I had dozed off in the airplane seat, and had completely forgotten where I was! Things came back into focus, though, after I rubbed my eyes and put my glasses back on. I was surrounded by all the familiar sights: two rows of seats, porthole-style windows, flight attendants in smart uniforms, and the eternal whooshing sound of the ventilation system. Just an ordinary airplane, though perhaps a newer, sleeker model than I’d ever seen before. A glance to the left out the oval window revealed only the wing, the clouds, and the vague colorings of the ground viewed from a jet. I pushed the button in the arm of the seat to bring it into a more upright position, when I saw something that brought me right back to reality: the places where you normally see “Fasten Seat Belts” were occupied by two kinds of strange writing: one was angular, but the curvy writing was Thorgelfaynese, and I could read it.
Then I remembered with glee: I am on an international flight from Fomin, United Republic of Halakan, to Hapdorn, capital of the Imperial Duchy of Thorgelfayne! This is my first airplane flight on the planet Homeland!
The whole trip flooded back into my memory: the novelty and excitement of flying to the Moon for three months of orientation and language classes; the very long and very boring trip from the Moon to Alpha Centauri; and the pleasant ennui of the posh spaceliner to Homeland’s First Moon. The trip from the First Moon to Homeland felt routine by this time. We landed in the International Spaceport in the International Preserve in Fomin, Halakan, seat of the World Council of Countries and Independent Jurisdictions. I couldn’t see much because I had to go through customs twice: one was for my arrival in Halakan, and since I was boarding a direct flight to Thorgelfayne, we went through Thorgelfaynese customs before boarding the flight to avoid delays upon arrival. An airport is an airport, so there were only subtle clues to confirm that I had actually landed on a new planet. (It was very disappointing; I had expected all sorts of weird stuff!) Then I boarded ThorgelfaynAire flight 45 to Hapdorn. What a trip it had been! It was only the mundane familiarity of flying on an airliner that had me thinking I was back on Earth, and that the space trip had only been a pleasant daydream.
I yawned and indulged myself in a delicious stretch.
Just them, the flight attendant who was rolling the refreshment cart up the aisle reached my row. She interrupted my reverie with an offer of beverages, addressing me in Fjarnian, a language I do not speak. Thorgelfaynese, which I do speak, is a very important intellectual vehicle, but is not widely spoken. Since I am neither black nor a college student, I guess she assumed I would speak Fjarnian, a more wide-spread language of commerce and diplomacy. I begged her pardon in Thorgelfaynese. After all, it was a ThorgelfaynAire flight! Her face betrayed momentary surprise, but she switched languages without dropping a stitch and repeated the beverage choices. She also told me when we would land at Hapdorn International Airport, and how to set my watch for Hapdorn’s local time zone.
I sipped at my drink and adjusted my watch. I bought a new one on the spaceliner, since Homeland has a different method of measuring time, an eight-day week and a fourteen subdivision year. It’s a lovely digital watch, showing the time in the stark clear Halakanian numerals which have been in universal use all over Homeland for the past five or six centuries. But of course, I still have to get used to them! Even my background in computer programming didn’t fully prepare me for a hexadecimal numbering system in everyday life!
There was little to do but sip my drink and check my watch, so I passed the time doing just that. My how time creeps by at times like this!
In a very short time I would see Panu, a friend of Bobo’s, but in reversed roles! I had met Bobo as an alien visitor to Earth, though I thoroughly disbelieved the alien stuff for months, and now I would be the alien visitor to another planet—except, of course, I fully intended for my stay to be permanent. I rattled the remaining ice around in the plastic airline drinking glass and smiled to myself: compared to Homeland, Earth is a hamster cage. I felt like a primitive tribesman who instantly preferred civilization after once encountering it.
Thoroughly pleased with myself, I flipped through the magazine in the seat pocket in front of me. Beautiful photography and fascinating articles about a variety of topics, but I put it away when I recalled that the mental strain of reading a newly acquired language in a newly mastered alphabet had made me doze off before! Excitement grew as time passed, for soon I’d be there! Glorious Thorgelfayne! It had been very difficult to convince Bobo to let me come. It took persistence, persuasion, begging, pleading… until he finally caved in and helped me apply for immigrant status. He apologized for being so hard to get along with, but assured me that he only wanted to make sure that I was serious and unshakable in my resolve.
Pressure in the cabin increased, and the floor tilted gently forwards; sure signs of final approach. My suspicion was immediately confirmed by the captain’s announcement in Fjarnian, some other language, and Thorgelfaynese. I strapped myself in for the landing, double checked my seat back, and handed my plastic drinking glass and paper napkin to the passing flight attendant. My pulse increased, my spirits soared! Soon I’ll be there!
The window revealed that Hapdorn was a mountain town, but of course I had already known that. I could make out the lush vegetation in the mountains and the network of roads, but not much else. I glued my face to the window, impatient with the clouds which occasionally obscured my view. (The right side of my neck was sore from straining to the left so much.) Another announcement from the captain! We will be landing very soon! Buildings became visible and grew larger; nothing remarkable to see so far. I was very surprised that things didn’t look strange or alien; somehow they looked better without looking particularly different from things on Earth. It was as if I were on Earth, flying into some new country I had never been to before; but a country with a very high standard of living. Everything grew rapidly in size. The engine noise suddenly increased as the airport and the runway popped into view—we were just a few feet above the pavement! My heart raced as I gripped the arms of the seat. I tried to look out the windows on the other side of the aircraft, partly to see the view, and partly to ease the strain on my neck; but the other passengers obscured my view. I sat bolt upright, eyes closed, clasping the arms of the seat. Tears of anticipation and joy streaked down my cheeks! The wheels bumped against the runway—I cheered on the inside: I’m here! I’m finally here! Thank God I’m here!
I was very impatient, but I had to wait for the other passengers to gather their carry-on luggage and outer garments (naturally, I already had everything clasped in my sweaty hands!) We stood waiting in the aisle for the flight attendants to open the door. To me we it seemed we waited three years! I could barely stand the excitement! For most of these people, this was a routine business or vacation flight; but for me it was the beginning of a whole new life in a new city in a new country on a new planet… Here we go, the door is open!
Everyone was greeted with hugs and kisses in the terminal, and I struggled to pick Panu out of the crowd, but the description I had wasn’t enough. Unlike Fomin’s airport, most people here were black, and since I had never met him before, he was very hard to spot. For a brief moment I worried; then I spotted him, beaming with pride with his welcome sign! He was so happy to see me, he couldn’t speak; he just hugged me tight and cried briefly.
“Welcome to Hapdorn,” he said, “welcome to your new home!” But I never heard him. I was crying for joy!