was being punished for the sins of a past life. Damn dogs. Mason sighed. To others he projected confidence and authority but in the privacy of his own cabin he had doubts that he told no one of. They had food and supplies, knowledge of past expeditions and the right men but this wasn’t winter in New England. This was the Arctic, one of the most inhospitable places in the world, poor planning and simple mistakes here were costly and deadly. He didn’t have to remind his men, even the dullest crewman would have figured that simple rule of thumb very quickly by just seeing what was around them which was nothing. Nobody wanted to be left behind here. Another thing that lingered in the back of his mind was Keelut and the things he had stolen. The missing glass he could understand, but the chart? What was the importance of that to him? He didn’t think he’d seen the last of the troublesome Eskimo, there was that nagging feeling that the drunk bastard would make his presence known to them again, that was for sure. He wondered about Mai-Ling and smiled. What book had she picked off the shelf to read? Was she still working on that afghan she was knitting or was it finished? Did she and Bess finish the nursery? He was sure that would be done by now. He imagined it full of toys and other childish items. Did she consult the Chinese fortune teller she knew in Boston? She said she wouldn’t, saying it would be silly to do such a thing but he knew that she would. Though she had been born in America, the ways of the old country were deeply ingrained into her, whether she liked to admit it or not. She must be getting big. He wished he could be there but by being where he was, he could give her and their unborn child a better life, a positive note to his karma, he hoped. This was not the time for past debts to be collected, his luck better hold out. There was too much at stake on this expedition. Well, enough of his private thoughts. He needed to get back to ship’s business. “Burger!” he yelled. The ship’s steward poked his head into the captain’s cabin. “Yes sir?” “Tell, Ed to send that young ‘un of his to find Mr. Dunn when he gets the chance and have him report to me.” “Yes sir,” the steward nodded. “Right away sir” and he left for the galley. “Right away, my ass,” said Mason looking at the chart again. Timmy Reiner blew into his hands and rubbed them together quickly in hopes of restoring some circulation into his cold extremities. Winter at home didn’t compare with this place, that’s for sure! He’d be sure glad to be home again. “Tim!” said Ed working over the stove. “Fetch me some more wood, we need to keep this fire going so’s everyone gets something hot in their bellies.” “Ok Ed,” said the boy jumping off two crates of onions they had picked up in Nova Scotia. The wood pile was just outside the galley, something Tim was grateful for. Grabbing an armful of wood, he walked back into the galley and placed the wood on the deck. Grabbing a rag, he opened the gate to the cast iron stove and after stirring the hot orange embers a bit with a poker, he tossed in two rough cut logs and shut the gate. “Hey Ed, how’s come the captain, Mr. Dunn and the Eskimos is running sleds with supplies?” The old cook shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t rightly know, Tim. Figure Captain Mason must have a good reason.” “You think he’d let me go with ‘ em, just once?” Ed smiled, “Well, they’s pretty busy Tim. If’n ya wants to help, help ’em load the sleds. Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Dunn and them others can show ya how.” “You know Ed, I bet ya’s I’m the only one in my school that’s been this far north,” said the boy proudly. “I dare say you’se right lad,” replied Ed. “But it’s important you keep your wits about ya. This ain’t the place to be day dreaming.” “Ok Ed,” said the boy. “Now make yourself useful and tell them’s on deck and on the ice we got some food. After ya do that, you go find Mr. Dunn and tell ‘im the captain wants to see him.” “Ok Ed.” Walking out into the cold darkness, he found a few men and relayed the cook’s message, for which they were grateful. After going to the crew’s quarters and telling those there that there was hot food, he walked off the ship onto the ice. Once he stepped off the gangplank he stomped his boots, an old habit from New England to test the ice. Ed had told him they we’re actually locked into a frozen sea and though he didn’t doubt what the old cook had told him and that the chances of him falling thru the ice here were pretty remote, still… After telling those working on the ice that there was warm grub waiting for them on board ship, he went in search of the second mate. Dunn stretched out on the warm furs of Ahnah and Peter’s family shelter. Ahnah smiled as she watched little Tah climb up on the man’s chest and stare intently into the outsider’s face before breaking out into a fit of giggles. “Oh what a mighty hunter I see in you!” said Dunn lifting the little boy up and tickling him, Tah’s little feet kicking in the air. The mate certainly had a way with children. Allawah reached out and took her son from Dunn. “It’s time for you to sleep Tah.” “But I want to play with Dunn!” protested the little boy. Dunn grinned and tousled the boy’s dark hair. “Do as your mother says, she knows best.” “Are you and my father going away?” he asked. Dunn nodded. “A short time, then we’ll be back.” “Can’t I go with you?” Peter leaned back and shook his head but happy that his young son was so eager. “You must stay here. Young men are needed in camp as well.” “Can I go next time?” Tah asked. “Perhaps,” answered his father. “Now lay down and sleep, all hunters need rest.” Dunn watched the little boy lie down with his mother. “A fine boy, Peter,” he said. Peter nodded, “He is my pride. I hope someday he will lead this band.” “He has a good man to follow,” said Dunn. “Have you thought about tomorrow?” asked Peter. Dunn nodded. “You and I will carry the biggest loads for the second depot. We’ll have to watch Hollister but I think he’ll be alright.” “I could go with you,” suggested Ahnah, meaning the Pole trip itself. Dunn shook his head. “No, Ahnah, we’ve already discussed this. You’ll have to help Aesop while we’re gone. If something should happen…” he didn’t need to finish the sentence. “Maybe nothing will,” said Ahnah simply. She wanted to be wrong, she wanted to be like a normal person. Peter agreed with Dunn. “It is better that you stay. Our people will need guidance if there is a problem.” “I’m not the leader of this band PETER,” she said emphasizing his name. “No, you are my sister and Angakkug. The people respect you, they will need someone strong.” Ahnah looked towards the ground of the shelter, averting her gaze from the others. “I’m not that person,” she said quietly. “Don’t sell yourself short,” said Dunn, his words not exactly clear to her. “You have strength and if the time comes when you need to use it you’ll know how.” There was a knock on the tent pole and Tim poked his head through the flaps. “Mr. Dunn, sir, Captain Mason wants to talk to ya.” Dunn nodded. “Thank you Tim. Would you like some hot tea before we head back?” The boy knew that he probably shouldn’t but it was very cold outside and Mr. Dunn did make the offer. He nodded his head. “Yes sir, Mr. Dunn, that would sure be good, sir.” “Alright lad, be polite and sit your ass down. Ahnah, could you please get our young Tim some tea.” The Inuit woman smiled. She had a soft spot for the boy and the old cook he worked for. “Please Tim, sit,” she said gesturing to a place. The boy complied and removed his knitted wool cap, after which he nodded to Sedna, who gave the boy a toothless grin and to Peter who returned the nod. “Welcome Tim,” said Peter. Tim took a deep breath, trying to think of the proper words, after all this was a chief’s tent, he certainly didn’t want to make a mistake. “It…it is an honor, Chief Peter,” the boy sputtered. The older man smiled, “Peter is fine here, Tim.” “Yes sir…Peter,” said Tim trying to relax. He hadn’t spent too much time in such exalted company and he was a little nervous. Ahnah passed him some hot tea and seal blubber, for which he thanked her for. Dunn noted with some satisfaction that the boy overcame any squeamishness he might have had and ate what was offered, very polite indeed. In the quiet, with the flickering light, Dunn thought how peaceful it was. These people didn’t have much but in a sense they had more than most people ever have in a lifetime. They had their problems, that was only natural and for the most part, their bickering was limited. They were caring of their own and decisive on matters of survival. Dunn was beginning to wonder why he left a similar situation all those years before. He sighed, he knew why. He had been attracted to a girl then just as he was to Ahnah now. She wouldn’t leave her people and at that time he had no desire to stay, but now… “I’m finished Mr. Dunn.” Dunn looked at the cook boy, “I’m sorry Tim, what did you say?” “I’m finished Mr. Dunn, with my tea and food, I mean,” said the boy. Dunn smiled, “Alright lad, let’s head back and see what Captain Mason wants, shall we?” They left the Inuit camp and walked across the ice to the SHY LADY. After boarding, Tim went to the galley and Dunn made his way to Mason’s cabin. He knocked on the door and heard Mason say “Enter” . Walking in, he saw Mason sitting at his desk. “You wanted to see me Captain?” Mason nodded his head, “Yes, Isaac. You and Peter and Hollister are going to set up the second depot tomorrow. I want you to carry extra supplies for the first depot. We’ll do the same for the others as we continue to move forward. I want them well stocked.” “I can understand that Captain, but that means we’ll have to pack Hollister’s sled with more supplies. I don’t think it’s a good idea sir, he’s still a novice.” Mason looked at the second mate. “We don’t have much choice. We need to set up those depots as soon as we can. Hollister’s going to have to pull his load if he’s going with us. Besides, it’ll be good practice for him.” Dunn nodded his head. It would be pointless to argue with Mason on this, besides he knew the captain was right. “Very well captain, we’ll load up his sled as the others.” “Good,” said Mason, “any questions about tomorrow?” Dunn looked at the chart. “The depot spacing looks alright. If the ice holds, we should be ok.” “That’s what I was thinking, when do you think the drift will start?” asked the captain. Dunn shrugged his shoulders, “Hell, I don’t know Captain. That’s the trick, right? Get up there while the ice holds and get back before it breaks up so we can get out of here.” “Yes, Mr. Dunn that is the trick,” agreed Mason. “Well Captain, let’s work on the magic.” And so they labored, sled teams moving from the ship to the north, establishing the depots they would need to accomplish the job they were sent to do. Surprisingly, there were few accidents and with as many sleds traveling back and forth even Tim and Ahnah made trips. Being busy under the watchful eyes of MacDonald, Dunn and Higgins helped to ward off the ill effects of the long arctic night. Ed made sure everyone had hot food and the incidents between the crew and Inuit were few. Even Mason had to admit that he was surprised that things were moving as smoothly as they were. Hollister made repeated trips which at first he disliked but understood that it was necessary if he was to be a member of the Polar team. Over time he became more proficient in handling the dogs and MacDonald taught him enough elementary navigation so he could get from point A to point B. He was beginning to understand the real complexities of what they were trying to accomplish and only hoped he would be able to write it up so the people in New York would understand as well. As Mason watched the progress of his people, so did others. Keelut impatient as ever, wanted to attack, Jenson was in agreement. He’d hoped to show the band leader what he had accomplished. Lak and his lieutenants ignored them. There would be little to gain in an attack conducted so early but as Lak and the others had already seen, Keelut and Jenson were not men capable of thinking very far ahead. Keelut seemed to think that if he persisted in his idea for attack, it would show Lak strength. His persistence only irritated the Eskimo leader until one day he felt the need to speak. “Keelut,” asked Lak in a tight voice. “Why do the outsiders stock food where they do?” Keelut looked somewhat bewildered. “I…I don’t know,” he stuttered. “Nor do I,” said the older leader, “and that is what I would like to know.” “When will we take the ship?” asked the other in a somewhat demanding tone. “When I say so,” said Lak coldly. “Do you dispute me?” “No, no Lak,” said Keelut backing off. “I would never do that.” “Know your place Keelut or you shall see the strength of mine.” Keelut bowed his head. Lak did not make idle threats. “As you wish Lak…as you wish,” said the underling who could see that change was needed. He left without further comment. Lak smiled. Keelut was almost too easy to understand but a dangerous man none the less. A fool with a knife can cut himself as well as others. Lak hoped he would do so before the old renegade no longer needed him.