Mixt was staring intently at the star map on her computer screen.
'I think I've got it now. This star map software is brilliant.'
Nakishdan peered over her shoulder. 'So when were you born?'
'2230 BC, if I put in the data properly.'
'Can you really remember the alignment of the stars from so long ago?'
'I remember where the north star was when I was sacrificed. It made an impression. You know, with me being sacrificed when the north star reached a certain position.'
Mixed pressed some keys, moving the star map forward in time.
'I'm sure this is right too. In 561 BC, I met some Phoenician sailors in Cornwall. They were checking the stars and I remember where the Plough was. Though we didn't call it the Plough then.'
Mixt nodded in satisfaction. 'Meaning I departed the earth, or was meant to depart the earth before something went wrong, in 2212 BC.'
'Are you ever going to tell me why you were sacrificed?'
Nakishdan was dissatisfied. He didn't like it that Mixt kept secrets from her past.
'I expect your tribe was sacrificing people all the time anyway.'
'We were not. We were very civilised. Human sacrifice was rare.'
'Bunch of ignorant barbarians if you ask me.'
'The Ixtini were a great tribe of builders, astronomers and traders. With occasional human sacrifice. But plenty of other civilisations have resorted to human sacrifice in special circumstances. Even the Romans did it a few times, and it's very un-Roman.'
'Did you ever meet any ancient Romans?'
'I met plenty. I was there on the beach with my face painted blue, waving a spear, when Julius Caesar's invasion force landed.'
Nakishdan looked at Mixt sceptically. He had often suspected that he was not the only one to exaggerate tales from the past.
Mixt pressed some more keys, bring the star map a long way forward in time. 'It's going to happen again pretty soon,' she muttered. 'Might even be this year.'
'What? What's going to happen soon?'
Nakishdan looked exasperated. 'Would you stop doing this? Ever since I've known you, you've been giving out hints of some mysterious cycle that keeps happening, but you never well me what it is. What's going on?'
Mixt sipped from a cup of tea, and said nothing.
'Are you in danger? I insist you tell me. I'm not leaving this room till you tell me everything.'
'Your shironuri make-up still needs a little more work,' said Mixt.
'Does it? OK, lets go and do that.'
'I have to say, Glade,' Nakishdan lifted his arms expansively. 'It was one of the finest feats of Search Unit Sigma. Completely on my own, Mixt lying unconscious at my feet, and a host of snakes on the attack. At least two big ones, but I thought I saw more in the background. One of them was huge. Probably twice as big as any we've seen before.'
'Was this - '
'You're not hurting Mixt while I'm around,' I told them. 'I'll protect her with my life. Attack all you want, Nakishdan does not desert his friends. Regard my splendid new fighting kimono! Well, you could see the snakes were a bit put off by this, me being so resolute, and my new kimono being really something, but it didn't stop them attacking. It was all I could do to hold them off. I was slashing right and left. I cut one's head off but then another one swooped down and I sliced that up and then the largest one - probably three times as big as any we've seen before - '
'I thought you said - '
'- attacked me with incredible speed. I drove my sword right into it's skull but that didn't stop it. It was too strong. I looked it right in the eye, and they were dark, evil, full of hatred. The sort of eyes that might make a person flinch. But not me. I stared right back, withdrew my sword and slashed again. Meanwhile there was another snake ripping my kimono with it's teeth. I cut the huge snake's head right off and in the same movement turned and killed the other one.'
'Really,' said Glade, rather dryly. 'What happened then?'
'When the other snakes saw this, they just gave up. You could see them thinking 'This isn't a man we can trifle with. He's already killed half of us, and destroyed our leader, who was probably four times as big as any other recorded flying snake.' I shouted at them 'Come fight me if you dare!' but they'd had enough. They all fled. So I picked up Mixt and we went inside. Then we did my make up.'
Glade looked at Mixt, on the other side of the table in the small cafe.
'Is that an accurate account of events?'
'Accurate enough,' said Mixt.
'Hah,' said Rainith.
'You can hah all you like. You weren't there when I was fighting off a squadron of flying snakes.'
'Well, congratulations on your success. I'll send a report to Ms Darben. The attacks seem to be getting worse. The tunnels are full of them at the moment, we're drafting in more troops. They Department asked if we could spare you to fight there, but we can't. We need to keep sending you back.'
Glade studied his iPad. 'Delta 5. At a university in London, in 1979.'
'Is this another horrible punk band?' asked Nakishdan.
'They wen't a punk band,' snapped Rainith. 'They were post-punk. Don't you know anything?'
'They haven't done much in the way of decoration.'
Mixt and Nakishdan looked round the concert hall in King's College. The walls were concrete, apparently made from breeze-blocks, plain and undecorated. The room was totally bare, devoid of furniture. The bright lighting reflected off the polished hard-wood floor.
'I've seen school gyms that were more comfortable than this.'
'It's like it was designed not to have any atmosphere.'
'Couldn't they put a poster up or something?'
A balcony ran round three sides of the room. On one side of the upstairs level was a bar. Nakishdan looked with distaste at his beer. It wasn't so much that he didn't like it - though it wasn't great beer - but he found the plastic glass quite offensive.
'Beer never tastes right in a plastic glass. Why don't they have proper glasses?'
'Maybe the students are really violent.'
'I really don't like plastic glasses.'
'Try not to fixate on it. Where's Rainith?'
'Probably right in front of the stage, waiting for the band to come on.'
'It's weird how much she's enjoying all this.'
'At least it's made her slightly more communicative.'
'It has. Though I didn't much enjoy her monologue about the interesting developments in post-punk in 1979.'
The lights dimmed, in preparation for the band. Mixt and Nakishdan watched as the students in the bar began to file downstairs.
'Is this 1979? Or 1978?'
Mixt shrugged. They'd both become confused about dates.
Delta 5 came onstage to a small ovation. Three young women and two young men.
'Are you feeling anything?' asked Mixt.
'A bit tired.'
'I meant are you feeling anything like flying snakes are going to appear, or hostile ninjas? Or Geed Lala is in the vicinity?'
'No. I can't sense anything like that.'
Nakishdan and Mixt both spun round, alarmed. They were strangers in this time. No one here should know them by name. A young girl was smiling at Nakishdan. Her hair was mostly blue, with a few yellow streaks. Mixt's first impression was that she was Chinese.
'Still wearing the kimono? she said.
Nakishdan looked blank. The girl laughed.
'Forgotten me? We met in the Moonlight club. You spilled beer over my feet.'
'That's right. Well, I'm busy, got to go.'
With that, the girl quickly disappeared down the stairs to the main room.
'Lala? Was that Geeda Lala?'
'Eh…' Nakishdan wasn't sure.
'Quick, follow her.'
They headed for the stairs. Half-way down they were intercepted by four dark-clad warriors.
'Damn it Nakishdan, I thought you said you didn't sense anything!' Mixt scrambled to unsheathe her weapon.
'I was distracted by the plastic glass,' said Nakishdan. 'It upset me.'
When Rainith emerged from the tube station at Notting Hill Gate it was 1978, the sun was shining, and she was heading for Rough Trade records. She paused for a moment to take her bearings, then headed down Pembridge Road before turning left into Portobello Road. She knew there was a market there, and though it wasn't her destination, she felt it was worth the detour. She'd read about punk bands buying clothes and records at the market and wanted to see it.
The market stalls lined the streets, making the pavement crowded. Usually the crowd would have irritated Rainith but today she didn't mind. She walked slowly down Portobello Road, stopping frequently to look at the articles on sale. A few of the market stalls did have clothes she liked, though many were selling items she'd normally have no interest in - household goods, artworks, antiques. For some reason, even these seemed interesting today.
She felt the warmth of the sun. Today there was no one to tell her what to do or where to go. She'd freed herself and she was heading towards Rough Trade. Rainith thought of the records she wanted. She thought of the singles in their picture sleeves, picture sleeves she coveted and hadn't been able to obtain before. She'd read that they were all over the walls at Rough Trade. Sleeves all over the walls, and records piled up on the counter, and fanzines piled beside them. She had money in her purse and she knew she was going to buy something. Rainith smiled at the thought.
She turned left along Westbourne Grove into Kensington Park Road. Though she'd never been here, Rainith had memorised the directions. The sun shone down. A cat looked out at her from a window, and yawned. Rainith skipped over the battered old paving stones. Her troubles, previously overwhelming, melted away. She didn't think about her scar. She didn't think about her banishment. She didn't think about all the aggravations of her day to day life.
She didn't exactly register it consciously, but it was good to be young and free, and as she walked through the sunshine towards the record shop, Rainith was, for the first time in her life, very happy.