"Uhnm, Danielle, ..." Michel stopped as they entered the shade in the little airport's waiting area.
"Would you mind if I pray out loud?"
"I've been praying in my heart."
"So've I, but I'd like to be a little more formal."
"Free-ists do formal things!"
"As you know."
"Yeah, I know. Go ahead. But I want my three minutes, too. It's about noon, anyway."
Across the tarmac, Omega took notice. "They've stopped. What are they doing?"
"The girl says she wants seafood?"
"Mitch is looking down now. Sonofagun. He's praying."
[That's actually a literal translation of the expression of surprise he used. The origins of the expression were pretty blasphemous in their language and culture, too, although nobody really thought about such things there, any more than we do here.]
"It couldn't hurt them."
In his prayer, Michel offered gratitude for their safe arrival and prayed for help, guidance, and protection for both of them for the remainder of the trip.
When he was done, Danielle said, without irony, "Thanks for including me in your prayer," and took a prayer rug from her backpack. She spread it out and knelt on it, and then proceeded to recite her noon prayers.
Beta was also watching at this point. "Prayer rug," she observed, to no one in particular. Then she added, "Their differences in religion don't seem to bother them too much."
"That's a good sign, maybe?" Omega was listening.
"Yeah. but it won't hurt to make sure."
Finishing with her formal prayers, Danielle also added prayer for protection and guidance for both of them, mentioning their families as well.
"And you included my family as well as yours. Thanks."
Danielle stood up and put her prayer rug away. "Didn't think you'd mind. Do we really have to ask each other's permission to pray any more?"
"Well, maybe, but I won't learn about your traditions unless you tell me."
"And I won't understand yours. Good point. So, what do you think we should do?"
"Too bad the airport doesn't have the staff to man the airport radio so we can call Professor Stewart from here. Let's go into town and see if we can find a place where we can call. Might eat something while we're there."
"I'm good with that. And maybe we'll find the constable."
They waved and called out to the two pilots, who waved back. Leaving their luggage where it was, they walked through the small airport lobby and out to the road in front. The road stretched straight away from the airport through sparse forest towards a cluster of buildings in the distance.
"The professor said a blue lamp would be an inn, where they'd have a radio. And a white lamp would be a restaurant. Maybe we could try the local cuisine while we're here."
"And a place with on orange lamp would be the constable's office. But there are no buildings closer than two hundred paces. And I don't see any lamps from here."
[Well, that's two-zero-zero base sixteen. 200sixteen -- 512ten. No, they don't have eight fingers on each hand. Just as some of our mathematicians and scientists became enamored of ten, some of their mathematicians and scientists had become enamored of base two a long time in their past, and most of the advanced countries in their world commonly used base sixteen and base eight for ordinary numbers.
Anyway, when I translate something someone in this novel says as "hundred", assume it means 100sixteen (or 256ten) unless I tell you it means 100eight (64ten). I'll try hard to warn you when someone is using base eight. Don't expect base ten, okay?]
"Well, the road leads only one direction, anyway." Danielle pointed towards the cluster of buildings.
"Don't see any taxis, either. I guess we walk."
It was not an unpleasant walk to the village. There was a path through the trees near the road, and the forest there was not too wild.
"This road is beautiful. Tangerine would be jealous."
"I'm sure she would."
"I wish she'd come. Sometimes I think she's jealous of you."
"I don't know why."
"Do I, really?"
Danielle looked a little sharply at Michel. "I'm glad we aren't the same race. You're just a tad cold for my comfort, even for a free-ist."
Michel returned her gaze with a questioning expression, then, hearing footsteps ahead of them, looked back towards the path. "Who's that?"
The uniformed man approaching them hailed them by name.
"Forthright Michel? Sagewater Danielle?"
"By whom are we addressed?" Michel asked the protocol question.
The man replied, but not in protocol. "I'm Serious Sirius, the part-time constable here. I'm sorry I'm late. We had some sudden business come up in town." The protocol information was there, buried in the apologies, but it was clear that the islanders had different traditions from Michel and Danielle.
[No, I'm not joking around. He was named after the star we know as Sirius, and his family was known as the Serious family. It rhymed in the local island language, as well, which seems rather too much of a coincidence, but it is what it is. What can I say?]
"Constable Serious?" Both Michel and Danielle were a bit relieved.
Constable Serious showed them his ID. He was one of maybe three people living on the island who carried picture ID, for whatever that's worth.
"Your Professor Stewart asked me to check on you, and make sure you found our vagabond pilots."
"Hah. Vagabond pilots. The professor said they weren't exactly regular. Beta is a woman." Danielle was a little pointed in her tone.
"You've met them, ..."
"We met a rough-looking pair who called themselves Beta and Omega, claimed to know our names, and claimed to be our pilots." Michel took his turn to express a willingness to be corrected. "I'm not sure but they deliberately switched our names around."
"That would be Beta. Her sense of humor sometimes catches you by surprise."
"That's good to know," Danielle observed. "They suggested we get lunch while they pre-flight the plane."
"Typical. They could have had the plane checked over and fueled and waiting for you." Serious paused. "You didn't bring food for the long flight?"
"Sure we brought some. But we want to call the professor. And we could try the local cuisine."
"Great idea. We can arrange that, both the call and the lunch. But I need to talk with your pilots. Actually, if you wait for me, I'll open up the radio shack at the airport, and then I can show you around the town."
"Thanks, it'd help. Uhm, is that okay with you, Michel?"
"It sounds good to me."
Turning around, they looked again at the airport from the outside. The facade was a little overbuilt for the island, but not tastelessly so. From the front, the structure actually blended well into the surrounding jungle.
As they walked, Constable Serious told them about the airport. "At one time, we planned for it to serve ten flights a day. But my fellow islanders are mostly happy traveling by boat. And nobody has been willing to go to the trouble of certifying as a pilot. Well, no one but Beta and Omega, anyway."
Back at the airport, Sirius asked Beta how their fuel would hold up.
"Can you pick up a woman on the next island over?"
"Beryl." Omega's voice showed concern. "The baby's still in breach?"
"They aren't sure, and she's having difficulty."
"No problem." Beta unbent herself from her examination of the landing gear and went over to the wall. An auxiliary tank hung there, and she took it down and brought it back to the plane. Omega stepped out of the plane and held the tank in place while she latched it down and tied safety straps over it.
"But we'll take some extra fuel to make sure," Omega commented.
Michel spoke up. "I'm a registered nurse back home. I've helped in obstetrics, so I could take a look at the woman if we go there first."
"There would be too many cultural issues, and I am a midwife, myself." Beta was firm in turning him down. "But thanks for the offer."
Omega spoke up. "There's still time to look around the island and try the food. Are you going to open the radio shack for them, Sirius?"
"Tell the Professor it will take about six hours, so we should get there about midnight."
"You've filed the flight plans?"
[You're probably wondering about the time. As a matter of fact, they use hexadecimal for time, as well: Sixteen hours a day -- eight hours from noon to midnight, and eight more from midnight to noon.
This is convenient, because it means four hours from dawn to noon and four from noon to sunset, at the equinoxes. One hour for them is roughly a quarter of the arc from horizon to zenith.
More about this later.]
In the radio shack, the Constable powered up the rig, set the call tone modulator for their island's key tones, and waited.
Each island had its own filter circuit for a specific set of key tones. The key tones, modulated into the carrier wave, would induce a small current in the receiver filter circuit, just enough to activate a sensitive relay. The relay, in its turn, would release a spring-wound bell alarm, alerting the human operator, if he or she were close enough to hear it.
Just in case, there were three alarms, which could be activated in turn, so you could try three times to raise the operator on the other end. After that, you hoped that the operator would eventually notice the purple flag on any of the alarms, indicated that the alarm had been triggered.
If that failed, there were specific times each day at which the designated radio operators would call each other for news.
Fortunately, Professor Stewart was waiting on their island, and responded immediately. Constable Serious told him the two students had arrived in good order, and that their estimated time of arrival at the island would be midnight. When the students had chatted briefly with their professor, they signed off, powered their rigs down, and wound and reset the alarms.
Again, they waved to the pilots as they left the airport with Constable Serious.
Copyright 2016, Joel Matthew Rees
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