London, England. The sun was shining as the birds flew over the Thames. Big Ben chimed a beautiful melody as it struck ten o'clock a.m. A carriage pulled up to a stately building, the British Royal Society. From the carriage came Josh. He looked up in awe at the gothic style building gleaming in the morning air. He felt a tad bit out of place standing there in a red four-pocket canvas vest over a natural Coulter shirt, a camel Griffith frock coat, walnut canvas field trousers, a black silk puff tie, a pair of black Preacher boots, and his favorite black soft gambler hat. Taking a deep breath to calm himself, he mounted the steps up to the porch and rang the bell.
A stern faced servant answered his call. His eyes surveyed Josh for an instant, as if trying to decide if he were an actual visitor or a street beggar. Before speaking in an equally stern voice, as hollow as a bagpipe, "May I help you?"
"Uh, yes," answered Josh. "I'm Joshua Cody. Charles Burton asked me to come. You see, he sent me a telegram-"
"Yes," the man said standing, cutting Josh short, "He's been expecting you. Right this way." Josh nodded uncomfortably, kicking himself for being intimidated by this poor excuse a man and followed the servant inside.
At the end of the hallway, they came to another door, guarded by two soldiers, dressed in red fox tunics and black furry hats, their bayonet tipped muskets at their side. The servant knocked and opened the door.
Josh's stomach twisted painfully; the room was decorated with animal trophies, ranging from antlers to stuffed tiger, bear, and lion heads. The servant cleared his throat, diverting Josh's attention to the black haired man with a beard sitting behind the Chippendale desk, smoking a pipe.
"Joshua Cody from the United States of America has arrived for you, Master Burton."
"Ah," he said, putting his pipe away, "Thank you, Jennings. You may go." The servant bowed his head and left Josh standing in the doorway.
"Do sit down, my good man," he said to the Texan, smoothing out his black suit, as if he was just off at the men's club for brandy.
"Thank you, kindly, sir," Josh said, rubbing the back of his neck as he sat down in front of the desk. A look of uneasiness appeared on his face as he eyed the many stuffed animals and mounted heads staring at him with lifeless glass eyes, baring their claws, antlers, horns, and fangs.
Burton leaned across his desk, resting his head on one fist. "I understand you have a great deal of experience with wild animals," he said, his eyes smirking at the emphasis of "wild."
Josh turned his attention back to Burton and answered, "Not as much as you have by the looks of your office."
Burton chuckled, "Do you like it? It's taken me years to bring the…collection to such heights."
Josh narrowed his eyebrows. "To be honest, sir…it doesn't really leave that good of an impression on me."
"Ah," he said, apparently not getting the message, "So you've seen tougher beasts than those. I'm impressed." He then took out a glass and filled it halfway with brandy. "I have a special request of your…talents. As you probably know, over the last few years, England has been experiencing overpopulation problems. Personally, I blame all those uncontrolled immigrants pouring in… But anyway, we currently hold more oversea empire than any other nation in the world. There is still one land which so far has not been penetrated." He then pointed to a map on the wall. Africa. "The interior of the dark continent. The French already own North Africa, and we're already having trouble with both the Boers and the Zulus in the south."
"So I've heard," Josh said, raising an eyebrow. Even in his hometown in Texas, news of the atrocities between the British and the African tribes were heard. Personally, Josh didn't like the British approach.
"The reason I've summoned you here," Burton said, "Is because I want you to lead a small expedition to explore the unexplored regions in central Kenya."
"What's the purpose of our mission?" Josh asked suspiciously.
"We've been hearing something about a strange land called the Pride Lands, we assume they are the natives of that area. A few years back, one of my expeditions found a wondering white man out there, who told us of this place, which he described as ideal for our colonization operations. Since no other country has ever heard of that region, we are at an advantage if we cease the opportunity first."
"And what kind of opportunity would that be?" asked Josh, as light hint of sarcasm in his voice.
"To expand the Her Majesty's Empire, of course. Just think of it, Mr. Cody. I'm offering you to be the first man to discover what could probably be the greatest discovery of our century."
Josh considered for a moment. As far as he was concerned, this was probably just another colonization project which he wanted no part in. But, on the other hand, his sense of adventure was urging him to cease the opportunity for himself. Burton was going into Africa, with, or without him; so he might as well have his adventure first.
"What if the area is already inhabited by locals?" he asked. Burton smiled coldly.
"Then it will be up to you to make first contact," he said. "We don't want to go in there as invaders if we can help it. I'm counting on you to arrange a diplomacy between this country and the natives."
Josh, his mind finally made up, then decided to ask the question that anyone would when offered a job. "How much will I get paid, exactly?"
"More than your job does in a year, I assure you." Burton chuckled.
"Please don't insult my intelligence, Mr. Burton, just be specific."
Burton's smile never faded from his face, but he lifted an eyebrow, "The Crown is willing to pay you ten thousand pounds. And if I'm not mistaken, that is about fifty thousand American dollars."
Josh's eyes widened at that query. That sounded like an awful lot of money, and with it, he would be set for life. What other choice did he have? "Alright, sir, you've got yourself a tracker," he said, extending his hand.
The former military man grinned even wider and grasped Josh's hand firmly, "It's a pleasure doing business with you." He then pulled out a folder, "Oh, and before I forget, this is the information on your companions. One is a gentleman from China named Chen Ling. He's is an expert in biology, both plants and animals. He was recommended to me by the British Ambassador in China."
"Hmm, you don't say," Josh said as he thumbed through the folder, looking at the pictures of the two others he was going to accompany. He frowned when he noticed the photograph of a black fellow. Even after the Civil War, it was still very uncommon for colored people to have equal rights.
"The other is Denzel Baker, a black fellow," Burton continued. "He was recommended to me by the head of the Central Park Menagerie in New York. He knows just about everything on African animals, many of which are on display in their zoo."
Josh raised an eyebrow. "Is that all?"
"Your train leaves around noon tomorrow for Portsmouth. Your equipment will be supplied to you by our Embassy in Alexandria. From there, you'll catch another steamer I've chartered, to take you down along the Suez Canal, along the coast, all the way to Kenya. From there, you travel inland on horseback."
Josh mulled this over quietly and finally asked, "What exactly am I supposed to report when I return?"
"I'll be meeting you there in person in three months time. We'll discuss it then."
Josh thought it over. He had been to places before like Mexico and South America. But never to Africa. Who knew what dangers he could encounter? And what of the native people; would they be aggressive towards a white person? On the other hand, he did have some peaceful experiences with the Apache Indians back in Texas. It wouldn't be too hard for him to negotiate with the African Natives out in the bush. He thought back to what Burton had said and done. The tiny things he caught that he was pretty sure the man wanted to hide. He didn't know yet what to do with it. Finally, he made up his mind and nodded, "Alright, sounds reasonable."
Burton shook Josh's hand, "It's been a pleasure, Mr. Cody. I am afraid to say I will not be seeing you off, but duty calls. Good luck all the same."
Josh left the office and walked back down the hall. He had chuckled at Burton's farewell. 'Yeah, I'm going off into the Dark Continent with two complete strangers to explore the land and see if the locals are hospitable,' he thought. This was going to be one hell of a trip.