It was a cold, frosty kind of morning, the sort so crisp one could almost crunch it like an apple. On top of every orderly skyscraper, a lush garden of trees flourished, and the genetically-modified bees were buzzing. The year was 3008 and Earth was entering a bright new era of exploration.
Deep in the heart of Thriving Metropolis, a motley assortment of strangers converged in the British Museum of Cosmic History. A robotic secretary sat behind a carbon-fibre desk, printing out name tags from a small slit in its palm.
“Name?” It droned, staring blankly at the waiting masses.
“Sharlotte Withanesse.” A girl with dark hair announced, shaking out her sweeping silver grey wings.
She had large sunglasses on, and the imperial air of someone who thought they were better than everyone else.
“Last name.” The secretary said in a mechanical voice.
“I told you. Withanesse.” Sharlotte rolled her eyes behind the black ovals of the sunglasses.
“Withanesse! W-I-T-H-A-N-E-S-S-E!” She threw her hands up in the air, obviously frustrated.
“Next.” The secretary spewed a small name tag from its silicone hand.
A young man with dark eyes and short spiked hair stepped up to the counter. He wore a charcoal-grey trench-coat over a tightly fitting black t-shirt. Leaning nonchalantly against one of the hulking marble columns, he seemed to be making a conscious effort to blend into the bustling crowd.
“Rookie.” He said in a low voice.
“It’s just Rookie.”
He collected his name tag and walked over to where the winged girl was standing.
“It’s Charlotte, right?” Rookie asked.
“It’s pronounced Sharlotte.” She tossed her leather-black hair.
Rookie gave her a cold, disbelieving look, one eyebrow arched incredulously. He shook his head as he glanced down at his name tag.
“Rookie Itsjustrookie.” Rookie read aloud, and rolled his eyes. “Stupid androids.”
Ripping it in half, he stuck ‘Rookie’ onto the lapel of his thick coat.
“Welcome newcomers!” A clipped British accent boomed from the front of the vast hall.
Silence fell among the congregation, and every head turned to face the man standing proudly at the top of the stairs. From the tips of his white handle-bar mustache, to the leathery hide of his skin, he stood proud in a way that suggested a man who was used to being listened to.
Everyone knew his name, whether they spoke it in quiet reverence, or blatant disgust. Christopher Kanga - explorer extraordinaire, and head of the facility in which they now stood.
“Who will be the lucky ones!” Christopher rumbled, every bellowed word causing his handle-bar mustache to twitch.
He ambled through the throng of hopefuls, stroking his leathery chin thoughtfully. They had come from every corner of the Earth, every corner of the galaxy even; aliens and hybrids and earthlings jostling in the expectant mingle.
“I like you, you’re in.” Christopher pointed at a man with with a Steampunk top hat and goggles rimming ruby eyes.
“I like you, like you, I… don’t like you, get out.”
A disheveled man draped in a tomato-sauce stained lab coat stepped forward, the label pasted on his shirt reading ‘Phill McCrackin’.
“Errm… no thanks, old chap.” Christopher’s finger hovered in his direction.
Phill immediately burst into phlegmy sobs, tears choking their way up his throat. The onlookers coughed politely to mask their disgust, as the cries increased in decibels.
“Oh go on then, old boy.” Christopher gave an exasperated sigh, and muttered under his breath, “I hate people crying.”
This strange charade continued for several minutes, with Christopher choosing his crew seemingly on a whim. A man with tusks protruding from his jaw took a heavy step forward, his arms folded.
“You ain’t gonna give us a test or nuthin’. How’s that s’posed to work, huh?” He said, in a Brooklyn accent that sounded strange coming from someone that particular shade of green.
Christopher fixed the offending man with a steely glare. “I really don’t like you.”
Two thickly-muscled bodyguards appeared out of nowhere, and escorted the man to the door, ignoring his rough cries of protest. Christopher turned away, and began contemplating Sharlotte, who smiled angelically and spread her wings to hide the candidates behind her.
“Mmm-hmmm. Mmmmm-hmmmmm. Congratulations, young lady.” Christopher smiled, holding out his arms as if to welcome her to the team.
Sharlotte darted forward for a hug, just as Christopher turned on his heel and strode imperiously down the hall. She lurched back into place, embarrassed, and quickly turned her open arms into an awkward fist-pump. Meanwhile, the eccentric Brit had come to stand in front of a small group of people, clad entirely in black.
“Ah, the wonderful ex-Space Marines, what would we do without you?” Christopher greeted them warmly, unfazed by their cold facades.
“All of you are in of course… But wait! What’s this? We appear to be missing one Mafia Jones…”
There was a huge noise of wood splintering and metal warping, as the immense doors blew inwards off their hinges. A woman in her early twenties, gun still smoking in her hand, strode into the room with her high heels clicking. Vivid red hair fell to the small of her back, framing a delicate oval face and devilish green eyes. Dressed in a skin-tight black leather suit, two fitted metal chains hung criss-cross around her hips, and a gun in either holster. She cocked a single eyebrow.
“Mafia!” Christopher ran to embrace his old friend, ignoring the jealous stares from around the room.
“Good to see you, you old coot.” Mafia Jones smiled, before going to join the gang of ex-Space Marines.
On either side of the hall, a gaggle of love-struck young men took a dazed step towards her.
“Down boys.” Mafia smirked.
“Well then, back to business, wot wot.” Christopher chuckled, and turned back to the crowd with a twinkle in his eyes.
The sorting was nearly over when he spied Rookie, leaning against a pillar with his eyes cast in shadow.
“We need ONE MORE CREW-MEMBER!" Christopher announced.
Christopher spied Rookie, still casually leaning against the pillar, raking his hand through his hair to keep it spiked up.
"You, good sir! You look like a wild card! Join us, will you? Jolly good, jolly good." Christopher's British accent got stronger with his excitement.
"If you need me," Rookie answered quietly.
"Good show, good show! Now, everyone pile into the conference room, wot wot!"
After the people who tried to sneak in were weeded out, everyone settled down to watch the presentation. There was a large hologram projector in the centre of the table, and the table itself was ringed with plush self-adjusting chairs. After a few seconds, a large rectangular slab appeared.
"Not many of you will recognize this." Christopher's voice was tinged with a sad sort of reminiscence. "This is a book. One of my favorite books, as a matter of fact. This is what we used to read, before we had I-tabs, before we had holo-watches..."
Mafia swung her feet onto the table, with the audible click of high-heels on varnished wood.
"Get to the point, Chris."
Rookie got the feeling that had it been any other person in the room, they would've automatically been excluded from the mission. As it was Christopher merely gave the woman an indulgent smile, and continued on.
"The point, my dear, is that this book is what inspired me to begin this whole adventure in the first place. Journey to the Centre of the Earth. You see, the story follows thus - a scientist, along with his intrepid assistant, embark on a journey down through the Earth. Eventually, they break through... to the centre of the Earth." His eyes crinkled with glee.
"And what they discovered there was a whole new world. Giant beasts and ancient fauna and creatures impossible to name. Of course, science has long since proven that this is not the case. However, the magic of it all sparked an idea in me."
The holograph changed as he spoke, from long-necked reptiles the size of buildings, to a lake that roared and swirled as no natural lake should. Finally it settled on a miniature replica of the Galaxy, billions of stars and planets spiraling outwards.
"Of course, the universe began as a tiny point of incalculable density, and exploded into being billions of years ago. It has been expanding ever since. Nobody, nobody has ever gotten close to the centre."
Christopher Kanga smiled a theatrical smile.