Koala Jackson was consumed by exactly none of the fear or trepidation that filled Armitage whenever he considered what lie before him. In fact, she possessed mostly none of the attributes which made Armitage the opposite of whatever would likely pass as perfect for this mission. Not to say he did not have admirable qualities, he did, but the ability to work with spreadsheets, support charities or put up a small shelf in the kitchen were highly unlikely to be required at any point in the near future.
With Close to two dozen rift missions under her belt, Koala was as close to a veteran of these things as you were going to find. At 6 ft 2 she posed a striking figure, especially for a woman – which she quite obviously was. Throw in piercing blue eyes, broad shoulders and a rather intimidating yet situationally perfect crew cut she was not to be trifled with. Drop her into military fatigues and pop a couple of weapons in her surprisingly elegant hands and trifling was the furthest thing from Armitage’s mind. This was most certainly a non trifling situation.
“Shanks!” she shouted over as Armitage stepped from the car, “Front and centre. You too Goodwin!”
Goodwin scurried over, pulling on Armitage’s sleeve to hurry him along. He’d seen enough television to know what she meant by ‘front and centre’ he just never quite imagined he’d need to be either front or centre and the confusion showed on his face as she barked again.
“Move it Shanks, we don’t have all day!”
“I really do think there has been a terrible misunderstanding ” he said gingerly, his feet shifting uncomfortably as he spoke.
“Did the receptionist send you?” she asked
Armitage confirmed with a nod and mumbled unintelligibly about clerical errors and voices in his head.
“Then there is no mistake. The receptionist does not make mistakes!”
It was at this point, looking about, that he realised that a couple of slices of marmalade on toast and a cup of tea were not going to get him through the day. He knew where he was, but it was very much changed from the last time he was here. The Local football team ground had been commandeered by the Rift Police and the large car park to the front of the ground, where he now found himself, was now home to row upon row of military green tents. Large stacks of crates were dotted about here and there and the place swarmed with gnarled looking , heavily armed, military types.
“Don’t look so worried shanks!” barked Jackson loudly, “What’s the worst that can happen eh?”
Armitage was pretty sure that she was making a joke, but the stony look on her face quite the opposite and he wondered for a moment whether this was a question. Armitage had a good imagination, and right now he could picture plenty of things that would be considerably worse than that which he would have imagined were he asked the same question less than 24 hours earlier.
Jackson continued, addressing both Armitage and Goodwin jointly. “Now I imagine you want to know why you’re here”. She did not wait for him to respond. “You have been been chosen by the receptionist to accompany me and my team into the rift at 18 hundred hours. ”
Armitage felt suddenly rather unwell. His brain insisted, quite elegantly and persuasively, that it was simply a ludicrous idea to even consider such a thing, and who the devil did the council think it was to be asking perfectly unassuming members of the public to undertake what was quite obviously a military mission. It was not on and he would like to speak to whomever was in charge because this simply would not do.
Unfortunately, all of this came out as a rather unconvincing “Mnneeegghh”.
“Excellent” she said, “well now that that is all squared away Goodwin will show you to your tent and get you settled” and with that she strode off purposely towards the tents and disappeared.
Armitage stood for a while then looked across at Goodwin. “This way then Armitage” he said, almost cheerily, and set off in the same general direction as Jackson.
Entering the large green tent it was everything he had ever seen on television, back when there was any television to speak of. Two rows of four beds lined each side of the tent and to the right of the head of each bed there was a small metal cupboard and at the foot of the bed a large green metal trunk. Piled neatly on the end of the bed was a sheet, blanket, pillow and pillow case.
“Pick any one ” instructed Goodwin, waving a hand towards the beds “might be worth making up the bed too in case you want to grab some sleep before things get a bit crazy.”
“Why am I here?” Armitage asked emptily.
Goodwin chuckled and sat on the edge of one of the beds, his hands folded in his lap. It was always the same routine. The Receptionist picks them out, lands him with them and he has to explain why some poor regular run of the mill nobody is about to pop into a rift in time and space.
“Pretty simple really ” he answered, “Turns out you’re most probably genetically predisposed to rift travel.”
Goodwin paused for dramatic effect, his slightly too apart eyes not blinking to heighten the tension. This was his favourite part. “I say probably because it did go wrong once and …” He paused again. “Well lets just say that should this not go well your wife will receive a rather nice bouquet of flowers and a card expressing the council’s sincerest condolences. ”
Armitage thought he was going to be sick again. He seemed to be feeling this way a lot today and he was pretty sure that it was nothing to do with the marmalade.
“There are things to see and places to go in this universe Armitage, well beyond that which you could ever comprehend” he continued, “and we need your unique genetic code unlock the rift to allow Jackson and her team to pass through.”
“Oh this is bloody stupid” he replied, the combination of nausea and confusion overwhelming him somewhat. That was all he could muster other than “I really don’t feel well at all”.
“Lie down a while” replied Goodwin still smiling “It will be fine.” He paused again. “Probably”.