Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hollow Earth, Introductions, 662 words

The old man was nuttier than a sack full of crazy, but that didn’t stop him from having a solid plan. Or solid money, for that matter. So when he told us he wanted to send a crew to explore the inner secrets of the Earth, that the whole planet was hollow and filled with countless societies of monsters and ancient masters of the world, I resolved to keep my mouth shut until after the check cleared. If it bounced, I’d tell him exactly what I thought of his screwball plan. If it went through? Well, then… Down the rabbit hole, Dorothy.

The old man in question was one Bartholomew Mainsbridge, who came from an old English pedigree so pure that one had to suspect some of the branches on the family tree had folded back in on themselves. So old money that there were probably gold solidi in the family vaults, leftover from the Roman occupation of the British Isles. Technically he was Lord Something-or-other, but his title meant nothing to any of us gathered before him.

Six of us stood in the room, other than old Mainsbridge. The oldest of us, and standing alone off to the side, was a middle-aged lady who had introduced herself simply as Gail. She wore a heavy sweater and jeans, and had her graying brown hair drawn back in a ponytail. Near her was a dark-haired, slender young man, who couldn’t be older than twenty-three, named Sam. Supposedly, he was Gail’s nephew. He also kept his last name to himself.

Standing on the other side of me from Sam was my partner, Darrin Rey. We’d worked together for years, guiding rich idiots through whatever bits of wilderness they could purchase permission to wander through. Mostly we’d worked in Africa and Southeast Asia, though political instability gradually made both regions of the world unpalatable to the two of us. We preferred our danger on four legs and unlikely to bear a rifle. We’d met up in high school in a dinky town in northern California, and the first thing we found we agreed upon was that the both of us had a low boredom threshold. We’re lucky that most of the crap we got up to, we did while we were still minors.

Last but not least came the geologist and the medic. The medic was a tiny black woman who moved like a panther, named Bran Simon. She had that almost unnatural grace and fluidity to her movements that came from being very adept in some martial art. Bran also knew how to stitch a person back together after taking them apart, so it was obvious why she was here. The geologist, though?

While she looked like she could handle herself in a brawl, with a big, broad-shouldered build, I honestly couldn’t say why we should feel the need for a geologist along on the journey. Sure, we’d be heading deep underground, if we went, but I didn’t know why we’d need to know what the rock all around us was made of. I couldn’t keep myself from thinking that she was cute, though, in that “I’m bigger and stronger than you and could probably snap you in half over my knee” way. Call me a sucker for strong women. Caitlin Thompson was her name, and she always had half a smile on her freckled face. It actually got kind of disconcerting after a while.

And me? I’m Alec Gray. Like I said before, I’ve got a low threshold for boredom and have spent the last decade or so running all over the world as a professional adventurer with my pal Darrin. I was there as much because, if old Mainsbridge was even half right, this would be the adventure of a lifetime. The paycheck would be nice, of course, but I was really hoping that we’d find something worth the time and effort. Something nobody else had seen for a long, long time.

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