Though the impromptu group therapy session in Dr Tau's office was much noisier than the therapy they'd attended in London, Mixt and Nakishdan were interested to see their companions' reactions as they unexpectedly, and rather abruptly, came face to face with their problems. It might have been a more beneficial exercise had Rainith the Red not been there. The concept of expressing sympathy for another person's problems seemed alien to her. Faced with Fourteen Trees' distress about her chocolate addiction, the fairy rapidly became impatient.
'Who cares about your chocolate addiction? Eat chocolate. Don't eat chocolate. I don't see why you keep whining about it. No one cares.'
Fourteen Trees sobbing intensified. Geeda Lala was moved to defend her school friend.
'Fourteen saved all our lives. You should support her.'
'What for? For being an idiot? Who gets addicted to chocolate? It's ridiculous.'
Dr Tau had been observing silently but was now forced to interject. 'Addiction is a complex subject, with many contributing factors.'
Rainith looked her with disdain. 'I always knew therapists were stupid. No wonder Mixt and Nakishdan keep getting worse if they always see people like you.'
Dr Tau took the insult calmly but Nakishdan disliked Rainith and could never allow an insult from her to pass uncontested. 'Who's getting worse? I'm not getting worse. I'm much better.'
'There was nothing wrong with you in the first place, you just like talking about yourself.'
'Don't speak to Nakishdan like that.' Mixt became angry. 'You ought to try showing some empathy. We've all had to put up with your constant hostility and I've had enough of it. We were all meant to be part of the same team.'
'I never wanted to be in a team with you,' muttered Rainith.
'But you liked getting paid in gold. You never minded that.'
Rainith didn't like the implication that she was greedy for gold, because she was. Her hostility increased. She glared at Mixt. 'You know what I've hated most about working with all of you? You and your stupid obsessions, your ridiculous fixation on numbers that no one else cares about and every other ignorant, ludicrous obsession you go on about while other people are trying to get on with their work. We'd have killed a lot more flying snakes if you hadn't been worrying about germs and numbers all the time.'
It was a long speech by Rainith's standards and it had a notable effect on Mixt. She rose from her chair.
'I think we should all calm down,' said Dr Tau, but no one was listening. Still glaring at Rainith, Mixt reached beneath her tunic and produced her naginata. Rainith snarled and and drew her sword.
'Stop this immediately,' demanded the therapist. Dr Tau had an authoritative voiced, used to dealing with difficult patients. It had no effect on Mixt or Rainith who were now closing in on each other with their weapons drawn. Nakishdan stood up and reached for his own sword, ready to support Mixt. They were suddenly, and surprisingly, interrupted by the appearance of a large screen in the middle of the room. Ms Darben looked out at them all.
'What is going on here?'
Mixt halted. There was a silence that lasted a few moments. No one seemed sure what to say.
'We're in group therapy,' volunteered Geeda Lala, eventually.
Ms Darben wrinkled her brow. 'Well, you all need it, there's no disputing that. But I'd suggest you put your weapons away. I'm sure they're not helping.'
'The fairy started it,' mumbled Nakishdan, but did as he was told. Ms Darben looked round the room. 'While you've all been in therapy - or fighting each other, it seems - I've been negotiating for you. Quite successfully. Would you like to hear the results?'
Geeda Lala had initiated the strike and was eager to hear Ms Darben's report.
'I managed to convince the City Council to agree to - ' Ms Darben paused. 'Rainith, are you still holding your sword? Put it away.'
The fairy scowled at her. 'You owe me more gold,' she said, before reluctantly sheathing her blade.
'You negotiated equal pay?' Geeda Lala was astonished. 'Already?'
Ms Darben might have had reason to appear pleased with herself, but if she did, it didn't show. On screen, in the middle of the room, she remained impassive. Her brief report on her negotiations was businesslike. 'Your strike took the city council by surprise. They couldn't cope with the city being paralysed. It was an effective tactic, if dangerous. They've agreed to raise the female market workers' wages. They weren't so forthcoming on your other demands.'
While achieving equality, Ms Darben had only managed to negotiate a small additional raise in the base rate of pay. She wasn't sure that the strikers should accept what was on offer, but Geeda Lala seemed keen on the deal.
'Equal pay was the main thing. Now the workers are organised, they can negotiate more later.'
Mixt was in agreement and was even moved to congratulate Ms Darben on her negotiating skills. It may have been the first time any member of Search Unit Sigma had complimented their boss though again, Ms Darben took it quite calmly. 'Now we can concentrate on bringing you home,' she said. 'You're still in a lot of danger there.'
Rainith, who'd taken on her human form when confronting Mixt, now shrank to her fairy size. Alone among the occupants of the room, she showed little pleasure at their success. She looked at Ms Darben on screen.
'Why did no one ever support me?'
'What do you mean? asked Ms Darben.
'Everyone else gets support. Mixt and Nakishdan get anything they want. Geeda Lala and Fourteen Trees get help. Now you're helping market workers here. Why did no one ever support me?'
'Support you about what?'
'I wanted to see the first Sex Pistols gig.' Rainith looked cross. 'And no one ever helped me with that. You all got in the way so I could never get there.'
Silent in the background, Dr Tau looked on with interest at the reaction to Rainith's complaint. She noticed expressions of confusion, and possibly discomfort.
'I don't think that's true,' said Mixt, but didn't sound quite sure of herself.
'Yes it is,' insisted the fairy. 'You all just ignored me and made fun of me.'
'The Department wasn't sending you back in time to go to your favourite destinations,' Ms Darben pointed out. 'You were sent on missions to whatever period was necessary.'
Rainith landed on the edge of a chair, folded her arms, and scowled. 'You helped everyone else,' she said. 'Never helped me.'
There was an uncomfortable silence as people considered Rainith's words. The fairy had few friends in the room - only Geeda Lala might have counted as such, and that was uncertain - but Mixt did find herself wondering if there was any merit in Rainith's complaint. But the fairy was so hostile all the time, it was difficult to feel any sympathy for her. Only a few minutes ago, Mixt would have cheerfully assaulted her.
Geeda Lala rose to her feet. 'We should get back, and talk to the strike committee.'
'Would you like to make another appointment for group therapy? asked Dr Tau.
'We probably should,' muttered Mixt.
Ms Darben was frustrated by the lack of progress made by the emergency gaming unit. Assisted by several new advanced mathematical formulae from the Kesh, they were working on a way to establish a passage between Earth and the virtual game world created by Mathematician Girsin. So far there seemed to have been little progress.
'Are we sure they're not just playing Tomb Raider when no one's looking?' asked Ms Darben, whose opinion of some of the younger members of the Department was not that high.
'It's hard to tell what they're doing,' said Agent Duluth. 'They say they're re-configuring a gaming engine - whatever that means - but it just seems to be equations and algorithms everywhere.'
'Whatever they're doing they're not making quick enough progress. We're still no nearer to bringing our agents back home. We can't just abandon them in some virtual world. Even if they are all annoying.'
Ms Darben and Agent Duluth stood outside of the lift which would take them back to their floor.
'At least we're in contact now. That's something.'
Ms Darben's communicator rang. Onscreen was Mixt.
'We have a serious problem.'
'Has 102 attacked?'
'No, Rainith's making everyone feel bad.'
Ms Darben pursed her lips. 'How do you mean?'
'She's still accusing everyone of preventing her from seeing the first Sex Pistols gig. I don't know if she really believes it or if it's just some cunning new way she's discovered of discomfiting people.' Mixt frowned. 'It was probably a bad idea to take her to therapy. It just gave her more inspiration for her hostility.'
'I'm sure you can cope - ' Ms Darben was interrupted as another screen slid out from her communicator. 'Nakishdan?'
'You have to do something. The fairy's out of control. She's accusing me of going behind her back to make sure the Department never let her see the Sex Pistols.' Nakishdan paused, and looked a little troubled. 'I'm sure I never did that. Did I do that?'
'No' replied Ms Darben. 'You didn't.'
'Good. Do you like my yellow pirate outfit?'
'It suits you very well.'
'Thank you. Can you do something about Rainith?'
A third small screen appeared, this one holographic. On it was Rainith, with her customary red spiky hair and angry expression. 'I know you all conspired against me. I'd have made it to that gig if the Department hadn't done everything it could to prevent me.'
Ms Darben emerged from the lift. She lowered her communicator to mutter to Agent Duluth. 'Perhaps it's not so good that we're in contact now.'
'We heard that,' said Mixt.
Ms Darben addressed them all. 'When you said you were continuing your group therapy, I presumed it meant with your therapist. Not with me.'
A fourth screen slid out from her communicator. 'What's happening?' said Fourteen Trees. 'Is this about me? Are you talking about me behind my back? I couldn't help getting addicted. I'm trying my best to cope with it.'
'We're not talking about you,' said Mixt. 'It's about Rainith.'
'I knew it! cried the fairy. 'You've been plotting against me all along.'
Ms Darben sighed as she walked back into her office, still carrying her communicator, which now displayed five screens, as Geeda Lala joined in the general shouting match now connecting London and the virtual game world.
1 of 1: posted 12 September 16
'You realise this is dishonourable behaviour?'
'Doesn't that bother you?'
'Not in the circumstances. I'm the leader of a mercenary army, not known for honourable behaviour.'
Mathematician Girsin and his tiny robotic companion Deetmir travelled through the city in a small, armoured hover-car, on their way to apprehend the leaders of the strike, a mission given to them by the City Council. Deetmir was troubled.
'The City Council negotiated an agreement with the workers' leaders. Now they're planning to break the agreement and arrest them. I don't like it.'
Girsin was not without his own code of honour. Nonetheless, he'd agreed readily enough to take the mission. The Double Red mercenaries would be well paid for the task and it would increase their influence in the city. Besides, the action would bring him in contact with Mixt, something which, he realised, had not happened nearly as often as he'd imagined it would when he'd lured her into this world.
'She's hardly going to be impressed, is she?' Deetmir pointed out. 'Treacherously arresting her isn't going to make her like you any more than she does already. Which is not very much.'
Mathematician Girsin waved this away. He was feeling confident, having dressed for the occasion in his new black uniform which, he knew, suited him well. 'I'll organise things so I appear in a good light. Squadron Nineteen will carry out the actual arrest - brutally, if they follow their normal behaviour - then I'll arrive to calm things down. Once I rescue Mixt from Squadron Nineteen's hands, I'll probably seem more like a saviour than anything else.'
Deetmir whirred and his tiny body rotated in mid air. 'Bad plan. Something will go wrong.'
Girsin ignored him. Deetmir was always complaining about something. A light flashed in the cabin. He opened his communicator.
'Sergeant Bard, Squadron Nineteen. In place for our rendezvous.'
'I'll be there in three minutes. Wait on my final instructions.'
Girsin drove down several side streets till he reached a secluded area behind the markets, a place used for loading and unloading supplies. He emerged from the hover-car then walked towards the dilapidated building where he'd arranged to meet the squadron. Deetmir flew after him. Both were covered by a faint blue glow from their electronic shielding. The door opened as they approached. Girsin halted.
Instead of Squadron Nineteen, Mathematician Girsin found himself confronted by a lone figure. Captain Lir, from 102 Woo. He reacted quickly, drawing his weapon and sending power to his frontal shielding. As he did so, an energy beam caught him squarely in the back. He collapsed to the ground. A second energy beam knocked Deetmir from the sky and the robot landed heavily beside him.
Captain Lir advanced as Melusine Morte appeared from her concealed position, her plasma gun still in her hands. They met at the spot where Girsin had fallen. Captain Lir spoke into the small mic which appeared in font of his mouth.
'We've apprehended Girsin and his companion. Take them away.'
Girsin and Deetmir dematerialised, withdrawn from the game-world by the technicians of 102 Woo. Melusine Morte nodded briefly, expressing her satisfaction.
'That went well. Now it's time to apprehend Geeda Lala.'