In their underground bunker, Mixt and Nakishdan hurried to the large screen in the main room.
'Ms Darben says they've made a breakthrough. They can take us home.'
'Really?' Geeda Lala and Fourteen Trees both rushed to join them. 'She said that?'
'No exactly,' admitted Mixt. 'But she said they were close. She's bringing some new expert to talk to us.'
The screen lit up. There stood Ms Darben in her dark blue business suit. No one at the Department had ever seen her wearing anything else. Beside her was a young man with long hair and a shapeless cardigan.
'This is Morgan. His department have been working on ways to bring you back.'
'What a weird cardigan,' said Nakishdan. 'Did it come from a charity shop?' Immediately, he looked embarrassed, 'Sorry,' he muttered. 'Didn't mean to say that out loud.'
Md Darben ignored the interruption. 'Please tell them what you've learned, Agent Morgan.'
The young agent regarded them with a serious air. 'We think we might have found a way to rescue you. We've had trouble building any sort of trans-dimentional pathway but we've discovered Rainith is still connected to this world. Apparently her fairy nature allows her to exist both there and here at the same time. We think that explains why she's been able to use items not otherwise available in your game world.'
'Like an endless supply of Joy Division records?'
'Exactly. She still has access to the huge gaming database on Earth. Ms Darben informs us that you have one of these.' Agent Morgan produced a small sliver box, similar to the one Rainith had found. 'This is a dimensional bridge, built to Kesh specifications. You'll need two, so you'll have to find another one. Once you've done that, we can set up a path using Rainith's connection and bring you home.'
These was some excited talk around the screen at the prospect of returning home. 'We saw another of these boxes in the market,' said Mixt. 'I'm sure we can get hold of it.'
They were interrupted by Rainith who, in her tiny fairy shape, had been watching, unobserved, from the back of the room. She flew down to hover in front of the screen. 'What do you mean Use Rainith's connection to bring you home?'
Morgan frowned. 'It's quite difficult to explain. Essentially, they'll all be travelling through the connection you still have to Earth.'
'Travelling through me? Forget it.'
'It's not exactly travelling through you… ' began Morgan. 'Well, it is in a way. But it's probably not that dangerous.'
'Probably? Ha! I'm not doing it. Why should I?'
'To rescue your companions,' said Ms Darben.
'Who've rescued you in the past,' added Nakishdan.
The Fairy brushed this aside. 'I never needed rescuing. You all just got in the way. You think I'm letting you all trample right through me to get home? Sounds like an outrageous insult to fairies. You heard him, it's dangerous. Why should I get killed?'
'Rainith, we really need your assistance.' Ms Darben looked out at the fairy, who still hovered in front of the screen, her arms folded, an implacable look on her face.
'No one's ever treated me well in this operation. Why should I risk my life?'
'You stupid, selfish fairy!' Nakishdan exploded. 'We'd all have been better off if you'd been eaten by a snake which you would have been if me and Mixt hadn't saved you every time.'
Ms Darben appealed to the fairy again. 'Rainith, I really urge to to re-consider. You're our only hope of bringing everyone home.'
Rainith glared at the screen. Her expression changed slightly, so that the faintest hint of a smile appeared on her lips. 'If I'm going to risk my life for everyone you'll need to pay me.'
'Pay you?' Ms Darben frowned. Ranith's avaricious nature was well known, but could still be surprising. 'You mean gold?'
'No. I want to see the first Sex Pistols gig. If I help you now then the Department has to help me get there.'
Nakishdan sighed. 'I knew the bloody fairy would drag us to that eventually.'
The atmosphere in the underground bunker in Star Metal city descended to a new low. Mixt and Nakishdan were aghast at Rainith's demand for payment for helping them return home. It was, for them, further proof of the fairy's perfidious behaviour.
'Completely treacherous,' grumbled Nakishdan, on his way, with Mixt, towards the South Market. 'Outrageously selfish. What sort of fairy demands payment for rescuing her fellow squadron members?'
'The greediest fairy in history.' Mixt was equally angry. She'd never disliked Rainith quite as much as did Nakishdan, but had now reached the end of her tolerance. Mixt had a strong code of ethics. Demanding payment for helping one's companions fell well outside her code. Making the situation in the bunker worse, Geeda Lala had expressed some sympathy for Rainith, suggesting that the fairy's request that she be sent back to see the first Sex Pistols gig wasn't really that unreasonable.
'It's what she most wants to do and the Department could help her. Is that so bad?'
Nakishdan bridled at the memory of Geeda Lala's words. 'Who does she think she is? We never asked for payment when we were helping her.'
'Strictly speaking, we did. The Department was paying us.'
'And not enough. But that's not the point. We never made unreasonable demands before going on our missions. Just went back, killed dangerous alien creatures, and rescued her. Rescued that stupid fairy too, plenty of times. Well, that's it, I'm finished. Once we get home I'm never going on a mission with her again. I don't even want to see her again.'
Mixt and Nakishdan, partly to escape the bad feeling in the bunker, and partly because it was the sensible next step, were on their way to the market hoping to recover another of the small silver boxes. The Department's technicians had told them they'd need another of the strange devices to help set up the pathway home. They reached the market, exited their hover car, and made their way inside. They were greeted warmly by all the stallholders, who appreciated the help they'd given during their strike.
Not far from their destination, a stall at the back of the indoor market, Nakishdan felt himself grabbed roughly by the arm and yanked violently to one side. Mixt, showing a surprising turn of strength had, without warning, dragged him underneath the nearest stall, currently unoccupied.
'What - ?'
Mixt put her finger to her lips, cautioning Nakishdan to be silent, then leaned forward to whisper in his ear.
'Captain Lir. 102 Woo.'
Nakishdan peered out from their hiding place. At the end of the row stood Captain Lir, in the company of an unknown woman. Nakishdan immediately began to crawl forward. The last time they'd encountered Captain Lir he'd stabbed Nakishdan, nearly killing him, and Nakishdan now intended to take revenge. Mixt dragged him back.
'Wait,' she muttered.'See what they're doing here.'
Nakishdan was agitated, wanting revenge, but held back as Mixt suggested. They inched forward and peered out again. Unexpectedly a bolt of energy from a plasma weapon seared through the market, smashing into the woman who accompanied the captain. She flinched, but was unhurt. Her shielding had deflected the beam. As she and Captain Lir dived for cover, another voice could be heard from nearby.
'Squadron Nineteen, Advance.'
Mixt looked at Nakishdan. 'Who are Squadron Nineteen?'
Nakishdan shrugged, mystified. They crept back into cover.
'We've spent a surprising amount of time hiding under these market stalls, observed Mixt, as the market exploded with of guns, energy beams and the general sounds of urban warfare.
Mixt and Nakishdan crawled beneath the market stalls as the battle raged around them. It was an uncomfortable experience though not entirely unfamiliar. During their many long hours playing Star Metal City it had sometimes happened that they'd been obliged to complete missions stealthily, creeping through opposition lines, and even, as now, sneak towards their destination while laser beams flashed by, inches above their heads, and the ground shook with explosions.
They crept forward, pausing as they emerged from beneath each stall, checking the aisle was clear before scurrying onwards, diving for cover under the next row of stalls. The battle showed no signs of ending. They couldn't see much but from what they could hear, Captain Lir had called up re-enforcements from 102 Woo and they were now engaged in a savage battle with the mysterious Squadron Nineteen. The stall immediately to the left of Mixt and Nakishdan erupted in flames. Undaunted, they continued to advance. Somewhere at the far end on the market was the small silver box they needed to take them home, and they were both very keen to go home.
There was a dazzling flash from an explosion, then the market was plunged into darkness. Taking advantage of this, Mixt and Nakishdan hurried across the final aisle, flinging themselves beneath the last row of stalls, close to the counter on which they'd seen the silver box. They peered out. In front of them stood Captain Lir, his back to them, firing from cover at his opponents. Without speaking, Mixt and Nakishdan slid their laser pistols from their holsters, aimed, and shot Captain Lir in the back. His energy shields crackled as he fell to the ground.
'Take that,' muttered Nakishdan, emerging into the space behind the stall.
'There's the box.' Mixt picked the small silver device from the counter, and crammed it in her bag. The dropped to the ground and set off again, crawling towards the front of the market. Halfway there, Nakishdan put a cautionary hand on Mixt's shoulder. He'd spotted several armed mercenaries, themselves crouched beneath a market stall, blocking their path.
'This way,' he whispered. 'Side entrance.'
They altered course, crawling towards the side of the market, keeping out of sight of the combatants and making sure their shielding was at full strength as laser and plasma beams cut through the air above them, and explosions sent debris spinning in all directions. Finally they reached the side entrance. Mixt reached from the floor for the door handle.
'I'll be pleased to get home,' she said, opening the door. As they rose to their feet a huge explosion rocket the space behind them and a body crashed into them, sending them all sprawling into the street outside. Choking from the great cloud of dust kicked up by the blast, Nakishdan scrambled to his feet to find Mixt already confronting an unfamiliar woman. Each held a laser pistol, pointed directly at the other's chest.
'I am Agent Melusine Morte,' said the stranger. 'And you have offended 102 Woo.'
1 of 1: posted 10 October 16
Feeling that a productive conversation was unlikely, Nakishdan attempted to fire at Melusine Morte. Unfortunately his weapon failed. He tried again. Nothing happened. His laser pistol appeared to be dead.
Melusine Morte regarded him cooly. 'Your weapons will no longer function.'
'I have taken control. I can now direct all operations in this simulation. Mathematician Girsin has been apprehended. As have you.'
Mixt smoothly slid her naginata from under her tunic.
'That won't work either,' said Agent Morte. Mixt slashed the blade towards her. It halted abruptly, forced back by a glowing energy screen which sprang into existence to protect the 102 Agent, and trap Mixt and Nakishdan. The door behind them opened and Captain Lir appeared. He scowled at Mixt and Nakishdan.
'I'm glad we shot you in the back,' said Nakishdan, not showing a great deal of tact, given their current predicament. The captain did not reply.
'Everything is now in order, Captain.' Melusine Morte produced a tiny screen and spoke some instructions. 'Bring the others.'
Geeda Lala and Fourteen Trees appeared almost instantly, transported by command of Agent Morte. Fourteen Trees, grasping quickly what was happening, immediately produced her own screen and made an attempt at issuing commands to counter her. Melusine Morte raised her eyebrows, spoke a few words. Fourteen Trees' screen disappeared.
'The mathematical skills of 49 Jeng do not match up to mine, Fourteen Trees, impressive though they are.' She turned to Geeda Lala. 'We've been chasing you for some time, Ms Lala. It's fortunate for you we've apprehended you here. Had you continued to disrupt history in your last location we'd have been obliged to kill you.'
'What do you want?' demanded Geeda Lala.
'You're going home, Geeda Lala.'
Two more agents of 102 Woo appeared from inside the market.
'Open the portal,' instructed Agent Morte.
'Do something!' said Geeda Lala to Fourteen Trees.
The young girl shook her head. 'I can't. They've blocked everything.' Fourteen Trees looked utterly miserable as her mathematical prowess, until now undefeated, was finally bested by the skills of Melusine Morte. Geeda Lala, realising that her freedom was coming to an end, and she now faced the wrath of her family, and transportation to a planet of rigid discipline, or worse, looked equally miserable. Mixt and Nakishdan, unsure of 102 Woo's plans for them, and unable to escape Melusine Morte's force field, stood together, impassively.
A portal of orange light appeared in mid air, grew, then opened out to reveal an elderly figure, floating in mid air, sitting in the lotus position. Captain Lir and Melusine Morte bowed their heads briefly.
'Superior 102. Everything is in order.'
'Good. We are pleased with your work, Agent Morte.'
'Is that the head of your organisation?' asked Nakishdan.
Superior 102's eyes turned towards him. 'Nakishdan. You've caused us an immeasurable amount of trouble. As have you, Mixt. Quite foolishly, I'd say. You would all have been much better off had you let us simply take Geeda Lala home. Her presence has greatly harmed your history, and it would have become worse.'
'We just don't like seeing young woman kidnapped by secret organisations,' replied Mixt. 'And we're not going to let it happen.'
Superior 102 regarded her without expression. 'You no longer have any say in what happens. Nothing can help you. 102 Woo now controls all aspects of your present world.'
There was a sudden flash as something pierced the force field surrounding Mixt and Nakishdan. There, hovering in the air, tiny wings beating, was Rainith the Red. She glared at Superior 102 Woo.
'You don't control the fairies,' she said, drawing her sword.