Episode 12 – Beaver Dam

Jaak’s Cabin – The Valleys

Jaak had been quiet during supper the previous evening and went to his room early. He’d lain awake for a long time staring up at the rafters, thinking about all the things that Layan had told him earlier. Eventually, he finally fell into a fitful sleep.

Tossing and turning through the night, Jaak’s dreams were filled with impossible mathematical equations handed down by the Tetris High Chief, – equations that all needed to be calculated without the aid of electronic devices – in 36 minutes, or was it hours… 2 days? … or maybe it was 2 weeks? Before he could complete the equations, he was almost engulfed by the exploding blue light – only to find himself trapped and tangled in an endless loop of calculation data, re-set – 1201, re-run, re-set – 1201, re-run…

Jaak woke with a start, – he sat bolt upright with his heart racing. It was still dark. He flumped back down onto the bed.

Morning came. Even though it was still very early, bed was not the place Jaak wanted to be right at that moment, – so he stretched, yawned and swung himself out and on to the floor. Sleepily he crossed the room and made his way into the living area. He stopped at the stove, poked the embers and threw on more wood. He fetched the coffee pot, emptied the grounds and put fresh in. Jaak slumped himself down on the sofa to wait for the coffee to brew.

On hearing Jaak moving about, it was not long before Altai appeared wearing his favourite blue woollen dressing gown, which he’d owned for over 40 years. It was worn and patched, but he simply refused to get a new one. Before they were separated Eliza would often remark that he would be – “buried in that old thing!”

Altai: You’re up early PJ.

Altai spied the pot of freshly brewed coffee on the stove – he got two mugs and poured.

You look rough – you not feeling well?

Altai passed Jaak a mug, while Jaak dragged his brain out of its state of torpid semi-consciousness.

Jaak: Oh – wha – erm – yeah I’m fine, didn’t sleep well – um – oh – thanks.

Altai made a stack of toast and put a plate between them. They worked their way down the stack together. Peanut butter and jam. Spread right to the edges.

Altai: I don’t need to go to work today – why don’t we take a drive over to Big Creek and see the beaver dam – they have made an extra special effort this year. It’s pretty impressive engineering.

Jaak: Oh yeah sure Dad – I’d like to see that.

Big Creek – The Valleys

Altai pulled the pickup off the road and over onto the hard shoulder, the tyres making fresh tracks in the crisp snow, parking up at the start of the Big Creek trail. They crossed the sway bridge over Little Creek and followed the trail along to the first viewing platform looking out over Big Creek.

The river was still flowing slowly but had large icy patches where it had partially frozen over.

After watching the water for a while and the gently colliding icebergs, they carried on up the trail to the corner lookout.

From here they could now clearly see the huge beaver dam traversing from one bank to the other – a lake had formed in behind the dam, which undoubtedly kept the beavers larder well stocked with fish. A few other early morning walkers passed them and said their good mornings.

A few people were at the lookout to see if they could catch a glimpse of the beavers popping their heads out above the water with a fish, or making their running repairs – dragging yet another branch down from the forest to keep their watery home maintained.

Altai: Some people say the beavers are a pest and cause damage to the forest and mess up the river. Some say they are competing with the valley people for fish. There are those at the gathering that say their dams should be removed – but they have been here long before the snow leopards ever came to the valleys, and they have just as much right to be here as anyone. They, PJ – are part of the valleys, part of the culture.

Jaak: I guess they do have the right to choose where and how they live – to do what works best for them.

Jaak paused.

Just like some people live in the city, and some live here in the valleys. You have done both right?

Altai: Yes PJ. I grew up here in the valleys, but yes, I have lived in the city as well. I studied engineering at Aoraki University and I worked in the city for a while. The city is where I met your mother. She didn’t like the valleys much – she found them a little too rustic for her liking.

Jaak: Layan told me you were a space engineer. He told me you worked for him at CaSA.

Altai did not answer immediately. While he knew the subject would come up sooner or later, it still took him by surprise that it had come up sooner rather than later. His ears twitched in opposite directions.

Altai: Oh did he now?

Jaak: He told me about the explosion.

Altai: Oh – I see.

Now that he had started Jaak pressed on.

Jaak: He said that it was not your fault. He said that you followed his instructions and that it was his responsibility – he made the decision to go with the data – despite the anomaly.

Altai sighed deeply. He made to say something, but no words came out.

Jaak: He said that the computer did exactly what it was told to do. It was not the computers fault – it was the instruction that was wrong. 

Altai sighed again.

Altai: That – that is decent of him to say so. I haven’t heard him say that before. Ever.

The Layan I remember from 30 years ago, was arrogant and gung ho – he would have never admitted that he was wrong back then. I felt I was responsible because I did not insist that the data should be run again. I felt somehow that I should have made him listen – but he was the chief. You did not argue with the chief.

Altai paused.

It was hard PJ. People died. It cut me up inside – I couldn’t face working at CaSA anymore – every day I was there was a reminder of what had happened. I couldn’t just suck it up and carry on like nothing had ever happened. I blamed myself, I blamed the technology, and I guess I blamed Layan. I couldn’t stay in the city – so I returned to the valleys and got a job in the mines. By then though, I had met your mother, so I would often travel back to Aoraki to see her whenever I could. We eventually got married and you came along. We tried to make it work, but the constant travelling back and forth between the city and the valleys and the long absences took its toll. I wanted to be in the valleys and your mother wanted to be in the city. We each wanted different things and we couldn’t agree. So we went our separate ways.

Jaak was throwing stones into the river – they skidded over the ice and plopped into the water. A beaver suddenly poked his head out of the water and chattered at him.

Jaak had a number of emotions and feelings all swirling in his mind – competing for space and attention – he wished he could take his thoughts out one by one and put them into different boxes to deal with later.

Altai: PJ – I’m sorry about your mom. I’m sorry we didn’t make it work, and I’m sorry I didn’t make more effort to see you more as you were growing up.

Dad – 101? I sucked at it.

I know it’s been hard for you to adjust here. You are a city-kit trying to make the best of things here in the valleys where a lot of things are so completely different to what you are used to and have always known.

Jaak: Layan adjusted the coverage so that I can get the Tet-Net in the cabin.

Altai chuff-snorted.

Altai: Oh – I know.

I just decided that it really wasn’t fair of me to make a fuss over it. I have my reasons for wanting to live a simple off grid life, but no, it wasn’t and isn’t reasonable or fair to expect you to do the same. You have a growing and inquiring mind – you need access to the outside world.

I am really proud of how you have kept up with looking after Lizzie – you have taken real responsibility with her – all I have to do is flick the switch. You are the one who keeps her running, the batteries charged and the lights on…

Altai gave a toothy grin

…and your phone charged!

Jaak: Oh – you know about my phone?

Altai chuff-snorted again, still grinning.

Altai: PJ. Dude.

We live in a small two bedroom cabin with one living space and one outside toilet.

Dad – 102: I know what happens.

Previous – Episode 11 – Chief Designer
Next – Episode 13 – Thaw

2 thoughts on “Episode 12 – Beaver Dam

  1. shuichiboy 28 September, 2020 / 19:14

    Shades of Chernobyl in this and the last episode. No, Layan was not quite so bad as Dyatlov, but indeed the arrogance was there. As for Altai, just as the Chernobyl control room people, it’s hard to say “no” to your boss. Funny little coincidence that those two ended up near each other. Because story, amiright? 🙂

    • Craig 29 September, 2020 / 00:25

      Chernobyl – hadn’t thought of that, a reasonable comparison, and yes there was definitely a level of arrogance involved. This story line was actually based around the Apollo program and in particular the Apollo One fire – hence the reference to the velcronium capacitors. Huge egos involved there.

      Altai was young in his 20s (as were many of the apollo engineers) and Layan would have been in his forties when the accident happened – yes its hard to stand up to your boss and say stop – even when something is wrong.

      The fact that Layan moved to a cabin on a ridge directly above Altai and set up a CaSA satellite station virtually on top him – one that Altai vehemently opposed – I am sure that added to the friction between them. Notice that when Layan came to help Jaak he did not go inside the cabin and drank the coffee outside? Layan likely knew that would be pushing things too far – he would have never dreamed of working on the donkey engine by Altai’s cabin previously – problem was he met a young boy that he likes and gets along with and he wanted to help him out. Maybe he (sub-conciously) saw it as a way to make amends with Altai by helping his son out. Jaak certainly became the catalyst to bring Layan and Altai together again – now all that remains is for them to somehow resolve their past.

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