I was very thrilled when Harshan told me that Darryl and I could accompany him to his business convention, but I had no idea that the flight would take so long! We’ve been flying long enough to take us from Thorgelfayne to Halakan and then some, and we’re still just barely more than half-way there!
“Can I go talk to the flight attendant?” Darryl asked.
“Okay,” I said with some hesitation. “Just be careful not to pester them. They have work to do!” I really didn’t want to let him go, but if I’m bored to tears, imagine what an ordeal it must be for a nine-year-old boy!
“Don’t worry!” he said excitedly, as he unbuckled his seat belt and slid out of the seat, “I’ll be very polite. Anyway, he asked me to come!”
I was a bit skeptical at that. “Are you telling me the truth, Darryl?”
“Yes ma’am, I am. He wants to practice Thorgelfaynese,” he stated.
I decided to believe him. He climbed over my legs and marched down the aisle, turning to grin and wave at me every two or three rows.
I’m sure the flight attendants were tired of us by now. They kept trying to talk to me in Fjarnian, and I had to keep asking for a Thorgelfaynese-speaking attendant. THOR-GEL-FAYNE, I’d say with exaggerated enunciation, but they seemed to have a hard time with it. Harshan spent most of the flight sleeping in the window seat, when I wasn’t waking him up to translate what the flight attendants said.
Eventually, word got around and the Thorgelfaynese-speaking attendant revealed himself. He apologized for the delay and has been doting on us ever since. He had a difficult time understanding how a white family could come to speak Thorgelfaynese. I had to explain everything, and that made matters much worse. He practically bows and scrapes at our every whim! Apparently he feels it’s an honor to serve Thorgelfaynese-speaking aliens!
I reclined the seat a little more and laid back with a sigh. What to do? We were just served dinner, so I can’t eat. I’ve taken two naps so far today, so I can’t sleep. The in-flight movie is in Fjarnian, so I can’t watch that. I’ve read all the Thorgelfaynese-language magazines, and I’ve lost interest in the novel I brought along.
I heard soft snoring coming from the window seat. I can’t even chat with Harshan; he’s asleep again.
Back to the music, I thought, and slipped on the headset.
I guess I should explain why our flight is so long! As you know, Homeland has two or three small continents, but only one big one: the one we live on. It’s larger than Europe, Asia, Africa and South America combined, and it’s centered on the South Pole. In Earth terms, I suppose you could say that we’re living on a gigantic Antarctica!
Pretend for a moment that our continent is perfectly circular, like the face of an Earth-style decimal clock. The center of the clock is Homeland’s South Pole. Halakan, Harshan’s native country, would be located at six o’clock. (Ancient Halakanian astronomers used their capital city of Fomin as the prime meridian, and that convention is followed to this day.) If Halakan is at six o’clock, Thorgelfayne would be at eight o’clock. (To be more accurate, Thorgelfayne would be halfway between eight o’clock and the center.) Midnight City lies on the International Date Line at twelve o’clock. That should give you an idea why it’s taking us so long to get to our destination.
Every planet with a global culture has to have an international dateline. On Earth, you dump it in the Pacific Ocean, which is very convenient place to put it. However on Homeland we aren’t so lucky. Because of this giant southern continent, no matter where it’s put, the dateline will cross a major landmass; and it goes right down the middle of Midnight City!
Harshan rubbed his eyes. “Where did Darryl go?” he asked sleepily.
“He went up to talk to the flight attendants,” I said.
“Why did you let him go?” Harshan was completely awake and brought his seat back up to the ‘upright position’ we hear so much about.
“He’s bored,” I explained, “anyway he promised he’d be good.” I thought for moment, then I changed the subject. “Why is it that your convention is in Midnight City?” I asked.
“Oh, that’s simple,” he yawned. “Midnight City was founded several centuries ago as a tourist resort. Since the dateline bisects the city, it’s Firstday on one side of town while it’s Secondday on the other side of town. I think a resort is very appropriate for an international travel agent’s convention.”
“Okay, so it’s a good place for your convention, that much I understand,” I said. “However, that other stuff sounds very confusing.”
“Well that was the point,” Harshan explained. “You could have ‘two days of fun in every day’ as they used to say. You could get married straddling the line—the wife in Firstday and the husband in Secondday, for example—and have two wedding anniversaries instead of just one. Or you could go and celebrate your birthday two days in a row! The confusion was the fun of it.”
“Okay, I can see that,” I conceded, “but why did they have to build a whole new city? Couldn’t they just use one in the area?”
“There are no settlements in that region,” Harshan said. “The Polar Mountains extend nearly all the way to the ocean, which in this case isn’t very far, since the coast line swerves south along there.” Harshan pulled out the airline magazine and turned to the map in the back. “See this big dent here?” he said, pointing to the map. “The dateline was well placed,” he concluded. “The mountains are so rugged that the area is only sparsely settled, except for Midnight City on the coast.” He folded the magazine up and put it away. Then he grinned at me playfully, “It’s a very isolated city. Before it was founded, no one lived there except for occasional shipwreck survivors.”
The airplane banked slightly for a curve, so Harshan casually glanced out the window. “Hey! Come look!”
“What is it?” I stretched my neck to see. At first I thought he was playing a game, but he seemed to be serious.
Harshan tapped the window with his fingers. “It’s all white down there! That means we’re over the polar icecap!”
“I don’t know why you’re so excited,” I said, “There’s really nothing to see.” After all, it was white snow, white mountains, white clouds, nothing interesting at all. “Anyway, that’s the mean old polar icecap that has been sending us frigid cold fronts and snowstorms all winter long!”
“You sound like a television weather report!” Harshan smiled. He reached for my hand and his gorgeous blue eyes sparkled at me. A shiver ran all over my body, and I reached to touch his face…
“Mommy, Daddy!” came Darryl’s voice, and I felt him yanking my left arm.
“What is it, space cadet?” Harshan asked.
“We’re going to see it! They told me! It’s coming very soon!” Darryl was incoherent with excitement.
“Calm down,” I commanded. “Swallow, take a deep breath, and tell us what it is.”
Darryl swallowed and took a deep breath. “Oh, I forgot!” He pounded the arm of my seat with his fist. “You made me forget, but it’s real exciting.. Oh yes! We get to see the South Pole!”
“How nice,” I sighed. Big deal! Darryl is going to be very surprised when he finds out that the South Pole is an astronomical abstraction, and not a giant candy-cane stuck in the snow, like in cartoons!
Harshan leaned forward. “Are you sure, Darryl?” he asked.
Just then we heard the captain’s voice making some sort of announcement. We waited for it to end, so that Harshan could translate what she said.
“It seems that Darryl is right,” he said with pride, “We really are going to fly over the South Pole. I hope we get a good view!”
“So? What’s to see?” I asked, a bit puzzled. Next thing you know, they’ll tell me that there’s a line painted on the ocean to mark the equator! However, I did notice that there was a general stirring all over the airplane. The flight attendants were waking all the sleeping passengers!
“Oh, there’s something to see all right!” Harshan said. “We’ll get to see South Pole Mountain!”
“Hurray!” Darryl exclaimed. “We learned all about that in school,” he confided. “There’s a big mountain range at the South Pole, and a long time ago…”
“When was that, Darryl?” Harshan interrupted.
“It was in the ancient times,” Darryl replied in a serious tone. “Anyhow, somebody built a great big metal thing on South Pole Mountain!”
“That’s very good!” Harshan said. Then he looked at me, “It was so long ago that we have no record of who did it or even what year it was, but someone built a shiny metal platform on the top of South Pole Mountain to mark its location.” Then Harshan turned to Darryl, “Why is South Pole Mountain so important?”
“Because,” Darryl recited, “It is the reference point for all land surveys!”
Harshan congratulated him for his knowledge, and then went on to explain to me how the metal platform on South Pole Mountain is used in the legal description of all national boundaries and even private land holdings! (I was real impressed until I realized he was just talking about degrees latitude.)
There was a lull in the conversation, so I decided to break the silence. “Why do they call it ‘Midnight City’?” I asked.
Harshan took a moment to shift mental gears. “That should be obvious,” he teased, “For a brief split-second when it’s midnight on the dateline meridian, it’s the same day all over town and all over the world. That’s the only time it happens.”
He started to explain how this works, when he was interrupted by another announcement in Fjarnian; this one was very brief. Harshan beckoned towards the window. Darryl climbed up in Harshan’s lap, and I moved over to Darryl’s seat. We all peered out the window together.
What a beautiful view! Spectacularly rugged mountains of dirt and rock, wreathed in a wisps of cloud, and set in an ocean of snow. One of the mountains—by no means the tallest—was topped by a huge brass-colored disk. Automated weather instruments were scattered unobtrusively nearby.
The captain’s voice again, this time followed by applause from all the passengers.
“The captain just announced that this is South Pole Mountain,” Harshan translated.