Part 1 of 4
A most unbelievable journey

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Where did this dog come from?
Which dog?
Why this one here. Peter pointed at a large flashed-chrome object, what is that? A time capsule? Inside the craft, there sat a brown dog behind a plexiglass window with very alert eyes and that dog was staring unblinkingly in their direction. His fur was of a color and texture that would remind you of a bear.
Does he want to come too?
Looks like it.
Then he’ll need a name.
What about Müntefering?
Ok, but why not shorten it to Monty.
Can we start, Monty?, he asked the dog. The dog barked, sat up, and then jumped to stand with his front paws against the dashpanel. It was as if he were somehow re-enacting that famous scene in the film ‘Titanic’, when Jack and Kate stood on the bow of the ship and defiantly gave vent to their love in the face of God and man. A disturbing thought as we were about to be seaborne, and I didn’t want to somehow curse our maiden voyage. Of course, we were still far from the sea. Unbidden, the thought of us sinking beneath the waves of the Neckar, flashed into my mind. Who today would remember the Titanic if it hadn’t first been announced with such hype, only then to sink so dramatically?

Now, is possibly the best moment to elucidate a little on our band of travellers and why we were setting out to risk all in journeying to “The Great Beyond”.

Sure, the American landmass is not exactly what is meant by the expression ‘the Great Beyond’ but in this case and from our perspective, it fits. Leaving any further exaggerations in our wake, we will from now on try to deliver a solemn and sober recitation of the story as Thorsten and Peter (who some of you already know as the directors of netcare Business Solutions GmbH) decided to set out on a daring adventure. An adventure that would see them travelling in a most unusual contraption, a vehicle as unique as a DeLorean was in its own time and equally certain to be the focus of everybody’s attention, no matter where it might choose to wander. Their destination was Chattanooga TN and they would be going there in style, in a concept amphibian electric vehicle no less. The idea was to surprise Beth, Maria and all of our netcare colleagues with some of the most iconic trappings of a German Christmas. The shopping list included a Swabian ravioli, some fine beer from the Black Forest, and to top it all off, they even went and got themselves a tree. Their chosen route was to make their way up to the North Sea, and then cross the Atlantic all the way to New York before finally making their way into the American heartland. Well, this was the plan anyway, but as we all know, even the best laid plans can go awry.

Do you want to learn more about these two intrepid explorers and their novel mode of transit? Then read on:

I’m sure you, like most people, really want to learn more about this enigmatic hybrid vehicle, this chrome-encapsulated, German-engineered Hi-tech. It kind of looked like it belonged in a 1960’s Le Corbusier utopia. It really is the epitome of all we have come to expect from the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It sports beautiful lines, not to mention exquisite engineering and materials and is, of course, equipped with the all of the latest in gadgetry: AI machine learning and autonomous driving, VR, AR, sports toilet and heated cup holders. Despite this, someone had still managed to vandalize it, by writing the words ‘silver arrow’ on the bow with a sharpie.

You know, James Bond had nothing on this.

The keys to this proof-of-concept vehicle had been handed to them – only God knows why – by a lady, let’s call her by her codename, Bernfriede Öschterle, who works as Chief Engineer for one of our most illustrious customers. We promised her we wouldn’t tell a soul and so, back to our three friends.

With everything and everyone safely stowed aboard, they took to the Neckar like a duck to water, thereby comfortably avoiding the congestion of the roads in the Neckar Valley. For those of you who don’t know, the Neckar is a major tributary of the River Rhine. The experience proved to be so satisfying that they didn’t venture out again to the hit the asphalt unless it was deemed to be absolutely necessary.

This is gonna take us a while, Peter commented, as he casually glanced at a half-submerged punt that was imperceptibly starting to settle onto the riverbed.

Don’t worry, Monty, says Thorsten, this isn’t a bad omen. Doubtfully, Monty looks from our two captains to stare back at the punt that just happened to be pointing in their direction of travel.

A sequence of cities, both big and small, at all elevations, both high and low, ethereally pass them by as if in a dream. Marbach, and then, Heilbronn have now passed them by. The surrealness of the scene is heightened, at one point, by the sight of a naked fellow who starts to walk alongside them on the riverbank. Inevitably, the path he was on came to an end, but instead of meekly accepting this defeat, he chose instead to defiantly plunge into the river.
Leaving both nature and the water-loving naturalist behind them they arrive in Heidelberg. Here they take a moment to rejoin terra firma and enjoy a Cappuccino. A bottle of water is poured into a bowl for Monty.
At six euro, I hope he enjoys it, says Peter. The landlord had told them that it would be healthier for the dog than tap water, which having been oxidized by the faucet would undoubtedly cause the dog to get a sore throat.

Looking up from Monty, Peter took a sip of his his cappuccino, considered the mobile phone he was holding in his hands, and expressed the hope that there would be sufficient bandwidth available for their journey across the Atlantic. I don’t want to miss any of my favorite TV shows, he says.
At least we’ve had breakfast, answers Thorsten incongruously.

Rivers were once worshipped as Gods, thinks Peter to himself and he inwardly gave thanks for the pleasant journey along the Neckar.

There next stop is Mainz, a city that is renowned for the jollity of its populace and, Peter realizes, it is not really that far from Frankfurt, where they could partake in some delicious and noisy local specialities, such as ‘Handkäs mit Musik’, a dish that is famed for its ability to cause an accumulation of gas in the alimentary canals of those who have eaten it. Pitching the idea to Thorsten, he adds as an extra incentive, that they could afterwards pay a visit to the netcare crew stationed there.
The idea also strikes a chord with Thorsten who resets the navi and plots the new course that would take them as close as possible to the location. Eventually finding a berth and tying the ‘Silver Arrow’ to a post, they hail a bike rikshaw that carries them at a jaunt to the office in Bockenheim. Arriving at the netcare loft, they let themselves in unannounced, but are met with a seemingly indifferent reception.

The Loft is a hive of digital and human activity. The strategically placed whiteboards that cover the walls are littered with seemingly cryptic formulas and code. A small goat chewing on a potted plant in the corner is probably the only non-theoretical anomaly that they have had to deal with in this space.

Hoping to draw attention to himself, Peter calls out a greeting, but the response was not what he was expecting.
Just leave the pizza on the floor, yells somebody, otherwise there has been no reaction. Nobody looks up. Bodies rigidly stay hunched over their desks, their forearms chopping autonomously at the keyboards in front of them.
Thorsten tries a different tack, spreading his arms wide to take in a deep breath, he hollers:
Helloooo, he hollers, there is no pizza. It’s us.
This new approach met with little more success.
This elicited the equally unexpected response, “No pizza, what a shame”.
You might have heard crickets if it wasn’t for the keyboards clacking and the servers humming.
Fearing the consequences of disturbing this dystopian superconsciousness, Thorsten, Peter and Monty hastily beat their retreat and were pleasantly surprised to see that their rikshaw driver was still parked downstairs, but it was not to be.
No way, lunchbreak, she informed them. Now, thoroughly deflated, they followed a path to the subway and rejoined the Silver Arrow. Once again setting course to the Rhine via Mainz. They were finally back on track.

With their ignominious detour now behind them, they start to make steady progress and were already beginning to anticipate the renowned natural beauty of the Rhine Valley. Its famed scenery, featuring those enigmatic medieval castles dotting the hilltops, recalls the Lorelei of Wagner’s Niebelungen Trilogy.

In Koblenz, the Daughters of the Rhine greet our friends and the Rhinegold beckons from behind the clouds.

Ahoy Wellgunde, Floßhilde, Woglinde, yells Peter looking up at the hill.
Do you know them?, asks Thorsten apparently mystified.
Kind of, replies Peter, but somewhere up there is an old tree and in its shade gushes the source of eternal wisdom. Seems like nobody has gotten a sip for quite some time, he grins.
Wasn’t there also something about golden apples and everlasting youth?
Yes indeed.
Maybe we should have a look. Who doesn’t need wisdom and everlasting youth?
And so that is how they came to land the craft to go find the treasure of the Nibelungen. Stairs race up into the sky. Panting they mount and when they do finally arrive at the top they discover an old couple tranquilly sitting on a bench. Peter and Thorsten pull in their stomachs and try to adapt a sporty look and manage to hold it until they turn the next corner.

I could really do with one of these golden apple right now, groans Peter.

But if there were once fruits to be found up here, they’ve long since disappeared. Ditto with the spring. They thoroughly inspect the summit, but apart from a cross built of old beer cans and a slowworm scurrying behind a rock, they find nothing. So, no Valkyrie, Siegfried, Brunhilde or godboss Wotan. Nothing but the view, which is pleasant. From here it looks like the Rhine meanders off to touch the horizon, or at least into the next vineyard. From this vantage point, the vines seem to glimmer in the sun.
Germany, Land of Testers and Coders, whispers Peter, who is beginning to feel emotional and deeply nostalgic, standing there next to the cross and looking out over the hills.
It was worth a try, Thorsten says. Let’s move.

In front of the boat stood a crowd of people.
Extra-Terrestrials, they heard someone say.

Something from Area 51, another person says.
Area what?, the first one asks.
That place where they hide all those spaceships and all of the other funky stuff nobody is supposed to know about.
So how do you know?
Internet, of course.
Peter and Thorsten walk past the crowd, climb aboard and push off, all to the amazement of the crowd many of whom are now standing in awe-stricken silence.
Then someone laughs. And you were saying it was from outer space!
Yeah. Those two must be body snatchers.

Meanwhile back at headquarters:

It’s gone.
What's gone?
Have a look!

Liliane, the royal vizier of numerology at netcare, gestures towards an empty spot in the kitchen where the silver Cappuccino machine once held pride of place, but which is now only conspicuous by its absence. A yellow post-it note is stuck to the countertop.
At least they were polite.
Extra-terrestrials, probably, Liliane says pointing firmly to the post-it that had the words, Thank you, and a smiley drawn on it.
And what do we do now, drink tea?
We get it back of course! What on Earth are we supposed to do without Cappuccino?

All of the usual suspects are rounded up. Colleagues, their friends and loved-ones, the maintenance woman, the janitor, all of whom could actually be Extra-Terrestrials. Even a customer or two who had stepped in for a slice of cake. Everyone was quizzed as to the whereabouts of the missing coffee machine.

I reckon it must have been Santa who did it, Florian says, visibly wiggling his toes in his toe sneakers. He needed something to keep him awake during the peak season coming up to the Holidays. And now he is firing on all cylinders.
Santa doesn’t exist, yells a cynical voice from afar.
Or should that now be electro motors? Florian adds wonderingly.
Or maybe the crows flew away with it, adds Metal Chris in his bass baritone, as yet seemingly unaware that he would soon be travelling the world, destroying hotel rooms, entertaining groupies and playing in front of packed concert halls with his Black Metal band ‘Antichris’. But that won’t be for some time yet. His band from the Black Forest always take some time off to celebrate the Chris mass and drink some brews under the Chris tree.
It was the crows, the star confirmed in his rumbling voice, and everyone felt it. It felt like the vibrations you’d expect right before an earthquake hit.
They like shiny things, and they are strong enough because we’ve been feeding them all year long.
That seemed to settle it, or at least no one spoke up to contradict him.
So, who could it have been?

So, who do you think it was? Let us know!

Part 2 will be coming next Monday. Try not to chew off your toenails in anticipation and whatever you do, don’t hack our intranet: the story is saved on an offline-flash-drive in a heavily secured location in another dimension that is guarded by a three-headed mutant chihuahua that used to belong to Michael Jackson. Just look at that thing, you know it’s got issues.