The valleys were beginning to warm and the first signs of the thaw were showing – the thick layers of snow that covered trees, buildings and the banks along streams had started with their constant drip, drip, drip – which then turned into trickles, eventually feeding the streams and waterfalls into an impressive display of white water. The early spring flowers, snow drops, and jonquils stuck up their heads heralding warmer days ahead.
There had been the usual concerns from the usual voices, that the beaver dam would give way under the pressure of the melt – however this particular family of beavers were excellent engineers and their dam was a sturdy structure that had survived a number of seasons.
Altai and Jaak had come down into ‘town’ – the row of small stores that supplied the valley with most of their day to day needs. There was a grocer, green grocer, butcher, baker and a hardware store. Anything not immediately available in stock could be ordered from Aoraki, as long as you didn’t mind waiting for it to arrive in a couple of weeks by road or a few days by air.
Arriving in town, Jaak had promptly disappeared to Gazza’s Gas and Grease to find Tag, and see what they could find stashed away in Gazza’s shed to re-purpose into some new wacky invention. Altai was in no hurry – he made the rounds of the different food stores to replenish the larder which seemed to have developed a tendency to empty the day after he re-stocked it. Knowing that Jaak would be happy for a couple of hours yet, he decided to drive up the road to The Black Plum Brewery to restock his supply of coldies.
With the warming weather, the new season’s crops were starting to be planted, and it brought a welcome splash of spring colour to the usual white winter-scape of the valleys. The Schwarze Zwetschge or Black Plum Brewery was run by Zwettl a bavarian beaver. Altai pulled up outside, the snow in the carpark soft, wet and slushy under the pickup’s tyres.
The door bell tinkled as Altai entered the tap room. The fresh and inviting smell of hops and barley wafting towards him. Zwettl smiled broadly at Altai as he entered, greeting him warmly – his tail firmly slapping up and down in welcome.
Zwettl: Guten Tag – Altai mein freund! How are you today – you have come for my finest ale again – Ja?
Altai: Yes of course Zwettl! I always come here for your finest! What do you have to offer today?
Zwettl: Come, come and pull up a stool – I have some of the very last of last seasons finest brew, that I have kept aside for special customers! Please – wait and I will fetch it for you from the cellar.
With that Zwettl promptly disappeared down the cellar trap door in the floor.
With nothing in particular to do Altai sat on his stool by the small bar and let his mind wander.
Layan: Well? Do we have our numbers?
Altai: I recommend that we re-run the program.
Layan: Re-run? Again? Another two days?
…real … or … potential?
Layan: We run with the numbers we’ve got.
We run with the numbers we’ve got…
We run with the numbers we’ve got…
A small wooden keg barrel appeared through the trapdoor and plopped onto the floor followed closely by a head, a red scarf, a blue tunic and a prodigious plate like tail.
Zwettl busied himself by inserting a tap, and placing the barrel onto a wooden cradle behind the bar. He then produced an ornately decorated lidded beer stein and filled it expertly.
Altai again let his mind drift as he enjoyed the beer’s complex rich flavours, accented by a hint of sweet black plums.
The tinkle of the shop bell barely registered in Altai’s consciousness as he sat with his back to the door.
Tap, tap, tap – sounded across the wooden floor.
Zwettl: Layan – mein freund! Willkommen! Come in! Come in! Come take a seat – I pour for you my finest – Ja!
Altai’s silent reverie was suddenly broken as he became aware of the newcomer.
Layan: Good afternoon Zwettl! Good to see you again my friend! Of course I will partake of your finest!
Once again Layan was faced with seeing Altai somewhat unexpectedly, however he had been given a slight heads up, seeing Altai’s pickup parked outside. He could have chosen to call back another day, but something inside him he could not quite put a claw on, told him to continue with his planned visit to the Black Plum.
Good afternoon Altai.
Altai: Good afternoon Layan. I didn’t know you liked Zwettl’s beer.
Zwettl chattered indignantly.
Zwettl: What nonsense Altai! And why not? Everyone likes my beer! It’s famous!
Altai: Of course Zwettl – no offence intended – I just didn’t expect to see Layan here today – please – pour him a stein on me – and another for me too – thank you.
Easily mollified by Altai’s assurances, Zwettl poured two fresh steins for the two snow leopards now sitting side by side on stools at the bar and passed them across. He then disappeared back down into the cellar busying himself with his next chore.
Altai and Layan sat in silence for a few minutes enjoying the beer. Without looking directly at Layan, Altai was the first to break the silence.
Altai: Jaak told me what you said about the data.
Layan swivelled slightly on his stool in Altai’s direction – one of his eyebrows raised and gave Altai a hard stare.
Layan: Oh? Is that so?
Altai: He said that you told him it was not my fault. Jaak said that I had followed your instructions and that it was your responsibility – that you made the decision to go with the data – despite the anomaly.
Now that he had started he was determined to continue.
Jaak said you told him that the computer did exactly what it was told to do. It was not the computers fault – it was the instruction that was wrong.
I knew that he would find out the truth about the explosion someday – it is part of our planet’s history and it is well documented. I just did not expect that it would be so soon.
Layan’s hard stare softened – in fact he seemed to deflate.
Layan: Every word that I told Jaak is true. It has always been true – although it has taken some time for me to admit it.
I was arrogant and cocky – I was wrong, I’m sorry.
Altai: It was very decent of you to tell him that and I am appreciative and grateful for you to reconfirm it to me now.
The explosion has weighed heavily on me everyday for the last 30 years.
Layan: As it has with me Altai. As it has with me.
Altai gave a slight nod in agreement.
Altai: I also need to thank you for taking Jaak in and looking after him that evening he got caught out in the nor’ lazy. I also want to thank you for helping him with the steam engine.
Layan: You are very welcome my friend. Anytime.
The two snow leopards raised their steins to each other, and again fell into silence, however this time as two veterans of kindred spirit, having for the first time – spoken of their shared past and its associated trauma together.
The spring afternoon sun outside the Black Plum continued to warm the ice and snow, increasing its rate of thaw.
End of part one.