There was a desperate fight on the stairs as Mixt and Nakishdan held off their attackers; Captain Lir and three other agents from 102 Woo. Fortunately, in the staircase, there was no room for them to be outflanked. Unfortunately there was very little room for Mixt to wield her naginata, the long weapon not being ideal for the circumstances. Nakishdan, his sword in his hand, fought beside her. It seemed like the right thing to do, although he was aware that his primary task in a situation like this was to use his psychic field to prevent onlookers from seeing what was happening. That couldn't be helped. Any students coming down the stairs and stumbling upon an armed struggle were just going to have to make the best of it.
It took all of Mixt's skill with her weapon to prevent any of 102 Woo's blades from breaching her defence. She was forced gradually back up the stairs. At the top of the stairs was a broad stairwell where they would be in danger of being surrounded. Nakishdan slashed forward with his sword, but one of the armed men turned the blade with a small shield attached to his arm, a curious device Nakishdan had never seen before. 102 Woo's blades and shields were all unfamiliar, and their agents were skilful fighters. Nakishdan's stroke left him slightly exposed and a blade slashed his arm. His kimono had turned from black to yellow as he fought, and now a red stain appeared on the sleeve.
There was a blur of movement behind their opponents as the fairy-sized Rainith arrived on the scene. She flew over their heads, twisting her body to deliver a vicious cut. She landed beside Mixt, changed into her human shape for a fraction of a second, changed back into fairy shape them flew low down to deliver another cut at an attacker's ankle. The agents of 102 Woo, disorientated, paused in their attack. Mixt immediately slashed across the width of the stairwell with her naginata, an unstoppable blow which sent them tumbling downstairs, blood spurting from multiple wounds.
102 Woo found themselves at the bottom of the stairs with three determined opponents facing them, one of them apparently able to change shape at will. The door behind them opened and four students emerged. Behind them the band, Delta 5, were still playing.
Can I interfere in your crisis?
No, mind you own business.
''Abort,' muttered Captain Lir. The agents swiftly disappeared through the door.
The students looked in surprise at Mixt with her long naginata in her hand, and Nakishdan with a sword, and blood on his yellow kimono. Rainith, knowing that she should not be seen here as a fairy, had swiftly taken cover in Mixt's bag.
Mixt sheathed her weapon snapping the two halves together so that it slid under her coat. Nakishdan his his sword under his kimono. They looked at the students. No explanation seemed possible. Mixt and Nakishdan put their heads down and walked swiftly downstairs and through the doors, into the main room, where the band were just leaving the stage.
Rainith popped out of Mixt's bag. 'Now I've missed the band!' she cried. 'That's so annoying!'
There were many beautiful places in the Fairy Kingdom of Mercia. The King's Palace behind the waterfall was particularly splendid, as was the Blue Tower of the Heron. The Serene Oak was famous throughout many Fairy Lands. Rainith, in her bad-tempered way, had never been that impressed by any of them. Familiarity, followed by exile, with her resultant hostility to all fairies, and everyone else, left her with no cherished memories of home. Rainith did not expect to ever gaze at anything in wonder. She had too many layers of hostility to regard anything with awe. So she was not awestruck when she walked into Rough Trade, but she did feel a definite sense of pleasure, more than she'd felt for some time. It was a small shop, but packed with merchandise, much of which she wanted. Picture sleeves did cover the walls as she'd hoped. There were records everywhere, and fanzines on the counter, and badges too, in bowls beside the fanzines. She picked up a handful of badges, looking at the bands' names, then hunted through the fanzines for copies of Sticky Glitter, before turning her attention to the records that covered the walls.
Rainith had money in her purse. Some old currency supplied by the Department for their missions back in time, and a little more from gold she'd exchanged at a dealer's, which she'd made some effort in learning how to do. She'd never looked forward to spending money before, finding pleasure only in hoarding the gold she'd earned. Now, in 1978 in at the record shop, she was eager to buy.
Rainith had refused to return home with Mixt and Nakishdan after the previous night's mission. She was angry at them for making her miss most of Delta's 5's set. In breach of all department protocols, she'd decided to remain for a while in 1978, and visit a Rough Trade Records. She could return home later. She knew that Agent Duluth and the rest of the department would be furious with her, but she didn't care. Let them sort out their own human problems. She wasn't beholden to them for anything.
Rainith scanned the walls, then transferred her attention to the record racks, trying to find the discs she wanted. This was quite confusing for a first time visitor, as the records were not in alphabetical order. She had to ask a few times at the counter for guidance. As she gathered up a growing bundle of records, including the X-Ray Spex singles in the picture sleeves that she'd particularly wanted, she could still feel the same warm glow she'd experience while walking down Kensington Park Road in the sunshine, free and happy.
'It's not our fault,' said Nakishdan. 'You can't blame us if the fairy went mad and decided to stay in 1978. Or 1979, wherever we were.'
'Absolutely,' agreed Mixt. 'We're not to blame. I resent any implication that it's our fault. You know what Rainith is like. No sense of loyalty to the mission. No sense at all, really. She just refused to come back.'
'What were we supposed to do? We couldn't drag her to the tube station by force. Not without a fight, anyway.'
'And there'd already been a fight when were were attacked in the university.'
'That wasn't our fault either. If you're thinking of blaming us for that, forget it.'
'I'm outraged that you'd ever consider blaming us.' Mixt contrived to look outraged. 'What's with all this blame for events beyond our control? You send us back in time on these missions, we're doing our best in difficult circumstances, battling with huge flying snakes and mysterious ninjas who can also travel through time, putting our lives at risk, defending the country, for what? For endless blame from the Department. Have you even considered the danger we're in? Have you thought about the excellent work we've been doing?'
'Work which no one else could do,' added Nakishdan. 'It's all very well you saying 'Mixt and Nakishdan are to blame for everything going wrong,' but who else are you going to send on these missions? We're the ones doing the dirty work. Do you know how many snakes and ninjas we've faced? Hundreds, I expect. And what's more I really don't like these punk bands.'
'I'm still undecided about the bands.'
'Mixt is still undecided about the bands. But I'd like it a lot better if we could go to some gigs where people could actually play their instruments. But no, nothing we do is good enough for you, you just have to blame us every time something goes wrong.'
Mixt and Nakishdan looked defiantly across the table at Duluth, Glade, and Ms Darben.
'Will you please shut up?' said Ms Darben, 'We weren't blaming you for anything.'
Mixt and Nakishdan stared at them suspiciously.
'I'm sure you were blaming us.'
'No we weren't. We haven't said anything yet.'
'We haven't had the chance.' Duluth was irritated. 'We haven't been able to get a word in. Do you think we might have a proper report, rather than this endless duologue about your lack of blame?'
Mixt and Nakishdan were both suspicious about the word duologue, but let it pass for the moment.
'There's not much to report really. We arrived at the gig, probably met Geeda Lala, got attacked by agents from 102 Woo, fought them off, saw the end of the gig, then Rainith decided she was going to stay in 1978, and flew off.'
'Not much to report? That's a major crisis in every area of the mission!'
'It's not our fault,' said Nakishdan. 'And it's no use blaming us all the time.'
'Absolutely,' agreed Mixt. 'Frankly, I'm staggered at the accusations being made against us here. We did our best. It's time the Department started looking elsewhere for scapegoats.'
Rainith the Red was very happy with her purchases, but as she handed over her money at Rough Trade records, she realised there was a flaw in her plan. When she'd decided to remain in the past for a while, she'd been unconcerned about anything practical. As a fairy, life in the city was not pleasant, but neither was it too difficult. She could shrink to her fairy size and time she wanted, which meant she could sleep almost anywhere. In trees, on rooftops, or the attics of warm houses, flying in unobserved through open windows, taking food when necessary. Now, however, she had a problem. For the first time, she had possessions. She'd bough a great supply of records and magazines.
As she stepped away from the counter, she looked at her new belongings with some puzzlement. It was quite a thrill to find the records she wanted, but what was she going to do with them? If she changed into her fairy size, she couldn't carry them, they'd be much too heavy.
Previously, Rainith had buried things. She had a secret horde of gold buried near a tree in a park. She liked burying gold. Records however, were different. They didn't seem like the sort of thing that should be buried. Besides, she wanted to play them. That brought up another problem. She didn't have a record player. Rainith stood in the middle of the shop, quite puzzled.
'I didn't quite think this all through. I need a place to live. And a record player. And money, maybe.'
Faced with the rather difficult task of finding a place to live, in a hurry, in London, Rainith wondered if she should return to her own time. She was sure if she went to the tube station, she could intercept one of the trains that carried Mixt and Nakishdan back and forth. She was loathe to do this. It seemed like admitting failure.
'They'd mock me for coming back right away. It would be like I made a mistake.'
Rainith was not willing to admit making a mistake. She cast around for another solution. To her annoyance, another problem occurred to her. She wasn't as far back in time as she wanted to be.
'This was a good time to come to to buy records. But I wanted to go back further. I wanted to see the Sex Pistols. I wanted to see their first gig in 1975.'
Rainith began to feel angry. She didn't like it when everything seemed difficult.
'Hi! Did you enjoy the gig?'
Rainith turned round. Standing there was the girl they'd met the night before.
'Lala?' said Rainith.
'Yes. What did you think of the band?'
'I didn't get to see much of them.'
Rainith was impressed with Lala's blue and yellow hair. She wondered how she did that.
'You're looking a bit lost,' said Lala.
'I'm just wondering what to do next.'
'Right.' Lala smiled. She was rather small, like Rainith, only a little over five feet tall. 'I thought it might have been because you've travelled back in time. That can be confusing, in this city. Especially if you're not human. Like us.'