'How did Search Unit Sigma take the cancellation?'
'As well as you'd expect,' said Duluth.
His superior, Ms Darben, smiled. 'Do you think they might be the unhappiest four individuals in the country?'
The negative emotion that shrouded Search Unit Sigma was well known at headquarters, as were many, though not all, of their eccentricities.
'I have seen Rainith happy on occasion.'
Ms Darben couldn't imagine Rainith being happy, but let it pass. She was aware of Duluth's feelings for the fairy.
'I wish we weren't so dependent on them.'
The peculiarities of Mixt, Nakishdan and Rainith had been discussed many times at headquarters. None of them were ideal as government employees. They were, however, the only three individuals who could be sent back along the Kesh emergency timeline.
'Even on missions in the present they perform better than anyone else. Better than the search units made up of regular troops or special forces.'
Ms Darben frowned. 'A fairy who can change size, a young man in a dress, and a woman who claims she was sacrificed at Stonehenge. It's not ideal material.'
'They do have a lot of fighting skills,. And Nakishdan is a powerful psychic. That helps.'
'Did we ever find out how old he is?'
'The best we can guess is around one hundred and fifty.'
'The why does he still look nineteen?' It was another thing that disturbed Ms Darben. 'And why does he wear these girly Japanese outfits?'
Ms Darben could still remember her surprise the first time she saw Nakishdan. She couldn't remember seeing so much pink in one place before.
'At least he's clean. And he changes his clothes. Unlike Glade.' There was a strong note of disapproval in Duluth's voice. Glade belonged in prison, and if it hadn't been politic to put him there, he shouldn't have been allowed to work for a government department, even as a freelancer.
'We need Glade. He fits in with them. If we tried teaming them up with a proper agent they'd just sulk and go home.'
'The Kesh Ven Ven Lar say they're working on helping us send someone else back,' said Duluth. 'I wish they'd get a move on.'
'Do you? I'm not so sure I want the Kesh meddling in our past.'
'Could it be any more risky than sending Mixt, Nakishdan and Rainith?'
Ms Darben shrugged. 'Well, they haven't destroyed the world yet. That's something.'
A gentle beep signified the arrival of a message on Ms Darben's screen.
X-Ray Spex, White Horse pub, Putney, March 1977.
She frowned. 'Agent Duluth. If you were a criminal mastermind and you escaped into a different dimension, would you spend your time traveling into their past to go to obscure gigs?'
'I doubt it.'
'As do I. It barely makes sense.' Ms Darben, head of the newly created Historical Disturbance department, frowned. 'Nothing makes much sense since the Kesh Ven Ven Lar appeared.'
Rainith and Glade both lived alone; Rainith the Red in a council flat in an old block near Walworth Road, Glade in a small rented flat in Brixton. Since arriving from the Fairy Realm, Rainith had never lived anywhere else, but Glade had once owned his own house, an expensive property in Hampstead. Now it was occupied by his ex-wife and her new husband.
Glade stared in the mirror. He didn't like what he saw. His hair, jet black, had reached his shoulders. He was unshaven for a fortnight. He still wore his old, dull-green combat jacket. It wouldn't have been a bad look for a student, but at thirty five, Glade realised he was starting to resemble the homeless beggar who sat outside Tesco every day.
When he was working for the intelligence services he'd dressed well. He was a good-looking man. Then there'd been all that trouble. He'd lost his job, and his family. Now he could hardly remember how he'd ever made himself look smart. Glade poured himself a drink. He shouldn't drink before therapy, but he could hardly bear it otherwise. He knew he had problems but he didn't want to talk about them. Unfortunately, he had no choice. It was part of the deal that had kept him out of prison.
Tomorrow Glade would meet his twelve year old son. Glade saw him for one afternoon a week. Even when relations between them had been very bad, Glade's ex-wife had wanted their son to remain in contact with his his father. Glade appreciated this, but these days, though he would not admit it, he was finding the meetings a strain. Somehow, seeing his son wasn't as enjoyable as it used to be.
Rainith the Red, fairy assassin, sat on her old sofa, staring at the bare wall. She'd released the spell she used in public, the spell which hid the large scar on her face. She was angry at Duluth for wasting her time. Calling her to a hunt and then cancelling it. Rainith was usually angry at someone, or something. Or just angry at everything. Since being banished from the fairy realm by the Fairy King, Rainith had been a very angry fairy. When her anger eventually faded, she went blank, and felt nothing.
As far as Mixt and Nakishdan understood, they were paid for their work by MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service. It was an odd co-incidence that Mixt's mansion was so close to MI6's headquarters, on the corner of Vauxhall Bridge and the Albert Embankment. Though as Mixt said, she had got there first. Mixt's house, which she claimed to have won in a card game in 1920, had been built long before MI6 even existed.
The front of the house did not give a true idea of the size of the building. The tangled mass of unkempt garden rather gave it the appearance of an abandoned dwelling. Inside it was huge, and there was a comfortable air of faded luxury. Mixt hadn't renewed much since 1940. As she told Nakishdan, it hadn't seemed worth buying new furniture when they were quite likely to be bombed at any moment.
Mixt had played no part in world war two. Her efforts in the first world war had taken too much out of her. 'It was around then that my OCD really came on badly. The blitz reminded me of all the trauma I suffered in 1916, I think.'
'You've lived for four thousand years. Didn't you have other traumas before that?'
'I haven't lived for four thousand years.'
Mixt had been born, by her best estimates, four thousand years ago, but there were long gaps in her memory. She didn't think she'd lived continuously for all that time, though she'd certainly had an incredibly long lifespan.
'Anyway, nothing matched the amputation tent at the Somme. Every possible way a human body can be mangled, I've seen it. And touched it. And put it in the waste bin.'
The kitchen floor was covered in green patterned tiles from the 1930s. Mixt and Nakishdan unpacked their shopping.
'What's this bread?' Mixt was suspicious.
'Relax,' said Nakishdan. 'It's the same bread as always. They just changed the packaging.'
'I can't eat it.'
'You can, it's fine,' said Nakishdan. 'Look, I kept the old wrapper. Check the ingredients, they'll all the same.'
Mixt took old wrapper and compared it with the new one, carefully reading every ingredient. They were the same. She still didn't look happy.
'What if they've changed something without telling us? That could happen.'
Nakishdan put his hand on her arm, reassuringly. 'It'll be fine, really.'
Mixt looked very unhappy. The whole thing was far from fine in her opinion. She wondered if she could possibly eat the bread. Her phone rang. She fumbled in her pocket.
'Hello?' She listened for a few minutes, then rang off. 'Duluth has our assignment. We have to go.'
'It wasn't meant to be till Wednesday.'
It took them only moments to prepare themselves, concealing their weapons beneath their coats. It took longer to leave the house. Mixt had an unbearable urge to check that every window was locked, and that everything was switched off, except the radio, which she left on at exactly the same low volume every time she went out. Eventually Nakishdan managed to shepherd her outside.
'I wish they'd give us more warning. I hate rushing.' The garage door closed automatically as they left. Mixt got out the car to check it was closed properly. Then they drove towards the hidden arch at Vauxhall station. That itself was very close to MI6 headquarters. Whether that was just a coincidence, they weren't certain.
The empty tube train rattled along the central line.
'Back to 1977,' said Nakishdan. 'There's definitely something funny going on here.'
Mixt stared at him. 'We met because you recognised me with your psychic powers. It turned out we'd both died in the past but somehow didn't die. Now MI6 is sending us back in time to look for some mysterious person who's endangering all reality. And you've only just realised there's something funny going on?'
'I suppose it's obvious when you put it like that. I never analysed it before.'
'Also there are flying snakes with big teeth.'
'I hate the flying snakes.'
Nakishdan's hand strayed to the sword concealed beneath his kimono. He knew how to use it; he'd been a cavalry cadet before the Napoleonic war. Recently Mixt had been encouraging, or forcing, him to practice more.
Mixt studied her reflection in the window. 'I didn't mean to cut my hair this short. I look like a boy.'
'Quite a pretty boy.'
'Thank you. You also look like a pretty boy. Because you are, I suppose.'
Nakishdan has been eighteen when executed at Waterloo. Now revived, he still seemed to be eighteen.
'Is that kimono suitable for a punk gig?'
Nakishdan shrugged. Like Mixt, there were various parts of his life he couldn't remember. The 70s was one of them. He wasn't sure if he'd been alive then or not. Mixt had been, but she'd been in Las Vegas, gambling heavily. Neither of them knew much about British culture of the time.
'Did you ever cut your hair short, Rainith?'
They looked towards Rainith, who's bright red hair was particularly long and luxuriant. Rainith didn't reply. She would never talk about hair, or clothes, or anything. Polite conversation was practically impossible.
Nakishdan frowned. 'I hate time problems.'
'I hate it in stories when people go back in time and it makes problems. Like paradoxes, you know? I don't want to be meeting myself or something.'
'Duluth says the Kesh can look after it. As long as there's no mass slaughter or anything, they can sort it out.'
The train slowed as it approached the station.
Mixt leaned forward to whisper to Nakishdan. 'Did you see the fairy's eyes light up when I said mass slaughter? I'm convinced she's a psychopath.'
'Nice wings though.'
It was true. While in her fairy shape, Rainith had beautiful wings. Now, as human, in her shabby brown coat, they weren't visible. Whether they disappeared, or were just cunningly hidden, neither Mixt nor Nakishdan were sure.