I’m still at Castle Hattan, the weather is still damp and windy, but I am safe in the bowels of the castle, surrounded by the hum of the Wozna brewing machinery. I am with Saku, the scientific genius behind the Wozna cola process. We are sitting in his little study at the back of the vast vaulted room that contains the towers, gigantic bottles and drums that are all connected with pipes and conduits, occasionally monitored with taps and dials. This is the heart of Lord Mariusz’s cola empire. And Saku (pronounced Sar-koo) is in charge.
“I had always been interested in the brewing sciences, zymurgy it’s called although nobody much uses that term these days, you know, and my father heard about this opportunity for a young brewing scientist to work in the west lands, over the great seas, you know? I don’t know how he heard of it, mind. There’s no trade since the tea thing in Boston centuries ago. We were nicely ensconced in a place called Vexstein where he was the master brewer, although he had invested in setting up a little inn at a cross-roads between Vexstein and Buckmore – the other big castle in the realms. My wife worked in the kitchens there as she was a great cook. We had a baby son too. Argon, I called him, after the rare element. He was very special to me, a rare element indeed. Trouble was, this job was for a single man, or at least no room for family. My wife and I talked it over as it seemed they were keen on me, and offered me a little lump sum of gold to come across and work for them. She said she could do well with that so we decided it was the right thing to do and I came over. I missed her though. It was a very hard thing to do. So I live here, and get on well with Lord Mariusz, and improve the systems and processes and occasionally lecture the young people. I like teaching the young people – such questioning minds. Some of them will make good scientists if they apply themselves.”
“I got the impression they sold out to Vexstein”
I wonder whether I should just let him talk or whether I should direct him a bit more. Was there nothing suitable in the realms for a talented scientist?
“No, not really. Not with any sort of sponsorship. Vexstein had that all sewn up tight. They were very keen on not letting any other brews take up a competitive position. I’m not sure whether they did that legally or not. I had to go to a couple of places and reorganise their brewing processes when I was a junior. I got the impression they had sold out to Vexstein. But I never took an interest in that sort of thing. Do you realise how many grams of yeast it takes to start a brew off? Or how few, really?”
“What was it that Hattan needed that they couldn’t find locally,” I ask, to stave off the more technical discourse that Saku wants to settle into.
“Someone independent Lord Mariusz could trust, I think. There was a great deal of industrial espionage going on at that time. Rival castles, that sort of thing. I had a bodyguard any time I went out. Actually I still do but it’s more subtle. It’s a fascinating place, you know. I’ve seen it grow up with the technology it uses too. I went to a seminar on the tidal power when it was just a theoretical concept and made some very good points on its viability. I was asked to be a consultant on it too. Lord Mariusz approved since it was good for business, he said. Now tidal power supports the strawberry juice power we use, but it used to be our main power source, that and potential energy machines.”
I think of asking what they are, but decide not to get too embroiled in the detail. “How did you get this scientific knowledge?” I ask.
“I started playing with all sorts of ideas I’d had on the courses”
“Oh from the college system in the realms of course,” he replied. “I sailed through the standard curriculum, focussed on the scientific angles and went up to Hallam for the metal and machinery foundation courses, then to Newton for the hydraulics and zymurgy masters. Hydraulics got me into tidal stuff which we did over at Cabot. After I finished there I came back to Vexstein. I started playing with all sorts of ideas I’d had on the courses and my father helped me to find some space in the vaults to experiment. I had some brewing experiments going, but most of them were on other things.”
This sounds much more advanced than I thought the realms had at present. “Well, maybe I found a lot in the libraries. The old books are rather more advanced than current teaching practice. Or what the practice was then. I think people are losing knowledge rather than gaining it. Only a few people really practice Natural Philosophy, for instance, which is the purest form of scientific development. Yet a few generations before me it was practically everyone’s hobby.”
“The most exciting thing was discovering the side benefit”
It’s a fascinating commentary on education in the realms today. I hope it makes good reading. I steer him back to my interview plan. Does he have any contact with the realms now? He shakes his head sadly. Apart from his brief adventures with people who had come through the time tunnel, none at all. “I don’t have much of a network here either, although I am in touch with the technophiles in Boston, and the astrophiles in Pallo.”
I ask about the most exciting thing he’s done and he goes into detail about improvements to the cola process when strawberry juice power reached here. “And the most exciting thing,” he says, drawing out two tiny cups from a drawer and going over to a tap on the nearest silo and filling the cups up, “was discovering the side benefit of strawberry juice distillation!”
He gives me a cup containing a minute amount of a golden liquid.
“Cheers!” he says, raising his cup. I follow, and watch as he takes a sip of the minute amount. I follow suit. Wow!! The most delectable, silky, flavoursome, heady, revitalising and relaxing substance melts over my tongue and disappears into the warmth of my tummy. Saku watches me with approval.
“Isn’t that good?! We try not to let people know about it, but the system has to be regulated by drawing a little off every now and then, and word has got out. I think Lord Mariusz slapped a patent on it in time though, so we earn money from it. He says that’s another reason I’m so valuable to him.” He grins broadly, then yawns. “Sorry, I get tired easily these days,” he says.
“I feel such a fool”
What is your most embarrassing moment, I ask him. He looks sad. “Probably not so much embarrassing but it happens over and over again, which is trying to explain scientific things to people in a nutshell and them getting completely the wrong end of the stick. It’s like I just can’t talk to people and them understand me. I feel such a fool. And an old fool at that. I overheard someone referring to ‘the old fool’ recently and I eventually realised they meant me.”
“That’s both rude and ignorant,” I say.
“Well, that’s young people for you. Or maybe it’s just the people who work here.”
What would he most like to change and why? I am not surprised when he says he would change it so he could bring his family here. They are also the people he’d most like to say sorry to, although he did, both originally and when he met Argon and Victor more recently. “Victor asked me to go back, did you know that?” he asks. “But I had to say no. I’ve lived through their time over here, it wouldn’t be right to go back in time to them.”
How about going back there, maybe retiring, when the trade links are finally re-established? He looks thoughtful. “I don’t know. What would I do? Well, what would I do here if I retired? Can I retire? I’ll have to think about it.”
“Imagine being Vitruvius or Da Vinci”
Who would he most like to be with in a life or death situation? “I can’t imagine being in a life or death situation. Oh, well, I suppose on the streets there have been a few incidents and the lovely Aurora has got me out of those. Otherwise, no-one. So Aurora and her sidekick Wagon, perhaps.”
If you weren’t you, who would you like to be?
“Oh, such an interesting question. I mean, would you go back and be one of the early scientists? Imagine being Vetruvius, or Da Vinci? Such geniuses! I read a lot of their writings when I could find them in libraries. Cabot had quite a bit on them, although I think some of the translations were bad. I corrected a few of the deductions made in one as they didn’t follow the arguments and the equations. But thinking that through from scratch! The plumbing was bad in those days though. Well, not so bad in Vetruvius’s time, but the sound of all those Emperors and slaves isn’t encouraging. I don’t think I’d want to be anyone here unless it was Wagon since he works with Aurora most of the time. And I couldn’t do all that physical work. Maybe I’d turn into Argon and run the tavern that he does. Or maybe I’d be Vetruvius after all.”
It seems he’s spoiled for choice. But he’s right. After the Romans, ancient plumbing left a lot to be desired. I thank him for his time and ask him what he’s going to do next. Taking a nap seems to be high on the agenda, so I take my leave and head back to the realms in both a literal and temporal sense.