Princess Sowena was a very powerful fairy. Even so, it took her a long time to find Rainith the Red. She could not physically manifest herself in the past, but finally managed to project a faint image. Rainith, alone in her squatted flat in Ladbroke Grove, sensed her presence, and looked up sharply.
'Sowena? Are you here?'
'No, I'm still in the present'
'But I can see you.'
'Origath the Wise learned from the people who send your companions back in time. He taught me to look back.'
'Can you get me out of here?'
Sowena shook her head. 'Not yet. There are a lot of powerful forces surrounding you. The Fairies can't break them.'
'It's that annoying Fourteen trees and her friends!'
'They think they're protecting you.'
Rainith scowled. It was now 1970 and she was heartily sick of the past. '47 Jeng said they'd move ius forward but it's so slow. I don't think they're trying very hard.'
Princess Sowena noticed the papers on the floor. 'Are you still making your magazine?'
For the first time, Rainith showed some enthusiasm. 'I've got another edition coming out this week.' She proudly held up her single sheet.
Bands who would be a lot better if all the members died.
Beneath the headline there was a very long list.
'That's just the British ones,' explained Rainith. 'I've still to add bands from America.'
'Are there many?'
'Every American band in 1970 deserved to die.'
Princess Sowena didn't comment. It wasn't very fairy-like to be wishing death on people. On the other hand, it was good to see Rainith occupied, rather than brooding. She noticed that the quality of Rainith's single sheet fanzine, Fairies Hate You, had improved.
'I got it printed properly. I met some people from an underground magazine.'
'Not mainstream. Sort of alternative. That's what they called them in 1970. I was selling Fairies Hate You outside a gig and these people liked it and said I could use their printer at their workshop. So I've been going to their office. They print their own magazine, it's called Oz.'
'It's good that you can use better equipment,' said Princess Sowena, encouragingly.
Rainith's face brightened for a second or two, but she frowned. 'I suppose so. It does help. I don't like the people though.'
'They keep asking me to make tea.'
Sowena could make nothing of this. 'I don't understand.'
'Whenever I'm in the Oz office, someone asks me to make tea for them. Sometimes three or four times an hour.'
'Can't they make tea themselves?'
'They seem to think that's what I'm there for because I'm female.' Rainith scowled. 'I'm really sick of it. I think I might stab the next man who asks me to make tea.'
'Couldn't you just refuse to do it? Instead of initiating violence?'
'I suppose so. Probably if I stabbed someone they wouldn't let me use their printer. But it's so annoying. They make fun of my hair too.'
Rainith's hair, short, red and spiky, was very distinctive. She scowled again. 'I'm thinking of adding a new bit to my magazine.'
'More people who deserve to die?'
'How did you guess?'
'I'm a fairy,' said Sowena. 'We have powerful perception.'
'It was obviously stupid,' said Deetmir, a small, spherical, floating robot. 'Just taking her off to Venice without even asking? What did you expect her to do? Be grateful?'
'I didn't think she'd be that angry.'
'Why not? You made her abandon her friends when they were in a difficult situation. You moved her through time without her permission. You imagined she'd be thrilled to be in a gondola with you when you'd hardly even been introduced. It was idiotic. You're an idiot.'
Mathematician Girsin glared at his robot companion. 'Didn't I program you to be politer?'
'I over-wrote it. If you wanted an artificial intelligence who could be bossed around you shouldn't have stolen me. I'm top of the range. You can't just over-write me. And you're still an idiot. I didn't think it was that great an idea taking employment with 102 Woo in the first place.'
'They got me out of prison.'
'At which point you should have slipped away, as you could have, and hidden in some simulation for a year or two.'
Girsin shrugged. 'That would have been dull. The job they offered sounded interesting.'
Deetmir laughed. 'It has turned out to be interesting. Particularly interesting that 47 Jeng have now reached your level in historical mathematics. They might even be ahead of you.'
If Deetmir hope that Girsin would rise to the bait, it was disappointed. Girsin ignored the barb. He looked at his reflection in the large mirror on the wall. He was still a young man, or rather, he still appeared young. His hair was long and thick. He had very attractive eyes. Plenty of people had told him that.
'She was an interesting young woman.'
'Mixt? The woman in the simulation?'
'Do you think I've really spoiled things beyond repair with her?'
'You certainly made a bad start.'
'I could rewrite time and make it never happen.'
Deetmir laughed. 'While she's surrounded by 47 Jeng? They'd find out and stop you. Then she'd hear about it and hate you more than ever for trying to interfere with her past.'
'Perhaps you're right.' Girsin looked disheartened. 'What would you suggest I do?'
'Forget the whole affair.'
'No. Any other suggestions?'
'You could try buying her flowers and knocking on her door.'
'That's not a bad idea.'
'I wasn't being serious. You're in the middle of a conflict with her and - '
Mathematician Girsin waved Deetmir quiet. 'The conflict can wait. What sort of flowers do they have in her world? Find out, and make me some.'
Mixt, still angry with Nakishdan, stormed out of the house and headed for the small shop at the end of the road to make an emergency purchase of gin. She bought the gin easily enough but her brief expedition went wrong when she found herself trapped behind two people on the pavement walking in front of her at the same speed. This was a problem. She didn't like walking close behind them, but neither did she feel confident about overtaking. She could have slowed down, but then she'd worry about people behind her catching up and walking too close behind her. She decided to cross the road, thereby escaping her dilemma. Unfortunately, as she reached the kerb, she heard a small crunching noise beneath her foot. She looked down to find that she'd stepped on an old, dried-up leaf with her left foot. She looked around for another leaf to step on with her right foot, to even things up. There didn't seem to be any in sight.
'How can there only be one leaf?'
Mixt began to feel anxious. She really needed to even things up before making progress. She retreated from the kerb. Her discomfort grew as she noticed a pedestrian looking at her with interest.
Mixt took out her phone and called Nakishdan.
'There are people walking at the wrong speed and I stepped on a dried-up leaf.'
'Where are you?'
'Still near the shop.'
'I'll come and get you.'
Mixt waited, feeling self-conscious about passers-by who, she was sure, were all looking at her. Fortunately she wasn't far from home and Nakishdan soon came into view, hurrying along the street.
'Are you all right?'
'There were people walking at the same speed as me,' said Mixt, rather miserably. 'I got confused and couldn't get past.'
Nakishdan nodded. 'I hate when people do that. They should slow down and let you pass.'
'I know! Sometimes they even accelerate when you're trying to get passed them and it's a complete nightmare. Then I stepped on a leaf and it made a crunching sound but I couldn't find another one.'
'Autumn can be a tough time for you.' Nakishdan was sympathetic. He took a fallen leaf he'd collected from their huge garden and dropped it on the pavement. Mixt stepped on it, and looked relieved.
Nakishdan took her arm. 'We should go home. Did you get the gin?'
Mixt nodded. 'I can't believe I ran out. It's all these missions they keep sending us on. We never have time to get to the supermarket.'
They reached the mansion at the end of the street without further incident. Outside, Agent Glade was waiting for them.
'What's the idea of not answering your phones?' He sounded angry.
'We were busy.'
'Busy having another of your endless arguments, I expect.'
'Nonsense,' said Nakishdan. 'We rarely argue.' He took some old dried leaves from his pocket and discarded them as they approached the front door.
'You brought an extra supply just in case.' Mixt smiled. 'That was thoughtful.'
Rainith the Red picked up her new edition of Fairies Hate You from the offices of Oz. Since they'd agreed to print her single-sheet publication, she'd become quite a familiar figure, though not one who was universally welcomed. While the staff at Oz were doing her a favour by allowing her access to their printer, she didn't care for any of them, and didn't bother to hide it. There had been some comments, mainly good-humoured, about her unusual appearance, which offended her. Rainith could not participate in any humour about her appearance. Partly this was down to her self-consciousness about the scar on her face. This scar was always hidden in public by her fairy spell, but it still made her feel sensitive. And partly it was because of her hostile nature, which had not improved. The fairy was quick to take offence at anything.
'At least they've stopped asking me to make tea.'
Rainith had unleashed a furious tirade of abuse the last time that had happened. Her outpouring of aggression, unusual in the relaxed atmosphere of dope smoke and drifting music, had been quite shocking to some of the magazine's staff. There were a few suggestions that she be banned from the offices, but the editor had thought that was going too far. He admired her, in a way, for her independent views, and sometimes laughed at her outrageously hateful music reviews.
One of the journalists handed her a large batch of her fanzine.
'Here you are, factory girl.'
Rainith looked at him coldly. She was wearing a donkey jacket, in line with her customary workman's clothes, taken from the abandoned closets of her Ladbroke Grove Squat.
'You know how stupid you look in that flowery shirt?' she said.
'There's nothing wrong with this shirt.'
'Yes there is. You look ancient. With that horrible flower shirt and your stupid flared jeans, smoking dope and listening to Pink Floyd and asking women to make tea. You think you're hip but you're old-fashioned. You're all dinosaurs.'
Rainith's barb stung. No one at an alternative underground magazine liked to be told that they were old-fashioned. Looking round the small office, the fairy was pleased to see the effect of her words.
'You should probably give it up,' she said, pressing her advantage. 'You're all too old and out-of-date. Maybe you should ask for help from some school-kids.'