Commonly know as the Longshorer's Guild or College of Pilots, there is no more mysterious an organisation in The Empyraeum. Tactiturn, shaven headed, and blind-folded graduates of this organisation are found on all long-distance ships across human space; they charge no fee above food, board, and maintainence costs and they will just show up when needed, nobody ever needs to contact the College. No-one seems to know even how to contact the College.
The location of the Pilot's College is the greatest mystery of all because no-one has come close to finding it. Even in times when one could circumnavigate the globe in hours and scan every scrap of its surface in a day, not one trace of the so-called City of Pilots was ever found. Even after the College is said to have left Earth following the rise of the Union, no evidence can be found that they were ever there. Of course, the current location of the College is, surprisingly, unknown.
What is known is that Pilots have an affinity for the Void and the pathways a ship navigates through it upon entering voidgate. Through an unsettling meld of mild pyschic power and impressively complex technologies they are said to use the ship itself as they eyes they no longer possess and look upon that which is said to be the most dangerous of all things to look upon; the Void itself.
Let us investigate what little we do know.
The Appearence of Pilots
The first teknoarkanists of the Pilot's College presented themselves to Lupernikes, following the undeniable disaster of the Ark Project, they appeared much as they do today; tall, almost malnourished in build, pale-skinned, and shaven headed whether they be male or female. Each Pilot wears a cloth of complexly woven black silk with the inginia of the College embossed into its fabric. All pilots appear to be related, so similar are they in appearance and facial features. All have a long and raw-boned face in which the symmetry of features is slightly...off...just something in the proportions seems wrong and slightly alien even. Of course, their propensity to wear often extensive cranial augmetics and the complete lack of eyes to look at might play a role in that.
It is said that one reason for their strange and uniform appearance is that, though they are not made from the abomination of cloning, their genes are extensively modified in order to increase certain native talents. They are selected from the naturally-born population of that Hidden City at quite a young age and extensively tested. Contrary to popular rumour, they are not vat-bred without eyes, what little we can coax from Pilots tells of a ritual in which the eyes are given as sacrifice for 'clearer sight' and 'greater knowledge' as well as immunity from the vanity eyes foster and focus to the task for which they were trained. They habitually smear an oily black salve into the sockets and it is for this reason that they will rarely remove their silk blindfold in company.
The salve contains some compounds which appear to absorb close to 100% of visbile light, turning the place where their eyes were into bottomless black pits. This is where the various rumours about a Pilot's gaze being death came from, primitive folk say a Pilot will suck out your soul if you look into those twin voids. Oddly, Pilots do nothing to quash these groundless rumours and seem to enjoy their pariah status. Most Pilots are solitary beings and anything that will make people avoid them and not seek them out is, it would seem, considered a good thing.
One way to definately tell Pilots apart is by their augmetics, there are commonalities they share; nano circuits etched on their face and scalp, implants where their ears should be and so forth but each Pilot seems to vary their degree of augmentation; some will have more extensive facial augmentation, others will have complex esoteric symbols on their foreheads formed of nanowires, others might have additions to one or both arms and hands. The degree of cranial augementation each has, though, is usually hidden with the deep cowl of the Pilot's robes which they will rarely lower. The sharper eyed may also notice that the complex and interweaving designs on each Pilot's blindfold, designs which resemble some form of unknown script, is subtly different. Some theorise that it is the written form of what observers call Pilots Cant, a language spoken among Pilot's which resembles no known Empyrean dialect so far encountered. Though elements of known pre-Empyrean tongues have been identified, not even our best filologia have been able to translate those elements we have managed to record. The great S.R.R Tollkühn had a theory that Pilots Cant is something he called and appollyon language or one which is fluid and constantly evolving and changing. Tollkühn hypothesised that they have not one language, but many and blend them together as required but this was never proven prior to his death.
We are led to believe that, upon activating a Sentinel and opening its attendant voidgate, a tunnel of force - a wormhole even - snakes through the nothingness of the Void and connects us to our destination. This is not strictly true, according to Pilots. Instead the path we must take winds through a snake's nest on paths and it is the Pilot's task to ensure we take the right one in order to arrive where we planned to and not on the there side of the galaxy in inside of a helios.
This raises a number of very important and somewhat disturbing questions about just what the Void is.
We know there are numerous explanations, names, and theories regarding the Void; that medium through which voidgates allow starcraft to travel faster than light itself. Just whether such journeys take the traveller beyond space-time, under it, or into a whole other realm altogether is a matter for serious scientific and philosophical debate. At present, the prevailing theory is that the Void is just that, that which existed before the universe expanded into it following the Ekrixis, but almost impossible for us to detect. Therefore it appears as no more than, well, nothing...empty void.
One term in the Pilots Cant which does not change and is spoken before outsiders often is Achera-Ungud, their term for the Void. We cannot pick meaning from it but a talkative Pilot or two have translated it as The Dream of Dreaming. One particular Pilot, the one who navigates RMC Belmorrah, to be specific, have explained what that means;
We're talking about the potential, I mean...in dreams everything is possible, isn't it? You go to work in the nuìste and nobody notices, you can fly, you can encounter monsters and angels...anything is possible in the dream, right?
So; the universe dreamed of becoming and it did...but echoes of its great dream were left behind, underneath, as it were. All that potential still exists. If you could see what I see when Old Girl Bel becomes my eyes, Gabriel! There are no words in your glòste for it. It's like....like....explaining the taste of a fresh strawberry to someone that has never even seen one....some being that does not even possess a mouth! When we enter what you so simply refer to as a voidgate, we are passing through the dream of the universe, the dream it is still having yet...yet...the dream is also dreaming of the dreamer and...is the dreamer too! Everything and nothing but the nothing is filled with the everything it could ever be...No...I can't explain it properly...the language it is best explained in is impossible for you to learn because it presupposes that you already know what the explanation means...
Others have used terminology such as 'a mirror that shows everything anyone looking at it could 'see', or 'a million pieces of broken mirror assembling and reassembling into a million million more'. Rather than a stable endless nothingness, voidgate tunnels travel through a place in constant flux, fragments of irreality forming and reforming constantly. This, they say, is why we need Pilots; beings who know and understand the place and can, with their skills and experience, predict the safest or most stable route. Nobody, they continue, wants to be inside a tunnel that folds in on itself or expands outward like an exploding mirror.
There are many who whisper that the Pilots know many secrets about mankind's greatest mystery and most precious advantage but they guard such secrets jealously or claim that the human race is not yet ready for such revelations. Many others dismiss such talk as simply a tactic to inflate their own importance and the necessity of the College's graduates for interhelical travel. The truth is, nobody seems to know which it is for certain except, of course for those who hide such knowledge behind the inscrutable young-old face of a Pilot.
What we do know is that, through a combination of arcane technology, genetic manipulation, and obscure psybernetica (that mystic art of both enhancing latent psychic talent and creating new ones through technological augmentation of an person's body and mind), they can - with no eyes of their own - the void a ship travels through. They say is is terrifyingly beautiful, a mirror of our own universe in constant flux and motion; a fluid reality I have heard it described as. A billion, billion fragments forming the walls of our voidgate tunnel holding together under the influence of forces I do not know but a Pilot can read and even predict.
We do not know. That is the simplest answer we can give. Empyraen scientists, philosophers, and even thinking soldiers such as Lupernikes can find no answers. We have immeasurably ancient technology that does inexplicable things in order to allow us to travel from one end of the galaxy to another in less time than it takes to get bored of the journey. That is, the long and the short of it, in effect.
Or it would be, were it not for the rather obvious pachyderm in the room; the Pilots. I have met a few in person, I have travelled with them and spoken to them. Yes, they are a little strange to most men's eyes. Yes they talk with strange accents and use words we know not the origins of. Yes, they are secretive and hold their council more often than they share it but they have done us no wrong. I've had some hairy void trips in my time and I was glad to know one of those strange young old men or women held tight to the rudder and got me home safely!
We may never know where they moved the College to after they abandoned Gaia. They may never tell us "The Truth" about the void and its laws. They may never reveal the secrets of their order to us. They are secretive and this arouses suspicions in these cautious time; of course it does. The Pilot's College have, since the day they first met with Lupernikes, kept their end of the bargain and appear to have taken nothing in profit from it. We pay them no crippling fees, we are not in any way obliged to make use of their services; it is simply sensible to do so.
I suppose, if we wanted to be suspicious, we could fling ourselves down a tunnel through irreality (or primal stygian reality), down the hall of mirrors from your worst nightmare or whatever it actually is, without somebody who's been bred and modified, as well as trained, to find the safest passage through the storm for you; it was nice knowing you!
Yes, there is a chance that they are not the atruistic order, selflessly serving the advancement of humankind, that we think they are. Yes, they may have an agenda we are unaware of but remember, they refused to serve that slug of a dictator on Gaia and even abandoned their city so he couldn't force them. To me, that's a mark on the correct side of the ledger.