Vincent scrambled to his feet and pulled his bathrobe tighter against the desert wind. He locked eyes with the chicken.
“Exactly who and what is the Rectifier?” he asked with a resigned sigh.
The chicken met his gaze briefly before ruffling her feathers and bobbing quickly over to the center of the butte.
“I will be happy to explain everything once we have quit this place. As I said, time is of the essence.” With this, the air immediately, to the chicken’s left began to shimmer in an nigh-imperceptibly thin sheet. To Vincent’s astonishment, the bird made a quick sidestep and disappeared through into the shimmering air. As his brain sputtered and creaked trying to process this new development, the chicken’s head poked back into existence, as if she was looking around a doorjamb. “Please hurry”, was all she said before vanishing again. Vincent stood for another split second before the cold wind and creeping dark sufficiently tickled an ancient, reptilian survival instinct and he quickly trotted through the opening in space.
There was the lightest sensation of cold, flashing across his skin and the sensation (rather than legitimate, optical vision) of intense, blinding light. Numbly, Vincent recalled the strange experience in his backyard the night before he had woken up in the desert, but before the thought could take root, he emerged out the other side of the portal (that is, he would have if it made sense to describe such a thing has having ‘sides’ at all).
He emerged into what could be reasonably described as an office. In spite of the various peculiarities – the riveted metal walls instead of sheetrock, the large bottle of some brightly luminescent substance in lieu of lamps, and furniture that seemed to be firmly bolted in place – it had all the trappings of a typical office: desk, chair, computer monitor, sofa, etc. Taking all this in, Vincent also noted that the chicken was standing on the desk in front of the computer and typing on the keyboard using her beak with startling efficiency. The rapid beak-on-button impacts ceased as she looked up at him.
“Have a seat, Vincent.” She gestured in an ornithoid fashion to a small green sofa along one wall. “Would you like anything, water or tea perhaps?”
Vincent looked, wide-eyed at the chicken and committed himself to a comically slow blink. He surprised himself by croaking out “Coffee would be lovely, if you have it.” He lowered himself gingerly onto the sofa. It felt exceedingly normal – a bit lumpy but comfortable enough.
“Certainly.” The chicken looked intently for a few seconds at a glowing panel set into the wall above the desk. A moment later, Vincent was caught off guard as a previously invisible panel in the wall immediately next to his head snapped open with unnecessary violence to reveal a small lighted recess containing a steaming ceramic mug. Vincent gingerly took the mug in his hands was immediately hit with the aroma of coffee. As he went to take a sip, a thought scampered through his mind and he let a slightly too-loud laugh. The chicken looked perplexed.
“Is there something humorous about your coffee, Vincent?” She cocked her feather head at him.
“No, no. I was just thinking, this is a bit of Douglas Adams trope, you know, in sci-fi? Man in his undergarments gets whisked into absurd circumstances and alien bureaucracies, and there’s always a slightly incorrect beverage replicator. Very Hitchhiker.”
The chicken cocked her head at him. “I am afraid I have no idea what you’re talking about”. Vincent thought her voice had just a hint of a condescending inflection.
“You know, Arthur Dent, and the…” Vincent would have continued, but the intensity of the chicken’s gaze made him trail off. He took a sip of the coffee. It was perfect.
With a flutter of stubby, but surprisingly powerful wings, the chicken launched herself from the desk to land on the sofa beside Vincent.
“My name is Shelby Mozambique, and I work for an agency that is in charge of keeping the universe from collapsing.” said the chicken.
Vincent blinked at the bird. “Okay,” he said slowly, “I think that answers almost none of my current questions, but it does supply several more.” He looked away from Shelby and took a long sip of excellently brewed coffee, and then a deep breath.
“How did my house get into the desert? And where are we now? And where was that desert, in fact? And what the heck was that portal thing? And why are you a chicken?” Vincent fired off in rapid succession before setting his half-empty cup on the armrest of the sofa.
Shelby made a sound that was awfully close to what a chicken clearing her throat might sound like. “To answer your first and fourth questions, I think it’s necessary to explain further what I do. This might take a little time, so please make yourself comfortable.” She began to explain.