Outside View by Eater was playing as they trooped back into the pub. A roadie was making adjustments to the mics on stage. Rainith scanned the crowd for signs of anything strange. Mixt attempted to do the same, though she'd been shaken by events in the alley. She was distracted by Nakishdan's expression, and the way he was staring at his fingers. They were symptoms she had come to recognise. She tried to distract him. "We should look out for more snakes."
"Do you think we might meet clones?"
"I don't like clones. I hate it it stories when they have a clone and it makes things confusing because you don't know which is the real character and which is the clone.
"Not - " Mixt halted herself. She'd been about to say not now, but swallowed it. Nakishdan was always supportive of her problems, and she tried to do the same for him.
"I don't like it in games either. Sometimes they have clones in games. I don't like them."
Nakishdan looked at his fingers. Mixt knew he was suffering from an attack of the obsessive thinking that tormented him at times. His fear of his fingers being damaged could come on extremely strongly. When it happened he'd start talking about anything.
"I didn't like the clone in Tomb Raider."
The band appeared at the side of the stage.
"They shouldn't have clones. I don't like them. What if we meet clones?"
Mixt pursed her lips. If a flying snake appeared above the crowd they'd need all of Nakishdan's powers to suppress the event but there was no way he could do that at the moment.
"We're X-ray Spex!"
Mixt glanced at the stage. She was surprised by the appearance of the singer; by the very prominent braces on her teeth, and by the outfit she wore, a metallic top somewhat reminiscent of a costume from Star trek, with a military cap perched on top of her unruly, black, curly hair. Beside her, another young woman with a saxophone also sported a military-style cap.
"What if we meet clones? I don't want that to happen."
"Shut up about clones," snapped Rainith, and disappeared towards the stage.
Nakishdan fell silent, and looked downcast, and very anxious.
"Who'd have thought a fairy would be such a rotter?" said Mixt. "She's a cad. Unless only men can be cads. Can women be cads?"
"No one's a cad nowadays. The word hasn't been used for about fifty years."
Mixt grinned. "I still like it."
Nakishdan managed a faint smile. The exchange had started to bring him out of his obsessive spell.
"Oh Bondage, Up Yours!" yelled Poly Styrene, as the band began their set.
'Why should I visit a therapist about being depressed if visiting the therapist is the most depressing thing I do?'
Glade drove home from his session feeling more depressed than when he'd arrived. He regarded the whole process as hopeless. He didn't like the clinic, even if it was expensive, paid for by his ex-employers. Nor did he like his therapist, a woman with whom he felt nothing at all in common. As far as Glade could see, she was more interested in herself than him.
He wondered what would happen if he stopped going. There would be some sort of trouble, he supposed. Therapy was one of the conditions that had prevented him fro being prosecuted.
He manoeuvred his car into the underground parking space beneath the concrete block of flats in Brixton. He felt in need of a drink. As he walked towards the stairs his phone rang. It was a surprise to see the screen light up for a face time call. He hadn't authorised face time. There was no indication of who was calling. Glade was puzzled. That shouldn't be possible.
A fuzzy outline appeared on the small screen, too faint to make out. Next came a woman's voice, distant and heavily accented.
'You have to save - '
The voice disappeared in a blur of interference.
'What? Who is this?'
'Save Geeda Lala.'
Glade was mystified. 'Who's Geeda Lala? Who's trying to harm her?'
Again the voice was almost drowned by static.
' - protect her. They're sending 102 Woo to kill her.'
The phone cut off. Glade was thoughtful as he put it in his pocket, and turned toward the concrete stairs. There, in the air, only a few feet away, travelling fast, was a winged snake. Glade, for all his problems, had once been a highly-trained agent. His instincts had not disappeared. He flung himself down. The snake zipped over him, jaws snapping furiously. His gun, returned to him when he was assigned to Search Unit Sigma, appeared in his hand in an instant. The snake circled round and dived towards him. Still on his back, Glade fired. The bullet entered the creature's open jaws. The snake exploded. Before the fragments hit the ground, they'd vanished.
Glade rose swiftly, looking round for more. Obviously the phone call had been connected to the Kesh. Anything connected to them brought on something bad.
Glade hurried upstairs to his flat on the third floor. He was unshaken by the attack. He'd dealt with a lot of snakes already. Even so, he felt a strong need for alcohol.
Mixt liked the cheerful way the singer yelled out the name of each song.
'Oh Bondage! Up Yours!'
Rainith elbowed her way to the front. The fairy was strong for her size. She was smiling, which she'd rarely done since arriving in the human world. Something about X-Ray Spex was resonating within her.
'Obsessed With You!'
Mixt checked to see that Nakishdan was all right. She was very protective of her friend, even if their personal relationship had gone off course in the past few years.
Nakishdan scanned the small, crowded room looking for any sign of their quarry. It still seemed an impossible task, when they knew so little about the person they were looking for.
Rainith succumbed to the weight of two hefty, young men beside her, who, leaping around with careless enthusiasm, knocked her down. She fought her way to her feet, pushed them out of the way, and didn't seem as furious about it as might have been expected.
The young man in front of Mixt had spiky hair, dull red, as if dyed some time ago. He was wearing a t-shirt made from a black plastic bag. Mixt couldn't understand why he'd do that. Although, she thought, it didn't look so bad on him.
'I Live Off You!'
Mixt, Nakishdan and Rainith were paid well for their work. They'd earn an extra bonus tonight, as they'd been obliged to fight. Mixt wished they hadn't had to fight, but admitted to herself that she'd be pleased with the money. 'I kept my fortune all through the depression in the 30s. I really shouldn't have gambled it all away in the 70s.' Mixt frowned. She was back in the 70s now. Presumably her past-self was at this moment in Las Vegas, gambling heavily. That was a very strange thought.
'I Am A Poseur!'
'I am a poseur and I don't care. I like to make people stare.'
Nakishdan wondered if those lyrics might apply to him. He'd certainly attracted some attention during the evening, none of it sympathetic. He was sure he'd heard the people beside him describe him as a hippy.
'I don't care how many punk gigs they send me to. I refuse to cut my hair and I'm not taking my kimono off either.'
'The Day The World Turned Day-Glo!'
'The world certainly became strange when they started sending us back in time. I suppose my life was strange before that. I was born four thousand years ago and I'm still here. And now there are flying snakes.' Mixt like the band better than others she'd seen. She liked Poly Styrene, and the woman playing the saxophone. Nakishdan wasn't so enthusiastic, and was eager to leave. He was feeling the heat in the room, and the noise, and the smoke. But the audience was calling loudly for an encore, and they had to wait till the end in case anything happened.
'Look at Rainith. She's cheering them back on.'
'Stupid fairy,' muttered Nakishdan.
'Oh Bondage! Up Yours!'
'Didn't they play that before?'
'Maybe they don't have another song for an encore.'
'I don't like them.'
'I do,' said Mixt.
The gig ended, and the audience filed out in to the rainy South London night.
As the crowd left the pub, Mixt found herself walking beside the two girls she'd seen arriving with the boy who'd later disappeared in the alley.
'Did your friend find you?' she asked.
'The guy you arrived with. He was looking for you.'
'We didn't come with anyone.'
Mixt nodded. They didn't remember their friend. He really had faded away, as if he'd never existed. None of the people who'd known him would ever remember him. Mixt found that a very depressing thought. She walked swiftly to the underground with Nakishdan and Rainith. The 70s tube trains didn't run as late as they did nowadays, and they didn't want to be stranded. There was a flat in London they could use, but Agent Duluth had emphasised it was for emergencies only. They were to spend no more time in the past than necessary.
The train was quiet on the way back to Aldwych, though various punks from the gig were dotted around their carriage. Mixt and Nakishdan were disturbed by the night's events. Nakishdan looked particularly gloomy, having suffered a bad attack of obsessive thinking.
'I'm sorry that happened,' he mumbled to Mixt.
'It's OK, you couldn't help it.'
'After the snake attack I should have been alert. Not having some stupid obsessive problem.'
'Stop worrying. You were there when it mattered.'
'Now I'm feeling useless.'
Mixt didn't like to see Nakishdan unhappy. She put her hand on his arm. 'Useless? With us fighting monsters all over London? You're a hero.'
'I still feel useless.'
'You're not useless. Who was it spied for the British at Waterloo? And bravely faced up to a firing squad?'
Nakishdan's exploits at Waterloo were some of his favourite stories about himself. When Mixt cleverly reminded him of it, he managed a smile. Rainith however, turned to face Nakishdan. She put her face very close to his, as if studying him.
'Ha!' she said. Then she turned away.
There was no more talk on the journey. They transferred onto the train that only they could take, back to the present day. Rainith left them at Aldwych tube station, refusing the offer of a lift home. She wanted to fly, because she was in an uncharacteristically good mood. She'd enjoyed the band. She'd also enjoyed being able to use her swords. She took on her tiny fairy shape, and disappeared upwards into the darkness.
Rainith's improved mood lasted through her flight, but ebbed as she reached her council estate. When she arrived at her flat, and released the spell which hid her scar, it brought on bad memories of her past, as it usually did. She scowled at the mirror, and thought bad thoughts about the Fairy Kingdom of Mercer, and the fencing master, and the King. Soon she felt angry at everything. But as she sat on the couch, staring at he walls, she did remember that she'd enjoyed the music at the gig. She wondered if it was possible to listen to it again. The music was thirty five years old. Did it still exist? She didn't know. Rainith wondered whom she could ask.