WHEN THEIR DREAM CAME true and it came time to leave the little flat, Branwen wondered if they’d get back their deposit. The landlord never complained, since they always dropped off some homebrew at his door. But as Branwen stepped inside the dark boxroom, earthy yeast and floral bitterness filled her nose. Branwen suspected the room would never really air out, though they did try to keep anything from soaking into the hardwood floor.
Once it got into you, it never left. Branwen breathed in deeply. I hope this smell always makes me smile like this. Then she thought of where that smell was going to take them, and she knew it always would.
She flipped on the light and went to one of the floor-to-ceiling shelves on all the walls. The shelves covered with plastic tubing, metal fittings, a large pot, worn brushes, and on the shelf where Branwen now stood, a massive pile of blankets with a rise in the middle, like a high mountain peak surrounded by smaller hills. Branwen had made sure that organizing and maintaining the equipment shelves was her job. It kept Zara from finding things she shouldn’t.
Branwen pulled off the blankets and stared at what was underneath. Guilt plunged through her again.
I hate keeping secrets from you, big sister, she thought, but there are some things you just shouldn’t know.
Where the blankets had been, a dirty, empty carboy sat on the shelf. Branwen thought of all the late, sleepless nights brewing the wort, monitoring fermentation, and checking the beer, all while her sister slept. A week ago, in the middle of the night, Branwen had siphoned the stout from this carboy and bottled the stout that she and she alone had brewed. Last night, after Rucksack’s visit and while Zara dreamed of their dreams coming true, Branwen had drunk one of her beers and thought about what she had seen in the small briefcase, and what she should be able to see in a perfect pint of GPS.
The secret was there. So bright and simple, as obvious as exhaling after inhaling. Branwen couldn’t believe she hadn’t noticed before.
As she drank the stout and stared into the bottle, the understanding moved through her like breath, like blood.
And then, as she gazed into the dark heart of the bottle, a little light, like a distant star, began to shine.
Hands shaking, she took another long quaff from the bottle.
And Branwen saw. The world, life, decisions, destinies—all there. Faint, like a radio playing down the street. Dim, like the low sun through thin misty clouds. Just for a moment, a fleeting glimpse. Then gone. But it had been there.
I’ve done it, Branwen thought, though as she admitted it to herself a crack tore through her heart. This isn’t just a clone of GPS. It is GPS—the way it should be. I did it. But I wish we had done it.
The guilt stung, but it faded as a conviction shone through her like the full sun breaking up a storm.
This beer is better than anything we’ve brewed together.
And there in the morning, her head still foggy, both exhilaration and sadness came back to her. Branwen took down one of her six-packs and stared. Inside the bottles shone little sparks. If anything can get us through the gate, she thought, this will.
Branwen replaced the blankets, crinkling them just so and making note of the telltale folds. She left the boxroom and Zara put the six-pack in her bag. “This is it, little sister,” she said. “We’ve got the secret. Now let’s get to work. Got a big day, what with the announcement and all.”
If you only knew, Branwen thought as they left the flat. “And we have our new trainee,” she said.
For a few blocks, the sisters walked in silence. Around them rose the grid of London, just north of the Thames. They passed shopfronts and cafes, taking in English rock and roll, Indian spices, and English subsidiaries of Hong Kong banks.
“At least we can walk there now,” Zara said.
“So the glass is half full?” replied Branwen bitterly.
“I prefer to think of it as halfway to another glass.”
Around another corner, down another street, past another block, they saw it.
The brown-and-black brick building rose only three stories from the ground, but the squat, dark hulk spread over four square blocks of precious London real estate. Steam rose from the roof, creating a thin fog in the cool air that made the place unearthly, unreal, as if they stared at a dream through mist.
No matter how many times they came to it, Branwen’s heart beat faster.
Around the windowless brick building, with spiked bars ten feet high, ran a rusted iron fence, dotted with black spots of the original paint. Every ten feet a crumbling brick pillar interspersed the fence. The sisters walked along, staring through the bars.
They came to the gate and stopped.
Zara and Branwen gazed at the building beyond. The black doors through which only the best of the best could go—na Grúdairí.
Branwen looked at the engraved, dirty, tarnished brass plaque on the gate in front of her nose:
FIRST CALL BREWING COMPANY
A SUBSIDIARY OF DEEP INC.
GLOBAL OFFICES & LONDON BREWERY
Zara tugged on the gate, but it didn’t budge.
“It’s always locked,” Branwen said.
“You never know,” Zara replied. “Maybe one day it won’t be. How will we know if we don’t try?”
Branwen looked at her watch. “I know we’d better not be late today.”
“We’ll come back after work, stand here as long as it takes. We’re not leaving until they at least take the homebrew.” Zara smiled. “We will each be the best of the best of all brewers in all the world. We will each be a grúdaire of First Call.” She said it again, slowly, “Gruhd-uh-ruh,” savoring each syllable like a long swallow of stout. We’re going to make it, Branwen. I know it.”
“We’re already really good brewers, Zara.”
Zara nodded. “We are. But that’s not enough. There are brewers… and then there are na Grúdairí.”
With a last, longing look at the gate, Zara and Branwen continued walking to work, dreaming of the day when at last they would walk together through the gate, then the black doors. The first new members of na Grúdairí in decades. But not today.
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