Gunther's Walk

by David M. Allan

TerraMax News Service

***BREAKING NEWS***BREAKING NEWS***BREAKING NEWS***

Dateline: 1022.3.14.14.02 [calendar converter link]

Mojave Starport [map link]

Daphne Grant Sharifa reporting

Experiential\solo\group//Interact//PoV//Skyeye//Text

#

Welcome Viewers and Interacters, I’m happy to have you on board. Viewers can watch through my eyes, Interacters can talk to me and their comments are available to other Interacters.

Let me remind you that you could be Experiencing this. There are five TMNS Experiential hosts in the crowd, upgrade anytime if you want to be there, seeing, hearing and feeling everything the hosts do. [upgrade link]

*****

Terrific news, Interacters. The man you’re looking at now is a new Starpilot on his Last Walk. My first reaction is – this guy is gorgeous!

TNMS research has found out that his name is Gunther. He’s one point nine two metres of slim, muscular, broad shouldered, blond handsomeness. He looks totally fabulous in his black uniform. He’s chosen chromed interface plates – it’s a full class seven set of course [sideband: Interface tech] – and the evening sunlight makes them look like a crown of fire. I can see a new fashion fad ahead. I’m sure you know that rumours have been buzzing for months. It turns out they’re true. We do have a new Starpilot.

What’s the fuss about?

Who is this? Where have you been for the last millennium? He’s a Starpilot! There are only thirty-four of them. At least only thirty-four still active [sideband: Starpilots]. There hasn’t been a new one for more than eight years. This is his Last Walk [sideband: Pilot’s Walk]. We’ll never see him in the flesh again – pity, it’s such nice flesh.

He’s hot. Does he have a brother?

Can’t answer that, I just don’t know. TerraMax is putting together a bio. It will be available as a sidebar in about five minutes.

I want, I want.

What? The bio or Gunther?

Gunther.

Me too.

And me.

And about 17K others. Sorry, fems –

And homs.

– and homs. He’s off to join his ship. That’s going to be the love of his life.

Such a waste.

I’m inclined to agree with you but, if he’s made it this far, he doesn’t lean either way. That would be too much of a distraction. We’d all be wasting our time. There’s no way any of us could compete with his ship.

Look at him. I suppose he has reason to smile like that but it’s so unusual. There are recordings of all the other Pilot’s Walks [sidebar: Previous Walks].

They’re very collectable (similar x 1.1K).

And potentially very valuable. Some collectors will pay a lot for primary recordings [sidebar: Collectables/Walks]. Any collectors out there?

Yes (similar x 1.6K).

Anybody with a full set?

Only copies (similar x 1.6K).

The most sought after are unique PoV recordings from handhelds because you can be sure the person doing the recording was actually there in the crowd.

I have two uniques.

Really?

Yes, really. I recorded Michael’s and Erica’s Walks myself. And before anybody asks, they’re not for sale.

Lucky man. So a lot of you know what I mean when I say few of the Pilots smile as they Walk. Just take a look at the recordings. Most of them, like Michael [image link] show little emotion.

What about Rebecca? (similar x 0.7K)

Good question. Rebecca [image link] certainly showed emotion. She scowled the whole way through her Walk. Makes you wonder what she was thinking.

But never mind Rebecca. Look at Gunther. Did you ever see such a brilliant smile?

#

*****

<SIDEBAR//Pilot’s Walk\\STARTS>

It’s never announced in advance but somehow word gets around and the crowds gather. The tradition of the Last Walk is so powerful.

It was Callum who started it more than two centuries ago, back in 806 [calendar converter link]. Before then there was no fuss when a new Starpilot left. There was always intense public interest afterwards when it was announced that a new ship was in service but their departures were never publicised. As now, new Pilots became instant celebrities. They are intensively researched and teraflops are dedicated to them [findterm: celebrity cults]. It’s the knowledge that starflight would be impossible without the sacrifices made by the Pilots that gives them such status [sidebar: Pilot’s Psychosis]. Although few people, even now, will ever make a starflight its glamour and mystique has a grip on the public imagination. This is quite apart from the tangible benefits resulting from the exploration and colonisation of new worlds [findterm: star imports].

It was only about sixty years before Callum’s Walk that it was realised how important memories are to Starpilots [critresearch: Bjornsen, Caruthers and Wu, Memory quality as an indicator of interface stability; Bioelectronics, 738-22176].

<SIDEBAR||Pilot’s Walk||HOLD>

*****

<CRITREASEARCH PORTAL>

A WorldNet Library Account is required.

Access denied

*****

<SIDEBAR||Pilot’s Walk||RESUME>

Callum was the first to deliberately try to collect memories of places before interfacing. He went all around the world [sidebar: Grand Tour]. Then he told his family when his shuttle was going to lift from Mojave to take him to his ship. He told them he wanted to see them before he went and say goodbye. They told friends who told friends and so on. The concourse was packed when Callum arrived.

<SIDEBAR||Pilot’s Walk||HOLD>

*****

<SIDEBAR//Grand Tour\\STARTS>

Almost every natural and manmade wonder of the world has featured on a Starpilot’s Grand Tour. The Tour gives the Pilot the memories he/she needs. Everyone has seen images and absorbed Experientials of the places visited but, for a Pilot, that’s not enough. It seems that a personal visit builds stronger memories. Despite the intensity of an Experiential event some psychologists claim this proves that Experientials lack some crucial factor which makes them less real than they feel [findterm: sensory transfer tech]. Because of this every Starpilot takes a Grand Tour. There are enthusiastic Pilot watchers who keep a lookout for one person visiting all the usual places. Recognising that it’s happening is often the first clue to the impending graduation of a new Starpilot.

There are a few places which are constants and feature in every Grand Tour. Others are less common and some are very idiosyncratic.

Site visit frequency (39 Walks)

Grand Canyon                              39

Uluru                                              39

Taj Mahal                                      39

Stonehenge                                   38

Ankor Wat                                     35

Giant’s Causeway                         32

Venice                                             27

Yellowstone                                   27

Victoria Falls                                /

<SIDEBAR\\Grand Tour//ABORT>

*****

<SIDEBAR||Pilot’s Walk||RESUME>

There are only fourteen known recordings of Callum’s Walk [sidebar: Collectables/Callum]. They all show him hesitate when he realises how many people are present. Then he smiles and steps forward to greet his family. He says something to his mother but the words have been edited from the copy of the recording his family have made public and none of the other recordings catch what he said. There have been many attempts to read his lips but none are satisfactory. One commentator has speculated that the greeting is in Gaelic but the family has never confirmed or denied this. Rumours say that the family has turned down over 30 KCr for the unedited recording [sidebar: Collectables/Most Valuable].

Watching that recording it’s interesting to see how many of the features of the Last Walk are already present in that very first one. The crowd is silent and respectful. It parts in front of Callum wherever he wants to go as he crosses the concourse to his shuttle. Then there is a great sigh when the shuttle hatch closes on him.

Callum agreed to an interview when he returned from his first trip [sidebar: Callum speaks]. He said that the memory of his farewell at Mojave had been one of the most important for him. By agreeing to be interviewed Callum set another precedent and a first return interview is now standard for a Starpilot, although they rarely give others. Three more Pilots (Vincent, Annelka and Harjinder) had graduated before Callum’s return. All of them had decided to follow his example, taken a Grand Tour and Walked. On their returns they confirmed the value of those memories [sidebar: First Returns]. Every new Pilot has Walked since then.

Not all Walks are the same. The differences are due to the Starpilots themselves. Families are rarely present now, goodbyes are generally said in private. Some of the Walkers take a direct line to the shuttle, others choose a longer, more roundabout route. Some look around constantly, others stare straight ahead. Expressions vary. The constants are in the behaviour of the crowd. Being there is special. People like to be able to say they were at Justin’s Walk or Pritam’s or anybody’s.

<SIDEBAR\\Pilot’s Walk//ENDS>

*****

#

Gunther seems to want to put on a good show for his admirers. He’s already Walked the longest route since Abby eighty one years ago [sidebar: Abby’s Walk].

Gives you confidence, that does.

Explain.

I was at Abby’s Walk.

Were you?

Lucky you. (similar x 13.4K)

Yes, I was there. And then I was a passenger on her first trip. That was to Haven. Just having seen her Walk made me feel, well, comfortable on the trip. As if I knew her and trusted her.

What about the return? Who was the Pilot for that?

Michael.

How did you feel about him?

I didn’t have any particular feel for him. I suppose getting the first trip over with someone I trusted made the return less scary.

Let’s have a voxpop on that. [respond]

Hey, Interacters, the bio is up and available [sidebar: Gunther Bio] and here’s an interesting little snippet from it. This isn’t Gunther’s first Walk. He was here for Melody’s Walk when he was only ten years old.

Is that why he’s a Pilot? (similar x 3.9K)

Some of you are fast to catch on. Check the free sample from the bio [sidebar: Gunther Bio/Melody] for details but, yes, it seems it did influence him.

#

*****

<SIDEBAR//Gunther Bio/Melody\\STARTS>

Anna Jurgenson: We happened to be in Mojave on our way back to Sydney when the news of Melody’s Walk broke so, naturally, we went. I mean how could you miss something like that when you’re practically there anyway. You remember Melody, don’t you? So elegant, calm, regal. I know people say it was the way the interface plates gleamed against her dark skin that made it look as if she was wearing a diadem and that’s why she’s described as regal. But I was there and there was more to it than that. She had real presence.

She came almost within touching distance. Gunther stared at her with wide eyes. He was always a quiet boy but the hush affected him and he was even quieter than usual until we were on the suborbital. Then he said “I’m going to be like her.” I’ve got to admit I laughed it off. I thought it was just a child’s fantasy. He didn’t understand what it meant at the time, but he found out. That was the start of his – obsession, fixation, dedication, passion – I really don’t know what to call it. I worried about him because he seemed to consider that it was just part of his life that hadn’t happened yet, but inevitably would. I worried about what would happen if he didn’t make it, how he would react. He had no alternative plan. There was never any doubt in his mind, no consideration of failure. And now it’s happened. He’s gone. We said goodbye yesterday. I couldn’t go to Mojave. I’d have embarrassed him by crying and I couldn’t do that to him.

I’ve still got Margetta but I’ll miss him.

<SIDEBAR\\Gunther bio/Melody//ENDS

*****

#

*****

[VOXPOP RESULT]

11.837K respondents – 42% of Interacters.

Have you ever been on a Starflight?

Yes                                      1.3%

No                                       98.7%

Would you want to know who your Pilot would be before the trip?

Yes                                      89.5%

No                                       8.4%

Don’t know                    2.1%

Would you want to watch a recording of your Pilot’s Walk before your trip?

Yes                                      83.1%

No                                       16.9%

If yes, would the character of the Walk influence how you felt?

Yes                       76.2%

No                        23.8%

If yes, what would make you feel happy? (Check all appropriate answers).

Smiling                             63%

Slow/relaxed                31%

Looks confident           76%

If yes, what would make you unhappy? (Check all appropriate answers).

Scowling                          74%

Expressionless             29%

In a hurry                        47%

[VOXPOP ENDS]

*****

#

I’ve got more news for you, Interacters. One of my colleagues, Paul Obefeamu, has tracked down someone who knows Gunther. Check out that interview too [sidebar: Gunther Bio/McQuillan].

That’s almost it, Interacters. He’s turned towards the shuttle and hasn’t far – Oh, my God. Did you see that?

[TerraMax News Service apologises for the inadvertent religious comment. We hope it has not spoiled your enjoyment of this Interactive event]

Here’s a replay in case you missed it [instaplay link]. That boy must have been separated from his mother when the crowd parted for Gunther and he dashed across the gap. He almost tripped Gunther. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody look so embarrassed as that woman [no ID yet]. She started to shake him then Gunther said something to her [no ID yet]. One of the TMNS experiential hosts was close enough to hear what he said to her [no ID yet]. I can reveal that Gunther said ‘It’s alright, please don’t punish him.’ Imagine that!

We have an ID on her now. Her name is Irena Karinovich. The boy must be her six year old son, Cyril. The host who heard what was said is going to arrange an interview with her soonest. Set an alert for [Karinovich/interview].

Take a good look at her, Interacters. Can you see what she’s holding? It’s a handheld, she’s got her own sensicorder. Can you imagine what that recording will be worth? Irena Karinovich is going to be one very rich lady even if she only sells copies.

#

*****

<SIDEBAR//Pilot’s Psychosis\\STARTS>

The label is inaccurate. Starpilots are not psychotic but they are not mentally normal either. They voluntarily subject themselves to the most extreme form of claustrophobia. [critresearch: Baker; The Psychopathology of Starflight, Oxford University Press, 776-11623]

After interfacing with the shipmind they can never walk on a planet’s surface again and they can barely tolerate the presence of even one other person. In the few interviews they give they all say that the sacrifice is worth it for the joy of the link and what they describe as the transcendental experience of starflight [critresearch: McGregor & Finnegan (eds); Transfinite Physics (8th edition), Martian Research Institute, 977-33071).

Every starship is built beyond the Oort cloud and they rarely get closer than that sort of distance to any star. Although objects in the cloud are very far apart they are a threat to anything moving as fast as a starship, particularly since they are all but invisible until they are very close. The inner system is even worse with asteroids and cometary debris all over the place. That’s why shipminds are nervous about entering what they consider to be crowded space, they prefer to stay out in the Deep Black. In an emergency they might come as close in as the Kuiper belt but never any further. The shipmind’s nervousness communicates itself to the Starpilot when they first interface and the resulting claustrophobia is intractable.

<SIDEBAR\\Pilot’s Psychosis//ENDS>

*****

<SIDEBAR//Gunther Bio/McQuillan\\STARTS>

This is Paul Obefeamu on behalf of TerraMax. I’m interviewing Jens McQuillan, who was a colleague of Gunther during his training.

Q: How well do you know Gunther?

A: About as well as anyone I guess. He’s very much a loner.

Q: Surely that’s true of everyone who starts Pilot training. It’s pretty much a requirement, isn’t it?

A: Yes, it is. Making friends too readily is one of the easiest ways to be dropped from the program. After all, a Pilot is completely isolated and has to be self sufficient. None of us could be described as gregarious, but Gunther was exceptional even among us.

Q: How many of you started the training?

A: Seven.

Q: And only Gunther graduated.

A: Yes.

Q: That’s a very low success rate.

A: It’s even lower when you think that six to ten people start the training each year and that Gunther is the only graduate from the last eight intakes.

Q: Why is that? Is the training that difficult?

A: Yes, and no. The academic subjects, like Transfinite Physics, aren’t easy. But mainly it’s the psychometric tests that are the problem. There are more of them than anything else. For some of the tests you’re conscious, for some unconscious, or hypnotised or interfaced. There’s no way to study for them, either you pass or you don’t.

Q: That seems rather extreme.

A: Would you want an unstable personality in charge of a starship?

Q: No, of course not. But –

A: There aren’t any buts. A Pilot has to be able to live happily inside his head because, basically, he has nothing else. The shipmind expands a Pilot’s consciousness but it isolates him too. Relationships outside the interface essentially don’t exist. The Pilot has to interact with the crew to some extent but that’s kept to a minimum. Only the captain and two or three senior officers will ever talk to him and then only by interface.

Q: How can anyone stand that sort of isolation?

A: They have the shipmind for company and the relationship is very intense.

Q: You hear stories of people with lower class interfaces having problems. How can anybody be sure a Pilot can tolerate the more extreme connection of a class seven?

A: The last test before graduation is supposed to be a simulation of the link to the shipmind, but I don’t know how it’s done. I never experienced it. Personally, I think it’s almost redundant. Nobody gets that far if they’re unsuitable.

Q: Do you think Gunther passed easily?

A: I’m sure he did. We always thought of him as the most likely to succeed.

Q: I understand you withdrew from the training voluntarily. Is that right?

A: Yes.

Q: How far did you get?

A: It’s difficult to say but I’d guess something like two-thirds of the way.

Q: And how many were left in training at that time?

A: Only three.

Q: Do you mind if I ask why you withdrew?

A: No, I don’t mind. I’m not ashamed of it. One of the things we had to do was try some high adrenaline activities, like sky diving or free climbing. I tried micrograv acrobatics. I liked it so much that I withdrew because I wanted to continue doing it. Of course I’d probably have been dropped anyway because you can’t have someone who can get addicted to adrenaline controlling a starship. Much too dangerous.

Q: Do you regret it?

A: Yes, to some extent. It was the way my life was going for so many years. But, at the same time I don’t. I have a class six interface and I run an interplanet shuttle. That’s satisfying enough.

Thank you Jens McQuillan. This has been an interview by Paul Obefeamu on behalf of TerraMax.

<SIDEBAR\\Gunther Bio/McQuillan//ENDS>

*****

#

Look at the faces in the crowd. The emotion is intense. Some people are weeping. It’s an event like no other.

Gunther has moved on. He’s stopped in the hatch and he’s waving goodbye. I don’t think anyone has ever done that before. Now the hatch closes. The crowd sighs. He’s gone.

That was one of the classic Walks of all time. It was brought to you by TerraMax News Service from Mojave Starport. The sidebar links will remain active for twenty four hours, prefix Gunther. Don’t forget the upcoming Karinovich interview.

This has been Daphne Grant Sharifa reporting on behalf of TerraMax. Good to have had you along.

###

 

David M. Allan has had three short stories published on-line: “Missing Apocalypse” in Mad Scientist Journal, “Togetherness” in 365 Tomorrows, and “Up or Down” in Aurora Wolf.