'When Geeda Lala entered your world, she got her calculations wrong. She was aiming for the period you call the 1970s but crashed into 4000 BC and skidded on from there. Dragging you with her.'
Mixt nodded. 'I'd sort of gathered that by now. Did she make Stonehenge collapse on me?'
'Yes. Her mathematics really aren't as good as she thinks. That's always been one of her problems.'
Fourteen Trees looked around the large living room. 'This is a nice house. It's comfy.'
'But even if Geeda dragged me into the future, why have I lived so long? I've been alive for hundreds of years. Maybe thousands, I can't remember it all.'
'Geeda crashing into you - and Nakishdan - has knocked you completely out of sync with this simulation. It does have self-correcting mechanisms to deal with minor problems - a few incursions for repairs, that sort of thing - but it wasn't designed to withstand a full scale entry from the parent universe. That's why everything's going wrong.'
'You mean the snakes?'
'Yes. Your whole reality is damaged. So far they've been able to keep the effects to a minimum but it could get a lot worse.'
Nakishdan, feeling that this was a lot to take in, poured himself a can of his favourite Japanese beer. 'Who's they?'
'The Research Institute of the Military Simulation Branch of the Kesh Ven Ven Lar. They've been working to smooth things over. You're a very important simulation for them. It would be a disaster if you were destroyed.' Fourteen Trees removed her colourful coat. 'What's that liquid?'
'Can I try it?'
Nakishdan went next door, took a beer from the fridge, and politely poured it for their guest. She was a small young woman, and bore some facial resemblance to Geeda Lala.
'If Geeda Lala is causing such problems, can't they just reach in and scoop her out?' asked Nakishdan.
'Not without destroying everything. Any entry risks causing more problems. That's why they contacted your Department. To try and sort it out without needing any more incursions. But Geeda's proved too cunning for you. And now things are getting worse. That's why there are more snakes appearing. There are other things that might appear too, not to mention the changes in your history that might start happening. The Research Institute can't keep on smoothing things out. Some of the mathematics required to do that is so complex it would take longer than the age of the universe to calculate properly. Which is why - ' Fourteen Trees sipped her beer, and looked at the glass with interest for a moment, ' - people took matters into their own hands and sent 102 Woo to kill her. That would be an easier solution. The Institute would probably have done it already if she wasn't the Director's daughter.'
'She's the Director's Daughter?'
'Don't you know that?'
'We don't know anything. Our Department doesn't keep us well informed.'
'Oh. Well she is. The Director is really important. One of the most important Kesh. It's quite a scandal that his own daughter is on the point of ruing the project.'
Mixt felt a sudden desire for a drink. There was a brief pause as she fetched herself a glass of Plymouth Gin.
'Tell us more about Geeda Lala. Why did she come here?'
'She ran away. Her parents were going to send her to a study planet.'
'Don't you have them here?'
'We don't have any other planets. Not inhabited ones, anyway.'
'Right. I forgot.' Fourteen Trees sipped her beer, and yawned. 'I think this drink is making me tired. I've travelled a long way. Geeda's father was sending her to a study planet because she was doing so badly at school. He's quite a mean man, honestly. I've never liked him.'
'You know him?'
'Of course. I'm at school with Geeda.'
Mixt frowned. 'So this whole reality-threatening exercise is the result of a father trying to send his daughter away to some sort of boarding school because she got bad marks?'
'Something like that. But the study planet is really bad. It's always winter. Of course, Geeda was causing quite a lot of trouble in school.' Fourteen Trees smiled. 'I like Geeda.' She frowned. 'It's all got out of hand. Now the Assistant Director won't wait for her to be captured so he hired 102 Woo to kill her. The Director doesn't know that yet.'
'You said you were in something called 47 Jeng. Is that a rival organisation?'
'With many competent assassins?' Nakishdan looked hopeful.
'Not exactly. It's more like a school club.'
'A school club? What do you do?'
'We make hats.'
'Hats?' Mixt wasn't impressed. 'What use is that at the moment?'
'She is wearing a nice hat,' said Nakishdan, reasonably.
'Yes, it is a nice hat. But it doesn't seem like what the situation requires. How many of you are there?'
'Three? Shouldn't there be at least forty seven? You have that in your name!'
'It doesn't work like that.' Fourteen Trees yawned. Her eyelids drooped. She lay down on the couch and went to sleep.
'Well this doesn't seem right.' Nakishdan wasn't pleased. 'They have 102 Woo on their side, made up of hundreds of highly-trained warriors. We have 47 Jeng, comprised of three small girls making hats. No wonder the snakes are winning.'
'This gig will be really great!'
'How do you know?' Rainith looked around the pub, the Hope and Anchor in islington. It was October 1975.
'Because I've already seen it.' Geeda Lala laughed. 'But I like the idea of seeing it again.'
Rainith the Red pondered this.'So are there two of you here?'
'No, I changed things. I told you, my maths is good enough to sort all these things out.'
The bar at the Hope and Anchor was extremely crowded, four and five deep in places, with people straining to force their way through. Even when customers made it to the front, it was hard to catch the attention of a barmaid or barman, so busy were they, pouring pints and handing them over in a continuous, rapid stream. Not long ago Rainith had been a solitary figure, shunning company, but she was starting to enjoy the excited atmosphere of crowded rooms in pubs when the band was due on soon.
'I like Dr Feelgood,' said Geeda. 'I hadn't even heard of them when I first came back.'
Rainith wrinkled her nose as smoke from several cigarettes wafted into her face. The venue was full, hot, noisy and loud. Neither Rainith nor Geeda were tall and it took them some time to force themselves to the bar. Rainith felt some irritation at what seemed like an inefficient system. There were people all around holding money in their hands, trying to attract the barman's attention. It didn't seem to matter who had arrived first.
'Why won't they serve us?' she complained to Geeda.
Geed shrugged. 'It's always like this. The barstaff are useless. It takes ages.'
'Are they deliberately ignoring us?' Rainith was certain that the man who'd just been served had arrived at the bar after her. She watched angrily as the barman handed him four pints of lager. The customer paid, rook his change and turned away, undaunted by the task of carrying four pints of lager, two in each hand, through a very crowded room.
'I want - ' began Rainith, but the barman had already moved on to another customer. Rainith's frustration boiled over.
'Serve us drinks!' she screamed. 'It's our turn! Serve us right now!'
Her voice sounded shrill and angry, even over the noise in the bar. Geeda Lala laughed. A barmaid nearby looked at Rainith without sympathy.
'Just wait your turn,' she muttered.
Rainith by now had her hand on the pommel of her sword, so it was probably fortunate that another of the staff behind the bar finally arrived to serve them.
'Stupid barmen,' grumbled Rainith, as they struggled free of the crowd with their drinks in their hands.
Geeda Lala was still laughing. 'That's what these bars are always like. No point getting annoyed. Let's get down the front before the band comes on.'
The squeezed through the crowd towards the small stage at the front.
'Why isn't your hair blue and yellow?'
'I haven't done that yet.' said Geeda. 'It's not quite time for it. Wait till the Sex Pistols play their first gig. That's only a month away.'
The music on the PA faded and a voice announced the band.
'Please welcome Dr Feelgood!'
The four members of Dr Feelgood walked onto the small stage looking surly. They had messy hair, cut shorter than many of the audience, and wore suits which might have come straight from one of London's many charity shops. The singer's suit was white, but very dirty and stained. He was scowling as if he'd been forced onto the stage against his will. The guitarist was wide-eyed and manic, even before he started playing. They did not look like a group of people who's ambition was to keep the audience happy at any cost. Rainith warmed to them immediately.
As soon as they started to play the audience began to move as if a great burst of energy had been unleashed from the stage. Rainith found herself being swept up and down by the press of bodies around her. She was surprised and pleased to see that the guitarist looked even more manic when he played, striding back and forward across the stage with an odd, jerking gait while thrashing his guitar quite furiously. The fairy had been a little dubious about her new friend Geeda's enthusiasm for the band, being suspicious of anything not deemed to be punk rock, with which she had become obsessed. She'd thought she might be bored. She wasn't bored however, and admitted to herself that if Dr Feelgood did not quite give her the thrill she'd received while watching X-Ray Spex, they were still an exciting band, and she was enjoying herself.
Listen to the weatherman praying for a drop of rain
Look into the sky, the sky is full of aeroplanes
Rainith had managed to drink only a little of her beer before the band started, and as she was swept away, most of it was spilled. She didn't mind, and laughed when Geeda, next to her, spilled beer over herself. Geeda laughed too.
''They're a good band!' shouted Rainith, though the music was too loud for Geeda to hear her.
I've been searching all through the city...
Captain Lir and three other agents from 102 Woo arrived in the room and stood calmly at the back.
'There she is.'
The Captain nodded. 'We've located Geeda Lala again. This time we will make no mistake.'