Mixt was amused, though a little troubled. 'I can't believe you caved in so easily.'
Nakishdan looked guilty. 'They tricked me. When I told Glade I refused to go to the Beatles launch unless the Department let me wear fancy dress, I wasn't expecting him to agree.'
Nakishdan studied himself in the mirror. He was dressed in a dazzlingly bright orange satin costume, closely modelled on that worn by George Harrison on the cover of Sgt Pepper's.
'It's a really great costume,' he enthused. 'I've always liked these Sgt Pepper outfits.'
'Eighteen hours ago you had a vision that 102 Woo were going to kill us.'
'I know. But it is a really great costume. I couldn't pass up the opportunity.'
Mixt had resisted the temptation to wear something similar but was, unwillingly, dressed in a long flowing dress. She eyed her reflection with distaste. 'I've always hated long flowing dresses. The flower pattern isn't helping.'
Mixt and Nakishdan were being sent back to 1967, to the launch party for the opening of the Apple Boutique. While the Historical Disturbance Department had access to many resources, they had no way of providing them with authentic invitations. They would have to convince whoever was on the door to let them in. It had been felt that on this occasion, it would be better if they looked the part.
'I'll look bloody silly if I have to fight and my naginata gets caught up in my skirt.'
Nakishdan wasn't listening. He was too busy strutting up and down in front of the mirror. 'I really love this outfit. It's probably time I wore something different.'
'The flowing orange satin is quite a contrast to your normal kimono.'
Nakishdan nodded enthusiastically, completely missing Mixt's sarcasm. 'I especially love the hat.'
Mixt sighed. Nakishdan might have stopped worrying about his alarming vision but she hadn't. She was sure that something bad was going to happen at the launch. She'd been reading about the event on a website that detailed a lot of Beatles' history.
'It doesn't say anything about a savage fight. But I don't suppose it would, as we haven't been there yet.'
Mixt frowned. 'If we go there and we end up in a savage fight will Beatles history change? Will all these histories read differently tomorrow?'
Nakishdan shrugged. 'I try not to think about time paradoxes. I don't like them.'
'What if Rainith stabs George Harrison by accident?'
'Why would she do that?'
'Who knows? I doubt her temper's any better after she's been stuck in the sixties for months.'
'Will Rainith even be there?' asked Nakishdan.
'Glade thought she would. The Kesh think it's possible.'
According to Agent Glade, 102 Woo, with the assistance of Girsin, were currently battling 47 Jeng for historical mathematical superiority. Neither side had yet gained a decisive advantage. The struggle, taking both sides' attention, had allowed the Research Institute of the Kesh to make some inroads. They could not precisely locate either Geeda Lala or Rainith the Red, but did predict their arrival at the launch.
'I suppose even we have to die sometime,' said Mixt, putting on her coat and slipping her long-bladed naginata underneath.
'Die? You're not normally so pessimistic.'
'You don't normally have visions of us dying.'
'I'll protect you.' Nakishdan brandished his sword. He looked in the mirror again. 'Have you noticed how well this sword goes with this outfit? It could have been made for it.'
On the corner of Baker Street and Paddington Street, Rainith the Red and Geeda Lala forced their way through the crowd outside the Beatles' Apple shop. A large crowd of onlookers had turned up to watch the arrival of those rock stars and celebrities who'd been invited. As they watched, John Lennon and Eric Clapton walked into the shop. Though the two men on the door waved them through without hesitation, they were stopping other, less well-known faces, and checking invitations.
'How are we going to get in?' Rainith studied the building. There were five floors. The exterior of the store was covered in a bright mural, which Geeda admired. Rainith refused to admit it had any merit.
'Psychedelic rubbish.' She looked upwards. 'I could fly in the top floor and then open the back door for you.'
'That would work,' said Geeda. 'But I've got another idea. This will be fun.'
They squeezed their way to the front. The doormen eyed them suspiciously. One of them was obviously a professional, a large man with experience in keeping out unwanted guests, but the other, with very long hair and a purple velvet suit, looked more promising.
'Let us in,' said Geeda.
The young man shook his head, though he smiled at them. Rainith wore her workman's clothes and Geeda had on a scruffy donkey jacket. Both had short, spiky hair. In the surrounding mass of long hair and flowing dresses, they stood out, very conspicuously.
'It's invitation only.'
'We reject your concept of invitations,' replied Geeda. 'And your patriarchal hierarchy. We are lesbian separatist feminists, here to undermine your male-dominated imperialist hippy music power trip. We are the fore-runners of the impending revolution so you'd better let us in.'
The young man looked at them in surprise. Then he laughed. 'Cool,' he said. 'Then I suppose you'd better come in.'
Geeda and Rainith strode inside. They halted beside a table loaded with drinks. Rainith took a glass. She turned to Geeda.
'Are we any of these things?'
'I've no idea. But I think it's around this time that that sort of thing became popular. We can probably get a lot of mileage out of it. We're already getting abused as dykes in the street. Might as well turn it to our advantage.'
It was true. The unusual looking pair had received some hostile comments in the sixties streets, some of it quite unpleasant.
Rainith sipped her drink, then made a face. 'What is this? Apple juice?'
'No alcohol licence,' said Geeda.
'Stupid sixties. Let's look around.'
Rainith had a bundle of papers in her pocket, her new rush-issue of Fairies Hate You. It was composed almost entirely of hostile anti-Beatle reviews, including scathing criticisms of albums she hadn't actually heard.
'I wonder where Eric Clapton went to? I'd really like to tell him how much I hate his guitar playing.'
'You're never really going to be happy in the sixties, are you?'
'Not unless I can abuse everyone. You don't like it here either.'
Geeda shrugged. 'It's not my preferred destination. I did come to London to go to all the punk gigs I read about. But this is fun too, in a way.'
'Ha.' Rainith was unconvinced. 'Nowhere that smells of Patchouli oil is fun.'
Mixt and Nakishdan forced their way through the crowd towards the Beatles shop. The mass of onlookers had grown, and those with invitations struggled to get through. A BBC radio reporter stood outside the door, interviewing attendees. Several policemen had arrived, due to the size of the crowd.
Mixt paused. 'I wasn't expecting there to be police. Now we might have trouble talking our way in.'
'Won't be a problem,' said Nakishdan. He took two invitations from his pocket, discretely showing them to Mixt.
'How did you get these?'
Mixt grinned. 'I forgot what a good pickpocket you are.'
Needing some way to make a living, the young Nakishdan had learned various criminal skills at the start of the twentieth century. In the course of his extended life, these had often come in useful.
'Who are we meant to be?'
Nakishdan glanced at the invitations. 'Kenneth Tynan and wife.'
'I don't know.'
'Doesn't his wife get a name?'
They walked confidently into the large Apple Boutique, handing over their invitations. The man at the door barely glanced at them as they passed. Inside, Mixt and Nakishdan paused to look around. The shop was full of people dressed in a variety of styles; some in extravagant, flowing, hippyish garments, others in suits.
'Music, fashion and business. No sign of Rainith. Or 102 Woo.' Mixt stumbled. 'I hate this long dress. I need to change.'
Nakishdan nodded. There were racks of clothes against the walls. They made their way over, but it was difficult looking through the clothes, with so many people milling around, and several people sitting in the middle of the floor, playing flutes and a sitar.
'All I can see down here are more long dresses. Let's look upstairs.'
Nakishdan glanced at his reflection in a mirror. He was enjoying walking around in his orange Sgt Pepper's outfit. The climbed the stairs. At the top, Mixt came to an abrupt halt, frowning.
'There were thirteen stairs.' She looked cross. 'Who makes thirteen stairs?'
'Go down one and come back,' suggested Nakishdan. 'That'll make fifteen.'
'I don't like fifteen.'
'I thought you didn't mind it?'
'It's not too bad. But it's still bad for stairs.'
Mixt hopped down two stairs in one step, then stepped back up each one. 'That makes sixteen.'
Sixteen was one of Mixt's favourite numbers, and never troubled her.
'You're really dealing with your 'number-of-stairs' problem much better these days,' said Nakishdan.
'Thank you. I've definitely noticed an improvement.'
The second floor was also busy, though there were more people sitting on the floor.
'Everyone's stoned. What have they been taking?'
'I don't know. Not this apple juice, presumably. Look, at the back of that rail. Minidresses.'
Mixt studied the garments. 'Aren't these more 1965 than 1967?'
She took two minidresses from the rail to a small changing room in the corner. Moments later she returned, smiling. 'I cant use the changing room. It's full of people having sex. I didn't like to interrupt.'
'Just change here,' suggested Nakishdan. 'No one will care.'
Mixt took off her long dress, dumped it over a clothes rail, and squeezed into the minidress. When she looked in the nearby mirror she laughed.
'Look how pale my legs are. They haven't been out in the sun for a while.'
Mixt was enjoying herself. She hadn't tried on clothes in a shop for some time. She took a bundle of minidresses from the rack and stood in front of a mirror, holding each one in front of her and putting on the ones she liked. No one paid her much attention. In the busy, colourful launch party, her behaviour didn't seem out of place. There were other people sampling clothes from the racks.
'I like your outfit.'
Nakishdan turned round to find himself greeted by a tall man in a purple pointed hat. He wore a purple cloak, and looked rather like a wizard.
'Thanks. I like your hat.' Nakishdan was pleased that his outfit had been complimented. He introduced himself.
'I'm Girsin,' replied the man in the pointed hat.
John Lennon walked past. They looked at him with interest. Mixt appeared.
'I like this dress best. What do you think?'
Nakishdan admired the white minidress, which was very short, and fitted tightly around her slender frame.
'How do I pay for it? Are these clothes even on sale?'
It wasn't obvious whether the clothes were on sale or not. People were trying them on but there didn't seem to be any assistants around, and they couldn't see any sign of a cash register.
Nakishdan introduced Mixt to his new acquaintance. 'This is Girsin. We've been talking about the Beatles. We saw John Lennon go past.'
Mixt raised her eyebrows. 'Girsin?'
Girsin bowed slightly. Mixt shook her head, and spoke rather testily to Nakishdan. 'Do you never pay attention to anything?'
'What do you mean? I told you I liked your new dress.'
Mixt shook her head in frustration, and turned to the stranger. 'Are you Mathematician Girsin?'
'Oh,' said Nakishdan. 'I forgot about that.'
'How could you forget? It's the whole reason we're here.'
'I was put off by his clothes. If you're looking for some super-villain, you wouldn't expect them to be wearing a pointy hat and a cape. You'd expect them to be more discrete.'
Mixt considered this. 'Possibly.' She looked at Girsin. 'Is that your normal attire? Or did you get dressed up for the event?'
Mathematician Girsin smiled. 'I thought it was appropriate for the occasion.'
Three men suddenly appeared behind Girsin. Mixt recognised one of them as the leader of the agents of 102 Woo whom they'd encountered before. She took her coat from the floor, feeling for the long-bladed weapon concealed within.
'So, Mixt. We finally meet again,' came a voice from behind them. Mixt spun round.
'Really?' Nakishdan was perplexed. 'Your ancient enemy? Here at the same time? How did that happen?'
Granyu, tall, dressed in black, was a menacing figure. Accompanying him was a woman with long dark hair, rather regal features, and a purple dress, more formal than those around her. Nakishdan looked at her with interest, then nudged Mixt.
'Did you just nudge me so I'd introduce you to that woman?'
'That's Flavia. Originally from Rome.'
Flavia smiled at Nakishdan. He smiled back.
'What's going on?' came another familiar voice. Rainith the Red appeared at their side. Standing behind her was Geeda Lala.
'Hello Rainith. There's quite a lot going on.'
Rainith stared at everyone suspiciously. 'Who are these people?'
'Mathematician Girsin and agents from 102 Woo. And Granyu of the Ixtini with Flavia the Poisoner.'
Flavia's eyes narrowed. 'Flavia the Sorcerer, if you don't mind.'
'Quite a re-union,' said Girsin. He was younger than Mixt had been expecting, and friendlier, at least for the moment. He looked slightly comical, in his wizard's outfit.
'It's been pleasant to meet you,' he continued. 'But I should bring this to an end.'
A tiny screen appeared in the palm of his hand. Mixt drew her naginata, to interrupt whatever it was he was about to do. At that moment there was a loud bang and a piercing scream, as three monstrous flying snakes crashed through a partition, rearing up in the air with their fangs exposed. Nakishdan took out his sword.
'We've really screwed up history this time,' he muttered.