Ms Darben's yellow phone was for emergency calls only. When it vibrated in her pocket, she was surprised to see that Mixt was calling. Mixt had never used this number before.
'We have a problem with our gas heating.'
'We've accidentally glued it on.'
Ms Darben could make nothing of this.
'There's a little switch to turn it on and off. You know, for the heating. But it came off. So we put some super glue on it. But then it got stuck into the 'on' position. So now we can't turn the heating off. It was quite careless.'
Ms Darben, who only moments before had been studying a secret report about some temporal anomalies in the Himalayas, felt like she was struggling to come to grips with the situation. As far as she knew, Search Unit Sigma were meant to be at a gig in 1978.
'What about the - '
'Can you help?' said Mixt.
'With your heating?'
'It's an emergency. Doesn't the department have plumbers and people like that?'
'You must have. Who fixes your heating?'
'There are some contractors with special security clearance,' admitted the Head of the Department.
'Well could you send one of them?'
'We're not a plumbing business!'
'Don't you look after your agents? What if the heating explodes? Who'll go on missions for you then?'
'What about - '
'If the heating stays on all the time I really think it might explode. It's quite an old system. Also there might be a gas leak. Nakishdan tried to fix the switch with a hammer, it didn't go well.'
'All right we'll send you a plumber!' cried Ms Darben, just to bring the conversation to an end. 'Now what about - '
'Thanks.' Mixt hung up. She smiled at Nakishdan. 'I knew they could help. They have plenty of government resources. They probably have heating engineers with secret technology that other engineers don't even know about.'
Mixt's phone rang. It was Ms Darben.
'What about the gig?'
'The band. Raped. In 1978. You're meant to be there now.'
'We already told you, we came home.'
'But after that you went again.'
'No we didn't,' said Mixt. 'Nakishdan, did we go to that gig again? No? I didn't think so. Is our plumber on the way? The heating's making a lot of funny noises.'
Nakishdan was disappointed to answer the door to Glade.
'We hoped it was the heating engineer.'
Glade suppressed a grimace. Nakishdan's bright yellow kimono was a disturbing sight for a man who'd been woken unexpectedly from an alcohol-assisted slumber by an urgent call from the department.
'Is that the plumber?' Mixt appeared. She too looked disappointed. A small figure flew into the porch, nimbly alighting on the railing. Rainith was scowling as she grew to her human size. 'What's this about? Why did you call me again? I'm busy.'
'Can we go inside?' suggested Glade.
Search Unit Sigma trooped back inside Mixt's mansion. They had to walk for some way along a corridor before arriving at the huge living room where Mixt and Nakishdan spent much of their time in front of a gigantic plasma TV, fixed inexpertly to the wall.
'Are you the advance guard for the plumber? asked Mixt. 'Or heating engineer? Is that the same thing?'
'We really need one anyway,' said Nakishdan.
'Someone who won't just hit the boiler with a hammer.'
'Sorry about that.'
'Why aren't you at the gig?'
'We told you already. We came home.'
'But then you went again.'
'No we didn't.'
'Yes you did, I saw you off on the tube.'
'Rainith, did we go to that gig again?'
Rainith wasn't listening. She was reading.
'Sticky Glitter. It's a fanzine. I'm going to write a review.'
Glade studied the fanzine. 'Where did you get his?'
There was a moment's silence. Rainith couldn't remember.
'The gig,' said Nakishdan. 'She got it at the gig. At the Moonlight Club. Now I remember. We did go again.'
Mixt frowned as the fanzine nudged her memory. 'That's right. And there were men with knives. And snakes.'
'Two big ones. Flying in the door.'
'What happened then?' Glade sounded urgent. Mixt, Nakishdan and Rainith looked blank. They couldn't remember what had happened after that.
'This is bad.' Glade took out his phone. 'I'll call the department.'
Nakishdan was immediately worried. 'Is this a time paradox? I told you I don't like paradoxes.'
'How could we just forget everything?' wondered Mixt.
Glade finished his conversation with Ms Darben. 'You have to get back there right away. Whatever's happening, deal with it. And before you ask, a plumber is on the way. I'll stay here and wait for them.'
There was a notable lack of enthusiasm in the room. Mixt sighed.
'This makes three times we've tried to see Raped. I didn't even want to see them once.'
Outside the club, Mixt advised her companions to take care, and be vigilant.
'This is our best chance so far. If we can find this person Geeda, perhaps we can put a stop to all this.'
They entered the venue, prepared for anything. Nothing unusual was happening. The band were playing, there were no flying snakes, and no sign of men with knives.
'Someone changed everything.' Nakishdan frowned. 'Is that good or bad?'
Mixt again told her companions to be alert, but the band was loud and it was difficult to hear her voice. She walked round the back of the crowd, carefully examining her surroundings. She couldn't see any sign of the men who'd been there before. Everything appeared to be normal. After circling the audience she found herself near the stage, and was irritated to see Rainith at the front, showing every sign of enjoying the band, and no sign of being alert for their enemies. Mixt was further irritated to notice that there were quite a large bunch of girls at the side of the stage, looking on rather enthusiastically as the band played. They were dressed more brightly than the girls she'd seen at other punk gigs, and their hair was more colourful.
'Idiots,' she thought to herself. She looked at the singer. She supposed he was quite an attractive young man, in an androgynous sort of way. He posed a lot as he sang.
'Cheap night out, we got no money,
Cheap night out, we got no plans…'
Mixt looked around for Nakishdan but she couldn't see him. She strained her senses, trying to detect any sign of intruders, but Mixt lacked the psychic awareness of either Nakishdan or Rainith. Even so, she was uncomfortable, and felt that something was bound to happen. She remembered the message - 'They're sending 102 Woo to kill her.'
Mixt walked to the back of the crowd.
'This song's called Moving Target,' announced the singer.
Mixt suddenly found herself surrounded by an energy field, something she hadn't encountered before. Three men appeared in front of her, apparently out of thin air. Each held the same oddly shaped weapon, a curious-bladed, thin metal club.
'There she is. Kill her.'
Mixt had studied Naginatajutsu, the art of the naginata, with various weapons masters in Japan, at intervals throughout the past six hundred years. She'd learned the secret techniques of the Sōhei Buddhist warrior monks, and she'd also studied the related art of Guandao in China. She was in consequence an extremely skilful user of the long bladed weapon: perhaps, given her unnaturally long life, the most skilful in history. Her blade appeared from beneath her coat and snapped into place in her hands in an instant. As she sank into her fighting stance, she was aware enough of her surroundings to notice that no one else seemed to be paying any attention.
'They're projecting some sort of dampening field, like Nakishdan.' Mixt had no time for further thought as her assailants advanced. The black-clad men spread out, to outflank her. Mixt, in the course of her long training, had often practiced against more than three opponents, and used her long weapon to keep them out of range. She hoped that Nakishdan and Rainith would see what was happening, and come to her assistance.
The dampening field had quietened the music around them.
'Who are you and why are you attacking me?' she asked, fairly calmly.
There was no reply. Instead, the opponent on her right suddenly threw his blade at her. Mixt had been aware of this possibility, and was ready for it. Even so, the speed and accuracy of the throw took her by surprise, and she barely managed to deflect the weapon with the shaft of he naginata. As it rebounded, she abandoned any thought of communicating, and decided to attack. She swept the blade towards an opponent's legs. He avoided the blow but was caught by a rapid returning stroke which wounded him in the hip. The second opponent leapt towards her. He managed to get inside the range of her blade but Mixt instantly brought up the long handle, striking him in the face and sending him reeling backwards. She parried a blow from a knife and then thrust the curved blade directly into the abdomen of the man on her left. He collapsed to the ground. At this, there was a muted flash of light.
'I can't hold the field any longer,' said one of her attackers.
Mixt had a final sight of the three men, glaring at her with loathing, before they abruptly disappeared from view. The dampening field vanished. Mixt found herself back in the reality of the gig, with the music blaring, and a weapon in her hand. She rapidly concealed it beneath her coat.
'What was that? And where were my so-called companions?'
Mixt looked round angrily for Nakishdan and Rainith, neither of whom had arrived to help her in her struggle, much to her annoyance.