Nakishdan was cheerful as they drove through South London, even though they were on their way to meet Agent Glade, not something they were that keen to do.
'Did you just whistle a tune?' asked Mixt.
'No. I thought about it.'
'I'm sure you started.'
'Only the first note, then I stopped.'
'No one likes whistling.'
'I don't know if that's true. Some people probably like it.'
'No one likes whistling,' insisted Mixt. 'I'm strongly against it.'
'I wonder why Glade wants to see us?'
They hadn't been expecting him to call. The Department had not been in touch for months.
'Maybe the snakes have come back.'
'I hope not. Although we could do with the money.'
'Maybe the department owes us money from last time.'
Mixt and Nakishdan's attempts at accurate book-keeping were generally unsuccessful. They always had the vague hope that the Department of Historical Disturbances might owe them money for something. They drove towards the small cafe.
'You whistled again!'
Mixt turned to her companion. 'I don't mind you being happy because your character in Star Metal planet got to sleep with the blue-skinned barmaid but there's no need to take it to ridiculous lengths.'
Nakishdan grinned. 'It was a good mission. Destroyed the enemy and brought back laser pistols. No wonder the barmaid was happy to see me.'
'I'm dubious about that mission. Its message seems to be that an alien women will automatically sleep with you if you give her a laser pistol. I'm not sure that's true. You can't just expect women to sleep with you if you give them presents. Although a laser pistol would be a good present, I admit. Probably I'd look favourably on anyone who brought me one. '
Nakishdan parked in a tiny side-street and they walked towards the cafe. He linked arms with Mixt.
'If I ever found a laser pistol I'd give it to you.'
Inside the cafe Agent Glade was sitting at a table with a mug of tea in front of him.
'We're here. Does the department owe us money?'
'Do you owe us money? We need to buy new downloads for Star Metal Planet. They really gouge you for these downloads.'
'I don't deal with finances,' said Glade. 'But I'm sure the Department paid you everything you were owed.
Mixt and Nakishdan looked disappointed.
'Could you give us some money anyway?' asked Nakishdan.
'Then can you pay for our food?'
'I always pay for your food,' said Glade.
'And we appreciate it.' Mixt smiled. As always, her smile was bright and boyish. 'What does the Department want? Have the snakes come back?'
'Not yet. But we heard from the Kesh. They don't know where Geeda Lala or Rainith have got to. They've completely disappeared. The Kesh are worried. 102 Woo have engaged the services of someone powerful.'
'You mean like a super-criminal?'
Nakishdan was dubious. 'They told us Geeda Lala was some sort of super-criminal and she turned out to be just a young girl who wanted to see gigs. She did almost wreck history, but she didn't mean it.'
'I think this threat is real. Ms Darben's taking it seriously. It's likely we'll need you to go back in time again, soon.'
'We're raising our prices,' said Mixt, immediately.
'Have you seen how expensive everything is these days? You should pay us more.'
'We already pay you very well.'
They broke off their conversation as a waitress took their order. She made a few notes on her pad then went behind the counter to pass their order through to the tiny kitchen.
'You should - ' began Glade.
'I've been wondering about the Department,' said Nakishdan. 'Do you have secret equipment?'
'Secret equipment? Like what?'
'I don't know. Laser pistols, maybe?'
Mixt burst out laughing.
'We don't have any laser pistols,' said Agent Glade.
Rainith the Red was aghast to find herself in 1967.
'This is the most infuriating thing ever! One minute I'm about to see the first Sex Pistols gig and the next minute I'm in the middle of some horrible club in 1967 full of people with beads and bells round their necks and incense everywhere! And Pink Floyd are playing! '
Rainith glared with loathing at the band, or rather in the direction of the band. It was impossible to see the stage through the haze of incense and marihuana smoke. Lighting effects still flickered in the room, but were directed at the walls and ceiling, rather than the band, rendering them almost invisible to the audience.
'What a horrible noise,' yelled Rainith. 'Are they even playing a song?'
The noise coming from the stage seemed to be comprised mainly of deep rumbling, interspersed with a series of electronic bleeps. It was going down well with the crowd but was already infuriating the fairy. She turned to Geeda Lala, grabbing her and yelling to make herself heard over the din.
'Get us out of here. Take us back to 1975!'
'I can't! My screen isn't working' Geeda indicated the tiny transparent screen on which she did her calculations.
'Then fix it!'
'I can't. Something's happened. I think Fourteen Trees has jammed it.'
'I don't know.'
Rainith snarled. The frustration of almost seeing the Sex Pistols was too much for her to bear.
'What the hell is this?' she demanded, shielding her eyes from a sudden burst of multi-coloured light coming from a projector on a nearby table.
'I hate psychedelia! Let's get out of here.'
'I think we should look around. Fourteen Trees might have followed us.'
Rainith saw the wisdom of this. Despite her intense annoyance at everything, she followed Geeda Lala through the UFO club, doing her best to negotiate the crowd without bumping into people who, as far as Rainith could see, appeared to have lost all sense of direction and stumbled around in every direction. It was difficult to judge the size of the club, due to the gloom, but it turned out not to be that large. Rainith and Geeda squeezed their way through from one side to the other without seeing any sign of Fourteen trees. They halted close to the stage. Some words came floating through the air, the only decipherable lyrics Rainith had heard all night.
Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.
'That's just the stupid sort of thing you'd expect them to say,' said Rainith. 'I can't stand any more of this.'
They retreated into a nearby restroom. Rainith, who had never noticed a great deal of difference between bathroom fittings in present day London and those she'd encountered in her trips back to the 70s, did notice that here, in 1967, they did look different. Older and smaller, and slightly tatty.
She scowled at Geeda. 'The first time Johhny Rotten met the other Sex Pistols, he was wearing a t-shirt that said 'I Hate Pink Floyd.' I wish I had one now.'
Many of the rooms on the second and third floors of Mixt's mansion were either empty or used for storage. In the middle of the afternoon, while the sun shone outside, she was sitting quite happily in one of the storerooms, taking tiles from a box, polishing them, and carefully putting them back. The tiles had been designed in the 1860's by William Morris, and Mixt was very fond of them. Morris's Victorian tiles could be found in several of her bathrooms, conservatories and corridors, and there were many more boxes which had never been used. Mixt was looking contentedly at one of the pleasant flower designs when Nakishdan appeared.
'I've been looking all over for you.'
Mixt's mansion was so large that it wasn't unusual for her and Nakishdan to lose each other occasionally. He looked at the tile in Mixt's hand, blue flowers on a white background.
'You really like these tiles. Did they come with the house?'
'Did you really win this house at cards?'
'Yes. In 1921. Playing brag with Lord MacIntyre at a private party in Mayfair.'
'Was he annoyed when he lost it?'
'Not really. He had plenty of houses. He'd never lived in this one. He hadn't even finished decorating.'
She looked down at the tile in her hand. 'I was good at brag. I was sorry when it went out of fashion.'
'Were you rich at the time?'
'Then what was your stake?'
They sat in silence for a while. Nakishdan watched while Mixt dusted the tiles, and put them back in their boxes.
'I just remembered why I was looking for you. Fourteen Trees phoned. She wants to visit.'
Mixt frowned. 'That's worrying.'
'I know. I hope the snakes haven't come back.'
'I wasn't thinking about that. It's her name, Fourteen trees. It bothers me.'
'But you don't mind the number fourteen, I've heard you say that.'
'True. But what if she has a friend called Nineteen Trees? That would be bad. I can't stand the number nineteen. What if she suddenly wants to introduce me to her? I wouldn't know what to do.'
'I don't suppose that's all that likely - '
'What if she had another friend called Thirty-One trees? Thirty-One is such a terrible number. I just couldn't stand it.'
'I think you may be worrying unnecessarily.'
'Really? Fourteen Trees belongs to an organisation called 47 Jeng. I don't like forty-seven at all.'
The doorbell rang. It sounded ancient; rich and sonorous.
'Don't answer it,' said Mixt
Nakishdan laid his hand on her shoulder. 'It's all right. I promise there isn't going to be anyone there called Nineteen Trees.'
Mixt trooped unwillingly downstairs behind Nakishdan, rather worried that their might be. Nakishdan opened the door. Fourteen Trees was standing in the porch, wearing a dark blue hat with a long tail which stretched almost to her feet.
''Hello,' she said, brightly. 'Can I come in?'
'That depends,' said Mixt. 'What are your friends in 47 Jeng called?'
'Eight Trees, and Two Rays of Sunlight.'
'Oh. Well that's all right.'
'Why did you want to know that?' asked Fourteen Trees, as they walked down the long corridor towards the main living room.
'We do have a new junior member. She makes good hats.'
'What's she called?'
Mixt quailed, then sagged. Nakishdan helped her into the living room.
'Sit down and rest. It's OK, you'll probably never have to meet her.'
'We can't be trapped in 1967!' Rainith the Red was irate. 'I refuse to be trapped in 1967! Do something!'
Geeda Lala raised her arms hopelessly, then pointed to the tiny screen that was projected from the palm of her hand. 'It's completely blank. I can't make any calculations. We'll just have to wait for Fourteen Trees to contact us.'
'I should never have trusted you!' shouted Rainith. 'I was going to see the Sex Pistols and now I'm trapped at a horrible hippy club, eight years before! What am I meant to do now? Wait here for eight years?'
Geeda Lala had not previously encountered Rainith while the fairy was in a bad mood. In this, she was unique. Rainith was very often in a bad mood. Her hostility towards the world had been tempered by her pleasure in the knowledge that she would soon see the Sex Pistols, but now, banished in time to a place she didn't want to be, her anger was spilling over. Much of it was directed towards Geeda, though she had enough left over to curse the band, the crowd and the venue.
'If I have to listen to another note from Pink Floyd I'm going to kill someone. If anyone else sticks incense in my face I'll kill them anyway. What is this place? It's like a nightmare.'
'It's the 60s. They were like that. Well, some of them, anyway. I haven't been here much.'
Two women in long flowing dresses came into the bathroom. Each had stars painted on her face. Rainith shuddered as they went past, heading for one of the cubicles, which they entered together, laughing.
'I'll kill Fourteen Trees for this!' raged Rainith.
'She wouldn't have sent us here unless it was an emergency. She was protecting us from Mathematician Gislin.'
'I don't need protecting! If he bothers me I'll kill him too.'
There was more laughter from the cubicle. Rainith, infuriated beyond measure, marched out of the bathroom, wrenching the door open so violently she almost pulled it from its hinges. Outside she ran straight into Mixt and Nakishdan.
'Hello Rainith!' Mixt seemed quite cheerful. 'We've been looking for you.'
'Now this is much more like it,' said Nakishdan, looking round at the psychedelic lighting, and the people in extravagant outfits. 'This is a lot better than these horrible punk gigs.'
In his kimono, now a vibrant shade of blue, Nakishdan fitted in well. 'Look what we got,' he said, holding out his hand. 'Macrobiotic stuffed vine leaves. They're pretty good.'
Rainith gritted her teeth. 'Have you come to take us back?'
'Not exactly. Fourteen Trees says she can't do that yet.'
'Her school club, 47 Jeng, is engaged in some deadly mathematical struggle. She tried explaining the details but she lost me somewhere in the concept of imaginary time. Anyway, Gislin and 102 Woo are still chasing Geeda so Fourteen Trees can't open a timeline. She says it's too dangerous.'
'Then why did you bother coming?' snapped the fairy.
'To check you were OK,' said Mixt. 'Apparently the flying snakes are a distinct possibility again. The way Fourteen Trees described it, there are dimensions clashing everywhere, though again, we're a bit hazy on the details.'
'I never thought I'd get to see an early Pink Floyd gig!' Nakishdan was enthused. 'This is great!'
'I really hate Pink Floyd,' said Rainith, with feeling.