As the small girl in the unusual hat and brightly coloured coat materialised out of nowhere, there was a brief pause. Rainith held back from the savage attack she'd been about to launch on her three opponents, while the agents from 102 Woo regarded the newcomer warily. The girl brandished a small, almost transparent computer tablet, not one that Rainith had ever seen before.
'47 Jeng are the masters of Historical Mathematics,' she cried. 'I'll get rid of them.' The girl tapped rapidly on the screen. 'That ought to do it.'
'That's funny. Why didn't it work? I'll try again.'
Not seeing any reason to allow the interloper to tap endlessly on a computer screen, the leader of the agents from 102 Woo took a step forward and batted her to one side. The girl crashed into the corner of the stone doorway and burst into tears.
'Nice rescue,' thought Rainith. 'I'm surrounded by idiots.'
The fairy had now lost the momentum she'd gathered and was forced back into the doorway. She was under heavy pressure, fending off the blades of three skilful opponents. She blocked and parried desperately, meanwhile looking for an opportunity to change into her fairy size. If she could do that, she might be able to fly out of the doorway and get behind her enemies. It wasn't easy, under such heavy attack. If she lost concentration for a second she was liable to fall victim to one of their sharp blades.
Under the Elvish fencing master, Rainith had practiced fighting multiple opponents many times, and was skilful at it, but she knew she couldn't hold out forever. Not when her adversaries were themselves so skilled. Finally she took a chance, changing into her small fairy shape and launching herself free.
It didn't quite work. The agent to her right carried on with his stroke and, whether by accident or design, his blade caught her wing, dealing her a heavy blow which sent her spinning to the ground. Rainith leapt into the air just in time to avoid another blade but found herself still trapped in the doorway, unable to escape, fluttering round quite desperately to avoid the weapons of her assailants. She growled in frustration. Neglecting her own safety she flew straight at their leader, determined to stick her fairy-sized blade into his face, no matter if their weapons caught her or not.
Abruptly, and shockingly, a blade erupted from the leader's chest. Rainith paused, unsure what had just happened. The blade was withdrawn, and as the leader began to face from sight, Mixt stabbed the second warrior with her naginata. A curved blade, Nakishdan's, cut down the third man from behind. All three faded from sight, whether dying or simply returning to their own world, it was impossible to say.
Mixt looked at Nakishdan. 'Now that's what you call a rescue.'
'Definitely. One of our finest.'
'I didn't need rescuing.' Rainith, as was to be expected, was not grateful. 'I was fine. What are you doing here?'
'The Department sent us. To rescue you.'
'I didn't need rescuing.'
'It certainly looked liked you did.'
'Well I didn't.'
'Putting that to one side for a moment,' said Mixt. 'What's been going on here? Why is Fourteen Trees crying?'
'Who's Fourteen Trees?'
'The young woman in the hat and brightly coloured coat. Were you mean to her?' asked Nakishdan.
'I never even spoke to her! She just appeared, rambled some nonsense about history and mathematics and then got hit by one of the agents.' Rainith glared at Fourteen Trees, who was still drying her eyes. 'A complete waste of time.'
'Well, it's not everyone can do a rescue as well as us,' said Nakishdan. 'We're specialists at it.'
'I didn't need rescuing! Stop saying you rescued me!'
Geeda Lala emerged from the car. She ran towards Fourteen Trees. 'Fourteen! What are you doing here?'
'I came to rescue you.'
Geed embraced her friend. 'Thank you. How did you know where I was?'
'Should we all be standing around here?' Mixt looked around her at the dark London street, which, fortunately, was quite empty at this time of night. 'We're meant to be discrete. Nakishdan, did you manage to suppress anything?'
'No. If there were any spectators, they saw everything. I didn't have time, with the rescue.'
'Stop saying rescue.' Rainith glared at Nakishdan.
Mixt attempted to take control. 'There's a night bus coming. Everybody get on.'
The night bus was heading south, back into the centre of the city. Everyone alighted. They made for a strange collection of travellers.
'Where are we going?' asked Nakishdan.
'I thought we could call into the the flat. It's for emergency use only, but this is an emergency. Geeda, are you all right?'
Geeda Lala nodded. She seemed unaffected by her adventure, and was whispering with Fourteen trees.
'What's the idea of deserting Search Unit Sigma?' demanded Nakishdan, looking at Rainith.
'I hate Search Unit Sigma. And I didn't desert. I just used my initiative.'
'Ms Darben is angry.'
'I don't care about Miss Darben. Or you.'
Rainith suddenly looked angry. 'I missed the end of the gig! I was enjoying it so much! Geeda, we have to go and see Dr Feelgood again.'
The flat in Holborn was large for central London, stretching over two stories. It was owned by the Department. As far as the present-day Department could tell, it had been vacant during the 70s. Search Unit Sigma could therefore use it while in the past, but only in an emergency. It was not impossible that someone might visit, which would be awkward.
Mixt used her key to let them in. 'It would be funny if we ran into an agent from the 70s.'
'Do you think he'd believe we were from the future?' ask Nakishdan.
'Who knowns. I wouldn't.'
'Would it help if I made my kimono extra bright? Silver, maybe?'
'Why would that help?'
'I don't know. I thought it might look like I was from the future.'
The flat was empty. Fourteen Trees and Geeda Lala were whispering together, as they had been since they'd been re-united. Rainith the Red was in a bad mood, still insulted at the suggestion that she might have needed rescued.
'We need to get straight down to business,' began Mixt. 'Right after I search this flat for alcohol.'
The hunt quickly turned up three bottles of malt whisky. Mixt and Nakishdan were impressed.
'They never give us good stuff like this.'
'The department must have had more money in those days. '
'Probably they weren't so health conscious either.'
Mixt sipped whisky from a tumbler. She looked over to Geeda Lala. 'You've really been causing a lot of trouble. Flying snakes busting into our world, hostile agents everywhere, and historical chaos threatening to overwhelm us.'
If not exactly crushed, Geed did look a little guilty.
'It's time for you to go back.'
'Right,' said Geeda. 'About that… I'm really not keen.'
'It doesn't matter. You can't keep living in our world's past. The place will fall apart.'
Fourteen Trees, silent until now, stepped to Geeda's side. 'It wasn't really Geeda's fault. She just got her mathematics a bit wrong.'
'She tried to re-write things so she didn't do any harm but she got it a bit wrong. Understandable, really. She was never that great in school.'
'I wasn't that bad,' protested Geeda.
'You can't have been much good,' said Nakishdan. 'Not if your father wanted to send you some some prison planet.'
'It's called a study planet. And I'm not going.'
'You have to.'
'She's not going,' said Fourteen Trees.
'What?' Mixt was surprised. 'I thought you came to help.'
'I did. But I didn't realise how mean her father was being. I'm going to help her stay here. I can do historical mathematics much better that Geeda. I'll make sure these anomalies stop happening.'
'Not acceptable.' Mixt was set firmly against it. 'You have to leave this world. Or this dimension, if that's the right word. You have to leave anyway.'
'I'm not going back.'
Mixt turned to Rainith. 'You're friends with this girl. Tell her she can't stay here.'
Rainith shrugged. 'I don't care.' She turned to Geeda Lala. 'How long till the first Sex Pistols gig?'
'A couple of months.'
'Good. I'm looking forward to it.'
Fourteen Trees tapped a few entries into her computer pad and she, Geeda Lala and Rainith the Red faded from view.
'You know we're going to be blamed for this.' Nakishdan was gloomy as he rode the subway back to the present day. 'I hate being blamed for things.'
'I've noticed you have a problem with that.'
'I think it all stems from the time that general blamed me for sleeping with his wife and his daughter. And stealing his silver.'
'You did actually do all that.'
'I know. But he was so hostile about the whole thing.'
They rode in silence for a while.
'Maybe Fourteen Trees really can smooth things out. With her superior mathematics.'
'It didn't work when she came up against 102 Woo,' Nakishdan pointed out. 'They just batted her out of the way.'
'Perhaps she's just no good under pressure.'
They emerged at Holborn. It was a bright afternoon, warm and sunny. Mixt checked her bag.
'You know you're forbidden to transport anything between different time periods.'
'A couple of bottles of malt whisky can't do any harm.' Mixt screwed up her face. 'I don't see this ending well.'
'Do you think the Department will keep sending us on missions?'
'Who knows? Depends if things calm down, I suppose. Should we have made more effort to bring Geeda back?'
'How? Kill her?'
'Knock her out, maybe. But I wasn't expecting them all to vanish so fast.'
They walked down the Strand towards Trafalgar Square.
'Rainith really let us down.'
'I know. No surprise, I suppose. She always was a treacherous fairy.'
'And angry,' said Nakishdan. 'Didn't you hate the way she was angry all the time?'
'Maybe she'll cheer up once she sees the Sex Pistols.'
Mixt and Nakishdan stood at one of the many bus stops in Trafalgar Square, not sure what would happen next.