Aldwych tube station opened in 1907 and closed in 1994. When Mixt, Nakishdan and Rainith emerged into early evening drizzle it was March 1977. Mixt wrinkled her nose. 'It's late. We don't have time to go to the flat.'
'Do we have time to eat?'
The carried money in their pockets, banknotes from the 70s provided for them by Agent Duluth.
'Probably not. We have to get to Putney before the gig starts.'
They walked the short distance to Holborn tube, buying chocolate on the way.
'You notice how the chocolate bars are bigger in the 70s?' Nakishdan carried an old A-Z map book. He studied it as they rode down the district line.
'Does anyone know what X-Ray Spex were like?' asked Rainith, unexpectedly.
Mixt and Nakishdan shook their heads. 'I hope they're better than that other punk band we had to watch.'
'I liked them,' said Rainith, which again was unexpected. She had never expressed a liking for anything before. They travelled in silence down the district line to Putney Bridge station. From there, the White Lion was only a few minutes walk. Mixt looked at it dubiously.
'It's just a little pub.'
'What were you expecting?'
'I think being small is the point,' said Nakishdan. 'It's still quite early days for punk bands.'
A few people passed them, on their way in. Two boys and two girls. They had short dark hair and narrow jeans. One of the girls wore heavy make up; otherwise they seemed unremarkable.
Mixt turned to her companions. 'Duluth said I have to repeat our instructions. He thinks we're too stupid to remember them.'
'I do have a short attention span,' admitted Nakishdan.
'We're looking for someone who doesn't belong in this time. Or this universe. If we find them we're to take them back with us. And if anything weird happens we're to deal with it.'
Nakishdan frowned. 'As instructions go, that's pretty useless. How are we meant to recognise this person?'
'Your psychic powers, maybe. You recognised me as being different. And you knew Rainith was strange.'
'What do you mean strange?' demanded Rainith.
'You're a fairy.'
'That's not strange if you're a fairy.'
'Fair point. It was a poor choice of word.'
'How about uncommon?' suggested Nakishdan.
By now people were streaming by. They followed them into the pub and through to a small room at the side.
'The stage is really tiny.'
'It would be chaos if flying snakes arrived.'
So far the vicious flying snakes had only been encountered in the present day. It was not known if they might appear in the past.
Mixt looked around. With her short blond hair and unremarkable clothing, she fitted in well enough. So did Rainith, with her old coat, though her glossy red hair was conspicuous. Not, however, as conspicuous as Nakishdan. His shaggy hair was longer than any other male in the pub, and his black kimono seemed like the most inappropriate thing he could have worn. Several people nearby openly sneered at his appearance.
The support band appeared on stage. 'We're the Killjoys,' said a dark-haired young man in a brown flying suit.
Ms Darben had a faultless record of service, both in the field and in the office. She been made head of the newly-created Historical Disturbance Department at the age of only thirty six, and was a confident woman, rarely given to self-doubts. Despite this, she couldn't quite ignore the feeling that the affair was not going to end well. It was too strange, and they had too little information. The department was not in control of the situation, and it was difficult to see how that could be rectified.
She stared at the message that had appeared on her screen.
Beware. 102 Woo are on their way.
"What does it mean? What's a woo and why are 102 of them on their way?"
Agent Duluth, equally nonplussed, could offer no suggestions.
"And why has it appeared on this terminal?" Ms Darben frowned. "The only people who can contact us here are the Kesh, but this doesn't seem to be from them."
"It must be."
"It doesn't have their usual signature. IT say it's from a different source. They can't identify where."
"Could woo be a code name for the flying snakes?"
"Why not just call them flying snakes?"
"Maybe it's something worse."
That was a worrying thought. The department was already struggling to prevent the public from encountering the dangerous creatures.
"If something like dinosaurs start crashing through, we're not going to be able to hush it up."
Ms Darben glanced at the clock on her screen. "Search Unit Sigma should be in position by now."
Neither Ms Darben nor agent Duluth were particularly expressive, but they both looked faintly worried.
"I've never thought Nakishdan was that bright. If he were to kill the future prime minister, I wouldn't really be surprised."
"Hopefully he won't have the chance to do that at a punk concert."
"I suppose not. But who knows? Perhaps some people went to these gigs who went on to be important."
Ms Darben scowled at her screen. "102 Woo. If someone without proper access has to send us messages, they could at least make them intelligible."
Mixt felt some confusion. She was in a small, crowded space, very close to the small stage. There was cigarette smoke in the air and the band were making a lot of noise. There were people jumping up and down, banging into her. She found it all difficult to process. Nakishdan had retreated to the edges of the room, though Rainith again seemed to be enjoying herself. She stood at the front, unaffected by people barging into her.
Mixt watched the young singer in the brown flying suit. There were moments when his voice came over tunefully, but often he just seemed to be shouting into the microphone. Beside him was another singer, a girl, also screaming into her microphone. At one point they both collided with the guitarist and went down in a heap onstage, still making noise. The audience liked that.
'We're the Killjoys and this is our single,' shouted the singer. Mixt was surprised they'd made a single. The audience cheered. Beer flew over the crowd. Mixt winced as it touched her face. She was still wiping herself dry as the band left the stage. For a support act, they'd been well-received by the crowd. Mixt made her way to the back of the small room where Nakishdan was leaning against the wall with a drink in his hand.
'I don't really understand this. Could they even play these instruments?'
'Hardly,' said Nakishdan, who had not enjoyed it at all.
Mixt looked at the girl beside her, who had short, spiky red hair, and a safety pin through her ear, around which a few drops of blood had congealed. Rainith appeared. Mixt asked her if she'd enjoyed it.
The fairy shrugged, and was not forthcoming.
'Something's happening outside,' said Nakishdan. 'I can feel it.'
They hurried towards the entrance. Outside they stood in the rain for a few seconds.
'In there.' Nakishdan headed for a small alleyway beside the pub. There they found a young man urinating against the wall.
'You brought us here to see someone pissing?' said Mixt. 'Is this another of your freakish perversions?'
'What do you mean freakish perversions? I don't have any freakish perversions.'
'You're wearing Japanese schoolgirl underwear.'
'I am not! It's just a similar brand.' Nakishdan looked annoyed. 'You're the the one who holds degenerate sex parties.'
'There's a place for degenerate sex parties.'
'Snake,' said Rainith.
Rainith was already running up the alleyway. Coming out of the darkness was a huge grey snake, flying a few feet off the ground, flapping its short scaly wings and baring its fangs.
'Suppress this,' muttered Mist to Nakishdan. She whipped her naginata from beneath her coat, snapping it together in one smooth movement. By this time Rainith was halfway down the alley, her sword in her hand. The young man, still zipping up his trousers, looked round in alarm at the two two women with bladed weapons rushing towards him. He didn't see the snake until it was rearing up over him, hissing furiously.
Rainith the Red changed into her small fairy shape and flew unerringly at the snake but she couldn't get there in time to prevent it from biting the young man's neck. He sank to the ground. The snake saw Rainith approaching and twisted to avoid her, snapping its jaws, but Rainith was too quick. Her sword, now four inches long, gouged a deep cut between the creature's eyes. It shrieked in pain and arched its body in flight to attack. At that moment a bright silver blade sliced its head from its neck. Mixt had arrived, dispatching the creature with one sweep from her naginata. The long curved blade decapitated the snake with ease, though it was a large, strong beast.
The snake's head and winged torso fell to the ground. There was a muted flash as they disappeared. Rainith flickered back into her human form. Nakishdan, who'd remained at the end of the alley, using his psychic power to dampen perceptions and prevent anyone else from seeing what was happening, ran towards them. All three were shocked. They'd encountered flaying snakes before, and seen them disappear after they were killed, but never in their journeys to the past. And they'd never seen one attack an onlooker before. They were meant to prevent that from happening.
Mixt knelt beside the young man. Blood seeped from his neck, mingling with the rain. The snake's fangs had gouged a deep wound. She felt in her pockets for the emergency dressing she carried.
'We need an ambulance,' said Nakishdan. 'I saw a phone box along the street.'
'It's too late.' Rainith pointed. 'He's fading away.'
The young man was sitting on the ground, paying no attention to Mixt, who was trying to staunch the flow of blood. His right shoulder was becoming transparent.
'What?' said Nakishdan, again.
'He's fading away. Like he never existed.'
'How do you know that?'
Rainith shrugged. She just knew.
For a moment the youth became aware of his surroundings. He looked down at his torso, which was now also becoming transparent. A look of anguish crossed his face.
'No. I don't want to - '
He stopped speaking. His features became expressionless. In a few moments he'd faded from sight. Mixt, Nakishdan and Rainith were left staring at an empty space.
Mixt shuddered. 'This is bad.'
'How can he just fade away?'
The young man had vanished, leaving the world as if he'd never been born. From the window of the pub they heard the audience cheering as X-Ray Spex walked on to the stage.
'We should go back inside,' said Rainith. 'There might be more of them.'