Walkabout is a novel set in a near future. It explores a world where leaders have been allowed to create a climate of fear such that no-one can be trusted and everybody has to be under surveillance. It exposes the workings of mind control in its political, commercial, and religious forms. Walkabout questions established beliefs and shows that behind dogma, convention, and prejudice there's usually someone who benefits. The fast-paced action in Walkabout takes place in the disaster scenarios familiar from the Book of Revelation and follows the lives of its characters as they take back their freedom and triumph in the power of love.
The international terminal at Sydney’s Mascot Airport, Australia’s largest, was as busy as ever. It came as no surprise that I was still lining up to get through the security check when the loudspeakers announced the last call for my flight.
“Passengers for Pacific Rim Airlines flight 765 to Tokyo and Seoul are requested to go to gate number sixty-three at once...” But I still was a good five minutes’ walk from the gate, and ahead of me the security guards were taking their time. From a recent press article, I knew that they were still ironing out the last bugs in their new T-ray imaging security gates. Having long trained myself to look for vulnerabilities where others thought they had all their bases covered, I found myself whiling away the delay by trying to think of alternative ways to bring contraband on board. I ended up with a scheme involving an accomplice who would sneak up the stairs at the far end of the gangway to the aircraft door and swap my carry-on bag—X-rayed, searched, and found harmless—for one containing my weapon of choice. Then the line moved again, and I got other things to think about.
In fact, I didn’t worry too much, as both the airline’s app on my smartphone and the personalized message I saw on the airport screen in front of me assured me that I was on time and being waited for. Sprinting along the moving walkway, I listened to the loudspeakers paging the last missing passengers by name: a list of about ten European-sounding male names, plus my own. Arrived at the gate, I was greeted by friendly staff that seemed to be in no rush at all. At the end of the gangway, I noticed that the “Authorized Personnel Only” door leading down to the tarmac was ajar and unguarded. And then, finally, I was on board and looking for my seat, and pushed all those seemingly unconnected observations to the back of my mind, to be considered at some later time.
With everybody now on board, we began taxiing and were ready to begin our journey. The flight attendants went through their demonstration of the life vests and carried out the final preparations for takeoff. We were warned that we'd be pushed back in our seats for a full 12 minutes as the plane would accelerate to 3,800 miles per hour while climbing to its normal cruising altitude of 95,000 feet. Our hypersonic plane was smaller than regular jetliners, and it had virtual windows in the form of TV screens showing the view outside.
Our fuel was liquid methane; on its way to the two engines it was first used as a coolant under the plane's titanium skin that would be heated to 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit by the friction against the thin air. Our flight time to Tokyo would be around two hours.
I got out my smartphone, hoping to read my electronic mail while the plane taxied out to the runway. Normally, I’d have dealt with my messages first thing in the morning at the entertainment center at home, but, after all, it isn’t every day you pack up and leave on a trip around the world.
It was, I reflected, a bit of a shame that you couldn’t break away from the obligation of being in touch even for the few moments you spent traveling. Now that every jet airplane passenger had unlimited use of the Internet, flying had become a very silent affair. Hardly anyone talked to their fellow passengers anymore, as even the longest flights took only a few hours. You felt you had to make the most of the opportunity to sort out any lingering business, catch up with the news, or send in-flight greetings to your friends. Even the children kept quiet: with all the games, they never had a chance to get bored.
So it was somewhat unexpected when, as I folded up my tray for the takeoff, the passenger in the seat next to mine spoke to me. A little embarrassed over having paid her no attention, I turned to find myself pleasantly surprised: she was a very pretty young lady, of Asian origin, with beautiful, long, black hair. Her complexion was fair and her eyes very dark—in a word, she was attractive. Her demeanor was gentle in a way you don’t often encounter in Australia, and she spoke excellent English, in spite of a slight accent.
“You don’t seem at all apprehensive about flying,” she suggested. “You must be very used to traveling!”
This was true. I had traveled a lot, and I had taken the hypersonic plane a couple of times before, with each trip reinforcing my conviction that it was the best airplane ever built. I was so fully at ease in the sleek jetliner that, to me, it seemed just as safe as my own living room at home. It was a plane that could take off, fly across an ocean, and land entirely under computer control. Yet, in an emergency, the pilot could take over the controls and land it safely.
“You’re quite right,” I replied. “In my experience, this is a very reliable plane. I don’t think there’s anything to worry about.”
“Maybe I’m being silly,” my newfound acquaintance excused herself. “I’ve never been in an airplane this fast before. It makes me nervous to think of what could happen if something went wrong.”