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. In fact, I didn’t worry too much, as last calls are usually repeated at least twice. “Passengers for Pacific Rim Airlines flight 765 to Tokyo and Seoul are requested to go to gate number fifty-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.
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. It struck me as somewhat odd that, when I came to the gate, the attendant closed it behind me, although I hadn’t seen any of the other people on the list. At the end of the gangway, I noticed that the “Authorized Personnel Only” door leading down to the tarmac was ajar and unguarded. But 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.
The six extendible gangways were retracted and the plane’s six double swing-out doors closed with the quiet sound of perfect hydraulic engineering. Towed by a heavyweight electric tractor, we were gently turned around 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.
Every last seat in the huge machine was taken. Almost a thousand people were more or less comfortably seated on its two decks and looking forward to the two-hour supersonic trip to Tokyo. Our six engines began their barely audible rumble, and I was reminded of the impressive technology surrounding me. The plane was built as a giant flying wedge with a long, slender nose cone, designed to “surf” the hypersonic shock wave as it flew, thus reducing its engine power requirement. Its engines ran on hydrogen, and its exhaust fumes consisted of water vapor and a trace of nitrogen oxides, nothing else. And, thanks to a technique of surrounding the jet exhaust by a ring of airflow at a special combination of speed and temperature, those engines were so silent that, other than at takeoff and landing, they couldn’t be heard on the ground. When a plane flew overhead at its cruising altitude of sixty-five thousand feet, you hardly even noticed the sonic boom.
I folded down my tray and turned on its built-in computer, hoping to read my electronic
mail while the Hyper Jumbo 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 the use of a computer connected to 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!”