Mixt smiled as she slid her key into the lock. 'It's always nice to be home after a mission.'
Nakishdan followed her inside. 'I want to know more about this Roman Orgy.'
'Would you like some tea?'
'Tell me about the orgy.'
Mixt hunted around in the cupboards in the downstairs kitchen. 'I haven't made a pot of Lapsang Souchong for a while. That will be nice.'
'Tell me about the orgy.'
'Or would you prefer Oolong?'?
'Any tea is fine. Tell me about the orgy.'
'I don't admire this cavalier attitude to tea,' said Mixt. 'It's worthy of more careful consideration.'
They looked at each other.
'Stop obfuscating,' said Nakishdan.
'I wouldn't say I was obfuscating.'
'You're avoiding the subject.'
'Avoiding the subject is different from obfuscating.'
'Tell me about the orgy!'
Mixt shrugged. 'It was just a lot of people having sex. Not much to tell, really.'
'What were you doing there?'
'I think I answered that already. Fucking people.'
'That's not what I meant. I meant how did you end up there?'
'Oh.' Mixt looked thoughtful. 'Well, I was in Salernum, which was quite a busy trading centre. I was running a business, importing cloth into Rome. Rome wasn't a bad place for women to run businesses, you got reasonable legal protection, if you kept on the right side of the right people. Anyway, Salernum wasn't far from the island of Capri, where the Emperor Tiberius was living. He was fairly notorious for sexual debauchery and suchlike. Sometimes he held extra-big orgies and when that happened, his agents would come into Salernum, hiring prostitutes to make up the numbers.'
'Make up the numbers?'
'There were a lot of wealthy people at the orgies, but they always needed a few more bodies. Young girls from the brothels, mainly. And they hired some athletes and gladiators too. For the rich senators' wives, you know. So I joined up, and went along to Capri.'
'But you said you were running a business,' said Nakishdan.
'So why did you volunteer? Were you short of money?'
'Not really. It came in handy, but I was doing all right.'
'I don't understand why you'd get yourself hired for an orgy when you didn't need the money.'
Mixt shrugged. 'I was curious.'
Nakishdan watched as Mixt filled the tea pot from the kettle. He didn't seem satisfied by Mixt's explanation.
'It still sounds like a strange thing to do.'
'Why does it bother you?' asked Mixt.
'It doesn't bother me.'
'It obviously does.'
The walked from the kitchen to their main living room. Mixt carried the cups and tea pot. Nakishdan brought the biscuit barrel, one of several very old pieces of kitchenware still to be found in Mixt's mansion.
'So did you enjoy it?'
'Quite,' said Mixt. 'It was a change, anyway. I'd been around Rome for about ninety years, without having that much sex, for one reason or another. I was making up for that when Granyu arrived and spoiled things. I was shocked when he appeared, I hadn't seen him for about four hundred years.'
They sat on the couch, placing the tea and biscuits on the small wooden table, once a beautiful rosewood piece, now badly worn.
'I realised later that Granyu was alerted by the aura of massed eroticism. I'm not sure why.'
'Probably because your ancient British tribe were all obsessed with sex. Frolicking naked under Stonehenge most of the time, I expect.'
'Nakishdan, you do talk nonsense sometimes. Frolicking naked under Stonehenge was not done all that often. Four or five times a year, at most.'
'You say the archivists have just found this?' Ms Darben took the single sheet of paper from Agent Duluth. It was creased at the corners, and slightly yellowed with age.
'They sent it over this morning, after we asked them to do another search.'
'When was it printed?'
'Around 1968, they think.'
Ms Darben's brow wrinkled as she studied the paper. It appeared to be a very rudimentary sort of fanzine. It was called Fairies Hate You.
'Her title gets straight to the point.'
'Much like her reviews,' said Duluth.
Ms Darben glanced down the page.
Fairies Hate You
Jimi Hendrix at the Marquee - Stop playing so many notes. No one wants to hear so many notes. I'm not impressed at all. All his songs were boring and he played too many guitar solos. I hate guitar solos. He did have quite a nice jacket but that's not enough. The drummer was really annoying too.
Rating - fucking, fucking awful.
Soft Machine at the UFO club - The UFO club is the worst place in the world. I wouldn't care if a bomb fell on it and killed everyone, including Soft Machine. In fact I'd laugh. Soft Machine are so bad they shouldn't be allowed on stage. There's hardly any point trying to describe how bad they are because it can't be done. They're dreadful. It's not even music.
Rating - fucking, fucking, fucking, awful.
'You believe this was written by Rainith?'
'It seems likely. I mean, Fairies Hate You? Who else could it be? It mentions two gigs we know she was at. And she did show an interest in fanzines when she went back to 1977.
Ms Darben turned the paper over. The other side was blank. She looked again at the reviews, studying the font. 'What is this? It looks like it was originally produced on a typewriter. Has it been photocopied?'
'No, there weren't many photocopiers around at the time. This was produced on a Roneo Vickers.'
'A machine that made copies using ink and a stencil. They were popular back then. You put the stencil in the typewriter and the keys cut the stencil. You can see where she's made mistakes and had to cross things out.'
The fanzine was primitive, and messy, though Ms Darben noticed that there was nothing wrong with Rainith's spelling or punctuation. 'She never spells anything wrongly, or misplaces an apostrophe.'
'The fairy school in the Kingdom of Mercia has a good reputation.'
'Best school in the fairy lands, so it's said.'
'At least they taught her some standards.' Ms Darben winced as she caught sight of the next review. 'Though I've never seen a music critic suggest a singer do that with his microphone before. She seems to hate Cream even more than Soft Machine. They get four fuckings. It's an interesting rating system.'
Ms Darben put the sheet down on her desk. 'How much of a problem do you think this is?'
'I don't know. The agents we send into the past aren't meant to take any action that might alter events. But now Rainith's gone rogue and we can't control her. I don't know what effect this might have.'
'Would a small fanzine have any tangible effect on society? She can't have produced very many. It didn't go on to become a famous publication, did it?'
'Not as far as we know. Though history could change. The Kesh have been protecting us from that, but now Rainith is hidden even from them.'
'At least we have an idea where she's been in the past. She's telling us what gigs she visited. We might be able to send Mixt and Nakishdan to do something about it.'
'Or make things worse,' muttered Agent Duluth, who had little faith in either Mixt or Nakishdan.
'Good news. Fourteen Trees has moved us forward a whole year.' Geeda Lala studied her small personal screen. 'I think that means we're in 1968. No wait, then she moved us back again. Then we went forward another three weeks. Then she moved us back. But we've still ended up a few months forward from where we were.'
Rainith the Red did not count this as good news. 'Why are they shuffling us around like this? Why doesn't she just move us forward in time like she's meant to?'
'They're hiding us from Mathematician Girsin,' said Geeda.
'I don't want to be hidden! Just bring us together and I'll kill him.'
Geeda looked at her fairy companion. 'I don't think Girsin is so easy to kill. Most people are scared of him.'
'Well I'm not. Tell your stupid friend Fourteen Trees and her stupid 47 Jeng that I want to meet him.'
Geeda smiled. Unlike almost everyone else, she was largely unaffected by Rainith's anger and hostility, taking most of it in her stride.
'I can't tell her anything. I can't communicate with her at all. We just have to trust them to get us back.'
'If I have to go to more of these horrible hippy gigs I'll probably kill someone anyway,' muttered Rainith.
The fairy was sitting on the floor, surrounded by sheets of paper. At her side was a small ceramic bowl containing eight threepenny bits. Rainith had been selling her fanzine, Fairies Hate You, for threepence. She sold very few, but did not seem discouraged. She was convinced it was a worthwhile effort. When one of her customers, a young man who'd bought a copy outside a Small Faces gig, had later sought her out to complain about the content, she'd been positively pleased at his outrage.
'You said Cream should all die in a car crash! That's not proper music journalism!' he'd complained.
'Yes it is,' said Rainith.
'I want my money back.'
Rainith had refused to return his money. While she mainly liked gold, she was rather fond of the curious, twelve-sided threepenny bits that still existed in the 60s. She picked one up from the bowl and studied it. On one side was the Queen's head, and on the other, a portcullis. The portcullis reminded her of an Elvish castle she'd once seen. She thought about the fairy realm. Her mood darkened, as it always did when she remembered the Fairy King. She still despised him. She felt a slight tingling in her face. Her prominent scar was still hidden by the fairy spell Origen had given her, but she never forgot it was there.
'So where are we?' asked Rainith. 'Are we anywhere near 1975 yet?'
'No. It's December 1967.'
Geeda turned over the pages of the music paper she was reading. She studied the listings. 'The Beatles are opening their shop next week. There's a launch party. We should go.'
'Why would we go to that? It sounds terrible.'
'It's the sort of place Fourteen Trees might appear. I still think she might be able to take us all the way home if we could actually meet her.'
Rainith scowled. 'We walked past that shop. They were painting it in bright colours. I hated it. The launch party will be dreadful.'
'You're not really one for psychedelia, are you?'
'Of course not. I'm a fairy. We're practical. We don't waste our time on nonsense.' Rainith picked up a sheet of paper. 'If we're going to the Beatles shop I'm going to make a special issue with lots of bad reviews about them.'
She began to write. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is the worst album ever made…
StarMix was engaged in a desperate struggle against overwhelming odds. She was crouching behind a metal crate, pouring laser fire into the squadron of mercenaries from Gamma Red who'd just burst into the warehouse. The mercenaries had two battle commanders and a heavy mech and she couldn't stop them from advancing.
'Target the mech!' she yelled at her companion, StarNak. There was no response. She reloaded as quickly as she could. Again she emptied the contents of her laser rifle into the advancing mech but it was powerfully shielded, and still advanced relentlessly.
'What's the matter with you?' she yelled at her companion. 'Why aren't you firing?'
Mixt suddenly noticed that Nakishdan was no longer sitting beside her. Puzzled, she paused the game and looked round.
'Nakishdan? Why are you lying on the floor?'
Nakishdan looked dazed. 'What happened?'
'We were fighting mercenaries from Gamma Red. Then you disappeared.' There was a slightly accusatory tone in Mixt's voice. 'You deserted me.'
Nakishdan shook his head as he sat up. 'I passed out.'
'Are you all right now? Can we start playing again?'
Nakishdan looked annoyed. 'Shouldn't you be worried about me passing out?'
'Sorry. I really wanted to beat the mercenaries.' Mixt laid down her controller and put her arm round Nakishdan. 'What happened?'
'I had some sort of vision. That hasn't happened for a while. I don't like it.'
Nakishdan's psychic powers did occasionally manifest in unexpected ways, though visions were very rare.
'Lie on the couch. I'll make tea.'
Nakishdan's strength quickly returned. By the time Mixt returned with tea he was back to normal.
'I'm sorry I didn't notice you'd passed out.'
'That's all right.'
'What was the vision?'
Mixt raised her eyebrows. 'Are you sure it was a vision?'
'You are prone to wandering off into fantasy at inappropriate times. Like when you're driving the car.'
'No, it was definitely a vision. There were people on mattresses, having sex. Everything was colourful. Like colourful lights, and posters, and clothes. We were there, watching everything.'
Nakishdan frowned, and fell silent.
'Some people like 102 Woo arrived and killed us.'
'That doesn't sound good.'
Mixt poured the tea.
'We should pay attention to this vision,' said Nakishdan.
'If the Department wants us to go somewhere with colourful lights and posters and clothes, we should say no.'
Mixt's phone rang. She answer it, listened for a few moments, then looked over at Nakishdan. 'It's Glade. He says we have to go back to 1967 to attend a launch at the Beatles Boutique.'
'Say we're not going!'
'We're not going,' said Mixt, and ended the call. The phone rang again almost immediately, but she let it ring, and didn't answer.