Technology in the 23rd century wasn’t completely developed for pure utility, unlike what discontent pundits online claimed. Whitewood was the perfect example for that. It used god knows how many billions in credits just to keep up an antique appearance.
Another perfect example of that would be the domes covering towns and cities on the moon and Mars. They came pre-installed with Earth-like day and night cycles. Some also applied weather pattern technologies, emulating the 4 seasons perfectly.
Even now the day outside in the dome was nice and sunny. It would be a waste not to take a long nice walk and admire the marvel of the moon.
So, it was much to Zoe’s discontent when Arthur completely disregarded her opinion. The lad just waved his hand and hailed for an auto-shuttle to the dubious street named ‘World’s End’. He was even too lazy to come up with a proper excuse, just replying with ‘Ugh’s and ‘Hmm’s.
Of course, as a result he now had trouble holding the juice can.
Grumbling inwardly, Arthur noticed some youngsters riding xtreme hoverbikes in the neighbourhood. They were the local troublemakers, each with a haircut weirded then the other. Their hoverbikes were modified to the limit. Arthur even doubted if some of those mods were legal.
The Whitewood Powerbiker Gang. A self-proclaimed xtreme sports study group, leading local teenagers wayward since the 22nd century.
Arthur waved his swollen hand towards them, and they waved back.
He had some history with them.
‘Ah, Good times.’
A lot of people didn’t care to own private transport on the moon. Arthur himself only had a hoverbike. He was reminded of it after noticing the teens riding their heavily modified ones.
He bought the thing on Mars, and only because public transport was really expensive there. It was currently collecting dust in his garage.
After a few minutes of waiting, the shuttle arrived. It would take about 30 minutes for them to reach the town center.
For context, shuttles on the moon usually traveled around 100 kmph. They had their own express lanes which private cars could not use. So, it could be seen how large even a medium sized moontown was.
The distance from the train-station to West Orchard street was quite small in a straight line. But the distance from West Orchard street to town central was about 45 kilometers, with most plots of lands in between used as Lunar farms.
The population of Whitewood might’ve been low, but when the domes were being built, they didn’t forget to make it as vast as economically possible. The leaders at that time claimed it was for future expansion.
Now in the future, Arthur could confidently claim there was no expansion to be had. Only autonomous factories and sky-high Lunar Farms.
The duo spent the whole ride chit-chatting, because there was nothing else to do. After a few rounds of complaining about Arthur’s laziness, Zoe wanted to hold a strategy meeting about their upcoming interview.
However, because of how little information they had on the other party, she realized it was pointless. So, she could only give in.
“Right, you should know the fridge is almost empty. We have to buy some groceries on the way back.” Zoe said.
“Eh? Why? Can’t we just order them online?”
“No! You can’t trust those people. What if they actually send you Egyptian onions when you ordered Burmese?”
“… I don’t care about onions. Besides-“Arthur was about to start an argument, then he noticed the dangerous glare in Zoe’s eyes.
Her realized; it wasn’t about onions at all.
“Fine” He grumbled out a reply.
Zoe beamed, “And fish! We gotta buy some cat food. I searched online and apparently it’s better to an automatic cat food and water dispenser too.”
“…Okay. But don’t we have fish at home? I remember you fed her some this morning.” Arthur asked.
“Ah, that wasn’t fish. Well, it was kind of a fish. It was an offshoot actually.” Zoe nonchalantly replied.
“… A what?” Arthur thought he heard wrong at first. He turned to Zoe with a bewildered look and asked, “You’re what?”
“Hmph, don’t make me repeat myself. It was an offshoot. O.F.F.S.H.O.O.T.
I turned a cell into a fat Tilapia. Why do you ask?” Zoe replied, still not comprehending what the issue was. She quirked an eyebrow at Arthur, as if it was him who was lacking common knowledge.
“…No reason in particular. Just, don’t feed me or others your ‘offshoot food’ without asking first, please.” Arthur realized that the common sense for a human differed from that of a Cthulhu monstrosity.
He pleaded, raising up his hands in prayer, “We can just buy the damn groceries. So please, no more of your cells in the fridge.”
Zoe had not qualms eating humans, or letting humans and cats eat her. He gave up. He didn’t wish to argue with her when they had no common ground to reason on.
“Hmph, so you’re saying you like supermarket fish better than me?” Zoe pouted.
‘Here we go again. Why the hell does she always concentrate on the wrong thing!’ Arthur was speechless. He clenched his fist, trying his best to hold in his temper.
Arthur realized; he would be stepping on landmines no matter what he said. So he decided to entertain her vanity, even if it meant being dishonest.
With a sigh, he told Zoe, “Of course not. How could those deep-frozen stuff hold a candle to you? So how about we just ditch the groceries and cook you up?”
Not surprisingly, he now had two swollen hands, and a swollen ear.
Before long, the shuttle reached their destination, the street called World’s End. Arthur expected it to be located in some dark alleys, with stray cats and half-asleep drunkards all over the place.
Contrary to his expectations, the street looked like every other normal street on Whitewood.
There were some restaurants and cafes, entertainment centers, a clinic, and even a school around the block. Both sides of the roads were planted with ornamental trees, the red, green, and brown leaves giving the street a refreshing look.
Arthur even saw a park with a koi pond through the shuttle window. There were children running around with their pets, and adults practicing yoga and Tai chi dances.
All in all, it looked picturesque.
The Tecsov building was located right beside the park. It was a thirty-story tall pure white edifice, with lines of silver and bronze here and there. The pure whiteness wasn’t broken by the crystal windows, rather it accentuated the archaic beauty of the architecture.
Although compared to some skyscrapers on Earth, it may have seemed like a dwarf; the headquarter building was quite tall as far as structures on the moon went.
It must’ve taken a lot of credit just to get the permit, which spoke of the depth of Tecsov’s influence.
Truly, a financial giant.
Arthur and Zoe warily entered the building through the front door.
The lobby was spacious and white, with deep blue carpeting. The walls were decorated with modern artwork and strange metal curtains.
The first floor seemed eerily empty considering how big an organization Tecsov was. Arthur expected it to be teeming with employees or clients. It was not.
There was only the receptionist behind the counter playing with her cellphone, and a buff guard dozing off beside the main entrance, sitting on a perfect air chair.
Arthur noticed the anomaly for a moment, but couldn’t come to a conclusion. He felt a tug on his sleeve, and noticed Zoe gesturing at the receptionist girl.
Zoe herself had her guard up to maximum. She had already cast about twenty protection spells, thirty anti-divination cantrips, and a hundred auto-attack mantras.
Arthur on the other hand, gave the eldritch maiden a signal and walked towards the receptionist.
“Hello, sorry to disturb you. My name is Arthur Tullett. I have an appointment today with a Ms. Vileplume. I was told to come here with my companion.” He frankly acknowledged.
The receptionist looked up at him, removing her gaze from the cellphone. The girl was quite young and looked pretty good wearing business casual. It matched her black hair and blue eyes.
Arthur took a quick glanced at the screen. She was playing an anime themed gatcha game. The screen currently showed a top-up menu. Coupled with the despairing yet fanatic glimmer in the girl’s eyes, Arthur could only sigh at the lost soul.
“Mr. Arthur Tullett, was it? Welcome to The Terran Civilization Sphere Observatory, World’s End Branch Headquarter. Please take a seat and I will confirm your appointment!” She replied. The girl almost instantly switched her forsaken expression to a professional one.
Arthur almost gave her a thumbs up, but he was too stumped by the name of building.
“… The what?” Arthur asked doubtfully.
“The Terran Civilization Sphere Observatory World’s End Branch Headquarter?” The receptionist repeated.
‘Wow!’ Arthur had never heard such a grandiose name. It sounded like something right out of a science fiction novel. Not to mention it was a mouthful to say.
After amending the ridiculous copyright laws of the 21st century, organizations nowadays had more leeway when naming themselves.
However, most of them still used simple names that were catchy. It had a lot to do with marketing too, as they were easier to get a presence out online.
Terran Civilization Sphere, this was apparently the full form of TCS in TCS Observatory. Tecsov was probably the catchy short form the sane people in the company proposed.
Before coming here today, Arthur did an in-depth search on Tecsov online. He didn’t see the whole ‘Terran Civilization Sphere Observatory’ mentioned anywhere, or he would not have been so surprised.
Some people must’ve worked really hard to keep that name under the rug. He respected those people.
In fact, the company was registered as Tecsov everywhere. The catchy abbreviation had thus become the official term.
Arthur had doubts then, now they deepened. The organization wasn’t even an observatory!
Opening a company with a name like Terran Civilization Sphere Observatory would bring shame to ancestors and descendants alike. The founder of the company must’ve been really drunk when he first named it.
People online were the most merciless bullies. If someone got ahold of the full form of Tecsov, they would be memed to death.
Arthur was amazed that the receptionist could introduced the company with its full name. What a courageous young woman. Was she not afraid that she would leak the secret name people worked so hard to hide?
Not to mention, ‘World’s End Branch’ made it worse! A hundred times worse! Those two phrases separated were still bearable. But join them together, and it becomes the final nail on the coffin.
The name of the company claimed they were the observers of all of Terra and its sphere of civilization. The last time someone proclaimed that, they created a whole religious system based on it and started wars left and right.
Arthur pondered, showing the receptionist a sympathetic expression. This confused the girl. Zoe confused her even more. The eldritch maiden was behaving as though she was a spy deep in enemy territory.
Zoe had not uttered a single word after entering Tecsov. Suddenly, she tugged Arthur’s sleeve again and gestured towards the suspiciously huge elevator at one end of the floor. The gilded silver doors of the lift were opening.
With a weird beep, the grandiose doors slid aside and a tall tall man wearing a tailcoat uniform stepped out.
The man only had one eye.
It was not like he lost an eye or was wearing an eyepatch. He had one giant eye in the middle of his giant face.
The cyclops noticed them immediately. He beamed a professional smile while showing his jagged white teeth. The single eye almost giving out a delightfully cheerful red light.
Arthur shuddered unconsciously.
It took a few long seconds for the cyclops to walk up to them. Arthur and Zoe waited, withholding their breath.
Zoe was already giving of a dangerous pulse of magic, waiting for the other party to make the first move. Arthur hid behind her like a responsible mortal.
All this confused the receptionist girl even more. She had yet to even search for the appointment notice on her computer and there was already a situation brewing.
The tall one-eyed humanoid gave the confused girl a brief nod, then gestured at the tense duo politely.
What surprised Arthur even more was the perfectly professional bow the cyclopes gave as he spoke with a gentle voice.
“Mr. Arthur and Madam Zoe, I presume? Please, follow me. We have been expecting your arrival. Madam Vileplume awaits.” The cyclops said.
He then turned to the receptionist lady saying, “Thank you for your hard work, Miss Hedeltharellai. I will take over from here. They are guests of Madam Vileplume herself.”
“I-It’s fine, Mr. Kralterror! I don’t mind! Not one bit!” The receptionist blushed, going into a fluster. She had seen the cyclopes glancing at her cellphone just now.
The cyclops named Kralterror said no more and only gave her an encouraging smile. This made the girl even more flustered as she frantically tried to close game, only to accidently top up her account with that week’s salary.
Arthur swore he could see the girl’s soul leaving her body.
Kralterror on the other hand gestured at Arthur and Zoe, indicating them to follow him.
The duo exchanged a subtle glance with each other, agreeing to hold of any hostilities for now. With due caution. they followed Kralterror.
Arthur was surprised that he wasn’t more shocked. Then again, he did see Zoe in all her glory. He was more curious about who the one-eyed humanoid and the receptionist girl were.
No way a human would have a name like Hedeltharellai. Most probably, she wasn’t human either. Going by how nonchalant she was with the cyclops.
The security guard too, for that matter. That perfect air chair was definitely magic. He hadn’t budged even a millimeter since Arthur and Zoe entered the building.
As he was thinking all these things, the lift doors closed with a beep. Kralterror didn’t press any of the buttons much to his confusion. The cyclops spoke out loud, “To Heaven, please. Take the direct teleportation route.”
“This is very weird. Should we get off?” Arthur whispered to Zoe. She thought for a bit, but shook her head. She could feel some weird magic activating around them. It was too late to get off.
There was another beep, this one sounding strangely like an affirmation. The lift then started going up. If this was teleportation, it sure didn’t feel like it.
A few seconds later, the lift stopped.
There was a series of beeps. Kralterror took out a cookie from somewhere and shoved it into one of the holes beneath the floor buttons. The hole itself was shaped perfectly for shoving cookies in.
Arthur could swear there was no such hole in the beginning,
“Good job, as always.” Kralterror praised the elevator. A few happy beeps later, the hole closed without trace.
Arthur and Zoe were astonished. Then they vigilantly looked around the closed space, thinking whether or not they were in the stomach of some otherworldly being.
Zoe was particularly surprised; it was usually the other way around for her.
The lift doors finally opened. No more happy beeps. The lift falling silent.
Kralterror stepped out, saying, “We have arrived. Please, follow me.”
Arthur warily followed the cyclopes out. Trying to show his courageous side to the eldritch maiden.
Then he screamed and scrambled back into the lift, bumping into Zoe’s body.
“T-T-The ground!” He gasped. He looked at her with a panicked expression, but saw her still staring at the lift buttons absentmindedly.
He shook her for a good while, screaming, “T-They got us. Oh they got us good Zoe! We aren’t on the moon anymore!”
Zoe finally turned to look at Arthur. Then with a tired sigh, she stepped out. “I told you we shouldn’t have trusted these guys.”
Kralterror looked a bit amused at that, “I assure you, Madam Zoe, no harm will come to either of you here.”
Zoe scoffed. “Then why did you teleport us… here. Heaven was it? Heaven really looks shady if this is all it has.” She gestured around the space with her hands.
Outside the lift was a wide expanse of pure white clouds. There was no land in sight. Certainly, it did look heavenly if you compared it to heaven depicted in fictions. However, there was something really weird about the whole scenery.
The view a few hundred feet under their feet looked like a large sheet cracked glass. Each crack showed a scene both alien and familiar. Like thousands of irregularly sized screens all jumbled up together.
It was as if they were transported above the sky and were now standing on a crystal floor.
Arthur carefully peeked out of the lift, seeing Zoe safe and sound. He made his way next to her. He tried to calm his nerves, yet a corner of his brain screamed at him to go back into the lift. As if he would fall down into the abyss of tv screens the moment he let his guard down.
That was because the floor didn’t quite feel quite like solid matter at all. It felt like nothingness. It was hard when Arthur put power in his foot, otherwise he felt nothing under his feet.
This inconsistency made his brain disordered, causing it to send out a ceaseless stream of danger signals.
‘Definitely black magic.’ He thought, his back practically drenching in sweat.
The fragmented images beneath them looked distant yet real. Arthur fearfully looked down, trying to dampen his fear of heights. He wasn’t usually afraid of tall places, but this was on another level altogether.
His eyes went to a particularly large crack, where he saw scenes of a fantastic world full of magic and wonder. There were elves picking fruits, dwarves forging metal, and human merchants selling their wares.
The crack next to it showed a civilization made by snakes that walked upright.
His gaze continued to wonder. He saw a war in the vast expanse of space between beehives capable of spaceflight against bears in piloting furry mechanical bear-oids.
He saw an Asian guy holding a spear trying to poke a hole in the sky.
He saw beings of energy building a sphere like structure around a giant star.
He saw a huge vine connecting thousands of worlds together.
He saw bizarre chaos of so many forms that he could not possibly comprehend.
Arthur gulped. Saying, “That’s some good CGI, man.”
Zoe shook her head helplessly at her charge. Sometimes she wondered if she was the neurotic, or him.
She asked the cyclops again, not waiting for him to reply to her earlier question. “So, where is this Madam Vileplume you speak of?”
The jolly one-eyed humanoid pointed behind the lift. Arthur and Zoe followed his finger; and were shocked at what they were beholding.
There was a humongous castle floating peacefully a few ten meters behind the silver elevator. How they didn’t notice it was a wonder, as the shadow and wind pressure itself should have given it away.
Specially with Zoe here, considering how magic sensitive she was.
The structure of the castle was made out of many kinds of magnificent crystals, all reflecting and refracting rays of lights away from the castle walls. The white clouds surrounding it reflected the light rays again, creating a sparkly and heavenly view.
Moreover, the castle itself looked very high-tech. There were various science-fictionally looking parts poking out from above and beneath it, creating a contrasting yet amazing synergy with the mystical crustal building blocks.
The castle looked sharp, sleek, futuristic, magical, and archaic at the same time.
Arthur squinted his eyes, noticing patches of blues and greens inside the castle premises.
They were lush green gardens and sparkling blue ponds, he realized. Overall, it looked like something straight out of a fantasy book.
Maybe, it was.
Kralterror gave both of them another polite bow, exclaiming with overflowing pride, “Welcome to the heavenly realm, dear guests. Madam Vileplume should be currently residing in the celestial garden. Please take note to not leave my side on our way there. The castle is vaster than you can imagine. You might get lost.”
After a few more seconds of awkward staring, they both nodded.