Nakishdan drove the short distance home as quickly as he could. Beside him in the car, Mixt was still trembling quite violently, held in place by her seat belt. For Mixt, who tried to touch as little as possible in the outside world, it was a serious calamity to accidentally touch the table in a cafe, and then put her finger in her mouth. She was now deep in the grip of a terrible OCD-fuelled anxiety attack.
Nakishdan switched on the radio at the classical music station, which could help to calm Mixt down, although really, when things were this bad, there was nothing to do except get her home and wait for it to pass.
'Almost there.' He pulled into the driveway that wound through the undergrowth around Mixt's mansion, parking outside the garage. He hurriedly got out the car and ran round to the passenger door. As Mixt was no longer capable of walking, Nakishdan picked her up and carried her.
'I'm going to die.'
'You'll be all right, we're almost home.'
'I'm going to die.'
Nakishdan heard a noise. Something was crashing through the trees that overhung the driveway. He whirled round. Descending rapidly were two winged snakes, dark brown, one of normal size and one unusually large. As always, when they dived to attack, their mouths were open and their dreadful fangs exposed.
Nakishdan laid Mixt on the ground. He took his sword from beneath his kimono and as he did so, his kimono changed from black to bright yellow, with gold trimmings. He stood over Mixt, resolutely protecting her, as the snakes raced towards them, their leathery wings beating furiously.
The smaller one reached them first. Nakishdan swept his curved sword to the left, catching it perfectly and decapitating it. A fraction of a second later the larger snake, a dreadful beast, worse than any they had encountered before, snapped it's jaws, attempting to sink its fangs into Nakishdan's neck. Nakishdan swayed backwards and in the same movement slashed to his right. His sword sank into the beast's mouth, cleaving it's face. The snake screamed in pain and fury, and reared up to strike again. Nakishdan, still standing over Mixt, dragged his sword free. Then he thrusted forward and upwards, sinking his blade in the underside of the flying snake's jaws, driving the blade right up through the creature's skull. The beast writhed in the air for a second. As it died, it vanished.
Nakishdan looked around. There were no more snakes. He sheathed his sword, picked up Mixt, and hurried into their house through the side door.
Glade was making good progress through a bottle of Tesco's supermarket own-brand whisky when there was a loud knocking at his door. He attempted to ignore it but the visitor was very persistent. Eventually he answered it to find Rainith staring at him angrily.
'What took you so long?'
'How did you know where I live?'
'I sensed it. I'm a fairy. I have important business.'
'I'm busy at the moment.'
'I don't care.'
Rainith marched in, uninvited. She was carrying an iPad, a device Glade had helped her to buy, using the new credit card provided for her by the Department.
'You didn't get me the right music things.' Rainith brandished the iPad, showing a compilation of X-Ray Spex tracks.
'Isn't that what you wanted?'
'Yes. But there should be more.' Rainith opened another website. 'Look. They had pictures. And round black things.'
'These round black things are records. They had covers. Or sleeves.'
'Well why don't I have them?' Rainith pointed at a picture of the sleeve of an X-Ray Spex single, The Day the World Turned Dayglo. 'Why don't I have this?'
'Because that's the original record. It's different to downloaded music.'
'I want it. You didn't get me the right things.'
Glade, having selected this afternoon specifically for drinking, found this hard to take, particularly as he had spent a considerable amount of time teaching Rainith how to find, buy, and download music.
'What do you mean I didn't get you the right things? You've got all their songs.'
'It's not enough.' The fairy was insistent. 'I want the picture sleeves as well. I want the originals.'
'You won't have been able to buy that X-Ray Spex single for about thirty years,' said Glade.
Rainith had a strong feeling that she had been cheated, either by Glade or by the world. She felt a small pulsing, as she often did, from the long scar on her face, though it was invisible at present, concealed by a fairy spell.
Glade did his best to explain to Rainith the changes that had occurred in the past few decades, meaning that singles, in picture sleeves, were no longer a common form of music. It was a difficult discussion, with the fairy's suspicious nature. Glade himself was no expert, not being a great music fan himself.
'How could I get these originals?'
'I don't know. Collectors will sell them, maybe.'
'What about in 1977? Where did people get them then?'
'I'm not sure.'
'Why aren't you being more helpful?'
'Why are you being so annoying? Look, I really don't know much about this stuff. I wasn't born when that single was released. Ms Darben did make us read some music history, when we started sending you back to gigs. I think I remember that people used to go to a shop called Rough Trade. Near Ladbroke Grove.'
'Then send me there.'
'I can't send you anywhere. The Department sends you where the Kesh tell them.'
'I want to go to Rough Trade!'
'I want you to go away and leave me alone.'
Rainith glared at him, contempt in her eyes. 'You drink too much.'
'No, I drink just the right amount. And I'm fed up with you being angry and aggressive. No wonder the other fairies expelled you.'
For a moment, Rainith looked so angry that Glade wondered if she was going to draw her sword. She gave him a final look of withering contempt, then turned and marched out of the flat. Glade was relieved when she'd gone. He took a large drink from his tumbler of whisky.
'Bloody fairy. I wish she would disappear back to 1977.'
'The situation is now confused. 102 Woo does not like any situation to be confused. 102 Woo expects matters to be dealt with swiftly and smoothly, as do our clients.' Superior 102, floating in the lotus position, spoke quite softly. Captain Lir, also floating, though upright, was aware he was being reprimanded, but was unwilling to admit he'd been at fault. The Captain was a very experienced operative; the highest ranked field agent in the organisation.
'Things can go wrong when our clients don't tell us everything.'
Superior 102 was unsympathetic. 'We expect you to deal with any situation that arises.'
Captain Lir had no further comment. He could have pointed out that their client hadn't told them they might face opposition when they attempted to find Geeda Lala. Nor had they informed them that Research Institute had apparently managed to enter the simulation, contrary to normal procedure, and alter events. Faced with that, any operation might have gone wrong. However if Captain Lir was not willing to take unwarranted blame, neither did he intend to make excuses. Ultimately, they'd been hired to find Geeda Lala and eliminate her, and so far they'd failed.
'It seems likely you'll meet opposition next time you make the attempt,' continued Superior 102. 'The Research Institute is also in pursuit. Whether to rescue her, or eliminate her, we don't know.'
'Rescue, surely. They can't kill the director's daughter.'
'They might, if they have to, rather that than ruin the whole operation.'
Superior 102, golden-skinned and apparently ageless, spoke to someone out of sight.
'Have you managed to infiltrate their targeting locations yet?'
'Yes, Superior,' came a disembodied voice. 'Their next intercept point for Geed Lala is another music event. In 1979, on Earth, in London, at a place called King's College. The musicians are known as Delta 5.'
Superior 102 turned back to Captain Lir. 'Another music event. We don't know why that is. But no matter. Take your team, find the Delta 5 event, and kill Geeda Lala.'
'It's nice of you to carry me along the corridor but you can put me down now.'
Nakishdan was surprised to hear Mixt talking normally. She'd stopped trembling and colour had returned to her face. Usually, afflicted by such a bad attack, Mixt would take a long time to recover.
Mixt disentangled herself, and they entered the living room together.
'How come you recovered so quickly?'
'I think it was the excitement of the snakes. Or the danger.'
'You saw me fight the snakes?'
'Did you notice how big they were? One of them was huge.'
'Probably bigger than any we've faced so far. And the other one was a nasty beast too. I had to move quickly to deal with them.'
Mixt grinned. 'Yes Nakishdan, it was a fine piece of swordsmanship.'
'On my own. Two enormous flying snakes approaching fast, big teeth and wings everywhere. Some people would have panicked.'
'Yes Nakishdan - '
'Fortunately I kept a cool head. Just got into position, raised my sword and said 'You're not attacking Mixt while I'm here. If you want her you'll have to go through me.''
'Nakishdan, you said nothing of the sort.'
'I was thinking it.'
Mixt laughed. 'Will you stop puffing your chest out? Incidentally, nice new fighting kimono.'
Nakishdan was pleased Mixt had noticed. He'd added a lot of gold trimming to the bright yellow garment, and it was looking quite splendid.
'When these snakes start flying in, I'm not planning to hide. I'm there in a bright kimono, defying them. Did you notice how I killed the first one and then attacked the second one all in the same move?'
'Will you ever stop bragging about this?'
'Eventually. Once I give a good report to Glade. And Rainith. That stupid fairy thinks she's the only one who can use a sword.'
Mixt put on the kettle, and while waiting for it to boil, poured herself a glass of gin, which she drank neat, with a small slice of lemon.
'I suppose I should phone Glade and tell him what happened.'
'Can we leave it for a while? They might want us to do something like go on a mission. I want to try the Minori make-up.'
Mixt poured boiling water into the tea pot. She nodded. 'We did plan on doing that. And it's going to take a while.'
Nakishdan, a fan of Japanese shironuri artist Minori, had some pictures of her latest, very complicated, make-up, and was keen to replicate it. He brought up the pictures on his iPad.
'She looks so great. I want to look like that when I'm going into battle.'
Nakishdan took a bottle of beer and a cup of tea back into the living room.
'Do you think I should add something to my name? Maybe Nakishdan Heroic Snake Killer?'
Mixt rolled her eyes. 'I'm starting to wish they'd killed me.'