Simulation Bleed

113 - 116

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113

Rainith gazed around the campsite. They'd arrived at the Isle of Wight festival early but it was filling up quickly. Small tents were appearing all over, along with a few camper vans in the distance.

'I've just seen the toilets,' she said. 'They're just a hole in the ground. Good luck using them. I'll be flying off to some private place with clean water.'

Geeda Lala looked uncertainly at the blue bundle of cloth on the ground in front of her. 'How does this turn this into a tent? Is there some sort of switch?'

Rainith glanced at their tent, with some distaste.

'Maybe someone can show us?' Geeda looked around. Other festival-goers were busy hammering metal pins into the ground, and attaching guy-ropes.

'We could do that. Maybe. Have you ever put up a tent?'

Rainith shook her head. She looked on impassively as Geeda struggled with the tent. It was tightly packed, and even getting it out of the canvas container seemed difficult.

'Are you going to help?'

Rainith scowled. She didn't want to help. 'This place is full of hippies. The bands aren't even here yet and hippies are swarming in from everywhere. '

'We need a mallet. Did we bring a mallet?' Geeda looked at the metal tent-pin in her hand. She frowned. 'The man in the shop should have told us we needed a mallet. How are we meant to hammer this into the ground?' She looked around, wondering if she could borrow a mallet.

Rainith took the tent-pin, placed it on the ground, drew her sword from beneath her coat, and used the pommel to sink it into the ground, accomplishing this with one swift strike.

Geeda Lala smiled. 'I knew you wouldn't be so bad at camping. Fairies must have some sort of affinity for living in the countryside.'

'No we don't,' said Rainith. Nonetheless, she skilfully sank the required eight metal pins into the ground while Geeda Lala hauled the tent into position, then attached the poles.

'Are you ever going to open that letter?'

Rainith shook her head.

'Why not?'

'I don't want to. It's bound to be something stupid.'

Geeda fished the letter from her pocket. It had arrived just before they'd left to catch the train south from London. It was addressed to Rainith Red and Yellow Tulipa.

'What a nice name you have.'

'I never cared for it.'

The tent began to take shape. For two young women with no previous experience of camping, it had gone quite smoothly. Geeda was pleased. Unlike Rainith, she was entering into the spirit of the occasion. She began throwing their belongings into the tent. They'd brought sleeping bags and food. Geeda took out the letter again.

'You should open it. It's strange that someone's written to you. Who would even know to write to you in 1970? It might be something connected to your mission.'

Rainith sighed. In truth, she was a little nervous about the letter. She didn't remember ever receiving one before. 'You open it.'

Geeda opened the letter, and scanned the single sheet. 'It's from a lawyer. He's representing the people at that magazine you go to, Oz. He wants to talk to you.'

'Why?'

'They're all being prosecuted for obscenity after the schoolkids issue. Wasn't that your idea?'

'I suppose I had something to do with it,' said Rainith.


naginata

114

Nakishdan screwed up his face at the unpleasant sounds emanating from the bathroom along the corridor.

'How many times can one small girl be sick?'

Mixt shrugged, then winced at the sound of more vomiting.

'Is she being sick because she's from a different world and she's not meant to eat chocolate? Did it poison her?'

'I don't know. I thought she'd know if it was poison, she always seems quite smart. Maybe she just ate too much.'

'She was certainly shovelling it in.'

Fourteen Trees had spent all available funds in the corner shop, walking out with a satisfied smile and a huge bag of chocolate, much of which she had consumed on the way back to Mixt's house.

'I think she got through about six bars before we arrived home.'

'She was going at some rate,' agreed Mixt.

'Is it normal to be sick for so long?'

'I don't know. I've never eaten that much chocolate.'

Mixt's phone rang.

'Agent Glade here. We need you to go to the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970.'

Mixt wasn't too displeased at the news. While she and Nakishdan were never that enthusiastic about their missions, they were a good source of income, and money was short after recent household expenses. She clicked the speakerphone button so Nakishdan could hear while Glade gave them more details. Unfortunately he was interrupted by the sound of vomiting.

'What's that?'

'Fourteen Trees is being sick. Quite violently.'

'Why?'

'She ate too much chocolate.'

'Why did you let her do that?'

'It didn't seem my business to stop her.'

'Of course it was your business!' Glade sounded surprisingly annoyed. 'Isn't she fourteen or fifteen? That's not really grown up. You should be more responsible. She's an important visitor. The department would expect you to take care of her, not fill her up with so much chocolate she gets sick.'

Mixt looked at Nakishdan, bewildered.

'I don't think it's our fault,' said Nakishdan.

'Then who's fault is it? Who gave her the chocolate?'

'She bought it herself. After we took her to the shop.'

'So it is your fault.'

'No it isn't,' insisted Nakishdan, who hated being blamed for anything. 'We're not her parents.'

'I'd expect you to look after a young visitor better. It's not good enough. You'd better go and make sure she's all right. I'll call back later with more details of your mission.'

Agent Glade rang off. Mixt looked at Nakishdan, puzzled. 'Was Glade drunk again?'

'Didn't sound like it.'

'Then why was he so bothered?'

'Maybe he has an unexpected parenting streak?'

'It's a bit harsh if we've got to be Fourteen Trees' parents, along with everything else.'

Fourteen Trees arrived back in the room, very pale, though not in quite as bad a condition as might have been expecting, given the noise. She managed a weak grin.

'I'm feeling a bit better now.' A small transparent screen popped out of her palm. She studied it. 'Metabolism almost back to normal.'

'Is chocolate poisonous to you?'

'Of course not. I checked before I ate it. I'm not an idiot.' Fourteen Trees lay down on the couch. 'I just ate too much. I didn't know you could do that.'

'Maybe we should have warned you.'

'Was that your department on the phone? Are they sending you to the Isle of Wight in 1970?'

'Yes.'

Fourteen Trees nodded. 'Geeda shouldn't be going there. 102 Woo will find her. I'd better come with you.'

'We'll need a tent,' said Mixt.

'A tent?' Nakishdan frowned. 'Now I'm not so enthusiastic.'


naginata

115

Mixt halted on top of a small hillock. 'We should put the tent up here.'

Nakishdan shrugged. 'OK.'

The large festival area was already filling up. There was no room in the main camping area, and they'd been obliged to find a spot some distance from the stage, in the hilly area beside the fields. The Department had provided them with a tent from the correct historical period, as well as offering advice on what they should wear. Nakishdan had ignored this advice, and wore his kimono, though it was at present a muted shade of grey. He imagined he'd be able to brighten it up when the festival got going.

Mixt, already busy with tent pegs, looked up from her work.

'Why aren't you helping?'

'I'm really bad at putting up tents.'

'You lived in a tent when you were a cavalry cadet.'

'But I was really bad at putting it up. People used to make comments.'

'Nonsense.'

'It's true. I'm just not very practical.'

'You're quite capable of hammering in a tent peg.'

'The commanding officer said I was the worst person in the whole regiment when it came to putting up tents.'

Mixt sighed. She had no difficulty at all in erecting the tent, but didn't like the way Nakishdan was already avoiding his share of the work. She knew that he probably wasn't the best companion for a festival in the countryside.

'You'd better not try and avoid your share of the cooking.'

'I wouldn't dream of it,' said Nakishdan, before wandering off to see what he could find.

Mixt carried on working. It didn't take her long to finish her task. She stepped back to admire her work.

'You did that very competently.'

Mixt spun round rapidly to find Mathematician Girsin only a few feet away. Her hand went instinctively beneath her coat, feeling for her long-bladed weapon.

'You're here already? I thought you'd sneak out later.'

Girsin shrugged. 'I thought I'd arrive early, and see what a festival was like.'

He turned his head to gaze over the thousands of tents, towards the large stage in the distance, with speakers piled up at the sides. 'I don't like it much so far.'

'Maybe I should just deal with you now.' Mixt began to slide out her naginata.

'There's something very romantic about this,' said Girsin. 'Lovers on opposite sides of the war. Torn apart by circumstances.'

'We're not lovers.'

'Would you like to come somewhere more pleasant? I could take us to the pyramids.'

'I've seen the pyramids plenty of times.'

'I know some secret areas we could rob.'

'I'm not interested in robbing them,' said Mixt. 'Not with you anyway.'

Girsin frowned. For a few moments he seemed lost for words. 'Have you already seen everything in the world?' he said, finally.

'I've seen a lot of it. The rest can wait.'

'Most women wouldn't just dismiss the chance to visit any time or place.'

'Most women don't have a weapon in their hand ready to cut you in two. I'm here to protect Rainith and Geeda Lala and if you try to harm them I'll kill you. And your friends from 102 Woo.'

Mathematician Girsin scowled. He looked as if he was about to speak further, but gave up the attempt. He turned and walked swiftly away.

Moments later Nakishdan arrived, carrying a paper plate loaded with some rather mushy food.

'This vegetable stew isn't up to much,' he said. 'Did we bring food?'

'Yes.'

'Could you cook something? I'm hungry.'


naginata

116

Rainith soared high over the festival. It was a relief to be free of the crowds for a while. She was disliking the event quite as much as she'd imagined she would, but was buoyed by the prospect of her special edition of Fairies Hate You.

'I'll need more pages. There's so much to hate.'

Rainith had studied the posters advertising the bands who were due to appear with gleeful contempt. The festival was scheduled to last for five days. On the first two days the bands were so obscure that they were hardly worth criticising, but she had high hopes for some of the later acts. The Doors were due to play, and Rainith had already developed a powerful loathing for them. Their records had often been played at the offices of Oz magazine, giving her plenty of time to dislike them, and she'd already worked out a few cutting phrases to include in her reviews.

It was a strange occurrence that the editors of Oz magazine were now being prosecuted for obscenity. The fairy, while realising that this was partly her fault, was entirely lacking in sympathy. She didn't like any of them.

She glided downwards for several hundred yards, aiming to land in a small patch of trees beyond the boundaries of the festival. She gazed down at the huge crowd beneath her.

'Idiots,' she thought. 'Can't even fly away. Why did they want to come here?'

Rainith landed discreetly in the trees, changed size, and walked back out towards the festival. She noticed she was hungry. That was rare, but flying had given her an appetite. She was pleased to find Geeda Lala sitting in front of their tent, stirring a pot over a small fire.

'I've made some rice and vegetables.'

They sat down to eat, from paper plates. Rainith took a mouthful, and screwed up her face. Geeda Lala did the same, before spitting her food on the ground.

'This is terrible!' she looked apologetically at Rainith. 'I thought I could cook better than that.'

Rainith heard a small bleep. A small transparent screen emerged from Geeda's palm.

'I thought you weren't meant to do that.'

Fourteen Trees had warned Geeda Lala not to use any of her technology, for fear of revealing her location to Girsin and 102 Woo.

'It's OK. I've made some alterations, no one will know. I set up an alert for anyone arriving from the future. Mixt and Nakishdan are here. We should go and see them.'

Rainith shrugged, and followed Geeda through the crowd. It took them a while to reach their destination, squeezing through groups of people and taking long detours through the maze of tents. The moment they arrived at Mixt's tent, Fourteen Trees appeared.

'Hello,' said Fourteen Trees. 'Sorry I'm late. I had to do an exam.'

Mixt was busy, carefully dropping spices into a pot. 'Are you cooking?' said Fourteen Trees, brightly. 'Can I have some? I'm hungry.'

'We're hungry too,' said Geed Lala. Can we join you?'

'Mixt's a really good cook,' said Nakishdan.

Mixt looked around at everyone. 'Can none of you cook?'

'I thought I could,' said Geeda Lala. 'But it didn't go very well. Normally I just open packets.'

'What about you?' Mixt looked towards Rainith. The fairy scowled, and said nothing.

'Fourteen Trees?'

'I never really learned,' admitted the small Kesh girl. 'We don't do much cooking where I come from.'

'And there's no point asking Nakishdan,' said Mixt, darkly.

'None at all, I'm really hopeless. It's lucky for us you're such a talented woman, Mixt. I don't know what we'd do without you.'

Mixt scowled. 'I should have gone to see the pyramids,' she muttered.


naginata

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