The daily rhythms and predictable routines of the valleys continued as the weeks continued to tick by much like the gentle chuffity-chuff of Lizzie the steam engine charging up the cabin batteries. Even Altai conceded at breakfast one morning that the addition of the battery bank lighting to the cabin was a welcome improvement to candles and paraffin lamps.
Each new full moon saw the valley’s community assemble at the fire-circle gathering with issues aired and fish roasted.
Ounce and Chewie were butted off the bus three more times by Thar, once literally, and once in almost white out blizzard conditions. Thankfully for Jaak however, none of these incidents involved him. It also meant Ounce and Chewie were now marginally better behaved on the bus.
Jaak wrote up his science project report, accompanied with carefully drawn scale diagrams of the steam engine, along with detailed circuit diagrams of the battery bank, and wiring into the cabin. Miss Asha was very impressed and awarded Jaak top marks.
Jaak and Tag became firm friends, and they spent countless hours either at Jaak’s tinkering with Lizzie, keeping her watered, oiled, fed with wood, cleaning the ash pan and generally running smoothly; or at Gazza’s yard, pulling apart all manner of mechanical items and putting them back together again in crazy configurations to make some new wacky steam-powered gadget to connect to Lizzie’s boiler. The results were variable – the steam powered coffee machine worked brilliantly, however the steam powered pancake maker was a hilarious disaster resulting in sticky mix flying in all directions.
Layan’s Cabin – The Ridge
It was the end of another week and Jaak had gotten off the school bus, this time quite willingly, on the fire circle road at one end of the trail that led up to Layan’s cabin. The trail was now quite familiar, and in short time he had climbed to the top of the ridge. He knocked on Layan’s door. No answer. The door was not locked, so Jaak let himself in. He immediately saw why there was no answer at the door – the trap door to the cellar / lava cave under the cabin was wide open. Jaak dumped his satchel on a chair and using the flash-light on his phone, made his way down the cellar ladder. The cellar was much as he had remembered it from before with the usual items lining the rocky walls. He found the heavy black power cable and followed it on up into the narrow lava tube tunnel that led up the hill.
Jaak re-appeared from the lava tunnel at the rocky outcrop. He saw fresh paw prints in the snow, each set accompanied with a third indentation to the right. The stone powered generator was puff-chuffing merrily away, its wheel gently turning and generating electricity. Opening the gate he crossed the yard and approached the shed, and knocked on the door which opened. Jaak poked his head in the door.
Jaak: Layan? Hello – It’s Jaak!
Layan who was sitting at the bank of computer displays swivelled around in his chair to face the door.
Layan: Well hello young cub! I wasn’t expecting to see you up here today! So – how’s your steam engine, Lizzie going – are you keeping her joints and moving parts well oiled?
Jaak: Oh yeah, Lizzie is going great, I run her just about every day after school to keep the batteries charged – even Dad says that the new lighting has made a big difference. I even have a charging connector in my room for my phone now – I don’t have to scrounge around for places to charge it anymore!
Jaak looked across to the bank of computer displays and other equipment along the wall
What are all these computers for anyway? Is this all to do with the Tet-Net?
Layan: Eh? Well yes – sort of. I can contact any of the Tet stations from here and they can provide a relay link back to space command in Aoraki.
Layan turned back to one of the monitors and keyboards
I think it might be better to show you rather than tell, come and sit in this other chair and wheel in beside me.
Jaak again marvelled at how modern and high tech the interior of the communications shed was including all the furniture and fittings – in direct contrast to the very rustic look of the outside of the shed – radar and satellite dish excepted.
Layan put on a headset and motioned for Jaak to put on a spare set.
Layan: Tet-2, Tet-2 this is Valley-1 calling – standing by on channel Kilo-9.
This time there was no noisy hiss or crackle like the ham radio in the cabin. When the reply came it sounded as clear as if the caller was standing right next to Jaak in the same room. A mop of yellow hair that clearly belonged to a Hunde appeared on the screen.
Tet-2 Communications Officer: Valley-1 this is Tet-2 – receiving you loud and clear on channel Kilo-9 – go ahead!
Layan: Good afternoon Hanne! It’s Layan here. I have a promising young space engineer here who I would like to introduce to you.
Jaak’s ears twitched in opposite directions – Space engineer? Layan thinks I could be a space engineer?
Hanne: Good afternoon to you too Layan. Please go ahead young space engineer!
Layan silently motioned to Jaak to say hello by making a talking motion with his paw-hand. Jaak was a little overcome by the surprise of talking directly to someone on a space station in orbit – and being introduced as a space engineer but quickly regained his composure.
Jaak: Um – er – yes hello my name is Jaak, I live in the the valleys not far from Layan’s cabin. I dunno about being a space engineer but I did help to get our steam engine going again and use it to charge our off grid battery bank.
Hanne: Wait – Jaak? Jaak – full name Pukajaak, formerly of Aoraki, but now the famous resident steampunk engineer of the snow leopard valleys – and friend of Dieter?
Now Jaak almost was on the point of losing his composure.
Jaak: Wa.. What? B-but how do you know who I am?
Hanne – burst out laughing.
Hanne: I am Dieter’s older sister! He talks about you – all – the – time! He just about went crazy chasing his tail all those weeks you couldn’t talk to him when you were off line to the Tet-Net. I hear that Layan made some adjustments to the coverage for you. I’m very pleased to finally meet you.
Jaak: That’s unbelievable! Yep I talk to Dieter all the time now that I can connect again to the Tet-Net. Funny – he’s never mentioned you. I never even knew he had a sister – let alone one up in space on the Tets! That is so cool.
Hanne: Well he certainly does have a sister – he’d forget his own tail if it wasn’t connected to his butt!
Now don’t tell him I told you this – but he is dying to come and visit you in the summer once school has finished for the year – he keeps talking about cans you can’t drink out of – no idea what he’s on about, but then he does talk a load of crap at times.
Jaak stifled a giggle.
Jaak: Does he? That’d be great – I sure hope we can arrange that then – I could bring him up here so we could both talk to you together!
Hanne: That’d be awesome – you take care then valley steampunk engineer!
Jaak: Well thanks so much for talking to me Hanne. I hope we can do it again some time soon.
Hanne: This is Tet-2 – and we are out.
Hanne disappeared from the screen and Jaak turned to Layan with a look of amazement on his face.
Jaak: That was…
Layan raised one eyebrow.
On their walk back down to the cabin, Jaak suddenly stopped just in front of one of the low parts of the tunnel were you had to double over to get through. His ears twitched in opposite directions.
Jaak: Layan? … Do you really think I could be a space engineer?
Layan gave Jaak a hard-stare.
Layan: And why not?
Your Dad was one – – as I still am.