The Framing Story -- the Pilots and the Island
"Your doctoral thesis plan looks good, but you'll need to do some on-location research." Professor White was busy, so Professor MacVittie was helping Karel review his plans.
Karel Pratt nodded his agreement. "I guess I should have said that in the plan? Should I revise the plan to say something about needing the fieldwork, but not yet knowing when and where?"
Professor MacVittie nodded in half agreement. "Well, you could, but I think you know enough to be somewhat specific already. You should be able to name several islands as possibilities."
Karel scratched his head behind his ear. "I guess I can say I'm looking at a few locations, but don't know which, yet?"
"Sounds reasonable." The professor paused to think. "Say, do you know Roberta Whitmer?"
"Not really. I think I've met her. She calls herself Bobbie, right? And she's in the anthropology program, too?"
"Yes, that would be her. Her thesis seems like it could complement yours. Professor White and I were thinking you might want to talk with her. Just a suggestion, of course, but it often helps to have someone you can work with."
"Uhmm, ... okay." Karel nodded hesitantly. "I'll talk with her and see."
"You two never seem to get together anywhere but in my office."
"We meet at the library, too." Bobbie looked a little taken aback.
"Once a month?"
"Once a week."
"Was my suggestion about backing each other up during the fieldwork phase a bad suggestion?"
"No." Karel shook his head. "It's a great idea. We're working together on the schedule and the plans for traveling. But we find our theses different enough that we really don't have that much to coordinate besides the time we'll be in the islands and the flight schedule and such." He shrugged.
"We went to the airport together to find the closest flights," Bobbie ventured.
Karel continued: "And we've been working together to contact the consulates and get names of charter companies and independent pilots to work with. We've even talked with travel agents who have put us in touch with people in New York who handle tours of our islands."
"The travel agents kept asking us if this is our honeymoon. Silly people." Bobbie grinned.
"Not so silly if they've never met you two. Okay, so you're ahead of me on setting up your plans."
"Not really," said Karel. "We needed to talk with you about the flight information we've found so far, and we would definitely appreciate it if we could have you check our plans over. Which is why we are here, now."
In the end, the faculty and Sister MacVittie decided it would be best for Professor MacVittie to accompany them for the first two weeks. That way he could help them solve the early problems. He could also make contacts in the islands for the university.
Sister MacVittie was especially excited to go along, and to take their youngest son, who was preparing to go on his mission.
(If you are wondering, the university is a Church-sponsored school, but Sister MacVittie is not a nun. She is Professor MacVittie's wife. In their beliefs, God is the Father of all, so everyone in the Church is called brother or sister.
The son's mission? Yes, E-P-ism is a proselyting religion.
Names? I'm translating the names mostly by meaning and history rather than sound.)
Bobbie and Karel chose four islands where they could both do fieldwork, and they lengthened their planned schedule to allow a month on each of the islands. They wanted to give themselves time to find opportunities for volunteer service work, in the expectation that the service work would help them get to know the islanders and their culture better. Good relationships with the islanders would be essential for obtaining meaningful research results.
Ultimately, things went well for the four months, and we are not interested in the details in this novel. If this were a normal novel, we would be interested, but it's just the framing story for our thought experiments.
Where things get interesting for us again is towards the end of the last month, in the small airport on the main island, in the small room that Wycliffe and Zedidiah, the charter pilots who had taken them around from island to island, borrowed for an office.
Wycliffe sat on their desk and picked up their schedule. "Hey, Zed. Look what we got this week."
Zedidiah looked up. "Yeah, I see that. Them two grad students from that Apist school. Come to study ant rope loggies. Native cul-ture and all that. And do busybody serve ice pro jets. Straight as two rulers. Even the natives are laughing behind their backs."
"Yeah," agreed Wycliffe. "You know, I think they need help studying natural island nature, way up close. And help seeing just how Apist they are. And help growing up."
"Heh heh. Hey. Wait. They're paying passengers. Don't do anything stupid on me, okay? Just fly in and get them and fly them back here."
"What, me? Would I deliberately sabotage my own plane to strand them on a desert island to test their morals?"
"Depends on how drunk you've been this week."
"Okay, that does it. I own half of that plane. I'm flying this one."
"Ten hour flight? The longest you've flown is four hours, and you almost got lost that time. And you accuse me of plotting to strand them."
"That wasn't my fault. Sudden storm."
"Naw, I'm just kidding around. I'll bring them back safe and sound."
I really hate to tell stories about bad people.
But, Wycliffe really wasn't a bad person, just a little mixed up. He had been himself converted to E-P-ism at some point, in love with a good E-P-ist woman. And maybe she was insecure, or maybe she just didn't realize what a great guy he was. Or maybe she knew she wasn't strong enough to be his wife, in particular. Anyway, she ditched him.
And that was part of the reason he was in the islands, trying to escape from himself and his memories, blaming the E-P religion for his sorrows.
E-P. Perhaps I should explain a little about that?
This is an abbreviation of "Eyeni Phuel," but the "ph" is an aspirated bilabial plosive, not a labiodental fricative.
Interestingly, the meaning of "Eyeni" is "progress", and "Phuel" is "eternally", so name of the ancient prophet after whom the book of scripture was named meant, "Eternally Progress," in the old language.
It's a complete coincidence, and begs the question of what the language Karel and Bobbie speaks really looks like. But I will dodge that question for the present.
About three hours after picking our two heroes up, already way off his flight plan, he started deliberately running the engine lean.
Karel listened to the sound of the engine. "What's wrong?" he asked. "It sounds a little irregular."
Bobbie was also concerned. "Sounds like it's missing a stroke every now and then. Maybe vapor in the fuel lines?"
Wycliffe shook his head. "No problem. Sometimes engines get finicky."
"Are we in trouble?"
"Well, if we have to ditch in the water, I do pack a dinghy. But my baby'll be okay." And he ran the mixture back to normal.
About an hour later, in a lull in the conversation, he asked, "Well, you know something? I was bettin' my partner that you two would be, like, an item by this time. I guess I lost?"
Bobbie muttered a few expressions of disgust. Then she said, "Everyone seems to think that a single woman and a single man who work okay together and get to be good friends should jump into bed with each other. You don't have to get married to everyone you love, you know."
"You love each other?"
Karel nodded. "Like brother and sister. We believe we are, because of our religion, if not just by being human."
"Well, what have you got against each other?"
Bobbie answered: "Nothing in particular. But we don't want to spend all of our evenings the rest of our lives talking shop at home."
Karel added, "Professional interests can sometimes get in the way of other kinds of interests."
"Okay, so you don't want to be arguing about work at home. I guess I could see how that wouldn't necessarily be too great."
Then he leaned out the fuel mixture again and pretended to nurse it. "C'mon baby keep with us." And returned the fuel mix to normal again.
"There you go," he said as the engine's rhythm restored itself. And, turning back to his passengers, "So, this wonderful, romantic view up here is just wasted on you two?
Bobbie leaned back. "I wouldn't say that. The ocean's beautiful. And romantic. But you know, romance is about adventure. There are many kinds of adventure other than getting married kinds of adventure -- adventures that people who are just friends can share."
Wycliffe almost found himself persuaded, but he was too far off the flight path and into his own plan to back out. Gone too far to back up and admit to them that he was taking them away from their destination, or to admit to himself why it was wrong.
He was repeating the game with the engine as a desert island came into view over the horizon.
"Maybe we'd better put down on that island and look at the engine."
Put yourselves in Karel's and Bobbie's shoes. What would you have them do? Pray? Of course pray.
But how were they supposed to know that Wycliffe was planning to leave them on an uninhabited island for a few days?
Well, both of them prayed in their hearts, but God, for some reason, didn't tell them one way or the other.
Karel looked at Bobbie and she nodded. "Well, if that's the safest route, then go ahead," he said. "Maybe I can help with the engine."
"Do you know anything about engines?" Wycliffe wondered whether they were onto his game.
"I know a little about car engines. But at least I can use a wrench or hold things for you or something. Bobbie is no stranger to engines, either, I think?"
"Actually, I'm certified to fly. I should have mentioned that earlier, but sea flight is not something I've done yet. I've worked on airplane engines, too, but not this kind." She stopped to listen to the engine again. "It does sound like something is making it run lean. Let's put it down."
So Wycliffe landed the plane on the beach and radioed Zedidiah and told him they were on an island they were not on, several hundred miles away.
To get at the tools, they had to unload the luggage and the emergency supplies.
After an hour of fiddling with the engine, Wycliffe said, "I need to take her up and see how she's running. It'll take me about ten minutes of circling the island, and if there aren't any problems, we can fly on."
They both volunteered to help with the test flight, but Wycliffe made an excuse about needing the plane to be light. Once up, he circled twice, brought the airplane down as if to land, and then shouted out at them, "I'll be back when you two have had a chance to grow up!" and flew out.
Neither Karel nor Bobbie heard what he said over the engine noise. So they sat on the beach, said a prayer together for Wycliffe, for the airplane, for themselves, and for getting home, and waited for him to come back.
Now, as I explained in the foreword, I'm just setting up this simplified experiment in economics. If this were a regular novel, we would want to know why Wycliffe never came back.
In fact, there are many things we would want to know ...
... what Wycliffe and Zedidiah were doing in the islands, and whether they were real no-gooders or just having good fun;
... why Wycliffe died and what he did after he died, and how he managed to do so much in apparently so little time after he died (Is time for the dead the same as for us, the living?);
... what Zedidiah did after Wycliffe died;
... how the police and others on the islands got involved; and, hey, what Bobbie and Karel's professors, family, friends, the school, and the Church all did when our co-protagonists failed to return; ....
But, mostly, our focus would be on Karel and Bobbie, since they are the lab subjects of our little experiment.
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