The scientist – for so he persisted in calling himself, out of long habit – plonked himself down in a first-row seat on the airliner that would take him back to his home on Hawaii’s Big Island. It had already been a long day, flying into California from the US Gulf Coast after a long and intense conference, and dammit, he was going to give himself some legroom on the last leg of his trip home. His armpits were getting sore from having his knees wedged into them for hours on end.
Plonked himself down and waited … and waited … and waited. It was the day’s last chance to paradise, and some of the connecting flights were late arriving to the airport of the City By The Bay. By the time the last stragglers dispelled their anxiety on the jetway, the afternoon was descending into evening, the last daylight was merging into twilight. No matter, the pilot said, we’ll make up the difference in the air and arrive on time.
At last, the 737 with the globe skeleton painted on the tail got dragged out of the gate, rumbled and bounced to the runway, and then roared into the air.
And as it did, the sun rose in the west. Rose above the coast-range hills separating San Francisco Bay from the ocean. Rose above the low clouds and fog that stretched far out to sea, clouds and fog that spilled over the hills; a marine layer screaming Semper Fi! as it came, intent on smothering the bay with its misty murk as it had smothered the cold, upwelled Pacific Ocean that spawned it. Rose as if, for one brief moment, the sun had heard and heeded the cries of Joshua, the cries of Maui; as if, for one brief moment, the sun, and the earth that revolved around it, intended to defy the physics of the universe and make the earthly day longer.
Rose – and then began to set again, repenting of its momentary rashness and retreating into the western horizon, intent on resuming its wonted course.
With the jetliner in hot pursuit.
For two hours, the sun sat perched on the western horizon, while the 737 attempted to catch it and make it honor its promises.
Alas, the maximum speed of the Boeing is half that of Terra’s surface as the planet rotates about its axis. Finally, the race was lost, and night enveloped the frustrated airplane.
The scientist watched through his window as the last hints of twilight disappeared over the western horizon, and then turned to his fellow passengers, who had replaced the light from the sun with lights from their electronics, or from the reading lamps above their heads.
And he sat, as he turned off the glaring electronic screen that had been displaying presidential re-election campaign ads, and he wondered whether he had interpreted what he had seen correctly.
Was the aircraft earnestly pursuing the light on the western horizon?
Or was it desperately fleeing the encroaching darkness from the United States mainland?